One time, I left a mum and baby class without staying to feed my son even though I knew he was about due one.
He woke up when we left, as he normally does if he hasn’t taken a feed in a few hours. I hurriedly said my goodbyes and made haste for the door. We trundled through the park to the post office, that I had to get to before 5. It was half 4. I could see him gurning, prayed that it wouldn’t escalate before we got home. Of course it did though. He started screaming right at that point where I was closer to my destination than to home.
“Aw, someone’s hungry”, commented the woman who served me in the post office, as he spat out his dummy and screamed.
The woman who held the door for me gave me a sympathising glance as I hustled him into the cold, hoping that might calm him down. But no. He continued screaming.
He screamed as I pushed the pram in the wrong direction and had to stand in the street with my phone out trying to figure out how to get home. He kept screaming as I hit upon the brainwave of feeding him in the safe, neon foyer of the New Victoria Hospital, a safe space, where I’d attended my midwife appointments and antenatal classes. I knew I could sit and feed him comfortably and without judgement. It was one of those piercing, sore-sounding, slightly pathetic screams that only newborn babies have. People tutted, gave us the side eye, dodged the pram to get by us without making eye contact. We made it to the hospital, he had his feed and we could make our way home.
The reason I didn’t want to feed him in the mum and baby class left me feeling ashamed. I didn’t want to feed him because he takes a bottle, the mum and baby class was a breastfeeding workshop and I was embarrassed. Lucas slept all the way through it while I tried to explain how hard and frustrating and tiring feeding had been. The other mums nodded and said yes, they were exhausted too, their precious darlings breastfed too much. One mum dominated the conversation humble-bragging about how tiring it was feeding a newborn and a twenty month old at once. I had to stop myself from telling her it clearly hadn’t had any positive effects on her twenty month old’s behaviour, as the little shit wrenched a succession of toys from the hands of an eight month old baby.
Some mums were nice, but they still had their own judgements. I said that our midwife had advised me to give Lucas pre-mixed formula as a top up. They tutted, turned up their noses, they shouldn’t be telling you that. They overlooked the fact that we’d been told this because Lucas had lost 13% of his body weight and had to be readmitted to hospital. It didn’t take into account his as-then-undetected tongue tie which meant he couldn’t latch on to breastfeed and was pretty much starving. This group felt like a last lifeline, though. All of the mum and baby workshops, baby cafés and support groups were for breastfeeding. There was no bottle-feeding support. If I couldn’t breastfeed him, where was I going to go? How would I meet other mums?
It turns out there are plenty of other options- it just didn’t feel like it at the time.
My post about Lucas’s first month, and a post on Instagram, detailed our experience with feeding and the tongue tie clinic and I got a lot of feedback from mums who’d been through similar. I still couldn’t find a lot of support for bottle feeding, though. Even buying formula online had a “breastfeeding is best!!!!” disclaimer slapped on it. Sure, the NHS website had a step-by-step guide to covering the basics, but the support is notable by its absence. The difference in menu options says a lot…
There’s bottle-feeding information, yeah, but look how- pardon the pun- formulaic it is. How to sterilise bottles, how to make up formula, what types are available. On the topic of breastfeeding, there’s a wealth of information about how to feed, what positions are best, feeding your baby in public, trouble-shooting, even testimonies from other mums. There are no testimonies from bottle-feeding mums.
I know, I know. I’ve seen the posters, read the literature, spoken with health professionals. I know “breast is best”. Bottle-feeding was never my first choice. For one thing, well, the health benefits. For another, the convenience. Like I could take my baby out for hours and not have to worry about making up feeds because they were right there. And yeah, the crucial factor for me, it’s free. Formula is EXPENSIVE and you only go through more of it because, let’s face it, your baby’s only going to get bigger.
What message does it send, though, that bottle-feeding is treated like such an afterthought even by our health service? I don’t mean this to descend into a breast vs. bottle debate, and it shouldn’t be. However, the drop in mums who breastfeed goes from 81% in hospital to 55% after six weeks. Surely they can’t all be ‘just lazy’? A study on baby café services in the UK concluded that unrealistic expectations from antenatal services left mums unprepared for the reality of feeding.
