“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

Sectioned Off

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What if I told you my baby’s birth wasn’t ‘real’? By definition, my baby cannot exist. If my baby did not exit my body from between my legs like science tells us it was supposed to, was I ever even really pregnant?!

I’ll grant you this little nugget for nothing…there is zero make-believe about 48 hours of slow, painful, unavailing labour. Ask my husband if you require verification, he’ll tell you how he caught my sick in umpteen cardboard kidney dishes precisely every 3 minutes for at least 20 of those hours.

I’m not here to divulge the details of my birth story (not today, anyway!). What I’m trying to say is that it WAS ‘real’. I most definitely WAS pregnant. A baby most definitely DID exit my body, and she most definitely DOES exist.

Yep, my baby was born by c-section. It was an emergency c-section, not that it should matter. I HAD originally planned to have an elective, for two reasons;

  • I was told early on in my pregnancy that I had an abnormality to the shape of my uterus, which could potentially make it difficult to carry a baby to full term and often results in a c-section.
  • I had (and still have!) a phobia of giving birth. I didn’t feel my body could handle it, nor that I could handle what it would do to my body if I survived.

I had my mind made up early on about the way I wanted my baby to come out; the safest possible for both of us. Confident about my decision to opt for an elective section, I was ready and prepared to get everything put into place.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I made the disheartening discovery that by dropping the ‘C-Bomb’, I was committing a cardinal sin of pregnancy. I found myself berated for my choice, subject to disparaging remarks about ‘people’ (in case you need a translation from passive-aggressive to plain English, that means ‘you’!) thinking they’re ‘too posh to push’, a litany of complaints about the procedure itself, and how the culture of my generation promotes chopping up our bodies in order to get what we want from them.

It caught me completely off guard to find that on confiding my very personal decision, I’d been so quickly rebuked, and ended up feeling like I’d somehow be a less deserving mother for making it. At home, I sobbed to my husband, who obviously told me to forget everything I’d been told (in fact, I believe what he actually said was “f*ck ‘em, Jo” – ever eloquent, my Jack…) but pregnant and hyper-sensitive, it wasn’t as simple for me to just let these words run off me like water off a duck’s back. The comments weren’t just from strangers, some of them had come from people I knew, liked and respected. I tried to keep up my pre-pregnancy ‘no f*cks given’ facade, but behind closed doors I was hurt and confused.

Long story short, I eventually allowed myself to be browbeaten into having a ‘natural’ aka vaginal birth. Despite knowing what I did about my weird-shaped womb and harbouring a lifelong fear of childbirth, I wanted to enjoy and be supported in my pregnancy, without any further exposure to the criticism I had already faced.

As my pregnancy progressed, I watched my growing bump in awe. With every scan, every listen to the heartbeat and with every kick, flutter and wriggle, I became more and more convinced that my body could do it the ‘proper’ way. After all, it was already doing things I previously never imagined it would. “It might actually be ok!” became my new mantra, and although I wasn’t expecting a picnic, I acquainted myself with the concept of traditional childbirth through daily reminders of just how many people I knew that had done it before me, how they all lived to tell the tale, and that it was only temporary (except the part where you’re presented with your very own actual human baby to take home; arguably the scariest part of all – SERIOUSLY permanent!).

Anyway, it turned out that I was unequivocally and monumentally wrong. It wasn’t ok, and I couldn’t do it. I was in labour for 2 days before doctors intervened and my daughter was born by emergency c-section. As they stitched me up, the surgeons told me that from the position she had been wedged in, there was physically no way that she would have come out by any other means, even if my labour had progressed to the point where I could have started to think about pushing (I didn’t get past 5cm dilated!).

I will be forever frustrated with my pregnant self for not sticking with my original plan to have a c-section delivery, as that was what I needed, and what I ended up having…albeit under far more traumatic and precarious circumstances for both me and my baby. I had been affected by the c-section stigma that tells us we only earn respect as a mother if we follow in the footsteps of our foremothers and give it the old ‘heave ho’, at whatever cost to our health.

I’d like to highlight that I am certainly not in opposition to vaginal births. After all, that is the way nature intended, and had my body been able to do it safely and successfully, this would have undoubtedly been everyone’s favourite. I wanted to believe so badly that I would be able to, that my fears were unfounded and that everyone (myself included) would be so proud when I actually did it, but it just wasn’t to be.

I was offered counselling afterwards, which although I think is fantastic, I gratefully declined. I found the car crash labour a far more traumatising experience than the eventual c-section. I was just glad it was over and that my baby was here and healthy (though the poor little thing did have a Klingon head where she’d been desperately bearing down for days in a position where there wasn’t an exit!)

The advances of medical science mean that fewer women now die in childbirth. What’s humbling to keep in mind is that in times gone by, I could have easily been one of them had my c-section not taken place, and I know at least several other Mothers who could say the same for themselves and their baby.

I do not wish to implement blame. It is no one’s responsibility but my own that I chose not to trust my instincts and go with the delivery I had planned. What I’m bothered by, is that somehow, because my c-section wasn’t planned, the prejudice attached to the elective c-section no longer applies (or at least no longer to my face). Why did I have to go through the physical and emotional trauma that I did, risking my health and that of my baby, in order for the birth of my child to be deemed acceptable? I know this is by no means a universal opinion, and ultimately it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks…but it affected my pregnancy, and I’m perturbed by the idea of other mothers needlessly finding themselves in similar situation.

An advocate for c-section birth, I am not. Surgery of ANY kind should not be taken lightly, and if there’s a safer way for Mum and baby, then I’m all for it. Despite what some may say, it’s certainly not an ‘easy way out’ to endure major abdominal surgery, to then be responsible for a completely helpless little human whilst you attempt to recover. With any childbirth, I think we can all agree that there is no easy way out.

Whatever the way our babies come into this world, we are ALL amazing. Instead of focusing on our differences, let’s celebrate new life, let’s celebrate motherhood and let’s celebrate supporting one another in our unique journeys…it can be a rough old ride out there; us mummies need to stick together!

Did you have a c-section, what was your experience? Perhaps you had a c-section, but wished you had a vaginal birth, or vice versa? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions!

Jo X