Positive Reflections on crappier times

I’ve always focused my blog posts around the fact that despite what the insta-perfect posts might depict, life is not always rainbows and unicorns. It’s important for us to understand this, otherwise we run the risk of being sucked into the mentality that if we don’t live up to those insta-perfect expectations that we have somehow failed. The fact is, things don’t always turn out as planned…and that’s ok. However, I have been informed recently that my blogs and certain social media posts can also come off as negative or passive aggressive, which is far from my intention. A good friend once told me that if you can’t work out who is the tw*t in the room, then it’s probably you, and sometimes you need someone to tell you that you are a tw*t. In these cases, said tw*tishness is usually unintentional – I’m pretty sure that there is no such thing as a “tw*t-gene”. But, sometimes you become so wrapped up in your own thing, that you fail to see the bigger picture. So, thank you wise friend (you know who you are) for pointing out that on occasions I have been the tw*t in the room. Although, it wasn’t until the recent passing of a friend to cancer, that I realised how important it is to try to find the positives in crappy situations, otherwise you end up losing sight of what is really important in life. And as much of a cliche as it sounds, life is ultimately short. Our friend Sally was always such a kind and generous person, and as well as having a wicked sense of humour, she was a fighter and an optimist, and she could always see that behind every unicorn fart, there was a unicorn – you just have to look for the unicorn. So, this blog is an attempt on positive reflection… bare with me, I’m new to this.

I think we can all admit that in 2015 whatever our answer to the question “where do you see yourself in 5 years time”, we were all thoroughly off base. I mean, nobody could have predicted a global pandemic, not in real life, outside of the world of Netflix fiction and Zombie Apocalypse movies. But sometimes life likes to throw a spanner in the works, for reasons far outside of our understanding. Lockdown has been a particularly hard time, and even though society is seemingly returning to ‘normal’, it is a new kind of normal. Or a ‘temporary normal’ as one of my more optimistic friends, Amy, likes to say. A normal where we can’t hug friends, attend baby groups or walk into a shop without a face mask. It has been the make or break of my things in society, and not all have survived. But among the losses, there have also been opportunities. Many people have used these unprecedented times to reevaluate their lives and steer them in a different direction; a leap of faith they might not otherwise have had the reason or motivation to take.

Sometimes our preexisting ideas of how we expect life to pan out leave us unprepared for adaptation along the way. I have been told on numerous occasions that “every pregnancy/birth is different” and “having two kids is different to having one”, but I’ve always just shrugged it off as if to say thanks Karen, now go teach your grandmother to suck eggs. But low and behold “those people” generally spout these annoying pearls of wisdom because they have actually been there before, and true to word, my birth experience with Jessica was, like the entire 9 months of pregnancy, the polar opposite of that with Joshua. I have, up until now, put off sharing my story publicly because it was definitely not as planned and it does carry elements of embarrassment. But talking to other mums recently I have come to realise that so many people struggle silently because their experiences have not been “like the movies” and a far cry from the “most magical experience” depicted by the Earth Mothers of the world. Instead they have endured false starts, late starts, premature labours, waters breaking in unexpected places, inducements, sweeps, unplanned drugs, emergency cesareans, ventous, forceps, stitches, extended hospital stays, and babies born in car parks. And because of that, they feel like they’ve done it wrong or have failed in some way. This is absolutely not the case. It’s more a matter of adapting to change outside of what we have ‘planned’ and taking the positives from that. Remember, you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter. Unless you poop in a birthing pool, then believe me, it’s just a turd. So, to get the ball rolling, here’s my not like the movies birthing story (don’t worry, I spare you the gross details and this part doesn’t take up all of the blog post, so make a cuppa a bare with – there is a point to it, I promise).

