I went to secondary school in Aylesbury, rumoured to have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country at the time. Seeing young women pushing prams, was something I didn’t think much of. It’s only now that I’m a parent that I reflect on how challenging becoming a Mother so young must be; not only do you face the shocking adjustment that all new parents face, but you are doing so whilst still a child yourself and with the judgement rather than support of society at large. Horrendous.
• I had my first son Noah a month before my 17th birthday. I found out at 19 weeks pregnant and from then on I was that ‘16 and pregnant’ cliché that is thrown around so much.
• One of the first things that differ (usually) from teen pregnancy to being pregnant when society actually expects you to be, is that nobody is happy for you. You can’t excitedly tell your parents or do a big reveal. Your parents are devastated and your friends concerned. Your GP says sorry, rather than congratulations.
• The second thing is, I don’t think pregnant 30-something year olds are subjected to people’s opinions of what they should do with their foetus. A ‘friend’ of mine believed I should have him adopted, to a lovely couple who could offer him ‘everything’.
• People will probably assume you’re stupid. You’re stupid if you fell pregnant accidentally, and you’re stupid if you planned it. They’ll probably ask. I used to say ‘unintentional’ a couple of years in saying ‘is it any of your business?’ became easier.
• Unless you’re from an unusually well off family the likelihood is that you are going to have to claim benefits, at least if you want to spend some time at home with your baby and/or return to school
• And don’t people know it. You will be asked about what benefits you get. And how much. It’s not out of kindness either, it’s just being nosy.
• I avoided the bus when I began to show (which was actually at about 30 weeks) because I didn’t ever get offered a seat anyway. So I just used to walk for miles. On the way to being induced at 42 weeks, I wasn’t offered a seat (but my grandma was) when my grandma suggested someone should move for me, a teenage boy said ‘should’ve fucked a man with a car then’
• I was very lucky that I had a brilliant midwife during pregnancy and my delivery, but not all medical professionals were that good. When I popped to the nurse at the GP for my whooping cough vaccine, she scoffed and said ‘it’s only offered for people who are pregnant’, when I told her I was 7 months, she was horrified.
• You might be asked to leave sixth form because you are a distraction to other pupils. I was, and I know others were too (the following year the laws changed and you have to be in Education until your 18 – not sure they’d be allowed to get away with this now)
• The likelihood is your parents are still pretty young too. Mine were just turning 40 when I had Noah, this means they are not in a place to be as much as a grandparent as some can. They can’t offer childcare. My dad’s youngest is not a year old yet, and I have other younger siblings, so they’re still doing a lot of parenting themselves. But my grandma is a pretty hands on, kick ass great-grandma, and my parents do what they can.
• You will miss out. Teenage house parties don’t tend to cater for the heavily pregnant 16 year old. I tried to go to a Reggae festival in south France at six months (I’d booked it before finding out) that was hell. The highlight of the week was eating a cucumber from Aldi and leaving early.
• You will find out who the good friends are. I am very lucky that my friends are amazing, although they are all now at finishing Uni/working/travelling, they are a big fixture in my children’s lives.
• Some of my friends parents treated me as if pregnancy was catching, and they worried for their daughters. I get that. But others also because a support network I didn’t know I had.
• People always say bizarre things to pregnant people. But you get a fair share as a ‘teen mum’ being ‘too young to breastfeed’ was a good one. I mean, you are aware that he was in my uterus for 9+ months and came out of my fanjita right? I think him suckling on a mammary gland is part of the deal really.
• You are going to be the youngest at the breastfeeding group. You might have some small talk, but don’t expect invites to coffee, because the chances of that happening are slim.
• Breastfeeding in front of your peers. Awks. Pulling out a lactating tit in front of my 16 year old male friends who were having a red stripe and a roll up was never going to be comfortable.
• You will most likely have to move out sooner than your friends do. My mum did not physically have enough room for Noah and I, I was very lucky that my dad kicked out his lodger and I got the spare room. It was a good deal, I paid only bills no rent.
Others aren’t so lucky. If there is no one to ‘take them in’ it’s living in a hostel. I’ve seen some, and conditions can be appalling. Some people I have met have lived in these sometimes unsanitary, unsafe hostels for 4+ years. It is only then that you ‘get a free house’ (hope I’ve kinda dispelled the ‘people get pregnant for a house’ rumour) when it came time to leave my dads house when he had begun a new family, I moved to Leeds with Noah to live with his dad/my partner whilst he studied up here. We couldn’t afford London.
• There will be people who make you feel guilty. I felt guilty for ages. On days that I hated myself and my decision to keep my baby, I thought of all the women who probably despised me. Those who had multiple attempts of IVF, those whose children had died, so on. I was made to feel like I didn’t deserve my baby. After all, what could I offer him.
• This all said, and some of this being some of my feelings from the darkest days, we survived. And thrived. It’s still hard at times, emotionally, financially. But Noah (and his brother Roman) are fantastic. We can’t afford to take them on skiing holidays, or for them to do every after school club, I can’t be at home all the time as I’m studying and their Papa works full time, but we’re doing okay. They’re good little eggs. We can offer them a heap of love and energy.
• Another pro to being 16 and pregnant is that when I’m rich and famous, and appear on Pierce Morgan’s life stories, it’s going to be so much more interesting. Who doesn’t love a teen mum success story, eh?
Sometimes sharing a list from someone, enables me to explore something that I have been mulling over for a long time. This is one of those instances. Thank you Catherine O’Keeffe aka @welovelella for sharing your experience of quitting booze:
I would like to share my story in the hope of helping other women (and men) who are desperately unhappy due to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
From my very first experience at the age of 15 (with a bottle of thunderbirds no less) up until I hit 40 in 2015, I abused my body (and mind) with alcohol regularly most weekends (hey, didn’t we all..?)
I always suffered from terrible hangovers following a big night out, puking all day the next day, unable to get out of bed and generally feeling very depressed and ashamed, but this never put me off.
During my pregnancy with my daughter Lottie in 2009, I had the odd glass of wine here and there but nothing for anyone to worry about. Once Lottie was born, I tried my hardest to breastfeed (alcohol free) for two painful weeks, but mastitis, a crap milk supply and exhaustion gave way to the temptation of formula and the first thing I did to celebrate her finally having a proper (formula) feed, was pour myself a massive glass of Rioja and then finish the bottle.
Prior to having Lottie I probably drank alcohol 3 or 4 days a week 1 or 2 of those times would be a heavy binge. Once Lottie was born, I wasn’t that keen to go ‘out out’ but I still wanted a ‘reward’ at the end of the day, so I’d get a bottle of wine and crack that open at dinner time. I was diagnosed with PND when Lottie was 6 months old, and started taking antidepressants – I’m not writing this article about PND, so won’t go into detail about that, but it never crossed my mind that heavy drinking and anti-depressants were probably not a good idea. Over the next 2-3 years, pouring a glass would start earlier in the day midweek and at weekends, any time after 1pm was fair game. I always had a niggling feeling that I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m not going to be able to stop at one glass, I’ll feel shit in the morning, but it didn’t stop me opening the bottle and drinking the lot.
I went back to my job in HR part time when Lottie was 1. I was successful, responsible and well respected, I never phoned in sick because of my drinking and never obviously had a hangover or stank of booze (well, nobody ever mentioned it), however I was drinking half a bottle to a bottle of wine most nights and felt rough most mornings (as a rule I didn’t drink on a Monday, mainly because the weekend had taken it out of me and I needed a break) It was my non-working days and the weekends though that I drank the most, I would be so hungover on a Saturday or Sunday morning, with Lottie wanting to play, just lying on the sofa persuading her to snuggle and watch a movie so I could shut my eyes. I still to this day shudder at the theme tune of Fireman Sam which just reminds me of feeling hideously depressed, guilty and wanting to puke.
