Eight Months In: All Change

The last three months have been, for want of a better word, insane. In November, after weeks of searching for – and finding – a new (two bed – more room for baby) flat in Brussels, it was all-change on my husband’s job front and we had to abandon signing the new tenancy agreement at the eleventh hour and re-focus our attention on finding a new flat in London to move into the first week of January. With a seven month old baby this was not the easiest task, but somehow I managed a two day trip to London with a ridiculous amount of luggage and my son for a series of back to back flat viewings, half of which I had to cancel due to a 1.5 hour delay on the train (thanks for that Eurostar). And the good news is that despite the cancellations and the tight timeline we were hugely fortunate to find a place that ticked almost every box.

Upping sticks and leaving Belgium so suddenly has been difficult to adjust to. One minute we thought we would be there for at least another year, the next we were moving back to London, the city where I lived on and off for 10 years but in all honesty didn’t see myself returning to live in, especially with a baby. But here we are. And now the dust is starting to settle I am seeing the many positives to this move. For one, we are closer to our friends and family. For another, I have been able to switch from a distance learner to an on campus student to complete the remainder of my Master’s course, which has just re-started after a year’s hiatus. The move also forced my hand where returning to work was concerned. I knew I didn’t want to to return to my job, but had been feeling nervous about quitting with nothing else lined up. Now I have the freedom not only to re-start my studies but also pursue my dream of becoming a freelance coach. And we have managed to find a lovely nursery for our son to attend three days a week whilst I pursue my goals.

In short, everything is positive. And as much as I don’t want to put a ‘but’ in here, I have to be honest and admit the last few weeks have been really tough. Our son is wonderful and he lights up my life, but the nights are still not great and besides being chronically tired I am constantly battling the inherent mum guilt about his well-being (Is he eating properly? Is he stimulated enough? Am I doing any of this right?) Since we returned to London my anxiety has returned ten fold, for reasons I can’t fathom other than a combination of tiredness, hormonal changes and a latent reaction to the stress of the past few weeks. C starting nursery the week before last was also anxiety-inducing, and since he started he’s had back-to-back coughs and colds which is inevitable but has nonetheless been tough to deal with. As his mother and the one who is not technically working in a nine to five role, the responsibility for his welfare lies with me. If he’s sick, I’m up all night with him, and I have to pick him up early from nursery. If the nursery is closed for bad weather (which is on the way, apparently – wonderful), he has to stay at home with me. Suddenly, the three days I have earmarked for work and study disappear, and my stress and anxiety levels increase. On the two week days I am scheduled to have him with me I worry that I should do more with him. The one downside to our new home is that the nearest park (Hampstead Heath) is a half an hour walk away, and in the immediate vicinity the pollution levels are very high (another thing I worry about, especially given our son is showing signs of having a weak chest). Whereas in Brussels I would take him out every day in the local area, here I wonder if it’s good for him to be constantly exposed to all of the pollution. But if we don’t go out my mental health plummets and he gets bored.

I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. Not a day goes by when I don’t count my many blessings. But burying emotions isn’t healthy, and maternal mental health is an important issue that needs to be discussed. It’s been eight months since I had my son and at least three days a week I still feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train. I do think the sleep deprivation is a big part of that, especially after a recent meeting with friends whose babies sleep through the night. But it’s more than that. Having a baby is wonderful, but if you already had issues with self-esteem and anxiety before baby came along, the addition of tiredness, raging hormones and the overwhelming feeling of responsibility that comes with being a mother can really mess with your head. Nobody discusses it but they should, because I’m certain I’m not alone in feeling this way. Some days are good, others are really, really bad. Even now. Especially now. Because now is when I thought I’d feel completely normal again. And sometimes I feel anything but.

But. Today is a good day. It didn’t start well, admittedly (son crying non-stop from 5am), but now C is at nursery, I am at my computer with (hopefully) a good few hours of study ahead of me, I have (much-needed) coffee and the sun is shining through the window. It is in moments like this I remember to breathe in, breathe out, to cherish, to soak it all up; the good, the bad and the indifferent. This crazy life. My life. Is. Beautiful.

