Sunday 29 June 2014

Five tips for developing a love of hospitals.

Photo: Happy Anniversary Neil Maltby this was the best I could do!! (For richer for poorer, for better for worse, in sickness and in health!)! Love you so much. Xxx
Hospital is not exactly a place you wish to find yourself (for obvious reasons). A place that is full of experiences of illness and pain does not really make it on my top-ten-places-to-visit-before-I'm-40 list. Going to hospital to give birth, however, is a whole new ball game – both a blessing and a curse; the inevitable suffering followed by, hopefully, unspeakable joy.

So, when I found myself in hospital five months early, at 17 weeks pregnant, I was forced to prepare myself in advance for a few nights stay on a ward, facing my fears of those white corridors and sterilised aromas – this time without a baby delivered at the end of it. It's an interesting experience being in hospital with no reward other than the blessing of a pain free existence, or a great appreciation for non-hospital food. It actually made me appreciate that, despite a rather traumatic birth experience with my first, being in hospital to have a baby is a blessing – you go home with a prize for your sufferings (all be it one that may rob you of dignity and sleep for a while!).

You see, I have been dreading my inevitable hospital stay - "The Birth". I found myself thinking of ways to cheat the system and leave the ward early (hell, I even considered a home birth). I didn't want to be prodded and poked and have tubes stuck in funny places. I did not want to be in pain. I did not want to have to sleep on a ward with the world's loudest snorer, or someone who listens to Techno music on their headphones at full volume.

And then I had to face reality: I collapsed in pain on my living room floor one day and all that prodding and poking and tubes in your veins turned out to be a pretty god-damn good thing or I wouldn't still be here. There's nothing better to prepare you for childbirth than a ruptured appendix. Thankfully I was found and an ambulance was called and my condition was dealt with quickly by amazing health professionals (who I cannot thank enough).

Of course, that doesn't take away the fact that hospitals are never going to be rated next to a 5* hotel and consequently you have to find ways to deal with the downsides of having your life saved, or bringing one into the world. Here are my top five reasons to appreciate hospitals and to milk your birthing experience for all its worth:

No. 1:
Drugs. On tap. You're like a kid in a sweet shop. Of course there is obviously a reason why you are on drugs, but once you've been in severe pain and there are ways to take it away for you (other than the dismal 50p paracetamol you've been talking for months) you will have more of an appreciation for pain relief than you have ever had in your life. I fell in love with both my anaesthetists, and one was a woman.

No. 2:
A call bell. Need a cup of tea? No problem, just press that little buzzer and all your wishes will be granted... well, sort of. You can have the nurses fluffing your pillows and mopping your brow. Milk it, ladies.

No. 3:
Diet. Worried about losing the baby weight? Worry no further. The NHS have a specially prepared diet for you to ensure that the weight stays off. You won't believe how little food you eat.

No. 4:
That said, the tea and toast in hospital is the best you will ever have in your life. Order ten slices. And tea in a drip.

No. 5:
Characters. You will meet some utterly atrocious people, alongside the absolute gems. You suddenly have a warmth for human existence - the lady that farts in her sleep, or the nurse who's obsessed with the latest bargains at Aldi would at one point do your head in, but instead they give you a giggle on an otherwise dull day. You learn to laugh in the face of vulnerability and empathise with those who you would never otherwise have chance to meet. A mix of classes and races all brought down to the same category of flesh and blood; of sweat and tears.

pregnancy appendectomy, mother diaries, pregnancy

Thankfully my operation was a success and my condition was caught just in time, thanks to the amazing medical professionals at The Northern General. I'm still in a lot of pain and struggling to walk but I am hoping that, little by little, I will be back to my old self – or, to my new, braver and more fearless self ;) Now at least I have far less apprehensions about my next hospital stay and I'm looking forward to the prize at the end.

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Wednesday 18 June 2014

Mind the gap: What is the perfect age gap anyway?

When I have broken the news to people of my pregnant state, they have responded in a number of ways. Obviously there's the knee-jerk "congratulations", often followed by the more sobering "was it planned?" Sometimes I have been met with disbelief, other times a what-the-hell-are-you-doing kind of look. But after the initial reaction, the real judgements on birth and childrearing come to light. You realise that most people have very strong, deep-rooted opinions on when to have children (or when not to, for that matter).

