Thursday, 18 December 2014

I haven't used shampoo since 2012

Since two people this week have asked me about this, I figured perhaps it's time for an update post. I wrote about not using shampoo here, and even made a Youtube video 18 months ago...

My earlier post talks about what I do with my hair, so here's just a little more visual proof and again I'll say, I'll never go back. From the greasy-in-a-day, lank, flat hair I used to be unable to let grow beyond my chin, to the long-past-my-shoulders hair that I now have that has volume and stays in place, I would be stupid to return to the old.

Here again, in short, is my routine: I wash my whole body with water only. My hair I'll wash upside down with fairly hot water to get the oils out, then flip over to rinse so it's manageable after the shower. I blow dry it uncombed, and once it's dry or nearly dry, I use a wide toothed comb. No boar bristle brush faffing about (besides, boar bristles aren't vegan!)

I don't use any regular products except make-up (and when I say make-up I'm not talking about stuff slathered on my skin, but about mascara and eyeliner only). My skin stays soft without the use of soaps. After a shower I put pure jojoba oil on my still-wet face and neck, and use the Pit-Rok deodorant rock. That's it.

Baby's getting the same routine, by the way (minus the pit rok, of course!) - I'll use jojoba or coconut oil on her. She's never had nappy rash or cradle cap. The nappy rash is probably more to do with my diet, as I obviously don't have any dairy, but let's just say her skin is all over beautiful.

Right, I promised some before & after visuals of my hair...



Any questions?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

AA Slogans in my Mothering

I have spent years in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I've never been drunk in my life, but I've abused food in the way others abuse alcohol and had found a way to live sanely through GSA, a group that directly applies AA principles to food issues. When there were no GSA meetings in my area, for years I attended AA meetings, and studied their literature in depth throughout my recovery.

I'm no longer a member of GSA because I was supernaturally healed - any AA/GSA member will tell you that recovery is a life long process, you are never 'healed', and that is true in the natural; but one day, I was set free and I knew it and I have never looked back. But that's a story for another day.

What I want to share is how what I learned from AA applies directly to my mothering, and is keeping me sane. Those slogans are lifesavers. You may want to memorise some of them...

  • One Day At A Time.I had a bracelet made with this slogan on. I tend to live in the future and worry it, and I have to pull myself back. Mr. is very good at not pointlessly worrying and he helps me with that as well.
    Can I face today? I can do almost anything for just today. I can do this, today.
  • Easy Does It.Simply put: relax! Whatever the insurmountable hardship is that I'm facing right now, let's relax and perhaps I don't have to fret and tense up. As long as I plod on, do the next right thing, easy does it.
  • First Things First.What needs doing right now? What is absolutely non-negotiable? Not many things are, really. When in recovery from alcohol, the first thing is to not drink. When mothering, what are the first things? There aren't many. Relax. Breathe. Figure out what First Things are.
  • Live and Let Live.This applies both to baby and to other parents... I've found that everyone's an expert on parenting. Except for me, I'm a total novice. But the truth is, they may be experts on their children, but not on mine. And equally I have no wisdom to give on other people's kids, either. I can share what works for me and mine, but it may not work for them and theirs. And that's OK. They do things their way and I have no expectation of doing things the same way - their way isn't wrong, nor is mine. 
  • Keep It Simple.
    Success in AA is staying away from the bottle. Simple! (though not easy.) I have a tendency to overcomplicate and overthink things in my head - this slogan reminds me that it's probably not nearly as complex as I make it to be. Whatever 'it' is.
  • But For the Grace of God.
    Or, in full, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Whenever I'm tempted to feel smug about anything, this slogan is so helpful to remember... if I didn't have such an easy baby, if I didn't have the information I do have, if if if - that parent who totally does it "wrong" in my eyes, I could be them.
    Probably a very useful slogan to have in the toddler years, when meltdowns become a thing - never, ever judge the mother of a difficult toddler. It's her today, it'll be me tomorrow. Today, but for the grace of God.
  • Let Go and Let God.
    Most of the time at this stage, I can manage my child. I determine everything in her life. She feeds on demand because I allow her to - I could do things differently. But as she grows up, I will need to let go and let God. I'll need to trust. Unclench my fist.
  • Feelings aren't Facts.
    One of my favourites... how I feel at this particular moment is a valid feeling, but that does not make it fact. I may feel like everything is falling apart; two hours later, in total control again. Neither is fact. Fact is, I'm doing the best I know how to do, and we're muddling through. Never act on feelings, they aren't facts.
  • Fake It 'til you Make It.
    If I feel I can't do it, it's too much: fake it. Again I think this will become more and more useful as baby grows. She'll look to me for guidance. She'll expect me to anchor her, yet when she feels overwhelmed so might I! But I can fake it, fake the confidence and trust, until I truly acquire it.
  • Meeting Makers Make It.
    In AA, meetings are the lifeline of every member. They 'keep it green' for those who've been sober a long time, by hearing others' fresh stories of misery. I don't need to hear parenting misery stories, but I do need community. An isolated parent is a vulnerable one. I can't do this alone - I do believe in the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Meeting with others, being part of community, is how I can make it.
  • Surrender.
    My life has changed. I can't have my old life back. Trying to recreate it and 'fit baby in' to my old life will just make me miserable. I need to figure out how to live happily in this new life, not pine for the old.
Lastly, I'll leave you with the full version of the Serenity Prayer, which I pray at least daily. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace,
taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever and ever in the next.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Baby at 2 months: Our new normal

I write this with my baby resting on my chest, skin-to-skin, towards the end of an evening filled with pained crying - she's got colic, although it's been improving very much and crying has become a fairly rare event. It strikes me that this is my new normal... life has truly changed.