In my experience this was absolutely true. I wanted to breastfeed, so I never felt pushed into it by antenatal services. However, at no point did they say just how hard it’d be. I seem to remember there being talk of it being a new skill that you had to learn, but it revolved around the first couple of days in hospital. Lucas’s first feed, in the hour after he was born, went without a hitch. I mistakenly thought that was it. It was a different story at home. He couldn’t feed or get the energy to feed and so he cried. The more he cried, I cried, and the whole process just felt torturous.
We took him to the tongue tie clinic at the Royal Hospital for Children, in the hopes that it’d help him latch on. It didn’t, and we went back to the same routine. In between this he was happily taking formula. He was steadily putting on weight and the health visitor commented on how alert he was. I tried to express but got less and less each time. It came to a head when he screamed even before he tried to latch on. “What the fuck DO YOU WANT?” I yelled. Then it hit me. I was shouting at a baby for something that he couldn’t help or understand. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
This post by the brilliant Not So Smug Now was really eye-opening. I didn’t know that it was illegal to advertise formula. The government, it seems, views formula in the same regard as tobacco. The World Health Organisation isn’t too keen on it either, believing that its use should only be considered following an informed and impartial decision.
It’s a good thing that breastfeeding is being encouraged, as is the push to normalise it in public. Studies have shown that a woman’s decision to feed can be based on environmental factors, and that young mums are more likely to bottle-feed as it’s deemed as socially acceptable (although a big part of me thinks this is due to a confidence issue as much as societal). Expectant mums should absolutely encouraged to breastfeed, or at least be made aware of its benefits. However, if mums do choose (or have) to bottle feed, similar information and support should be offered.
MP Alison Thewliss published a bill last week on the marketing of formula feeding. She’s done a lot of work in promoting breastfeeding, and I agree with many of the points, but I do have some concerns. I definitely think it should be tested independently under scrutiny, and companies should be held accountable for misleading promotion. Independent findings should also take precedence over formula-sponsored ‘research’. It’ll allow mums to make a more informed decision regarding feeding choices, which can only be a good thing. I think follow-on and ‘hungry baby’ milks are a complete con, and shouldn’t be marketed as a supplement to weaning (we bought Lucas ‘hungry baby’ milk only to be told that it’s not more dense in nutrients. It just bulks up more).
Plain packaging feels like an easy target, like formula should be something that’s hidden away out of sight- much like tobacco products. Same goes for not allowing it to be discussed in mum and baby clubs. Excluding support for mums because of their feeding choices isn’t going to help them feel included and supported. I doubt that’s the intent, but who knows. You can read the bill here and make up your own mind. These measures aren’t going to increase breastfeeding awareness. That can only happen through education, continued research into feeding choices and better access to feeding consultants and postnatal care.
What I do know is that we need to refocus our own scrutiny. 50% of new mums in England and Wales feel that their mental and emotional wellbeing was overlooked due to a lack of access to midwifery care. In 2016, Citizens’ Advice reported a 58% increase in expectant mums raising concerns over employee rights. There is still a gulf between maternity pay and maternity allowance that can cause anguish for mums on zero hour contracts or who are self-employed.
Instead of shaming mums for their feeding choices, let’s direct that energy elsewhere. It’s a crazy notion, but let’s support them instead. Being a new mum can be an extremely lonely, vulnerable and emotional time. Lucas was referred to the tongue tie clinic a second time, but they said there wasn’t really much to be done. “If the bottle works for you, keep doing that- just enjoy him”. That’s exactly what we’ve done. As long as a baby is fed, clothed and loved, it’s no one else’s business what teat it prefers.
The NCT’s advice on bottle feeding includes how to prepare feeds and deal with common feeding problems.
The fantastically funny (and honest) ladies over at Frank About Feeding talk about all things breast and bottle- no prejudice here.
Fearless Formula Feeder, aka author Suzanne Barston, offers a refreshing look at formula feeding, with enough support and information to help you make an informed decision.
You can keep up with official developments from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding.
NHS Scotland has a with lots of resources.