Let’s start from the beginning – the due date. Joshua was born on his due date. Apparently this is rare, with only 4% of babies actually born on their predicted due date. I was physically so much bigger with this pregnancy that I was adamant that Jessica was going to be born early. But as the weeks rolled on, it seemed more and more likely that she was going to hit full term. And just like that, the contractions started on her due date – Sunday 2nd August – and continued through the night into the Monday morning. Joshua’s birth came rather swiftly after the contractions started so this time we decided that we would head into the pole studio before dropping Joshua off at Nursery that morning. This might seem like a strange thing to do, as most people about to have a baby go to the hospital, not a pole studio. But 4 years ago, I performed an Iron-X (Human Flag) on the pole, in between contractions with Joshua, and it had been a running joke ever since that I would be doing the same again. This time I thought it only fair to get Joshua involved in his sister’s video, so whilst I did my Iron-X this time around, he sat on my side and I flagged my weight, the baby’s weight and Joshua’s weight. Challenge completed, we dropped Joshua off at nursery, posted the video on my Facebook, and went home to wait for the contractions to become close enough to go to the hospital. By midday I got bored and went for coffee with my friend Micky. What can I say, I’m not good at doing nothing. By the end of Monday, the contractions had died down to almost nothing, and the messages started coming in from friends and family asking for updates on the impending birth. It was very much an anticlimax, as I had prepared myself to have a baby by this point, or at the very least to be in the process of having a baby. It was rather embarrassing, having to explain to people that actually although I was in labour, I didn’t seem to be anymore. It felt like I had let them down, jumped the gun, made a fuss over nothing, or simply done it wrong. Then the waiting game began, and anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT good at waiting! 

I was booked in for a membrane sweep on the Wednesday. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know what a sweep is, Google it – I don’t feel like explaining the gnarly details here is of much benefit to anyone trying to enjoy their cup of tea right now. It wasn’t an experience to be looked forward to, but at the same time I was happy for things to get underway again, now being 3 days overdue, incredibly pregnant, and having started labour once already. Unfortunately, when I got to the Doctor’s, the midwife took one feel of my stomach and said that a sweep would not be possible. Not only had the baby disengaged, but she was sitting incredibly high… as in not even in my pelvis. If they were to break my waters now, it could cause a cord prolapse – this is where the umbilical cord drops first and gets compressed, effectively suffocating the baby. I was booked in to be induced at the hospital at the end of the week, and until then I had to hope that my waters didn’t break – great, more waiting around, something we’ve firmly established I’m not good at. On the Thursday, the contractions started again and lasted throughout the night. I didn’t feel particularly well on the Friday morning but I put it down to ‘false labour’ again, as I didn’t want to stir up a fuss over nothing and make an even bigger fool out of myself. I went to the studio to sort out a leak in the bathroom, then to meet a friend for coffee, trying to hide the ongoing contractions that were becoming more frequent and increasingly painful. That evening as I was putting the Asda shopping away, my waters broke. As far as we were aware, the baby still wasn’t engaged, so knowing the risks, we went straight to the hospital. Of course, I took my laptop with me, so I could keep working, and I even found a pole in the labour suite!

Luckily, the baby engaged right at the last moment, so I didn’t need an emergency caesarean. I had forgotten, however, how utterly exhausting contractions really are. I wonder if this is what it’s like to have an epileptic fit, the immense feeling of being drained afterwards, and with each contraction sapping more and more energy. Tired doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels – I was in and out of consciousness by the end, fighting to keep my eyes open and my head above water (literally, as it was a water birth). With Joshua, I remember the back-to-back contractions in the last stages of active labour being the worst part, and the pushing actually being a bit of a relief. Josh was pretty much 3 pushes and out. This preconceived idea of what it was going to be like yet again came back to bite me in the ass, as Jessica got stuck. It took an additional solid hour of pushing for her to be born. It turned out that her umbilical cord was unusually short, meaning that every time I tried to push her out, she was pulled back in, which would also explain why she disengaged and sat so high earlier in the week. Her cord was effectively acting like a bungee cord, much to the amusement of my friends and family, as I own an Aerial Bungee studio. Strangely enough, I found this less funny at the time – go figure! The one good thing about this labour being so different to my last was that I finally got that instant bond with my baby when she was put into my arms. I didn’t get that with Joshua and I felt like I had failed as a mother. It took a good 6 weeks to learn to connect with Josh, and I had prepared myself for this to be the case again. But the moment I held her, and she looked at me with the most beautiful big eyes, I fell instantly in love.

