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.

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One year of you

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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.

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.
  8. MA TEEF OWHIE.
  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.
  20. NOT HAIRY STAFF. OVAH STAFF. WIF THE MILK!!!
  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

 

Newborn baby essentials for first time parents

 

NewbornSo you’re having a baby. You’ve read all the books, your due date is looming and you’ve bought everything you’ll need for yourself postpartum but what does your newborn baby need? Before you give into that excited urge to buy all the things (yes, those baby shoes are gorgeous, and no they aren’t really necessary) remember newborn babies don’t really need much beyond a boob or bottle, something to wear and most importantly a pair of arms to hold them. However, there are some essential products out there that can make your life as a new parent a thousand times easier. As an *ahem* experienced parent of a four-month old, here are the newborn baby essentials I could not do without during those early days.

Water wipes

Have you tried to wipe meconium aka tar off a baby’s bottom using nothing but a bit of cotton wool and water, after 48 hours of no sleep while your baby screams like you’re cutting off an appendage? Learn from my mistake – get water wipes. A mix of water and fruit extracts they are safe to be used on newborn bottoms and they won’t leave you picking off bits of cotton wool off a tiny behind. Pro-tip: liberal applications of coconut oil after every nappy change makes meconium wipeable.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

I read so many pregnancy and baby books covering theories from as attachment parenting to sleep training. The one book I want to buy and give to all my pregnant friends is The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp. If you have a baby that is colicky, cries uncontrollably or turns from an angel into screaming bat-baby come 5pm (raises hand sheepishly), this book is for you. You can read more about the theory in this blog post but to summarise here. Pediatrician Dr Harvey Karp argues that unlike other animals babies are born before they are developmentally ready because of the size of their heads in relation to the pelvis. This means that the first three months are a fourth trimester outside of the womb as babies need to rapidly develop to function in the outside world. All babies had an evolved calming reflex to keep them from damaging themselves or mum in the womb, and if we can recreate these outside of the womb we can calm babies in minutes. These are called the five s’s: swaddle, side or stomach, shush, swing, suck. I was sceptical at first but the five s’s helped calm our fractious newborn in minutes. You can watch Karp in action here. The next five essentials are all ones that use the five s’s.

Co sleeper

My lovely friend Claudia lent me her co-sleeper which is a crib that attaches to the side of the bed. It was godsend for three very important reasons:

  1. Newborns have really odd breathing patterns and frequently take very looooong pauses in between breaths. A co sleeper allows you to check on your baby without leaving your bed. This saves you from diving across the room twenty times in one night in a move I like to call the ‘Why isn’t my baby breathing dive? Oh no, he’s fine.’
  2. Breastfeeding is made so much easier once you can do it lying down. No more getting out of your warm bed, arranging pillows behind you or even sitting up to grab your baby. Instead release boob, roll baby onto boob, doze while baby sucks then roll baby back into the co-sleeper. Or yaknow…
  3. Don’t. My sure fire way of waking Nibs up whether I wanted to or not was to put him down after breastfeeding. The way he reacted was as if I had lowered him into the pits of hell not an expensive, lovingly crafted crib. I had a choice hold him for twenty minutes until he’d fell into a deeper sleep or lie him next then very gradually inch him back into his crib. Having the crib as his back meant I didn’t have to worry that he would roll out of bed when feeding and he felt close to me. Which brings us nicely onto the…

Sling

I bought a Moby fabric sling initially. It may have been the sleep deprivation or the fact that I have worse block designs skills than my son. Who is four months old. But I could not put it together without putting my baby down, which defeated the point, as he’d then wake up. I needed a sling that I could strap my sleeping baby into using only one hand.

Enter the Beco Gemini which even this mama could put together in her sleep. What I should have done before buying this was: go to a sling library and try on a couple before buying. What I did: ask my friend Jo sling obsessive which one she recommended for a novice like me. Both He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I love it because the crossing straps distribute the babies weight and Nibs can be worn in a number of different positions as he gets older. The sling is brilliant for getting housework done while his Nibs naps. It allows me to get out and about without worrying if the buggy will fit through doors or on buses. And at grizzle o’clock it calms him down and will, if the stars are aligned, even send him to sleep if we walk around swiftly with him in the sling.

Ewan the dream sheep

White noise is a parent’s best friend. Whether it’s the dishwasher, car or even the sea, white noise mimics the sound of the wound and sends our baby Nibs into a deeper sleep. My little sister bought us Ewan the Dream Sheep which emits a soothing red pulse and has a number of different white noise tracks to choose from. Our favourite is a track we’ve nicknamed the haunted womb.

Gro swaddle

I was decidedly anti swaddle before having a baby. They seemed so restrictive and Victorian. Until I witnessed how my sons flailing limbs would wake him up multiple times a night and read about the Moro instinct. As soon as he was swaddled, he calmed down his little face relaxing and the swaddle seemed less like a medieval torture device and more like a full body hug. I credit the swaddle with helping our son sleep like less like an actual baby and more like a metaphorical baby from early on. We loved the Gro Ladybird Spot Swaddle for being so simple even this mama could use.