There was a point during January when I couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t January. December was so chaotic- what with Lucas’s arrival, frantic Christmas shopping, family and friend visits and pretty huge lifestyle adjustments, the festive season and first month flew by. Last month, though? Not so much. It’s a pretty universal thing. Christmas is so merry and bright and celebrates indulgence, whereas January is drab and cold, everyone’s skint and those over-indulgences give way to shame and calorific austerity.
All things considered, it’s a bit of a relief when February rolls around. At a mere 28 days, it’s a neat gateway that slides us nicely into March in time for spring. However, with its convenience, it brings a new set of challenges. I can count at least ten birthdays, all family and close friends too so I can’t even patch them. As well as this, let’s not forget the neon red heart in the room: that most beloved/detested of questionable holidays, Valentine’s day.
Valentine’s Day brings certain expectations. If you’re loved up, you’re expected to buy into the cards and flowers consumerism of it all. Single? You’re expected to either partner up ASAP or stay out of sight at home so as to not ruin the day for smug couple-types. Into casual dating? Better super-like that Mr/s Right Now ASAP and hunker down until it passes. Whatever your relationship status, there’s always the failsafe option of watching a movie, right? Rather than the usual well-trodden rom-com path, why not think outside the (chocolate) box a little? I’ve put together a wee list of some of my favourite alternative romantic movies, guaranteed* to land you that elusive second date.
*not a guarantee.
If you’ve ever been on a first date that went well, then fizzled out, you might just want to watch this before you send that follow-up text. Takashi Miike’s slow burning, visceral Audition makes single sofa Saturdays seem a lot more appealing. Following the death of his beloved wife, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is encouraged to start dating again. Unfortunately it’s before internet dating is really socially accepted, so he has to get creative in his quest for love. He posts an advert for a fake film audition, which is either the creepiest or sweetest approach I’ve ever heard. For now we’ll go with sweetest… When fragile, engrossing Asami (Eihi Shiina) turns up, he’s instantly smitten. The two go for a lovely, romantic dinner, and it seems like they’ve hit it off. So, is it happily ever after? Well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be worth watching if it was, would it? For two thirds of this film’s running time it’s a deftly handled romantic comedy with a pretty neat twist on the . The final act smashes into you without warning, and descends so quickly into madness that it’s hard to take in upon first viewing. You might want to consider screening your online matches that little bit more carefully after this.
May is an oddity that I only discovered in the last year. It’s actually quite a sweet film, albeit one which made me terribly uneasy, and on the verge of seriously cringing for most of its duration. Our titular heroine (Angela Bettis) is a teeny bit of an oddity: lonely and ostracised as a child, she seeks companionship from anyone who shows her kindness. She doesn’t really differentiate between genders, she just wants a pal. And woe betide anyone who gets in her way. Her clumsy attempts at forming relationships go from bad to wrose, from dreamy mechanic Adam (Jeremy Sisto) to domineering Polly (Anna Faris). May is a genuinely touching film, but our unreliable narrator (I love a good unreliable narrator) ensures that we’re strung along from one tense situation to another. Thankfully, there are no schlocky scares to underline this: just a growing sense of tension as May becomes increasingly unraveled. It’s also a macabre, modern take on the Frankenstein’s monster story: in her desperation May makes a friend, a doll she calls Amy and creates from a patchwork of… well, you’ll just have to see. All in all, this is a really sweet, criminally underseen little gem and an assured debut from director Lucky McKee.
Ever felt yourself pining for the one who got away? That one that seemed to end before it ran its natural course? Or, at the very least, have you ever played that sleepover game where you do the ritual to see your future spouse’s face in the mirror? If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’, you’ll find a lot of resonance in Candyman. Based on the Clive Barker short story The Forbidden, it’s about student Helen (Virginia Madsen) who stumbles across the Candyman story while researching urban legends for her thesis. She becomes slightly obsessed, chasing down the legend’s origins and, umm, accidentally summoning him into existence. Whoops. Candyman is a great example of a slasher without pandering to genre convention. It respects its source material, but Tony Todd’s embodiment of the title role is unlike anything you could’ve imagined while reading. Even if the whole ‘mouth full of bees’ thing is enough to give you the dry heave.
