Am I jealous of your baby?

I wanted to write this blog post because it’s a question I have not only asked myself about other women’s pregnancies and babies since Samuel being born in the second trimester, but even prior to his arrival, I could never quite make sense of how those around me struggling with infertility, or having suffered miscarriage and baby loss, would feel about my own pregnancies or baby…and to be quite honest, mothers with babies who suffered extreme prematurity weren’t even on my radar.

Google defines to be jealous as ‘feeling or showing envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages’. I’d like to explore this a little bit and explain where I’m at.

Having a ‘Mummy Instagram’ page & feed means that almost every day, thanks to the good old algorithm, I will see at least a handful of pregnancy announcements, baby bump photos, birth announcements and newborn photos. I stop to look at these posts, I tap ‘like’ on these posts, I leave comments on these posts. When I say ‘congratulations’ on a pregnancy, or a new baby, or a gender reveal…I mean it, from the bottom of my heart. I do not resent a new or expectant parent’s happiness, and I would never be disingenuous about this or avoid wishing them well because of my own experience. There is no happier or more moving time than the promise of new life…I’ve been in those shoes and I 100% buy into sharing the excitement.

However, that doesn’t stop a niggle that I never used to feel. A sting of sadness; a reminder that what was supposed to be for us didn’t happen that way, and of everything else that happened instead.

Even now almost 10 months later, I am not yet comfortable to be around other babies. It’s impossible still for me to not look and compare what a ‘normal’ baby is doing, what the baby looks like and what has come naturally for Mum and baby, which wasn’t the same for me and Samuel. I have two close friends who were due months before me, whose babies were born after Samuel, in the same month. It may be almost a year since he was born, but that does not mean I have forgotten the experience or that his preemie journey is over, or even will be over for a number of years.

To see Samuel aside babies of the same age who are twice his size and in some cases almost walking, is something I will hold my hands up and say I am not yet stoic enough to deal with gracefully, and is a situation I will continue to avoid until I feel differently. There is actually a designated baby clinic in my area for babies who were on the special care unit at my local hospital, so that they can get weighed/chat to other Mums of premature or sick babies without experiencing these feelings. I haven’t yet attended it myself, and tend to take Samuel to the ‘normal’ baby clinic. For me, this is about taking little steps to push myself into situations where I can gradually learn to feel more at ease around Mums and babies who haven’t been in my shoes. I don’t engage in chit chat, but I’m there. It’s part of the healing process.

The other new and unexpected emotion I now find myself processing when it comes to pregnancies is that I am almost entirely unable to get my head around the possibility that the outcome of a pregnancy can be positive, and am struck by the fear and anxiety of this, completely unnecessarily, on another woman’s behalf. I know logically that what happened with Samuel is very rare; only 7% of births in the UK are premature, and of that 7%, just 5% were born before 28 weeks and would be classed as ‘extremely preterm’*. But knowing this doesn’t take away from the fact that it did happen to us, and that every second and third trimester bump photo now triggers a habitual thought pattern for me that includes willing the baby to stay in there ‘til they’re absolutely ready, calculating in my mind the potential size/weight and stage of the babies’ development (particularly their lungs), and comparing this to Samuel at birth. I would like to think this is because it’s still not been that long, and that eventually one day I will see gorgeous bumps and scrummy newborn babies with only the feelings of joy and excitement, without a tainting by my experience.

I don’t believe I’m special, or am worthy of any kind of exclusive treatment. I don’t like a fuss of any kind (good or bad – the thought of a big party thrown on my behalf, for example, calls for me to tuck my head away in my hands or rush to the toilet for a nervous poo). I certainly would never ask for, or expect anyone to tiptoe around me because of the indignities and failings of my own reproductive system. If there’s a situation or conversation I would rather avoid, I generally do just that, it’s no one else’s fault or responsibility. Unless backed into a corner or subject to a serious feather ruffling, I don’t tend to speak my mind about sensitive issues that pertain to me. This is why when someone pregnant has a moan to me about being pregnant (which having had a full-term pregnancy myself I COMPLETELY understand and empathise with) it is always of value to me if the disclaimer of ‘I know I probably shouldn’t whinge to you’, or similar, is thrown in there somewhere…at least in comparison to the times when it is not. Not because I think anyone owes me an explanation, or an apology, but it’s of comfort to me know that another mother might appreciate that it may potentially be difficult or uncomfortable for me to hear.

Bitter? No. Resentful? No. Jealous? Still unsure…maybe ‘envy’ is more on the mark?

Lucky? Definitely…I am under no illusion that I am one of the luckiest ones. Whatever the journey, my baby is here and never a day will pass where I am not acutely aware of how fortunate we are to have him.

Have you ever experienced any feelings like this? Perhaps you’re an IVF parent, have suffered miscarriage, baby loss, or are a fellow preemie parent? I would love to hear from you, it can be a lonely old place when we don’t talk!

Jo XX

*premature birth statistics from tommys.org

You won’t fall pregnant without treatment: My PCOS journey

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Around the age of 22, I decided I wanted to take a break from taking the contraceptive pill. I had been on Dianette for moderate acne for some years, and I just knew it wasn’t doing me any good (that drug is evil in its purest form…for me, anyway!) and I found that my ‘periods’ (obviously the ones you have whilst on the pill aren’t genuine) did not return. The official term for this is ‘secondary amenorrhea’, which basically means you did have a menstrual cycle, and now you don’t.

I went to the doctors after around 6 months, and was told to give it more time. I waited and waited, and over a year had passed before they decided to do some blood tests to figure out what might be going on. The results showed that I had low levels of what’s called the Leuteinizing hormone. This is the hormone that triggers ovulation, so basically every month when my body tried (or didn’t try) to ovulate, it wasn’t quite happening. The doctor referred me to the hospital for an ultrasound, which confirmed I had multiple cysts on my ovaries, and ‘scars’ from cysts that had come up and gone down again when they had tried to pop out an egg multiple times, and not managed to do so.

During the appointment when they explained this to me, a non-native English speaking doctor explained to me very matter-of-factly (it very may well have been the language barrier causing the perceived bluntness) that I would not get pregnant naturally, without medical intervention. I was only 23 and having a baby was so far from anything I had even in the periphery of my plans at the time, but nevertheless, to hear this was still pretty upsetting. It wasn’t an option? Ever?! What is wrong with me? They said I would need to gain weight before they would consider taking my case any further (I had a BMI of around 14 at the time; the weight fell off me very quickly after coming off the pill), and that really, I would need to be actively trying for a baby for at least 18 months before I would qualify for any kind of fertility treatment.

I was definitely not in ‘the zone’ to be trying for a baby, or putting pressure on myself to gain weight at what was meant to be the most fun and carefree time of my life…finally graduated from University, renting a decent flat and in a stable job, with the freedom to pretty much do whatever I damn well pleased for the first time ever (it was glorious…!) The relationship I was in at the time certainly wasn’t heading in the direction of anything so serious, or long term…so I just accepted it and carried on with my life, although it still played on my mind from time to time.

Fast forward to a couple of years later, and despite my reservations about the pill, I decided it was best that I go back on, and persuaded my doctor to put me on Yasmin instead (I had heard good things; that it was more gentle and good for people with mild acne/PCOS, both of which I had). It did take a lot of persuading, I guess it’s expensive to prescribe…but anyway, I still experienced some adverse symptoms from taking it (bloating, loss of sex drive, migraines, mood swings etc.), but stayed on for another two or so years.

During those two years, my circumstances changed when I met Jack, and so did my state of mind. For the first time, I actually saw myself settling down, getting married, having babies. After we had been together just over a year, the symptoms were getting too much and I decided it was time for another break from the pill, and to hopefully ‘reset’ my body so that in a couple years’ time, it might be ready for us to start thinking about babies.

I found after coming off that yet again, the weight fell off me and my skin flared up in painful and unsightly cystic acne round my jaw, and comedones (skin coloured bumps) over my face almost straight away. I had maybe two (irregular) periods, before they stopped completely, yet again. It was mega depressing being back where I was a few years ago, if not worse, and I started researching holistic ways to balance my hormones and clear my skin. All of the information I seemed to find about PCOS suggested that losing weight would be helpful, but this assumed that I might be struggling with being overweight, which didn’t apply to me.

