My ultimate Christmas 2017 gift guide

Selection of christmas gifts

December is here and Christmas is well and truly looming; the question is – have you bought all of your gifts? I must admit, my Christmas shopping always ends up being a tale of two halves: if there’s something I have in mind for a particular person that I just know will be perfect, I’ll buy it months in advance, but the rest of my gift purchasing always ends up being last minute. I adore giving gifts to the people I love, and even those I have bought last minute are carefully thought out, and always something that I would love to receive myself.

I’ve compiled a list of the most gorgeous items for the treasured women in your life: mums, sisters, best friends – and yourself! I always find that it’s this time of year that I tend to get asked if there is anything I would like/need, usually by those family types who leave their gift buying until Christmas eve *cough* (husband) *cough*, and whilst most people’s first instinct is to say, “oh really, don’t worry, you don’t need to get me anything”, when you know that will mean receiving a gift that will require you to muster up your best acting skills, it’s far easier to make a suggestion, or better still, send them a link to this post, and they will thank you for it!

Bloom and Wild

First up, Bloom and Wild. The perfect for a flower enthusiast, they always have a selection of the most exquisite bouquets, and you can order either a hand-tied bunch or a letterbox-friendly bunch. I’ve bought and received many boxes over the past couple of years and have found this brand to be the best in terms of selection and longevity of the blooms. Send a one-off box to a friend that you won’t be able to catch up with over Christmas, or better still order 3 months of flowers for someone extra special. Bloom and Wild also post adorable miniature letterbox Christmas trees, including lights and baubles! Finally don’t forget that ‘from me to me’ gift – you deserve it! Flowers are my favourite pick-me-up, and this year I plan to order a couple of boxes to make our home look beautifully festive.

Pictured is The Ruby bouquet, £33 (enter my name, Hannah Straughan, at checkout for £10 off your first order of any blooms!)

The White Company

No one does Christmas quite like The White Company! It’s my go-to for gifts for work colleagues and extended family members, as you really can’t go wrong, even if you’re not exactly sure what to buy them! Last year when I received my work secret santa, it was handed to me in the iconic white paper bag adorned with a ribbon, and my heart skipped a little – I think that says it all! For Christmas, I think nothing is more ideal than some cosy, warm pyjamas and luxury cashmere bed socks; the kind of gift I would put on the moment I had unwrapped them!

This year I adore the Brushed Heart Flannel pyjamas, which you can shop here and here  – pictured below. They are £82 for the set but you can currently get 20% off through the links I’ve posted, I’m not sure how long the discount will last for though, so hurry! The Cashmere Bed Socks in Ivory are also 20% off through the link here (usually £36), which is amazing as they are a year-round luxury staple at The White Company. I always have these on my wish list and buy a few pairs to give to my favourite people at Christmas!

Stitch and Story

This independent knitting brand, founded by friends Jenny and Jen, is my favourite place to buy yarn and knitting kits, especially as gifts for others. Why? Their yarn is exquisitely soft (only natural fibres here), they have a gorgeous selection of patterns for their knitting kits, most of which are suitable for beginners or those with only a little knitting experience, and their kits at beautifully packaged, and so make the perfect presents. All the kits come with the knitting pattern you’ve chosen, bamboo knitting needles, basic knitting instructions and yarn in your chosen colour – everything you need to get going!

I’m a huge knitting enthusiast, it’s the perfect mindfulness practice, and as such I’ll be buying some kits for a few special people this year that I think would really enjoy getting stuck into a relaxing, creative project after Christmas dinner. It’s the ideal get out clause from that 5 hour monopoly marathon!! Pictured below is the Chunky Tassels Throw knitting kit, £125. Although it looks complicated, it’s made up of one stitch and is genuinely suitable for any level of knitter, so even if you’ve never picked up a pair of needles before, watch a couple of YouTube tutorial videos and you’ll be good to go! Stitch and Story have generously offered 20% off this knitting kit with the code THROWXMAS, which expires on the 20th December.

Jo Malone

Where do I start with Jo Malone? The ultimate in luxury gifting, everything from the scents to the packaging is divine. My fragrance of choice, Pomegranate Noir, is running out and so was number one on my wish list this year. It’s a fruity, spicy and enigmatic scent that not only takes on a different character on different individuals, but it also seems to develop over time. I adore it, and it’s extra special to me as it’s the fragrance I chose to wear on my wedding day, and the one that Ben now always associates with me.

Pictured below is the Pomegranate Noir cologne, £90 for 100ml and the Pomegranate Noir soap, £15.

The Paper Parlour

I’m a little bit of a stationary geek, and get a bit of a thrill out of a beautiful new notebook or journal, and when it comes to cards not any old will do. I have a huge appreciation (and instantly know we will be excellent friends) if I ever receive a carefully selected, independently produced card – anyone else with me? I discovered The Paper Parlour earlier this year when I bought my Rifle Paper Co 2018 planner from them, and couldn’t resist picking up some pretty paper goods at the same time!

This Rifle Paper Co desk calendar, £15.50, is perfectly pretty in every way and would made a gorgeous gift. Like me, whilst you’re there pick up some sweet gift tags and washi tape for wrapping, like the Rifle Paper Co gift tags pictured below.

Daniel Wellington

Sleek, minimalist and affordable: I love the design of these watches and had to include them as part of this guide as a gift that pretty much anyone would be thrilled to receive. This year, Daniel Wellington have some gorgeous gift bundles, priced from £129, which include an extra strap or matching bracelet, and come in a beautiful gift box. There is currently a promotion running called Holiday Gifts for Everyone!, where until the 31st December you can choose 2 favourites and get 10% off. In addition to this, Daniel Wellington are offering an extra 15% off on top of this with the code HANNAHS, until the 31st December.