I obviously knew I had a problem. I would say on a regular basis to my husband, ‘never again. I’m going to stop, I’m only going to drink at weekends’. But I just didn’t have the willpower to do it and I definitely didn’t have the willpower to just have one drink and leave it there. That’s the problem with an addiction, you can’t just stop at one. I went to my GP for some support, she had been an amazing support with my PND. I was shocked when she told me that drinking was common for mums with young kids and It wasn’t anything to worry about (WTF!) she made it seem normal, which was very confusing for me, I wanted her to help! Maybe I hadn’t explained myself properly, maybe I appeared too normal to have a problem and didn’t lay in on thick enough. She normalised it, so I didn’t pursue it with the GP and carried on.
When Lottie was around 3 or 4 she started talking about ‘mummy’s wine’ and she would comment things like ‘are you having red or white tonight mummy?’ which seems pretty innocent, but I didn’t like the connection she made with me and wine. I know a few people who had/have alcoholic parents and a close friend of mine (who admitted she had a problem) commented that her 10 year old daughter wouldn’t talk to her when she was drinking alcohol because she didn’t like how mummy behaved. I didn’t want this to be Lottie and I. I read a very interesting book about childhood trauma and how having an alcoholic parent is classed as a childhood trauma which can be damaging both mentally and physically for a child way into their adult life, all I could think was I don’t want Lottie to be damaged because of me.
I tried a hypnotherapy course (it worked…for 2 weeks) but slowly I started drinking again. I tried doing a dry January and Sober October, I didn’t last more than 3 weeks each time and each time I would end up back in the same situation, more miserable that I couldn’t stop the cycle.
A friend recommended a book called the Sober Revolution which was like reading my life. I made a decision there and then I had to stop drinking for ever. I realised that you don’t have to be drinking a bottle of vodka a day to be addicted to alcohol. I was addicted to alcohol, so no matter how much I cut down by, the addiction will creep up again.
In December 2015, I had a big day trip to Paris planned with my lovely friend. She had bought the Eurostar ticket as a 40th Birthday present. I didn’t tell her at the time (she was my drinking buddy after all and I didn’t want her to be disappointed that we wouldn’t have a fun day) but in my head I had told myself that this would be my last day of drinking. We started with prosecco on the EuroStar at 7am. By 11.30am I was guzzling red in a cafe. By 7pm on our way home on the Eurostar, I was so pissed I poured a glass of red all down my white top while devouring a croque monsuier (im sure that was a delightful sight). We carried on until god knows when and I passed out at her house. I felt AWFUL the next day, however this definitely helped cement my decision – I was NOT going to drink again.
I’d already done my research before Paris and was going to contact a local alcohol counselling service to ask for help. l spoke to a lovely lady who told me I had to be referred by my GP, which was a worry considering my last experience at the doctors. The doctor I saw this time was lovely. He totally understood where I was coming from, got me to do a questionnaire – agreed I had a problem (phew) and referred me straight away to counselling service. I had my first free session (there were 8 in total) with a counsellor booked in early January 2016. Christmas was pretty tough, watching everyone else drinking, but my husband was really supportive, he stopped drinking wine at home and only had beer in the house (I never liked beer). It was tough, but I took each day at a time. Some friends and family seemed shocked at my decision, but a couple said they knew I had a problem. I wasn’t upset at them for not helping me, it’s all in your own hands to seek help, nobody can force you to do that – you have to want it yourself.
The counselling was definitely helpful and just what I needed. Once that finished after 8 weeks, I was advised I can join a support group (part of the HACS service) or try other support options such as AA. I never liked the idea of AA, it just wasn’t for me, so I joined the support group. I went for 4 weeks but it didn’t feel right (I felt uncomfortable and a bit of a fraud as the other members of the group seemed to have far worse situations/addictions than mine). I have a very special friend in the same situation who I regularly see and we support each other in our sobriety.
It’s difficult to identify drinking as a problem when everybody else is doing it and it is normalised/encouraged by society.
It makes me so cross how drinking is normalised and plastered everywhere for our children to see.
I’m not here to bash or guilt trip all the drinkers out there, go for it, enjoy yourselves, but in moderation. But that’s just it, for me I enjoyed myself in the moment but it was never in moderation and the massive crash/aftermath the next day just wasn’t worth it. Most people can take it or leave it, most people don’t feel dreadfully depressed the next day and beat themselves up about their behaviour.
I am now pretty much the odd one out in my circle of friends but I don’t care – I feel good! Some nights I dream about being drunk and the relief I feel when I wake up is amazing.
Some people look at me like I’m nuts when I say I don’t drink and say things like ‘what you don’t drink, ever?’ like drinking alcohol is what everyone should do and the only way to have a good time, which is bollocks by the way! I am still able to have fun, more so I would say.
I am the happiest I’ve ever been in myself, I am more comfortable in my own skin, I am more confident. I look better, I feel better, becoming sober gave me the clarity and courage to jack in my HR job which didn’t fulfil me and pursue a new career, running my own clothing line. But, above all else, I am a better mother to Lottie.
I am so proud that I have made myself a better person for her because after all, she is the most important thing in my life and I want her to remember a happy childhood.
I would recommend:
Facebook private Group – Women who don’t drink
Book: The Sober Revolution (calling time on wine o’clock) by Lucy Rocca and Sarah Turner
Book: Childhood Disrupted – Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Before sharing this Jo was very concerned that it didn’t have the emotional tug of some of the other lists I’ve shared. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
There are plenty of people out their whose partners are away a lot and its TOUGH, really tough. Not just the ‘parenting alone’ bit, but the constant readjustment between them being around and not is challenging too.
Here’s Jo’s take on it all:
I am the wife of a television and film director, which sounds glamorous but really isn’t. Whilst it can be exciting and creatively eye-opening it can also be lonely, frustrating and hard work. This is because most jobs take my husband away from home for months at a time leaving me to be a *not actually single* single mum to our two children.
When a job first comes in we don’t think about where it is going to be based because as any other freelancers will know, it’s just exciting that a good job has come in!
This positivity lasts until about 2 weeks in when I have been home alone trying to keep the boys alive/the house clean/my work done on my own and it’s just. not. fun anymore.
When almost everyone else I know is having dinner with their partner and watching their favourite shows together in the evenings, loneliness becomes a very real feeling.
When he first leaves I get excited about Keeping Up with The Kardashian reruns and being able to do yoga in the living room without getting in the way but after a while those joys wear off
Not only does he have to work far away but the hours are incredibly long and very often he isn’t even available to talk at the end of the day.
I have learnt to note down some of my ‘less important’ thoughts throughout the week so that I don’t forget to tell him (what do you think of this colour for the bathroom, are you free on 1st June, do you want to see the new Star Wars film with me…) because it turns out those thoughts actually are important for a normal functioning life.
When he is available, FaceTime is the greatest invention ever. The boys love it because they get to see Daddy and show him their drawings/school work/new shoes and I feel like conversations flow easier when I can see his face
It is hard when sometimes the boys don’t want to speak to him, because they’re kids and Lego or Team Umizoomi are far more important. I can see his heart break a little and it’s sad to see.
Sometimes I get irrationally jealous of him. It can be over anything from the fact that he’s had a week of creative meetings, that he had Pho for lunch, quietly, without anyone tugging at his legs and wiping yoghurt all over him or that he got to sleep past 7 on the weekend.
The ‘who is more tired’ game is bad. It isn’t fun and there are no winners.