Sofa time
I'm convinced I've spent more time on the sofa in the past two months than in the entire time we've owned it before baby. The first few weeks I literally fed her all day, all the time, with breaks of up to (!) 15 minutes. She was hungry! and I was sore.  At night she'd sleep fairly well, three wakings to feed, which is still her pattern. But as the initial dust settles, we seem to have found a rhythm together, and days are beginning to be somewhat predictable.

Not that I expect that to be in any way permanent! But right now, it's lovely.

This is how a typical, new-normal day looks now.

At night, babe wakes around 2, 4, and 6am so I have a good chunk of sleep from going to bed until 2. She rarely gets to the point of crying for a feed, usually her fussing wakes me, and we're getting good at feeding in the dark - minimising the impact on Mr. although I'm quite sure he does notice most of the time.

Night being over, Mr. wakes up at about 6.30 and changes babe's nappy, then brings her back to me and I'll try to get her to settle down for a bit more sleep - with usually a 50/50 success rate. So we might be up by 8, or perhaps not until after 9. After I've fed her before getting up, I'll get dressed and start microwaving my porridge for breakfast, which my wonderful Mr. has prepared ready to eat. I feed her as I eat breakfast. [there's a feeding theme here - she very rarely goes more than 2 hours without a feed, and normally no more than 30 minutes to one hour] Then I change her nappy and dress her for the day.

In one of our favourite
dog walking locations.
This takes us to 10.30 at the latest, which is as far as I can possibly stretch our lovely dog's bladder. We get out for a walk, either on our own or sometimes with other mums with dogs from the area [Facebook is an amazing resource for finding likeminded people - I remember my worries about having to leave the hound behind, well there are others in the same boat and we're doing our own thing!]

Back home for lunch, both babe and myself. My lunch is usually very simple, something like baked potatoes with sauce or leftovers. Quite possibly a nap for us both. After that, another feed or two, a short dog walk to allow the hound to use the toilet, and then chores: the boat feels a lot less tidy than it used to, despite my best efforts, which I think is partly due to more stuff being around - babies have stuff! - and partly because I just can't do certain things [read: clean the toilet] with a baby strapped to my front. Which is how I do the chores. There are very, very few moments in the day that I am not in physical contact with babe, and we're both loving it! I really believe that the reason she is pretty relaxed about being put down when needs be is because she knows she'll be picked up again soon.

Babe & hound on a
typical evening
That takes us to the evening, various feeds throughout the afternoon interrupting chores and whatever I'm doing at the time, and we'll start cooking dinner and expecting Mr. home. He texts to say when he leaves work and we try to go out for a dog walk towards him. In the evening, babe spends quite a bit of time with dad and I get things done I can't do with her - shower time! And evenings are usually quite sedate, we'll read, go online, watch catch-up TV [QI or Mock The Week are favourites] with a snoozing or cooing babe on either of us - when she's not feeding, of course.

Bedtime routine, so far as we have one, starts at about 10: Mr. takes the hound for his last walk, meanwhile I will change babe into her night nappy and dress her for bed, get myself ready for bed and start her last feed/s before sleepytime. And then, by 11, lights off - and about 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep ahead for me!

That's our new normal.

What did I do before baby? What did I fill my days with? She takes up so much time - well, all of it really - that I struggle to think what kept me busy before. I don't remember sitting around twiddling my thumbs and I was always busy, but what with? Dog walks are one thing I know I'm doing less of now... but that can't be it, can it?

I cannot imagine my life without her. Only two months in. It's amazing.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Living Green-Ish

Every so often I read about things like BPA in plastic causing cancer or how even disposable 'eco' nappies take a lifetime to decompose and I think about my family's health and our impact on the world. And often I do try to do something about it. Not always; I'm reasonably green-minded but I have to admit that if it significantly inconveniences us or costs too much, it doesn't happen. I'm not all-or-nothing about it - just trying to reduce our footprint while maintaining a reasonable quality of life.

So, recently after reading an article written by a woman in New York who generates 'Zero Waste' I've been thinking about our family's ways again. I do think we're quite green in some ways, but I don't think we're all that radical... here are some things we've thought about, and what we're doing about them.

Baby being washed in water :)
  • BPA in plastic and cans. Apparently tinned tomatoes are the worst offenders. I buy Cirio tomatoes in a tetra pak now, and all our tupperware is BPA-free. Yes, we're still using plastic - all other alternatives have a drawback: glass obviously is heavy and breakable, metal can't be microwaved. Which brings me on to...
  • Microwave. Yes, we've got one, and yes, we're keeping it. It's quick and low energy, therefore green, and I really haven't seen enough credible research to support the fearmongers.
    Besides, since the gas man condemned our oven as "Immediately Dangerous" the microwave has become even more essential in my kitchen!
  • Pressure Cooker. Quick, therefore green, this is an unmissable staple in my kitchen. We used to have a slow cooker but we've replaced it with this gadget now, which has a slow cooker function as well as pressure cooking.
  • Supermarket shopping. We shop online and have it delivered to our door. That's no less green than getting in a car to to there ourselves, in fact the van going house to house is probably less of an impact than all those people individually getting in their cars and going to the supermarket; plus, it's so much more convenient and it stops me impulse buying!
  • Local produce. My neighbour's son is a greengrocer and he supplies me with a weekly veg box. It's not organic: it's much cheaper than organic boxes you can get, it's even cheaper than the same non-organic produce at the supermarket! But it's travelled fewer miles and comes in a cardboard box, so we have minimal waste to deal with - the cardboard box either functions as kindling for our fire or we give it back to him.
  • Transport. We do have a car and we're keeping it - in fact we're thinking about upgrading to a transporter and converting it to a campervan - but it's not used daily. Normally twice a week, maybe three times. It gives me peace of mind to know there is a car should we need it, although Mr. commutes to work by bike, and I walk when not on maternity leave. Walking is good for me and the dog.
  • Personal grooming. I don't use any products except the deodorant rock and pure jojoba oil; I gave up using shampoo over two years ago (I wash with water only) and my hair has never been better. I do use some items of make-up - mascara, eyeliner - which are small and last for ages. Mr. uses liquid soap, and we buy the vegan kind. Baby gets washed with water only, like me, and we use pure coconut oil on her bum to protect her skin - she's got great skin all round.
  • Cleaning. Most of my cleaning is done with vinegar and essential oils. For laundry we use soap nuts and essential oils. Where the vinegar doesn't cut it, we use eco products.
  • Nappies. We use cloth nappies when we're home, eco-disposable when travelling, which isn't very often - has been more often in baby's early life, because family wanted to see her - and I've actually found my Mother-Ease cloth nappies much better at containment and kinder on baby's skin, and I've got a simple washing routine that doesn't really add that much to what I normally have to do. (we use disposable liners to minimise the need to deal with poo - it just gets thrown away). Whereas the amount of dirty disposable nappies we generate over just a few days is really quite disturbing!
  • Home Cooking. Apart from the weekly fish-and-chips treat Mr. insists upon (I tend to stick with some chips, and the dog loves my leftovers) we cook at home and Mr. takes the evening's leftovers to work for the next day's lunch. That's green as well as cheap.
I can't think of much else at the moment but really - all of the above make up a simple way of living, without adding too many complications to our lives, and they all help to some degree to make our family's footprint on the environment a little bit smaller. As I think we all ought to do - maybe not the way we do it, but I think we all should consider our ways and see if we could make small changes that add up.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Emotional depth: Motherhood Level