So far my favourite judgement has been "well, you couldn't have left it much longer, could you?" Actually, rather than implying that my ovaries were deteriorating at the rate of Jude Law's hairline, they meant that I couldn't possibly leave a sizeable age gap between my children. I have never understood this myself: the 'perfect age-gap' analysis, as though my children would explode if I left more than four years between them. And so follow the analysis on your parenting choices.

Until my son was about two and a half years old, I was continually asked when I would be having another child. That was the cut off point, apparently, because after this time it was rare that anyone ever asked me such a question again. Presumably, because they thought I didn't want anymore children, or that I was having trouble conceiving (because obviously there couldn't be an option of having a child any later, right?). Although I was glad I was off the hook, I was starting to wonder why I didn't ever think the magic two-year age gap was an option for me. More so, I was starting to wonder how that ever became the 'norm'.

The problem with this invented 'norm' is that I felt tremendous pressure once my son had turned one to make my mind up about whether I wanted any more children or not. Each year, the bags of baby clothes I'd kept 'just in case' I wanted another became more of a millstone around my neck. Every time I went to throw something away there would be this niggle – this feeling of a ticking clock, as though the clothes would self combust once Albie turned three. Every year I waited I knew the baby would potentially be less of a 'play-mate' for Albie in years to come. I waited for the desire to have another child and it never came. I heard of people having a kid anyway and that just didn't sit with me – I couldn't make a decision that meant putting myself though some sort of self-torture. I couldn't go through it again. So I started to give stuff away.

Deep down I'd always wanted another child, but it didn't feel right to have one based on an age gap, or for a playmate for my son, or to fit in with some sort of 'norm'. Someone once told me that I would just know when the time was right, if at all, to have another. I hoped that were true. In hindsight I realise that this was not the magical, chemical reaction in my brain that I first thought it would be, but a sense of 'rightness' in the decision I was to take ownership of. Once I'd decided to let go of my hang-ups, I realised that I did want another child and that I didn't have to wait for feelings of broodiness to make that decision. I didn't have to wait for feelings at all, in fact, but a knowledge that I could make good decisions based on the future we wanted as a family. I had a sense of rightness; a peace. The decision didn't own me anymore, I owned it.

So I don't believe in the perfect age gap or the perfect time to have a child, because everyone will be different. There are no guarantees that your children will get on if they are close in age; there are no promises of an easier life either way. We need to stop limiting people's choices and allow people to just live. I wish I hadn't wasted so much of my time worrying about the decision – it robbed me of some of the joy of just enjoying my son. And let me make this perfectly clear, Albie does not need a brother or a sister. He is perfectly happy without, as are we, but we made a choice that meant investing more into our family. Now when we have 'family snugs', as Albie calls them, he cuddles my tummy too. He's happy to be part of the journey that will be no less challenging, but all the more rewarding for us all.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Wrinkly, Little, Screaming, Bald Things

If you haven't read my last post 'Love and Fear' you'll probably want to read that first ;)

If you were to ask me the one reason for choosing to have another child I'm not sure I could quite put my finger on it. It's probably a decision that's been heavily influenced by the way my day starts with my three year old jumping on my bed for morning snuggles, or the way I'm faced with finding ways to deal with his cheekiness without erupting into laughter, or the way he tells me about his day at nursery and I'm lapping his little stories up like they're gold dust. I just love him. I love chatting with him, hanging out with him and making up stupid songs with him.

And then I'm faced with the fact that all I really want is another child, not a baby.

People told me not to wish my time away when my son was a baby, they told me to 'cherish every moment' because it doesn't last long. Well, my first year with him was the longest year of my whole entire life, and although I loved him with more love than you can imagine, I would not like to have that year back again. Sure, I'm grateful for the journey and the things I've learnt but when will people realise that some people just do not enjoy listening to a screaming baby all day? Babies are babies for a year – it seems slightly odd to base a lifetime of parenting on a year long experience. But somehow when you say you want kids, people start shoving babies in your arms as though you're Mary Poppins or something, desperate to coo over wrinkly, little, screaming, bald things.

Give me a boisterous three year old any day.

Well, maybe a little less boisterous.

