Organ donation and one mum’s incredible story

Last month at our ShopUp event, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow London mum, Louise Hannon. We started talking about children and life in London, and she told me her incredible story about her son’s illness, his life-threatening surgeries at Great Ormond Street Hospital and his heart transplant through organ donation. We spoke about organ donation and how important it is to spread the word about it. Did you know that, according to statistics, more than 90% of us would consider donating our organs and yet, here in the UK, only about 30% of us are registered? It all comes down to spreading awareness.

Here in the UK, more than 10,000 people need a transplant and three people die every single day waiting for one. In the US, there are more than 120,000 needing a transplant and 17 people die each day waiting for an organ. Also, one organ donor can save up to eight lives!

I was so moved by Louise’s story, we asked her to share her story with us and she very kindly agreed. Here is her story, a rather brief re-cap of a very tumultuous past 18 months:

On 28th January 2014, my six-year-old son Joe had a life saving heart transplant at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. This was due to the amazing generosity of a lady who, through organ donation, chose to save other’s lives in the event of her death.

Louise and kids

Up until summer 2013 he had been a non–stop little boy, full of energy, who loved being outdoors, playing football and climbing trees. We had just moved to South Australia when he suddenly became unwell, and Joe received a diagnosis of ‘Dilated Cardiomyopathy’ – serious heart failure that would most likely require transplant in order for him to survive. We were utterly devastated and struggled to deal with the news especially being on the other side of the world away from friends and family. Calling our parents back in the UK to tell them the news was incredibly hard and the first of many difficult phone calls we had to make to them over the following months.

After a month in Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital Joe was repatriated back to London in a medical jet in the hope that he would receive a heart transplant more quickly in the UK. However, Joe’s heart transplant did not come as quickly as we had all hoped and he continued to decline despite the maximum IV drugs he was on. It was frightening to see how quickly his heart was giving up and the effect this had on him as he lost huge amounts of weight and would lie listlessly on the bed unable to really talk to us. We were desperate to get the phone call each day to say a heart was available. We were also aware though that when a heart did come that meant a family somewhere else would be experiencing tragedy and this was such a difficult process to reconcile ourselves with.

We were told his only option now was to undergo open heart surgery for a ‘Berlin heart machine’ to be fitted to keep him alive until transplant. He had a number of serious complications whilst on the machine requiring further surgery including pneumonia and bleeding into his lungs. There was a huge amount of uncertainty as to whether he would pull through and we literally held our breath for weeks willing him to fight and get better. Our four months in intensive care was an awful experience of watching him suffer horribly. I naively hoped that, though unconscious, he wouldn’t suffer pain. I hoped that it was only us suffering as we watched and waited to see if he would recover. The reality was that he was often conscious and very distressed, unable to speak or swallow due to the breathing tube in his throat. We would watch him cry and feel completely helpless. This was the hardest part of the entire ordeal.

photo of Joe after his stroke

His biggest complication arising from the Berlin heart machine was the severe stroke he suffered on Boxing Day, 2013, which is one of the most significant risks associated with the Berlin Heart machine. After the first brain surgery to relieve the bleed in his brain we were told he would not survive and we asked my parents to bring our three year old daughter up to the hospital to say goodbye. They operated for a second time as a last ditch attempt and he miraculously survived, but was left paralysed down his left side. A heart finally became available a month later and Joe had his long awaited transplant. We then began the arduous road to recovery, involving rehab to help him learn to walk again and use his left arm. Joe spent a total of six and a half months in hospital, enduring thirteen operations and a further six weeks in a children’s neurodisability rehab centre.

joe in hospital

He is truly a living miracle and we are hugely proud of all that he has battled through at such a young age. We are slowly coming to terms with what has happened to our family in the last eighteen months and the far reaching effect this has had on all our lives. We never thought something like this would happen to us. We had coasted along in life ticking off our plans for career, children, and travelling, believing we were in control of our lives and future. As Christians, this experience has taught us we need to rely on God who is the only one who has ultimate control and it has been a hard test of our faith.