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Week 32: Amazon Warehouses and Hands-free Breast Pumps

Preparing for the birth of a baby feels a bit like preparing to jump off a really high ledge into choppy waters below. You’ve done your calculations and think you’ll be okay, but you know there’s a chance you’ll land on rocks or be sucked under by the current. Either way, you know you’re going to jump, so you may as well do it with the right attitude…

Our house is fast becoming an Amazon warehouse. My husband, bemused by the rapidly growing pile of (entirely alien) miscellaneous baby-related items by the front door, has become both adept at stepping around them and wise enough not to question their necessity. Quite frankly, I’ve no idea if we need it all or not, but at this stage that’s somewhat of a moot point. No matter how strong my willpower was in the early stages of pregnancy (“I shall only buy the absolute essentials”), it seems the third trimester urge to ‘nest’ is an impossibly persuasive force. Fortunately, thus far, I am still rational enough  of mind to avoid any really outlandish purchases (double ‘hands free’ breast pump bra anyone? Because nothing says ‘welcome home, honey’ like a lactating woman doubled over the sink furiously doing the washing up whilst a machine deposits her milk supply into plastic bottles attached to her breasts). But given how much I’ve been forgetting in the past few days (loath as I am to ever use the phrase ‘baby brain’, I have to admit something is afoot) it may only be a matter of time.

Having successfully completed a 15 hour pre-natal preparatory course, we now at least have a rudimentary understanding of the process of labour, which is nothing short of terrifying. As the day approaches I feel the panic rising up inside me. Whilst a natural, drug-free birth would obviously be the ideal scenario, my pain threshold is so low I’ll probably be screaming for an epidural before we’ve even reached the hospital. The stories in the pregnancy books of women who had ‘perfect’ natural births in the comfort of their own homes are all well and good, but forgive me if I prefer not to watch my husband giving himself a coronary trying to blow up the birthing pool as I writhe in agony on the floor, calling him every swear word under the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go as long as I can without pain relief. But the moment it becomes too much, get the gas and air on the go, hook up the TENS machine and fill that spinal syringe, because the role of stoic earth mother just isn’t me.

The thought of being solely responsible for a tiny, helpless human is even more frightening than childbirth. Even more so the idea this is for EVER. If we don’t immediately bond with the little rascal there’s no money back guarantee. We can’t return him. He’s ours. For life. It’s only now, as I stand on the precipice of parenthood, that I realise just what a big deal becoming a parent is, and have a genuine appreciation of all my parents went through to get me to where I am today.

But as big a responsibility as it undoubtedly is, it’s also an honour. When you’ve suffered miscarriage, as I have, you have a deep sense of the fragility of life, and perhaps an even greater sense of wonderment as a life successfully grows inside you. As hard as the next few months and years are bound to be (there are not words sufficient to articulate how much I will miss Sleep), I will try not to forget how much we wanted this baby, how lucky we are to have him and how much joy he had already brought us before he even entered the world. The countdown to meeting our baby boy is on, and we are ready for the challenge… ❤

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Perfect Moments

In this recent post by Shakeclouds it was posited that the very notion of perfection can be damaging, especially when relating to the achievement of goals, because perfection itself it is such an elusive creature. And whilst I agree with that sentiment entirely, today I discovered that, every now and then in life, there ARE moments of pure and unadulterated perfection, it’s just that often we are so caught up in the whirlwind of our own existence and myriad pressures to perform at the optimum level that we fail to spot them.

What was this moment of pure joy and perfection? In actual fact it was the simplest moment of all. After taking the afternoon off work to pick up my Belgian ID card from the town hall, I came home early, set myself up at the breakfast bar with my laptop and selected the coffee house playlist on Spotify. Then, all of a sudden, the clouds outside parted and the whole apartment was flooded with sunlight.

