How to access your Gmail emails from China without a VPN and 7 other solutions

This article will cover how to read your emails without a VPN, even if you use Gmail, and 7 other solutions to internet access problems caused by the Great Firewall of China.

What is the Great Firewall?

Basically, China has some concerns about the data security of specific western companies and they have blanket banned their services. This includes all Google services, not just Google search, so Maps, Gmail, Google Drive, Scholar and Google Books are all affected.

You might be forgiven for thinking that no one in China uses the internet, or that it’s a bleak, pared-down service with no real value to anyone. Google is EVERYTHING, right? Uh… no.

People in China use the internet like 24/7, and they do pretty much everything on there. More things than you. I’m pretty sure they’d use the internet to sleep if there was an app for it. The internet in China is thriving, and you can use it, too, you just have to know what to do instead of what you’re accustomed to.

If you have an iPhone, you can use Apple’s in-house programs instead of Google services.

If you have Google’s Maps app on your phone or tablet, the app will still work (ish) but it will be horribly inaccurate because it doesn’t know where anything in China is, streetview doesn’t work, and half the addresses are written in Chinese characters instead of English, so don’t use Google Maps in China anyway.

So anyway, there’s this firewall, and you’ve heard the answer is a VPN (virtual private network… you basically lie to the internet and tell it you’re somewhere else). You’re about to go to China and you are wondering about buying a VPN? STOP! Ask if you really need it. If you’re only going for a short trip, you likely will be about to waste £100!

Lots of rich-kid travel bloggers will tell you that you need a VPN to use the internet in China but it’s just not true. And actually, it can cause more problems than it solves.

Here’s the main reasons people think they need a VPN to visit China:

  • Gmail
  • Google Search
  • Google Maps
  • Google Drive and Dropbox
  • Google Translate
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • To access news sites and anything using AdSense or Analytics
  • YouTube

This article is going to cover how to set up your stuff so you won’t need a VPN for most purposes. It’s for people who are only going to be in China for a week or two.

If you’re going as an expat, a VPN makes more sense because these workarounds are not long-term solutions, but as a tourist, why waste £100 on a year’s subscription to something you’ll never use after you get back from China?

How to get at your Gmail emails in China (do this before you go):

The biggest reason you might seriously need to use non-Chinese internet is to access important messages in your email inbox. Many things in the West are done via email these days so not being able to communicate with people is an abject nuisance, especially if you’re a digital nomad running a business.

Here’s how to read your emails and and stay in touch with your contacts while you’re on holiday in China:

  1. Go to Mail.com (that’s a different website to Gmail.com – note there’s no G at the start because it’s not a Google site). Set up a free account. It’s fairly basic and their popups are really annoying but they have one huge advantage for tourists in China trying to read their email, which is that mail.com is not banned in China.

    You could also use Yahoo Mail (the search engine is banned but not the email, so bookmark a direct link), or if you have a self-hosted website or a work email, you could set up Outlook, Mac Mail or Thunderbird (but these are complicated for getting at web-based mail).
  2. Go to your Gmail account and go to “settings” (the cog). Click “go to all settings” near the top of the menu. In the tabs across the top (grey and hard to spot, see my screenshot), go to “forwarding and POP/IMAP” and check “forward a copy of incoming mail to:”
  3. Click “add a forwarding address.” Type your new mail.com email address into the box here and check “keep Gmail’s copy in the inbox” so you have a record of all your emails in case you need them later. Ignore all the rest and click “save changes”.
  4. Go back to your Mail.com account and confirm the forwarding request. If you don’t do this, the whole thing doesn’t work.
  5. Go to China and read your emails. It’s that simple!

What to use instead of Google Search in China?

http://bing.com

http://baidu.com

These work fine. Bing throws up more results in English. Take your pick.

What to use instead of Google Maps in China?

A mapping app is something we’ve all come to rely on to help us find our way around. Sure, you could buy a paper map, but it won’t tell you shop opening times or give you a company website when you click on it.

However, there are LOADS of alternatives to Google maps which work in China. Here I’ll review all of them along with discussing the problem most of them share:

1. Bing Maps.

This is basically the best mapping app for China.
Pros: The road names are all in English so you can read them. It shows the public transport lines really clearly, like WAY better than Google which absolutely isn’t geared up to showing you public transport very well. It gives you details about things on the map such as their website and opening hours, where these have been added to Bing. It works in your browser so even on a Mac you can use this Microsoft app. There’s also a downloadable Bing Maps app for your phone!
Cons: None. I am not a fan of Bing search engine but their mapping app is really good.
Find it: https://www.bing.com/maps

2. Apple Maps.

Misses out on the top spot because it only works on Apple products and there’s no browser option.
Pros: Works on your iphone, ipad or Mac. You don’t need to remember a URL to get a map. Has more up-to-date China maps than Google.
Cons: Doesn’t work on non-Apple products and you can’t use it in a browser.
Find it: On your Apple products.

3. Here We Go.

This works in your browser or as an app, across a range of products. I saw reviews which said it only worked on Windows, Android or iOS but I tested it on my MacBook Pro and I can safely say it also works on Macs.
Pros: Works on all platforms and there’s a browser mode. Great for getting from A to B when you know where you are and where you are going.
Cons: No business listings, destinations or places of interest, it only works with addresses you already know, so it’s not great for getting travel inspiration or mapping to somewhere by place name rather than street address. Very simple in terms of features shown, e.g. there’s no green to show parks.
Find it: https://wego.here.com/

4. Maps.Me

This is a mapping app that claims to work offline and be a great friend to travellers.
Pros: Works offline (if you downloaded the map)
Cons: Doesn’t work on laptops, you can only run it on iOS or Android. No good for late-night laptop research for tomorrow’s itinerary. Am I the only one who does this?

