Dear Pols…

Life has been interesting lately. Actually, that’s an understatement. Life has been a roller coaster lately. Highs, higher highs, lows, long slow climbs that you just know have an enormous drop on the other side but aren’t quite sure how far the drop is, and a whole plethora of emotions. I haven’t blogged about any of it because, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I ever want to be able to revisit most of those places in the future. I do know from conversations with lots of people, though, that I’m not the first to be where I was, and I’m certainly not the only one to be in that place right now.

As you all know, I’m partial to the odd trite saying. I love a cheesy cliché, I do, and recent times have been no exception to that. Naturally, my corny catchphrase of choice of late has been “this too shall pass”. It got me thinking… It WILL pass. Of course it will. Everything does. But where will I be when events of the last few months are filed under D for Distant Memory? I guess the answer to that is that I don’t know (who does?) but I’m thinking best case scenario here, and having a word with the me who emerges from this in twelve months’ time…

Dear Pols (aged 34 and just-over-a-half),

How are you? With any luck you’ll be reading this in the same place I wrote it: at your desk in the office at home, looking out at the children playing in the garden. They’ll be bigger than they are now but I don’t expect they’ll have changed much otherwise. This past year will have been tough on them at first, but I suspect the children you see in front of you now will have adapted nicely; they’re tough little cookies and they have your (our? This whole writing-to-yourself thing is kind of weird) strength of character. It’s that thing Dad used to say, isn’t it? Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. It has been tough. Horrendously tough. Unexpectedly and unpredictable tough. But we’re tough too, and so are those children, and that’s why I can write this knowing we all got there in the end.

You’ll have learned a lot in this past year, I expect. One of the lessons I’ve already learned is that sometimes there is just no right way to handle a situation.Or, if there is, it usually comes with the benefit of hindsight. I guess everyone in life is just muddling through as best they can. Maybe other people would have chosen different ways or different paths, but I did the best I could and I hope the road I chose for us has brought you to a destination where you’re happy. I’m pretty certain it has. When I look around me now, I see the green shoots of a promising future. The clouds have been many, but the silver linings have been plentiful too and I hope they’ve long outlasted the clouds.

I’ve been working harder on being kind to myself, so hopefully I’ve made that job easier for you. I’ve learned recently to take the lessons from the times I could have handled things better, and let the rest go; chuck them in that proverbial fuck-it bucket and move on. I’ve also learned to stop taking responsibility for the way other people deal with situations. I hope that’s worked out well for you. People react to stuff in their own way; it’s not your job to work through that for them or to accept responsibility for how they feel. Nor is it your job to guide them to the truth, or to explain yourself.

You have some really wonderful friends, Pols. People whose support and love has been unending and unconditional. I hope you have the opportunity to repay that to them one day. Meantime, they know how much they mean to you because I’ve told them. You should know who your friends are by now, because I’ve pretty much figured out who’s in it for the long haul, and who isn’t.

I know this will find you in a house full of happiness and love, because that’s what I’ve been building for you. A wonderful, crazy home with laughter and fun and a never ending source of strength. You’re loved, you’re wanted and most of all you’re utterly fabulous. I know that last bit because someone we know told me. Your future is bright, and anything else will pass.

Be happy, Pauline. Let me know how it goes.

Love,

Pols (aged 33 and just-over-a-half)

A personal one…

“I won’t be a Mom any more”

We went to see The Fault in our Stars last night. I’ve recently finished the book, having read it at weird times of night when I couldn’t sleep, and I enjoyed it but didn’t find myself reaching for the Kleenex. I figured the film would probably be the same, so naturally I didn’t bother to take any Kleenex (other brands of tissue are available, obvs). Needless to say, I cried like a baby. It was that line, you see. That “I won’t be a mom any more” line, which was gasped by the mother of huge terminally ill protagonist at some touch-and-go point in her illness (she survived that particular setback, if you’re interested).