Osmology is the absolute bees knees if you’re a luxury candle lover (and who isn’t?): it’s an independent company that I was lucky enough to find out about when they launched this year. Osmology source and curate the most comprehensive range of incredible candles from around the world, I’ve already discovered several candle brands that were completely new to me and I now adore. You can buy online, or visit their flagship store in Bristol.

I’m really into slightly alternative festive scents this year, and Lanai by Boy Smells, £32 (pictured below), fits the bill perfectly. It’s described as ‘reminiscent of ancient volcanic sands that extend to the edge of sweet tropic foliage, transporting you instantly to an island. It features notes of spicy clove and peppercorn, with calming tropical coconut and orange blossom’; i.e. Christmas on a beach, if ever I smelled it! I’d also highly recommend Skog by Scandinavisk, from £15, described as ‘the calm of the boreal forest’ – need I say more? It’s bliss.

I hope you’ve found some last minute inspiration here – it genuinely is my ultimate list for little bits of luxury! Each of the gifts have been handpicked by me, but a huge thank you to these brands for generously gifting the items photographed.

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The honest truths of parenthood and a shoot with Melia Melia photography

Sweet boy with green eyes

Something that has struck me recently is how, with parenthood, time has taken on a different quality. It feels like the days fly by at a panic-inducing rate, and yet in other ways they can drag on and on. As I write, Oscar has had a nasty cold for the past three days, and it’s made him feel utterly miserable and grumpy. I can’t seem to do anything to cheer him up, and whilst I feel so sorry for him, I feel completely broken by his near-constant whining. It’s only been three days, but in my emotional, sleep deprived mind it feels like it’s lasting forever. Next week, he’ll be better, and I know that I’ll barely remember how fed up and helpless I feel in this moment.

Each moment itself is so fleeting; heart-melting joy can switch to biting back tears of frustration, and then back again, in a second. Earlier today Oscar whinged in the back of the car for the entire journey home – no amount of cheery chatting, singing or distraction from me helped, and I felt my patience dissolving and my hands tighten their grip on the steering wheel as the journey went on. As we pulled into the drive, the crying stopped. I walked around the car to get him out; my patience  shot and head thick with an angry parent mist. In that very moment, my feelings of warmth towards my child were one out of ten. As I opening his door, he cocked his head to the side, grinned at me and chirpily said, “Hiyo, Mummy” followed by him sheepishly mumbling, “Sorry Mummy Oscar noisy.” Completely stunned by this, I melted into a puddle, scooped him up and felt a few hot tears prick my eyes.  As someone who, previously, was prone to remaining in a bit of a grump for a while, if something had set me in a bad mood, I find this newfound emotional rollercoaster that comes with parenting thoroughly overwhelming. One of my favourite bloggers, Sara Tasker, wrote about this phenomenon a while back far more eloquently than I can put into words – you can find the post here.

A couple of months ago, James and Jo Melia popped over to our house in York to take some photos of Oscar, Ben and I together. Initially, I thought I had wanted a ‘family shoot’ – I had an image in my mind of us looking happy and windswept somewhere on the moors, amongst the purple heather, looking completely natural and not at all staged(!). Whilst I’m sure these images would have been beautiful, James and Jo suggested some shots of us around our home, and what we’ve got as a result is so, so much more than a ‘family shoot’. James has captured those memories, the fleeting ones, the ones that are so difficult to truly remember once they have passed, in the whirlwind of hectic, day-to-day parenting. We will treasure the images from this day not only because they are an insight into the little moments of joy shared within our little family, but also because they remind me to grasp onto all the little moments of joy that happen in every day, the ones interspersed between the mundane and frustrating bits, and reflect on them, or take a quick photo, or make a note, so as to not forget them.

James has a talent that extends far beyond his dreamy and captivating images, and that is his ability to capture the most authentic, intimate moments, such that I found myself looking through the photos and thinking, “I don’t remember him taking that!” Maybe more impressive still, is that our Oscar, who is always wary and shy of strangers, especially men, took such a shine to him that his cheeky, sunny and mischievous personality shows in each beautiful image.

Woman with 20 week baby bump

I did envisage that the whole shoot would be focussed around Oscar, but another thing that I am grateful to James and Jo for is encouraging Ben and I to share some moments in front of the camera together. Since Oscar arrived two years ago, we are perpetually guilty of failing to find time to devote to each other, and whilst we are often together, we rarely truly find moments to connect, simply due to lack of time and tiredness. I love these images of us so much; this person of mine is the most wonderful husband and father I could have ever hoped for; I couldn’t imagine sharing life’s experiences with anyone else. Neither of us expected that a family photo shoot would remind us both to make a resolution to devote more quality time to each other.

After James had used all the rolls of film he had with him, we went down to find Oscar and Margot (James and Jo’s daughter) flirting outrageously. If I remember correctly, Oscar was feeding her raspberries and bringing her flowers. The boy is smitten! As I’ve found previously with others that I’ve connected with on Instagram, James and Jo were both gorgeous, warm people and we found ourselves chatting to them all afternoon as if we’d known them for far longer. Several cups of tea later (and a fish finger tea for the little lovebirds) we parted, with a plan to try and meet up again soon to capture some more of these little moments, either soon before or after our family grows with the addition of our second baby in January.

All of these images are shot on medium format film on a Pentax 67. You can find out more about Melia Melia photography and book a film photography family shoot here, and you can find more of their work on their Instagram account here.