Love to Dream Swaddle

Now Nibs is a little bigger we’ve graduated to this Love to Dream Swaddle which is like a swaddle just for his arms. This helps restrain his natural impulse to violently batter himself in the face with his arms as sleeps. Plus when he’s wearing it he looks like he has wings providing many a hilarious photo opportunity.

Swing

Here’s the thing. As a new parent you get many a piece of useless advice of which the mos useless is sleep when your baby sleeps. The problem was like many newborns Nibs would only sleep when in motion as he was used to being lulled to sleep by the constant motion in the womb. In utero his most active time was 2am when all was still and I was trying to sleep and he commenced his kick mummy in the ribs done. So unless I mastered sleepwalking/sleep driving that advice was pretty useless. Until we bought the Joie Serina 2 in 1 Baby Swing second hand on ebay, aka the best money I ever spent. Save the money you could spend on a bouncer and get this electric swing. Like magic the swing on its most vigorous setting would send him to sleep in minutes allowing me to nap too. It also comes with white noise, vibrates, the swing works in two directions, and the seat can be taken off and used as a bouncer too. Seriously buy this, you won’t regret it.

Products for your first aid cabinet like:

A thermometer – ideally the no touch scan thermometer so you don’t have to keep your wriggling baby still while you check for a fever.

Nosefrida – this ridiculously gross invention the Nosefrida Nasal Aspirator allows you to alleviate a congested nose in seconds with the aid of saline drops and a suction tube. Its disgusting but essential especially if you have a baby in the season of the snot aka winter like we did.

Metanium – the yellow Metanium is like kryptonite for nappy rash. Most of the time we use a thin layer of sudocreme on our babies bum. But when he had a nasty nappy rash due to thrush a thin layer of this cream cleared up the rash in days.

Isofix base

Three door car + sleep deprivation= going anywhere is a hurry is a hassle. When you add in a screaming baby its amazing how a simple procedure of threading a car belt through a car seat becomes mensa level difficult. Get a Isofix Base for your car seat and you simply clip and unclip the car seat from your car. I held off buying one for three months until I finally gave in on the advice of my very wise friend Katy and I wish I’d done it a lot sooner. 

1,000 muslins

Nibs is a silent posseter. You’ll be holding him and suddenly your lap will be suspiciously warm. Before giving birth, my mother in law asked me how many muslins we had and I naively replied ten and she gave me the look. The look that meant haha, you’ll learn.

Within days of the birth we were on ebay ordering more and now I think we have close to 50 at least. Muslins are great as well as clearing up posset and protecting your shoulder when burping, they can be used to swaddle your baby, to tuck under your boob for hands free feeding and as nursing cover. Ours where just cheapo ones but if I had the money I’d get these gorgeous Faye and Lou Rainbow Muslins. 

Trial amazon family membership  

No matter how well you prepare by reading helpful new parent lists like this and faithfully buying everything on them (right? Right.), once the baby arrives you’ll realise, always at 3am, that you’ve missed some essential item. Amazon family have a free month trial with next day delivery, £20 off when you spend over £60 and deals on nappies and other products. It was ideal for those middle of the night ‘I need new bits for my breastpump’ purchases.

A village  

*Mounts soap box* Postnatal depression is at a record high in this country. And I strongly believe its because we aren’t meant to raise babies alone. It takes a village. At first I tried so hard to show that I could do it all. Hadn’t I longed for this? Then why was I finding it so hard. Things became easier when I started asking for help from my loving partner and co-parent HWSNBN, from my parents and his, from my sister and new mum friends. Workout what you need whether it’s food or a spare pair of arms so you can shower – and ask for help prior to giving birth.

Fellow survivors of the newborn stage, what would you add to the list? Mummas and dad’s to be, you got this!

Birth, motherhood and me

So I had a baby! And as expected I have many thoughts about birth, motherhood, and babies.

On birth

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Birth is like an event horizon. When you’re pregnant for the first time, it is almost impossible to visualise what lies beyond it. But one of the things I forgot is even if I was exceptionally unlucky, at most it would be 72 hours out of my life. I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the birth. I wish I had thought more about what would happen afterwards.

As a mum-to-be you hear a LOT of labour horror stories. Looking back now, it’s amazing how much of my memory of the labour has faded replaced by what came afterwards. Yes, it was painful but I had a baby at the end of it.

I find it interesting how much of being ready to give birth is about physical readiness versus psychological readiness. I spent the day before I went into labour sewing Nib’s mobile. ‘It’s the last thing on my maternity leave to do list.’ I announced brightly to HWSNBN. Somewhere in my head a tick had been placed on the list and there was just one last item:
Have a baby.

I woke up at 1am contracting three minutes apart. But I’d had Braxton Hicks for days so I wasn’t sure this was it. Then half an hour later I turned over in bed and my waters broke with a sudden pop and I knew it was time.

Our NCT teacher told us your waters breaking wasn’t like in the movies – it just a trickle. DUDE, it was exactly like in the movies. It felt like I had Niagara falls in my knickers and out of the biological indignities that were to come it was almost the grossest.

The grossest was the vomiting. Imagine having a contraction, perhaps the worse pain you have ever experienced and as you are trying to breathe your way through it you projectile vomit. Again. The midwives were thrilled ‘open mouth, open cervix’. I was less than happy. I’d never imagined I’d met my child covered in green bile. But nobody ever said labour was glamourous.

