Mother/Other/Me/ Her

The last time I will see two blue lines on a stick will be a week before my thirty fourth birthday. It will mark twenty years of avoiding getting pregnant with a celebration of finally achieving it.

It was not as easy as the school teachers had warned when we were sixteen, rolling condoms over bananas, while we hitched up our skirts and hid cigarettes and all sorts in blazer pockets. There were whispers of having to double up on condoms just in case or you risked it. Even better if you just made sure you were standing up the whole time or drank really hot tea or was it you had to take really hot baths? Google was in its infancy. We had the big sisters who warned us off, Just be careful as if any of us knew what meant.

Instead, it will take 18 months of peeing on sticks, and checking cervical mucous and taking my temperature, and perfunctory sex to no avail. So careful. And Nothing. My body freezes up. Too much pressure. Until it doesn’t, when I had stopped being so carefully organised. A pinch of chaos. Hey presto. New life, one brand spanking new and another completely transformed.

It will take me another six years to feel like my body is mine again, and that will only be in small pockets of time snatched back from the school run, and early cancelled meetings, and late nights post bedtime. But, when I does, it returns transformed.

I gained a ferocity I did not know I had when I became a mother. I would easily take a life for his. It’s a point of fact rather than a provocation. That surety of purpose has imbued the rest of my life with a sharp edge to it. The ache that comes with raising a child is there in every moment. For every celebration there is the grief of letting go. There is a darkness, that possibility of loss that knocks the wind out of me, every time my mind runs through every imaginable risk factor scenario.  To lose this is tantamount to living death. And yet we live with this possibility every day. It adds bite.

Mothers are predators. We are wary guardians. Fierce competitors. We feel the life force we have held and nursed from conception to birth and beyond, and it makes time tangible. I get dizzy thinking of the kick against my stomach, the wooshing feeling of my son turning over stretching into my ribs. Full as an egg. Rippling with life and possibility. The whiplash impact of then looking up, seemingly minutes later, to watch this miraculous boy read, and tell jokes and ride a bike.

His entry into the world, born ‘encaul’ – a sure sign he will never perish at sea –  the midwives tell me as they stitch me up where he ripped into the world,  and I laugh like a banshee high on gas and air and oxytocin and adrenalin. I have never seen so much blood, exacerbated by the birthing pool, like a scene straight out of Jaws my husband says. But I feel like the shark. Ancient, magnificent, teeth and blood and survival. The rush of hormones and endorphins is intoxicating, I feel high for days.

The sharp edge of it now lies beneath a veneer of every day chores and routine and ritual which is essential to keep our waterborn son afloat on land. His neurodiversity needs these anchors, and it’s our job to provide them. My ferocity is channelled into securing resources and funding and support, but with a quiet surety so as not to alarm the prey. I am incisive, well researched, clear and forensic. My teeth now metered out in emails to councils and teachers and childcare providers. To whom it may concern, Do Not Fuck With Me. All the Very Best.

The rage however once unleashed cannot settle. I can’t contain it, manage it. It has to find purchase somewhere. This residue wrath unleashed with motherhood, I have nowhere to put it.

But it was there before, in the years prior to parenthood, and then I could outrun my rage. I could lace up my trainers and hit the hills beat out the fury with every step, every mile, every race. Now in the quiet routine-filled days it paces and paces and paces, there is a growl in every syllable, snapping consonants. At my best I manage to channel it into my work and it finds its way transmuted into a full-blown work addiction that results in recognition and more responsibility and more hours at my desk. At my worst, I seethe through the washing cycle, grid my teeth so badly my dentist recommends a retainer. It wipes my memory clean of all the gratitude I have and sets me on edge for days. 

While I write up a schedule for my husband to follow while I am out of the house for a week I have such a visceral reaction that I have to go and splash cold water on my face and breathe, my head between my knees for a full minute. The expectation of sacrifice is both too much and everything. This transition to mother, at the expulsion of self. The grief of losing what you were, the fear of never regaining it back.

Who is your life for? A line in an email from a friend, a gut punch.

Confronting the riptide, seeing where I take myself. In all my reading the messages are clear. Anger is an invitation say the gurus, I just had no idea to what.

Not until I stopped grinding myself against the axel of the washing and the school run and the inbox and pulled some time back. Who is my life for? My rage, my fury, my anger was yelling at me to look after myself. Anger is a warning, a boundary alarm, an invitation, a pilot light. Stop messing around say the soothsayers, There are consequences to not using your gifts

I start to see the outlines of where it may be directing me through the conversations I have late at night, on text, with my maybe friend, maybe co-conspirator. Perhaps, they say, You should explore that idea

Which one, I wonder while typing back, the one where I am both? Good and Bad? Mother and other? His and hers? Right & Wrong? Here and There? I feel the tug of the riptide. Being taken up in that current. I am all of this and everything in between, and I realise then I have been trying to pick a side because I thought I had to. I thought I could pack up all of my darkness, demons, deviance in order to Be Good, and didn’t realise how much I had missed them. How much they offer me. What they bring, the creativity, the disruption, the opposition. The freedom. 

