7 things 2017 taught me

2018 I have been so looking forward to you. Mainly because it means the epic flaming shitshow that was 2017 is finally over. Don’t get me wrong, there were many moments of grace, of wonder and a beauty. Watching Nibs grow has been every bit as wonderful and knackering as I imagined it would be. But I don’t think I’m alone in being glad to close the chapter on this year and move into another one.

Long-term readers around this parts may remember that I like to write a year in review summing up the major events and lessons of the year. You can find previous yearly review posts here: 201520142013, 2012, 2011. (With the exception of 2016 because sleep deprivation destroyed my brain.)

I am doing something different this time. Because if I have to look back at pictures of the last year I think I may curl into a ball and just cry and cry and cry. Some years are about thriving and some years are just about surviving. Finding a way despite the odds to grit it through. So instead of writing about what happened, I am going to talk about what I learned: what served me in 2017 and what I will be happy to leave behind.

7 things 2017 taught me

Perfectionism doesn’t make me better, it makes me weaker

Ah perfectionism my slightly shitty old friend. One of my longstanding myths is without perfectionism driving me, I would achieve nothing and be left worthless and unloved. At first when Lauren’s accident happened I was able to let myself off the hook and recognise that I was doing my best in an almost unbearable situation. But as the crisis passed I began to slip back into my old perfectionist ways. I often felt I was failing as a sister, as a daughter, mother, partner and friend. Trying to do everything right hurt me as I got increasingly drained, depressed and ill. But it also harmed my relationships most notably with Nibs and HWSNBN (He Who Shall Not Be Named). I was often exhausted and short-tempered with Nibs – a hollow shell of my former self. And when it came to being a loving and present partner to HWSNBN there was nothing left. By trying to be everything to everyone I ended up being failing on every count and tearing myself to pieces in the process.

I wish I had been kinder to myself. I wish I could have offered myself the same love and support I tried to offer others. I wish I had put some boundaries in place before I began to drown. I wish it hadn’t taken almost collapsing with exhaustion to realise I needed to start taking care of myself. This year was never going to be easy but it would have been easier if I was less hard on myself. At the time ‘Only Human’ By Rag’n’Bone man was a big hit and I couldn’t get that song out of my head. As the year draws to a close I am happy to say that I am being a lot gentler on myself. One of the big lessons of this year has been that even though I would love to be perfect and untouchable, no matter what life threw at me – I am only human, after all.

Self-caring like my life depended on it (which it kinda did).

This year I finally mastered self-care. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit but at 35 years old I still struggled with the basics like making sure I was getting enough sleep, let alone making time for myself.

Because so much of what was happening this year was completely out of my control, it inspired me to finally put my attention where it mattered: on the little things I could do to make myself feel slightly better. 

I am going to start with the biggest thing I did. Immediately after Lauren’s accident the hospital offered the family individual therapy with the Major Trauma team. In the past I would have hesitated but I said yes immediately. Having a space where I could go weekly and talk about everything that was happening was essential amidst the chaos. I will be forever grateful for Kara my therapist. I am also very proud of myself because week after week I put the work in.

When I found myself overwhelmed in the middle of this year and I realised how much my need to do it all was harming Nibs, we enrolled him at nursery two days a week. It caused so much guilt and anguish at the time (especially as the first nursery was not right for him so we had to repeat the process all over again). But he loves it at his second nursery. He’s developed and grown in confidence so much. And it’s given me some essential time to think, to mourn and to sleep! The time we have together is richer and I have so much more to give now I’m not with him 24/7.

The time freed up meant in the latter half of this year I finally worked my way through a long list of nagging personal care tasks like seeing the hygienist or blood test. Self care isn’t a cure all. Booking a dentist’s appointment didn’t help me heal my broken heart. But it did mean I wasn’t distracted by a cavity and could focus on the things that mattered.

Watching Nibs grow has helped a lot. As a strong-willed toddler I know that I need to make sure he’s fed, well rested, entertained but not overstimulated… I am slowly getting used to asking myself the same questions: am I fed, rested, what do I need?

How I numb out

To get through this year (relatively) intact I’ve been numbing out. A lot. I’ve become very aware of how often I tap out of difficult moments. And why in my family that was such an essential skill to develop growing up. This year I’ve bought all the things, I’ve scrolled endlessly through social media, and immersed myself in many fictional worlds. (I have not one iota of guilt about the last one). Thank god I’ve always had an inbuilt off switch when it comes to drinking and I’m too much of a control freak to enjoy drugs. Food, the least rock and roll of all addictions, is my weapon of choice. I eat when I’m sad, angry, frightened, bored and hurting. I eat to comfort or punish myself, to numb and to distract. And this year has been replete with all the feels.