It helps to have incredible girlfriends who will leave their own babies at home with their partners in order to come and have take away and wine with me, or will look after the boys for me when I need to go somewhere last minute and haven’t got a sitter
It also helps to have parents close by to help when they can, and are a constant source of love and entertainment to my boys
Watching terrible chick flicks, eating chocolate and crying into a glass of wine helps when hormones, anxiety and loneliness do a triple combo on you.
Cooking for one is harder than cooking for two. Nigella and Nigel have done a lot to help in this department, shout out the whole of EAT by Nigel and Nigella’s Slut’s Spaghetti. Towards the end of a long run I can’t even be bothered to do that and usually end up eating pesto pasta for days on end
Keeping an entire house clean and tidy, on your own, with two small people who have absolutely zero ability or desire to help is SO hard and it’s ok to say so (took me a while to admit to that)
Weekends when he is home have taken on a whole new meaning. They are a precious time for the 4 of us and for me they start on Friday at 3.30pm and finish at 6am Monday morning.
When we are together we have to be really conscious of not bickering and making sure our time together isn’t wasted on bad moods and slanging matches! Which can be hard when you’ve both come to the end of a long week and are feeling tired and desperate for a break/lie in/some quiet.
When it comes to living and parenting separately and then together, occasionally the feeling of ‘oh I don’t do it like that!’ pops up. It can be anything from where we put the recycling, how long the boys are allowed screen time to what bread I’ve been buying recently. I get so used to running things my way that I feel a bit like he’s muscling in on my turf, and have to remind myself it’s his turf too.
The boys have grown up this way and don’t question it, and I’m so proud of us and them for that. They know Daddy has to work away from home and don’t realise that it’s not that common
Babysitters are invaluable to me and I have learnt that spending money on them is an absolute necessity
Apps that are life savers: Bubble for babysitters, Secret Spa so I can get my nails/lashes/brows done at home and Deliveroo for when cooking for one really is too much to ask
The more time I spend single parenting the more I come to realise that we had taken on very specific gender roles without realising it. When he is away and a light bulb needs changing, a new picture needs hanging up or a run to the dump is required I totally crumble and have no idea how to do it. This is something I’m very keen to change.
This experience has made my respect for single parents sky rocket. I have to do everything alone but I still have the emotional, financial and loving support of a partner even though he isn’t here physically. I will never take that for granted
This is the reason I really try to keep my moaning to a minimum. In the grand scheme of things I’m fucking lucky.
There is only one mum on Instagram who I know has a similar experience to me and that is @portiaportiaaaa. Following her makes me feel better on the crappy days but I’m always keen to find more!
And finally, after months and months of not so subtle hints, I got a kitten for company and I cannot tell you how huge a difference cuddles from a fur ball make to easing the loneliness. Cats for everyone I say!
Discovering Anna’s Instagram feed a few years ago was a lightbulb moment. I checked myself for recoiling at the word death and immediately understood her passion for improving, not only end of life care, but also the entire dialogue around death, after all its one of life’s certainties yet as a nation we are positivity adverse to talking about it.
Here Anna gives us a glimpse into her unique career choice as and End of Life Doula and the profound things it has taught her:
I’m Anna. I’m an End of Life Doula, curator and co-director of @LifeDeathWhateverand mother to three daughters.
We live in London with our very silly dog and when I’m not trying to persuade my small people to eat one of their five a day, I work helping people to live as good a life as possible, right up until the very end. I’ve worked with people at end of life for many years and I’m always being asked what I’ve learned.
One of the most important lessons is that we need to talk about death.
We need to plan for it.
We need to talk openly and honestly to our kids about it.
We need to embrace end of life in the same way as we embrace its beginning.
One of the reasons Louise Winter and I created Life.Death.Whatever was to encourage people to talk.
Our aim was to help redesign the dialogue around death and dying and to open up the subject.
We want to normalise mortality in the hope we’ll all be able to live more meaningful and richer lives.
Be really kind.
Walk the long way home sometimes. The scenic one. Slowly.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. No one really cares about your artisanal lampshade, carved from reclaimed wood by local artists that you bought from an independent store in the newly gentrified commercial street in the most up-and- coming area of Brixton.
People just care about you. As the Moldy Peaches sang, “I’m in love with how you feel”. It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you feel.
Choose your battles. Before you get into the fight over that thing – you know the one (although you won’t by the end of the row). Think about if it’s really worth it. Does it really matter? If it does, great. Fight away. If it doesn’t, don’t. In either case, always make up. Always. One day you might not get the chance.
Stand up for what you believe in. Unless you’re a dick, of course. Shout about what’s really important. Call out the bully. Be a good person.
Help other people and be a voice for those who don’t have their own. They’ll appreciate it, even if they’re quiet.
Do the right thing, not the easy thing. If the easy thing is the right thing, you can probably take the rest of the day off.
Stick around even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough.
Pay people compliments. Proper, heartfelt, genuine compliments. You know they’re lovely to receive. Remember how lovely they feel to give.
Give flowers. Bake cookies. Don’t just tell people you love them, show them. Actions really do speak louder than words.
Always try. Even if you fail, it’s the trying that really does count.
If you do fail, fail spectacularly.
Always tell and show your people how loved they are, how important they are and how invested you are in them.
That old adage about never going to sleep on an argument may be impossible in real life. What is possible is to say ‘I’m really pissed off with you but I love you nonetheless’. Remember all the other wonderful things you’ve done together.
Be prepared to let things go.
Don’t wait for tomorrow. Do today.
Hugs aren’t the sole property of couples. Hugs between friends, without an agenda, can heal.
Shit happens. It’s how you deal with it that’s important and how you move on.
If you haven’t coped well with something, learn from it. Admit you were wrong and acknowledge it, and forgive yourself. We’re all human.
Life is too short for some and too long at others. In either case, don’t take it for granted. One day, it’ll all be over.
Life really can be bloody unfair. We invented the whole idea of fairness to try and hide this fact.
Life is what you make it. I’ve seen young people with a life-limiting diagnosis fit more into their final six months than some octogenarians.
Do what you love. That is all.
Quit the job you hate. Retrain. Regroup. Reassess. Don’t settle. You are in control. You get to decide. Don’t just let you life happen to you. Make decisions. Make the life you want.
We are all going to die.
Death is one true inevitability. There’s nothing more certain in this world than mortality.
Talking about death and dying won’t make it happen any faster.
Avoiding it won’t make it any slower.
Discussing death and dying isn’t morbid, or creepy. Done right, it’s life- affirming and uplifting.
Acknowledging mortality does not make you a goth.
No, I don’t sleep in a coffin and yes, I do venture out during daylight hours.
Kids aren’t scared of death and dying if they’re helped to understand it.
Thinking the dead dog went to live on a farm doesn’t help them. Don’t project your own fears onto them. Let kids ask questions and answer them honestly.
Don’t use euphemisms: no, granddad is not sitting up in the clouds playing tennis with Abraham Lincoln and Great Auntie Marjorie.
Granddad died. Great Auntie Marjorie died. Einstein is dead as shit. Dead people can’t drink cups of tea and not even Wonder Woman can sit on a cloud. Euphemisms prevent true understanding. Be straight. Be honest.Be gentle.
Doctors, take note: don’t say to someone ‘there’s nothing more I can do’ because all too often that gets translated as ‘I can’t help you any more, but maybe there’s someone else who can.’ Give everyone the opportunity to say goodbye.
Goodbyes can be hard.
We need to talk about death and dying.
We need to plan for death and dying.
Death and dying needs to be a part of our education. As early as children can possibly understand the words.
We cannot cure death. We can make sure people live as happy a life as possible – right up to the end.
We need to help those we leave behind. We need to make death into something we can all live well with.
People want to talk about death and dying. They just don’t know how or if they’re allowed.