An alternative title for this post could have been, "Things that make me cry"... I've never cried easily. In fact, there must have been whole years in which I never cried. How times change.

Happy baby
She cries a lot less
than I do
I've been crying often since giving birth. No, I'm not depressed - I'm just experiencing emotions much deeper than I ever have before. And not just in relation to my child. A few things that have made me cry lately:

  • Joy. The most surprising thing, the depth of joy I've experienced with this baby; just looking at her, watching her as she sleeps or feeds or looks wide eyed at the world, has reduced me to tears. As I talk to her and tell her how much I love her, more often than not I cry and fail to get the words out. But she doesn't seem to mind.
  • Thankfulness. The other day, baby was in her hammock and I had some cuddles with the dog when I just lost it at the sheer amount of love surrounding me - Mr. came home just then and found me in a flood of tears that I found difficult to explain.
  • Her pain. Seeing my child in pain hurts me in some ways deeper than it probably does her. She was struggling with wind for weeks and has had days of crying in pain as she strains to do poos, and eventually she would just fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. I can't help, and her pain is wounding me deeply. When she had blood taken at hospital for tests - a procedure that took minutes, not seconds, and during which she was screaming with pain and distress - I cried throughout.
  • Reading about other babies. This one is a real surprise to me. Where before I would have read an article with some interest, now I connect. The other day I read about babies who experience abdominal pain so severe, where parts of the intestine die, I saw my own baby's distress amplified and that brought on the tears.
  • Frustration. Only once in the six weeks of her life have I actually cried with frustration, but I was pushed to the point of tears after a very, very long day full of challenges and worries, when in the evening she threw a full feed back up (on me) and I knew she'd be hungry again but I felt I had nothing left. 

It's well known that pregnancy hormones make you more emotional. But hormones are neither here nor there - for me, this is part of the continuing journey of a deepening, richer emotional life: the next step. I felt the loss of my mother at age 15 extremely deeply, months of daily crying for hours until a certain numbness set in; then three years of emotional abuse in a very dysfunctional family situation taught me to protect myself by burying emotion to the point of truly not feeling it, rather than hiding or stuffing it down. As a young adult, I was truly without deep emotion: a serene inner wasteland.

Into this intruded Christianity, or rather, Christ. I had felt no draw towards religion of any kind, and emotional appeals would have gone nowhere at all with me; it was the cold, hard facts of history that (eventually and after much research) convinced my mind that the outrageous claims of Christianity were true. Other than a certain wounded pride at this discovery (having been strongly atheist) my heart and emotions just weren't involved. I was a Christian because it was the truth, not because I liked it.

But then I started to learn about this God I was now following. And one of the things about him that surprised me most was that God is deeply emotional. He is not serene and undisturbed. A few samples...

  • He dances and sings with joy - for example, Zeph. 3.17: The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. 
  • He grieves - for example Jn. 11.35: Jesus wept.
  • He can be extremely angry - for example Ps. 7.11: God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.
  • He is caring like a mother - for example Is. 66.13: As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you and Is. 49.15: Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
  • He's very jealous - for example Ex. 34.14: [...] and you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
  • Love - of course, he's loving to the point of not just being willing to, but actually having died for those he loves.

I really believe that this new depth of feeling is only a taste of the depth there is, being made in His image... perhaps I'm being walked into deeper realms step by step because I'm finding it pretty overwhelming already and I just couldn't take more right now. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Accepting Help

She's five weeks old tomorrow. So little! So big! Such a short space of time to get to know her, yet I feel so incredibly close to her. Such long days, each full of new learning yet one much like the other.

Opposite things totally true at the same time.

No one ever told me (or perhaps there's no way of appreciating until you experience it) just how all-consuming this mothering business is. Days fly by and suddenly she's a month old and I'm starting to get into a routine at the same time as still feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing.

I learn new things every day about how to take care of this little person. But I'm learning another lesson, too: how to humbly accept help. I'm not a natural at that...