I tried so many potions/powders & supplements; maca powder, bee pollen, Agnus Castus (chasteberry), chromium, fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin A…and so many more I can’t remember! Nothing *really* worked, not significantly. I was getting seriously depressed with it, because not only did I feel grotesque, my bad skin was a physical reminder that something wasn’t ‘right’ inside me, and that my hormones were still imbalanced after all these years.

I read a fair bit about a link between PCOS and insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes. There was one thing that seemed to make a difference when I tried it, and that was following a low GI/GL diet. No sugar, no refined carbs, no alcohol etc. Whenever I managed to stick to this for more than a couple of weeks, I managed to trigger my body into ovulating, and I would have a period. I would then relax a little… “hurrah, my body is working!” and then become complacent and go back to eating normally again, the periods would stop, and the pattern would continue.

In the end, I went back to the doctor (different surgery this time as I had moved) and was basically told I wasn’t heavy enough to be referred, and that my issues most likely stemmed from being underweight. I 100% knew this wasn’t the reason, and threw a big hissy fit…but I still went away and made an effort to eat as much (mostly healthy) food as possible to gain the weight needed to be referred. Months passed, and I managed to gain maybe half a stone, which still wasn’t quite enough. It was becoming extremely demoralising, so in the end I booked another doctor’s appointment. Just before the appointment I ate a large lunch and on my walk to the surgery, downed a 2 litre and a 1 litre bottle of water (my poor bladder; but you gotta do what you gotta do!)

Feeling suitably sick and stuffed, they weighed me and Hallelujah, I scraped the weight they had asked of me by about half a lb. They finally put me in for a referral, where I eventually had another ultrasound confirming I had PCOS, or more accurately this time, that I *HAD* PCOS, and there were scars there to show it, but my body hadn’t created any new cysts recently due to my cycle being completely dormant.

The plan was made that I would start a drug called Clomid, which is intended to trigger ovulation. It was around March at the time, and we decided between us (myself and Jack) that we would wait ‘til after the Summer for me to start treatment. I was just so relieved that something was in place to get me sorted, but we weren’t in any mad rush to get pregnant and thought it best after all the stress, to just enjoy our Summer. We were engaged and had a holiday planned to Sicily to look at wedding venues, and our weekends were just one party sesh after another (wistfully remembering these long-ago fun times!)

Fast forward to June, and a few people at my work were attempting a 5 day juice fast, for various reasons. In my infinite wisdom, I decided this might be good for my skin, so I joined in (never, ever, EVER again….). I made it to the end of day 3 and caved; I started eating vegetables and fruit again… I needed to chew and feel actual food in my belly! I was actually quite poorly for a week or so afterwards, it wasn’t a good move for me and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but that’s just me. My skin didn’t improve, and I was more bloated than ever. HOWEVER, sometime in the two weeks following the fast, I must have ovulated, and after a night of carefree partying…we got pregnant.

The same thing happened after I gave birth to Thea; my periods stopped before they even really started. But this time, it was of no real consequence to me, as I was in no rush to get pregnant or expand our family…my skin was good satisfactory, and I wasn’t exactly complaining about not having periods, so I just ‘let it be’.

Following a trip to Spain where I had severe D+V for 2-3 days, we arrived home and yet again found out I was pregnant. It must have happened just after we got back.

*Before I point out the following, please be aware that I am in NO WAY qualified to give any kind of medical or dietary advice, and this blog is purely anecdotal; my own experience. Please refer to your GP for any medical issues.*

The thing that my two pregnancies have in common, is that I hasn’t been consuming refined sugar, carbs, alcohol in the weeks leading up to ovulating. First time because of the juice fast, second time because of the actual fast from being so unwell. AGAIN – I AM NOT SUGGESTING ANYONE DOES ANY KIND OF FAST, EVER! What I’m getting at is, the doctor who said I wouldn’t get pregnant without treatment was wrong. No information whatsoever relating to diet was offered to me, but it turns out (in my personal experience, and in line with much of the research known about PCOS) that diet plays a huge role in balancing hormones, and that in my circumstance at least, I was lucky enough to be able to manipulate my body into doing what it should, without drugs, and I now have two beautiful babies.

Everyone’s PCOS journey is different, the symptoms vary greatly. What PCOS looks like for me, might be completely different from what it looks like to someone else, and one size does not fit all in terms of treatment. I wanted to share my story and make the point that never doesn’t always necessarily mean never, and if you’re suffering with PCOS, you aren’t alone and there is hope!

Jo XX

Where have we been?

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Hello! Long time no see. I’m not going to flatter myself by starting this blog post with ‘you’ve probably been wondering why I’ve not been on insta…’, as I’m sure you’ll have coped just fine without seeing my sporadic ramblings and clips of my nutty children over the Summer. That been said…to those of you who asked me or my friends if I was ok, and particularly those who only know me online yet sought out ways to contact me to check in and say you missed my posts; I am incredibly grateful, and feel fortunate to have people like you in my corner. It’s a lovely feeling…one that I am not accustomed to, but deeply appreciate.

Firstly, let me start by saying that I’m happy to report that my little family and I are all in good health, and there is no dark (or even particularly compelling) reason for my recent online hiatus. I wish I could say it was a well-thought out decision which I came to by weighing up the pros and cons of having an internet presence, but the truth is that one day I was simply having a bad day, and scrolling wasn’t making me feel any happier…so I just made a snap decision to disable my account. I also deleted the Instagram app, as well as my Facebook app (although I kept my account active). This was to avoid absent-mindedly opening the app on auto-pilot out of pure habit, as I so very often had been doing at the time.

My immediate reaction was relief, if I’m completely honest. After the year that my family and I have had, there was a real need to ‘shut down’ and figure out exactly where my head was at, and how to be ‘normal’ once again. A lot has happened in the last year, what with Samuel’s early arrival and all of the struggles that came along with it; emotions, mental health, logistics, relationships and even money, all before we even had our chance to find our feet as a family of four, with two under two to boot. I have also been saddened by the untimely loss of one the most influential people in my life just before I decided to come off insta; a cruel and sobering reminder that life really is too short. Too short to spend on social media when for whatever reason, it’s stopped being fun.

Probably the most boring reason for needing this space was good, old-fashioned lack of time. I am running around like a lunatic pretty much constantly. The number of children has doubled, the laundry has AT LEAST doubled, the cooking has doubled (Samuel is on solids now), the mess has doubled, the stress has doubled and sleep has halved…and I’m still working to support Jack’s business. You get the picture. I am so SO lucky that things have turned out this way, and I thank my lucky stars every day to have our little family, but the truth is that some most days can be very challenging.

When I’m not performing these riveting, never-complete tasks, I want to enjoy my children. Thea started preschool this September, and it would be the last chance I’d have to be at home with both of my babies full time, ever again. Samuel spent 4 months in hospital…how would I feel about myself if I were to spend his first 4 months at home sat behind my phone, uninspired, creating no content and mindlessly scrolling? Samuel isn’t a ‘newborn’ anymore who sleeps most of the day and only wakes to eat and poo. He’s now a little person with a budding personality that would be a crime not to observe, nurture and enjoy. Particularly given his difficult start and the months of mother-baby bonding that was stripped away from us.

And Thea, she’s gone through an extremely turbulent and confusing time for a child of any age, and she’s only just turning 2 and a half. She needs consistency, love, care and attention. I have recently created a rule for myself that when we are at home and Samuel is asleep whilst Thea is awake, that any work, housework or the other are put on pause, so I can give her the undivided attention that she so greatly deserves. She’s grown up and is still growing so quickly, and I wanted this Summer to be about watching her (and Samuel) learn, play, be happy and just ‘be’, together as a family just as we had longed for and craved so badly during all those weeks and months of our lives being torn in two. They needed and continue to need their safe place at home and their Mum, more than I ‘needed’ to be on Instagram.