Wild At Heart (1990)
OK, so this is probably the least ‘horror’ leaning film on the list. However, it does feature witches, occult symbology, sinister hitmen, bad omens and one of cinema’s most chilling psychopaths. It’s also one of my all-time favourites, so it’s staying. In the midst of all that, though, is a good ol’ fashioned ‘lovers on the run’ story. What’s more romantic than packing your bags and going on a spontaneous road trip? Well, not a lot- even when you’re on the run from hired goons that your mum’s hired to kill your boyfriend. Wild At Heart is an oddly accessible curio from the master of weird, David Lynch. It’s a gloriously grotesque postcard from the heartland of America, loosely following the yellow brick road of The Wizard Of Oz. Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) drive across the country encountering a host of oddballs and assassins, the perils they face along the way only bringing them closer together. Equal parts black comedy, violence and pastiche, it also features an unforgettable performance from Willem Defoe as the loathsome, sleazy Bobby Peru (like the country). One of Lynch’s most linear works, it’s disturbing, deranged and deeply sexy.
Cherry Falls (2000)
I deliberated on this one: there are better examples of horror/romance, but this won out as it recalls awkward high school memories, subverts the usual slasher movie convention of the Last Virgin Standing, is gleefully silly and, most importantly, features a supporting role from Michael Biehn. And, in my opinion, not enough films do. This film is entirely ridiculous but I enjoyed its attempts at turning the old cliché on its head. I know it’s never going to remembered as a classic of its genre but it’s an interesting enough little twist. In any case I’m a sucker for a good slasher film, often the sillier the better. It’s also notable for a starring role from the dearly departed Brittany Murphy, still managing to seem bonkers as a virginal model student and daughter of the local sheriff. Bless ‘er.
Other notable near-inclusions: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Fly (1986), Interview with The Vampire (1994), Haut Tension (2003), Let the Right One In (2008).
After a bumpy start, Ally and I have managed to look after our li’l bean- or Lucas James, officially- for a whole month. It’s not been easy but he’s on the right track. He’s putting on weight and growing into his newborn clothes (after spending the first couple of weeks in tiny baby size). He’s feeding, he responds well to lights and sounds, he sleeps in a little cot next to me snuggled in a blanket and cries on cue for feeds and changes. To all intents and purposes, he’s happy and developing. Getting to this point though, has not been so straightforward.
After a fairly straightforward labour our three days in hospital felt like a blur. On our second day we were told that we were getting kept in another night, and I was actually relieved. At 6lb 5oz and ten days early, he was a little on the scrappy side. I didn’t feel ready for us to be out on our own yet and wanted to know we were doing OK. Most new mums- from what I’d read, anyway- talked about how they couldn’t wait to get their babies home. Right from the off, I felt weird because I didn’t want to. Well, I didn’t want to take him back to our flat. A draughty, cold, one bedroom, rented tenement which hadn’t had a proper clean in time for his arrival? Not exactly a dream family home. The hospital was safe and clean. We had advice on demand. Still, it all had to come to an end. Ally couldn’t stay overnight in hospital with us which he hated. It wasn’t fair, and I knew we had to go our own way eventually. We were discharged on the Sunday afternoon, although we had a couple of hours to get ready. I looked out of the window, watching the endless stream of buses and cars. Their lives were going on as normal and they had no idea how ours had changed. It was grey, cold, dirty with rain and traffic. I didn’t want to take my baby out in that, but we had to start our new family life.
Thankfully my mum, a former mental health nurse, had warned me about the baby blues. Knowing they were on their way didn’t help when they actually kicked in, though. Childbirth is a raging hormone-fest and obviously this has a direct effect on your mood and emotions. Around two to four days after giving birth the baby blues kick in. It’s a combination of exhaustion, low mood and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Some mums also find childbirth to be an anti-climax after pregnancy and labour. This is ALL normal and DOES NOT mean you don’t love your baby. I staved off the blues in hospital floating along in a new baby bubble, and just got through the getting home part. We stopped off to pick up Lucas’s pram en route and it really upset me that people weren’t stopping to coo over him. The fact that I barely glanced twice at a baby before pregnancy didn’t occur to me. That first night saw a whirlwind of family visits. We ordered Chinese, drank tea, played records and opened presents. We were listening to Rumours when Songbird came on. Ally was seeing family out and it was just me, my baby and Fleetwood Mac. I’d heard the song countless times but this time, it just hit me. Out of nowhere, the blues had crept up on me and the tears came on heavy.