I've been receiving so much help in the last few weeks.
  • The church has organised a rota that continues until next week, where friends bring us dinner every other day. Six weeks without really cooking - time to get our act together enough to be able to do it when we need to.
  • My neighbour with the 9-month-old, who passed on loads of baby stuff to me and drops by every so often with fresh food she just made. Who is always around for a chat and lots of practical advice.
  • The old friend whom I haven't seen in years offering me a brand new sling because she's won two in a competition.
  • My housemate from years ago who's a maternity nurse and made a trip all the way from London to visit me, offer advice, and shower me with truly useful gifts for baby.
  • Baby items given or lent to me left right and centre by other mums from my church: feeding pillow, breast pump, sterilising equipment, baby carry sling... and much more.
  • Gifts from family and friends - baby clothes (several hand knitted pieces by granny and great-granny, a hand-crocheted blankie from a friend dropped off with dinner one day; my cousin from Austria sending care packs of baby things from her daughter who's five months older)), toys, books.
  • And daily, Mr. who never stops working and sorting things out around here - right now he is fixing the fridge - in addition to making cups of tea, cooking, bringing me cold drinks when I feed the baby. He is truly amazing and his support is unwavering.

The truth is, I've had to consciously accept that these gifts are given freely, and that I would devalue them by refusing any of them. Especially with Mr. though, it's been tough. When I sit on the sofa feeding the baby or just letting her sleep on me while he goes here and there, working on this and that, it takes a lot of determination not to ask him if there's something I can do to help or if he'd like me to do that... I feel like I'm taking advantage, when I know in my head that he is only trying to bless me and is doing these things because of love.

I have to get better at accepting freely given love. There's so much of it around.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Naming a new human

It's been exactly a week since the birth. Our new addition is one week old: still brand new.

This brand new human being is ours to care for, protect, and... name. Lots of thought has gone into her name, and I thought I'd share how we came to it; just so you know though, I won't use her actual name in this post as it's in the public domain. If you know us, you know her name.

We chose her name (and a boy's name) almost as soon as we knew we were expecting. Choosing the baby's name was one of the very first things we could do for her, one of our first acts of parental decision making. In choosing the two names - a boy's and a girl's - we started off with some practical considerations:

  • We needed to like the meaning of a name.
    I personally find 'flower' names for girls pretty meaningless - my own name means 'Lily' - so pretty names like Rose, Violet, Hazel were eliminated. Some Biblical names also carry meanings I didn't want to put on my child: who knew that Mary meant 'bitter'?
  • The name had to be fit for an adult.
    Obviously, you think? Yet sometimes people don't seem to think about the fact that their cute baby has to grow up with this name and one day introduce themselves in a professional capacity as, say, "Buddy Bear Oliver" (that's chef Jamie Oliver's son)...
  • The name couldn't be overly common.
    Looking at lists like 'Top 10 favourite baby names' only served to help us eliminate those we wouldn't use! I went to primary school with five Thomases in my class of 25 kids. That's not what we wanted our child to experience.
  • But, it needed to be common enough that people would know how to spell it.
    As someone who always has to spell my own first name, I was keen to ensure that our child wouldn't have an outlandish name and end up having to spell it out every time they met someone new.
  • Lastly, the name had to work in German and in English.
    Since my first language is German, our child will grow up bilingual and I think it's important that she can use her name the same way in both languages. Therefore, names with English meanings such as Joy or Hope, as well as names that would change significantly from one language to the next such as George / Georg were off the menu.

Any names we were considering had to fit all the above criteria - and I'll admit, that left a rather short list! After all those were checked, it came down to what names we liked the sound and meaning of the most.

Our chosen name

Our daughter's name means Hope. Her middle name is Joy. These are two key qualities we want to anchor in her, build into her very identity with the deepest of foundations. We want her to know the hope we have in Christ, be rooted and established in it; we want her to know the faith that is the substance of things hoped for. May she never experience despair, which is the absence of hope, no matter how difficult her circumstances in life.

And Joy... from hope comes a deep inner joy that is not the same, but much deeper, than mere happiness. We want her to live a joyous life. We want her to be curious, to enjoy the world as she gets to know it, and to radiate a deep peace rooted in joy.

When I was pregnant, my greatest prayer each day was that I would enjoy my child, not just love him or her but genuinely enjoy being with them, knowing them, being their mother. That prayer has even now been answered in an amazing way, much more than I expected or even hoped for. I never thought I would enjoy a small baby as much as I am. I thought I'd get through the hard first few weeks that everyone has warned me about - sore nipples (yes, but within reason), constant feedings, changings, crying, winding, sleeping. All that is there, but what I wasn't expecting was just how much I would enjoy spending time with this baby! All the tasks just enable me to enjoy the quiet moments... times where she lies quietly on my chest, or looks at my face, or falls into a food coma towards the end of a feed looking like a drunken sailor.

This child is a blessing already.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Story of a birth

As so many people have asked me, I've decided to write about my experience giving birth.

Before I went through it myself, I read about it, took an NCT course with my Mr., and asked friends about their experiences. All of which was helpful, and did help prepare me, but on the day so much went differently and the reality looked and felt unlike anything I'd imagined - especially my fears, which loomed very large on the evening before: they came true (I was induced by drip) yet the fear turned out to have been worse than the reality.

Our brand new daughter
20 hours old
This post will be long, and it will be honest. If you wish, stick with me; if you just want the gist of it, here goes: I was induced at 38 weeks and 5 days, after unsuccessful membrane sweep and prostaglandin gel the method was the syntocinon drip. From the start of established labour (3 hours after drip start) to birth was less than four hours, and I used gas & air (entonox) as pain relief. My daughter and I are both well and healthy; the experience was amazing. And hard. But amazing.

For those of you who want the full story, warts and all, the reality of how it was... here goes.

I had a membrane sweep on Wednesday. It didn't set off labour, but it did help get things started. Membrane sweeps aren't pleasant but with years of debilitating period pain behind me I wouldn't have called it all that painful either. Bit of deep breathing and it was done in five minutes. I was given a Bishop Score of 3 out of 13; from 5 they consider the cervix to be favourable to induction.