There is a small window of about an hour and a half after the kids go to bed, and before we do ourselves (Samuel wake-ups excluded) where I had the chance to be doing something other than aimlessly scrolling my Instagram feed. I have grown to dislike the term ‘self-care’ (don’t ask me why, I happen to think it’s extremely important, but the term itself has become so overused that I now find it a bit ‘wanky’, for lack of a better word!). Wankiness aside, I have claimed this 90 minute slot as MINE. Mine to watch reality TV; I’ll put my hands up now and admit to every single episode of this years’ Love Island & Celebs go Dating (judge me, I care not *insert sassy emoji here*), watch countless documentaries & to READ.

Not very productive in the traditional sense, but just what my mind needed. A break, a chance to jump off from the emotional rollercoaster and escape from the everyday chaos. Trash TV and ‘brain nap’ aside, reading actual books and watching interesting documentaries has given me some conversational & intellectual ammo that doesn’t involve the kids, or motherhood. That in itself is invaluable to how I feel about myself as a stay at home parent after a decade in the workplace.

Anyway, I’m back now. In what capacity, I am still unsure. I don’t want to force it, or for it to detract from being present in the moment…but I’m fortunate in that I’ve pretty much always found the insta community to be a supportive network and positive place to be, and feel like I might be ready to interact again…if you’ll have me?!

Jo XXX

Birth Story – Part 2

Jack had made a garbled phone call to my Mum to let her know what had happened. It was about 11pm and he could hear Thea very much awake and playing in the background. She had woken up when my Mum arrived and hadn’t re-settled on realising Mummy wasn’t there. It’s always me who comforts her when she wakes. We’re always together. My heart aches now thinking about how it felt knowing I couldn’t be there and how confused she must have been. A few minutes later, after witnessing Jack’s harassed attempt at a telephone conversation, a kind female doctor offered to call her back and run through what was happening. I could just about make out the muffled voice of my Mum across the room asking ‘will the baby survive?’ and the doctor exhaling the honest and fragile answer of ‘we don’t know that’. Sometime soon after that I must have tuned out from trying to listen. What more was there to say?

I composed a generic WhatsApp message explaining the situation and sent it to the people I initially thought should know, or would be able to pass info onto others who would want to. My brain was fried and I wanted to pore over the details with as few people and as few times as possible, but didn’t want to leave anyone in the dark either.

The following day I let my Instagram followers know via my stories. This may seem like an odd move to some, but although I don’t know many in real life, there are plenty with whom I talk to on a regular basis and would class as having genuine friendships with, and this also would let anyone I know in real life who I hadn’t included in the WhatsApp message know what was going on. The replies soon came flooding in. It was warming to know I had so much support from ‘real life’ friends and insta, but I eventually deleted the story because I found it too overwhelming to pick up my phone and read any more messages.

In the morning, after a stiff, crumpled sleep in a shiny chair bundled in his camo fishing coat, Jack and I agreed that he should go back to our house to reassure Thea and have a shower, and grab some bits I might need. Whilst he did that, my Mum ‘swapped’ and came to see me in the hospital. I don’t recall our exact conversations, but I remember they related to accepting the cards we’d been dealt, and mentally preparing for the worst. She tentatively asked me what I felt the worst possible outcome would be from all this. I said that our baby would die, or be so poorly that he’d never have any quality of life. She asked which was worse, and I said the latter. She didn’t say it directly, but pretty much the purpose of the question was to confirm our standpoint on any impossibly tough decisions we may have to make, before he was born. Jack and I had already discussed that we wouldn’t want our baby to suffer, should we find ourselves in a scenario where nothing more could be done for him.

The fact that we were engaging in this heart-rending dialogue, when less than 24hours before we had been excitedly sharing with Jack’s parents the date of our planned c section, and what was supposed to be our baby boy’s birthday, just felt completely surreal. It was all arranged. He was coming on Monday 18th March, in the morning. I’d seen it as my chance to have a controlled and positive birth experience after the trauma of my first. It was now Sunday 9th December, and all of a sudden, our baby had to be born, and may not even live at all. Thoughts flashed through my mind from the day before, and I pictured how we’d been sat in the car to and from Kent, trying to visualise how it were possible that my cervix had been wide open potentially the entire time and maybe even before, and how my perfectly healthy, living baby had just been hanging down in his sac, and I’d had absolutely no idea.

Initially, I was advised that a natural birth would be the best, safest way to deliver our baby boy. I went into panic mode and started hysterically stammering that I just couldn’t do it, not after last time, tears rolling down my cheeks. Jack 100% had my back and explained in a more coherent way that we didn’t feel I could cope with reliving the trauma of my first labour, especially under these circumstances. As it turns out, I calmed down and rationalised that it was the fact that I didn’t progress last time that caused the experience to be as bad as it was, and the impossible positioning of my full term baby. This time, I was already fully dilated with no pain to speak of, and the baby was only a fraction of the size and definitely not stuck. My Mumma bear kicked in and I conceded that if there was a better chance that he would survive, I could psych myself up for a natural birth, no matter what.

As it turns out, they carried out an ultrasound and he was presenting between transverse (sideways) and footling breech (feet and legs straight down), and a planned/emergency c section was the safest way. It would need to be a classical (upwards) incision because of the limited growth of the womb for such an early birth. This would ensure the best possible access to the baby to get him out as quickly and safely as possible.

A lovely midwife called Gillian took over looking after me. I remember her particularly because she was ever so kind and sweet. She had glasses and a bob haircut with a sparkly Christmas hair clip. She somehow made this awful situation more bearable just by being lovely. I was a ticking timebomb…everyone was waiting for my waters to spontaneously go, or for me to be rushed into theatre. Gillian excitedly dressed into scrubs ‘just in case’ (apparently they’re difficult to get hold of in the right size at short notice, who knew?) and whipped out a festive scrub hat she’d been saving for the first December trip to theatre on her shift. I thought this was the cutest thing in the world, and I am a little disappointed that it didn’t end up being on her shift that our baby boy was born.

We waited, waited and waited. Nothing changed, my waters didn’t break. I played out the scenario in my mind that they might not go, and wondered how long I could stay on this delivery bed with my legs up, laying as still as possible to keep him safe inside. Thankfully, I was eventually swapped onto a real bed, a bed designed for resting with an actual mattress, not one of the hard funny angled beds/chairs intended for birthing babies. I was also given a hormone drug usually reserved for women in the very early stages of spontaneous premature labour to slow down contractions. They said there was no evidence it would be effective for someone like me who was fully dilated, however, there was nothing to lose and if it prevented me from having any more tightenings, this could potentially keep the baby safe for longer. I would have said yes to anything at all at this point if it might protect him.

It was explained that following his birth, if he survived, our baby would be stabilised and transferred to another hospital with a specialist NICU. It would either be Brighton, or Portsmouth. We are familiar with Brighton, and really hung onto hope it would be there. It was still a long drive for what’s actually a short distance as the crow flies, but it was the preferable scenario that he would be cared for there. After many phone calls back and forth, they eventually said they would reserve a bed ready for him at the Trevor Mann Baby Unit in Brighton. Little pieces of good news like this are what kept us going, we were doing well at keeping positive and getting pumped for his arrival.

Gillian arranged for the lead paediatric/neonatal consultant to come and explain the process of our baby’s transfer to us. She came in the room and softly explained how he would be put into a plastic bag, intubated, stabilised and an ambulance transfer service would stick on the blues and twos, and rush him to Brighton. This was the first time someone had not sounded hopeful about the outcome. She did her best to prepare us for the very real possibility that he would not make the journey, even if he made it through the birth. After she left, Jack and I looked at each other, deflated, and acknowledged that the conversation hadn’t inspired much hope. We mentioned to Gillian when she came back how we were feeling, and she very gently, but matter-of-factly, told us ‘She understands better than anyone what we are dealing with. It isn’t her job to sugar coat’. Instead of breaking down, we nodded and accepted that this was the truth. It didn’t help us feel any better about what was about to happen, but in our hearts we knew it was better that we were prepared (if you ever possibly could be in this situation).