Grief does not have five stages. Grief is a messy, chaotic splatter of pain and suffering, and each is unique.
Grief lasts a lifetime.
We all cope in different ways.
Never ever judge how someone else manages their own grief. Don’t assume they’re not grieving because they’re not doing or saying the things you’d expect.
Do not judge anyone for ‘moving on’ and finding a new life (or relationship) quicker than you’d expect. It’s not a reflection of the depth of their love for the person who has died.
The legacy of someone you love lasts a lifetime. Be prepared to carry them in head and heart forever.
Never tell someone they ‘should’ be ‘over’ it by now. Never.
When someone you know is grieving, don’t be afraid to say you have no idea what to say or do. No one expects you to.
The depth of our grief is often directly proportional to the depth of the love you felt for the person who died.
“Disenfranchised grief,” describes the grief that society doesn’t acknowledge. It doesn’t make it any less painful or tricky. A home, a pet, a celebrity. It’s not irrelevant because it’s not a family member.
“Anticipatory grief” is the grief we feel when we know someone is going to die. It can also be the fear we are going to lose something or someone – even if those feelings aren’t based in reality. We don’t just grieve the life. We grieve lost love, lost friendships, the loss of our youth. Grief touches much more of our lives than we sometimes realise.
You never ‘get over’ someone you love dying. You may learn to live with it and without their physical presence, but you’ll never get over them.
Say their name.
Tears are not weakness. It’s ok to cry, and there’s no limit to the tears you’re allowed to shed.
It’s ok to make someone cry by talking. You didn’t do anything wrong.
Don’t tell someone you understand what they’re going through. Even if you’ve been through what you think is a similar situation. You don’t. Every grief is different. Don’t compare.
There are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Show up after the funeral flowers have wilted. Set reminders to remember birthdays, anniversaries and important dates. Your life will quickly go back to normal; the bereaved has a new life to forge. Be there for the long haul.
Make food. Delicious and healthy food that can be put in the freezer.
Tell them stories of what their loved one meant to you. It’s lovely to know the person you loved had an impact on other people too.
When someone dies, the bond we shared with them doesn’t. A mother whose child has died doesn’t stop being a mother.
Remembering and honouring the person who has died doesn’t prevent moving on. It can be healing.
“Growing around grief” is a lovely model of grief that not enough people know about. Tonkin believes that the grief we feel for someone we really love never gets any smaller and it never diminishes but the life we carry on living grows around the grief and bolsters and comforts us from it.
No matter how hard something is to manage, the sun will come up in the morning. Life does go on.
Grief really does come in waves. Calm seas, followed by huge waves that feel like they’ll drown you. Try to remember the desperation you are feeling right this second will fade. It will no doubt return, but that’ll fade, too.
You cannot rush grief. Give yourself the time you need, don’t ever try to hold yourself to an arbitrary timeline. Think carefully before making life-changing decisions too soon after someone significant to you dies.
Treats help. Nice things help. Nice people help.
Never be afraid to ask for help. Never be afraid to ask for company. Friends may not want to intrude on your grief.
Note to Friends: intrude, gently and considerately – keep intruding, frequently and with love. Being there for someone who is grieving isn’t an intrusion at all. They might not be ‘good company’ but include them in your life. When they turn down your nine hundred and ninety-ninth invitation, ask your thousandth. Hold their hand. Walk their path. Help them find their new way.
The thing most people are scared of about dying is being in pain. We are much better at helping control pain nowadays. We’re not perfect at it, and it can take time to find the right combination of medications but pain meds are much better and generally really effective.
It’s essential to have open and honest discussions with the whole health care team. Tell them how much something hurts. Share your worries and fears. Don’t underplay what’s going on. If they don’t know, they can’t help.
Never feel that you’re complaining. Never feel you’re being difficult. Ask for the things you need.
People want to help. Let them. It makes them feel better about the world and themselves.
You are not a burden. YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN.
For all the doctors and nurses reading this: tell us your name (thanks Kate Granger for the wonderful work you did with the #hellomynameis campaign and for Chris Pointon who has brilliantly carried it on). The patient in bed 7 with lung cancer is not called ‘Lung Cancer Bed 7’ Treat them like the person, don’t treat them like the disease.
Remember medical team: listen. Ask questions. Ask them what matters. Ask them what’s tolerable. Don’t assume anything. Be human. Be warm. Be kind. Don’t stand up and loom over your patients. It’s intimidating at the best of times but even more so when you’re very ill and vulnerable. People who are dying don’t have much time, so give them yours graciously and willingly.
Carers play a HUGE role and they need to be respected and included.
Medical jargon helps nobody who isn’t a doctor.
Always be honest. Warm, gentle, caring – but honest.
BJ Miller is a rock star of the palliative care world and we need to clonehim. Same goes for Atul Gawande. Listen to his Reid Lectures and read Being Mortal: it might just change your life. Doctors, read ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi M.D. – the story of his terminal lung cancer.
Illness is not a battle that we can choose to win or lose. Illness is a thief of life; it is not a fair opponent. People don’t die because they didn’t fight hard enough. They die because their illness was an absolute motherfucker and they never stood a chance.
Palliative care is NOT end of life care, it’s comfort care and people who are given palliative care from the point of diagnosis can live longer and more comfortable lives. Palliative medicine is awesome!
We need more palliative care doctors.
We need more hospices. Hospices need better funding.
Just because the UK is deemed to provide the best end of life care in the world doesn’t mean we are good enough at it, it just means we’re not as awful as all the other places.
Doctors go to medical school to be the heroes that cure. We need the medical profession to see the students who choose to specialise in palliative and end of life care as equally heroic. Some doctors see the death of a patient as their failure to keep them alive. It’s time we stopped seeing death as a failure. Death is a natural part of life. Every single living breathing creature has a shelf-life and an expiry date. Death is not failure.
Dying is not like it is in the movies.
Dignitas is NOTHING like it is in the movies. I loved ‘Me Before You’ but they got the basic fundamentals of Dignitas SO wrong. Come on Hollywood, you need to do better.
It’s really important to make a will.
It’s really important to have an advance directive.
By making an Advance Directive you empower your friends and family to be able to adhere to your wishes, if you don’t make one, they’re pretty powerless and that really sucks, for them and for you. It’s REALLY important to talk to your family and friends about what you want to happen. And make sure you appoint a Power of Attorney too.
The most common regrets of people who are dying are never ever about wishing they’d worked harder or earned more money.
Nobody’s deathbed regret is the things they did. No one has ever said ‘I wish I hadn’t spent those six weeks on that beach in Thailand’.
Lots have people have said ‘I wish I’d spent more time with the people I love’ and ‘I wish I hadn’t work so hard and for such long hours’.
People can do the most remarkable things when they’re coming to the end of their life.
People who are dying are still living. Treat them as such. They are still themselves. Don’t write them off because of their diagnosis.
Active treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy are really bloody tough. The endless hospital appointments often feel like a full time job. Having someone there to do a crossword with makes a big difference.
Help is often about the small things: ask people what they want. Don’t assume!
Did you just assume something? Stop it!
Just because Great Auntie Iris liked sugared almonds for her chemo snack doesn’t mean Cousin John will too. Ask. DO NOT ASSUME.
DO NOT DISENFRANCHISE someone who is ill. Help them to do the things that make them feel like themselves. If they feel up for cooking dinner, let them do it! Don’t patronise: ‘I’m ill, I’m not stupid.’
Ask their advice and consult them, just like you always did. Don’t be afraid to talk about the difficult stuff.
Saying ‘I don’t know what to say’ is so much better than not saying anything at all.
You cannot ‘fix’ someone who is dying. Do not try.
People often want to leave a legacy. Helping someone leave their mark is a beautiful and significant gift.