Joe takes lots of medicines every day and will do so for the rest of his life. He can now walk short distances and has returned to his old school part time. Day to day life holds lots of challenges for him that can leave him angry and depressed. He is much more volatile as a result of his stroke and tires easily. We also live each day knowing that a heart transplant is a palliative option, not a cure, with the average life expectancy being ten years. As we near the first anniversary of our son’s transplant we think about the woman who donated her heart to him and the family she left behind. To see our son in the garden kicking a football around again or playing with his sister reminds us of the incredible gift she gave us. (Below are some photos of Joe since coming home from the hospital.) 

Louise and family


louise with kids

Please consider signing up online for organ donation, for yourself and your children that in the unfortunate event of an untimely death, a second chance at life for others can be brought out of tragedy. Signing up for organ donation costs nothing but could mean everything to another family facing their worst nightmare.

To read more about organ donation and to sign up in the UK, click here. To sign up for organ donation in the US, you can click here. For international registry, click here.

Louise, thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and we wish you all the best with your two beautiful children.

Glasses for Sara!

sara_glassesWith two very nearsighted parents, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Sara started to complain about not being able to read the letters on the digiboard very well from the back of the classroom. So I took her to an optometrist, and sure thing: he measured a 1.25 nearsightedness.

I remember very well, that when I was about 10 years old, I had so much trouble reading the blackboard and the subtitles on the television that my mum scheduled an appointment with the schoolnurse for me. Admittedly, the whole aspect of having to wear glasses was appalling to me at the time — gosh, how I disliked that poor schoolnurse when she told me that I very much needed a pair of glasses. Glasses were definitely not as cool then as they are nowadays!

Thankfully, glasses are considered to be very fashionable and stylish these days and Sara was beyond excited when she was told she could pick out a pair. So we got her this darling purple beauty, which I think look so, so good on her. (But which also make her look so, so much more grown-up!)

When we picked up her glasses from the store last week and she put them on her nose for the very first time, she experienced that feeling that I remember so very well — the revelation! So much light, colour and detail to be seen! To be able to read the street signs! The pavement looks so much bigger! A whole new world! So sweet. Next day, she was so proud to show her glasses to her class, her teachers and her girlfriends. And I’m so very proud of her!

xxx Esther

Our little bath time zoo


It must have been over four years ago that I got cute animal towels for Sara and Pim, and we’ve been using them ever since, day after day. Sara the elephant and Pim the lion — it quickly became a tradition after each bath. So when Ava started to walk, we got her the zebra towel, and now we’ve gotten Casper the monkey — making our little zoo complete!


I love how these towels (from Zoocchini) are so royal in size, made from thick cotton, and have adorable details like ears and tails. There are even little pouches in which the kids can stick their hands/paws.

Sara’s towel is sadly beginning to fall apart (not strange after all of these years of intensive use!), and when I told her it might be time to replace it, she said that she wasn’t sure it would be worth the investment — after all she might be getting too old to have an animal towel for bath time… Eeks! I figured it was time for an immediate  group photo before it’s too late!

xxx Esther

PS I might be getting the replacement elephant towel anyway, just in case. And otherwise it will be nice for the grandchildren! ; )

NAÏF care, skincare for babies

Naïf Babycare is a new line of baby skincare products that was started by two young and cute Dutch dads, Jochem and Sjoerd. See above how very Dutch they are, with their bakfiets!
After their first babies were born, they discovered a huge gap in the market: a high quality range of pure, natural skincare products which is safe and nurturing for baby’s sensitive skin. So they quit their (high profile!) jobs, worked very hard with a Swiss laboratory, dermatologists, and basically every baby skincare expert they could find, and developed a beautiful line of products. Using only nature’s best ingredients, and formulated to perfection, of course!

