The cards I was dealt

It’s my birthday!!!!

And as per every year I wanted to spend a bit of time reflecting this past year and thoughts I have about getting older, where I’ve been and where I’m yet to go.

This year has been a BIG year!

But then again every year is a big year for me!

With lessons learnt and adventures had and lots of paths travelled.

As I cycled into work this morning I was messaging my friend and thinking about what I’ve learnt about myself through my experience of birthing my son, Jenson.

I reflected to her on the conversation I had with a friend yesterday about our sons and how their personalities were set before they came into the world. Hers so confident and independent. Mine in need of company, screaming if he wasn’t being held in someone’s arms for the first five months and, even now, constantly asking for cuddles, tugging us towards him to play and wanting to be side-by-side with us at most moments of the day.

And so I think about what I must’ve had in me the moment that I entered this world. Curiosity, kindness, gentleness, tenacity, enjoyment being in my own company, only needing a few friends to be fully replete, a deep thinker.

As with him, my cards were dealt before I was born – and I had a good hand – but I feel like this is the year that I’ve started to really play my hand.

I’ve started to see what I’ve got and how I can use my skills, my gifts, my self to my full advantage and in service of what I feel I’m here to do on this world – challenging and rebuilding the structures of our society. Whether that’s the role of woman, our treatment of the planet, our political or educational system, the healthcare system. This is what I’m here to do – I feel it deep in my heart and in my gut.

This is the year that I stepped into the possibility of my future.

This is the year where I started to think about how I show up and how this influences outcomes.

I have started to settle deep into my body and listen to what’s going on for me on many levels – not just intellectually, but in my heart and in my body physically.

This is the year that I’ve realised I don’t only have the ‘enthusiastic’ card to play. I don’t have to show up as the sparky, bright, pretty thing to have influence in this world.

I can show up with the presence of a mature, powerful woman.

I can show up as the renegade.

And I have started to see, just this month, how I might be able to be effective in spaces where people have conflicting views (myself included), helping to find a way forward when no way has been found for years.

I’m taking huge strides, jumping forward in my development whilst being kind as I stumble and fall whilst doing new things.

And as I play my cards to their full effect I’m also grateful for those people around me who play their cards in support of mine.

To my husband who supports and champions me, cheering me on as I seek to experience new things and go to different places.

And my friends, who, showing up fully themselves, make space for me to do the same.

To those people at work who have not needed me to be ‘sparky’ or ‘bright’ to be accepted but have called me into showing my full self at work.

To my family who are my safe place to retreat when times get hard.

So here’s to another year of adventure, learning, leaping and stumbling forward.

Here’s to another year stepping more fully into courage, truth and love.

Top ten

As I lay in bed last night, waiting for sleep to come, I was drawn to thinking about the best things about last year.

And so I thought I’d share some top lists with you to celebrate my baby boy turning one.

Top five best things about becoming a mum

    The joy of watching Jenson grow and develop
    The cuddles and time spent resting next to Jenson as he sleeps
    How it has changed me as a person, mostly for the better
    The determination to deal with my demons so that I don’t pass them – the people pleasing, comfort eating – onto Jenson
    The pleasure of spending time as a family of three and seeing my husband as a brilliant, involved, caring dad

Gregg’s top three best things about becoming a dad

  1. Us all going travelling
  1. Having the time to go do things with Jenson, like swimming
  1. Getting to watch our little baby change and grow up

The best ten moments of this year

  1. Going away to Cambodia and Vietnam
  2. Our trip to Morocco
  3. Making new friendships that will span over his life
  4. Getting ice cream and giving some to Jenson
  5. Reading ‘my child won’t eat’ and feeling such relief that Jenson isn’t starving
  6. The endless baths with Jenson as a newborn
  7. Visits from friends from all over the world to meet my new little man
  8. Understanding what all my other mum friends were going through
  9. Dancing with Jenson and Gregg at the Bimble Bindada festival
  10. Realising that shared parental leave was the best decision for Gregg forming a deeper relationship with Jenson

Five most difficult moments of this year

  1. The last bit of labour
  2. Struggling with breastfeeding and getting my supply up…and all the stories I told myself about not being a good mum if I couldn’t feed him from my milk supply
  3. Stretching myself too thin on holiday in Wales
  4. When Jenson got norovirus and ended up in A&E
  5. Nursery settling in

The five things I would have done differently

  1. Asked more questions about Jenson’s tongue tie
  2. Stayed in bed for the two weeks after his birth to fully recover
  3. Asked for more help when I needed it
  4. Extended our epic trip away by a few weeks
  5. Been more specific with Gregg about my views on weaning, TV time and other stuff