Sex can still be really important to someone when they’re ill. Take the time to find out what works for them. Ask them, talk to them, and be honest and open.
Lovers can be scared of ‘hurting’ someone when they’re ill. If you communicate, you can reduce this risk. Try things, but accept it might not be the same. It can still be wonderful, though. Feeling sexy and desired isn’t just for the healthy!
When a person at the end of their life is talking, the greatest gift we can give them is to listen.
You don’t need a funeral director to have a funeral. You can do it all yourself.
You can bury someone in your back garden.
If you want the person you love to stay at home after they’ve died and be at home until their funeral, you can. You need to keep them cool with the windows closed and the cat out of the room – but it’s possible, legal and can be cathartic.
Cats will start to eat someone who has died almost immediately after their heart stops beating. Dogs will often curl up next to them and stay there for days.
The funeral is for the bereaved; it’s not really for the person who has died.
Funerals can play an important role in the grieving process.
You can have a funeral anywhere; it doesn’t have to be in a church or a crematorium.
Funerals don’t have to cost the earth. You can have a very simple unattended funeral, even in London, for about 1500 quid but the average cost is probably around three thousand pounds.
Some Funeral Directors perpetuate the myth of the ‘expensive funeral’ so they can pretend to be cheaper.
If you want a horse drawn carriage for a hearse and several black limousines, a custom-built mahogany coffin and a field’s worth of flowers, though, be prepared to pay.
You don’t need to have a coffin. You can have a shroud.
You don’t need to embalm. Only if someone is being repatriated overseas is there a legal requirement to embalm.
Your body won’t turn to ash when you’re cremated. Once you’ve been cremated, all that’s left – the bones etc. – gets put into a cremulator and ground into a powder.
The average fully grown adult produces about eight pounds of ash
Take the flowers home from the funeral! Don’t leave them, all that happens is they rot and die in a room somewhere. Take them home and enjoy them. You can even donate them to a local nursing home.
Be really kind.
Love with all your heart.
Giving is definitely better than receiving.
Love never dies.
Say sorry when you’ve been a dick. Say sorry when someone is hurt, even if you didn’t intend to upset them. Apologies make the world go round.
Start to take chances on happiness. Once you have, don’t stop.
Don’t ignore that lump; that persistent cough; that blood in your poo. Find a way to manage getting that smear, cop a feel of your boobs regularly. Fondle your balls often and carefully enough for you to notice changes. Slather on that sun cream and get yourself a nice hat. Get your moles checked. If you sense something is awry, go and get it checked.
Never be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Doctors are not God. They make mistakes. If you’re not comfortable or happy with your treatment, ask to see someone else.
Dare to dream.
Sleep is a wonderful thing.
Lack of sleep makes everything harder to cope with.
It’s true that you cannot pour from an empty cup: when you’re caring for someone you also need to care for yourself.
If you know someone who is being a carer for someone who is poorly, care for them. Care for the carer.
No one ever really ends up where they expect. Don’t be afraid to veer from the plan.
Don’t always have a plan. Some of the best things in life happen when you have no plans at all.
If someone loves you, they’ll let you know. Don’t waste your life waiting to be loved.
Life is a series of mini lives: don’t be afraid to move to the next chapter; don’t hold yourself in one place for too long because you’re scared of what’s next. Chances are there’s a lot more wonderful stuff around the corner than on this side of it.
Set an example. If your kids see and hear you talking about difficult things, they’ll be better equipped to do the same.
What’s the worst that can happen? You can die? You’re going to die anyway. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get to live a full life – a life bursting full of the wonderful, the difficult, the beautiful and bleak. The worst that can happen isn’t dying; the worst that can happen is never allowing yourself to live.
Kiss. A lot.
Eat the gelato.
Wear the bikini.
See the world.
Be generous with all you have.
When you get the chance to make someone’s life better, do it.
Call your grandma.
Be kind: to strangers, to the people you love. Most importantly, to yourself.
Tomorrow might never come. Today is precious, and so are you live your life; don’t let it be something that happens to you. Grab it by the balls and enjoy it all – even the bad stuff.
It’s not possible to be positive all the time but by acknowledging our mortality, that gelato will taste a little bit better and that kiss will linger a little bit longer. Life is finite, and it’s yours for the taking. So live it. Every second of it.
In the end, all that really matters is loving and being loved. What do wewant at the end? We want to hold; we want to be held. I’ve never been asked to go get someone’s expensive car so they can see it one last time, or to fetch them their Rolex watch. I’ve never had anyone request ‘one last e-mail to the CEO to make sure so-and- so has sold those shares’.
I have been asked to help someone see one last sunset, to swim one last time in the ocean, to fall asleep in the arms of their lover, to have their dog come and sit on their bed. It’s all about love. Real-life human love and the connections we make with them. The mark we leave is imprinted on the The mark we leave is imprinted on the hearts and souls of the people we loved unconditionally. In the end, all that really matters is love.
This is not a review blog. But I’ve got a couple of friends who are pregnant and I wanted to share with them my favourite baby bits. Having had 3 kids I’ve been through a fair amount of gear in my time. These are that I’ve re-bought/use everyday:
First things first THE BUGGY. Monumental purchase. When we were pregnant the first time we went and looked at them about 4 times before eventually committing.
Since then we have chopped and changed ‘vehicle’ a lot.
My advice is you are never going to get a buggy that does everything. It’s like asking or a Landrover and Smartcar hybrid.
We got a Baby Zen Yoyo for holidays, as they are small enough to go into the overhead locker. Now we use it day to day. It fits through any doorway, down even the slimmest London pavement and the most hostile public transport. It’s also super light, I love knowing that I can carry it up/down stairs if need be.
We also have one of these badboys: a Double OutandAbout 360 for festivals/camping/walks. It’s been taken through all kinds of rough terrain and never falters. We also load it up with camping gear, it can take ALOT of weight.
Going back to my earlier point; these 2 buggies are so different, together they cover all situations. Which, if you can afford it, is preferable to opting for a middle value that does most things ‘ok’.
Car seat.We’ve always had Maxi Cosi car seats in all sizes. They are brilliant. They do what they say on the tin.
Problem is when you have 3 kids it becomes challenging to fit them all in the car in care. Imagine my joy when someone introduced me to the Multimac. A special unit that’s like a giant car seat, it goes on top of the normal sear and into to the isofix system enabling you to seat 3 or even 4 kids safely.
Its pricey but its WAY cheaper than a new car.
Almost as amazing as the Sleepyhead. The single best baby invention. I WISH they had been around when I had Bertie. A portable cushioned bed that makes co-sleeping safer. You can put them on the sofa too. Plus it makes the transfer into a big cot easy too. GET ONE.
I personally wouldn’t bother with a Moses basket. They don’t last very long (babies grow fast). Ours just became a dumping ground for stuff I didn’t know where else to put.
Third child and we have bitten the bullet and accepted that co-sleeping works best for us. I say ‘accept’, I’m fine with it but its one of subjects people have A LOT of opinions on.
Carriers. Again, I am late to the game on this one. We ‘wore’ the boys a bit with but circumstance mean that it our ‘go-to’ mode of transport and napping for Greta. I love being able to snuggle her constantly and having both hands free is a game-changer, plus her brothers can’t disturb her when she’s safely strapped to me chest.
Two fabric wraps. One Karime wrap that I got off ebay 5 years ago and is still going strong. And a Fornessi Studios ones which is the most beautiful soft fabric, in an array of gorgeous shades. Very far away from the hippie-dippie-tie-dye-vibe image once associated with baby wearing.
We have an Ergo 360 too. A moire solid piece of kit. Great for when they get older as it can go on your back as well as your front.