It is still, however, a lie when they tell you that “all the pain goes away when you hold your baby”. Oh no no no, you still have to birth the placenta and in many cases be stitched up like a patchwork quilt. And the bloody local anaesthetic never works! Once the midwife had left the room, post-quilting, I made the mistake of reading my medical notes. I’m no MD, but I have a pretty good grasp of anatomy and physiology (plus 30-odd years of watching Casualty), and sparing the gnarly details, I had a fair amount of healing to do over the coming weeks if I wasn’t going to look like a lockdown crochet project.

So, was the birth of my daughter how I had planned/expected it? Absolutely not. Am I going to post a rainbows and unicorns insta-perfect post depicting mother and baby as goddesses on a spa day? Not a chance. It is important for the sanity of all the other struggling mummies out there that we realise that just because something doesn’t go to plan, it’s not a failure. However, in the spirit of reflective thinking – i.e. the aim of this blog – there are a few things that I have learnt. Firstly, trying to juggle a 4 year old and a newborn requires patience that I sometimes struggle to muster. It’s not just keeping a new human alive, whilst sleep deprived and a lot of the time in pain / drugged up, but it’s balancing the energy of a pre-schooler who wants to play rough & tumble and has toys that make noise like an asthmatic cat having a rectal examination, and having a baby that won’t sleep unless it’s on someone. I can sometimes sense that Joshua is on the verge of acting out because he wants attention, and I want him to know that he is still loved and has an important job as a big brother…. but at the same time I just want some peace and quiet. It is at this point that you realise that your preconceived ideas of how having two children won’t be that much different from having one, are grossly misinformed. But the next time you think that everyone else is bossing ‘mum-life’ and you’re late for the school run whilst simultaneously answering work emails and wiping baby vomit off your neck, know that we’re all just winging it. Some people are just better at game-facing it like Mr Tumble on Crack.

Secondly, I have learnt that breastfeeding isn’t always easy, even if this isn’t your first rodeo. I hate to admit it, but with Joshua I was one of those mums who secretly didn’t ‘get’ how breastfeeding could be difficult. Josh just latched on straight away (well, after the nurse had fondled my boobs and Joshua had puked up a stomach full of meconium). But with Jessica it was so incredibly painful, almost unbearably so. I cried because it was that painful. The midwives checked her latch on several occasions and no one could find anything wrong, which in a way made it worse, as you can’t fix something you can’t diagnose. I ended up thinking that it was me that was broken. It wasn’t until two weeks in that a healthcare visitor said that we may have a case of oral thrush, which is really common and passed from baby to mother and vice versa, and makes feeding incredibly painful. It’s easily fixed with an ointment and once it had subsided the relief both mentally and physically was wonderful. Although the experience was unpleasant, it (a) helped me understand how breastfeeding can be difficult for many women, and it (b) made me appreciate how much I valued feeding my baby.