It was, in that moment, so arrestingly beautiful that I just sat, focusing only on the lovely music and the beams of light coming into my living room, and I felt overwhelmingly grateful-not only for the music, the apartment or the sunshine, but for everyone and everything in my life. Having recently got engaged it isn’t hard for me to appreciate the positives at this point in time, but this was such a wonderful instance of stillness and appreciation that I felt moved to share in this blog; a rare moment of genuine mindfulness, a true oasis of calm. Such moments are not only perfect, they are as precious as the diamond I am lucky enough to now have on my finger. And I have a sneaking suspicion they don’t just hold the key to this crazy thing called life; they are its very essence.

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Being Present

I’ve just walked home from work. I did the same on Tuesday, but that time I was plugged into my music, walking in time to the beat in my ears but oblivious to the beat of the world around me. Tonight was different. It was a conscious decision to take in my surroundings, to be fully present in this balmy late September evening in the city I’ve called home for the past eleven years but am soon to leave behind for pastures new. I wanted to absorb its every detail, soak it up like a sponge, so that when I’m no longer here I can conjure it any time I like, simply by closing my eyes and remembering:

The Friday evening chatter as the bars by Borough Market began to fill with thirsty punters, relieved to see the end of the week; intricate brickwork in the arches leading down to the riverfront; tourists in droves slowly ambling with cameras and ice creams, no urgency or sense of purpose; runners dodging walkers like bullets; a man with unkempt hair, a typewriter and a sign saying ‘stories while you wait’ (what’s his story, I wonder); an Aussie in breeches calling ‘roll up, roll up to the cabaret freak show’ on the south bank by Waterloo; photographers waiting for the perfect shot as the sun slid down behind the Houses of Parliament, painting the sky in pinks and oranges like a famous work of art as the water lapped peacefully beneath, its surface soft as velvet; buskers with a range of instruments and abilities, one man in particular by the London Eye whose eye I caught as I walked past and whose voice was heaven wrapped in caramel with sprinkles on top; couples strolling hand in hand with smiles as wide as the mighty Thames along whose banks they walked; a discarded jumper that spoke of being forgotten, or perhaps cast off in a moment of passion or overheating; plants in pots outside offices, wilting and browning in the unseasonal heat; drunks gathered on steps with cans of lager, their pastime more acceptable somehow in the context of a Friday night when all around them office workers did the same; a bouncer underneath the bridge in Vauxhall, trying to entice me into his bar for happy hour; a leaf almost but not quite out of my reach as I jumped to touch it; a Portuguese café called The Three Lions where families spilled onto the street; children arriving home from school clutching violin cases and empty bags of fried chicken.

These are the myriad people and things that make up this special city, bringing her to life in all her kaleidoscopic glory. These are the things I will miss; the things I leave behind.

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Making Peace

Yesterday, after two days of proofreading a document created by a colleague, I sent my comments back in an email. I was tired and feeling overworked, and didn’t stop to think how the email would make that person feel – I was just glad to have ticked another task off my long to do list. Today when they responded saying my comments had upset them my initial (tired and overworked) response was to roll my eyes and feel anger bubbling up inside me. But then I stopped, went for a walk outside, took several deep breaths and thought hard about the situation. My email wasn’t rude, per se, but with hindsight it was tactless. The document I’d been critiquing was this person’s baby, so inevitably my seemingly brusque comments were misconstrued as me thinking the entire document was rubbish, which is far from the case.

The incident made me appreciate just how easy it is for small issues in the workplace to turn into much larger ones, simply by virtue of people’s lack of empathy towards one another due to their own personal issues. And, on a much bigger scale than that, how it’s exactly this lack of empathy towards others that leads to hatred – and wars. This issue is particularly pertinent today as the US launches air strikes against IS militants in Iraq, who are currently attempting to murder the Yazidis and Christian minorities whom they have displaced from their homes, in what seems to be verging ever more closely on an act of genocide. What makes these militants – and, for that matter, the Israeli and Hamas fighters in Gaza – think they are better than those they seek to wipe out? Don’t they realise at our core we are all the same: Human beings who are trying to make our way in a conflict-ridden world?