As somebody whose always been self conscious about her body I worried beforehand about how I would feel lots of strangers seeing it. I can’t count how many people saw my poonani, nor did I care.

I had gathered together so many supplies for my birth – aromatherapy oils, playlists and birth balls. What I actually wanted was a dark room, a bucket to throw up in, to be on all fours, and for HWSNBN to push on my spine so hard it gave him bruises.

Which brings us to… back labour. From the moment I woke up contracting and felt that Nibs, after being in the optimal position since week 20, had turned so his back was grinding up against mine, I knew I was in for a rocky ride. Back labour feels like the baby is trying to exit via your spine. It isn’t only extraordinarily painful but the pressure is almost unbearable and it turns out is visible from the outside. HWSNBN described afterwards as like a scene from alien as my coccyx pulsated and bulged outwards.

There are lots of things you can do to try and turn a back to back baby. I tried them all (not knowing that he had the cord tangled around him and he was stuck). Being in the birth pool helped for a bit. Being in on all fours helped for a while. But as he descended I began having back to back contractions. I would breathe my way over the hill of a contraction and just as the pain began to fade the intensity would slam back up to the peak again. I was getting tired and we had a choice. Stay at home for another hour and try and turn him or transfer to hospital. I asked to be examined. If I was in transition I’d stay at home and bear it out. But I was only six centimetres. I cried, despite the midwives comforting me. Six centimetres at home in this time was amazing, they said. But I was done – we made the decision to transfer.

Before labour in our long discussions I’d asked HWSNBN to be my advocate as I have been known to be less than assertive. But apparently (I have no memory of this) when everybody was milling around the ambulance, they kept offering me pillows and water for the journey, I snapped ‘JUST DRIVE.’ They did.

Putting my clothes on and leaving the house was hell. I had to stop for each contraction. I kept my eyes closed in the ambulance. And I didn’t even care as people stared at me as I waddled through A + E or in the lift up to the labour ward as I panted sucking on the gas and air.

In hospital I had an epidural which alleviated some of the pain but none of the pressure – thanks back labour! However, the contractions began to space out so I could breathe in between them.

It became clear that the baby wasn’t coping very well as his heartbeat was dipping during contractions. I could tell that the doctors and midwives were worried. All I could do was lie there helpless and ask over and over again ‘Is my baby OK?’ 

A lot of the things I worried would happen did. I got transferred to hospital, the pain was, at times, so unbearable I lost control during contractions, I tore. But in the end only one thing mattered that my baby was safe and well. When his heartbeat kept dipping, if a scalpel had been in reach I would have cut him out myself.

My labour was short by first labour standards at around 20 hours. But it felt like no time at all – the day a brief window of light before the darkness fell again. Midwives kept changing shifts and I’d look at the clock and see that hours had passed.

In labour the world retreats. The room had one of the best views over Brighton but I barely saw it. There was nothing but this small room, this breath in between contractions, this baby and me working together so he could be born.

You never forget the midwives who delivered your child. During the long night and day and night I was in labour we had lots of different midwives. I was so glad that it was the last two who delivered my baby. They were brilliant, compassionate, open about what was going on, and so encouraging as I pushed the baby out.

As the baby was getting so tired and his heart wasn’t returning to normal in between contractions, they gave me half an hour to push him out. I put my chin down and focused. Although I knew that after an epidural it can be harder to push – there was no doubt in my mind that I could do this. One advantage of having back labour was I always felt the pressure of baby. And as I began pushing I could feel the baby moving down with each push and even when he finally flipped round the right way in my pelvis. As he was crowning and I was panting through the stinging, doctors barrelled into the room with a gurney. They took one look in between my legs, told me to ‘Good job, carry on!’ And left again.  

As soon as I saw him I knew it would be OK. He was silent, a colour not found in nature and a midwife was furiously palpitating his back as the other worked the cord free as it tangled around his neck. I cried and I think they thought it was because I was worried. I wasn’t. I knew he was OK, in a weird way deep down in my bones. I cried because he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

They put him in my arms and we just stared at each other and I thought ‘Oh, there you are.’ There was an immediate feeling of recognition, like running into somebody beloved I had not seen for centuries. He was tiny, blanched white and smelt of clementines. His eyes were universe dark and he had an expression like he’d been here before. We stared at each other for hours and he didn’t make a sound.

I pushed out the placenta, they sewed me up, people came and went but HWSNBN and I just stared at this perfect being we’d made and he stared back in a trifecta of love.

On postpartum

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Apres the birth was the biggest high, followed by the deepest come down of my life. There were moments of being caught up in the most blissful love bubble ‘Look what we made. I love him so much my body can barely contain it.’ and moments of being snagged on the rocks of despair ‘This is so hard. I can’t do this. I’m a shit mum.’

I didn’t think motherhood would be easy. But when I imagined it I saw it through the filter of  pre-baby me. Well rested, non bruised and not on a hormone crash from hell me.

A friend described it best when she said postpartum is like being in a car crash and then being handed the most precious and fragile being you ever saw and told not to drop him. How can you look after somebody else when you need looking after yourself?

As we walked up to the postnatal ward, I heard another mum being bought in howling. Just the sound of another woman in labour made me feel like I was going to throw up again.