The third thing I’ve learnt from this journey is that just because you’re not pregnant anymore, it doesn’t mean you don’t still look pregnant. With Joshua my abs didn’t split, instead they stretched. this meant that my bump wasn’t particularly big, but when he was born I was instantly left with what could only be described as a blancmange tummy – it must be jelly ‘cos jam don’t shake that way! This time, my abs split and you could fit a good hand and a half between my rectus abdominis (6-pack…. or in this case 3-on-each-side-pack) – my abs were literally on opposite sides of my stomach, to the extent that if I tried to tense my stomach, it would dome like Baby Shark (do do dodo dodo). When Jessica was born, I didn’t get the blancmange-tummy, but was left with a perfectly formed bump, as if there was still a human inside of me! This lasted for at least 2 weeks, to the point where I was sure someone was going to come up to me in the supermarket and ask “how far along” I was…. to which I would have been forced to reply “11 months!” and watch their face process the answer as I threw a courgette at them and cried into a pack of Pampers nappies. I suppose something to take away from this is that every woman’s body is different and not to compare ourselves to others, or even to ourselves between different pregnancies. The human body is a wonderful thing – we created life from something microscopic, grew it into something the size of a watermelon, and then squeezed it out of something the size of a lemon. That’s pretty amazing. Every mum is a warrior, but being a warrior sometimes comes with battle scars, whether it be stretch marks, loose skin or saggy boobs. But when I hold my daughter and look into her big beautiful eyes, I feel nothing but pride for those scars.

Lastly, I have learnt that it is sometimes difficult to explain the down days to people who don’t understand. From an onlooker’s perspective it may seem like a person has everything they could want/need – a loving family, a good job, a nice home etc, so what could they possibly have to feel down about? But there may be so much more going on that we don’t see, and every-day problems are exacerbated by mum-guilt, anxiety, and postnatal hormones. Many new mums will tell you that some days they can’t explain why they are crying, but that it just feels good to cry. And your mental and physical health are so closely linked – I know that when I’ve had anxiety attacks, it has subsequently killed my appetite for days on end, but a consequence of this is that my breastmilk supplies have depleted. I think my one piece of advice for anyone struggling is that it’s OK not to be OK all of the time. Just remember that, so far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days… and this too shall pass. I mean, it might pass like a frickin’ kidney stone, but ultimately it will pass.

Unfortunately, social media platforms such as Facebook are not always conducive to this healing process. It is often a no-win situation, whereby if you try to express how you really feel about x, y & z, then you are perceived as being negative. But if you try to hide behind insta-perfect posts, you are not only accused of being false, you are shielded from getting the help you may desperately need. Sometimes a seemingly negative post is actually a cry for help, or a virtual hug to say “me too – you’re not alone”. But instead, Social Media can act as a platform for misinterpretation and bullying. Over the last few weeks/months, I have, on occasions, wished that I didn’t work in such a visual industry that relies on social media for advertising and marketing. If I didn’t get so much business through social media, I’d take myself off completely. I’d quite happily disappear from Facebook for ever more and live a simpler life without the anxieties of “he said, she said”. As a compromise to myself, unless it is work-related, or to post a picture of my munchkins for the benefit of friends and family who appreciate an update, I’ve ceased posting on FB for the foreseeable future. I can’t promise I’ll always resist scrolling through the newsfeed at 3am whilst breastfeeding, but it will be from a passive capacity and read with a pinch of salt. In the same respect, as therapeutic as my Juggling Joshua blog has been over the last 3 years, I seem to have found it difficult at times to strike a balance amongst readers of positive thinking and reality checks that life is not always rainbows & unicorns. My writing has been misinterpreted on a number of occasions as negative or passive aggressive, which was far from the original aim. So, it is with a heavy heart that I say this might be my last post for a while, as I slink into the shadows beyond the front of social media. If losing my friend Sally has taught me anything, it is that life is too short to dwell on the insignificant things. So live life, don’t hold grudges, and try to reflect positively – a positive attitude may not solve everything… but it’ll annoy enough people along the way to make it worth the effort. And remember: behind every unicorn fart, there is a unicorn… look for the unicorn. In the words of Tigger, this is not goodbye, it’s just TaTa For Now. 

In memory of Sally Stevens (22.07.79 – 06.09.20). With the permission of her husband, Andy, I will be running the Cancer Research race for life in Sally’s name on Sat 26th September – if anyone would like to donate, here is the justgiving link https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/kats-very-2020-race-for-life-10?fbclid=IwAR3ORbYm0EiXNxXzkojcJywCXbJI-cFRfm8uJL-32yJsQgX8lKAszutiiPI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s