Given everything that has happened a part of me just wants to surrender and dive head first into a bowl of salted caramel cookies. If it wasn’t for one thing – HWSNBN and I want another baby. As much as I would love to be one of those super-fertile women who decides they want another baby and just gets pregnant; it’s likely for me the journey will not be that simple. To conceive Nibs I had to undergo a complete lifestyle overhaul and lose three and half stone. I couldn’t care less about how I look but I based on previous experience I am pretty certain I would be unable to conceive and carry to term at this weight. Losing weight is one of the key ways to manage my PCOS, help me start ovulating again and put me in a position to conceive.

I’ve been trying for six months to get pregnant and lose weight. I’ve tried the body coach (this worked last time), the slow carb diet and keto with some success. But after a month or so something will happen: Ash will get ill or my sister will go back into hospital or I will self-sabotage. And then I will eat and eat and eat. If I want Nibs to have a sibling, I need to stop eating emotionally and find another healthier way to weather the storms. If anybody has any tips or wants to be a fitness or healthy eating buddy let me know in the comments. This is going to be one of my big challenges in 2018.

Morning pages

Envy. No other feeling makes me feel as monstrous, uncomfortable and wrong. But it has always worked as a beacon signaling me towards something I desperately want. Years ago a chance remark from a colleague that she was training to become a counsellor triggered a wave of envy so intense it nauseated me. I signed up for a beginners counselling course the next day. This summer I bumped into her again and she talked about becoming a writer. Envy felled me again. I love writing but I’ve barely written a thing since having Nibs (oh hai severely neglected blog). Committing to writing another novel feels too much. But I could try the morning pages that she mentioned.

That was six months ago and I’ve been writing my morning pages religiously ever since. It’s simple really. All you do is write three pages of whatever is in on your mind when you wake up. That weird dream you had about the mouse castle, the fact your best friend hasn’t messaged you back, the many ways you are screwing you’re child up… It can be as boring or a deep as you want. (A lot of my early pages where me boring on about how tired I was). All of those repetitive thoughts, moaning and worries of my monkey mind go down on paper and for some reason they don’t seem to bother me anymore.

Its very simple yet ridiculously effective  for me. It works as a foundation practise. If I do this I know I’m likely to workout, to meditate, to tidy, to reach out and connect with somebody. Feeling like I’ve achieved something at 6am means I more likely to tackle hard things. Deliberately not writing my morning pages is often a sign to me that I trying to avoid some uncomfortable emotional revelation. And if I start skipping pages I notice a massive knock on effect on how I felt for the rest of the day. Next year I am definitely going to keep up with my morning pages practice.

Purpose matters

I was due to go back to work in February. It’s December, as I write this, and I am still not working as a counsellor. I cannot absorb any more emotional pain. I am at capacity.

I know I am very lucky that we are in a position where HWSNBN can support me financially (something that would have been impossible a year and half ago when we were really broke). I am lucky I get to spend time with Nibs, time that many of my friends who work full time would kill for. I am lucky to have a job I miss and love; rather than one where I lived for the weekend as I did for many years. But I don’t feel lucky, I feel bereft. I miss having purpose. I miss using my brain and my heart. I miss having a structure to my days. And the way I feel currently I am not sure I will ever be able to go back. I am trying to tell myself that for everything there is a season. That what happened to Lauren is so huge that it will take time to heal. But I feel adrift.

People ask me all the time when I am going back to work. Unwittingly it triggers a shame spiral. Because if I was stronger, better than surely I’d be ready by now. We derive so much of our purpose from work and without it – am I enough?  I know I cannot work as a counsellor now but what am I going to do instead? Now Nibs is settled at nursery, my goal is to figure out what I want to do with my one and precious life.

Sleep is everything

I always find it amusing that when it comes to our children we had bedtimes and set routines to help lull them to sleep. But when it comes to ourselves… anything goes. Nibs’ sleep has always been variable but he went through a really unsettled patch this autumn. I noticed that after spending all day being used as a human trampoline I was staying up later and later trying to desperately eek out some ‘me time’. But I was too tired to do anything except scroll on my phone and try and fail to not fall asleep in front of the TV. I’d sit there knowing I should take out my contact lenses and brush my teeth but felt too exhausted to move. With Nibs still not sleeping through the night the sleep I was getting was fractured. And during the day the tiredness built and built and affected everything my mood, my diet and my relationships. Something has to give.

I decided to set a ‘go the fuck to sleep alarm’ for 10.30pm each night. But I found it didn’t work. I resented the alarm. I always felt rushed and not ready. And in a weird in between state of exhausted and too wired. I realised I needed more of a run-up to get to sleep. There’s significant evidence that the blue light from devices can affect our melatonin. So installed a blue light blocker on my devices and starting wearing these weird orange glasses when watching TV.  I also realised if I wanted to go to sleep at 10.30pm I needed to get ready for bed at 9.30pm. So I started changing into my pyjamas, brushing my teeth and taking my contacts out as soon as Nibs had gone to sleep. Then at 10pm, I’d switch off all devices (phone and tv) and read before falling asleep at 10.30pm.