The one problem all mapping apps share when you’re in China:

Street names are shown in Chinese characters or Western translations, both of which are, of course, useless for people who aren’t bilingual. Pinyin of the Mandarin street names written out in full would have been a better choice for readability and would also help with conveying addresses to taxi drivers (many of whom can’t read Chinese characters either).

If app developers are looking to update their maps with a major improvement, things like the screenshot below (from the English-language version of Apple maps) are basically useless when trying to get around in China. Instead of Fengcheng 1 Rd, it would be 1000% more useful to see “Fengcheng Yi Luo” written out in Pinyin, so travellers to China can read this out loud to taxi drivers, and those Chinese characters are hopeless, too.

Maps Conclusion:

Bing maps, y’all. It’s the best of the lot for getting around in China.

How to access Google Drive or Dropbox in China without a VPN:

You basically can’t. Sorry. The best workaround is to back up your files onto an external hard drive and use that, instead. Large-scale file sharing is a non-starter in China.

How to translate things in realtime in China:

Google Translate is very useful when you want to paste some text into a box and see some English. However, it is banned in China, which is a country where few people speak English.

Instead of using Google Translate in China, locals use a phone app called WeChat, which includes a translation option. You can either translate text, if someone sends you a message in Chinese, or you can use the phone’s picture scanner to translate Chinese into English.

Go to “options” “QR code scanner” then on the QR code scanner, press the “translate” button to toggle between QR scanner and translation. This will take a picture of the thing you want to understand, and it will translate it for you. Be sure to snap a screenshot if you need to keep the translation, as WeChat doesn’t save the translations for you.

You can also use a translation app but I have tried about 6 and none of them (even the expensive ones) were useful for China if I’m honest, so I have nothing else to recommend.

If you want an app to help you actually learn Chinese instead of translating, get Duolingo.

How to use Facebook in China (and Twitter) without a VPN

The only way to use Facebook in China is by using a VPN. And you can’t use a VPN on mobile data. BUT you can stay on top of your notifications by being clever.

Go to Facebook and look at your email settings. Get it to email you notifications for everything that happens on your Facebook. If you set your email up (first section, above), these notifications will be forwarded to your Mail.com and you can see who has liked your cat photo. This also works for Twitter. Who knew those crazy emails every 2 seconds, like, “Bob Smith liked your post!” were actually useful for something?

How to read western news in China without a VPN

A lot of western news sites are blocked in China. Without saying too much, this is usually because they’ve been identified as having an anti-China bias. To make it even more annoying, paranoid webmasters in western countries block Chinese IP addresses for no good reason.

You can still get western news however. Your local hometown newspaper is very unlikely to be affected by this, because when was the last time the Springfield Gazette ran an article on China?

Bookmark your local hometown news site. If you’re from a big city like LA, Washington DC or New York, you might be better finding a smaller gazette or chronicle.

Additionally, certain western news sites are not blocked. This list is ever changing but if you bookmark the main sites, you have a good chance of finding one that can keep you abreast. When I last checked, the Independent and the Guardian weren’t blocked, and both cover US news as well as European news, although I suspect it’s only a matter of time before they get banned.

How to get YouTube in China without a VPN

Sorry, YouTube is a Google company, so you basically can’t access YouTube at all without a VPN. If you’re a Youtuber without a VPN in China, stay up to date on your channel notifications by getting them all via email, and save your videos of China to share when you get home.

For non-Youtubers, if you download your favourite videos with a YouTube downloader (my go-to one has just stopped doing free downloads so I no longer have a recommendation for this), you can watch them offline. Otherwise, buy a DVD and external DVD drive to take with you.

Are there any other apps or sites you’re struggling to use in China? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do some looking and update this article for you. 🙂

How to get rid of a double chin: 4 proven causes and methods

It can be daunting looking at a double chin in the mirror, especially if you’re skinny or not very overweight. You might be thinking, “why do I have a double chin?” and “what’s the cheapest way to get rid of a double chin?”

Here’s the truth about your double chin: It’s not necessarily to do with how fat you are or aren’t. There’s three different causes of double chin. This article will look at all of them, as well as some solutions for every cause (and one quick fix).

Cause 1: Low muscle tone.

This is the easiest cause of a double chin to fix. For some people, the muscles around their neck are not strong enough to keep their skin taut. This makes the whole area sag and the jawline soften.

Fix it: Do some double chin exercises, such as tilting your head back as far as it will go and pulling it back to the normal resting position, like you’re doing an over-exaggerated nod.

Imagine your spine is the center of a clock and try to lean your head and pull it back upright from 12, 2 and 10 o’clock for best results.

Cause 2: Excess fat

This is a harder problem to solve. When it combines with low muscle tone, it can really cause problems, and before you know it, your double chin has grown!

No one likes to think they are overweight, but if you have a double chin and exercise didn’t get rid of it, maybe it’s time to step on the scales and be honest. You can calculate your BMI here to find out whether you are overweight or not.

If you’re not overweight, a double chin could be caused by excess internal fat. This also causes excess belly fat even in skinny people. The solution is to take up an aerobic exercise such as running or skating every day.

Solve it: Sign up for a couch to 10k.

Cause 3: Ageing

As time goes on, our skin loses elasticity. One area where this can be especially problematic is the chin and neck. It’s often where we see the first sign of ageing because it’s easy to forget to put cream on in this area, and over the years, this takes its toll.

Solve it: Use a targeted anti-ageing neck cream to increase firmness and elasticity.

Cause 4: Allergies

This is a cause no one likes to talk about, but like blue circles under your eyes, a double chin can be caused by swelling due to allergies. If you’ve tried everything and can’t get rid of your double chin, you could have a problem with allergies causing inflammation. Just like when you are sick, the neck can become swollen from the chronic inflammation caused by allergies.