High chairs it’s got to be the Stokke Tripp Trapp. An amazing piece of design. A proper investment. It says on the website you can use them from 0-99. I don’t know about OAP’s but I can vouch for the fact that we regularly have people in their mid-to-late thirties sitting on them when they come over for dinner parties.
We have am IKEA one too. Cheap as chips. Easy to take apart. Keep under the stairs for when friends come round or lob in the back of the car for trips away.
Changing bags. Again what a change! I still haven’t fogotten the horror of looking for one when pregnant with Bertie and being inundated with twee floral prints, embroidered owls and cupcakes! Not my vibe. I made-do with the free one you got when you joined the Boots Baby Club. At least it was black and simple.
But then Tiba + Marl came along and saved the day. Cool bags that are functional AND look good too. My fave is the classic is Black Elwood. I used it for maternity leave and then carried on using it at work. It’s got a touch of the Mary Poppins about it: you can fit EVERYTHING in there.
I rate the Baby Bjorn bouncer. Simple, minimalist design. Can be folded down flat. to avoid cluttering the house when not being used. Thumbs up.
We don’t use a baby bath. She either goes in the mixing bowl in the sink (not a joke). Or comes in with me or ben. It’s a great excuse for some skin to skin.
We don’t use a monitor either. At my lowest moment with Bertie my Mum advised me to turn it off. Up until it has been a bit obsession: keeping it with me wherever I went. When in actual fact our house isn’t that big, we can easily hear eachother throughout. Nothing like surround sound crying’ (from the monitor as well as the baby) to tip you over the edge, relying on my ears is far less traumatic.
Clothes. You can’t beat a John Lewis multi pack of white baby grows. But for really special quality try Mori .
The merino newborn hats from Smalls are heart-melty too.
Baby Blankets? They are a bit of a weakness of mine. They occupy the same place in my heart as cushions and scented candals, They bring me such joy that I can’t get enough.
Top 3 (and they all fulfill slightly different roles which is how I can justify it)
Aden + Anais Dream Blanket are suptuous and soft and big enouh to use as a rug.
More muslins the better. I have them scattered round the house (and still never had one when we need one). A multipack of bog standard ones is fine.
The Etta Loves ones are a piece of magic. They have patterns on them that meam they are appeal to babies early vision. ie they keep them entertained even at just a few weeks old.
These Bravado Bra’s are without doubt the best nursing bra I’ve ever had. I even wore them at night in the beginning (during the fuck-me-have-I-got-boulders -in-my tits-milk-coming-in-stage) they are that comfy. The leopard print racer back version is a particular fave.
Pumping. Ain’t anything sexy about it. In fact milking yourself is pretty blooming bleak. However, if you gotta do it, you want something fast and effective: the Medela Swing is just that. Bear in mind that you need a different funnel depending on the size of your nips (yes, that’s right my Jaffa Cake nips required the XL version – sexy!!).
Bottles. I automatically opted for Avent, probably because that’s what my mum used. It felt like a proper right of passage and the boys took them right away. Greta unfortunately has other ideas. We are currently working our way through every other bottle brand on the market…
Like with weddings, having a baby is like having a sign above your head that says; EASY TARGET.
People will try and flog you all sorts of gizmos and gadgets and tell you they are ‘essentials’. The fact is babies, particularly newborn ones, need way less than you think.
And mainly you can’t know until your baby is here.
So it’s a good idea to go and scope things out in advance, that way you know what’s out there, and then wait. Because thanks to joy of next day delivery and Amazon Prime you can always purchase when and if you actually need it.
And go second-hand. Find your local Facebook Group. They are a goldmine for buying or selling baby stuff. Or borrow things.
I use to think people were being so generous lending/giving away their bits, now I realise it’s because it’s hard to store all that gear but chucking it away is super emotional.
Passing on that cot/car seat/horrendous plastic baby gym not only feels like a nice gesture it also frees up room in the loft too.
Also a quick shout out to Salvation Army and Little Village who have services dedicated to providing baby stuff to those families who struggling to afford to give their kiddies the start in life they want. Certainly feels good to pass on a few precious items to them.
And thats it. As I say, these are the bits we love and get the most use out of. It’s far from definitive, but at the very least I hope its a bit helpful especially amongst a very cluttered and confusing market.
So this is timely. I’m having my 6 week check this week. The fact is that I am 10 weeks post partum speaks volumes about how over stretched the NHS are, but also how the system falls short of giving women the full care they need.
Further more ‘being signed off’, runs the risk of suggesting that life is a-ok and truth is having a baby takes a huge amount of recovering from. And all too many of us are guilty are learning to run before we can walk. Both emotionally and physically. Which is why this list from Anya aka @mothers.wellness.toolkit is so brilliant:
You have a baby. You take it relatively easy for the first 6 weeks, maybe doing the odd squeeze of your pelvic floor (clenching your buttocks hopefully and raising your eyebrows?) when you remember/can be bothered, but you’re itching to get back into it and “lose the baby weight”, “get your body back”. Pictures of Kardashians pinging back into their pre-baby shape make you feel like you’re lagging behind, being “lazy”, stuck somehow “doing nothing” under your baby when there are more important things to do. You feel like 6 weeks is a LIFETIME before you can be “signed off as back to normal” and ready to get stuck into regular activity, sign me up for baby Zumba now please!
Even if you’ve been “signed off” at your 6-week check, this should be seen as the START line of the marathon of your body healing itself, not the finish line. Your 6-week check is often cursory and currently skips over some fundamentals of your healing.
The 6-week check usually marks the formal end of maternity care, and you may think woo hoo the doctor has told me I’m fine, I’m good to go, baby hot spinning yoga here I come! – but at six weeks your body is not yet healed. Too often the GP only has time to give you a quick glance, ask you about contraception (!) and check in on your mental health. They may not ask you in depth about pelvic floor healing or assess your abdominals for separation (see below). And you might feel shy to talk about it. So you shouldn’t take it as read that you’re now all clear to get into high impact exercise – particularly if you weren’t an exerciser before pregnancy.
Six weeks is enough time for your organs to settle back to their original position once baby has evacuated that space, and the first stage of soft tissue healing. And potentially healing takes much, much longer if you’ve had a caesarean or a severe tear. It can take months for the abdominal and pelvic muscles to recover, and for the connective tissue to completely firm up. Your body is healing, there is so much going on under the skin that you can’t see, it needs nurturing and kindness.
Running and HIIT exercise appeals to mums because it requires no equipment, costs nothing, and can be crowbarred fairly easily into a suddenly-chaotic yet full-of-nothing-much day. You think getting back into it will make you feel great, lose all the weight, find your mojo. And yes, it might. Exercise is so important to wellbeing. But going straight into high impact activities like running at 6 weeks because “your 6-week check was fine” (was exercise even mentioned?) may not be the best plan for your long term healing.
Breathing is the most crucial starting point for your recovery, physically and mentally. Sooo boring, right? Well, your breathing enables you to release tension and anxiety, to allow your body space to recover from your birth experience, to move you from “fight or flight” into “rest and digest” mode. Breathing is intrinsically connected with the efficacy of your abdominals and pelvic floor, as the diaphragm has to learn how to communicate with your pelvic floor now that your baby is no longer hogging the space between them. Breeeeathe, wide and full into your belly, allow your diaphragm to fully descend and open and it will stimulate the conversation between the pelvic floor with its symmetrical rise and fall motion. It’s the most overlooked healing tool we have: it’s free, you’re doing it anyway might as well make it count, it doesn’t take any extra time ladies.