Creating space for them in the hum drum whirring of the daily routine is both essential and threatens to blow it all out of the water. Small acts of daily rebellion to appease my need for disruption, tipping up the routine to get my hit of chaos, allowing for a taste of the forbidden to keep me on the straight and narrow. When poison is the remedy. When the risk is the reward. Careful, I say to my son as he learns to climb a wall, clamber up a tree, over a fence, think about where you are putting your feet. I dig my hands deeper into my pockets and wonder if I am being careful enough, or too wary – never allowing myself the view from the top.

I can see everything from here! He shouts, triumphant, having lost a wellie, his jumper snagged on branches, the faint outline of a sharp scratch or two in his knees where his trousers are rolled up. I consider climbing up too, remembering the thrill of it, years before, the fear as the trees swayed, the rush of vertigo. But the branches are small, the day is long and I am tired and there are things to be done and calls to be made. I take a picture of him instead, wide eyed and wonderous. And we head home, pockets filled with sky.

The Bounce Back Myth

Credit Little Kin Photography

Two things happened this week that made me re-evaluate my new normal. The first was an article I read on goop (DO NOT JUDGE ME) about post-natal depletion. Which if you think sounds like some kind of horrible hormonal hangover you’d be almost right.

The second was a swimsuit I bought. But more on that later.

Back to post natal depletion-  a perfect shit storm of exhaustion; lack of societal, emotional, and physical support; poor nutrition, and limited self care.  Dr. Oscar Serrallach describes it as follows:

There is often a feeling of isolation, vulnerability, and of not feeling “good enough.” It is experienced by many mothers, and is an understandable and at times predictable outcome associated with the extremely demanding task of being a mother from the perspective of both childbearing and child raising.

 And here’s the kicker – it can be evident for up to TEN YEARS after the birth (or births) of your children.

If you’ve had a child within the last decade, you might still be suffering some consequences—lethargy, memory disturbances, and poor energy levels, among other symptoms’


Yet we’re sold this idea that with the right control underwear and touche eclat we can be ‘back to normal’ after just a few short months.

This message is everywhere. Its sold to us in the paltry paid maternity allowance many companies offer (disclaimer: I am one of the lucky few who was able to take a year, and I love my job, but I am often the exception and not the rule), the pressure to ‘get our bodies back’ evident in every glossy mag and instagram feed, and we are then expected to bolt on the additional, and epic responsibility of motherhood, without disrupting the work/life balance.

Its fed to us through parenting guides that convince us that we’re doing a terrible job – our babies somehow ‘misbehaving’ if they’re not falling in line and sleeping through by 8 weeks. If we’re breastfeeding we’re expected to wean our babies quickly and with little fuss. We bounce back to our pre-baby selves, no visible evidence of motherhood. By all means please have your baby, disappear for as short a time as possible and come back looking rested and restored. See? Procreation is easy ! You don’t need additional support from your government, employer, partner, community. Do you? No? Good.

To really hammer it home we’re sucked into another lie – the Super Mum (or The Woman Who Has it All plus a Sprog).  A construct that I think is more damaging than empowering. And yes women are marvellous. Being fantastic multitaskers, and doing it all on 3 hours sleep with one hand, makes us pretty Super sure,  but this does not mean we don’t want or need help. We need that village. Branding us as ‘Super’ implies we don’t need assistance, that it’s innate in our abilities as women (another problematic notion) and that we should be taking on more than the average person. We can take it. Well turns out, a good percentage of us are feeling the strain. DEPLETED even

Society’s view goes as far to suggest that the negative physical and emotional impact of bearing and birthing babies should not be seen, and definitely not heard. A factor hugely evident in the prevalence of post natal depression, there is a veil of silence around how hard parenting can be, whether its the hazy early days or negotiating with a tiny dictator overthrowing your household.

While the rise of the insta-mums is definitely counteracting this (Hurrah for Gin, Too Much Mothering Information, Don’t Buy Her Flowers, Not So Smug Now amongst my favourites) – social media is a double edged sword, and while it can be vital in connecting us, the temptation to compare and despair is all too easy to succumb to. Venture with caution, the feed is not reality and normal for you is chaos for someone else

So with all this rage swirling in my postnatally depleted brain, I went swimsuit shopping. Obviously.