In the end, a surgeon came in on Monday morning and sat down next to my bed. She said it was her professional and gut feeling, that it was the best time (of the very limited options we had left at this point) for our baby to be born. She explained that every possible specialist in this field that they had access to, was in the hospital that day. The amniotic sac was still intact, the baby was stable, the drugs I had been given had enough time to be fully passed onto him. If we waited any longer, the outcome could be that my waters go the next day, and the birth is no longer controlled or supported by the top desirable combination of qualified professionals that were on hand to assist today. We agreed. After a quick ultrasound to confirm baby was still not head down (he wasn’t!). I signed the papers and everyone began scrambling to prepare for theatre. Their estimate was that he would be 1lb9oz (he turned out to be 1lb 10z). Impossibly small. I have no idea what we were expecting.

I’ve never been more nervous. As they wheeled me into theatre, it was completely surreal and I was tortured by the conflicting feelings of wishing this to be over, and desperately longing to be able to keep my baby safe, and for none of this to be happening. When we arrived, I was told they’d never had so many specialists and qualified members of staff in the room before, and everyone went round individually saying their name and their job titles. In hindsight, I can see why they did this, and it was comforting to know we were being so well looked after, but at the time, their voices trailed and mumbled in the background of my consciousness. I couldn’t tell you a single name or job title that I heard that day.

It took several goes for my spinal to work, which was unnerving in itself (ha!). Eventually it was successful and things behind the curtain began. It happened painfully slowly and far too quickly all at once. I felt the familiar rummaging of a c section birth in my belly, and all of a sudden a lifting feeling and heard the tiniest little squeal like a kitten, and a momentary flash of an impossibly small, shiny, red baby poking above the curtain. “Happy Birthday” the surgeon said half-heartedly, quite clearly trying to make the experience more pleasant and normal than it was, but her voice was distracted and shaky, and this experience was everything but pleasant, or normal.

I let out a haunted sound I have never before or since heard myself make, as I literally felt life being wrenched from my body. I cannot begin to describe it. It was half animal and half like the cry of a tortured spirit in a ghost story, trapped forever in the nothingness that lies somewhere between life and death. I have never been so overcome with grief and sadness in all my life. It was as if my whole body was caving in together with my baby bump. He was gone. I couldn’t do anything. It was my job to grow and protect him and he was no longer part of me, he was in someone else’s hands and I had failed at my only duty to him.

Kind voices gathered around my head, reassured me and told me it was done, congratulated me, and told me baby looked great. Jack stroked my head and told me well done and he’d seen the baby. A kind scouse nurse told me she’d been over to see him and he had been kicking the doctors off as they tried to stabilise him, and at that time he had been breathing all by himself, which at 25+0 was practically unheard of. She said what a positive sign it was that he was so feisty and fighting. This was helpful to hear, of course, but I couldn’t allow myself to feel anything more now. Utterly exhausted and overwhelmed from everything that had happened in the last 36 hours, my survival instinct kicked in and I emotionally shut down, and shifted my thoughts elsewhere. Namely to asking when I was allowed to have a cup of tea. All I could think about or ask for was my cup of tea. There was nothing more I could do.

Birth Story – Part 1

Our second pregnancy wasn’t planned, but a lovely surprise and a welcome blessing, nonetheless. After the initial 12 weeks of feeling incredibly tired, sick & depressed, all whilst enduring a mammoth sleep regression from Thea and her month-long ear infection to boot, it was pretty much textbook. I knew I didn’t want more than 2 children so I embraced all things pregnancy even more so this time around; growing bump, planning the nursery, thinking of names, feeling the kicks…it all somehow felt a little more precious knowing that it would be the last time. I prepared myself to balloon early on and become ‘massive’ second time around, but even that didn’t happen and it was almost exactly the same as my previous pregnancy. I had a couple of minor bleeds and went to get checked out, and both times it was confirmed by ultrasound that everything was fine.

At around 23/24 weeks I noticed I was passing what I considered an unusual amount of cervical mucus (yeuch…sorry – there’s no nice description) and became concerned that my plug might be coming away. I did the unthinkable and Googled it, and it seemed pretty common. I found out that the plug can come away throughout the pregnancy in various amounts and it simply regenerates itself…I wasn’t overly worried. I text my Mum about it who said no, it was weird, that I needed checking out and to call 111 (I deemed this a massive overreaction and of course, I didn’t do that…). I chuckled to myself about my non-emergency and told her I would call the hospital in the morning, just for peace of mind.

When Thea woke up, sometime around 5.30am (no, it’s definitely NOT a phase…) Jack and I got ourselves dressed, called the hospital and bundled Thea in the car with us when they said to come in. We were pleased to be getting it out of the way early so we could enjoy the rest of our weekend without worrying.

After a short wait, a midwife came in and after I explained my sticky situation (sorry…it was already so gross, so why not?) she did my obs and listened in for baby with a doppler. His heartbeat was absolutely fine and she reassured me that a lot of discharge can be normal in pregnancy. I think I knew deep down that it wasn’t discharge, but being politely British and not exactly body confident, I wasn’t about to ask her to rummage around and look for the sake of it. The fact that baby was safe and well was enough reassurance for us, so we left.

A week later, when Thea was in bed and about 10 minutes after Jack had left to go night fishing, I went to the toilet & noticed a weird feeling as I pushed to go. I put my hand down to wipe and to my absolute horror there was something bulging out of me, like a balloon. I quickly moved from our en suite to our bedroom to inspect in a mirror and shone the torch of my iPhone so I could see, and it was what looked like a pink/purple balloon inflating and deflating as I tensed or moved. Without even thinking, I quickly pushed it back in with my fingers and called Jack to tell him with sheer panic in my voice ‘something purple is coming out of me!’. He must have sensed how frightened I was, and he said he’d be right back. I don’t think he’s ever come home from fishing so quickly!

I text my Mum who said it sounded like it might be a prolapse and to call someone quickly. I rang triage and explained, and although they didn’t try and diagnose over the phone, it seemed that from my description that they too suspected prolapse, as they simply told me they were very busy and to come in a couple of hours, and to be prepared for a wait when we get there.

My dear parents left the party they were meant to be going to, and drove all the way down to us in Sussex from Bedfordshire, so they could be at our house with Thea while we went to the hospital. As soon as they arrived, we made our way over there. By this point I had done a fair amount of Googling and had self-diagnosed a prolapse, and convinced myself that they’d pop something inside to prop things up, and we’d be home in a couple of hours. After all, they didn’t seem too concerned on the phone, and had said it would be a while before we were seen.

When we got to the hospital, we hadn’t waited that long before a midwife had a quick look from the outside and couldn’t see anything, so we then waited for a doctor to come and take a proper look with a speculum. I was still pretty convinced at this point that it would be a prolapse, and only a minor one since the midwife couldn’t see anything popping outside anymore.

I’ll never forget the doctor’s reaction after inserting the speculum and taking the first look. ‘Agghh’ she said, her sunken tone completely loaded with conclusive dread, all in that short, mono-syllabic exclamation. I knew immediately that something was horribly wrong. “You’re fully dilated” she said, “and the amniotic sac, with baby, is coming out. We will need to deliver this baby within…*pause*…the next 24 hours”. WHAT? I don’t remember exactly what happened after that. I remember a button on the wall behind me got pushed and the room quickly filled with about 10 new people, and the labour bed I had been laying on was fast tilted to a ‘legs up’ angle. During this time, it was explained that because I was fully dilated, there was nothing that could be done to delay the baby, and that my waters were at risk of breaking at any minute, and pretty much that it was a race against time to prepare for when they did.

How was this happening? This was the POLAR opposite to my labour with Thea, where I’d had back-breaking back-to-back/transverse contractions for 2 days, stuck on 2-3cm dilated and ended up having an emergency c section (for several reasons, but the official explanation being ‘failure to progress’). How on earth was I FULLY dilated and had no idea I was in any kind of labour? It was completely surreal.

I couldn’t tell you my exact thoughts, there seemed like a million voices in the room and buzzing in my head, but I do remember thinking ‘this is it, our worst fears have come true, our baby is going to die, or be severely disabled’, and ‘our whole life is now changing forever, in this very moment’. Unwillingly initiated into a different kind of parents’ club we never dreamed we’d join. I can barely remember a word Jack and I said to each other. The only thing I can recall him saying to me was something along the lines of ‘this is our path now and we’re going to have to deal with it’. I can also remember the familiar feeling of his warm and slightly dry hands, holding onto mine when I’d needed them most.