I will never forget the stories I read as a child about the soldiers in the front line during the First World War, who downed their weapons on Christmas Day and came out of the trenches to play games with the opposition; English and German soldiers united in one moment of peace, when just twenty four hours later they would be tearing one another apart.

It makes me sad to think of all the hate in the world, and days like today remind me that I’m not immune to creating animosity myself, even when I don’t mean to. Our moods are not always easy to control, but if we all put a bit more effort into thinking how they affect other people, and appreciating that those people are working through issues of their own, I really think there would be more peace in the world.

Happy Friday everyone – be nice to each other.

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The Moon / Reasons to be thankful

I’ve just spent ages staring out of the window at the full moon. I find it utterly mesmerising – magical, even – that from all the way down here it’s possible to see the light and shadows of its surface. It makes me feel so small, but in a good way – like there is so much more to this universe than my tiny mind is capable of fathoming, but that somehow that’s okay, because in accepting that I also accept there is so much more possibility, so much more breadth of experience; so much more life to behold.

Today has been a GOOD day, for the following reasons:

1. I finally had my physiotherapy consultation at the Crystal Palace sports injury clinic and have been referred for a course of NHS physio treatment in Clapham, starting Wednesday. The recovery starts here…

2. I edited one 750 word story, wrote a new 1,600 word story and submitted both to competitions whose deadlines were today.

3. I received an email from the editor of my favourite magazine saying they would consider my recent pitch (but warning me they’ve received a lot of similar subject matter of late – which is totally fair enough and will only serve to make me more inventive in the future :))

4. The sun was shining brightly and warmly all day long – it’s finally starting to feel like summer is just around the corner and I LIKE it!

5. I spoke to two extremely special people in my life, who made me feel amazing and who I love beyond words.

6. I managed to cook a delightful supper (albeit from a recipe, but shhhh, don’t burst my bubble) of aubergine stuffed with chorizo, tomato, spinach and ricotta. NOM.

7. It’s a full moon – and as I said above, I just love a full moon (maybe I was a werewolf in a previous life).

Just wanted to share the above really. Because it’s all too easy to forget to stop and look around once in a while at all the wonderful things and people that we’re blessed with in our lives – and to appreciate each and every one of them for the richness that they bring.

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Diversity in Action

This morning I ran from Stockwell to Hyde Park and back (via Battersea Park) – an 11.3 mile route that saw me take in leafy open spaces, vast expanses of water (in both river and lake form) and the crowded shopping streets around Sloane Square and Knightsbridge. The sun was shining and the air was crisp; perfect conditions for a long morning run.

As I ran I made an effort to observe my surroundings, noting a dead fox by the roadside with a trickle of blood escaping from its mouth (poor little fellow), a cluster of canoes making their way determinedly along the river at Battersea, a dog that was exactly half white and half black and a group of ponies being ridden around Hyde Park.

I was particularly struck by the diversity of the other runners I encountered along my way – they were all shapes and sizes, from the larger lady running with her husband and children to the lanky boy with the bobbing head, the older gentleman with the grey hoodie and the numerous more professional looking runners in their state of the art gear.

Today more than ever before I felt part of a wider running community, and had a sense of kinship with my fellow runners that I hadn’t hitherto experienced except in races. The most wonderful thing was that it didn’t matter what size, shape, colour or creed they were, or how fast or slow they were running; people smiled at one another as they passed and gave each other right of way.

Put simply, there was a lot of goodwill on the running circuit in London today. Whether because it’s Christmas time I don’t know, but it was a pleasure to behold and be a part of, and it reinforced – for me at least – the joy that running can bring, and how wonderfully inclusive it can be.

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