At first it made me feel a little like a grandma. I had a bedtime? Seriously? But within a week I was noticing how much better I felt and how getting enough sleep before Asher decided it was time to wake up made everything easier. I could write pages and pages about sleep especially the importance of vitamin D so I might write a separate post about this at some point.

That within me there is an invincible summer

In the books, they call it resilience. I personally labelled it as my ‘Fuck you’ instinct. But I prefer Camus who perfectly expresses what I discovered this year.

In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
‘And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.’

This year, it seemed like the world threw everything it could at me and my family. It was, without a doubt, the worst of times. But even drowning in darkness, and friends it was dark, I still found a glimmer of light within me. There was something within me that made me get up, go to therapy, play with my baby, cry with my husband, go to the hospital but also to the beach and keep living. Some ‘fuck you’ part I found within me that wasn’t going to let the bad things win. The key part of those sentences is that I found it within me. Often well meaning friends would try and offer hope or cheer me up because they found it too unbearable. It had the opposite effect of making me aware of how alone I was. I had to find the hope for myself and it often meant sitting in some dark places emotionally and accepting that this was where I needed to be. Only then would the glimmers of light show themselves. I still have to do that. What happened earlier this year is life-changing and the ripples for my sister, my family and me are still being felt and will be for the rest of our lives.

Even bruised and broken there is still within me an invincible summer. A ‘fuck you’ instinct that will not give up.

There’s a moment in Buffy at the end of season 2 which I’ve always loved. She’s fighting Angelus and she’s losing. He knocks her to the floor, her weapon is out of reach. And he stands over his sword raised for a killing blow, taunting her.
‘That’s everything huh? No weapons… no friends… no hope. Take all that away and what’s left?’ She closes her eyes as if anticipating the blow to come. And as he raises the sword to strike, she says ‘Me.’ And begins to fight back.

What’s left after last year took so many things away? Me. And as long as I am I will keep keeping on. And despite 2017 knocking me down again, and again and again – still I rose.

What did 2017 teach you? Let me know what your taking forward into 2018 in the comments


The Promise

One night I dreamt I visited Santorini. I didn’t know what it was called then – just that it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Closer to the sky, it seemed god-touched. The azure blue domes made the bright white walls shine even higher. The town tumbled down the hill vertiginously. Below the wine-dark sea sparkled stretching to infinity.

In my dream, I was old my hands wrinkled and covered in sunspots. HWSNBN was stooped, his hands gnarled and weathered as mine. We walked haltingly down the cobbled paths curving between the cave buildings until we reached the sea. We sat in the comfortable silence watching the children play it on the docks. 

The strangest part of this dream was how I knew two things: we had never been able to have children. And I was happy.

When I woke up I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How could I be happy and not have children? This dream came to me when infertility was killing me slowly. If it hasn’t happened to you that may seem hyperbolic – but it has you will know exactly what I mean. I wasn’t sure how many more months I could stay on this cycle of hope and despair. How many more times I could be torn apart and slowly piece myself back together?

Then I dreamt of Santorini and I knew, the way I knew my own face, that whatever happened I would find a way to be OK. Maybe that longing to be a mother would never fade, would twinge like an old wound when I thought back on my life. Maybe life wouldn’t look anything like I envisaged. But somehow, in some way it was possible to build a life among the wreckage. A good life with joy as well as sorrow.

If I was reading this I was struggling to have a baby I’d think ‘Fuck her’ of course she’d say that now. How can she know that? She got her happy ending.

And I did. I am so unbelievably lucky to have Nibs.

But I know that because this year when struggling with a different tragedy there was only one place I wanted to visit. Last month we went to Santorini: He Who Shall Not be Named, the toddler and me. And it was even more beautiful than in my dream. But more important than its beauty was the promise Santorini held – that healing was possible.

My visit to Santorini was very different than how I had pictured. I wasn’t visiting to heal a heart broken by infertility but by trauma. It wasn’t a couples trip, but one with the family  I wasn’t sure I would ever have. Instead of spending evenings staring lovingly into each other eyes, we spent our time tackling our toddler as he tried to repeatedly throw himself into the caldera. We swam in the sea, we sat and watched the sunset, we marvelled at how beautiful it all was.

The details had changed but the promise remained the same. That one day, somehow I would find my way back to OK.

The one thing that I know is true is that life is both beautiful and brutal. Sometimes even at the same time. I remember sitting next to my sister in intensive care laughing more than I could ever remember I had. I also remember weeping in a corner of a garden centre so much that I didn’t have any tears left. Beautiful. Brutal. Brutiful

What happened to my sister’s is always going to hurt. Just how losing Lianne will always kill me. It will always be the wound that never completely heals. The ‘what if’ that haunts my life. There are things that hurt us so badly the only thing we can do is figure out how to live with them.