Casper and I have been trying out some of the Naïf products and we really love them! The shampoo is wonderful to use, so soft and gentle. The nurturing cream is great too, it’s our number one cream for dry cheeks, but our favourite Naïf product must be the massage oil. It is just the right kind of oil — in between oily and dry, very soothing, with a lovely scent. Just perfect!

xxx Esther

Jonas Paul eyewear

With two very nearsighted parents, it is not so much the question of if, but when one of our children will need their first pair of glasses. I still remember when I was ‘diagnosed’ for nearsightedness by the school nurse at the age of 11, and being so sad and angry about the fact that she told me I had to start wearing glasses… (At the time, glasses were definitely not cool, and I already had braces to complete the look.) I also remember the revelation when I put my first pair of glasses on my nose — wow! I could see!
Thankfully, nowadays glasses and the nerdy look are glamorous and chic, and there are wonderful choices available for little children as well: enter Jonas Paul eyewear.

Cute NY based couple Ben and Laura Harrison launched Jonas Paul Eyewear soon after their son, Jonas Paul, was born with a rare visual impairment. Unable to find suitable and stylish eyewear for Jonas, Ben started started designing his own line of frames, trying to bridge the gap between adult and children’s styles. And he has succeeded so well! I love the darling styles of the frames, both of the prescription frames as the sunglasses. I couldn’t help ordering the Ruth sunglasses for Sara. Sooo cute!

And when the moment comes that my kids need glasses, thankfully there is nothing to feel sad about anymore. Yay!

xxx Esther

Head Lice woes

Lice – they are the bane of my life! I even dream of them. I guess because we live in a big city, lice are unavoidable. I have tried lotions, potions, shampoos, some of them ecological, some of them positively radio-active! I even managed to spend a crazy amount of money on a real jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise (difficult to find in France) because I read somewhere on the internet that I could get rid of lice with it.

This weekend the schools in our area decided to organise a collective delousing campaign. We were all asked to delouse our children on the same weekend. The hope is that this will stop the lice circulating — at least for a while. I am interested to see if this is successful, but it is really nice to see how everyone got on board!

So here are some tips I have gotten to prevent lice. (Once you have them, I find that the only thing that really works is brushing the hair with a fine tooth comb in front of a good movie!)

Lavender essential oil: Lice seem to be sensible souls who do not like the smell of lavender, so I drop a couple of lavender essential oil drops onto the girls’ pillows. That way their hair smells good and I think it does help to keep the lice at bay. I have also been told that teatree oil helps.

Braids: I told my 93-year-old grandmother about my lice issues and she looked at me incredulously and asked why my girls’ hair was not braided at school. I had never figured out why, in the olden days, all the little girls had nice, tight braids… It prevented lice!

Cleaning linen, and everything in the house: It is such a pain, but it helps. Every time there is even an suspicion that someone might have lice, we wash and clean our bed linen and towels and spray the sofa and armchairs.

Apart from that, I just freeze when I see anyone scratching their heads and throw my hands up in despair! I am interested: Do other countries also have the lice problem? How do you deal with it?

– Emilie

P.S Above is a photo I took of Violette pretending to be scratching her head and having lice. She got a bit annoyed with me because she was in the middle of measuring something, but I think the annoyed expression goes with the theme…

Organic children’s shampoo and conditioner

My oldest daughter Sara was pretty much bald when she was born, and didn’t have much hair until she was two. But now that she’s eight, she has a head full of it — there is so, so much of it. (So don’t despair, mamas of bald baby girls!) Because detangling all of that hair after washing it is no fun, I have been on the lookout for an organic conditioner that is made especially for children, and I have finally found a great one.

Organic Children makes conditioner with smoothing plant oils and proteins which leaves hair silky soft and shiny and easy to detangle. It is gentle on delicate children’s skin (it is even suitable for children with eczema and psoriasis) and there are no nasty parabens, phthalates etc. I also love the Organic Children shampoo, with natural bubbles from Yucca. There are different natural fragrances available — we love ‘Berry Smoothie‘ which is perfect for fine and straight hair and smells so good you want to eat it up.

xxx Esther


Here in the Netherlands (and I believe in most parts of Europe), no vaccine is given for chickenpox. Which means it is a very common childhood disease here, and all parents know that at one point their child will come down with it. At least, they hope they do, because apparently getting chickenpox as an adult is seriously no fun!