Suddenly you're a parent and there are all sorts of assumptions put on you. Before you know it you've been signed up for leading the community play group and volunteering at the local infant school. Word got around that you had a kid so they're on your case with workshop manuals and inside info about where to buy PVA glue in bulk.

I start wondering why I'm not a 'mumsy' mum, where did I go wrong? And then I realise that for me it's never really been about having babies at all, but about nurturing little people. That's why I enjoy having my own child; it's about getting to know someone; it's a journey of nurturing a relationship that I do not have with any other child. No, if Im honest, I'm not overly enamoured with hanging out with babies, but I do like hanging out with Albie. He makes me laugh, he's fun to be around, I'm enjoying getting to know him, to learn each day what makes him tick.

So no, I do not want a wrinkly, little, screaming, bald thing; I just want to get to know another little person really well. I want to journey with them so I can teach them things, and so they can challenge me on how to live my life more freely and creatively. No other child can do this in the same way for me because I have not opened up my heart to them in the way I will with my own. I can deal with the hard times, the strops and the tantrums because these are weighed up with the words spoken before bedtime when I'm told I'm loved and sloppy kisses are planted on my cheek. I am prepared for the differences we will have, the future rejections and potential heart ache because I figure that this person is worth fighting for. And although a baby can't do very much and may seem unrewarding, I am buying into the journey of seeing them develop into the unique individual that God intended them to be.

If you haven't read my story about why we decided to have another child you can read it here.

Monday 9 June 2014

Love and Fear

We will all make thousands of decisions in our lifetime: some are great whoppers of decisions, some are very small and insignificant, and others are just in the middle somewhere. Most of the decisions I make may depend on my mood, or the weather, or the time, or some other something-and-nothing factor. The humongous, life-changing decisions in my life, however, are always driven by one of two things: Love or fear. The decisions I have made out of fear are never really things that leave much evidence of a conclusion; they are the defeated dreams and ambitions; the squashed wants; the 'what-ifs'. It's understandable that fear has such a massive impact – after all, there could be severe risks involved in pursuing dreams that may not be worth it. But do I want something more than I fear it?

And then there are the choices that are driven out of love – not just the soppy, romantic kind, but the gritty, passionate and devoted kind. The kind that make you do things you thought you never could because you believe in the goodness of the result; the kind that breed untameable hope. Of course, these choices will still have potential for mistakes, but my guess is that if your heart wants to do the right thing those choices will inevitably end up being right too.

But making decisions out of love or fear is not always reacting to the first initial response. It is not always a definite, gut wrenching decision, as though it were a life and death situation. There's this misconception that making any sort of large decision has to be some sort of lightening bolt revelation; that you're either forced out of where you are because it is so dire you need a change of direction, or you're so excited about a prospect that you just can't help yourself from grabbing it. But what if you just think, so you know what, I'll take a risk because I believe that goodness wins; because I believe that love really does conquer all; because I believe that perfect love gets rid of fear?

As real as fears seem they will never outweigh decisions made out of love. The fears I have may make my decisions weak to some, but to me they make my decisions more real, more raw, a little deeper. The pains of childbirth and early motherhood haven't faded for me as people told me they would – they are still like open wounds. I've been so consumed with fears that I have not been able to have what I really want. But as you come out of the other side, three and a half years later, you see what hidden treasure you've found. Priceless. What if I made a decision despite my fears because I believe in goodness? What if I made a decision to love and not to fear?

I don't want my choices to be influenced by paper-thin emotions. I don't want to be the person who is swayed by a moment of brudiness, or a pressure to conform to 2.4 children. Good decisions will always count the cost. There will be things I have to sacrifice – my life will change, I may become stronger or weaker, I may be more or less fearful, but I will have more love and laughter in my life. So instead of letting my fears squash me or hem me in, I will let love stretch me a bit more and help me to make good choices that see my fears that little bit more defeated and give me more opportunities to love.

So we said we'd give it till March because I couldn't cope with my life on hold for longer than that. I took a test on April 1st. Negative. That's fine, I thought, and I drunk a bottle of wine. Except that the test on April 2nd told me otherwise. I guess God didn't want me to think it was an April Fools. So we met this little jumping bean on a fuzzy tv screen a few weeks ago and we meet them in person sometime around Dec 1st.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Feminism, Motherhood and Kirstie Allsopp

"At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women on this issue." Kirstie Allsopp

The article on Kirstie Allsopp this week has provoked quite a reaction. If you haven't read it, Kirstie suggests that women should have children before the age of 27 so that they can focus on their careers later on in life – an interesting and somewhat traditional viewpoint, considering that women are encouraged from a young age to study hard and build successful careers. Career has become a priority, meaning that childbearing is pushed out of thought: career first, kids later.