Some days distracted by the joy of watching Nibs the pain fades into the background. Still, present like a background ache but not at the forefront of my mind. Some days the pain is so excruciating  – it’s all I can do is to breathe through it. Still, I have days when it fells me anew. Both my sisters I think, both of them?

‘No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all?’

A holiday couldn’t cure that. How could anything? But it did remind me that I had felt like this before: lost, broken and hopeless. And before that and again before that many times. And yet I am still here. I have survived 100% of my worst days so far.

Out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and with a lot of work I know now that I can find my way back to OK. I am not there yet. I may never be entirely there. But slowly piece by piece I am putting myself back together. The promise of Santorini showed me that no matter what life throws at me and those I love there will always be a path back to OK if we search hard enough. There has to be.

Nothing gold can stay

For my wonderful beautiful, clever and courageous sister. Thank you for giving me permission to share this story.

Here’s how it goes.

You are living your life. Maybe you’re happy immersed in the bubble of you and your new baby. Maybe you’re weighted down with such despair you imagine your skin can barely contain it.

Then it happens: you see the blur of the car mounting the curb; you overbalance and then there is nothing but stars; trauma falls from the sky. And nothing will ever be the same again.

The first time trauma came for me and mine I was 4 months old.

The second time I was eighteen.

The third time, a couple of months ago.

One minute I was lying in bed luxuriating in a rare lie in. The next I saw the message.

In that hour and half car journey to the hospital, I prayed my sister would live. I already knew that OK would be far too big an ask.

I felt immense guilty. We’d fought viciously a month before. Don’t die. Don’t die. I chanted at each rotation of the wheels. I could not bear that she could die thinking I hated her.

When I arrived, they’d already taken her down to theatre. We were told 7 hours and two operations awaited her. In actuality it would take 18 hours of operations and be two days before we saw her again. Two days of the minutes stretching like hours. Two days of making phone calls to deliver the worse news because somebody had to do it. Two days of sitting, waiting for the hospital to call, as family and friends arrived.

Even in the midst of such utter bleakness, there were moments of grace. The surgeon and anaesthetist had operated on her neck for eleven hours without a break. They knew that tomorrow at the crack of dawn they would get up and do it all over again on her back. Both of them after scrubbing out took the time to call my parents and tell them how the operation had gone.

It takes a blink of the eye for a person to be smashed apart. But even with all the technology and expertise we have nowadays, the surgeons couldn’t put her back together again. Not as she was.

When we saw her for the first time in intensive care she was almost unrecognisable. Unconscious, swollen, more wires than human. The hiss and beep of the machines surrounding her, keeping her alive.

We stood vigil my mum, my dad, HWSNBN and I our tears splashing on her skin. As if our presence would make a difference when the damage had already been done.

There’s a room they take you into within intensive care: the relatives room. But really it should be called the shit news room. The consultant and nurse sat down opposite us and asked in a practised way what we knew. I realised then that for us this was a moment we would never forget despite how we might want to. But to him, as compassionate as he might be, this was simply a part of his day – that long ago he’d been on a training course on how to break bad news and he was putting those skills into action.

Each sentence was like a sucker punch to the solar plexus. I could barely absorb it before another blow came.

He told us that the break in her neck was very bad, the spinal cord almost completely severed and contorted.

Over the next week they would try and take her off the ventilator and force her to breathe on her own. If she was lucky she would be able to breathe on her own and talk.

If she was very lucky, she may in time regain some movement in her arms.

But she would never walk, dance or run again.

Lucky? Was all I could think. This is fucking lucky!? But of course these are the small increments that make up a life. A twist to the right and she would, after much rehab, walk out of hospital. Another angle to the left, or if my parents hadn’t been there and there would no point calling for an ambulance at all.  Lucky.

History repeats itself, with an extra cruel twist of the knife just for kicks. 34 years ago my older sister lay in intensive care in a coma. Her life forever changed after a traumatic accident: her brain was irreparably damaged but her body would be fine. Now they told us that my younger sister’s body was irreparably damaged but her brain was fine.

If my life was a book, I’d cast it aside – too unrealistic and far too bleak. Because after all that effort to rebuild here my family was again.

Another freak accident.

Another daughter in intensive care.

Another traumatised mother (this time me).

Another baby granted special permission to play among the machines.

If you’ve never had to sit with somebody you love more than anything as they come round from an operation and listen as they desperately fight with their breathing tube to mouth at you ‘I can’t move, why can’t I move’ – I envy you. God I envy you.

In those early weeks I kept thinking: I did not want this for her. I did not want this for my baby. As if I was toddler who asked chocolate pudding and instead got fucking tragedy in a pot. I almost wished I believed in the great sky father so I could march up there and demand her a refund. ‘You see, I think you got this wrong. Because she deserved the life on the beach in Honolulu and instead you’ve given her this shit sandwich of a life.’