I know why that line got to me. It got to me because it was my children’s weekend with their dad, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how 50/50 contact makes me feel like 50% of a parent. It struck me, as people around me blew their noses (having prudently remembered their Kleenex) and sniffled about the tragedy of huge story, that my children were somewhere else and I had no idea what they were doing or how they were. It’s hardly comparable to the situation the mother in the movie found herself in, but it occurred to me that I feel so completely rubbish as a parent when they’re off at their dad’s. Like I’m not a mum when they’re not with me.

I’m pretty certain they were having a typical Saturday night in their dad’s house. The toddler would most likely have been asleep, and the boys would either have been battling with one another or plotting against their dad. All fairly typical of what happens when they’re with me. That wasn’t really the point, though. The point was that I’m so used to being around them 24/7. I’m used to seeing, hearing and being involved in the minutiae of their every day lives. I knew about every grumble and every laugh; I flushed the unflushed loos and kissed skint knees. Suddenly, half of their life is a complete unknown to me and that has really, unexpectedly hit me hard.

I mean, they’re with their dad. He’s a good parent, and he’s been a stay-at-home dad for almost two and a half years, so they’re used to having him around. He knows what they like to eat and he’s more than capable of kissing skint knees and flushing the loo. They’re safe, they’re well and they’re happy. That’s all good. But they’re not with me and I miss them so much it makes me feel physically sick.

I sometimes lie awake at night and wonder if my toddler is awake. I wonder if she’s looking for me, asking for Mummy Milk and wondering why I’m not there. I wonder if the boys are missing me, and if they really feel it when I’m not around. The best and worst part of it all is that I think they’re doing just fine.

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Remember to see the beauty in the everyday things around you, and find joy in the little things. Always look for the best in people, but offer your trust wisely. Trust your own judgement; your gut instinct is rarely wrong. Don’t engage in gossip, and remember that when people gossip about you it says more about their character than yours. While small minds indulge in idle gossip, great minds ask questions in search of the truth.

Be true to yourself, because when you’re alone with your thoughts there is no hiding from the truth. When others doubt you, you will find comfort in your clear conscience. Before you judge others remember that you only see them where they are now, and you were not there to witness the winding path of their journey. Be tolerant and compassionate, and challenge your own views. Never allow a cry for help to go unanswered, and never be afraid to be the one in need. There is no shame in weakness, and there is strength in vulnerability. Value those around you. Money is the currency of the world, but love and friendship is the currency of life: spend time, save memories. Cherish those precious moments, commit them to memory. When times are tough, these memories will wrap you in the comfort of better days.

Sometimes, your love and friendship will be misplaced. Betrayal may hurt, but don’t allow it to break you. Accept that you can never change the past. Park it, take the lessons you need from it, and continue your journey free from the burden of things which have gone before. Turn and face the sunshine, so the shadows are always behind you. Dream big, and don’t be afraid to make those dreams a reality.

Live fearlessly.

Laugh freely.

Love completely.

Love. Love transcends everything. Tell people that you love them, because sometimes it will the the one thing they really need to hear. Offer your love without conditions. Allow your love for others to consume you. Bask in the warmth of being loved. Show people that you love them, because your actions will speak more than your words will ever be able to say. Love is more than a single emotion; love is an experience. Share it.

Carpe Diem. Seize the flipping day.

And then there were five…

Baby Alexa

Baby Alexa

I don’t normally blog about parenting, specifically, but I’m a sucker for a juicy birth story and Emma at emmaandalfiesworld.co.uk is hosting a series of birth stories so I thought I’d chuck in my tuppence worth!

From the moment we discovered we were expecting Baby No. 3, I was determined to have a home birth. Both our sons had been born in hospital and neither experience had been great. Nothing particularly traumatic had happened and we all survived, but the loss of empowerment and control coupled with the wholly unnecessary and unpleasant interventions we endured were enough to make me absolutely certain of my decision.