Diastasis whatsi? Diastasic recti – abdominal separation. Your rectus abdominis – your six-pack muscle, has separated during pregnancy due to stretching of the linea alba ‘fascia’, the connective tissue that holds the two bands of muscle together, sort of like unzipping at the front. Trying to flatten the mum tum with sit ups is not the solution as it will make the separation worse. We need to strengthen the deeper stabilising muscles: the pelvic floor, your corset muscle the transversus abdominis, and, fundamentally, get the diaphragm firing properly with proper breathing.
NO SIT-UPS. NO CRUNCHES. NO PLANKS. These are strictly contra-indicated in the early months of your postnatal recovery, due to weaknesses caused by diastasis.
If you’ve never been checked for ab separation and you’re not a “new” mum, this rule still applies.
If you’ve got abdominal separation – sometimes the gap doesn’t close naturally – it is going to cause problems such as backache and general weakness, however “new” or old a mum you are. ‘Ab exercises’ cause an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn increases the load placed on your weakened pelvic floor – sort of like building a loft extension on top of a house where you’ve knocked down a load-bearing wall. It’ll cause back pain, may exacerbate pelvic floor problems, it’ll make your foundation weaker not stronger.
If you do go to a buggy running-type group, or attend any fitness group in the year after your baby, your instructor must check your abdominals for separation and at the very least ask you in detail about your birth experience, how your pelvic floor is feeling, whether you experienced pelvic pain during your pregnancy. If the PT or instructor omits any of these essential postnatal duty-of-care issues, and particularly if they launch into AB EXERCISES, planking, sit-ups, leg lowers, flat tummy exercises etc., DO NOT DO THIS CLASS. Run, run away (slowly and with care).
Bum deal. Your pelvis has taken most of the burden of carrying your baby and probably also provided the exit route, so we need to give it some strong scaffolding. Hormones are still flooding your system, which keep your ligaments and joints unstable for up to nine months (and if you are breastfeeding, potentially longer), so it’s important to regain strength in your glute muscles, in order to stabilise your lower back and hips. If they aren’t firing on all cylinders you’re more likely to experience low back pain or have issues with your hips, knees and ankles. Strong bums are particularly important if you want to ultimately get back into high-impact movement such as HIIT and running…or day to day craziness with your minis – I mean, that can be a bootcamp workout in itself, right?
Posture matters. Everything hinges on your alignment in terms of your body systems working effectively post-birth. No amount of pelvic floor exercise will be truly effective if your alignment is poor and you’re not breathing fully. You do a lot of lifting, pushing and bending when you have small children – especially if you are breastfeeding. So you need to soften, lengthen, balance and even out your spine. Try lying on the floor at the end of the day, legs bent, palms facing up, and just take 2 minutes to breathe deeply.
I wet myself! LOL! IT’S NOT FUNNY. The main thing to remember about your pelvic floor after birth is that you should not suffer in silence or laugh it off. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that pelvic floor issues get better if they are ignored. If you are struggling with pain, discomfort, lack of sensation, a feeling of heaviness or ‘bearing down’, or even if things simply don’t feel ‘normal’ – not asking for help only means that the problem will definitely get worse over time.
Consider your 70-year old self and how you want her to feel. There is a real risk of pelvic organ prolapse postnatally, and it is so important to strengthen your pelvic floor to increase your chance of avoiding this, particularly if you want to have more children. If you feel any sensation of your insides ‘falling out’, please do not ignore this. A prolapse is when the uterus, bowel or bladder descends into the vagina. Go to your GP and ask to be referred to a women’s health physio. There is always something that can be done.
I had a C-section, pelvic floor exercises don’t apply to me. Sadly you don’t get let off the hook. Your pelvic floor has provided a neat pillow, punch bag and trampoline for your baby for 9 months, and if you laboured, there may be trauma to your pelvic floor. It needs some attention even if it didn’t serve as the exit turnstile.
Whatever birth experience you had, start your pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible. The sooner the better. BUT IT’S NEVER TOO LATE. So start now. NOW. If you had a perineal tear, whatever grade, begin these exercises without delay, as they’ll promote healing, send blood circulation to the area, reduce swelling, increase sensation and help you to regain your strength and function.
To do your pelvic floor exercises correctly: lift your back passage – imagine you are trying to stop breaking wind – then travel the engagement forward as if you want to stop the flow of wee, squeeze and lift forward and up.
Try not to hold your breath: lift up with an exhale, and then allow the entire pelvic floor to fully open, soften and relax on the inhale. Do a few repetitions, slowly and intentionally, a few times every day with this breath pattern. Then progress to doing some quickly. Squeeze and repeat 10 times, breathing normally without holding your breath, and always fully releasing and resting with an in breath at the end.
Remember that when you lift your pelvic floor there should be no clenching or tension anywhere else: bum, shoulders, jaw, inner thighs. It’s an internal engagement. A strong pelvic floor is the key to healing your mum tum.
Look at the Squeezy app for more guidance and physio-led information about pelvic floor exercise.
Your postnatal mojo is so linked to how your body FEELS and how you’re functioning. If you’re weeing when you exercise, or even when you cough and sneeze, that’s going to make you feel like shit, and make you scared to speak up about it or to continue to exercise, which perpetuates a negative cycle for your wellbeing.
Depletion in body: make no mistake, pregnancy withdraws all you got. It takes you well into your overdraft of energies, nutrients, minerals, strength. And then you don’t often choose to make deposits back into your account once baby is out (the “bounce back”!).
Your gut health may well be affected by your birth experience – antibiotics, caesarean birth – which will compromise your absorption of nutrients from your food. And crucially, may compromise your production of serotonin – the hormone of JOY, which is largely produced in the gut and therefore arguably could be one of the missing links in some out of the blue experiences of postnatal depression.
You’re not sleeping well, and probably not drinking enough water so you’re dehydrated. And you may only be eating toast, biscuits and mainlining coffee anyway, so your poor gut doesn’t have that much to work with.
Postnatal depletion is not depression. But it can make you feel generally a bit meh and crap. Which lends itself to becoming depression if left unchecked over time. The most basic form of selfcare is to tell yourself that you matter, to feed and water yourself adequately. How do you FEEL? Are you strong? Are you strong enough to carry a toddler in your dungarees like a sling for a mile when they refuse to go in the buggy?
It’s normal not to feel amazing all the time. But if it’s affecting your every day and you just feel “not right”: this is the tipping point. Check your PHYSICAL needs today: drink enough water, breathe properly and fully – this will be affecting your mind and spirit too. Our body image is so intrinsic to our happiness and identity, and postnatally this can take a real kicking.
It takes time to heal and regain your strength, you are only human, you’re not a Kardashian. It’s not frivolous to prioritise you and getting your body back safely and effectively. If you return to sit-ups, planks, running, HIIT too soon you can do more harm than good.
So ladies: drink enough water, remember to breathe, be kind to yourself, and if you’re at all worried about your “mum tum” not going away or about your pelvic floor healing, ask your GP to refer you to a women’s health physiotherapist. Look after YOU!
I’ll admit it, I’d never heard of Lyme Disease, or if I had it had gone in one ear and out the other. Then last year I worked alongside Julie Seal at Facebook and witnessed first hand what the life altering implications of this disease are and asked, probably a little too often, for her to write a list for me.
Here it is:
In 2007 my boyfriend and I took a road trip up to see my sister in Scotland in our 1977 Triumph Toledo. It was ace. We stayed in a mad hippy commune, went camping, hiked lots, had loads of fun, and unbeknown to me I was also bitten by a tick, that has – ten years later – caused damage to my heart, brain, muscles, nervous system and ability to walk.
Lyme disease is a bastard. Well, more accurately it’s thousands of tiny bastard bacteria that burrow into your organs, glands, joints, nerves and brain and fuck with stuff in weird ways. Sods. It’s insanely complicated to treat, massively misunderstood, obscenely under-diagnosed and totally contentious. Leaving tens of thousands of people in the UK screwed every year, and most never getting diagnosed.