Nothing about this was fair.

Every day I’d ring the buzzer outside intensive care and wait to be admitted. That was the worse, the not knowing how she would be. The shock of that day when I walked in and saw the space where her bed was and thought she’d died and they hadn’t told us.

Every day I’d see the other families sitting shell-shocked outside. Nobody starts their day thinking it will end in intensive care. We all know at a deep level that bad things happen unexpectedly to people like us, to people we love. But there’s a difference between knowing it in the abstract and living it. Trauma peels back the veil and you realise that nobody is safe. Not your sisters, nor your husband, not even your baby.

The shock left me reeling. After everything my family had been through was this really happening again? It felt a little bit like that instance right after you hurt yourself badly. Before the pain fully arrives and you’re still wondering did that fucking really happen? Except this period lasted weeks instead of seconds.

That’s the worst thing about trauma. You cannot prepare for it. It simply arrives unheralded from leftfield. By the time you see it coming, it’s already felled you and you’re lying gasping on the floor.

The list of things I will no longer take for granted grew. Breathing. Coughing. Being able to brush my tears away. The feel of my baby in my arms. Getting up. Walking.

Driving home from the hospital along the seafront tortured me because I knew she would give anything to get in her car and drive far, far away.

If you told her before it happened that she would spend six weeks bedridden staring at the ceiling, barely able to move her arms – she would have said I can’t. But she did. Again and again I was left amazed by her resilience and her courage in the face of unspeakable horrors.

I was also surprised that even in my moments of deepest pain there was joy too. When she was stable enough to be taken off the ventilator I felt like punching the air in relief.

I treasured those moments sitting and laughing and crying together as I fed her skittles. There was nowhere else I’d rather be.

The nurses in intensive care and on the general ward were angels. They made an impossibly shitty situation that much less shitty with their kindness.

On my first day away from the hospital after weeks of going in every day I knew there was one place I wanted to be. We went to the sea and I lay on the stones and cried and cried as Nibs crawled around me followed by HWSNBN. There was something immensely comforting about watching the waves crash too and fro on the shore. They had seen aeons of pain and joy before. Nature was indifferent.

Quickly life settled into a new normal. In the morning I sat with her. Sometimes she wanted to talk. Sometimes we cried together. Then in the afternoons I’d go home and see my baby.

Stuff which I had found hard or frustrating about motherhood was now the best antidote to the miasma of illness and pain I’d spend the day breathing in. Days after it happened as I lay unable to sleep Nibs woke crying at 1am. I went and took him into bed with us. Lying there in the darkness feeling the sweet susurration on his baby breath on my face was the first time I’d felt OK in days.

The comfort Nibs, my baby, provided was a double-edged sword. I worried incessantly about how this would affect him. Family and friends stepped in to look after him so I could spend time at hospital. But his mother had been replaced by crying husk of a person. I knew from my training and from my own experience that this could not fail to affect him.

One of things I still find hardest about dealing with trauma is the intense loneliness. I felt as if I’d been branded by a scarlet T. I didn’t feel part of this world anymore but permanently outside it. I’d stare at people wondering how they could walk around so carelessly as if they were invincible when we all so desperately fragile under our skins.

Messages poured in, some of them so lovely they made me cry. But eventually the weight of them when I was juggling hospital, Nibs, and supporting my family felt overwhelming. I felt and still awful for not being able to respond to some of them. It was just too hard.

Some people told me, out of love I know, to be brave. As if this was a test and a stiff upper lip was preferable to weeping on the floor. They didn’t yet understand that when tragedy strikes all we can do is gut it out as best we can.

Then there were the people who acted as if all this tragedy was catching. And simply disappeared. I don’t blame them. There were times when if I could have ran far away from my own life I would have.

In one fell swoop my family had become the winner of the shittest game of top trumps ever.

The only thing that helped was spending time with other people who understood. There is a brotherhood of pain. The same night she was brought in in the bed opposite a young guy with head injuries arrived. Our family knew better than most what they were feeling. Every day we’d talk them and see how he was doing. When he was transferred to rehab a couple of days before she went to Stoke Mandeville I felt bereft. I still think about him and this family often and wish him well. Even though life should have taught me the futility of wishes by now.

Trauma is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s too big to be absorbed in one go so every day a new wound opens as a realisation hits:

My baby walking for the first time. Owh

Going to my parents house and seeing where it happened. Owh

The ‘on this day’ feature on Facebook. Owh

The good thing about being through something like this before, although every experience is different, is that you have a rough map of the landscape. Ah, this is the period where I wonder how I’ll ever be able to leave the house again without worrying that the sky might fall in.

The bad thing about being through something like this before is we recognise the comforting lies we tell ourselves.

At least now the worst has happened, it won’t happen again. (It can and it will. We cannot inoculate ourselves against tragedy).