So, after enduring the lengthy and tedious process of convincing the midwifery team that I meant business and wouldn’t take no for an answer (which involved refusing to attend a consultant clinic and ASK for permission to birth my baby at home!), it was all arranged. My babies seem to like to cook for longer than the suggested 40 weeks, so it was agreed that my midwives wouldn’t go on call until I was 39 weeks instead of the usual 38. This was not only practical, but meant I’d have them on call for longer on the other side of my due date. The kit arrived – there was so much stuff – and we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

It started to feel like Baby Pols had no intention of budging. A sweep at 41 weeks, and another at 41+4 seemed fruitless, and a trip to hospital after my waters appeared so have gone ended up with the midwife gently telling me I’d spontaneously peed on the floor. Even the Twitter hashtag #ComeOutLumpy dedicated to her arrival didn’t persuade baby to make an appearance! It was finally agreed that we’d tentatively book induction for 42+1. Looking back, I had no intention of allowing them to induce me on that day, but to have baby monitored and have general well being to be checked seemed wise. I felt much more relaxed after we’d arranged that induction date, because I felt like there was a Plan B if I was getting to tired to deal with Plan A.

Given that it was fairly certain we were going to be welcoming a new member of our family in the coming week, we packed the boys off to my dad for the afternoon on the Saturday before my possible induction the following Monday. Feeling hopeful, I sent them off with their overnight bags in the unlikely event of labour starting while they were away. Having got halfway back to my house with the boys in his car that evening, my dad decided to turn back and keep them overnight to give us a peaceful evening and some more time to relax…

Relaxation, as it turns out, is conducive to spontaneous labour! I woke at 00:59 on Sunday 25th March, at 42 weeks pregnant, desperate for a wee. I was a bit muddled when I got back to bed after my wee – which felt like it was of average duration – to discover I’d been in the loo for one hour and three minutes. It took me a minute to realise the clocks had gone forward and my phone had adjusted the time accordingly! I lay awake for a while with backache, with Dr Gregory House (yum!) on TV for company. At 3 am, I had a whopping great contraction out of the blue!

I woke my husband up just as contraction number 2 took hold. A quick look at the contraction timer app I’d downloaded told us my contractions were 90 seconds apart. After a brief panic that I hadn’t made the homemade soup or lemon cake that I’d planned to whip up for the midwives, and a conversation with my husband during which I insisted I couldn’t POSSIBLY be in labour, I rang the hospital. After a brief chat, I came off the phone and announced to my ashen-faced husband that I’d arranged to ring them back in 30 minutes. Fortunately, I was brought to my senses by another huge contraction and the midwives were promptly despatched. Looking back, I totally missed an opportunity to dramatically yell “Call the midwife!”

As it began to sank in that I really was in labour, and that this baby really wasn’t wasting any time, we frantically unpacked the medical supplies. Well, when I say “we”, I mean my husband. I plonked my giant, pregnant backside on the edge of the sofa and refused to move. Having made such a song and dance about active labour, I was so shell-shocked by the speed of it that I just wanted to sit in one spot and rock my hips in a pathetic attempt to ease the pain.

I vaguely remember at one point asking for paracetamol. The panicked and slightly puzzled look on my husband’s face was enough to tell me that he had no idea where the paracetamol actually was, and I very politely (with added swear words) told him not to bother. By this time, there was pretty impressive pressure in my derrière-region and not a midwife to be seen. I gave Mr P a quick briefing on how to deliver a baby, and we got ready for action.

A knock at the door at 3.40am signalled the arrival of reinforcements. The first midwife, one I’d gotten to know well during my pregnancy, had arrived and we were no longer going it alone. She set to work arranging her bits and pieces, and tried to check the baby and I out between those bad boy contractions. When she sent me off to the loo for a wee prior to examining me, I insisted on taking my husband in with me. I still have no idea why I did that, but he knew from the hysterical mess I descended into whilst in the bathroom that arrival of our baby was imminent. I begged him to ring an ambulance to take me to hospital for an epidural. I pleaded for drugs, and cried for a C-section. He steadfastly reminded me of how I’d carefully prepped him for this very situation, and off how desperately I wanted to have this baby at home.

Tears and snot cleaned up, and the second midwife now in attendance, I waddled back to the living room where I assumed the one position I always insisted I never wanted to be in – on all fours on the sofa. With that, the penultimate contraction hit and I yelled to the midwife that this baby was coming. I remember her laughing and telling me that’s why she was here, and I’ll never forget the panic in her voice when she saw baby’s head crowning and called to the other midwife for a delivery pack!