I’ve mostly been a ‘stuff and nonsense’ stoic when it comes to health and pain, generally ploughing through. I’ve ignored the regular blackouts (up to about 20 times a day), constant relentless headache/earache/gland pain combo, the stiffness and joint pain, the crushing fatigue and the insomnia (4am starts for about 3 years)… But when my legs just stopped working last summer after a week of feeling severely weirdly stoned, I had to give in and go to A&E.
The NHS has no clue about Lyme (they are trained wrong, totally not their fault, there is lots of lobbying to get them to change their training and guidelines for diagnosis and treatment). So in A&E, after hours of tests, being told “nothing exists that means this would happen”, my muscles slowly stopped working, my brain swelled up, I thought the Queen’s name was Helen and could only move my right arm, slurring and unable to understand much of what was going on. Yet the doctors told me there was nothing wrong, and that it was probably stress. (Encephalitis and full paralysis, stress!) So I discharged myself to be looked after by my amazing parents and sisters and was properly diagnosed in Germany and the US.
So it’s been (cliché style) a journey… here’s what I’ve mainly learned:
The hardest bit about being ill isn’t the being ill bit. It’s how other people react. Most are amazing, but many don’t know what to do. But sadly I’ve lost a close friend (who just disappeared as soon as I became sick) and I’ve become distant from some previously close family members who totally inexplicably refuse to believe I have Lyme. Feeling crap, becoming disabled, everything changing, that’s crap, but the emotional stuff like losing friends and family, that’s the very worst.
That said, the friends and family that have seen me through are everything. I love them all so dearly.
Posh hotels don’t want you to wee in their lobby. My first proper time in a wheelchair was at the Women’s March. And much as it felt like a shitty personal moment amongst a brilliant one for womankind, I’m grateful I was with no-nonsense bloody lovely northerners who just steam-rollered me through the crowds. Plus we got to use the toilets in posh hotels as they’re mostly the only disabled access ones and nobody is going to say no to a cute blonde crip 😉 Sometimes hotels have also given me room upgrades just because of the pity vote. Not airlines though, they’re great at pushing you through airports, not great at letting you have pain-relieving leg-room for free!
Find friends who’ll take the piss. The first day I had to use a wheelchair in the office I was really scared. I’m not sure why but I figured that people might think I was trying to get attention. (It was mostly to experiment with a way to minimise the pain and exhaustion of trying to walk). My colleagues were without exception amazing about it, being helpful, kind, not making a big deal of it (the thing I feared the most) and helping me to not freak out. But the best bit about that day was having dinner with some very old friends in the evening and them all re-naming me ‘Julie Shit Legs’ then hysterically laughing about it. Thank god for those lads. Being treated normally is all I want and that particular piss-take did wonders for the soul.
Notice, but don’t focus. My left bum cheek twitches. Like constantly. It’s not really in a twerking way, not nearly that fun. My left eye does the same… for months on end. (Meaning I essentially flirt from in front and behind!) It’s the Lyme bacteria fucking with nerves. It also does scary stuff to my eyesight, annoying stuff to my brain, fucks with glands that secrete hormones so they go awry, and obviously makes my arms and legs not work brilliantly. It’s important to notice these things, then try to ignore them as best you can without obsessing or over-analysing. My left arm is also being particularly crap at the moment, not really working when I need it to. Like for essential phone-holding whilst texting boys stuff.
Don’t fucking patronise. Since being very young I’ve been fiercely independent, and when people speak to you like a child, can’t make your own decisions and don’t know what’s best for you because you’re not well, it’s hard not to want to trip them up with my walking stick.
Brain damage scares people. I have brain damage, my memory is really shit. Like, really shit. So I don’t always remember faces, let alone names. And have daily lapses with a lot of other crucial bits of information too, like words. Or how to get to and from work. (It really doesn’t help when everyone tells you they have a bad memory too, that ain’t a patch). But when you mention you have brain damage it does freak people out a bit.
I’m mindfulness as fuck. You become GREAT at mindfulness meditation when your brain doesn’t work properly. Cos literally can’t handle thinking about anything other than this VERY thing right now. It’s like my brain is on semi-constant screensaver mode. Which basically is the zen boss level, right?
Lyme bacteria gives a mellow high. Having bacteria mess with your brain often makes me feel a bit nicely mashed, like, yunno, the olden-days of drugs in dodgy nightclubs etc. Except that it’s now much more of a ‘watching grand designs on the sofa with my lodger and rolling my eyes back in my head while not making a lot of sense’ type thing.
Get drunk if you need to. In fact, do whatever you need to get by (within moral compass, obvs, don’t start a fun murder spree). People make judgements. When you have been house-bound and in constant pain, it’s an amazing release to drink booze and try have fun now and again, but when you’re crawling up the stairs of a pub dressed as a Victorian lady or have a seizure at a gig because of the lights, people make judgements about you being out at all. Sod those people.
Optimism isn’t always helpful. I’ve always been a chronic optimist. And so soldier on just like most stiff-upper-lippers, but when really bad things get me down, I’ve noticed it’s not always helpful to have friends be optimistic about it, because it’s kinda denying the reality of it. Things can be shit, and acknowledging their shitness is actually beneficial.
Sometimes it’s all perfectly apt. I told the story of my traumatic experience of going to A&E at a Moth storytelling event in Shoreditch, and ironically had a mild seizure at the side of the stage afterwards where my legs stopped working and my left arm wouldn’t stop flailing around. Comic timing.
Nobody JUST has Lyme. I also have Bartonella, Babesia, Chronic Active Epstein Barr Virus (or maybe that’s Carotidynia mimicking CAEBV). I have Hashimotos Thyroiditis, (not actually a Japanese superhero) and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Peripheral Neuropathy, and they’ve just found a gene mutation called MTHFR that my dad has nicknamed Motherfucker. My body is busy.
I’m a black belt in Chronic pain. It’s some next level sheeeeit. When people ask if my tattoos were painful, I kinda laugh, because a few hours of poking at your inner-skin is nothing. Broken bones, operations and many tattoos aren’t patch on proper chronic pain. After years in constant pain it grinds you down to a horrible, irritable, angry, tearful depressed mess. You also become incredibly thin-skinned, and generally emotional. And the bacteria messing with my serotonin uptake receptors mean that I struggle with depression a lot too. Though I try hard not to indulge in a self-pity party.
Sorry if I was mean. Or horny. I can’t metabolise oestrogen properly, meaning I’m sometimes (more than I might care to admit) super-hormonal angry, or cry a lot (A LOT) or sometimes testosterone-y, which gives me a unique insight into being a 16-year old boy as I’m sometimes weirdly confident and very, very highly-sexed!
It complicates babies, which is the saddest part. The main reason for my depression isn’t the constant poorly-ness, it’s the fact that I can’t try to have a baby until my body works better again and there’s less risk of passing it on too. I’m 38, divorced, have been desperate for a baby for years and plan to do it alone as soon as I can. The very second I’m in remission I’m heading down to the sperm bank and fertility clinic! Eek. Boom.
The most thanks has to go to my amazingly smart scientist sister who was diagnosed and treated years before me, and recognised my symptoms so helped me get diagnosed and treated. Without her I’d be housebound or dead. God that’s a bleak way to leave things isn’t it? Well, it’s honest. But I’ll end with this…
A lovely women once told me that illness can sometimes be a gift. And in a weird way this has been. That might seem eye-rollingly offensive other chronically sick people, but for me I really mean it. It’s taken loads away, but it’s genuinely given me stuff too.