It hurts so much maybe my heart will simply stop with the pain of it. (It won’t, treacherous thing that it is.)

It’s different now to how it was in the beginning. I am able to have days sometimes even a week where I feel almost normal. But more commonly are the days and weeks where I feel so devastated I wonder that I am still standing. One of the hardest things is that she isn’t down the road anymore. I can’t pop in and spend an hour with her. I miss the reassurance of seeing her daily, more than I can say.

Somedays I wish I could just crawl into bed and never leave it again. But for Nib’s sake I keep keeping on. I go to therapy. I read stories to my baby. I kiss my husband. I hold tight to those fragments of joy that come my way like rays of sunshine through the clouds.

I am not OK. But I know I won’t always feel like this.

Sadly Option A where nothing bad ever happens to anyone I love is off the table. So I am just going to have kick the shit out of Option B. And I will, have no doubt about that.

It could always be worse. Remember that.

(But god, did it have to be this fucking bleak?)



One year of you


A year ago exactly you were placed in my arms. You were blanched white with wrinkled star fish hands. You looked stunned like a fish flipped from the water and onto my chest. You didn’t cry but just regarded me through eyes as dark as galaxies. And I stared back.

I’d be prepared not to feel anything at first. Mum friends had warned me it can take a while to feel a connection. Or I’d hoped I’d have a strong feeling that you were mine. Instead I just looked at you looking at me as if you were trying to memorise my face and thought ‘Oh it’s you.’ Like you were somebody I had known a long time ago and always longed to see again. You weren’t mine anymore than the stars and the moon were mine. From the beginning you were a hundred per cent yourself.

How to describe you? Most babies seem to take a while to come into focus; their fourth trimester happening outside the womb. But from the beginning you clearly communicated what you did and didn’t want. I have to be quick to keep up with you. You’ve always been mercurial smiling and babbling one minute then throwing yourself to the floor as if your heart is breaking the next. As an introvert it’s fascinating to see how much you love being around other people. At Christmas you herded the family from room to room like a tiny sheepdog. You talk constantly, even in your sleep.

I see pieces of both families in you. You have your daddies love of puzzles and cautious methodical approach of wanting to take the world apart to see how it works. But you feel things deeply and intensely like me, and love books.

During that endless first night as a mother, where I didn’t dare sleep in case you disappeared like fairies gold in the sunlight, I said to the midwife ‘I don’t know what I am doing’

I still don’t. But I have faith that we will figure it out together. 

So here’s to one year of you. To one year of cuddles and over excited clawing at my face. To one year of night feeds, kissing your warm downy head. To one year of navigating the brave new world of Mum’s groups, baby sensory and soft play.  To one year of watching you learn how to lift your head, roll, sit up, crawl and stand. To one year of soaking up the moments because you are growing so fast.

Here’s one year of you my Nibsie of the Noos. I love you more than words can ever say. Never stop being you.


The value of complaining (even when others are worse off)

h07act0xagy-jordan-whittSometimes I find it so hard to say ‘I am finding this hard’. I would rather go through an experience twice than tell other people I am struggling.

But *deep breath* I am finding it so hard at the moment.

Nibs has either been sick or teething since October. As he sees me as a giant human handkerchief (snail trails of snot! Why that’s just what I always wanted to complete this look) I’ve been ill too. Winter so far has been such an unrelenting germfest I am considering encasing him in a bubble and just tossing Ella’s kitchen pouches through a hatch.

I respond to illness with the emotional maturity of a petulant three year. ‘NOOOO, this is so unfair. Why me???!!’ *Throws tissues on the floor* In the good old days being ill meant time off, throwing a pity party in bed with snacks and tv and not emerging until I felt better. Now being ill means juggling an ill grumpy baby who swings between climbing the walls out of boredom and howling on mummy. No bed, no tv, no down time.

I could cope with this if I had slept. But in addition to illness Nibs has been teething and waking screaming every two hours. Fellow mum’s trade sleep deprivation stories like warrior’s comparing scars. Pre motherhood friends are less interested in hearing you bore on about how tired you are… again.

There are other reasons as well. This time of year has never been particularly kind to me and mine. But mainly it’s the illness and lack of sleep.

Lately I feel…

Frayed at the edges
Like I am running on empty
Like I have nothing left to give.

Not great when you have a tiny being utterly dependent on you.

This is not the problem. Because it’s the weekend He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) will be on the case. And then I just have to survive the next week before he is off for Christmas. Everything is better when he’s around. Somehow around him it feels safe to share when I am finding things a bit shit. Everyone else? Not so much.

The problem is that it takes until I am drowning for me to mumble ‘Hey, this water’s a bit deep, eh?’

When I am hurting, my first response is to try and convince myself it isn’t that bad. When I am finally able to acknowledge it is that bad I then engage in a round of twisted comparisons.

You can’t complain about motherhood because you struggled with infertility, you should be grateful to have a baby at all.