Oscar Henry James | A birth story

I was fascinated reading others’ birth stories when I was pregnant with Oscar. I had decided that the more I knew; the more possible eventualities I was aware of, the better — plus it was something that filled me with awe, an event that many consider to be the greatest hardship in their lives yet at the same time the most magical, joy-filled occasion they’d ever experienced. I knew I wanted to document our birth story, if only for myself, but somehow it wasn’t until the run up to Oscar’s first birthday when all the memories, feelings and emotions of the day started flooding back that pen eventually came to paper. For a long while, that story was going to be just for me, to help me remember in years to come, but I decided I wanted to pluck up the courage to share it with you: this feels very raw and vulnerable for me, and I’ve shared some less-than-attractive photos (who looks good right after giving birth?!), but it’s real, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Oscar was born twelve whole days past his due date. For some reason, I had not expected this — I had a ‘gut feeling’ that I wouldn’t make it to forty weeks, so that wait felt like an absolute eternity. Thankfully, other than some obligatory lower back pain and indigestion I had a relatively easy pregnancy and loved having a huge bump, so I spent the last few weeks walking (waddling) around York, knitting, cleaning the house obsessively, taking long, relaxing baths; punctuated by the occasional (daily) brief ‘blip’ when I’d feel incredibly inpatient to meet my tiny man and I’d become a tearful hormonal mess. Forty-one weeks came and went, there were three uncomfortable and ineffective membrane sweeps, until we were at 40+11: the last day that the hospital were happy to leave things up to nature. I had done a lot of research into induction of labour and knew that I wanted to avoid it at all costs, and felt a little more frustrated and panicked with each day that brought us closer to it. I even felt annoyed with my own body for not going into labour (which is a little crazy, as I knew that normal full-term is anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks). That evening as I took a relaxing, hot bath, Ben came to me and read a letter he had written to our unborn little boy; about how he couldn’t wait to meet him, his wishes for him for the future — it filled me with so much happiness and a sense of calmness, and all at once I simply felt ready for whatever was ahead. We discussed our options again and decided that I would go for the induction that had been booked the following morning; I finally felt both resigned to this as the outcome of the pregnancy, but also completely at peace with our decision, and went to bed feeling calm and relaxed, dreaming of meeting our baby soon; and for the first time in two or three weeks without the nervous mix of anxiety and excitement of hoping that tonight would be the night.

I awoke a few hours later, at 3am, with a tightening feeling across my tummy. It wasn’t painful, and this had happened most nights for the past 3 weeks, so I thought nothing of it. As I lay in bed trying to get back to sleep I soon felt a second, then a third. I realised that they were different from my pre-labour tightenings; they were very low down and began to feel like a dull ache. After weeks of false alarms I knew this was the real thing, and part of me wanted to whoop with joy and excitement; but strangely, I felt an overwhelming sense of focus and direction which took over at that moment, and remained with me right up until the end, that somehow kept me (uncharacteristically) calm and composed. I would follow my instincts, I knew what to do. I murmured to Ben that I was having tightenings, and was going downstairs, not wanting to disturb him at such an early stage.

I sleepily set myself up with my hypobirthing tracks (I had been listening to the labour preparation tracks in the weeks before the birth) and leaned over my birthing ball, rolling my hips from side to side with each surge. I began to time these; they were only every 10 minutes but lasting a good 90 seconds. I lost track of time, and drifted off to sleep in between surges, but at some point Ben came downstairs and slept on the sofa next to me, to be with me. At around 5 or 6am, I filled the bath and continued with the labour tracks on loop. They were incredibly soothing, kept my mind occupied and in a trance-like state and reminded me to breathe deeply and slowly through each surge. In no time, Ben came through and told me it was 8am, and rang the labour ward to cancel our induction admission as I was in labour. Their response was: “Ok, well as it’s her first time things will probably fizzle out, and you might need help, so we’ll keep a bed available for you”. We looked at each other, and unphased, I popped my headphones back in and continued with my routine.

By around 9am my tightenings were every 5 minutes, but it was only at this point that they started to become really painful. I was out of the bath, had had some breakfast, and was pottering about the kitchen but was finding I’d have to lean on something for support and concentrate on my breathing hard with each surge, however in between I’d have complete relief of the discomfort and could go about busying myself. I checked my hospital bag and tidied up, finding something to grab onto each time a strong surge came; Ben even took some last bump photos in between! Until this point everything was going far better than I could have ever hoped, I felt entirely in control, calm and with just a little bit of nervous excitement.

By 11am, my contractions were every 3 minutes and I was no longer getting any relief from the pain in between; things had fairly rapidly gone from entirely manageable to less so. I asked Ben to call the hospital, feeling a release of adrenalin in response to the surprise of how unbearable the pain was at the height of each surge. One very quick but unpleasant car journey later we were at labour triage, so that they could “see if I was in labour”. The next hour or so was possibly the worst part for me: the pain was accelerating in intensity at an alarming rate, I was moving my hips from side to side with each surge desperately trying to find relief, but failing to, and I found myself crying out loud for the first time.  We were first left alone in a room for what seemed like an eternity, and then a midwife entered and slowly leafed through my notes, commenting, surprised, that this was the first time I’d contacted them – with more than a hint of doubt in her expression that I was really in active labour. Finally I was examined, something I was prepared would happen but nevertheless resented, as I knew the only function of this was to prove to her that I was worthy of the labour ward at this point in time. I do wish I had had the confidence, in retrospect, to decline this painful examination that offered no real benefit to me or my baby.

I had chosen to use the birthing pool, and while it was being run I was finally offered some gas and air. I breathed this in deeply, and initially it truly dulled the intensity of the pain, and it was wonderful! My midwife walked in and introduced herself, and, inexplicably, I responded with “I’m off my face”, then immediately felt embarrassed at my utterance and the initial effects of the gas on me (in my defence, I really did feel as though my face had left my head). Left alone with Ben again, I clutched his hand and told him for the first time that day, “I can’t do this, it’s too painful – I need an epidural”. On cue, I was told that the pool was ready. By this time it was 1pm.