Ava still hadn’t had the chickenpox at the age of 3 ½, so when her little girl friend from across the street showed signs of the disease, I decided to let her go over for a playdate. As the virus is highly contagious, I deliberately exposed her to it, in the hope she would develop the disease and get it over with. (After having had the disease, you’re immune for the rest of your life). And sure thing — after an exact incubation period of two weeks, I discovered the first blisters on her back.

Chickenpox is mostly completely unharmful, but it is a very uncomfortable disease. First there’s a fever and flu-like symptoms, and then hundreds of tiny blisters develop all over the head and body, and they itch! The whole thing usually takes no longer than a week, and thankfully Ava was her usually happy self just before Christmas.

But then of course, again exactly two weeks later, Casper got it too! He was suffering for a week as well, and the worst part were the blisters on his nappy area — the poor boy. But now, after a month of dealing with the chickenpox, I am proud to say that our entire family is chickenpox immune.

Did your kids get a vaccine against chickenpox? Or did they get over it the natural way? (Or maybe they still need to get it?) Would you deliberately expose them like I did? I’m curious to find out!

xxx Esther

PS The photo is of Pim as a baby, just after he had the chickenpox at age one. Casper’s age!

Baby Bear Shop organic bath!

Marlow still fits in our laundry room deep sink and it’s my favourite way to bathe her. No crouching over, no wasting water, and having her up at my level makes it easier to wash and rinse her. (I think it’s her favourite way to be bathed too – she always points at the sink asking to get in it!)

We have recently discovered the Baby Bear Shop range of organic bath products and love the Wishy Wash baby wash/shampoo and the natural Baby Bird bar soap. It has a very delicate, natural smell and a gentle sudsy-ness. Perfect for sensitive baby skin. I also love their gorgeous packaging (made from recycled paper!) and that they plant a tree with every order placed.

xx Courtney

A Little About the Right Type of Sunscreen

Usually I write about cute clothes, darling shoes, best toys, I even throw in a few recipes and some fun DIYs here and there but today I’d like to talk about something a little more boring but far more important than all that – about choosing the right type of sunscreen. The sunny days that finally arrived already call for good sun protection (Spring apparently doesn’t really exist anymore). But there’s a catch about them which I didn’t know for a very long time. I only took care that the sunscreen doesn’t contain any parabens and has the highest SPF filter possible but that is actually not enough:

There are two types of sunscreens – the ones with Physical UV filters (good!) and the ones with Chemical ones (very bad!).?The main problem about Chemical Filters is that they penetrate the skin and absorb the UV light from there until they eventually release free radicals which can be even more damaging than the rays themselves! They can cause not only greater skin ageing but also skin cancer! Yes, sunscreen itself can cause the things we always thought (or at least I did) only the sun can!? While Physical Filters (also Mineral Screens) stay on the skin and don’t absorb but reflect the UV light! They act as a barrier between the skin and light. So be careful and look for the sun protection with Physical Filters like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Dioxide.

I tried a few different ones already and some of them were really awful – they were just impossible to spread and left white or even yellow marks on clothes that never got washed off but I finally found two I really like. UVbio is the best sunscreen I have ever tried by far but it’s quite expensive and the other one I also like is from Lavera and it’s a lot more budget friendly.


Silver Sense, clothing that’s kind to skin

I met up with my friend Lindsey from Urban Mums recently and she was telling me about (and showing me) her baby’s terrible eczema. Eczema so bad that his skin, at times, became infected and needed medical treatment. Poor little baby boy. It turns out he is allergic to dairy and gluten, and that feeding him a specially formulated baby milk free from these allergens will keep his eczema at bay. His eczema has thankfully mostly cleared up… but still, Lindsay has to be really picky about the clothing and fabrics her son wears so that his sensitive skin is never irritated.  Enter Silver Sense clothing.