Word up to all the expectant mothers, even if you don’t tear you’re going to feel bruised and tender for at least ten days post birth. Good thing you’re not going to be spending a huge amount of time sitting on your behind breastfeeding a newborn. Oh… wait. To add to the mix I had a huge purple bruise from where Nib’s head had engaged in a prolonged battle with my spine, that meant putting any pressure on my back was toe-curlingly painful. Breastfeeding involved arranging an elaborate system of pillows and a piles cushions around and under me while the baby howled for his dinner.

Ah, the post labour poo. Read this mamas-to-be and god be with you.

Good friends bring pressies for the baby. Amazing friends send pressies for the baby and for you. My lovely fairy godmother Ros sent me a postpartum package including tinctures and arnica, cool packs and a savoy cabbage. Yes, really. It was hands down the best present I received.

Night sweats – because what every woman wants to do with less than ideal pelvic floor control post birth is ask herself the question in the middle of the night ‘Is that puddle I’m lying in pee or sweat?’

I expected to get postpartum depression (ever the optimist). I didn’t. What I did experience was postpartum anxiety. It did not last long but it felt endless at the time. A lifelong sleepaholic I suddenly had horrific insomnia my thoughts racing so fast I could not follow them. I jumped at every sound convinced that there was something wrong with my baby. After a couple of days of me not sleeping more than an hour at a time, HWSNBN took Nibs in the other room promising to bring him in for feeds. But every time I closed my eyes I heard the baby crying. Yet whenever I went to check, he was fast asleep. ‘He’s OK.’ HWSNBN would tell me. But I could not shake the conviction that he wasn’t and that I had to be hypervigilant to prevent anything from happening to him.

The insomnia did not help. My baby was sleeping, my husband was sleeping but I could not sleep except when the exhaustion grabbed and I fell into darkness for a hour or so. I haunted the flat like a little ghost. During one conversation in the middle of the night I realised I was so sleep deprived it felt like I was having a stroke. I could tell I wasn’t making sense but I couldn’t articulate that thought. I could not articulate anything.

Day fucking five really sucked. Mention into the other mums and you get the shudder of been there, endured the hormone crash. In perfect storm of shittiness events conspired to make mine pretty awful.

Picture the scene me manic from not sleeping more than a hour at a time when the midwife comes to weigh the baby. I’d expected that he would have lost some weight. He was still quite jaundiced, sleepy and had to be woken to feed and throughout the feed. But the night before he’d fed almost constantly – surely he was starting to put weight back on? I knew as soon as she placed him on the scales that something was wrong. ‘He’s lost too much weight.’ But he was feeding constantly the night before, I said. ‘Yes, he was feeding constantly because there wasn’t enough milk. We need to see how much milk you’re creating and make a plan to get his weight back up and if that doesn’t work we’ll admit him into hospital.’ I pumped and we stared at the measly amount of milk that dribbled out and then she wrote out a plan: breastfeeding every three hours, expressing breast milk and then supplementing with formula. I could barely hear her at this point over the siren blare of my baby is starving and it’s all my fault.

After she left, HWSNBN was sent out to get formula and pumping equipment. ‘You’ll be OK?’ He asked as I stood in the doorway, rocking the baby and weeping. There was nobody I could call to come sit with me. My family were over the other side of the world. His were an hour and a half away. And as I tried to feed Nibs it became clear that the milk wasn’t coming. I felt like the shittest mum ever. How could I have missed that he was starving? He cried frantically until his little body was exhausted and he fell asleep in my arms. This was the nadir.

HWSNBN and I embarked on the fatten the baby up plan. I’d breastfeed on one side and express on the other while HWSNBN fed me sips of water and food. After the baby had finished we’d offer him the milk I’d expressed earlier and then formula if he was still hungry. Before setting an alarm to wake up in an hour and half and do it again. I remember it being hard but I also remember the love and that feeling of being on the same team.

I’ve always been notoriously talented at hiding when things are wrong. My leg could be hanging off and I would still insist that I was ‘Fine. Oh that? It’s nothing. Tell me about you?’ Birth robbed me of that skill – I lost my filter entirely. I sent out messages into the ether to my friends spilling my emotional guts. The responses, ah me, they make me want to cry even now. They were so lovely. In my vulnerability came honesty and connection. Sadly the filter is firmly back in place now. This is one thing I miss from the postpartum period.

Weigh in day arrived. The midwives wanted to see a weight gain of 60 otherwise we’d be admitted to hospital. Luckily the January genes for putting on a shit-ton of weight are strong and he had gained 300. I tried and failed to not cry on the midwife.

Like it had never been the anxiety began to fade and I slept for three blessed hours in a row and it was wonderful. I’m not sure why it went. Was it simply hormonal and the hormones had began to fade? Or was it emotional? It wasn’t until the midwives told me that my baby wasn’t putting on weight that I realised I had been carrying the fear from the birth that my baby was not OK. Plan fatten baby up gave me somewhere to challenge my anxiety and like that it dissipated. Looking back I realise how lucky I was in comparison to other women whose babies were seriously unwell. But at the time my anxiety seemed so real, so valid.

On breastfeeding

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I thought breastfeeding would be as simple as take boob, pop boob in babies mouth, baby feeds – done. Insert hollow laughter here.

Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I have ever done. None of it was easy. In the first three weeks I cried almost daily about how hard it was. The temptation to say fuck it and only give him formula was almost overwhelming. But a small voice inside me said just try another day and I did.

If I wasn’t supported in the people around me I would not have persisted. From the kind midwife who suggested giving him a tiny bit of expressed milk to satiate his hunger, then breastfeeding him when he was so hangry he refused to latch. To all the other women my friends and at the breastfeeding clinics who said yes breastfeeding is really, really hard but it gets better. To HWSNBN who did everything so I could feed our baby. From bringing me endless glasses of water and food, to changing nappies and taking him around the park so I could give my sore boobs a rest. And for encouraging me to keep going when things were tough.

The first challenge I faced when it came breastfeeding was physics. Nibs was born on the small side and my boobs are anything but small. He’s seven weeks old now and much to my little sister’s amusement my boobs still dwarf his head.

The second challenge was genetics, I was the most uncoordinated person I know until I met… my son. Latching was like trying to touch opposing magnets. In the early weeks it would take up to half an hour and HWSNBN’s help to get him to latch. Where he would feed for a couple of minutes and fall asleep, and then the whole process started again.

The third challenge was medical. I have PCOS which means that my breastmilk supply is lower than average . Nibs like many babies had jaundice which equates to one sleepy baby who doesn’t really want to feed. As breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, having a sleepy baby who didn’t really want to feed meant my already low supply dwindled further.

My boobs the day milk came in two words: rock tits.

They say breastfeeding isn’t meant to be painful. Seriously? Tell that to my fucking nipples. It gets less painful as your nipples get more desentised but still sometimes when he latched I have to count to ten.

Getting newborn to latch is like trying to put a sock on a snake.
‘Hey baby, here’s the nipple.’
Baby turns head in the opposite direction.
‘Baby the nipple, it’s here.’
Baby bobs frantically headbutting nipple.
Baby manages to get nipple in his mouth (yay), and his hand too (no).
Baby latches on and while latched whips his head back and forth still searching for the nipple. Yep Nipple whiplash, it’s a thing.

Years ago I read about Melanie Klein’s theory of the good/bad breast and the concept of splitting. I thought it was bullshit. But Klein was right on. Sometimes Nibs loves the boob and sometimes he hates it. Being a mother is about being able to withstand both.

The breastfeeding books speak about being in a comfortable position. But I’d stay contorted in the most awkward positions because I had finally got him to latch and who cared that I was bent double over my baby. And if the remote control was out of reach well, love meant enduring Jeremy Kyle.

I’ve breastfeed through thrush, engorgement, blocked milk ducts (twice), cracked nipples… I’m just waiting for mastisis and then I’ll have the full set.

In some ways, having to introduce a bottle so early was a blessing in disguise. It has meant that HWSNBN can feed the baby and have that bonding time together. Even better it means I get a blessed hour off. Bliss

The best thing about my breastfeeding app. It tells me how long I’ve been feeding for and which breast I last fed from. The worst thing about my breastfeeding app it tells me how long I’ve been feeding for. 8 and a half hours! No wonder my arse is numb.

Cluster feeding was demoralising as hell and it hit in week three just as HWSNBN headed back to work. Unless HWSNBN or his mother were there, I couldn’t eat, or wee or even take a sip of water. I didn’t leave the house for days because he would not stop feeding and as he was finally putting on weight I did not want to interrupt him. He still cluster feeds at night but it isn’t all day so I am so thankful for it.

I quickly learnt to prioritise in those brief moments when I wasn’t physically attached to Nibs. Have a wee, drink water, eat something and perhaps if you’re really lucky nap. Fuck housework.

Some babies are into fast food. Feeding my baby is like trying to feed a narcoleptic drunk gourmand who ordered the fucking tasting menu goddamn it and he will finish it. Even if it takes him three hours actual time (thirty minutes effective feeding time) A sample feed looks like this.
Feed frantically for four minutes.
Fall asleep.
Get put down.
Howls indignantly.
Come back for a two minute soupcon.
Fall asleep while possetting on self. Handed to daddy.
Howls while rooting on daddy’s nose.
Repeat until mummy declares the boob restaurant is closed. Baby does not understand language yet so ignores this.

Stuff Nibs hates:
Being put down
Having his nappy changed
People touching his feet
Having his cheesy armpits cleaned
Being stripped naked
Falling asleep on the boob and waking up to discover the boob is no longer there.

Stuff I will do to get him to feed (because I am eviiiiiiiil):
See all of the above

They said it takes six weeks to get breastfeeding established. By week four it was noticably easier (barring the really painful thrush episode). It’s the end of week six now and I finally feel like we are in a rhythm. What I would say is you need to what is best for your baby AND you! Whether that’s breastfeeding, combi-feeding or giving formula your emotional and physical wellbeing matters too.

On motherhood

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Pre motherhood me would judge the fuck out of some of the choices I’m making. Mother-me would pour me a gin, give me a hug and tell me I’m doing my best.

Having a child unearths a lot of shit from your psyche. I am not somebody who likes being dependent and I hate asking for help. Having a sister who needs extra help, I think I made me grow up fast and decide that I didn’t want to burden people by being too needy. Since having a baby I am physically, financially and emotionally dependent on the people around me and I hate it. I feel incredibly uncomfortable which I think indicates growth.