I am now the proud owner of a full piece with a tummy control panel. FML

I had a small and pretty pathetic cry and then pulled myself together. Why had I been sucked into the crazy competitive bounce back faster, thinner, smarter bullshit? I don’t need to bounce back. Back to what? I am not the person I was this time last year, frankly I am not the person I was last month. Having a small person means I am on one of the steepest learning curves imaginable and I’ve assimilated more information in the past 28 days (albeit specifically about one small human) than I have over years.

There is no bouncing back. There is no going back at all. This is the new normal. It features tummy control panels, and extra sets of clothes in every bag, sticky orange puree stains (always orange), over caffeinated anxiety wobbles, ruthless efficiency and a new rock solid confidence to bolt onto the old. If I was feisty before now I am fierce.

As for back to normal? I am making peace with with a new brand of normal. Finding my own shade of it and guarding it ferociously. Many many people will tell me I’m getting it wrong along the way I’m sure, but if the past year has taught me anything its that none of us have a clue what we are doing at the best of times, and the best we can do is guess, have a go and cross our fingers. In our own time, and our own pace.

And with all the structured underwear we can get our hands on.

Credit Little Kin Photography


10 Lunar Months

So here I am. Week 39 of pregnancy. Probably my last post pre-motherhood, and possibly the only one I’ll write on my pregnancy, so it’s a long one!

I’ve avoided writing about my pregnancy for a number of reasons. The main was privacy and I wanted to get my head around how I was feeling about it before sharing that with the world. And now, coming to the end of my journey, I know there are so many blogs on pregnancy, and everyone who is or has a mother has an opinion, and adding to the cacophony of noise seemed redundant.

But there’s the paradox, for all the noise there does still seem to be an unwritten, or at least unofficial veil of silence, before you enter into the hallowed halls of motherhood.

Since embarking on this mad 40 week joy ride, I have encountered a plethora of fantastic blogs, written by women who tell it like it is. But these people were just not on my radar at all pre-project procreation. Its like a treasure trove you discover after the fact. Why?

I have quizzed a few friends on this, why the silence pre-pregnancy? Most said that women experience pregnancy and birth very differently from each other, and you don’t want to skew expectations. You risk giving the ‘wrong’ advice.

I get it. Some love being pregnant, others hated it. My small sample of 10+ includes, surprise pregnancies, IVF conceptions, duplicate pregnancies, home births (some unplanned!), severe pregnancy complications, miscarriages and more. So yes, its very hard to give advice or have a clear narrative about this life stage/ choice prior to the person getting that cross-hairs positive plus.

And then, my God, the chatter doesn’t stop.

Of course, it starts with Google. This is always a mistake. But when you’re newly pregnant its often the only resource you have seeing as you’re actively encouraged to keep schtum about your news. Yes actively. Email subjects from every baby site you have signed up to in a bid to cross check your symptoms against all the other paranoid, hormonal women online, have subject lines like ‘Shhhh, not yet! Only a few more weeks until you can share your precious little secret!‘ (and no, I’m not hamming up the patronising tone).

I felt like a bloated, irritable, hungover grotbag, and could take NO DRUGS. Lucky me! All the books, emails, and websites are draped in soft pastel shades, littered with twee ancedotes and cutesy pseudo-psych mantras. If you are none of these things you feel like you’ve wandered into a nightmare, curated by Cath Kidston on a really really bad trip.

And you are lucky. You know you are. You just don’t want to be bombarded with the wisdom of pastel blue owls.

So, how to navigate the chatter without falling foul of the Baby App Squad and their nauseating push notifications?

And herewith a massive disclaimer. This was my experience, and my first at that. I’ll probably revise this all if we go for round two.

Buckets of salt required for further reading

First Trimester

I found a few friends or family that I was comfortable confiding in, so if the worst happened, we’d have the support. I had the best advice from a GP friend who, while coaching me through a very bad bout of  proper flu where I was convinced I had  contracted TB, said this to me:

‘Look, your baby will not be affected by flu.  If the human foetus could not withstand viral infection we would not have survived as a species. But, if the pregnancy miscarries, repeat after me.. this is not my fault. Its not the flu. Its not the sushi you may have eaten, or the marathon you had started training for, or the box you lifted (or in my case the long haul trip to India I took). It happens, 1 out of 3 times,  it happens, and its usually as the embryo just isn’t viable. 99% of the time it’s NEVER the mother’s fault. So drink your lemon tea and go back to bed, that baby is going to zap your immune system for another week at least’.

Silence is isolating and, ultimately as exhilarating as it is to find out you’re pregnant (especially if it hasn’t happened overnight) its also fucking terrifying. Those first few weeks you probably feel like shit. It helps to speak to someone that isn’t your other half. Who, by the way, is also freaking out and in my case was having to deal with me slobbing around the house, falling asleep in my dinner and smelling vaguely of vomit and mints most of the time.