On Thursday night I began to wonder if my waters were going - draining ever so slowly. I couldn't make up my mind, put a pad in and figured it'd become clear soon enough. The same continued through all of Friday. On Saturday I thought best to get checked, even though I wondered if I was being overly cautious as this slow leak (if there was one) was so, so slow... in fact after examining me the midwife who checked was so unsure about it herself that she asked a doctor, who decided that for safety's sake they would consider it broken waters. Since it had been over 24 hours they kept me in to start the induction process.

With broken waters induction doesn't involve a 24 hour prostaglandin pessary but a 6 hour gel which was put in at 4pm on Saturday. They then transferred me to the ward to wait for it to work, and the Mr. was able to join me then, having taken the hound to his doggy hotel for the time being.

We had the tiniest room but it was a single room and we shared the single bed somehow, waiting and hoping for contractions which didn't come. Meanwhile the delivery suite downstairs was extremely busy and we were advised to get as much sleep as possible (I don't think either of us managed to really sleep).

An amniotic hook - like an oversized crochet
hook, this is what they use to break the waters.
At about 6.30am it was our turn to go downstairs. The room where I would labour and give birth was huge! After talking to the midwife and explaining the waters situation she agreed to break the waters which she could still feel over baby's head and give us another two hours to see if that kicked things off, before going the drip route which I was so afraid of.

Breaking waters - once that was done they were definitely going, at last! Not even as unpleasant as the sweep, because it was much quicker. It still caused no real contractions though. Very gentle intermittent belly hardening was all. So the drip it was!

At 9 am the midwife started me off on the drip, very slowly, increasing the dose at regular intervals as she saw my body's reaction to it. I should say that because I was induced, the midwife stayed in the room with us the entire time from start to finish. She was obviously very experienced and calibrated the dose carefully. I could feel gentle contractions at first, the Mr. and I played scrabble for a while until contractions became too distracting.

As contractions became harder and harder to cope with, my main fear was from what mums who had been induced had told me: that the breaks between contractions would go away and it'd soon be one on top of another, without relief. By that time, contraction pain was immense and I was living for those breaks. I couldn't have coped without them. About 90 minutes into established labour I asked for an epidural (having been told it would be wise to get it in early so that I wouldn't have to wait once the pain was truly unbearable).

The midwife put on a very unimpressed face and said I should really try gas & air (entonox) first. Reluctantly I agreed. (She later told us how impressed she was that I had asked for an epidural only once and then just got on with it!)

I should say the initial drip was started at about 9am with no real action for a few hours. Established labour was from about noon, when I was examined at 4cm. At that time, the midwife said the next progress check would be about 4 hours later: they don't want to check too often with waters having broken over 24 hours earlier, because of infection risk. I'd made it about 90 minutes when I asked for the epidural & got the gas & air. Until then, the birth skills I had learned from this book and at the NCT course - especially vocals & breathing and stress balls - got me through, and Mr. talking me through each and every contraction as if it was a wave to paddle board into: get to the top, sweet relief on the way down, then a total break from pain. 

With gas & air that pattern continued. By then I felt incredibly tired though! I have never felt so leaden tired in my whole life, so barely capable even of speech. All I could repeat, in between contractions, was how tired I was. I could not have had what they call an 'active' labour: as soon as it was established I was so physically tired I could barely move at all. I went to the toilet a few times on very shaky legs but that was all I could do. I was mostly on my side, changing positions was barely possible.

A gas & air mouthpiece.
The gas & air gave me an extremely dry throat and it didn't take the pain away but it did somehow make things more bearable. I still felt everything. The trick with gas & air is to start breathing it just before contraction takeoff, not to wait, and I could stop on the descent and pant. I found because I felt so, so tired that holding the mouthpiece was major effort and breathing slow & steady was as well, so it was wonderful to just drop it on the way down, pant, and enjoy the pain free moments. Then I would flop competently on the bed, mouth hanging open, not caring - not a muscle in my body wasn't like lead.

Responding to anything at all was major, major effort, even though I was fully aware of everything going on around me. Mr. never stopped talking me through contractions, wiping my skin with a cold wet flannel, offering water with a straw. He was my rock, offering me his constant reassuring strength.

To my incredible relief, I never lost the breaks between contractions, the midwife so skilfully calibrated the drip. For a while she wasn't happy that I had too many contractions that were too short each - only about 30-40 secs long - but things still progressed. She was rather surprised that before the 4 hours of established labour were over, I was ready to push (I was surprised I had the energy to do that, and to make the noises that came out of my throat). After a quick exam showed I was nearly 10cm dilated, she got a second midwife to come in and said I should just do what my body told me.

Remember, I was fully aware but I must have looked almost comatose... somehow I made it onto my knees on the bed, leaning on the raised head part, but did not have the strength to lift myself up on my knees. So I hung there, crouched, and there wasn't space between me and the bed for baby to come out! I had a few pushes there though and I could tell baby was moving down.

The midwife eventually got me to turn a bit so that the baby could get out, and I ended up kind of hanging on my left side, propped almost upright by the head rest - she said this looked really uncomfortable but I had no strength to change positions and it did work for me. Several pushes... then I could feel the head with my hand. It kept slipping back a bit but I was happy with that to avoid tearing. I could feel tearing coming if I didn't give it some time; the pain down there was acute. I would push, pant, whatever I felt like in the moment.

At one point baby's head was stuck half out when the contraction ended and she kicked me hard on the inside - I actually screamed with pain. That was the most painful point! But with the next push her head was out, another two or so and she was there, put straight on my chest by my midwife.

I was so tired I didn't have time to open my eyes, focus and turn my head towards her before they took her off me again in a hurry, cut the cord and took her to the resuscitation station in the room - Mr. said she was very dark blue and floppy and they were obviously worried enough to go to emergency procedure. But even as they took her across the room though she revived and they gave her back to me quickly, almost too quick for me to react to what had happened. Obviously she was just a bit shocked by the quick exit!