All of a sudden I was hooked up to various wires and tubes. Steroids, which were to help the baby’s lungs mature. Antibiotics to prevent infection. Magnesium Sulphate, for the baby’s brain. A drip to keep me hydrated. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything, even water, as the baby may have come at any time and I most likely needed surgery. I remember my December lips being so incredibly dry and sore, and being weirdly preoccupied with not having any lip balm. I didn’t have anything with me except my mini handbag and phone, let alone a full-term packed hospital bag and lip balm.

I was warned by the staff that the magnesium sulphate might make me feel a bit flushed. Minor understatement…I was pink-faced and dry-heaving so hard at one point that everyone standing around me was pulling the gritting teeth emoji face, worried I would pop my waters or push the baby out. Thankfully I got away with just a small squeaky (but still very embarrassing) fart. I think I even apologised, which seems completely ridiculous now.

At some point that evening, some consultants came in and the risks of having such a premature baby were explained.  The point was made about how our baby was pretty much on the cut off for when they’d ‘do something about’ saving him. I already knew this information, but that in reference to hypothetical babies. Not our baby, our real living baby, bobbing around unawares inside me, perfectly healthy and not planning an exit.

Pie charts were thrust in Jack’s direction, showing the rate of survival for a baby born at 24 weeks, and how likely they’d be to suffer long term effects and disabilities. I wasn’t shown this information, it was passed straight over me in my hospital bed and under Jack’s nose, quite deliberately not verbalised at any point. They offered to let him keep the leaflets, and I just remember him passing them back, eyes on the ground, shaking his head and saying ‘I don’t need to see this’. He told me later when the crowd had left the room that the odds were 50/50 our baby boy would survive, and that there was a very real chance of long term disability if he did.

The colour had drained from Jack’s face at this point and I could tell he was trying desperately to hold it together, for both our sakes. In a turn of events I didn’t quite expect, a midwife somehow correctly identified him as a smoker and offered to go and find him a cigarette. ‘It’s amazing what you can scrounge in L+D’, she chuckled. Being the one who initially inspected me on arrival and could see nothing, she was in the thick of the shock together with us. I would never normally be grateful for Jack smoking, or for someone facilitating it, but I knew he needed some kind of release, or even just a reason to leave the room. I felt completely helpless…

to be continued…

How #MummaMakesItWork

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I was adamant throughout my pregnancy that I would continue to live as close to my ‘normal’, ‘pre-pregnancy’ life as possible once the baby arrived. That I would not get ‘lost’ in Motherhood and become detached from the traits of my personality and the characteristics of my lifestyle that made me ‘me’. I called for meetings with my boss to discuss my return to work (though unsure on the actual timings of when this would be) and wanted to make it absolutely clear that I wanted to retain my position. I told anyone who would listen that I would continue to do things for myself and show my daughter from the very beginning that both Mummies and Daddies work.

No one was more shocked than I was when I made the decision to ‘give up’ my job after 8 years in the workplace. Whether we think we are prepared for it or not, having a baby has a massive impact on our lives in so many varying ways. My reasons for not returning stemmed from multiple factors, and whilst it was not an ‘easy’ decision to make, my gut had made my mind up for me before I could process my thoughts fully. I didn’t feel I could leave Thea, even if our situation had more so easily allowed.

For a while I have wanted to create a post on returning to work after maternity leave, or in my case, not returning. I started to write, and I somehow felt that I wasn’t going to be able to effectively get the message that I wanted to across. I didn’t want to simply describe my own situation and how I felt personally, without being able to offer another perspective, or convey that I wholeheartedly respect and understand the many reasons that other Mums may be doing things differently. There is no one ‘right’ way, and the last thing I wanted to do was give the impression that I thought mine was, without giving a nod to fellow Mamas.

I decided the post should be a collab, and reached out to other blogging Mums with children of a similar age, each with individual circumstances with regards to their return to work. We put together a simple Q&A to discuss our thoughts, reasons and doubts over our situations. You can link to read their answers at the end of this post!

Here are mine…

  1. How soon after having your baby (or finding out you were pregnant!) did you decide how you would continue after maternity leave?

Before going on maternity leave and all through my pregnancy I was absolutely adamant that I would be returning to work. Firstly because of our financial situation, and secondly because I was oh-so-certain that the baby would work around me, slot into my life and I would be able to continue on as normal. PAHAHAHAHA. HA. Not so!

My decision to not return was a gradual one, made based on numerous factors following my daughter’s birth.

  1. Who else had influence over your decision?

My partner, because he said he would support whatever I decided, but also during my maternity leave, he had one of those ‘it’s now or never’ moments, and made a big decision to leave his job as a graphics installation manager and start up his own installation company. Since he’s still starting up and establishing a client base, it’s too soon to turn down work. His hours are long and completely random (sometimes I won’t see him for several days at a time while he works day and night, and I won’t know that is going to happen until a day or two before). The long and short of this is that I am pretty much the only ‘constant’ in Thea’s life, and the onus is on me for everything she does, wants, needs etc., so I want to be around to make sure she has some security in her life. Also, when my husband does get to have the odd day off, if I were due to be at work, this would then mean we’d not have the chance to be together as a family (he works a lot of weekends too), and that prospect just didn’t sit right with either of us.

My Mum, because when we were small she put her career on hold to be with us. She enjoyed it thoroughly, and doesn’t regret it one bit. All our memories of this time are deeply treasured and so happy. She went on to still have a brilliant career(s) and excel in many areas…so although becoming a stay at home Mum was never what I envisaged for myself or something I had ever even considered, my Mother’s recount of her choices and experience gave me the confidence to make the decision for myself, and my family.

  1. To what extent did finance have an impact on your choice?

I worked it out and after putting Thea into childcare, paying the train fare to the office & working reduced hours (I had a rough plan to work 6 hours, 4 days a week down from 8, 5 days a week), I would have only been a couple of hundred pounds a month better off (that’s not disposable income, that’s to contribute towards living costs etc.) and since my husband had now worked to get us in a position that allowed me the choice (which I am incredibly grateful for) I chose time with my daughter over that couple of hundred pounds.

  1. Do logistics/travel play a role in your decision?

We moved further away from my place of work to buy a house while I was pregnant…we got the keys after I had already begun my maternity leave. My train journey would have increased by about 15 minutes had I not got a baby to factor in. That doesn’t sound like much, but on top of this, I would have also had to somehow get Thea to and from nursery on foot (there are no nurseries near our home or nearby to any train stops on the way to the office) and get to work on time for a reasonable number of hours that would have made the faff worthwhile.

The move had a huge impact on my decision, but to re-locate to this new area was the only way we could afford to buy a house, and we wanted to be able to have the baby in our own home, given the choice.

  1. What kind of judgement from others have you feared or experienced?

This one is difficult, since I am embarrassed to say I didn’t have the highest opinion of stay at home parents before I had Thea and became one myself. Not that I thought they were in any way ‘less than’, but because I couldn’t understand how someone could choose to ‘not work’. What an absolute fool I was. Being a stay at home parent is the hardest effing job I have ever had, and there’s absolutely no monetary reimbursement involved! If I was paying someone else to look after my child, that would be considered a ‘proper’ job, whereas mine as her Mum is mostly not.

I have always been the kind of person who thrives in the workplace, so being a stay at home Mum is completely unchartered territory. If I had to summarise, I would say that my fears are that people would assume because of my situation that I am not clever, not driven, not capable, not a role model and not a feminist.

Even some of my oldest friends have looked at me with a mixture of confusion, sympathy and disapproval when I have explained my decision to not return to work, which I have very much struggled to come to terms with. At times have felt as though I no longer have anything to offer, or am no longer worthy of the same respect as when I was getting paid to work.