The ten things I couldn’t have done without

  1. The food I made in advance of Jenson’s birth
  2. The first twelve seasons of Grey’s anatomy that I binged during my maternity leave
  3. The friends and family who supported me in this first year
  4. The new friends I met who walked with me on this journey of motherhood
  5. My baby carrier which helped me walk the streets of Brighton
  6. The new mums notebook – which I used all this year to record memories and thoughts about this year
  7. The attachment parenting groups and friends who supported me in finding my parenting style
  8. The baby groups in Brighton which got me out and kept my sanity
  9. This blog
  1. The phrase ‘this too shall pass’ – knowing that everything is a phase and will not last indefinitely

The three things I want to do next year

  1. Listen to my instincts more
  2. Have a bit more time to myself – to coach, nurture myself and have a bit more sanity
  3. Look into raising children vegan so that we can make an informed choice about Jenson’s diet

The two things I’m looking forward to on Jenson’s birthday

  1. Spending time celebrating with my family
  2. Eating the massive birthday cake I’ve made for him

Just a year

I’m at my parent’s house now for the second part of our Christmas travels and, lying in the bath tub this morning, I thought about where I was this time last year. 

I was celebrating my sister’s birthday while having the start of my contractions. Thinking about all that was to come ahead, relieved that the wait was finally over. 

I’m so glad that this time last year I had enjoyed my final non-mothering days – planned trips to the cinema, laid in as long as I wanted, gone out for meals with my husband, wrote, read, met up with friends, spent time with my family.

Time I cherished instead of constantly willing Jenson to make his arrival.

But now a year has passed and I’m a few hours away from my son becoming one.

What a huge milestone, the marking of a year with him.

I don’t think I could have ever imagined what was in store for me this time last year. 

I didn’t know what was awaiting me as I went into the 15 hour labour and birth of my son. The NCT classes didn’t come close to describing the experience.

The pain, the effort, the fear, the gritting of my teeth to push through it, the vulnerability, the need I felt for my husband, the strength I felt in being capable of birthing my son, the crowning(!) – that pain has not receded into the faint echoes of my memory!!!

And nothing could have prepared me for what the next year would look like. 

A year of protecting and nurturing my son.

A year where I’ve put everything aside to look after him.

A year for me of growing and learning, crying and laughing, making friends and letting some fade, travelling and staying put, becoming more myself and putting myself on the back burner to care for Jenson.

A year of extremes and paradoxes.

Experiencing depths of love I never thought imaginable and being stretched so thin I thought at points that I would break.

It’s indescribable, this first year of motherhood. 

One thing is clear, it feels like so much longer than just one year and yet it has passed in a blink of an eye.

Taking my own advice

I’m sat here, quickly typing away at this post before I go to London for my birthday weekend. I thought to myself this morning, as I was looking after Jenson at 5:15am, “what a different place I am this year compared to last year”.

In some ways it’s the best different in the world but in other ways, I desperately miss my old life. Miss being able to lie-in. Miss hours at cafes to blog. Miss having time as my own when I get home from work. Miss having more energy for things. Miss not having to feel pushy to have some time to myself.

Motherhood is beautiful but I’m also finding it brutal.

I want to do the best thing by Jenson – want him to have the best start in life – but I also know that this comes with a price for me as his needs stand firmly above my own.

For now at least. 

And so I just quickly looked back at my birthday post from last year and couldn’t believe that what I had written there spoke so clearly to me. 

I had written about how great my life was – job I loved, happy place with relationships, feeling I was starting to let go of people pleasing and start prioritising my own wellbeing – and shared my wisdom from when I had been in a darker place:

  • Reach out to someone
  • Take steps for the better but accept the present
  • Find gratitude
  • Know that this will pass

I couldn’t have known that I, a year later, would so desperately need these words of encouragement and support.

But my advice was spot on.

So I’m going to reach out and share that I’m struggling a bit – I suppose even writing this is me doing that.

I’ll think about what ‘steps for the better’ look like  – I think it means taking more time at the weekend to take care of myself, continuing to work from home as much as I can to have longer in bed and a gentler day, perhaps having one evening a week where I don’t snuggle down to watch a TV programme with Gregg but do something that is extra specially nourishing for me.

I’ll spend some time on my trip to London with Gregg reflecting on the gratitude I have for being a mum and for the lives that we’ve got. We’re pretty damn lucky. 

And I will take heart that this will pass. Jenson won’t always be so reliant on me and I’ll be able to be a bit more independent. Breastfeeding will end one day, and while I love nourishing him, it will lead to more independence for me. Just this moment too will pass. I’ll feel less loss for my past life and will be swept up in joy of my son’s laughter, love for my family as we cuddle and play together, pride as people remark what a sweetie he is. 

Six months

I’ve been a parent for six months…bloody hell! How did that happen and how did this time pass both at a snails pace and in the blink of an eye?!

From a sleeping, crying, mewling little baby to a little being looking more and more like a toddler with each passing day. It’s incredible to see how much he has changed and how much I’ve changed during this time.