I feel privileged that I have had more opportunity to further my career than previous generations. Because of this I have been able to study and get on the path to a good career and I would not have done it any differently. Women, thirty years or so my senior, would always question when I would be having children - a question I thought was quite preposterous at the time. After all, having children was for in your thirties, not when you'd only just learnt to make a decent brew for your colleagues. I can see my younger self squirming at Kirstie's comments; I was headstrong and determined to make something of my life, other than changing nappies and cleaning vomit.

The problem, then, is when you get to your thirties and you're still working your way up the career ladder. It's taken a little longer than you thought. And yes, you still like to go out and enjoy yourself and do whatever the hell you like with your spare time. The thought of being controlled by whining children does not enthuse. Raising children is the last thing you want to think about. That can come later. Or not at all.

When I reached thirty I had to be honest with myself - I was never going to be ready to have children. I knew I would never look at a baby and feel brudy; I would never think the joy of cuddling a newborn would be worth surviving off next to no sleep. But, I did want children; I'd always envisioned having them. I wanted to have a fun home; I wanted family holidays; I wanted an excuse to be a kid for longer. I saw my future and it involved them. So I had a little boy and he turned my world upside down.

The strangest thing happened, though, after I'd had my little boy. I seemed to have more of a drive to do the things I wanted to do. He taught me new things about exploring life and treating it as an adventure. He made me realise what was important to me. But, perhaps because of my new found drive, my career stepped up a notch too and I was asked to work more and take on more responsibilities. My life got that little bit harder. Am I done with kids yet? Can I press on with my career now, or do I actually enjoy having the best of both worlds? Should I have done this sooner?

Having a child aged 30, still relatively young compared to most people, was in the middle of my career. This brought along its fair share of problems. Having a child no longer affected just me and my family, but my colleagues too - particularly working for a small business. What should have been my personal life choice soon seemed to affected everyone else too. And once you've had one child, you're under pressure to make your mind up about any future children – not just for your own future, but the future of your career too.

There are, of course, pros and cons to having children really early or really late, or just plain in the middle for that matter. In fact, have them when you like, there will always be hardships. Although I agree with Kirstie in that women are under far more pressure than men and need to consider their 'fertility window' when looking at career options, I do not think there is a right or wrong time to do so because everyone is different. And that's where I think I have a problem with Kirstie's opinion, particularly the speculated conversation she would have had with her daughter, should she have had one one:

"I don't have a girl, but if I did I'd be saying "Darling, do you know what? Don't go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit - I'll help you, lets get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you're 27."

If my mother had said that to me I would have moved out as quickly as you could say 'bake me a cupcake'. I find the fact that Kirstie counts herself as a feminist quite odd when she would take all freedom away from her imaginary daughter. I hope that my son feels he has the freedom to choose whatever path he likes when making his career choices, and, if I had a daughter I would tell her to pursue the things that bring her most to life. If that's that's children, so be it. If that's a job, so be it. If that's university, so be it (if we can afford it!). The fact that some members of my family were so against university, pushed me all the more to go because I didn't want to end up in a job that I hated all my life. I'm very glad I went to university and pursued the things that were important to me. I'm very grateful that my family was able to support me in it.

That doesn't take away the need to be honest about child rearing and fertility, of course. I made a decision based on the future I wanted, not how I felt at the time. I'm glad I did this because, with my track record of indecisiveness, I could have been waiting years for the 'perfect time' to have a child. My generation is one that relies on feelings; we do not plan for the future; we're less likely to save than previous generations. There is more freedom that comes with that, but if we're not careful we could end up basing our lives on brash decisions with no depth. Just because life may be difficult now, will it be better in the future? As women, we can't wait for feelings to tell us when to have children, we need to be real with ourselves about what we really want. We can't respond to pressure put on us by others, our work colleagues or families. Or Kirstie Allsopp, for that matter.