Silver Sense specialises in clothing which helps to ease the itching, inflammation and distress caused by eczema and other skin conditions in a natural way. Their clothes are made from soft cotton fabrics which are blended with real, natural silver fibres. I had no idea… but apparently silver fibres have powerful antimicrobial properties that help fight the symptoms of eczema and other skin conditions! How cool is that? (You can read more about it here.)

I love all their cute products, both for babies and children up to 8 years. Lots of fun stripes, and cute colour combos. And Lindsey says the products are really great in person, super cute and nice fitting… and yes, soothing on her baby’s skin. Brilliant!

x Courtney

Stylish spectacles from Zoobug

Are you ready for school to start? I am soooo not ready. I’m still lamenting the end of summer and slow, lazy days! But… these cute back-to-school images from Zoobug are rather inspiring and fun. (I’m sure my kids will feel like that girl in the top photo on their first day back! It’s always hard to get back into the swing of things after a long break!)

We’ve blogged before about Zoobug’s great children’s sunglasses, but I think it’s worth pointing out that they also do children’s optical glasses, and offer so many trendy little designs.

x Courtney

Yoga Pretzels

My kids have been greatly enjoying the Yoga Pretzels cards they got from their babysitter for Christmas. It’s so cute to see them bend in all sorts of curves, or trying to keep their balance. There are 50 cards, each of them giving a suggestion for a pose. There are, for instance, balance poses, stretch poses, stand and bend poses, and, most popular with my children, the partner poses (they need each other to perform the pose!). There are also cards that give breathing or relax exercises, or suggestions for games that enhance teamwork and creativity. It’s great fun, and especially 6-year-old Sara has been able to really relax after her yoga. Pim (almost 5) loves it too, his favourite pose, of course, is the ‘Warrior’.
Yoga Pretzels is available through Amazon (UK or US ).

xxx Esther

Zoobug Sunglasses

If you’re looking for sunglasses for your kids this summer, the ones to opt for are the Zoobug sunglasses. Not only do they have loads of cool styles (I love the Daisy sunglasses for girls and the Wayfarers for boys!), the sunglasses are UV-protective and many of the styles have adjustable rubber tips to ensure the glasses fit your child’s face.  They’re also virtually unbreakable, as they should be if they’re meant for children. Zoobug also now makes optical glasses for kids which have all the same great qualities and cuteness!


Liniment Oleo Calcaire

I am a total French pharmacy groupie. And I really thought that I knew every product available and then, recently, I stumbled upon yet another French wonder product! Linement Oleo Calcaire (I guess this translates to oil and calcium ointment) consists of only two ingredients: olive oil and calcium. The most common use for it is cleaning babies bottoms with it — instead of wipes. It cleans fantastically well and leaves a film of oil to stop irritations. Lots of people over here use it at home instead of wipes — so much cheaper and better for the baby and the environment — a no brainer!

And there is more: it’s also good to wash dry skin or skin prone to ecxma, massage, use on sunburns and minor burns and also as a make-up remover. It must be the most multi-functional product in the world! You can buy the ointment ready made at most pharmacies in France or the pharmacist should be able to mix up a bottle for you. Alternatively you can get it online here in France and here in the  UK and the USA.


Vicks Behind-the-ear thermometer

It’s funny how medical care can be so different from country to country.  When I lived in London and asked the pharmacist for some suppositories to give to my sick baby, he literally looked at me as if I was asking him to stand on his head and sing the ABCs. Whereas here in Amsterdam, suppositories are the norm, and liquid paracetamol doesn’t seem to exist at all! Fact is (at least in my experience), that for small, nappy wearing babies, suppositories really work best, but for older children I definitely prefer liquid paracetamol.
For taking temperatures it seems to be the same story: in the Netherlands, temperatures are supposed to be taken rectally, whereas in the UK I think it is considered child molestation to use anything else than an ear thermometer. I must say that I’ve warmed up to the UK method here — especially since we own the Vicks Gentle Touch, which accurately measures the temperature behind the ear within a second, and it’s colour coded so you immediately see if your child is running a temperature or not (and can finish his dinner).