No one really tells you how it really feels to be released into the wild with a baby. I mean, I knew having a baby was hard but I didn’t really know. I knew it was hard in the same way that I know that being a doctor or riding a horse is hard. I was fully unprepared for the exhaustion, the frustration, the general feeling of being so utterly overwhelmed. On our first full day home we decided to take Lucas a short walk in the pram. As well as giving birth, there had been a few other stressful things to deal with so I thought the fresh air would do us good. We accidentally ended up out for two hours, which was further than I’d been in months. We got to a post office after trekking forever and I was getting sore. When we got there, it was bright, noisy, the queue was huge and there were annoying kids diving about everywhere. I walked straight back out and burst into tears. I just about made it home before almost fainting coming out of the shower and having to phone the triage nurse. My skin was cracked and dry, I hadn’t slept in four nights, my milk had come in but my baby wasn’t feeding. He was so small, his little ribs poked out and he spent the whole night screaming. I can’t even remember what I thought or felt because I was thinking and feeling so much. Barely three days in and I already felt like we were falling behind.
It was the second morning after discharge that I took this picture. I’d tried to take a picture of the two of us at home and that was the result. I knew I was tired, hadn’t been eating properly, hadn’t been drinking enough water, was getting stressed. I hadn’t realised how much it showed in my face. It’s probably the worst picture that’s ever been taken of me. There’s no filter, no editing. It pretty much summed up how lost I was feeling. I was supposed to be responsible for feeding my baby and he all he did was scream because I couldn’t. After two days at home, the midwife recommended that Lucas go back in to the special care baby unit due to his weight loss. Most newborns lose around 5-10% of their body weight after birth, but he had dropped 13%. I almost felt relieved. Maybe it’s something to do with him, I thought. Maybe I’m not a bad mum after all. At the very least, they could tell us what to do. Immediately I felt a little confidence returning- if we were staying in they could keep an eye on him, help us, make sure we knew what we were doing. After six hours they told us he was a little jaundiced and was losing weight because he didn’t have the energy to feed- but couldn’t feed to get energy. I was over the moon that there was nothing seriously wrong with him, but felt like the cause was my fault. Once again I was sent home, although the loan of a breast pump meant I could at least monitor his feeds. Our midwife also visited every day for the first week, which was a huge help. She made sure he was seen to as soon as she thought there was an issue. I’ve seen some mums have a hard time with their midwife- if so, you have every right to ask for a change. It’s a huge life event and you need all the support you can get. A stranger coming into your home shouldn’t add to the stress!
Lucas was born two weeks before Christmas. Usually a newborn baby means an influx of visitors and over the festive period, this was even more intense than it would’ve been. It’s a good complaint, I suppose. It would’ve sucked even worse if no one had bothered with him. However, I did find it hard to keep up and often found myself wishing we could have more than a couple of hours or so with our wee bundle. I didn’t want to pass him around and have everyone hovering and fussing. I found it hard to let go. People laughed when I begrudgingly handed him over, knowing full well it was new mum overprotection. I knew I was being oversensitive but it made me uncomfortable. In hindsight, I wish I’d had the confidence to say that I wanted some time to myself. I spent a lot of our alone time crying because everything felt so daunting. It felt like a chore that I was struggling to keep up with but felt awful because people were only trying to be nice. I cried with guilt because I didn’t have time to reply to all the messages and comments on social media. All I could think was how ungrateful I felt for not sending messages or wanting other people to see him.