Solve it: This is harder to solve. You can put a sticking plaster on the problem by using allergy tablets but they don’t address the cause. Many people just assume they have seasonal allergies, but without getting tested, they would never know. Untreated allergies can cause long-term effects in the body such as chronic inflammation which cannot be solved by taking allergy tablets. If this is the cause, you may want to look into lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation such as the anti-inflammation diet or supplements that fight inflammation.

Teaching in China: My experience at an international school

Guest post by Dr. Jason Szulc from Scientificanow.com

Jason worked in China as a physics teacher at an international school in Jiangsu Province for two years. Here, he gives his experiences on what it’s like as an expat living and working in China.

The recruitment process

I didn’t really apply for a job in China, I got headhunted by a recruitment agency, so I don’t know about application forms or the best place to find a job if you’re looking to work in China.

The recruitment agency provided an introduction and got my CV in front of the headteacher of an international school with a good reputation. I did my research on the school (as much as was possible; I found their website and read about their curriculum, the structure of the school week etc). The school organized a Skype interview with the headteacher who told me everything I needed to know about the school then asked if I was still interested. We negotiated salary via email and I accepted the job.

At this point, an administrator at the school became my point of contact and walked me through the process of sending my certificates in for my degrees and PGCE, applying for a visa etc.

Getting there

Once I had my visa, which involved a visit to a visa office in England, actually going to China was fairly straightforward. I booked flights, packed two suitcases and they checked my China visa at check-in.

When I arrived, immigration took a long time because I came in on a very big flight and flew into Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), one of the busiest airports in China. Once I was through immigration, a representative from my school met me in the arrivals foyer, we met up with some other people who had flown in, and went to get some food before driving an hour and a half to the school in a minibus.

Starting work

There were induction days and a safeguarding workshop, and a barbecue to welcome new staff members. Everyone was really friendly and there was a sense from day 1 that we were all working on the same team.

What were the living facilities like?

We had a 1-bedroom apartment but it was enormous! I live in a 2-bedroomed house now in the UK that’s smaller than the apartment in China. There was a kitchenette with a microwave, kettle, hotplate, sink and fridge-freezer; I bought an oven while I was there. The bathroom had a sink, toilet, shower and bath. The bedroom had a lot of storage, a huge window, an air conditioner and a bed. There was one set of bedding with it so I bought some more at a supermarket. The living room had a sofa, desk, dining table and chairs, TV on a TV table, and a coffee table, as well as a second air conditioner and an air purifier. 

I had an I.E. (cleaner) who came to the apartment daily to empty bins, clean the bathroom, hoover and wash the dishes. Mine was provided free by the school but people who lived independently of the school found it easy to hire their own I.E.s.

What was the food like?

It was school food, because I lived at the school and ate at the school canteen. We sat with the pupils to eat and we weren’t allowed to use our phones in the dining room, to encourage conversation between staff and pupils. Generally the food wasn’t bad; there were some days better than others.

It was a fairly good school canteen, with the occasional really odd thing like the prawn pizza. It was split into three main areas, the “western” bit, the “Chinese” bit and the “Asian fusion” area, along with a salad bar and a hatch that just served noodles and dumplings, all of which served different types of cuisine. One good thing about the school I worked at was the food was plentiful. On the western side, it was a little bit weird, like someone had told them about western food and they’d made something approximating it.

The vegetarian option left a lot to be desired and usually had a lot of butter on it and no protein. People with dietary considerations did struggle at times, particularly vegans or those who couldn’t eat pork. They tended to buy their own food and cook in their apartments instead of eating at the canteen. There was meat in things that you wouldn’t expect, such as the buns in the dessert area which had sausages inside them, which we dubbed the “secret sausages”. There were very few times when I got to the canteen and went “there’s nothing I want to eat here”, although it did get repetitive sometimes; there was a lot of Katsu curry!

What were the pupils like?

They were happy to sit down and get on with work. Very little in the way of bad behaviour, although sometimes they would sit there not doing anything, occasionally falling asleep in the class. They almost always did their homework, and they expected it to be marked the day it was handed in.

The pupils were expecting a teacher-led experience rather than student-led, and I had to put in a lot of effort to teach them to try answering something they hadn’t already memorized the answer to. If you didn’t turn up to a class in the UK, the kids would be running riot everywhere. When another teacher did that once in my school in China, the pupils just stood and waited quietly outside the classroom. They waited to be told what to do. I never had any incidents of pupils acting out they were always very respectful towards the teachers.

SEN isn’t recognized in China so as a teacher you have to find ways to make learning accessible without any real support or even acceptance that any given pupil might have SEN. Even then, you don’t get the same behavioural challenges as in western schools.

What was the working week like?

The working week was heavy. I was teaching thirty 40-minute lessons a week on my basic timetable and sometimes more from covering other staff absences or timetable. That was on top of boarding duties, planning lessons and marking work, and leading extracurricular activities at the weekend such as golf, horse riding, rugby, science-related activities such as robot wars club and STEM club, where we did things like designing paper airplanes and seeing how far they could fly. There was a science fair, exam support, ECA, form tutoring… 

I was working about 16 hours a day plus at least half of a Saturday and sometimes all of Sunday, too. It was basically work continuously with little in the way of sleep for about 4 weeks then a week or more of school holidays, but there was basically no work to do during those holidays, which is completely different to teaching in England, where you spend a lot of the holidays working.