I'd never made it to four hours of established labour. It started at about noon and at 4.07pm she was out! She fed beautifully by 5pm, I had a managed third stage meanwhile because with the drip they worry about excessive bleeding. I shook like a leaf for a good half hour after delivery, I think from sheer exhaustion - my actual blood loss was minimal according to my hospital notes.

Now that was a long, long story but I did promise not to hold back. Physically, no question, this was the hardest thing I've ever done. I've cared for my dying mother at age 15, especially at night, and went to school in the day (where I'd often fall asleep in the middle of lessons) but it's safe to say I have never, ever felt so completely and utterly disabled by tiredness. Yet the actual duration of it all was very short and it was an amazing experience, in hindsight.

The fear was worse than the reality.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

An uncomplicated pregnancy except...

All the worry I'm facing at the moment about gestational diabetes, all the complications associated with that, have really taken up most of my thinking lately. I've been reading about it voraciously, too. And what I've been finding has been extremely helpful in bringing me back from the brink of panic, where I was last week.

I'm grateful I had the glucose tolerance test that discovered my gestational diabetes. Because of it, I've been very careful about my diet in the weeks since. Gestational diabetes can cause complications because:

  • the baby can grow too large
  • sugar spikes in the mother can 'age' the placenta prematurely, causing it to deteriorate in function towards the end of pregnancy
  • the baby can be born with too much insulin (as he/she was having to compensate for mother's sugar highs)

Well, in my case -

  • I know baby's perfectly sized because of weekly ultrasounds
  • Baby's amniotic fluid is perfectly adequate too, not too much or too little
  • At the moment, with weekly checks, placenta function and blood flow in the cord are perfect
  • I have no sugar spikes because I control my sugars well through diet.

Which leads me to question whether any of the risks above are things I should really worry about. Unlike a mother with pre-existing diabetes, my risks are already lower; and the only large study I have been able to find that compared mothers with well-controlled GD to mothers without GD found that 4 in 10,000 women without GD had stillbirths, versus 5 in 10,000 with GD. That's one more, which does matter, but even if my baby was stillborn it would only be 20% likely be caused by GD!

How I feel. Backed into a corner
filled with fear.
Am I willing to risk my baby's life because I don't want to be induced? No, absolutely not.

But unless the doctor I'm seeing next week can give me a good reason why I am actually at risk, I will ask them a few questions...

  • Placental failure, which was thrown at me at the last appointment: how quickly does it happen, if it happens? Is it like kidney failure, or heart failure, which doesn't mean function stops - only that it deteriorates, which can be picked up in good time? 
  • Can we agree that from Week 38, I can be monitored regularly - daily if necessary? 
  • If we reach 40 weeks and baby still hasn't made their appearance, I understand risks actually do rise and I would agree to an induction then.

So that's my battle plan for next week. My preference, however - if you're the praying sort, please pray this for me - is that baby will just decide to come naturally. Before Week 38 if possible, so I don't have to go through all the above. It's nerve-wracking to negotiate with medics as a non-medic who has no way of knowing what risks are truly worrying and where the medics are just trying to cover their backs against litigation. I feel very, very out of my depth. All I want is for baby to be well...

By the way, full term (37 weeks) is this Tuesday. Baby would be very welcome to show up right then.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Fear, trust, and loving someone I haven't met yet

As I sit here writing this, my belly is moving on its own. I'm getting kicked in the ribs. At 36 weeks, this bump has acquired a distinct life of its own.

And like the life inside, I have changed and matured a lot in the last 36 weeks.

I've never wanted to be a mother. When we got married, I agreed to be open to the possibility; and when I became pregnant, I knew how much I would need my heart to change over the months it would take to grow this baby. And yes, it's happened - is still happening!

So am I ready to be someone's mother for the rest of my life? Uh, that's way, way too big a question to contemplate! What I know is that I am a mother already. I haven't met my child, but he/she is real and alive and I am his/her mother. And yes, I do love this child!

Which is why I am terrified, utterly terrified to the point of crying every time I think of it, that he or she could possibly not be OK. I have gestational diabetes, which I control with a strict diet and with some success - a high reading every 2-3 days - and last week at my antenatal appointment they told me that there was a risk that the placenta could just stop working in late pregnancy, which results in stillbirth. No one told me how high that risk is, and honestly, I don't need to know: it's there, and the stakes are the highest they can be. It clamps my insides shut to think of coming home from hospital without this child, who's so active and alive within me right now.

I'm not sure I have ever known real, trembling fear until now.

Perhaps to some degree that is what being a mother is all about - someone once told me that having children was like giving birth to your own heart and having it run around in the world, outside of you. You can't always protect it and it's gut-wrenching, scary. Kids take risks; kids get hurt; they have their own lives to live and pains to feel. Perhaps you always fear for them, and perhaps the fear I'm living with now is just a foretaste. It's all I can do to pray that this child lives so I can continue to fear for them...

Bump view. And Fred.
And that is where trust comes in. I have to somehow find a way to come up for air from this fear and find trust - trust in doctors, who know what they are doing and are looking to induce at 38 weeks to get baby out and into safety; trust in my own body to sustain this life until that happens; but trust in God? Let me be very honest - I'm not at that place right now.

God as I see him is the one I look to for strength, whatever happens - even in the ultimate disaster. I don't think he has ever promised me that I would have a child, nor did I ask him for one, and he definitely hasn't made any specific promises about this child. I don't know what his plan is. That's the scariest part. As CS Lewis says, God is not safe: but he is good. Only his idea of good comes from a bigger perspective than mine, which is why I can't presume that I know what he's going to do. All I can do is throw myself at his mercy, and bring my fear and pain to him to deal with.

Monday, 18 August 2014

#IceBucketChallenge - suddenly everyone's heard of ALS

Have you heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge? It's the latest social media craze. Everyone who's someone (or wants to be) is doing it - and not just in the States. If you can view it, the BBC has picked up on it...