Five weeks on and I still don’t feel like I have it together. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to us. I know I shouldn’t care as long as he’s being fed, but keeping going feels important to me. On the advice of my midwife we went to a breastfeeding workshop at Merry Go Round, where the consultant detected a tongue tie. It meant he had trouble fully opening his mouth and therefore couldn’t latch on. It’s actually really common and is easy to correct. My health visitor referred him to the Royal Children’s Hospital to get it treated (basically, snipped), so I’m hoping this will be what we need to get ahead. At times I feel like I’m being selfish ploughing on with breastfeeding. He clearly finds it stressful and when he can’t latch on starts screaming. In saying that, the expressed milk is better for him so… we’ll see how we get on, I guess. If you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding habits- or lack thereof- tell someone. You’re not a bad mum if you struggle, although it’s easy to feel down if you can’t. The help is there for you. It’s hard to admit- I’m terrible at asking for help- but there’s no such thing as a stupid question when your baby’s health is concerned. After all, it’s better to ask and have nothing be wrong than say nothing and worry.
It’s hard, but if this last month has taught me anything it’s to treasure the smallest moments. I know in the first month or so, everything feels like a battle. All the plans I made for being a mum went out the window. I thought I’d have time to clean out my flat and make a little space for my baby. I thought, after the first feed, that breastfeeding would be easy and we could get out and about knowing he was getting everything he needed, whenever he needed. I pictured myself reading to him, playing music, using naptime to keep up with housework. It’s not that easy- but we’ll get there. I had no idea how to read a baby’s cues. Sometimes you get frustrated when they won’t stop crying. It’s also normal if your partner doesn’t feel the same way as you. Ally seemed to take to parenting a lot more naturally than I did, and it wasn’t fair. I was the one who’d carried him and it took a while to realise that he wasn’t doing it to spite me. I still had to find my own knack, and we’re still figuring out a routine. Lucas is only five weeks old. I’m always going to worry about money (or lack thereof, urgh), or his health, or like I’m not doing something right. At the same time he’s already changed so month in a few short weeks. Learning to cut us both a break is important for us. After all, he’s not going to be a newborn very long. Rather than worry about doing things wrong, it’s time to remember that we’re doing the best we can. We’re all new at this. And I think we might be getting on OK, for now.
Thank you to all the staff at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital and Special Care Baby Unit in Glasgow, as well as the community midwives who looked after us at home. We would’ve been lost without you.
Bounty have articles and advice for every stage of pregnancy and beyond, including the baby blues.
National Breastfeeding Helpline are open every day of the year on 0300 100 0212 (09:30-21:30) as well as online.
NCT run loads of free classes and support groups for expectant and new parents, including help with feeding. Lucas and I like our local baby café!
NHS Choices, ‘Postnatal Depression’
Mind, the mental health charity, have plenty of information on postnatal depression.
Happy new year, everyone! The collective mess of 2016 has finally drawn to a close. Never has a year carried such a weight of anticipation as 2017. I know you can’t really blame a year for being ‘bad’. The loss of celebrity idols doesn’t equate to a ‘bad’ year (although Bowie and Alan Rickman within days was a bit sore). If we’re being really pernickety, time is linear and the concept of it is a man made construct, so we can’t constrict bad times to a 12 month period.
Still it’s always nice to put a full stop on a stressful time, which is what 2016 was for me- and a lot of friends, too.
It wasn’t all bad though. One of the good things about reflecting on the past year is remembering how much good actually happened. Upon reflection there was a lot to be thankful for. Even before I started blogging again I liked to have a wee look back on the year that was- it’s something I’ve always done at this time of year. Now that I have a blog again it’s nice to have a snapshot of different times of the year. I can see how my writing has developed (if at all- you tell me). It shows me how far I’ve come in a lot of aspects of my life. In this year of big change that’s been especially welcome. As is tradition I’ve compiled a wee list of some of my favourite posts of this year: ones that are special to me, that I’m especially proud of or ones that have had memorable responses. Let me know what you think of my choices… I haven’t even been blogging again for a year so I guess I’m still learning!
FYI, clicking on the post titles will take you straight to them.
This was my first post of the year, although it took me until February. I’d meant to write a travel post after our first Berlin trip in November 2015 but graduation, work and Christmas sort of got in the way. Three days in Oslo seemed like the perfect way to break myself back in to writing, and try something new with travel writing. It also meant I could show off the sweet skills of my new phone camera (alas, we can’t all afford the tools we’d like) and new found love for VSCO. Writing about something new helped to refocus me. It enlivened a love for writing that had lain dormant. I also wrote that Berlin blog after our second trip, which you can find here and here.