  1. How has your sense of identity/independence/confidence been affected?

Specific to not returning to my job, not having my own wage has been a difficult one to adjust to. I have always been in paid employment ever since I was 14 years old (that’s 17 years, folks) be it part-time while I studied, or full-time since finishing university. However, in our family it is me who handles all of our finances, so I do still feel involved and play an integral role. I am no longer employed in the traditional sense, but I am responsible for handling all of my husband’s business accounts and admin, as well as occasional freelance work for his clients, so that definitely gives me another focus and sense of value, and we work together towards the same goal of providing for our family. However, as far as anyone else is concerned, because I don’t take a wage or run my own business, I am probably ‘just’ a stay at home Mum, which I would be lying about if I said it doesn’t sting.

In some ways, I am far more confident than before I had Thea. I like myself better as a person. I look back on how my personality was affected by my job, and I don’t like a lot of things about that person. I could be stressy, impatient, often rude, judgemental & snotty. I don’t think that’s due to me working full stop, nor my former workplace. More so, an unfortunate bi-product of an underlying dissatisfaction with my situation at the time.

  1. Did you have career goals prior to pregnancy? How do you feel about them now?

I’ve never had my heart set on one particular job. I studied English Language & Linguistics at Uni, which is more of a core subject rather than specialist, so I’d hoped by ‘playing it safe’ it would leave me open to approach a range of roles/industries. I’ve held two full time jobs since I graduated, both office-based. I would have liked to have been challenged more than I was. The main challenges for me ended up being the workload, and dealing with stressful deadlines/confrontations. I didn’t feel as though I was doing any ‘good’ or had anything to show for my commitment or how stressed I had become, which muted my inspiration and enthusiasm in the end. I do slightly regret allowing a lot of my career so far to be made up of ‘firefighting’ and not reaching my potential…but equally, I am confident that once Thea is a bit older, that I am bright, flexible and hardworking enough to re-establish my career and that I will know my own mind better to follow what it is I feel passionately about.

  1. In what form does your ‘Mum Guilt’ kick in?

I think people assume that only ‘working’ Mums feel guilty. This is definitely not the case! Often if we haven’t made it out to a class/playgroup/activity any given day, I worry that Thea might be bored, or that she would rather be with some friends than at home with me while I do work or try (largely unsuccessfully!) to keep up with running the house.

I also feel guilty because I know there might be other Mums and Dads out there who wish they could stay at home too, and if I complain about my bum not touching a seat ‘til gone 8pm (because looking after a toddler all day whilst juggling everything else is HARD!) I may appear to be coming off as ungrateful or resentful, which I can assure you is definitely not the case. I always try and make the most of every day I have with Thea, whether that’s taking her out, playing at home or just singing songs and reading the same book a million times over with her sat on my lap instead of getting on with what I ‘should’ be.

  1. Name your biggest doubt/insecurity over your situation.

When I see or hear the term ‘role model’ used for being a working Mum, I get a pang in my gut…am I not setting a good example by raising my daughter full time instead of going out to work? Am I an inferior role model by taking another route instead? I have the utmost respect for Mums who go to work, I’d go as far to say admiration. I agree that it’s a fantastic example to set your children by showing them how to hold down a career and create your own independence. So when I see rants on social media or experience judgement about being a stay at home Mum, I do feel a bit upset that the support isn’t always reciprocated. I am cautious about being too open about the reasons why I am ok with putting my career on hold for a few years, because I don’t want to cause any offence or come off as though I don’t understand or respect why other Mums choose (or have to) do things differently.

Another concern is that I worked really hard and invested a lot of money into going to university and working my arse off for years, and whilst I’m not in paid employment, it’s difficult to not worry on some level that it was all for nothing. I do know really that it wasn’t, but it’s something that crosses my mind from time to time.

  1. Finish this sentence ‘I am happy with my decision because….’

…at the end of every day, I feel good about being with Thea. I genuinely don’t get bored with hanging out with her. I feel like I’m fulfilling a role I didn’t know I was made for, and I know I’m doing my best. I know I will 100% return to my career when the time is right. But for now, for my own little family and our situation at this moment in time, I am right where I need to be.

Jo X

See answers from:

Skorchcake

Mums Revolution

The Mummy Saving Expert

Adventures of Lyncoln and Sophia

Thrifty Mumma Thrifty Bubba

Georgie Plus Three

 

 

The End of the ‘Dummy Dash’

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Isn’t it incredible how before they’re born, you can raise your hypothetical children in such a particular and methodical way until they’re actually here, and suddenly you begin to play back and cringe at all the times you have described this picture-perfect upbringing to other parents, who for the most part practise enough restraint to give you a knowing ‘no teeth’ smile and simply say nothing, and the rest of the time struggle to stifle a snort and belly-chuckle as they shake their head and tell us “just you wait…”

I wasn’t planning on using a dummy with Thea. I couldn’t tell you any specific reason for why, but I had only bought x2 twin packs of dummys along with all the other newborn paraphernalia ‘just in case’. Lo and behold, only about 4 or 5 days into her life, she was sucking on a dummy at night. It instantly soothed her and helped her fall asleep…I guess I just have what you’d call a ‘sucky’ baby.

Fast forward 12 months, and my hypothetical non-dummy user is still using a dummy to fall asleep at night. And sometimes in the pram. And yeah, also in the car. For reasons unknown, it bothered me at first, I stressed myself about how I was going to get her ‘off’ the dummy. I attempted once to put her down without it and she screamed the place down and was so stressed out, and it was only 2 minutes! That little experiment was over quicker than it began!

Gradually, it dawned on me that there was no real reason for me to take away something that brought her so much comfort, so I forgot about it and never looked back. That’s not to say that we haven’t ran into problems.

Once she’s fallen asleep, Thea will at some point spit the dummy out. She’s now at an age where she mostly stays asleep without sucking on it, but occasionally in the night during spells of teething, illness, developmental leaps and/or sleep regressions, she will wake up looking for it to go back to sleep. Quite frequently it’s gotten lost somewhere in her blankets or in the sleepyhead, and I end up being woken up to go in and give it back to her, and she goes straight back off.

I posted on Instagram a while back about my ‘dummy fishing’ on the floor with a coat hanger under Thea’s cot for the ones that got lost in the night. My system was to have 2 spares on the footstool, in case I needed to go in there, swoop one up in the dark and  back into her mouth without disturbing or rousing her too much while searching for the lost one. In theory, of course. All a fair bit of hassle and messing around.

Thea’s also recently gotten into the habit of throwing her dummy across the room when she doesn’t want to go to sleep, or dropping it out the side of the pram or car seat when she is feeling bored/defiant. This normally means frantically fumbling around in my bottomless, Mary Poppins-esque changing bag or deep, fluffy coat pockets, rifling through for a steriliser pack with hopefully a spare dummy lurking to save the day. All very inconvenient and not at all helpful in the midst of a baby-turned-toddler meltdown.

Although I knew they existed, I hadn’t tried a dummy clip before, so when Baby Wings gifted us a set of Pacifier Clips, it seemed like the answer to all of our dummy-related woes, in 3 cute and colourful designs.

They clip on safely and easily to your baby’s clothes without damaging the fabric, and prevent dummies from being flung into the dirt, lost in the footwell of the car or buried in the cot until the next ‘dummy fishing’ expedition. We have the ‘Sakura Flowers Set’, but they also have some cool geometric print and space-themed ones.

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I found these SO useful in the car or pram. Not only did they prevent ‘dummy overboard’ situations, Thea was actually fascinated by the design and enjoyed fiddling with the strap. Of late, she’s loathed being constrained to any kind of seat, and we get arched-back protests and attempts to escape, but playing with the strap and studying the patterns kept her occupied for ages; we didn’t experience any of the usual transport-related tantrums when using the Baby Wings clips, even on the 2-3 hour car journey to my parents’.

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We’ve also had a bad spell of teething and illness in our household recently, so during times of mega-whinge, Thea sat and felt sorry for herself in her famous beanbag chair watching telly, pacifier clip in tow, soothed by absent-minded fidgeting of the strap and chewing on the dummy.

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Arguably the biggest benefit comes at night, where using the clips means there’s no faffing around in the dark searching for lost dummies behind the neck or in the covers etc.;Thea can easily find it and pop it back in herself. She’s actually gone back to sleeping through these last few days, following the evil 12 month sleep regression!