It takes a village to raise a child. We aren’t meant to do this alone.

You will welcome the people who come over and want to hold your baby. You will want to worship the people who come over with food, pop a load of laundry on, and make you a drink while you hold your baby.

There are a lot of nasty jokes made about mother-in-laws but mine has been amazing. In those early days when I was a walking zombie and later when HWSNBN went back to work she would come over every couple of days and help out.

Being a mum eclipses everything else. I lose hours staring into his eyes. There isn’t a to do list anymore.

Being perpertually late person naturally is exacerbated by having a baby. Leaving this house is like martialling an army. An army that waits until you are just picking up your car keys before pooing up it’s back.

Saying it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t also wonderful. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

One day he may be 33 too and taller than I will ever be, but he will always, always, always be my baby.

During the birth, he was born but a new me also emerged. I am not sure what mother Rowan looks like. But I can’t wait to find out.

Sometimes you have no choice but to put your screaming child down and have a wee. It doesn’t make you a bad mum – it makes you somebody who values continence.

On marriage

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When I met HWSNBN I was 21. I wasn’t sure I wanted to even get married, let alone have children. I never chose him thinking about what kind of father he’d make. Luckily those qualities I fell in love with as a partner map perfectly onto being a dad.

My bestie asked me what I was doing for Valentine’s day and I replied sarcastically that HWSNBN and I were playing the ultra romantic game of pass the screaming baby. But it’s true I have never loved HWSNBN more than when he sees me pacing with a screaming Nibs and says ‘Let me take over for a bit’ and I go cry-sob in the shower. It isn’t roses and chocolates but it is love.

On the dark side, I have never hated him more when he complained in all seriousness ‘I never got out anymore.’ The baby was four weeks old. Complaining to a new mother about never going out, is like bitching to people in a famine regime that the size of Quality Street tins are a bit skimped. Know your audience!

I don’t mind admitting that HWSNBN is better at settling him that I am. He seems less affected by Nibs’ crying whereas to me it’s like an alarm saying do something! One of the downsides of having boobs is that I use them as a pacifier. Whereas HWSNBN has a whole host of tricks at his disposal.

It’s ridiculous that dad’s only get two weeks of paid paternity leave. I was lucky because HWSNBN works for himself he could work from home most days or ask his mum to come down when he wasn’t able. I don’t know how other women do it. 5.30pm has become my favourite time of day.

I am a better parent with him around.

On babies

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I never knew much about babies and to me they all seemed alike. Tiny, sleepy bundles that looked and acted like drunk old men. Now I have one I see the differences.

The first night Nibs threw up every half an hour gobs of yellow mucus. I sat and watched over him terrified he would choke and drown. It was first experience of motherhood that sometimes there is nothing you can do but bear witness and be there for your baby.

If you have a baby that screams uncontrollably for hours, it can almost unbearable. The one that helped was imagining the screams were him talking. Very loudly. For hours.

It’s OK to think your child looks a bit weird sometimes. Sometimes I think he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Other times I think he looks like a cross between Pob and a monkey.

The principle of the fourth trimester governs many of my early parenting decisions. Nibs has gone to never being cold, or hungry, or not held to experiencing all of those things. No wonder it is overwhelming.

He loves staring at me the most. Followed shortly by the curtains.

Nibs hates to be put down. If he could he would cling to me (preferably) or Johnny at all times. At 7pm when I’ve been feeding for hours and he’s howling, I would do anything to be alone. I miss having my body to myself. But sometimes in the dead of night when I feel his warmth on me I think nobody will ever love and need me like you do and it makes me want to cry with the tenderness of it all.

You can’t spoil a baby. A child yes, but not a baby.

Babies noises are deceiving. Throughout the night he will frequently sound as if he is choking on his own vomit only when you turn on the light – there is no posset to be seen. Paradoxically when he does posset it dribbles from his mouth silently like Bishop at the end of the Aliens movie. Frequently while fast asleep he will emit a sleep screech that is so terrifying it alone makes me glad I religiously did my pelvic floor exercises. We’ll just settle him for the night when he will start hiccuping in his sleep. Loudly. His favourite thing to do is lie there asleep making snuffling, snorting and burbling noises. HWSNBN calls this his ‘look mummy I am sleeping. Look at me sleep. I iz very good at the sleeping’ noise. I call this fucking irritating. Other times I will wake in the night and he will be lying silently in the dark staring at me. #mybabyiscreepierthanyourbaby

Babies are gross and because you love them you become gross too. He has possetted on my hair, stomach and nipple. Once he threw up on his fist then sucked it like it was a lollipop. I took a photo. Sometimes I don’t even know myself anymore.

When pregnant I read in the newborn book that babies feed on average every two hours. That’s not too bad, thought me. At least your getting around two stretches of sleep. What I didn’t realise is that’s two hours from the start of the feed and by the time you put them down you have forty-five minutes before the whole cycle starts again.