Despite being an early entrant, this was one of my favourite posts of the year. It wasn’t written with any agenda or expectation. I was completely free in writing it. It was just a nice way of documenting a spontaneous adventure, something different after a hectic 2015 and the start of (what I thought) would be a year of adventures. If there’s anything to take from this post, it’s that I should learn to just write for the enjoyment of doing it. It’s easy to write yourself into a rut but getting out of it can be tricky. It’s definitely something I’ll be taking with me in 2017.
In all honesty I got a little complacent after graduation. The job market started to pick up after new year but- other than just apply for ’em- I wasn’t doing much to make myself a Top Candidate. I fell into a routine of applying for jobs during the day, working in a bar at night time and being thoroughly miserable for the entirety. In March, I received a shock when I was let go, over the phone, without any warning or explanation. I wrote this post after weeks of trying to explore other options (such as employment tribunals) and realising that I had none. My case met all of the criteria for a tribunal, but as I was on a zero hour contract I had no entitlement. It left me feeling at the end of my rope. I felt like no one could help me- or wanted to. I wrote this post to make people aware of the conditions that zero hour staff worked under- regardless of the establishment. After posting it, I went for a walk to prepare myself for the negative feedback. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The outpouring of support was pretty overwhelming and I even got a new job- and a reconnected friendship- out of it.
This whole debacle was one of the biggest hidden blessings of the year. It forced me to rethink where I wanted to go, and look at areas in which I was lacking. It made me take action. I’d gotten lazy. I started looking into volunteering opportunities, and got more involved in the online blogging community. I took my story to my local MP who was immediately on board (because she is amazing). She took my case to Westminster and used it as part of a campaign against zero hour contracts. Unfortunately the DWP still thinks they’re a great idea but there’s a long way to go. The DWP is also headed by a man who allegedly believes in gay conversion while also getting embroiled in extra-marital sexting. Workers’ rights are really close to my heart but I didn’t get as involved as I would’ve liked last year. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings.
Speaking of unexpected twists…
Writing about personal issues has never been my forte. For all that I post on social media, it’s never that deep. I’m just not a very open person. Some people aren’t. I admire the openness of people who can wear their hearts on their sleeves, but that’s just not me. However the feedback from A Protest gave me a boost in confidence. I found that I could write about personal issues if I felt they could help other people. It didn’t make me feel all that vulnerable if I knew that other people might take something from it, or use it to further their own knowledge.
Our pregnancy announcement was met with an influx of congratulations but I felt like a fraud. It had taken us a long time to get to a happy place with the news. It was a shock for which we weren’t ready, or even sure that we wanted. My first reaction wasn’t excitement. It’s hard when every pregnancy announcement, blog or website talks about the joy of impending motherhood when you don’t know how you feel. The two weeks in between taking a pregnancy test and sharing our news were the loneliest and most terrifying of my life. We didn’t know how we were going to proceed and I couldn’t tell anyone until we did. I wanted to put a little contribution out there in my corner of the internet for anyone in the same position. I wrote this thinking that if at least one scared expectant mum saw it, she’d know she wasn’t alone. It was still scary to publish, but it turned out to be my most-read post thus far and the response was pretty overwhelmingly positive.
I could never have predicted the reaction this post received. This was only my third post of the year. I had no following. I wrote it so my friends could see it. The amount of shares, comments and messages that I received, from people who had felt the same, was unreal. It just showed that the way I felt wasn’t weird. It didn’t mean I was going to be a bad mum. It was normal. It was what spurred me to keep writing, but with the same honesty I’d put into this. To everyone who read this, or who will read it, I hope you manage to take something from it- and please know that however you feel, you’re not alone.