If you’ve not used a dummy clip before or are looking for some new ones, I can highly recommend Baby Wings and I will continue to use the pretty set so kindly gifted to us.

You can purchase here from their Amazon shop.

If your bubba a dummy user? When did you decide to give them one? Do they use it all the time, or only certain situations? I’d be interested to know their ages and the way the dummy works for them.

Jo X

 

 

 

“Nothing Changes, if Nothing Changes”

Normally my Saturday evenings are spent at home, in my jammies, usually horizontal, chilling with my husband and largely ignoring one another as we lay side by side, scrolling on our respective phones. Last Saturday was different. I was lucky enough to be invited along to an event at Brighton hidden gem Powder Beauty Boutique in the South Lanes in honour of International Women’s Day, along with my one of my besties, interiors blogger Jasmin aka @brickdustbaby. I washed my hair, wore ACTUAL make up, and left my baby in the capable hands of my husband.

Powder itself was beaut; totally glam, retro and buzzing with energy as lots of lovely ladies and bloggers enjoyed their treatments and some well-earned pampering. We sipped on the most delightful gin cocktails and snacked on some ‘super-healthy-so-tasty-surely-they-can’t-be-healthy?!’  nibbles from Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen.

The night was hosted by the incredible Life Coach Mary ‘Badass’ Meadows and ‘Mental Mutha’ Blogger Natasha Bailie, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the very first time. I have to admit that on sitting down for their talk with a room full of other women, I was taken by surprise when they introduced themselves by unreservedly addressing and owning their battles with mental health, and Natasha looked me right in the eye and said “U OK, Hun?”.

I felt a bubbling anxiety rise up through my body, prickling my neck and cheeks, my heart pumping loudly in my ears. Never before had I been in a scenario where a perfect stranger had been so open and talked so candidly about what is (wrongly) considered a taboo subject. I was unsettled by the idea that the talk may result in an ‘icky’ confrontation with my own mental health.

I needn’t have been so fearful. It wasn’t so much a ‘talk’ as it was a refreshingly upfront and involved conversation about the prevalence of mental health struggles in everyday society, coping mechanisms/techniques, and learning to not be ashamed or suffer needlessly. Lots of incredibly brave women found the strength to share their stories and discuss their innermost thoughts and feelings with the room. I listened on with admiration as one by one, they became empowered to openly confront their own experiences with mental health.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel prepared or brave enough to speak out about my own experiences on the night. I am not ready to do anything more than scratch the surface of my long-term battle with EDNOS and Anorexia. Close friends, family, professionals who have treated me, and anyone who may have deduced from my appearance during my darker moments will be aware of my struggle to some extent, but this post will be the first time I’ve addressed it in a public forum, and I’m not going to lie; it racks me with fear, guilt and shame.

An uncomfortable cocktail of fear that I’ll be judged for being mental, weak or neurotic. Guilt for ‘indulging’ in what is widely considered to be a middle-class, ‘first world’ problem. Shame for not appearing to have been mental or skinny ‘enough’ by whatever standards or criteria Joe Public has set for what an eating disorder should look like from the outside.

I know somewhere within that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I wouldn’t be ashamed to say if I had a headache and needed to take a paracetamol. I wouldn’t be ashamed to say if I had a chronic bout of cystitis, crying out for antibiotics because I was peeing out razor blades. I wouldn’t even be ashamed to say if I had a serious case of food poisoning and was sh*tting every 10 minutes through the eye of a needle. What’s the difference?

The difference lies in what society has told us up until now what is and what isn’t ok to talk about, and false ideas about what is and what isn’t a ‘real’ health issue. If we were suffering from a physical or visible health problem, we wouldn’t be so quick to stuff it away like a dirty secret, or treat it as merely an afterthought.

Conversations like we had with Mary and Natasha are crucial, because only by talking about our mental health, can we begin to break down the stigma that tells us that we shouldn’t; the cause of far too many suffering alone and in silence, believing that we’re crazy, or that no one could possibly understand or be able to help us.

The ladies told us that they’ve “never known anyone to regret asking for help”, which I can wholeheartedly believe. Granting release to our worries and difficulties is the only thing that ceases them from endlessly circling and intoxicating our minds, tormenting us from the inside.

Asking for help is a choice that we make. A choice in which frees us to discover that we aren’t alone after all; we’re all as mental as each other! Just like we all catch colds or get the sh*ts from time to time. Help is out there…often in places and in formats we didn’t even know were at our disposal.

As the ladies quite rightly declared, “Nothing changes if nothing changes, Babes”

Jo X

“From One Mama, to My Own”

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Where do I begin? Everyone always says their Mum is the best in the world, and that may well be true. But in the words of the super sickly Megan Trainor song that I came across when trawling YouTube for ‘Mummy’ songs, ‘you might have a Mom, she might be the bomb, but ain’t nobody got a Mom like mine!’. (If you haven’t heard it, don’t put yourself through Googling it, take my word for it that I know you very well, and it’s not one you’d enjoy!).

In my 31 years, I genuinely haven’t come across another quite like you. And yes, that’s most definitely a good thing! It’s only really now, that I’m grown and have a daughter of my own, that I can truly begin to appreciate just what an incredible human being you really are.

You were that Mama on the school playground who was there waiting to greet us at least 10-15 minutes before school was up, to make absolutely sure that there was zero possibility of us running out of the classroom to have our hearts sink because we were unable to find you. Not only that, you’d actually missed us. It was only 6 hours, but I remember to this day how big your smile was when we’d catch each other’s eye, standing in the same place you always would so we’d know exactly where you were. It was clear in your voice just how excited you were to have us back. You would never be glad for ‘a break’ if we were apart. You would never dread or wish away the school holidays or half term. You wanted us around, and we felt it. You put your career on hold to be with us while we were small, but that didn’t stop you excelling in life.

You learned to play the clarinet and saxophone, and quickly became proficient to a level that enabled you to teach students of your own. You went from being in your forties with no O-Levels to speak of, to achieving multiple Bachelors and Masters degrees in a range of disciplines (with flying colours, no less). You qualified as a senior teacher, magistrate and counsellor in just a few short years. And yet you were still always there. Never once did we have to worry about you being ‘too busy’ for any of us. You even turned down a place at the University of Cambridge, as you felt it would impact our lives in a way you that you were not comfortable with. You did all this and still didn’t miss a single moment where we might have needed you. How did you do it? Even without children to care for, that’s a huge number of balls to keep in the air. I still don’t understand to this day how you made it work so seamlessly.

I realise now that it wasn’t really seamless, you just made it look like it was. Unbeknownst to us, you endured all kinds of hardships, emotions and obstacles beneath the surface. In spite of this, you remained our hub of support, wisdom and love at all times, knowing that your consistency and strength formed our security; something of utmost importance to you, above anything else you may have been battling with personally.

You made sure that you exposed us to countless activities and hobbies from a young age, nurturing our talents and interests to stimulate our minds and help us become as well-rounded as we could be. You were the Mum cheering above the rest of the crowd at my dance competitions, you were the Mum crying tears of pride at my sister’s netball tournament, you were the Mum who paid for whatever books, gear, exams or trips we may have needed, even though you couldn’t really afford it and it meant going without yourself. You always believed in us and did whatever you could to ensure we that knew it.

Somehow, you managed to create balance between your ferocious protection and arming us with the tools to be independent and self-motivated. If we wanted a packed lunch, we made our own. If we wanted pocket money, we worked for it by doing jobs around the house. If we wanted to go out, we earned the privilege through trust by sticking to the rules that we’d agreed.

We may have thought you were strict as we grew up, but I now see clearly the reasons for you choosing to do things the way you did, and how it can’t have been easy dealing with snarky teenagers feeling ‘oh-so-hard-done-by’, criticising you for your methods, when all you were trying to do was give us the best start that you could. You were never our friend first, always our Mother. Until recently, I hadn’t truly grasped the importance of such boundaries.