He now stands (sometimes unaided when he’s holding onto something), sits with such core strength, grabs anything in his reach, beams for us, strangers and for the camera…and yet some things don’t change. He’s still as determined as ever to sleep curled next to me, to feed or be rocked to sleep.

And he’s still as spirited as the very first day when he screamed the hospital down. The loudest, most determined baby on the block.

What about me? My changes are less perceptible, more internal but life changing nevertheless. My ability to be patient has increased, I now know I am stronger than I could have ever believed (from pushing his 4 kilo heft out of me to surviving on little sleep and getting twice done what I would have before), I have less tolerance for bullshit and for getting involved in those silly games that people play in life (psychological ones, not things like buckaroo or uno 😜).

And I feel a new steeliness inside me. If I’m going to leave my little person in someone else’s care, it better be for a job I am passionate about – something that lights me up. Otherwise why would I leave my little one?

And my decisions have more weight than before. Staying binge free and dealing with what’s going on underneath the surface is not just for my own good but for him too. So he doesn’t take on the practices that have been so harmful to me in the past. Sure, he’ll have his own struggles, but as much as I’m able to, they won’t be passed on from me.

And I’ve found joy in the small things. Seeing him smile, making him laugh by singing silly songs, watching Gregg being a better father than I could have ever dreamt him becoming, seeing the love of our families for Jenson.

I’ve also learnt to reach out and ask for help, to maintain boundaries and say no. To ask for what I really want instead of just wishing people could read my mind.

All in six short months.

And I find myself asking what the next six months will bring for both myself and my little half-Birthday boy. Adding in work to the mix for me, him spending most of the time with his father who will be on shared parental leave…

What I do know is that it will go by in the blink of an eye and that I will share what is happening with you, dear friend.

Our NHS

I saw from a friend’s profile picture on Facebook that the NHS is 70 years old and I’m so grateful for all that this epic institution has done for me in my life as well as for those around me.

I can’t express eloquently enough the role it has played in my life – it has saved me multiple times. And that’s not an exaggeration.

When I was younger, I was a troubled young thing. So sensitive, bullied at school and unsure of my place in this world. There came a time in my young, naive life where I was so low I couldn’t see a future for myself and I took an overdose. Not a huge amount but enough that if I hadn’t told my brother in tears what I had foolishly done, I most probably would have died. It seems like another person’s story – not mine – and yet it was a page in my life. And thanks to the NHS, I had my stomach pumped, received counselling and started my wobbly journey to finding my footing in this life.

Sadly this isn’t where my mental health improved completely and, as I’ve shared with you on this blog before, dear friend, I went through another dark period during university where I battled with eating disorders. At my lowest weight of five stone I felt that I wanted to curl into a ball and hibernate against the brutalities of this world. Again, my sensitivity, people pleasing and feeling torn between my (then) Christian belief and what seemed like a polar opposite world that I wanted to fit into and be part of all culminated into a period of extreme mental sickness and it was the NHS that picked me up and gave me the support I needed to survive. An amazing specialist, access to medication, regular medical checks to protect my health as best it could whilst depriving my body from much needed nutrition.

Thankfully that’s a long way in my past. Again, this Amy and who I am now feels a lifetime away. A lifetime I’ve had thanks to the medical support and services of the NHS.

And at the start of this year the NHS again saved my life as I experienced severe blood loss following the birth of my son as my uterus failed to properly contract. In the moments following his birth, my midwife sounded an alarm and suddenly I had five expert doctors surrounding me. Giving me medical support, pumping me with liquids, putting an oxygen mask on me for the shock, guiding my husband and our new baby down to the unit where I was being treated. It all happened in a blur but I never panicked because I knew that the medical experts had my health firmly in their competent hands. Again, I was saved by the NHS.

These are the big ticket uses I’ve made of the amazing NHS and they don’t even begin to cover all the other times I’ve been supported and treated by our medical system. The tetanus jab I received when my finger was bitten by a friend’s rat when I was young. The injections I received for free before coming away on my current travels. The midwife appointments I had when pregnant. The free contraceptive implant I have used for years.

And it doesn’t cover all those who I know whose life the NHS has saved. My cousin, Tom, who had life saving heart treatment as a baby. Charlie, the baby of an NCT friend who had similar treatment for his heart condition and continues to receive outstanding support. My grandma who developed and was treated for pre-eclampsia when pregnant with my mum. My grandad who was cared for by the NHS when he developed gangrene in his foot. And the list could go on…I’m sure we all have stories of what the nhs has done for us.

Sure, it’s not a perfect system. Far from it. I know this all too well after reading ‘this is going to hurt: diaries of a junior doctor‘ on this recent trip away.

But it is special. Granting all access regardless of social standing or how much you have contributed to its running costs. As an institution, I believe it should be cherished and supported and protected.

NHS, I love you. Happy 70th birthday ❤️