xxx Esther

Spoil yourself

I have had one of those months, and the truth be told, I am feeling a little bit run down. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are falling off the trees, my girls and I have all had colds and it has been one of those periods where nothing really goes to plan. I feel like I’ve been running late on everything — do you know that feeling? So I decided it was time to do some damage limitation and spoil myself a little, and this is how:

1) A big, long, hot bath with some good bath salts (my favorites are the Neals Yard Lavander Bath Salts).
2) An episode of Mad Men (it is my absolute favourite show at the moment and there is nothing better than zoning out to a good TV show) and watching it while I am soaking in the hot bath with a face mask on.
3) A hot drink: my favourite is freshly pressed lemon juice, hot water, honey and a splash of whiskey (the whiskey is optional).
4) Going to bed early in a freshly made bed.

What about you? What is your quick fix when you are feeling run down?


Sidewalk Shoe Survival Balm

Rejoice!  Summer is here in full force and with the clunky boots now tossed to the back of the closet it’s time to break out the cute sandals and flats. But oh my… ouch… so uncool… breaking in the new shoes for the new season also means blisters and sore feet!

A very good friend of mine from college has been working on this product for years now and just recently rolled it out. She is a mama herself and one that always looks amazing and stylish. In her pre-mommy days she used to do all sorts of healthy San Francisco-ish things like ironman’s and triathalon’s and as a result was always looking for a lady-like product to ease her sore feet.   Sidewalk Survival Balm was born out of her love for comfort and high fashion and her organic foot-saver is a god-send that smells incredible.  After taking it for a bunch of test runs, I can attest that it really works. Basically, it’s a protective balm for feet, almost like a chapstick,  and I keep one in my bag to offer instant relief from rubbing shoes.   I am even going to use it on my kids as they break in their new summer sandals.  She will ship internationally if you contact her directly and is offering Babyccino readers a discount of 20% off till the end of July. Just use promo code: babyccino.


Nyp Balm, food for your boobs (and baby’s bottom)

The third time around, breastfeeding was easy. I knew exactly what to do, and the baby also got it immediately — she was breastfeeding within minutes after she was born, as if we both had been doing nothing else for years. Life is beautiful.
I also knew exactly what to expect a few days after the birth. Painful boobs the size of melons, hard, hot and with red blotches. Sleeping sitting up. Sore, cracked nipples, feeding bra size 100Z (too small). Have you ever had to pull a cracked nipple sticking to your bra? Ouch. Life is a bitch.
Enter Inlight Nyp Balm. A natural, 100% organic, wonderful smelling soothing balm that does the trick. Before birth, it’s used to help stretch the skin and prevent stretch-marks. After the birth it soothes and heals sore nipples. And, what I possibly like best about it is that now that I don’t need the Nyp Balm myself anymore (yay), I can use the rest for my baby’s bum. No spills! Because it also calms red and irritated baby bottoms wonderfully well.
All ingredients in Nyp Balm (like moisturising olive and coconut oil, protective beeswax, anti-inflammatory lavender and restorative rosehip oil) do not alter the flavour of the maternal milk and are easily tolerated by babies.

xxx Esther

Bear foods

I can spot a new kids snack a mile off — it’s like I smell something new in the air as soon as I enter the supermarket.  I spotted Bear yo-yos last year and immediately my fruit-loving daughter was a fan.  Now we are all fans of the Bear snacks (I especially love the Cocoa Cherry Pie nibbles).  They are not just for children — their selection of nibbles are delicious combinations of fruit and granola and come in bags that are all under 100cals — so perfect for my 4pm sugar-fix.

Bear was started by personal trainer, Hayley, last year in an attempt to find a tasty alternative to chocolate, biscuits and treats — clearly a lady with my needs in mind!  She chose the name ‘Bear’ after she read an article which said that bears who had found their way into cities and therefore foraged for foods in bins behind fast-food joints ended up being 30% fatter and 30% less active then their wild counter-parts.  They also died younger.

So Bear produce all their nibbles as nature intended — no fiddling, no air-freight fruit and fairly-traded.  You can buy Bear goodies through Ocado.

-Mo. x

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