You win some, you lose some. I hesitate to write this because I am so tempting the baby gods to curse me for my hubris. But Nibs sleeps absurdly well for a newborn. WINNING

I expected the nights to be bad – but the first fortnight aside they have been bearable. The evenings on the other hand… ah dios madre. When the clock turns 5pm my angel child turns into the bat baby from hell. He has a full agenda of screaming and feeding or screamfeeding and he isn’t going to stop until he’s done. This is coincidentally the time when my reserves and patience are at their lowest. Luckily it is also the time when HWSNBN comes home. 

The days are long but the years are short. As I write this Nibs is six weeks old. He is smiling and burbling. He loves to be held upright so he admire the curtains. He’s grown almost 30 centimeters. I can’t wait to witness the little person he grows into.

I thought I would have this strong feeling of ‘mine’ when I saw him. But he doesn’t feel like he came from me. He feels like a gift from the stars and the sky and I am just looking after him for as long as he will have me.

They didn’t say it would be easy, they said it would be worth it. And it is so worth it.

Seeking a friend for the zombie apocalypse

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F32 desperately seeking: a confidante, partner in crime and faithful sidekick.

Must possess the wit of Dorothy Parker and the loyalty of Winnie the Pooh.

You will have an appreciation for Youtube cat videos, killer make up skills that you don’t mind sharing, and a European frankness that I envy. Ideally you would not be put off by endless discussions about the best survival tactics for the zombie apocalypse, tolerant of my bibliovore ways, and prefer pyjama parties to parties. 

We’ll argue over who loves Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie more, but I’ll always let you win.

No racists, homophobes or misogynists need apply.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friends recently

The ones I have.

The ones I’ve lost.

And the ones I hope to make in the future.

I know I am lucky. I have a few best friends who have known me for aeons and feel like family but most of them live far away.

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I have a smattering of friends from Uni, work and my early twenties who I don’t always see as often as I would like. When I do it seems like no time has passed and we’re drunk on the ghost of green shit and possibilities. I have lots of friends I’m still in contact with via the wonders of social media. And there are one or two friends I’ve phased out because of… reasons.
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But I miss having close friends nearby.

I want to have friends like I did when I was 15 and you just knew that when Friday night came you were hanging out together, no exceptions. I miss that.

I miss living alongside people like I did at Uni, always knowing that day night there would be somebody there.

I miss how easy it was to make friends when you were 5 and all that qualified someone for BFF status was that they loved Jem and Holograms too.

I miss the intensity of the friendships I used to have when you were so attuned you knew almost everything about each other.

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How I made friends when I was five

Growing up changed things. I love my work which is so demanding and fulfilling, but I worry it doesn’t leave enough space for me time let alone time with my husband, family and friends.

But still I crave more friends. I want a Miranda to my Carrie. A Serena to my Blair. A Buffy to my Willow. A Cici to my Hilary. An Ann to my Lesley. A Idgie to my Ruth.

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I want a friend I can call up and be like ‘Want to get into our jammies and watch RuPaul’s drag race for the fiftieth time and lets talk about who is the fiercest vs the fishiest?’ And she replies ‘Yes, Mama.’ And we do.

There is just one problem – me.

 

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I am supremely absymal at making friends. Glaciers form friendships quicker than I do.

My supreme social awkwardness doesn’t help. I find small talk excruciating and it can take me years before I become familiar with people enough to relax. I could get all analytical and tell you it was down to being bullied at school, which I am sure had its effect. But really I think I’ve always regarded new people like a dog views a living room full of cats. The best I can hope for is to be tolerated but I’d settle for outright disdain. This attitude definitely isn’t helping and I’ve noticed how it makes me passive when friendships are being formed. Basically I lurk near people I want to befriend until they take pity on me and make friends at me. Not creepy at all then. To be frank its a wonder I have any friends at all.

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As I’ve recently learnt thanks to my homegirl Lizzie Bennett, it’s no use saying we’re not good at things if we will not take the time to practise them. So I’ve set myself the challenge of making the latter half of 2015 the year of friendship. Even me, awkward, overscheduled, and chronically out of practise can make one friend in a year? Surely…

After googling how to make friends (don’t judge me search engine) I’ve come up with following plan on action.

1. Cultivate the friendships you already have.

This makes utter sense. I know loads of awesome people who a) I used to be close with and have drifted apart from or b) I’m friends with but want to be closer to. So it makes sense to try and enrich those friendships. Especially as they are a somewhat captive audience to my freakish introvert charms. But I don’t know how to go about it? Without being awkwardly sidling up behind people and asking ‘will you be my friend?’

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2. Take up a hobby

I’m not so sure about this one. Lots of my hobbies (lying on the sofa reading trash fiction, lying in bed reading trash fiction) only seem conducive to flying solo. Plus the vast majority of my closest friends differ so completely from me. One of my best friends loves everything Cath Kidston and wants to be Nigella Lawson. The other loves tattoos and comic books. Although I think the love of cats in a pretty strong glue I am not sure that’s why we are friends – I think it’s because their awesomeness transcends words and it has little to do with what they like but who they are.

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3. Find a app

Why isn’t there a friend making app? Someone please help a girl out and invent one.

So plan of action developed I, in typical Rowan fashion, made a list of friends I want. I’m looking for:

A friend who likes to dance like an eejit to 90’s hits

Somebody who worships the ground Tamora Pierce walks on too.

Friend(s) who like playing board games but not in a competitive way048e6cfa9056973db9b69d73786c4463

Dinner party friends (I will live out my come dine with me fantasies)!