The working environment

Classroom: Class sizes were fairly small. The classroom was the size of a UK one and had lots of new tech in it, such as digital projector, electrical workstations that came down from the ceiling, a chemical shower for health and safety, mobile fume cupboards, as well as all the usual stuff you’d find in a UK science lab. My classroom had plenty of light. It was all very modern; the school had been built very recently.

Office: I had a desk in an open-plan office, which was very spacious. We had a coffee machine and a mini-kitchen as well as our own printers so we could work more efficiently. My office chair was very comfy! Wi-fi connectivity was sometimes poor, which made it difficult to access resources to teach the English curriculum, particularly because the access to some websites was limited. 

What were the best things about moving to China?

The money was good. The kids’ behaviour and attitude were fantastic. Online shopping and delivery was amazing. Anything you wanted was a few clicks and two days away, and usually very well-priced. It was very easy to visit the rest of China and all the surrounding countries, and we had a lot of great holidays. The expat community and the people I worked with were all great and very easygoing. The working environment was nicer than in England so people didn’t have the same stresses, and the people you meet out there are people who are willing to try new things or they wouldn’t have moved to China! I also made some fantastic friends and contacts, from whom other opportunities have come up since I left China.

What I wish I’d known before I moved there

I knew about shoes beforehand, that shoes in my size would be difficult to get. I wish I’d known how dependent everything is on mobile phone technology. You need WeChat for absolutely everything. I hadn’t properly understood how absolutely huge everything is.

I was in a city that was the equivalent of Leamington Spa in terms of importance to the overall country, but it was a city of over eight million, which is about the same population as London. It took well over an hour (in no traffic) to get across the city to the second train station (and yet there were only two train stations) due to the sheer distances involved.

All the shops etc were in the very centre of the city and you couldn’t walk anywhere because of the distances involved, so I got a lot of taxis. Taxis were incredibly cheap. 45 minutes in a taxi into the city centre was about 80RMB (about £10).

Would you go again if you knew everything you now know about China?

Oh, absolutely.

Jason now works as a freelance science education consultant. He runs a science education website and a physics revision app which he designed. You can find him at www.scientificanow.com

You might like these other articles about China:

How to get a China visa if you’ve changed your name

10 things to do in Xi’an, China (and 7 more I wish I’d done)

Infographic about expats in China: Where they’re from will surprise you

In pictures: Shanghai, China

20 best things to do in Beijing

How to increase your breastmilk supply? Power pump

Are you breastfeeding and worried about low supply? If you haven’t already properly established your breastfeeding relationship with your baby, this is not the info for you, but if you’ve been feeding at least four weeks and still think you don’t have enough milk, try this natural method that doesn’t require any supplementation or weird lactation foods! You can do something called power pumping which mimics the baby’s cluster feeding and is especially helpful if you’re exclusive pumping as I was when my baby was aged 3-7 months.

You will need: A double electric breastpump. If you don’t already have one, I recommend the Medela Freestyle Flex Double Electric Breastpump. I’ve tried a few breast pumps and this is hands down the best one you can buy for the money. If you can’t afford that, the Medela Swing Electric Breastpump is also fantastic, but apparently you can’t get the double Swing Flex in the US Medela Amazon Store for some reason? Weird. Get the Double Medela Swing Flex here in the UK (if you want this one in the US, you can probably import it from UK Amazon if you don’t mind the shipping costs/extra tax).

That’s it.

The very easy method:

Pump 20 mins

Rest 10 mins.

Pump 10 mins.

Rest 10 mins.

Pump 10 mins.

Do this for two weeks to increase supply or for a few days to give yourself a little boost e.g. after you’ve been ill or gone away for a weekend and missed some pumping times.

I found this out from an adoption/lactation group for women who had never breastfed, so this works even if your body isn’t currently lactating (although you will probably need other help if that’s the case, e.g. domperidone prescribed by your doctor).

I actually modified this as I didn’t have an hour every day. If you can’t get a pump that fits your boobs very well, and your nipples are sore, this will also be kinder to your poor nipples. You can also do this (for a mini version of power pumping) but your results will be less spectacular:

Pump 10 mins

Rest 5 mins.

Pump 5 mins.

Rest 5 mins.

Pump 5 mins.

The end.

Do you have any tips for increasing milk supply? Let me know in the comments!

How I avoided stretch marks with pregnancy and got rid of old stretch marks too!

I always thought this was a myth, and that it was impossible to avoid stretch marks or to get rid of stretch marks. My back is actually covered in stretch marks from when I used to be a professional ice skater, and my legs were, too, from all the stretching. But my tummy? No stretch marks. And I managed to diminish the ones on my legs, too! I’ve had those since I was 12! Okay, full disclosure, there’s the tiniest little scattering to the left of my belly button but check out the pics below to compare my belly to the stretch marks on my back, I am still shocked by how well this worked. I am 9 months postpartum.

Here’s how I did it. As they say, prevention is the best cure. It’s important to know that buying products won’t solve the problem by itself, you need to know how to use them, and you need to actually do it daily. When I was pregnant my skin got very sensitive so I had to be very careful what products I used. I all but stopped doing my facial skincare routine and had to completely avoid products containing retinol or hyaluronic acid, which are usually skincare staples for me, so pregnancy was a challenge to completely re-think my skincare routines and make them more natural. Links to products are further down.