During the latter half of my twenties, we didn’t talk half as much as we do now. Not because we weren’t close, but because if you didn’t hear from me for a week or two, you knew I was getting on just fine, and you were satisfied in that knowledge without any selfish motives or requirement for feedback.

Now that I have Thea, our relationship has evolved again and we’re closer than ever. I revel in your joy as you lift the lid on my childhood, and together we share and re-write some of your most cherished memories in a brand new chapter that tells the story of my own motherhood.

You go well above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to supporting me and my new family; you’d literally do anything for us. I only wish I was able to find a way to show you the depth of my gratitude for everything you’ve done and continue to do, and explain how lucky I feel to have you.

I’m not saying I’ve turned out perfect, I’m not saying you are either. I’m not saying your way is the only, or the ‘best’ way. What I am saying is ‘Thank You’, for always doing YOUR best and never for a single moment allowing any of us to feel anything less than completely doted on.

You’re the best friend I could possibly wish for, but one thing I know to be true is that no matter how old I get, you’ll always be my Mama. And ‘ain’t nobody got a Mom like mine’!

Happy Mother’s Day, from one Mama, to my own.

X

Thea’s 1st Birthday

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I cannot quite believe our little girl is now one year old! We wanted to do something to celebrate, but since both our families and many of our friends do not live nearby, it meant few of our closest family members would have been unable to travel or to make the date, so we decided to keep it fairly low key. Rather than host a full on children’s birthday party (which Thea and her similar age friends probably wouldn’t have understood or appreciated anyway!) we celebrated her first year with a small group of local friends and their children. Thea has a joint party with the other babies and parents from our NCT group planned next weekend too, so she’s definitely getting her money’s worth out of this birthday!

I am an ardent follower of the ‘wonder weeks‘ app that tracks cognitive developmental leaps in babies/young toddlers, explains what’s happening and even shows a calendar to predict when your baby is likely to be a bit of a pickle. (If you don’t have it, check it out here!) I checked the calendar on it a month or two ago and saw that there was a big storm cloud (signalling not-so-great baby vibes!) smack bang over Thea’s birthday week. Typical!

I was expecting her to potentially become overwhelmed with having people over, the extra noise and change of routine etc., but she was in her element! She was toddling around from room to room squealing and investigating, thrilled to be in the company of some older children (they seem to just love older kids, don’t they?!), she squeezed in a semi-acceptable-considering-the-circumstances 1 hour afternoon nap and she even tried some cake.

Us adults sipped bubbles and grazed all afternoon while the kiddies played good as gold…except the part where Thea pinched 4 month old Frank’s dummy out of his mouth and made him cry (soz again, Frank!).

Here are some pics from the day to share with you…

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Thea’s party dress is from one of our fave online children’s boutiques, alexandalexa.com & the style is called ‘Zanna’ from label How To Kiss a Frog, priced at £40. It’s a lovely sugary pink with grey/black graphic rose print detail (though the website description states ‘Green Rose’). It’s a smock shape with a bow on the collar and ruched sleeves, in a lightweight viscose/chiffon type fabric. I absolutely adore it, she looked so sweet, teamed with a pair of H&M kids charcoal leggings and some pink socks…

(I wouldn’t under normal circumstances link to a pair of socks, but these are fab – they have little grips on the bottom, and since Thea started walking 2 months ago, we still have the occasional tumble on slippy socks or sleep-suit feet, so these are absolutely perfect for walking babies or toddlers, and they come in packs of x3 in lots of different colours)

Anyway, back to her dress..she looked adorable! My husband said she looked ‘like a vicar’ haha. Ignore him, he does not understand fashion! You can buy it here

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I regret not taking a better photo of the food I made, ’cause I was really pleased with how everything came together and it was all very well-received! I did most of the prep the day and night before (it was snowing so we had a day at home – we even missed Baby Ballet as we normally travel there by train…I’m a rubbish #DanceMom!). The food was really for the adults…we had snacks and sandwiches for the kiddies but they were largely ignored as they were too busy playing! (Shout out to my trooper of a friend Claire who made all the sandwiches and endured an hour and a half of me and my husband yapping at each other as we raced against the clock, only for the cling film cover to not even get lifted! Thanks, Claire…you absolute legend)

It was a kind of ‘Deep South’/’Tex-Mex’ themed cuisine. Some of the things I made included macaroni cheese, chilli con carne, cheese & bacon potato skins, hot wings with blue cheese sauce, red cabbage slaw, armadillo eggs, corn on the cob and veggie crudités. I had planned on doing nachos too and even made some homemade guacamole that morning, but forgot to get it out the fridge, and we ran out of cheese anyway…d’oh! Everyone was bloomin’ stuffed though, so I definitely did my job right on that front!

If you’d like to try any of the recipes or know how I planned and prepared it all whilst looking after Thea, let me know and I’d be more than happy to do a separate post!

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The colour scheme was pink and rose gold (my absolute faves, and I always refer to Thea’s sheen of reddish hair as ‘rose gold’, so it seemed apt!) The parts used to create the look were sourced from a few different retailers.

  • Pink & Gold ‘Happy Birthday’ Bunting – Ginger Ray
  • Pink & Ivory Pin Wheels (x3 assorted sizes in a pack) – Ginger Ray
  • Rose Gold Straws – Ginger Ray
  • Pink & White Chevron Napkins  – Ginger Ray
  • Copper Geometric Paper Plates – Wilko
  • Rose Gold/Patterned Pinwheels – Hobbycraft
  • Rose Gold ‘1’ Balloon – Ebay
  • Rose Gold Confetti Balloons – Ebay
  • Lightbox – findmeagift.com
  • Rose Gold/Cement Succulent Planter – Maisons du Monde
  • Rose Gold Cutlery – a gift from my Mum, but found on Ebay
  • Pink Geo Fruit Bowl/Basket – Cult Furniture
  • Copper Light Fitting – John Lewis (but over a year ago now!)

As you can see, a lot of the decorations came from Ginger Ray – they do so many lovely, unique and good quality bits for parties etc., I had in mind the look I wanted to create with the pinwheels and I stumbled across them online during my search. I highly recommend! And yes, I paid for these with my own pennies…I just really like their products and wanted to let you all know if you haven’t already used or heard of them!

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Last but not least….THE CAKE!!! OMG, the cake. I die. This insanely beautiful creation tasted as good as it looked. It’s a gorgeous unicorn (obviously) with a metallic horn, ears and eyes with a pastel rainbow mane. The lovingly made vanilla sponge filling with swirled funfetti, vanilla buttercream and lemon curd was sheer perfection. I say ‘was’, because it’s ALL…GONE. ALL OF IT! I may have finished it off for breakfast on Sunday….! Made to order by the amazingly gifted Slicentious Cakes

My only pre-requisite for the cake was that it was girly and fun, the rest I left up to Slicentious to surprise us, and oh boy…did she deliver! An absolute showstopper, so many compliments from our friends. If you live in Sussex and need a cake for any occasion (y’know, like…Tuesday?!) then HIT.HER.UP. You will not regret it. (N.B. This is not a collab and she did not pay me to say any of this – I am just genuinely astounded and over the moon with how it turned out!)

In case anyone’s wondering what I wore (you probably aren’t!) my black and white polka dot tea jumpsuit was from ASOS…looks like it’s sold out at the moment, but they have loads similar on their site. It was super comfy and only £40! There are lots like this around at the moment, I saw one from another designer at £189…so was a no brainer really. It was a last minute purchase on next day delivery (thank you, ASOS for saving my ass!) Easy peasy, and perfect for this weird weather that can’t make it’s mind up.

All in all, a lovely afternoon was had by everyone, especially the birthday girl who was completely distraught when our last guests left (including her fave ‘big girl’ friend 4 year old Molly who she follows around and ADORES – so cute!). She sobbed her heart out, and so that was signal for us that it was time for a bath, a bottle, a cuddle and bed. She went down like a dream, she must have been pooped!

So there you have it, thanks so much for reading! Hope you liked the pictures. I plan to do another post on Thea’s birthday presents shortly, because she got some really lovely things and I’m all too aware how ‘hit and miss’ children’s toys can be, but these all went down a storm!

Happy 1st Birthday, Baby Girl!

Jo X