One more contraction and all 9lbs of our daughter, Alexa Hannah Catherine, came into the world at 4.02am… 62 minutes after my first contraction. The absence of amniotic fluid confirmed that my waters had indeed gone a few days earlier, and my bladder control was just fine! The midwives cleared up the mess (including the canisters of Entinox that I never even got to use!) in record time and by 6am they had gone back home to bed, leaving us to enjoy our newborn.

For me home birth was a wonderful experience, and truly one of the most empowering experiences of my life. Even during such a short, intense labour I felt completely in control. I knew that babies didn’t always read the handbook before they attempted entry into the world, but it felt that I’d made allowances in my plan for any unexpected changes. People (even strangers) would remark that I was brave by planning a home birth, a remark which suggested to me that I was somehow playing fast and loose with the safety of my baby, I wasn’t brave, I was just informed. My pregnancy was low risk, and statistically a home birth was less risky than a hospital birth. A healthy baby, a healthy mum, successfully established breast feeding and a lovely natural 3rd stage was everything I could have asked for… And it cost the NHS less, too!

This is my body…

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All this talk on my blog of the way women’s bodies are portrayed in the media got me thinking: what would a women’s magazine like Now! make of my shocking body?

Unfortunately (fortunately), I don’t have any bikini photos. Sorry about that, I’m sure you were most looking forward to feasting your eyes on my pasty flesh. A couple of ‘look at my new frock’ selfies will have to do instead.

So, let’s start at the top. My hair isn’t too bad, actually. Apart from the fact that I’m a bottle blonde, but that’s alright yes? The first giant red circle would probably be awarded to my chin. Or, more accurately, chins. I have what’s known in Glasgow as a ‘bawface’, and an abundance of chins is a feature of that. We’re talking “multiple” rather than double.

Moving down, the next bikini crime would be my boobs. If I’m honest, they’re not half bad when they’re trussed up to belie the effects that gravity and three babies and gravity have had on them. In a bikini, they’re like genetically modified spaniel’s ears.

Next up, it’s the bingo wings. If I wave to you, my arms will still be wobbling long after you’re out of sight. Those bad boys would be most deserving of a big, red circle of shame.

“Pols piles on the pounds” would be the screaming caption accompanying my waistline, or lack thereof. And the next feature of note would be my dimply arse, which has more orange peel than a Christmas cake.

Finally, my thunder thighs would be the final mail in my coffin of shame. I, blessed with typical Scottish ‘corned beef’ skin, which only emphasises the dimply wobbliness of my upper legs.

God, I sound like a real mess, don’t I? Except I’m not. Let’s look again…

My eyes. Everyone tells me I have beautiful eyes. You know what? They might just be right. Behind them lies the critical mind which processes the things I see around me in the world, and makes me speak out for what I believe in. I care about people, and I believe we’re all entitled to live our lives true to who we are without discrimination or shame. I use that brain of mine to earn a crust; I feed, clothe and shelter three children using that brain. My sense of humour comes from there too, and the strength of character that’s gotten me up when life has knocked me down.

My lips aren’t bad, and I smile all the time. I’d be a crap Londoner, because I smile at everyone. I’m told they’re pretty nice to kiss too…

Then there’s the saggy boobs. Those bad boys have nourished and comforted three babies, babies who were housed in that blancmange tummy I have.

My legs are long, and they look pretty good with a pair of heels.

I’m a wife and a mum, a sister, a daughter and a friend. I’ve achieved many, many things I’m proud of, and I’ve loved and laughed with so very many people.

You can make your own mind up about what my photos say about me, but this much is true: I’m greater than the sum of the parts that are so easy to criticise. There’s more to me than wobbly arms and a ginormous bum. You can choose not to look beneath the surface, but in doing so you create a legacy. A legacy of shame and angst for girls growing up around the body shaming attitudes you cultivate. We’re better than that.this