The warmth of the water and the feeling of weightlessness was blissful, and I quickly relaxed into it. Our midwife dimmed the lights in the room low, and left Ben and I alone. Contractions came in thick and fast, and the pain at the peak of each was excruciating and all consuming. I sucked hard on the gas, which no longer gave me any relief, but did serve to keep my breathing long and slow through each surge. I entered a trance-like state again and was aware of very little, except Ben’s presence next to me the whole time, offering sips of cold water. Although this was the most painful stage so far, strangely I enjoyed the experience. I felt in control, focused, empowered. I knew that I was progressing well, I felt proud with myself for coping with the pain, and this encouraged me.

As I entered transition I began to struggle; the intensity of the pain felt too much to bear at the peak of each surge, and I said to Ben for the second time, “I’m serious this time – I need an epidural”. He looked at me and said, “I know you can do this, but if you want an epidural, of course you can have one. Do you want to me get the midwife?” Again right on cue, she knocked on the door and came through to ask if there was anything I needed. I looked back at Ben for a few moments, and then shook my head.

Soon afterwards, the pains began to feel slightly different; less intense, and although I didn’t feel a very strong urge to push I heard myself letting out a low pitched, guttural sound with each out breath. I instinctively knew what this meant, and I could feel the top of Oscar’s head, which was sitting very low. It was now around 3pm, and only 2 hours after being admitted to the labour ward (when I was told I was 4cm dilated) I was fully dilated, and it looked like we would meet our boy very soon.

It was at this stage that things began to unravel slightly. Oscar’s heart rate was dipping with each contraction, and after a period of continuous monitoring in the water I was told it was best that I got out of the pool, and reluctantly did so. A quick examination to reassure the midwife that I was indeed fully dilated resulted in my waters being broken, inadvertently. Out of the water I felt heavy, and the cold air brought me back to reality and out of the trance-like state, and I felt both uncomfortable and irritable, as if someone had woken me from a deep sleep too early.

It was time to start pushing, and strangely the only position that Oscar’s heart rate remained stable was with me on my back, partly upright. The pushing went on and on, and it felt as though nothing was happening, which was incredibly disheartening. I was told by the midwives (her senior was in the room as well now) to put my chin down on my chest, hold my breath and push; I did so, and it didn’t feel right, nothing was moving, and there was new pain in my back which, although not severe, felt very unpleasant. I think, in retrospect, this sensation was putting me off pushing too hard — the only way I can think to describe it was a feeling as though my bum was going to explode! Two hours passed. I was completely exhausted at this point, and began to truly doubt myself for the first time in the labour. I simply felt that I couldn’t get him out.

A doctor was brought in, who suggested that as I was at the limit of time recommended for pushing, but as Oscar’s head was very low and visible (as it had been for the past 2 hours!), she would help deliver him with a suction cup. I was exhausted, frustrated, in pain, desperate to meet my baby — and what I said next took everyone in the room, including myself, by surprise. I looked at the doctor and asked, “Is there a greater risk of me tearing if you use the Ventouse?” She answered, directly, “Yes, there is”. “Ok, I’ll have another half an hour to try to do this myself”. She nodded and left the room. With new found motivation, I listened to my body and found myself pushing differently, now arching my back with each push, and as I did I felt Oscar’s head move down, and heard cheers of encouragement through the room. I felt searing pain as he crowned, and with a few more gentle pushes his head was out, and I felt an overwhelming sense of relief, both from the pain and that I had managed to birth him alone, without needing the Ventouse after all.

But the drama wasn’t all over yet. I remember the moment of restitution vividly (when Oscar’s head turned through 90 degrees); it was such a strange sensation. Ben told me that the senior midwife murmured to her team “It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of room here, we might need the manoeuvre“, although I wasn’t aware of this at the time. When another contraction finally came, I was encouraged to push as hard as I could and I did so as the midwife applied gentle traction to his head: Oscar didn’t budge. His head was delivered, but his shoulder was stuck. Without a second’s hesitation the emergency buzzer was pressed for assistance, the bed was flat, I was being bent in half with my legs pressed against me, and without needing to be told again I pushed with all my might. Oscar’s shoulder was delivered, followed by the rest of his body, and was placed straight onto my chest, into my arms.

There were exclamations through the room remarking what a big boy he was, nods from the doctors to myself and their team as they left, their assistance thankfully not required, and words of congratulations from the midwives. These bits of memory have been built in my mind from Ben’s recounts, as I was in a bubble of relief, shock, and pure love for this purple, puffy, warm, dark haired creature lying on me, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Newborn baby boy - birth story

Newborn baby birth story

Dad with newborn baby on his chest

In all honesty, I can’t say that I did experience the profound heart-flip, love at first sight emotions that I had been led to believe that I would when I first held Oscar, especially now that I can see retrospectively how my attachment has grown with each day that we’ve spent together; how now each time Oscar smiles at me and reaches his arms up for ‘mama’ my heart feels as through it might explode with pride and love. What I did feel, however, was an overwhelming sense of protectiveness, and once that baby touched my skin I didn’t want to let him go, ever. I declined passing him over to get dressed and weighed, and instead kept him on my chest as I had my stitches done. Oscar crawled his way over to find a breast and began nursing, just twenty minutes after he had entered the world.

The next moment of surprise came when Oscar was eventually weighed — 9lb 2oz, or 4.1kg! Suddenly it was clear why I had found it so difficult, and taken over three hours to push this baby out of my 5′ 4” frame.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a smooth and straightforward labour, in which I felt largely calm and in control, and managed with only gas and air for pain relief; however I didn’t feel like this immediately following the birth. For a few weeks, I was in shock that I had grown such a big baby for my small frame, and felt more than a little traumatised at the three, long, hard hours of solid pushing, and the shoulder dystocia that was thankfully mild and resolved very quickly, but could potentially have been worse. I worried about what would happen the next time — what if I have an even bigger baby? I spoke to a consultant a week after Oscar’s birth who very confidently reassured me, “If you’ve managed a normal delivery the first time, you can do it again.” What people say about forgetting the pain of labour has been completely true for me, and now I look back on it as one of my proudest achievements.