  1. From about the second trimester, I tried to avoid exercising my stomach muscles. I cut my usual workout down to just gentle “granny yoga” or “chair yoga” every day. The goal was to stay in shape but to make sure my body prioritised growing a healthy baby not growing my muscles! I still did a bit of walking every day, and in my third trimester, I did a bit more, to prepare my body for labour (I had a C-section in the end but I really, really wanted to try for a v-birth).
  2. During the third trimester, I followed the brilliant active birth “hip wiggle” workout produced by Ulster Hospital (where I gave birth) available here on Youtube. This got the skin moving in all the right ways, opening up the hips and gently stretching which helped me avoid stretch marks. I did 15-30 minutes per day from 34 weeks pregnant.
  3. During every shower, I used a sponge and shower gel and massaged in gentle circles all over my body. This breaks up cellulite and scar tissue and increases cell turnover which promotes skin healing and renewal.
  4. After every shower, I gently massaged my growing stomach. Most days I used body lotion and Innisfree soybean essence. Once or twice a week I used either the Therapy? massage bar from Lush or camellia seed oil. I used this time to connect with my baby and tell them they were loved, wanted, and that we were looking forward to their arrival when they were ready.
  5. I took my prenatal vitamins every single day after the first trimester (I was too sick to take tablets in the first trimester but I’d been taking them daily for 6 months beforehand in preparation for this). These are especially formulated to give you the extra boost you need to grow the healthiest baby possible. They are also good for your skin, hair and nails.
  6. I tried to get at least 50g of protein everyday. Because I am dairy free, this came from peanut butter, nuts, pumpkin seeds, Silk soy milk, Silk almond milk (the UK equivalent to Silk soy milk is probably Alpro soya growing up milk but read the label to check the protein), textured vegetable protein (aka soy mince or TVP) and tofu. I also used vegan protein powder to add to my smoothies. The recommendation is 75g of protein per day but, living in a foreign country where food wasn’t as easy to source as it is in the west, I generally averaged about 55g (and this required a lot of effort, dairy free homemade lattes and peanut butter on everything).
  7. I drank a lot of fruit juice and worked hard to eat as many different types of fruit and vegetables as possible.
  8. I took lots of baths (with no bath bubbles). Usually I kept these at 37-38 degrees Celsius (just below 100F), although when I was in Japan I used the hot baths because there’s no scientific evidence that this is problematic for babies.
  9. I didn’t wear any kind of support band or compression band either during or after pregnancy. I tried about three different ones but I found they stopped my body’s natural movements and made me feel squashed, and I didn’t like that.
  10. I didn’t wear a bra until 7 months pregnant because I couldn’t get a maternity bra in China that fitted over my bump, so I eventually picked one up from Mothercare in Ireland and I highly recommend a shaped maternity bra.
  11. I didn’t wear anything at all with a waistline after I was about 6 weeks pregnant. No hose, no leggings, no trousers, no skirts… I stuck to dresses and flat sandals, and if I was cold, socks. This was on the advice of my ob-gyn in China, and I’ve heard this is also what they advise you in Japan and South Korea. My goal was to let my body grow and stretch in its most natural way possible, without being forced into a certain position or shape by clothing. They tell you to do this to protect the growing baby, and ensure blood flow to the womb, and I 100% get behind this. I don’t know if it’s why I had no pregnancy issues this time but seriously it was so comfortable. I met pregnant women in Ireland who were barely standing up at 7 months pregnant and I was still able to walk easily, clean my new house and carry furniture until about 4 days before the baby came, when a disastrous membrane sweep seemed to have moved the baby into an oblique lie. People can say I’m crazy, but I think our “maternity fashion” has a lot to answer for in the west and at the end of the day, I have the lack of stretch marks to prove it.
  12. After I had the baby, I continued using camellia seed oil and the Therapy? massage bar, as well as using a sponge to massage my skin in the shower.

The interesting thing about all this is, it actually helped heal stretch marks I’ve had on my legs since I was about 12 from doing excessive amounts of stretching for sport reasons (but the ones on my back are still vivid). I didn’t work on the ones on my back at all with any kind of skincare products (silly me) and they really stand out. I am now 9 months post partum so I don’t think those stretch marks on my legs are coming back, either.

Products I recommend to avoid stretch marks and get rid of them:

  1. A good prenatal vitamin. Pregnacare is the absolute best (US link). You can get it in loads of places in the UK but it’s here on UK Amazon If you are in the US, check the ingredients of anything labelled as a “prenatal vitamin” CAREFULLY. I bought my first set of prenatals from the US in September 2018 and I was shocked by how many of them contain vitamin A, which pregnant women should absolutely avoid for the safety of the baby. I was generally horrified by how unregulated the supplement industry is in the US and I only recommend Pregnacare. I had another brand which I got from Walmart and I had to throw them away because they were really bad.
  2. Grapeseed oil. This is the only oil that is able to penetrate deep enough into the skin layer to actually make a difference to scarring and stretch marks, and it’s a LOT cheaper than the expensive named-brand oil that claims to do the same thing (I have tried that other oil and found it to be useless). I used this Camellia Seed Oil which is reasonably priced in the US. In the UK, I’d go for this one because it’s a LOT cheaper and certified vegan and cruelty free.
  3. The Therapy? body massage bar by Lush, if you can source it. I had to import mine into China because there’s no Lush over there. It contains Shea Butter which is one of my fave ingredients because it’s so moisturizing.
  4. Innisfree soybean essence. This Korean stuff is amazing for a range of issues and is made from fermented soybeans. I’ve put this in a spray bottle to make a DIY K-beauty facial spritz and I spray it all over my body, too.
  5. A basic bath sponge and gentle shower gel. Literally any cheap sponge from Dollar Tree/Poundland will be fine.
  6. Vegan protein powder. This chocolate one is delicious! Collagen comes from protein so you need lots of protein to grow your skin and heal it during and after pregnancy. Protein is also important for the baby.