Most notably to date I think, even Bill Gates took it - using his own contraption! Oprah did it, Mark Zuckerberg did it, President Obama has been challenged as well, but has yet to respond.

Why are people doing this? It's a fundraiser for ALS. And why does it matter? Because, according to the New York times, this harmless bit of fun has been powerful...
As of Sunday, the [ALS] association said it had received $13.3 million in donations since July 29, compared with $1.7 million during the same period last year.
So, why am I writing about this? I'm impressed, no awed, at the positive power of the Internet to bring to the attention of millions a disease that few people have, and therefore hardly any research is being done into. But it's not an academic interest for me... it's personal. My mother died from ALS. And that's what I want to write about - because people's stories need telling, and my mother's illness and death is not something I tend to revisit much in my mind; but this challenge has brought memories back, which I want to honour and share. Share, because I want you to know what ALS is, its true and awful face. May you never be acquainted with it personally.

So little research is being done that I don't know if I will develop ALS like my mother did. There's a 10% chance, but no test. No known cause. No cure. No relief.

Perhaps the research funded by this lighthearted challenge will change that? I hope and pray.

The rest of this post will detail my personal experience, but for the facts about what ALS is, here's an article about it from The Independent. This is not a lighthearted post, I'll warn you now, but please read it anyway.

To a diagnosis

My mum, doing what she loved the most.
My mother was 52 and a passionate accordion teacher when she noticed the fingers on her left hand were slowing down. Thinking this might be age related - don't we all slow down?, she did eventually consult a doctor when she could no longer raise her left arm higher than shoulder level.

A pinched nerve was diagnosed.

Not long after that, her legs weakened. Walking became difficult. Her solution: take the bike instead! More doctor's visits, more diagnoses. Pinched nerves in the spine? A muscle wasting disease? A virus?

It wasn't until she could barely walk that ALS was finally diagnosed. It was a death sentence, and everyone knew it - everyone, that is, except for my sister and me, because against all predictions, my mother chose to believe she would be well again. She would fight this. From that hospital bed after she was diagnosed, she went straight back to work and refused to give up her position.

Her bosses, her friends, the doctors - she stood up to them all. She would not give up her cherished teaching job. They might have to get a temporary stand-in while she was on illness sabbatical, but advertise for a permanent position? No, she would not give up, give in.

Life with ALS

Wheelchair bound - winter '95/'96
What's difficult to get across is the relentless, unstoppable advance of this disease and how, piece by piece, body part by body part, it takes away a person's life. ALS affects only muscles we choose to move (skeletal muscles) by disabling the nerves that command these muscles to move. Then, because they don't get used, these muscles atrophy and waste away - like a leg in a cast. The smooth muscles, which control things like digestion, aren't affected. The brain isn't affected. In essence, ALS traps a person in an ever less responsive prison of their body. Their body won't die for a long time - internal organs, heart, brain, all continue unaffected. But how my mother kept her soul alive, I'll never know... she hung on to her beloved job as hope, but it probably helped that she had never seen anyone go through it.

To cut to the chase, I'll answer your question now - so how does someone die from ALS then? They suffocate. Breathing is a voluntary function - you can hold your breath, speed it up, etc. - therefore, those are affected muscles. Eventually, those muscles will cease working too. And the brain is present and conscious of it all throughout.

But before death, there is life with ALS. A slow, agonising descent with no ascent possible. For my mom, this meant going into a wheelchair for a few months; when she could no longer hold her body upright, she became bedridden. I cannot fathom what it must feel like to depend on your 14/15 year-old child to feed, wash, toilet (bedpan) your body; to turn and reposition your body when it becomes to painful to stay in the same position at night - because the nerves that die are those that control the muscles, not those that control sensation; you feel everything. To slowly lose the power of speech (tongue - voluntary muscle!) and be understood only by those who are closest to you. In the end, I was her only interpreter until she lost the ability to speak completely.

How long between diagnosis and death? For my mother, just under a year.

Fighting to the end

My mum fought, and fought hard. I never believed she might die. She always talked about being back to teaching after the summer, just needing a few months' physiotherapy once she had beaten the disease.

With my sister - this is how I remember her.
Always in her 40's. Full of life.
She was only sick for a year.
One day in February 1996, she choked on some soup a friend was feeding her. We called an ambulance, which took her to hospital. It was evening, and we had to leave her there overnight.

In the morning, she was distraught. The nurses had not understood her attempts at speech and had no time to be patient. When she asked to be repositioned, they told her to stop fussing or they'd give her morphine (her big fear - being drugged 'out of it'). She'd had no water, because drinking was difficult for her and it would take time to help her drink.

I was 15, this was my mother, and I was outraged. I decided to stay in hospital with her overnight the next night, hospital policies notwithstanding: they would not remove me. And they allowed it. I cared for her as I had done at home, and that night was as normal as normal had become: a few repositionings, some water to drink. Friends and family visited the next day and I slept through much of it - hearing only later that she had stopped breathing a few times and was being revived again and again by those around her, by lifting her up to a sitting position, slapping her back, shouting. On that day, her last day, she finally made her will. A lawyer came to her hospital bedside and asked her yes/no questions, which she answered by looking either to the left or to the right. It became clear even to her that she wasn't going to be able to breathe for much longer, and she asked for an iron lung (an external breathing apparatus). It would keep her 'alive' indefinitely... but to what end? She wasn't given it.

In the evening, her accordion students came to visit. She said her goodbyes. At about 9pm, everyone had left and I was alone in the room - family were around, but all had gone off somewhere: for a snack, a cigarette, a break. I was by her bedside, cheering and encouraging her every breath. But then she stopped.

I tried what the others had done throughout the day, sitting her up, shouting, slapping her back... but she had gone. I could feel her body turning cold under my hands. So this is what death is like - it has a distinctive facial expression, which I had not seen on her before, and a spreading cold. Or perhaps, the dissipation of warmth describes it better.