Thank you for reading this, and if you’ve shared your birth story, let me know where I can read it!

Hannah xxx

A pregnancy retreat at Ribby Hall Spa

Woman in white robe relaxing with a cup of tea

Being pregnant the second time around is just a world away from the experience I had when I was carrying Oscar. Not so much in terms of how the pregnancy feels: I’ve had the same symptoms at similar times, and it all feels very familiar physically, but in terms of how well I have looked after myself, and the lack of time I’ve had to listen to the needs of my pregnant mind and body. Even writing that down feels far too self-indulgent! In my first pregnancy, I researched the whole internet (really not exaggerating) for information, tips and advice about how to do everything right, I went to weekly pregnancy yoga classes from around 24 weeks, I joined an NCT antenatal programme and from around 34 weeks I listened to my natal hypnotherapy CD a few times a week. This time around, life feels about ten time busier and so far none of those things have happened. When I was pregnant with Oscar, I was careful not to pick up anything too heavy to protect my aching back, and towards the end I rested when I could. This time, I have a 14kg toddler who demands to be carried several times a day, and rest is a luxury I only get in broken spells at night. I know that this is completely normal, and those of you with more than one child will be nodding away, but it can make you feel guilty that you simply can’t give the same level of care and attention as you did for your first baby, right?

When the team at Ribby Hall spa village got in touch with me to tell me about their new pregnancy yoga retreat, and asked if I’d like to come along and review the experience, unsurprisingly I jumped at the chance. The package is a two day, one night stay for you and a partner, and all the included activities focus on unwinding, relaxing and spending quality time together (a rare treat for Ben and I nowadays!), as well as a perfect opportunity for us to connect and bond with the little life I’ve been nurturing inside over the past seven months.

We arrived at the spa hotel at about midday on the Friday, and were greeted with a goodie bag full of healthy treats, and a freshly made fruit smoothie to enjoy in the lounge. The spa is near Preston, and we had driven across that morning, leaving Oscar with my parents at my house in York.

Included in the pregnancy retreat package was a massage for both myself and Ben; this had all been arranged for us in advance by the staff in the spa and it was lovely to be able to have our massages at the same time, rather than one after another, as I have found with some other spas. After getting changed into fresh, fluffy robes and slippers (are they not the best thing about staying in a fancy hotel?!) we headed up to the spa itself. I had the Elemis pregnancy massage; one and a quarter hours of absolute bliss! I actually hadn’t ever had a proper pregnancy massage before, as the few places I’d been to during this pregnancy and the last didn’t actually offer one, as you need to be specially qualified to do them, so I’d had to opt for a facial or pedi instead. It was essentially the same as a traditional Swedish full body massage, only instead of lying on your front, it’s done whilst lying on either side (and a short bit lying on your back, too). I wasn’t really sure what I would think of this, but the positioning was done so smoothly and I was pleasantly surprised to find it one of the most relaxing massages I’d ever had. One of my favourite things about it was how incredible comfortable and supportive the massage couch was – so important for my achey back and pelvis!

Ben had the hot stone massage, and I was a tiny bit envious of him! Smooth, heated rocks were placed over pressure points on his body and then used to massage him with oils. I think given a choice, men often feel the need to go for more ‘manly’ massage options, like sports or Thai massages, but he absolutely loved this. I thought it was brilliant that as part of the retreat package, the partners were pampered as well: they can often end up feeling a bit sidelined when it comes to pregnancy-related classes and experiences.

After our massages, we were taken over to a room in the hotel’s gym complex where we had our hypnotherapy relaxation class by Gemma Webster. I had prepared for Oscar’s birth with some natal hypnotherapy CDs, and found them hugely helpful during early labour. I’m a huge believer in being able to control and manage pain, to a certain extent, by having realistic expectations, visualisations and staying calm. The lights were dimmed and we were each given a pregnancy positive affirmation card to focus on, before we lay down and listened to Gemma leading us into deep relaxation, with her very soothing voice. I think I might have fallen asleep towards the end, but that’s a good sign, right?!

Dinner was held in the restaurant at the hotel, and included two courses, although in the end everything had been so delicious that we had to have dessert as well! One big plus point that Ben and I both really appreciated were how engaging and friendly all the staff were, especially those in the restaurant areas – its really made a big difference to our stay.

My lovely friend Rebecca, who I first met through Instagram and has a beautiful blog that you can read here, was also at the retreat, and after dinner we stayed up far too late in the lounge drinking non-alcoholic cocktails (although I really wished it was a glass of wine, I’ve been craving it so much!) together with the boys – it was a wonderful evening and with all the laughter it was the most exercise my pelvic floor had had in a while!

Ben and I had the most luxurious, spacious room with a huge four-poster bed, and we both slept so well – thanks in part to the massage and relaxation class the day before. The only fault I could find was that my pillow was pretty firm for me, although Ben thought it was fine and I noticed afterwards that they had a ‘pillow menu’ on the bedside table where you could order an alternative pillow!

After a yummy breakfast, Ben and I headed back to the spa to try out the spa’s Aqua Experience. This was a series of pools, saunas and steam rooms, and whilst didn’t try the hotter ones, I was more than happy to stick to the cooler jacuzzi and relaxation areas. Ben and I agreed that our favourite bit was the outside spa pool overlooking the countryside – isn’t there something amazing about feeling the warm water on your body, but also the cool, fresh air on your face?

We checked out of our room after getting changed and headed back over to the gym complex for our pregnancy yoga session, led by Jo Eastham. Ben came along to this too, as he really enjoys yoga – being quite tall, he can be prone to getting back pain and finds yoga poses the best way to stretch out and strengthen his back. I’ll often find him doing the ‘downward dog’ position in the kitchen when he’s come home from work, and Oscar has started to copy him!