Things to avoid:

  1. Sunbathing. Pregnant skin is more sensitive than normal skin and you will burn. A sunburn is a sign of deep tissue damage which causes premature ageing of the skin, and collagen damage, which makes you more prone to stretch marks because age lines are a sign that your skin isn’t stretching as well as it used to. Cover up, even on that coveted babymoon. I travelled extensively while pregnant, in China, Malaysia, Japan and Ireland, and I 100% recommend you avoid the sun even though it’s tempting at times. If you need to go out in the sun, it should be SPF 50 PA+++ all the way!
  2. Anything that constricts your belly or claims to compress or “support” it, unless you need it for medical reasons.
  3. Excessive stomach exercise e.g. leg lifts or sit-ups.

Here’s some pictures of me postpartum (I’m standing in front of the shower curtain and my boobs are weird atm because I’m still breastfeeding and one boob is much bigger than the other, so no bras fit properly). As you can see I only got one tiny patch of stretch marks that are very, very faint on the lower right side of my belly button. This first pic shows my C-section scar to prove I’ve actually had a baby. I’ve also included a pic of the stretch marks on my back from years of exercise, to prove I’m not genetically immune to stretch marks or something (my next task is clearly to work on those ones on my back haha):

IMG_1791 b

IMG_1797b

IMG_1788b

That’s my how-to. Now what I really want to know is how to get rid of that brown line that goes north to south down my belly. I think it’s where the muscles separated ready for giving birth (my entire belly button disappeared and turned dark brown because it stretched so much due to past surgery preventing it from popping out, and it hasn’t completely gone back to normal yet) but they’ve never quite gone back. I’ve been doing so many stomach exercises but maybe it will just take time.

PS I’m not a doctor so legally I have to say, please consult a doctor before taking supplements and if you have any concerns about your health during pregnancy. This article contains affiliate links to Amazon where appropriate, but doesn’t affect the price you pay for anything.

I had a maternal request elective C-section for tokophobia

I’ve just posted this somewhere else but I wanted to mention it here too because I think there’s too much stigma surrounding Tokophobia (fear of childbirth) and maybe it will help someone else:

 

I have always had tokophobia and it put me off wanting children for years because I was so scared of childbirth. I thought we would adopt instead, and justified it because the world is overpopulated (and isn’t it the height of self-indulgence to be a Millennial in the position of being able to afford a child). I had so many little justifications but underneath it all, I wanted kids. Twenty of them. Enough to fill a minibus or a classroom. Smashing the Idiocracy, one baby at a time.
 
With my first (unsuccessful) pregnancy I got such bad hyperemesis and I think a large part of it was because I was so anxious about giving birth, despite desperately wanting a baby. I was sure I would die. I ended up in hospital on IV fluids because I was so scared of having a baby that my body stopped digesting food. At the time, maternal-request C-section was not an option in England. In many parts of England, it still isn’t, and I find that abominable while on the other hand we tell women to trust their instincts about reduced foetal movement etc.
 
With my most recent and finally successful pregnancy, I had all my antenatal care in China where a C-section is the norm, which took away 99% of the stress. I got “normal” amounts of morning sickness, which isn’t great, but it also made me realize just how bad my hyperemesis had been several years earlier, despite so many people dismissing it as part and parcel of pregnancy.
I finally allowed myself to learn all about pregnancy and childbirth, and the whole thing fascinated me. I think I talked about random obstetric facts non-stop whenever my husband was home. I found myself craving the British model of pregnancy – midwife-led care, with emphasis on normality. In China, a doctor makes all your decisions and they get quite offended if you refuse any tests they’ve recommended (and they loved recommending tests).
When I got to Northern Ireland, there was uncertainty about my due date so they wanted me to have an induction. This was something I hadn’t really read about because I didn’t like it as a concept. It seemed unnatural to fill the body with gloop to force a baby out when it wasn’t ready. It really didn’t sit right with me, but no one said I had any alternative, and the baby had to come out somehow, so I actually psyched myself up to go for an induction.
I think I would have been okay except I had a cervical sweep three days before the induction and it was agonizing, and it left me unable to walk very well (I suspect this is when the baby accidentally got turned). I still kept telling myself I could do this induction, but now I had a lot less confidence because if that was just a little membrane sweep, how much worse was labour going to be. I was resolved that I was going to try and have a normal birth though (in between bouts of crying and telling my husband I was going to die because I was completely terrified).
I tried practising hypnobirthing and meditation, and even wrote a birth plan about 2 days before the induction date. On the day, I spent 6 hours having the worst and longest anxiety attack of my entire life, convinced my baby would die and so would I, while the poor midwife in the induction bay was trying to calm me down because I was crying and shaking, blood pressure through the roof, and she ended up getting the registrar to come and go through what an ELCS would entail with me.
 
Until a C-section was offered, I’d been too scared to ask for one in case they said no.
 
The registrar then did a scan to look at my baby and said he’d shifted to an oblique lie so couldn’t have come out any other way. She drew a diagram in my notes and everything, but I still don’t know if she was just trying to make me feel better.
 
When I was going into theatre to have the CS the consultant-midwife asked me why I was having it and I said about the baby being oblique because I was too ashamed of how scared I’d been. Of course, she could see my notes so I should have just been upfront but anxiety isn’t rational.
 
My notes say “maternal request c-section” but that doesn’t quite cover the time I spent agonizing over this, feeling like I’d let my baby down because I was too scared to try and push him out, or the fact I still mourned the loss of my envisioned “perfect” birth, a waterbirth, surrounded by delicious snacks, with my husband in the water with me and holding my hand. It doesn’t come close to making me feel better about what happened, when I know what the statistics say about C-sections and the chance of babies developing respiratory issues and digestive problems.
 
I dreaded having to tell my family what had happened so I didn’t tell anyone I’d had a C-section for weeks before I finally admitted it, and everyone was fine about it. This is the first time I’ve openly admitted it was partly down to my own terror of childbirth.
 