As tempting as it is, avoid avoid avoid the forums. People tend to post the very worst stories, and if you search hard enough you will confirm you worst fears. Not good for your sanity.

Honestly, I hated this bit. I felt bloated and exhausted – falling asleep on the tube most evenings and breathing carefully so as not to vom on fellow passengers. We took a trip to Hastings for our wedding anniversary and even now, 6 months later,  looking at the pics makes me feel nauseous. I spent most of the weekend shoving salt and vinegar crisps in my face and trying not to belch in R’s face. So romantic.

Second Trimester

The best bit by far. Our 12 wk scan was nerve racking and surreal. For me, it was the first outside confirmation besides my own biological cues that I really was pregnant. Sure, we had done the tests. and they take loads of blood, and I had all the symptoms. But there was a part of me that thought it could all be one huge mistake or coincidence. Maybe I just had really bad stomach flu. And the bloods got mixed up. But no, it’s real – because there he was. Looking like a tiny alien having a snooze. Madness.

Also, I got a bit of my life back. I could still just about fit back into my lycra (I had sworn off running as any movement faster than a crawl made me heave pre 12 wks) and glory be,  I could find some endorphins. I walked everywhere, went back to spin and took up a few ante-natal exercise classes. I could sleep, I had loads of energy and finally had a bump to show off rather than just looking as though I had eaten ALL OF THE PIES (which, to be fair, I had)

But the appearance of the bump also meant I became fair game. People will say stupid things. People who don’t even know you will feel they can comment on your size (too big, too small, too high, too low), how you look, and what you should and should not be doing with your body (are you sure spinning is a good idea? should you be lifting that pencil? oh I wouldn’t take the stairs if were you…). I ran for a bus and had an older woman shout at me, angrily pointing her umbrella at my stomach, which would have done more damage frankly!

Once I had posted something pregnancy related social media, I unwittingly opened the floodgates of unsolicited advice hell. People who I had not spoken to for 20+ years  began crawling out the woodwork, with their advice, thoughts and comments. Ranging from the stating-the-bleeding-obvious, i.e. ‘Your life is going to change! Say goodbye to sleep! Hope you’re ready to say adiós to your bikini forever!’

(I mean, WTF?)

To downright scaremongering,  i.e. ‘Birth the most hideous experience of your life, you’ve never seen so much blood, and then you never see your other half in the same light again’ or ‘Forget about travelling, that part of your life is pretty much done and done’

(I’m not kidding)

And yes. It’s well meaning at best. People want to help. Or be perceived as the bringers of wisdom and experience. But it’s patronising, infuriating and intrusive. I started clearing out my FB friends and put a few really bad offenders on limited profile.

Thankfully, I have a gang of women who have all been there done that who give me honest advice, when I ask for it. And very politely point out when I am being naive and may need to manage my expectations.

At worst, I felt as if my right to privacy had been stripped away. Like I was now a public piece of property that people felt they could touch (I nipped that in the bud), judge and objectify. It seemed everyone was suddenly allowed to have an opinion on me, my reproductive system and my plans on managing procreation. Many were surprised to learn that funnily enough, my uterus is my business. So back the fuck off.

Seek out like minded women. Learn to nod and smile. And pick your battles, but fight them hard

Third Trimester

One word  – eugh.

That first trimester tiredness boomeranged back and hit me smack in the face. Even the big tights start proving problematic, getting into them would leave me sweaty and out of breath. Sleep became a distant memory and I became incredibly grumpy as a result. We did all the classes (NCT and Hypnobirthing- would highly recommend both), read more books, wrote up birth plans, handed over work projects, saw all the movies. Final countdown stuff.

Here, I have to give major kudos to my husband, work colleagues and close friends who laughed at my rudeness and didn’t divorce me, report me to HR, or stop taking my calls. You are all bloody wonderful and I owe you.

Right now, my toes look like fat baby sausages, I can only wear XXL leggings and stretchy tops, and I have developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in my hands thanks to the late pregnancy swelling (its a ‘thing’ in pregnancy, like having a constantly blocked nose) and I can manage about 20 mins on my feet before I have to take a 2 hour nap. Such a special time!

But, we are on the final stretch, and right back to feeling exhilarated and terrified. Hospital bag is packed, baby clothes are washed and ready, the house is organised (thank you maternity leave boredom!) and now we wait.

If anything I’m hugely excited. To experience birth, to get to know myself as a mother and my other half as a father.

But mostly to meet our son, to get to know him, and have the incredibly daunting privilege of teaching him how to be a human. Thankfully it takes a village and I have a pretty awesome one at that.

Woooosaaaa kids. It’s been fun. See you on the ‘mother’side