Compared to yoga that I’ve done before, I found this session very gentle and relaxing, and felt incredibly calm afterwards. Some of the yoga positions were done whilst sitting on an exercise ball for added support, which I hadn’t thought of doing before. I’ve been meaning to sign up for a course of pre-natal yoga again in this pregnancy, but haven’t yet got around to it! I think it’s a brilliant way to not only get some light exercise, but a lot of pregnancy yoga classes will focus on breathing for labour, and visualising and connecting with your baby.

After our yoga class we went back to the hotel restaurant for lunch with Rebecca and her husband Dan; there were plenty of healthy options but after feeling like we’d been so good to our bodies all weekend we were all craving burgers! We could have stayed chatting all afternoon, but we had to eventually head off back to rescue my parents from little Oscar. We were so happy to scoop him up again when we got home; even after only a day we’d really missed him, but apparently, other than cheerily stating that ‘mummy and daddy on holiday’ he hadn’t mentioned us at all!!

I hadn’t ever heard of anywhere offering a pregnancy retreat package like this before, but I thought it was the perfect ‘babymoon’ for any pregnant couple who love spas (who doesn’t?!) and are after some pure relaxation — the fact that everything was organised for us, from booking the massages, to taking us directly to each class, to making dinner reservations, meant that we didn’t have to worry about a thing. It was also such a wonderful opportunity for Ben and I to really focus on the new baby; exactly what I felt like I needed with the hectic day-to-day routine of work and looking after a busy toddler.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the packages at Ribby Hall spa (they also do a non-pregnancy yoga retreat) you can find more details here.

Three Octobers with Oscar – a reflection on the first two years of motherhood

There’s a cherry tree in the park opposite our house in York. It’s a bit of a show-off, as far as trees go. In the Spring, heavy clusters of candyfloss-hued blossom drip from each branch, and as their short show comes to an end they create a pink snowstorm whenever the wind blows. In the autumn, the leaves begin to turn, first mottled yellow, ochre and green; then fiery red, before they all fall in a final sigh and leave the ground covered in a scarlet carpet.

Two years ago, I was heavily pregnant with Oscar: my due date passed, then 41 weeks, but he was staying firmly put. I felt enormous, uncomfortable, and incredibly impatient for him to arrive. I paced around the park multiple times every day in those last few days before I became a mother, hoping to bring labour on, but also needing to be close to home as I was getting both strong Braxton Hicks contractions and a very achey lower back. Passing this fiery tree so frequently made me truly appreciate its beauty for the first time, but I didn’t know at the time that I was also creating a strong association between the cherry tree and its vivid hues and my feelings at the time.

One year later, on Oscar’s first birthday, we walked through the park with the majestic cherry tree, dressed in its full autumn grandeur, and a wave of nostalgia hit me like a wall. Tears pricked my eyes when I saw myself in my mind that year earlier, waddling stubbornly through the park, completely clueless to what was about to hit me – I was full of confidence, optimism; I was ready to handle motherhood and all it faced, and refused to relax and embrace my last few days before my life turned upside down. The next few weeks would turn out to be more exhausting, fulfilling, frustrating and joyful — emotionally draining — than I could have ever imagined.

Here I was, now a completely different woman to the stubborn waddler: more resilient, with far more grace then before, perhaps no less stubborn but a lot more willing to accept what I could not change. I felt older, in a good way. I had more appreciation for what was important in my life, and knew to hold those things close and nurture them, and not worry about the rest. I was tired, all the time, but I felt happier in myself than ever before.

This year, I could also see someone else beneath the tree, in the very place where I had stood for a photo, cradling my 41 week bump: the little life changer himself. Angelic, rosy cheeks from the chill in the air, delicious rolls of chubbiness from 365 days of feeding him, delighted squeals as we threw rusty leaves in the air like confetti. It was the first time that I’d really looked at him and also seen myself, pre-motherhood, and the wave of emotions that came over me were overwhelming.

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This year, as the leaves started to turn on the tree, I found myself reflecting again; both on Oscar, my autumn baby, and on myself. Oscar is a walking, talking, just-turned-two year old. He is taller and slimmer and has more hair than last year, and his sweet, funny, cheeky and loving personality positively shines. I’m so incredibly proud of him. I’m just as happy, probably more so than last year, but I feel more grounded, less emotionally vulnerable; less like I’m looking frantically for the carpet that was sharply pulled out from under my feet on the day that Oscar was born, than last year.

This year, I’m growing another little life again; a baby brother for Oscar. I often wonder how there could possibly be room in my heart to love another little human as much as I already do Oscar, and also how I will manage with two babies to nurture in a few short weeks. It fills me with excitement, a little apprehension and also determination to do the best I can both by my boys, and Ben, but also to try to not be too hard on myself. I’d really like to be strict on setting lower expectations of myself than I did last time I had a newborn baby, and channel the calm, relaxed mama inside that I know I can tease out if I stay focused on what’s really important, and gently set aside all of those things that are not.

Last year I compiled this short film of Oscar in the days around his birthday, and the mood of it is so deliciously autumnal, I’d love it if you took a look. Right at the very end of the video, there’s a clip where Oscar is up and on his feet like Bambi – those are actually his very first proper steps, caught on camera, hence the huge proud mama grin on my face!

If you can relate to any of this as a mother, I would love to hear your thoughts. If you have more than one baby, how was it different for you the second time? Is autumn a special time of year for you as well?

Hannah x

My pregnancy diary- the first trimester

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At twenty-two weeks pregnant this post is somewhat belated, but as I’m finding the pregnancy is absolutely racing by, and although I will never say never, it could be the last time I get to experience this, I want to document and remember all the magical moments, good and bad.