It’s taken me months to come to terms with the fact I “failed” at having a baby the “proper” way but I know now that a lot of that stigma comes from within me, from the phobia of having a baby, not from other people’s genuine opinions. Literally no one has said anything nasty to me about having had a C-section.
 
I wish I’d been honest with my consultant about my fears and felt brave enough to ask for a C-section when I first got back to the UK instead of letting the situation go on for weeks with me thinking I was going to be able to try for a vaginal birth. But I know why I didn’t. I was hoping I’d just “get on with it” on the day. Within minutes of us arriving for the induction I’d been told I was too high risk for a waterbirth because of the baby’s size (because he was broad-shouldered), and that was when my anxiety got the better of me and everything fell in on itself in my mind.
 
I also wish I’d been honest about my history of mental health issues, but there is a lot of pressure on us as women to be fine when we’re not, and I was trying so damn hard to be ok with something I just couldn’t do. If the baby had been low-risk, I would have gone home and waited for labour (and maybe even freebirthed) but I was terrified of refusing the induction and putting my baby at risk of death so I got paralysed with anxiety.
I was also terrified of social services being alerted that I had a history of bipolar on my medical notes (we still don’t know what’s actually wrong with me, currently Autism, type II bipolar, borderline and ADHD are all being floated around) and taking my baby away. I was convinced they were going to take my baby and nothing anyone said could divest me of this belief. I might have had a teensy bit of psychosis over this but it seems to have resolved itself and I managed to keep enough of a lid on it that I didn’t get mental health sectioned over it (just C-sectioned haha) despite being sure at several points over the last few months that I was going to be an inpatient and separated from my baby (we don’t have mother and baby units in Northern Ireland so women with post natal psychosis or severe post natal depression get sectioned and put in a normal psychiatric hospital).
And despite at least 2 suicide attempts post-partum I am still at home and with my baby. Turns out NI don’t really intervene beyond community mental health teams unless you’ve set yourself on fire so that’s relieving because I don’t think being imprisoned in a mental hospital without my Jellyfish would help me to recover very well, and anyway I’d have to stop breastfeeding.
 
Overall, I am glad I had a C-section rather than a prolonged birth in a strange place where I couldn’t be myself because there were too many strangers, and where my husband would get sent home outside visiting hours. But I still really wish I could have had that water birth. I’m looking towards a second baby, and I’m pretty certain I want a homebirth (homebirth after C-section, or HBAC, is allowed in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK but as far as I know it’s not allowed in Southern Ireland) with a birthing pool. I’ve seen some beautiful videos on Youtube of vloggers who had natural waterbirths at home. 
 
The first mental health keyworker I saw said to me that it doesn’t matter how your baby came out as long as they are healthy. This effectively shut down the conversation about why I was there, lost in the depths of post-natal depression. While I do think a birth is just a means to an end, at the same time it is a part of our story and lived experience as a woman and for that reason we should respect each other’s decisions and hear each other’s words about birth, especially when that has deeply affected someone’s outlook or mental wellbeing. I don’t think dismissing this as unimportant actually moves anyone forward or helps them get over things.
If I am lucky enough to get onto a midwifery course (yeah I haven’t told the fam about that, either, because I might not get on a course), this is how I want to work for my pregnant ladies; I want to ensure they know their options and get the closest thing possible to the birth they want.

Applying for Midwifery Science and Dietetics

So I’m still thinking on this, but it’s something that I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Being a midwife over here isn’t the same as being one in America. Over here you’re part-obstetrician and part-obstetric nurse (we don’t have ob nurses over here at all, just midwives).

In Northern Ireland, midwives do all the antenatal care and deliver babies in any “normal” birth, and doctors only get involved if the abnormal presents itself. It’s supposed to mean that, because the state of pregnancy is one of the normal, natural states for a woman to be in, it isn’t a condition that usually needs to be treated. So keeping doctors out of the ordinary pregnancy cases means no one is looking for problems. Which is supposed to avoid the cycle of intervention that happens once doctors involve themselves. Quite a few women get all their proper healthcare throughout pregnancy, including their scans, blood tests etc, but they never see a doctor.

Sometimes midwives get a bad rap in the press. Especially in England, where maternity services are very underfunded. The problem starts when midwives, for whatever reason, don’t refer genuine medical issues to doctors. This endangers the mother and the baby. This happened with my first pregnancy when I nearly died, and long-time readers know that ended in a lot of tears, and with me thinking that I couldn’t get pregnant. That was one big reason why, when I came back to Europe from China, I didn’t go back to England and I never plan to live there again. When I was in China and found out I actually could have a baby safely, I felt quite angry at the two unnecessary losses I had in England.

In Northern Ireland, we have the best maternity services in the UK. I think it’s because half of the country (traditionally) was Catholic, and had a lot of babies, so there is high demand for services. From my baby classes and Facebook groups of Northern Ireland mums, I know a lot of people with at least three children. Maternity services is a huge priority over here because family is important. A lot of people over here complain about the health service but I think it’s fantastic compared to England.

The training pathway for both dietetics and midwifery is a bit intimidating. I was good at science until I was about 15 then I struggled epically. I could follow the teacher in class with no problem, but I just couldn’t hold all the information in my head and by the time I did tests or exams, I just forgot everything. I’ve read recently that this is an ADHD thing, but I don’t know if that’s true.

Anyway, midwifery and dietetics are both very scientific subjects, with a lot of anatomy, medical science, biology, and in the case of midwifery, all the medical procedures like intubating babies and taking blood samples and doing urine tests, as well as diagnosing things like pre-eclampsia.