After months of writing pregnancy updates, I’d hit a wall. Writing about pregnancy had been a great way of helping me navigate it. There had been a few missed weeks where I’d been lacking in inspiration, working back shifts and getting home late or just felt a bit deflated. I’d tried to write different kinds of posts but a creeping self-doubt had set in. Posts where I’d tried to make a serious point descended into hormone-fuelled rants. Deviations from my usual content felt forced, uninteresting, unfunny. I couldn’t think of how to get out of it, but opted to stop trying to make it happen. In that time I’d noticed a pattern in comments people were making about me, my bump and pregnancy in general. The more it went on, and the more I smiled through gritted teeth, an idea came to me. I started taking note of the more common ones, mentally noting the things I wished I could say. Stuck at home with a bout of the lurgy one day, I wrote them all down and voila- a list long enough to make a post out of. Again I almost resigned this one to draft post purgatory in case it came across as ‘woe is me, no one understands my life choices’. To combat this I scheduled the post and busied myself for when it was due to launch. When I came back to it, it had already been shared by some new and expectant mum pals as well as- the ultimate test- child free pals, too. Not too shabby.
I guess a common theme here is to have more confidence in posts that I think people will hate. I know, you should write for yourself and not care what people think. The fact is, as much as writing is cathartic for me, it’s also about connectivity. Getting comments from people who’ve read what I’ve written, and have their own take on it, is the biggest compliment because it means they’ve engaged with it. Even if people don’t agree with me- well, it’d be boring if everyone thought the same. Pregnancy is such a topic of contention- I’d read a few posts and they can come across as a little sanctimonious. I made an effort to not come across that way, and I think it worked. This one taught me that just because a topic has been written about, doesn’t mean mine will be the same. My voice isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If I can take anything into my 2017 blogging agenda, it should be this.
Again there are so many “X Things Before x Years” posts out there, I never thought mine would be any different. However, approaching 30 felt like a big deal to me. One that should be marked. I’d never made a “30 things to do before I’m 30” list because, well, I didn’t really know where I was heading. All ambition and no direction has always been my downfall. The place I’m in now as a result is far removed from what I imagined. I thought about listing 30 things I should’ve done, but what would’ve been the point? Listing your regrets, and things you didn’t do, is a waste of time. It’s not going to make them happen. Instead I went a little more introspective and looked at what I’d learned instead.
Writing has always been really cathartic for me, and none more so than here. Not only that but it was revealing. Thinking about what I’ve learned in the last ten years made me realise how much I’ve actually done. It made me see how far I’ve progressed- maybe I’m not where I thought, but it’s been a hell of a journey getting here. Again I used a sick day (this time muscular pain which had pretty much left me bed-bound) and typed until I had a complete list. The first few took time but once they did, they kept coming. It helped me focus on my achievements rather than my failings. It reminded me that even when I thought I’d gone the wrong way, I’d still taken something from it. Reflection is eye-opening, and it can be scary, but this taught me that it’s worth checking in every once in a while.
OK so this one is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically two posts. One is a continuation of the other though, and they tell the same story, so it’s cool right? These posts were important for a couple of reasons. First of all, superficially, they were the first posts on this, my new blog domain. It seems trivial but it was a big deal for me. Blogging has always been a sideline for me, even with my increased content this year. It was never something I’d invested in (other than time). Investing in a new domain and theme meant paying actual money, which meant I had to really believe in what I was putting out- or rather, in where I was taking it. Going self-hosted was a big step for me and I looked into a lot of options before I did. I haven’t had much chance to get the best of it but it’s still early days.
Secondly- obviously- it gave me a chance to reflect on my birthing journey and share it with whoever might be interested. I didn’t want to present a sugar coated view of labour, but didn’t want to go into the blood, sweat and tears either. I like to think that months of writing about pregnancy in that way had made it easier to write about the birthing part, too.
I’m not sure I was prepared for how emotional this would be to write. After restarting my blog to document pregnancy, surely I knew all along that a birth story would be the natural end. As I said though, I’d gotten so used to pregnancy that it was hard to associate this baby with the bump I’d grown to love. The birth story was a definite full stop to a previous chapter. In the weeks that have passed, I’m glad that I have pregnancy posts to read back on. It’s nice to see everything that we got up to, and how it felt at the time. However, a very distinct new story has very definitely started. I might be a little melancholy to leave the old one behind. There was so much help along the way, check ins every few weeks, a definite end. The new one doesn’t have an ending, or much direction. That’s what makes it scary, but it’s also what makes it exciting.