From the very beginning

I knew I was pregnant pretty much instantly. Well, within a few days, when this little peach would have been a mere dot of cells, I simply felt different. Of course, it could have all been in my mind, as we were trying and hoping that I would get pregnant, but the month before I felt like I knew it hadn’t happened before my period actually arrived. One change I noticed was my appetite – I went off food, and whilst I didn’t feel nauseous yet, I found myself turning my nose up at lots of foods that I usually like, and also coffee: this also happened very early in my pregnancy with Oscar and set little nostalgic alarm bells off in my head. My breasts also felt very tender after only a week or so, and I just felt… pregnant! I pre-warned Ben, and he shrugged, telling me with his eyes, “well, we’ll have to wait a couple more weeks to find out,” but also flashing me an excited smile.

I waited until a Saturday morning when Ben would be at home with us, a few days after my period was due, and took a test. Unlike last time, I didn’t feel at all nervous, as I felt so sure that I knew it would be positive, but I still felt my stomach flip with butterflies when I saw the second line appear. We ate breakfast together, and I tried hard not to grin the whole while. When Ben was brushing his teeth, I handed Oscar the test and whispered to him, “go and give this to Daddy”. He toddled over, and held it out. Ben, slightly suspiciously said, “Oscar, what have you got there?” -thinking he’d got his hands on something he shouldn’t have. As he looked at the test, I peeked my head around the door watching him. His brain computed what it was that he was holding for several seconds before his face broke into a huge smile and he looked up, searching for me. As we hugged, Oscar ran over, never wanting to feel left out, and wrapped his arms around our legs. It was a wonderful moment.

The first 14 weeks

The early weeks were very similar to last time for me: unpleasant, but not awful. I felt mildly queasy all day long, and didn’t want to eat. I was ready for bed by 8pm every night, and had random moments of feeling emotional and tearful for no reason. I had frequent niggling fears of having a miscarriage; coming from a medical background I couldn’t help but be rationally aware that they are really common in early pregnancy. We kept the pregnancy a secret (other than our parents), and I really disliked having symptoms, and knowing I was pregnant, but not feeling able to shout it from the rooftops or having anything to ‘show’ for it. Having said all of this, it was wonderful to know that I was growing a new life inside me, and I felt more relaxed and able to enjoy it than the first time around, when I felt like the first trimester dragged on for an absolute lifetime!

At 10 weeks, we chose to have a private early pregnancy scan, as we had booked our holiday to Mallorca already, and I knew that the dates fell right when my 12-week scan should be. Due to the aforementioned anxiety of things simply being OK with the pregnancy, I really wanted to go on holiday and be able to relax in the knowledge that it was all so far, so good. It was well worth it – the scan was really thorough and it was completely magical to see the little peach, looking like a fully-formed tiny human, wriggling and kicking away.

By about 12-13 weeks not only did I start feeling a whole lot better in myself, but I could tell that I was starting to show! To others, I was definitely at that awkward stage of simply looking like I had eaten a really big meal! This was so exciting to me, as I adored having a bump the first time around, and it really didn’t appear until 16-17 weeks with Oscar. When we had our dating scan, my due date was put forward by five days – exactly the same as with Oscar. It’s always nice to find out you’re a little further on (according to the baby’s size, at least) but to me it means I’m absolutely sure I’ll go over my due date again. Oscar was born at 12 days overdue, and I found the last two weeks of the pregnancy really hard. I’m very impatient and the anticipation nearly killed me, not to mention that I was dreading the thought of being induced. This time around I feel a LOT more relaxed about it all, and in my mind my real ‘due date’, that I’m going by, is when I’ll actually be 41 weeks pregnant.

My top tips for coping with morning sickness

Although I was really lucky and didn’t get severe nausea, my personal sickness self-help tips would be:

  • Sleep! My nausea was always worse if I’d had a bad night up with Oscar
  • De-stress! I had a really big exam when I was 7 weeks pregnant, and the stress surrounding it made my nausea so much worse. I think relaxation methods (mindfulness, meditation, yoga, massage) can help the physical feeling of early pregnancy sickness more than you would imagine
  • Never have an empty stomach – it makes morning sickness worse; I chose to nibble on plain rice cakes or biscuits in between what meals I could manage
  • Keep well hydrated with regular sips of water

The second trimester

The things I’m most looking forward to: (kind of cheating as I’m writing this halfway through my second trimester, but they were all true!)

  • Having a bump – the bigger the better!
  • Feeling slightly less exhausted all the time
  • Feeling those magical baby flutters and kicks
  • Seeing our peach again at the 20 week scan
  • Finding out the sex of the baby
  • Getting to wear comfy maternity clothes again – especially my maternity jeans!

Image of tiny knitted baby booties

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I completely forgot about this moment here until I was looking on my phone for some photos to accompany this post. On the day I took the pregnancy test and we officially found out we were expecting, Ben and Oscar came back from the shops with this big bunch of blooms, which Oscar proudly presented to me. I don’t often share candid, everyday photos (laundry basket and washing machine on show, grainy/blurry images!!) but these were just so sweet.

Please do pop a comment below if you liked this, and if you’re pregnant at the moment, please say hello! When are you due? During my first pregnancy I absolutely loved following along with other mums’ pregnancy journeys through Instagram or their blogs.

Hannah x

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Mallorca – our first summer holiday with a toddler

Last month, Ben, Oscar and I travelled to Mallorca for a much needed 9-day holiday together. It wasn’t the first time we’ve been away as a family – last year we went to Cornwall, a long weekend in Copenhagen for my 30th birthday and Poland to visit my extended family; and earlier this year we went skiing in France with both our families — but it was the first time that Oscar was old enough to really enjoy and appreciate the trip himself, and boy did it make for a magical experience for us all. With your first child, every single thing is a ‘first’, and that unexpectedness brings so much excitement: seeing how awestruck Oscar was to travel on an airplane, watching his boyish joy at the novelty of ‘living’ somewhere different, and his daily thrilled squeals when we brought out his little swimsuit.