I’m so excited about doing this but I know it’s not going to go down well with my wider family, particularly if I do midwifery. I was thinking of applying straight after high school but my aunt who I lived with said it was a bad plan. Looking back, at the time I do think she was right, but since then I’ve grown, I’ve drifted through my twenties without purpose or direction, and I have spent a lot of time trying to discern what career would suit me. However, I am not sure if my aunt will agree or if she’ll tell me I outright shouldn’t do it.

I want to stay in touch with all my relatives but it’s hard when I want to do something they don’t think is a good idea. She used to be a midwife and I don’t know what happened but I think she got very disheartened with the way things went in England and I think she began to hate her job. My other aunt is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, having had a long and varied career with the NHS (our free healthcare service which runs 99% of all medical services in the UK), and my sister recently got a job at the NHS and it’s been the absolute best thing for her, she’s so happy in her job (finally). My other other aunt is a podiatrist, fixing people’s feet problems, and my mum was a cadet nurse (like, the lowest entry point into nursing) for a very short time after school, before she freaked out over the sight of blood and ran away with a motorcycle gang (I wish it weren’t true). My grandma was a nurse, midwife, matron and then a district nurse, and she couldn’t walk down the street in the town where I grew up without people stopping her to say hello. And that’s all just on my mum’s side.

On my dad’s side, my other other other aunt (the one we don’t speak of) is a physiotherapist. That’s not even mentioning all the cousins, my sister, great aunts etc who work in the health service. It’s like our family industry is taking care of sick people.

Except me.

So coming from a long line of nurses and allied healthcare workers, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea about whether this is a good move or not. On my husband’s side, literally no one works for the NHS, which I find a bit odd.

I am drawn to midwifery specifically because I have seen extremely good and extremely bad maternity care, in four different countries (England, Nepal, China and Northern Ireland), and I know the best midwives advocate for women and put women’s best interests at the centre of everything they do.

I discovered feminism fairly late compared to a lot of people, as I only really came to it when I started my master’s degree. But I really engaged with it and I see midwifery as an inherently feminist role because you’re supporting women to make their birth choices, but also supporting women to actually give birth.

On the dietitian side, I could really see myself getting my teeth into that as a job, too. Dietitians are different in the UK to America, too. They predominantly work for our state healthcare service and they don’t get paid to go to events sponsored by Pepsi or McDonalds. Over here, dietitians follow the scientific evidence.

The downside of them not getting funding from unhealthy food corporations is that there’s not many dietitians around, there are very, very, very long waiting lists, and generally, to cut down waiting lists and make the healthcare service look good, doctors simply don’t refer people to dietitians when they would benefit from it.

Having said that, I am fascinated by nutrition and have written tons of articles about it in the past so dietetics does also appeal to me, but I’m not sure if I will be able to keep up with the 2-year course that’s 4 years of work condensed into half the time.

Overall, midwifery science and dietetics both offer stable, structured career paths, while also both allowing for the option of private practice in the future, and both of them would be jobs I could do abroad, particularly in New Zealand, which I’d quite like to go to at some point, even if only for a few years.

Okay. Now I think I’m ready to finish those applications. Well done if you’re still with me haha I just had to get out all my thoughts on it.

PS The featured image is my jellyfish when he was a newborn.

Look at this baby with Covid-19. Still want to travel?

I honestly don’t know how anyone can look at this tiny 6-month-old baby in hospital, on a ventilator that’s too big for her so had to be taped over at the top, fighting to survive, and how, after seeing her, they can still contemplate making unnecessary journeys for stupid reasons. Her name is Erin Bates. Full article here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-52269084

In related news, I’m so angry at my Mother in Law and Father in Law right now. Yesterday they admitted they have been making several unnecessary 100-mile-round-trip journeys and so has my Sister in Law. Why? Because apparently renovating a house that she doesn’t even live in is more important than following the rules and staying at home.

This is the same sister in law who sent me a happy mother’s day card. There’s no weird Oedipal twist of incest, I’m not her mother, I didn’t marry my son. She just needed a reason to spread germs and put postal workers at risk delivering something to a different country.

I ripped it up when it arrived because Mother’s Day is hard for me. I know I was being a bit petty but you’d think people who had known me for 10 years would know how hard Mother’s Day is because my parents are dead.

They’re just so oblivious of other people.

Don’t travel. Stay at home. Look back at past travel photos. Plan future trips. Don’t kill other people by spreading this. So many people think it’s harmless if it’s just them. They’re putting themselves at risk, and they’re endangering others by spreading it before the symptoms show.

Changing things up

So I got up at 10am this morning, which was an achievement. The flipside is, my eyes have been trying to close since about 11:30am.

Baby Jellyfish is teething again, we found out last night. He already has his front lower two teeth, which came through at once. The dentist told me his top two front teeth would come next.

Nope. Not my jellyfish. He’s getting his pointy top teeth, they’re both just breaking through the gums right now, so he’s basically biting down on everything and in a day or two, I’m going to have adorable baby-sized fang indents everywhere where he’s bitten me. He bites me a lot.

Baby vampire do dooo do do do do…

I’ve decided to change my blog’s web address and title and so on. Longtime readers know I’ve been unhappy with my blog address for about five years but didn’t know what to change it to. I wanted MsAdventure, but by the time I actually got around to trying to buy a new domain, it was taken.

Mama Adventure works too. I bought it about a month ago but I’d forgotten how to change the domain in WordPress. There are more changes coming. Slowly, probably. I work at glacial speeds at the moment because I’m doing that thing where I run around in circles trying to do too many things, badly.

I’m trying to create an online learning course helping people know how to homeschool during this lockdown. It’s going to be free. But of course I need to get to grips with the software and so on.

At the same time, it’s been two days and I’m still sure that I want to be a midwife, so I need to flesh out the post thinking it all through properly, as well.