You can’t complain because your baby wakes every two hours when your friends baby wakes every hour.

You can’t complain about finding it hard because you’ve got a loving and supportive husband. You’re finding it hard? Think of all the single mums out there.

You can’t complain about struggling with one baby when your friend has two.

You can’t complain about your baby because your friend’s babies died and they would kill to experience those sleepless nights you’re moaning about.

You can’t complain you’re finding it hard mothering an able-bodied child because your parents raised your sister who is disabled.

You can’t complain because your baby is safe, warm and fed. Think of those poor babies in Aleppo.

So it goes until I am throughly shamed and silenced. And so I don’t complain, I don’t ask for help until things get really bad and by then it’s almost too late.

Don’t get me wrong there is a value in recognising your privilege and feeling grateful for what you have compared to others.

But pain is not a zero sum game. If it was there would ONE person in this entire world who was objectively judged the worse off and had the right to complain and the rest of us would shut the hell up. If I am finding it hard it does not take away from my friend who is also struggling. There is room enough for both our experiences.

So this month I am going to try and speak up when I am finding things shit to people other than HWSNBN. Eeek!

I need to speak up when things are hard because naming a feeling helps reduce the intensity. It stops it from being trapped and magnified in the echo chamber in my head.

I need to share so that other people can know what is going on with me and step up to offer their support, if they want.

I need to be honest because this feeling that everything is a bit shit is just as valid as the feeling that everything is wonderful.

I want to speak about this because other people being open about struggling has made me feel less alone. And I hope by sharing this other people will remember it’s normal to find things tough.

Finally having a bitch as well as being necessary, helpful and normal can be fun too.

So *deep breath* I’m struggling. Anything you want to get off your chest, let me know in the comments.


The middle

The middle


Credit: Mark Basarab

I have always loved before and after stories. Cinderella transforming into a princess. The ugly duckling becoming a swan. The hungry caterpillar emerging from it’s chrysalis.

And if asked I will talk to you honestly, happily and at length about my own before and after stories; afterwards. I’ll tell you about how I went from desperately trying to earn my place in the world to believing (most of the time) that I was enough. I will talk to you about what grief taught me about love. I will describe my struggle with infertility and how I lost three stone to access IVF and instead fell pregnant naturally.

The key word in that sentence above is afterwards. People tell me that admire my honesty in writing about the situations I have found hard. My reaction is always mixed: part proud but also part feeling like I have just pulled off a con. It’s takes courage to show somebody your scars, it another thing entirely to show somebody your wounds.

I am very good at talking about difficult experiences afterwards. When time has lent some distance and perspective and things are less raw. But sharing that brutiful (half beautiful/half brutal) bit in the middle of something I am struggling with? Ugh.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I cannot find the words to name what is happening to me.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I feel an expectation that I need to go away in private and figure my shit about before I can be in company again.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel so bruised and skinless that an inadvertent glance could hurt me.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel stuck. I cannot go back and unknow what I have learnt. But I have no idea how to move forward.

When I am in the middle of something hard I don’t know the story ends. I don’t know whether I will triumph or fail. I don’t know what the meaning of this experience will be until afterwards.

When I am in the middle of something hard, the last thing I want to do is talk about it.

But that’s what I ask my clients to do every day. There is so much I could say about what is happening within me right now. But I am in the middle – so I don’t. Until now that is.


I read this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, one of the writers who inspired me and it floored me. Yes, it is important to share our truth but what about sharing our unknowing. Why don’t we talk about the bits of our life that are still in construction. So inspired I am trying something new today. Even though thinking about hitting publish gives me a knot in my chest and that sinking sensation of being emotional naked.

Here are some things I am in the middle of:


I’ve always been ambitious, it’s one of my defining characteristics. But when people ask me ‘when are you going back to work?’ I want to jam my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until they go away.

I don’t want to work again, ever. Despite the fact I love my job and staying home isn’t an option financially. I am desperately frightened that if I go back to work that ‘Push the river’ side of me, that relentless driving force will take over. And there won’t be any space for me or Nibs or anything other than pushing forward at all costs. Until I have figured out how I can work without letting it take over – I don’t want to go back. I expect my motherhood bubble will pop at some point and I may long for another identity other than mother and to exercise my intellectual muscles. But for the moment…



Having and mothering a baby has made me realise how abysmal I am at mothering myself. If I were an actual mother and child I would report me to social services for neglect. I have realised recently where this lack of self-care comes from. But I don’t know how to move forward and it makes me feel sad and stuck. Why can take care of other people, but not myself? I am starting to notice how much this is affecting my relationships with my husband, child, family and friends. And it the affect on them that is motivating me to change, not on me. That fact makes me feel even sadder. I am trying to go back to basics and ask myself daily what I need. But it is so hard and humiliating. Shouldn’t I have learnt how to take care of myself already? Is it too late to learn?