We stayed in Sa Rota in Mallorca, which we booked through Tots To Travel. It’s a rural farmhouse in the centre of Mallorca converted into self-catered apartments, set in gardens of lemon and clementine trees, and surrounded by farms and wheat fields. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and provided us with the perfect balance of convenience (all baby equipment, kitchen, outdoor private dining area, swimming pool included) and calm. We hired a car – a must for this place – and visited a few beaches, the mountains in the north and some old towns and markets, as well as popping out for our morning coffees and pastries in the nearest village. We were craving an escape, and to avoid crowds and busy streets as much as possible, as as much as Mallorca may seem an odd choice for this, being a super popular holiday destination, this is exactly what we got.

On our last day, we met a couple at the swimming pool where we were staying; they were a similar age to Ben and I, but didn’t have any children yet. They lay sunbathing, sipping cool drinks, while we played with Oscar in the pool. He was shrieking with joy, asking to be thrown up into the air, getting out to jump in again repeatedly, forgetting he couldn’t swim and diving to reach a ball and needing a quick scoop up — you can imagine the scene. Toddlers are non-stop. They don’t stop moving. They are masters at finding danger and need a constant watchful eye. But one look at our bananas little boy and you could plainly see that he was in seventh heaven, beaming from ear to ear, giggling hysterically, smothering Ben and I with cuddles and kisses every time we caught him in the water, and just to see that was truly the best feeling in the world. How lucky and proud I felt that another little human was absolutely loving being alive, and that it was all down to us – that feeling is difficult to put into words, but it caught my breath. The couple were sweet, and commented how funny and happy our little man was, followed by “it looks like hard work – I bet holidays are never the same again with children!” And I thought, well – it is hard work, and no, holidays aren’t the same, and yes, sometimes I would really like to read a book by the pool in peace, or go out for dinner to a fancy restaurant. But this, this is a million times better.

I have some absolutely incredible memories of holidays that Ben and I took together, before Oscar came along. From this holiday, I’ll remember watching Oscar standing on Ben’s feet, dancing to buskers in the square. I’ll remember the heavy weight of carrying him to the house from the car, groggy with sleep, his face buried into my shoulder and his arms around my neck. I’ll remember his evening ritual of visiting the frogs in the pond where we were staying, tip-toeing quietly and shushing us, so as not to disturb them, then forgetting and shrieking FROG!! every single time – then “night night frogs”. I’ll remember his overexcited airplane sound effects and wild gesticulation when we boarded the plane, that looked a lot like an airplane crashing, and made everyone on board laugh out loud – and look slightly alarmed too! I’ll remember salty eyelashes and little sandy toes. For me, these kinds of memories are of a different league altogether, and ones I’ll treasure forever.

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I’ve compiled a little film of our memories, and would absolutely love for you to have a look at it. I’m still very much a beginner at editing these films, but everything I have learnt is from Xanthe Berkeley’s Make Films course that I took two years ago.

Have you got any holidays coming up soon? What are your thoughts on travelling pre vs post-children? Do you long for a child-free holiday again, or do you love the craziness and joy of it all? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Hannah x



A little bit about myself…

Hello there!

I wanted to start my blog by telling you a little about me and how this space came about. Whether we’ve met, or chatted on Instagram about our respective motherhood dramas; if you’ve followed my story through those little squares over the past year or so, or if I’m new to you: thank you so much for reading and please do pop me a message to say hi, I’m new to this game and it’s a little daunting for me!

I’m Hannah; a 31 year old wife and mother.

I met Ben, a tall, handsome Devon boy 10 years ago, in the library at University, whilst we were supposed to be studying for our exams. After a few days of bumping into each other and hushed chatting in the reference aisles, he offered to walk me home at the end of the day. Ben walked me home every day that week, and one evening on the way home we ended up getting an impromptu drink in a pub garden. Neither of us knew that it was our first date at the time, but the rest is history. At our wedding (which, despite the cliché, was truly the best day of my life) our first dance was to ‘Walking My Baby Back Home’ by Nat King Cole.

I grew up in Cambridge, spent my University years in Leeds and then settled in York, doing the job that I had dreamed of since my childhood. Then, in October 2015 my life changed forever when our beautiful little boy, Oscar, arrived. Motherhood challenged me in every way possible, it made me question my priorities in life, what kind of person I am; what kind of person I wanted to be. The year away from a career that I had invested in for 10 years was hugely refreshing for me, and I was enthused to make the most of it: I re-learned how to knit, attempted to teach myself calligraphy, reignited my passion for photography and took an online film making course. Trying to do all of this whilst looking after a new baby was a struggle (especially one who seemingly didn’t sleep much and never wanted to be put down) and there were many days when I longed for five minutes to pee in peace, let alone half an hour relaxing with a knitting project.

I made contacts on a little app called Instagram; other mothers at very similar stages to me, going through the same troubles. These contacts developed into friendships, and this was the start for me of a bit of a love affair with Instagram. There were messages pinged back and forth whilst nursing in the dark in the early hours, comments of support and encouragement when I admitted how hard I’d found the early weeks, and private messages from mothers of younger babies, just to let me know that my raw admission of my rock bottom moments; the kind that there is a strong temptation to keep to oneself in order to appear as though everything is going swimmingly, had made them cry with relief as they had believed that everyone else was coping except for them. Instagram has not only been a little diary of my first two years as a mother and introduced me to some incredible women, but its wealth of inspiration has kept my enthusiasm for indulging my creative side going — and led to this blog.

Here you’ll find a bit of a mix that’s an honest reflection of me: my thoughts on motherhood, places we’ve been, some photography, creative outlets and day to day life finds that are too good not to share! I can’t thank you enough for stopping by to have a look, and I would absolutely love to hear from you – leave a comment or send me an email, for me it’s what this is all about!

You can find me on Instagram: @hannah.straughan or you can contact me via email:

Hannah x





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