Writer friends who I can talk about the fictional people in my head with and they don’t give me the side eye about

Infertility friends who will stop me cutting a bitch if I get told one more time to just relax. (Does relaxing fix my broken endocrine system, fool? Does it REALLY?) I have already arranged a meeting with some ladies I’ve been chatting with online. This is seriously exciting. Cross your fingers that they won’t all hate me.

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Friends who are obsessed with charity shopping as me, and also this is important, a completely different size and shape to me so we don’t fall out.

A friend with whom I communicate exclusively in cat gifs. (I already have one of those to be fair but I want another. A girl can never have enough cat gifs)

Friends that like long Sunday walks in the countryside preferably with a dog. (We did have awesome friends that totally filled this niche but they went and moved to Australia and took their dog with them! Meanies. So we have a vacancy.)

A friend who lives with walking distance and over the years we become the kind of friends who just pop over to see each other

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Friends who love brunch as much as I do and never miss our regular brunch date on the third Sunday of the month.

The nicest thing about compiling this list is it made me realize how many friends I already have. All I need to do is get out there and *shudder* talk to people.

Easy, right? Watch this space…

 

2014: the ask and the answer

there are years that ask questions and years that answer So 2014 is dead, long live 2015. For at least 363 more days at least. In what’s become a little bit of a tradition (2013, 2012, 2011) around these parts here’s my year in review. PicMonkey Collage In January I, along with my bestie Ros, had our hair chopped off in memory of dearest Lianne who is gone but never forgotten. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA So many lovely people I knew (and a couple I didn’t) donated money to help the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice. You are all awesome people. Group hug? 7b18c2e374d885d5d0dfa4c487270e6f I also dabbled in veganism and gave up cheese for ONE WHOLE MONTH. It was really fricken hard, you guys? PicMonkey Collage2 In February we travelled to see our friend’s Gareth and Akie get married in Tokyo. Just looking through the pictures makes me want to go back. 10152487_10154013172425347_998519313_n We ate sushi, we visited temples, we went to Tokyo Disney. But I need to see the cherry blossoms bloom, I need to go to a cat cafe, I need to have another creme brulee pancake. PicMonkey Collage As if one awesome holiday wasn’t enough, we then flew down to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef, drive down the great Ocean Road and caught up with our friends Roger and Sarah nine years on from our last visit down under. It was the trip of a lifetime and being back in the dead of winter makes me wish even more I was back under blue skies with Roger and Sarah. imag0459 In March I celebrated my ten year anniversary with the love of my life HWSNBN In April suffering from a post holiday hungover of epic proportions I began 100 happy days. Which I totally will blog around. One day. Soon. Ish. Maybe? 10614337_10154590667765347_665743070654031433_n I had one of the best summers on record spending most of my time in Pells Pool. Although I still haven’t been to a drive in *sad face*. bdc040dcd8b61cfe78eaf36b55ac76f7 One of my personal highlights was leaving my job after seven years. Although I missed my lovely colleagues it was time to move on taking a role within a NHS mental health service. Having more time and space allowed me to grow my private practice in leaps and bounds. And I’m cutting my hours down even further at work because of how much my practice has started to grow. 2014 was the year my career really started to thrive. 48f4d996069917ea8bb7424ed0c30105 I turned 32 and shared 32 hard fought life lessons. Trust me on the absinthe. I missed Lianne Irayla Munaf very much. 10436087_10154701418330347_2555328602007480889_n HWSNBN and I travelled to France to stay in a chateau and watch our friends Amelie and Joey get married (yep 2014 was the year of the destination wedding). There was sun, there was wine, and there was streaking. And it was so awesome, we’re going back again this year. b270b8c18939049b5f492bc380ff7f61 After much deliberation, I came out of the closet and talked about the difficulties HWSNBN and I have been having trying to conceive. Although those dreams of being parents still feel very far away talking about this openly has been an extraordinarily healing process. Thank you for all your messages and kind words. They have meant more than I can ever say. 20669f13fc6898b6d0d38096098b2b20 In a not unrelated note I spent much of November and December working out like a mofo. So far with the help of the body coach and Jillian Michaels dvd’s I’ve lost just under two stone even with time off for good behaviour over Christmas. 10448234_773253149415290_3495426446452203943_n I’m back on the exercise wagon today and I want to die. 10647124_10155002811660080_7374141430422395895_n Looking back over 2014 has been really interesting. If the last couple of years have been full of questions, 2014 had the answer: turn towards, turn towards, turn towards. It felt like this year all the work I’ve been putting in on myself began paying off. I got unstuck. I believed that I was good enough. And instead of waiting for a knight in white and shining armour I saved myself (with a little help from a group of strangers, one or two friends and a bearded guru called Steve). IMG_3590 Despite myself I still get excited by the possibility that new years brings –the chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. But this new years, I looked over my life and felt content. So much of what I want I already have or am I working towards. There are certainly some dreams I wish would come to fruitation sooner rather than later. But although I hope the more I learn about infertility and life how much I realise this stuff is in the lap of the gods.

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But this year I am more accepting than ever of the parts of myself that are difficult or uncomfortable. I am OK, for now, with not being OK. 779b9611760d4a5373f401815320e858