I eat emotionally, always have done, and it’s becoming a problem. I eat as a reward, out of comfort, to console myself or just mindlessly. I worry that Nibs will see me and develop some of my habits. The worst thing about this, is that I successfully lost a lot of weight before getting pregnant through revolutionising my eating habits. When I was pregnant I was really careful about what I ate. But the combination of breastfeeding, tiredness, and boredom have meant I have been eating cake like it’s going out of fashion.

The feeling that keeps on popping up that I should be over this by now? I know how to eat healthily. I have done it before. I have all the tools in my toolbox but still I keep self sabotaging. Sadly I think the issue is I can moderate my approach to food when other people are at stake – but not when it’s just about me. Instead I circle around and around this issue never progressing


He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I have been in better places. Don’t get me wrong, we’re OK but we could be better. Lack of sleep and lack of time, as individuals and as a couple, has taken its toll. I find this immensely frustrating because as a couples therapist I knew that having a baby was one of the biggest stressors on a relationship and I had a chance to memorise the classic fight up close:

Stay at home parent: I love the baby so much but sometimes looking after him alone is so hard. I resent so much that your life continues almost unchanged whereas I am tethered to a tiny human being. You get to leave, to speak to other adults, to pee in private. I am never alone but I am so lonely.

Working parent: But you get to see it all: all the tiny ways he changes every day. I miss it. I miss him and you get to see him all the time and you don’t appreciate it. He’s growing so fast and I am not here. Plus work isn’t the holiday you think it is.

Repeat ad nausem

9 months ago I assured myself we wouldn’t be like that. Cue hollow laughter. We, OK being brutally honest, I have not been kind to HWSNBN recently.

It is so entwined with me not taking care of myself that I know that before I can reconnect with HWSNBN I need some time for me. To figure out who I am as a mother and individual after this immense lifechanging experience. If I am set boundaries and ask for my needs to be met; I will be a better partner to him. I am not in panic mode at the moment partly because I don’t feel like I have the headspace to panic. We are trying different things – some of which seem to be helping. We’ll see.

The future

I am very torn on if/when we should try for another baby. It took years, and years last time. And I am hyper aware I may not have years of trying left. I never want to go through that agonising desperation of trying and failing to conceive again.

But I am not ready. I am not even close to ready for signing on for the intensity of a newborn. Some days I look at Nibs and he’s so wondrous I can’t imagine not trying to give him his sibling. Some days he seems so big to me and miss him being a tiny baby in my arms with an ache in my womb. Then I have a dark day where I feel like the shittest mum alive and think I am never having any more children. 

So, this is where I am at right in the middle with all the mess and none of the glory. Watch this space.



Why my baby is crying (as told by him…)

Why my baby is crying (as told by him)

Inspired by this I haz Staff do the transcribings. Yor welcomez!

  1. Staff put me down
  2. Staff pickz me up
  3. Staff only spent 22.45 minutes with me today. I iz lonely
  4. Look at this sound I cans make Staff. I cans do it louder
  5. I iz hangry
  6. Not this boob, the ovah one. The OVAH ONE!
  7. Staff iz late/eating/paying ovah staff affection/doing the sleeps. Commenz paddy.
  9. I kick Staff in tit and they do the shouting and I haz a scared.
  10. I no like the wallpaper
  11. Staff looks at me funny
  12. Staff no look at me. Staff haz eyes closed and is making the snorings. Staff, STAFF!
  13. COLDZ. Staff, STAFF Ma furz.
  14. HOT. I no order this weather. Staff send it back and commenz the fanning.
  15. Stupid Staff I wanted to wear the yallow frock coot. THE YALLOW WIZ THE BUNNIES.
  16. I iz making the water. I iz making the water go high. I invent a water fountain! I iz clev- NOES IN THE FASCE.
  17. Oh dearz I have disgrazed maself in ma pantaloons. Again.
  18. Staff lowered me into the cold pit of despair, aka the cots.
  19. I dreamz there was no moar milk. I haz a sad.
  21. I iz practising ma sleep screaming skillz. Whadja mean Staff do the sleeps too. I iz no paying Staff to do the sleeps.
  22. I WAH cannae WAH do WAH the WAH rememberings
  23. Ma chariot dipped below 30 fathoms and I do the wakenings.
  24. NO! I iz not an imbecile I wants the other toy.
  25. I iz having the funz times with the Staff. So much funz. Too much funz… FUNZ OVERLOAD… ERUPT
  26. STAFF! STAFF! The nipple is no in my mouth
  27. It iz between five of the clock PM and the midnight, so iz time for the grizzles and wailing. What?! Iz in the handbook. What do you mean I no come wiv a handbook. Staff is making a funs wiv me.
  28. I rooted on the barren dessert where baby dreamz die. Aka hairy Staff’s chest.
  29. Guess…
    You have chosen pourly. WAAAAH
  30. Reasonz