ALS has taken my mother. These memories are not happy memories. This disease is as close to a living hell as I can imagine because, despite the absence of physical pain, the mental anguish of being clear and conscious throughout it all must be soul crushing. At least pain gives a focus, a distraction - ALS gives no such luxuries. It is merciless.

It must be eradicated. 

That's why we (well, my Mr.) did the Ice Bucket Challenge - and we have put our own money to the cause as well. Please join us and donate!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Freedom, self control and keeping to a diet

Life - God - has a fine sense of irony sometimes.

I'm on a diet.

Now, to most people that would hardly be a big deal... but to me it is - I don't think I have ever said those words before!

Back when I was trapped in food hell (I shared a bit more about this here), it would have killed me to admit I had anything other than a nondescript relationship with food. Nobody could know. The fact that my weight losses and gains were impossible to miss, the fact that I had to carry my shame in public, in my body for all the world to see, how I hated it - but I would never say a word.

Later, when I was in 12-Step recovery, I learned to admit publicly that I had a problem with food and was following a programme to address it. [The fact that I would never eat outside of three committed, weighed and measured meals - which sometimes meant taking the scale out in public and weighing my food at restaurants, conferences, working lunches etc. - could hardly be missed.] I was able to name the problem - addressing it as an addiction, a mental health problem.

And then, without asking for it because I thought I had all the freedom I would ever have by following that programme, I was simply and suddenly set free. God just did that.

My new found freedom meant that for the first time in a decade I was able to neither binge or starve - that food was actually just fuel, however enjoyable, I didn't have to think much about it or obsess about what to eat and what not to eat. I felt very strongly that not excluding anything [vegan], not restricting myself, just eating in response to hunger and fullness was the key to keeping that freedom. Sometimes I'd happen to get very hungry. Sometimes I overate. Most of the time, I ate what I fancied at the time and stopped when I had enough. If this sounds simple and obvious to you, let me tell you: to me, this was the holy grail of utter and complete freedom.

That's how I've eaten and maintained a stable weight for years now, since the time I was freed.

And now... I'm on a diet. Oh, the irony!

I have developed gestational (pregnancy) diabetes, genetically caused. Until the baby is here, I need to stay away from sugar. It's a diet.

Predictably enough, sugar is what I really really want now that it's off limits. I can sense the old ways, those old train tracks of obsession and crazy thinking - they are overgrown with weeds, but they are still there.

Perhaps, as a friend recently observed when I shared this with her, this is the next step in the freedom journey. Because freedom isn't doing what you want, all the time; it's the freedom to choose. Freedom is being able to be self-controlled. That is what I hope to learn in the next 10 or so weeks, until baby is here.

And yeah, I'll admit, I'm kind of scared.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Our Love Story, Part 3 - one proposal, two weddings, three rings

I've loved writing this little series, like taking a slow stroll down memory lane. Even though it's been less than three years - those were three eventful, life changing years and we're hurtling at speed towards the next milestone (baby!) so taking the time to sit and walk down that memory lane at leisure has been so lovely.

One Proposal

November 2012. It was a weekend like any other, I was in Bristol visiting Mr. and we were home, at his place. We were having a relaxed day with not much on at all. Over the time we'd spent talking, it had gone dark (as it does early in the day at that time of year) and we hadn't put the lights on. We sat, facing each other, and he went quiet as he held both my hands and seemed to hold them quite tightly. I just enjoyed the moment, a shared silence. After a while, I heard him say - very softly - "Please, marry me."

There was no fanfare. He wasn't on one knee. Because it had gone dark I couldn't see his face very well and I wasn't sure I'd heard him right.

"Are you asking...?" was my response, after a pause to try and make sure he hadn't said something else entirely.

"Yes. Yes, please, will you marry me?" he asked again, clearly this time. I just about managed to get my "Yes" out before just about falling into his arms.

Ring no. 1
After a while, he disentangled himself, took a breath, looked at me and said, "I don't have a ring..." - but then, having had an idea, he got up and went to the next room which was full of DIY materials as he'd been working on the bathroom. I heard him rumbling around some metal bits. I followed him over, and found him kneeling over a toolbox. Obviously having found what he'd been looking for, he turned to me - still on his knee - took my hand, and slipped onto my finger... a jubilee clamp!

That was ring no. 1, which I wore with butterflies in my belly for a week. He engraved a heart onto the clamp. It's still a treasured possession, but I don't wear it, as it oxidises!

Ring no. 2
A week later, we were in York and came across a vintage jeweller's. I got to choose my own engagement ring there, a beautiful 1920's art deco platinum ring without stone - that's ring no. 2. This is what I wear on my left hand.

The first wedding

We spent Christmas 2012 with my family in Austria, which meant that Mr.'s parents didn't see us at that time. So we invited them to come to Bristol for a weekend in January to celebrate and exchange presents.

Having asked them to come on Friday for a celebratory lunch, I took that day off work and drove to Bristol to meet up with Mr. and his parents just before lunchtime. We met and parked at the registry office's car park. I still remember Mr.'s dad asking if we were sure it would be no problem to park there as we went for our lunch and Mr. smilingly reassuring him that he was quite certain it would be fine... because, instead of leaving the grounds, we walked into the registry office - having a little errand to run before our lunch celebration, which was our legal marriage, at which they were the witnesses!

On our first wedding day
Once we entered the building, they understood, and the surprise was perfect.

Mr. and I were legally married in a tiny room, with a total of six persons present: ourselves, Mr.'s parents, the registrar and the officiant. The room was filled with sunlight streaming in, and the unforgettable moment for me was when Mr. faced me and made his vows with those kind eyes never leaving mine. He put ring no. 2 on my finger again, so the engagement ring became the wedding ring.

For more than two months after we became man and wife in the eyes of the law, nothing else changed. I continued to work and live in Reading and visiting Mr. on weekends, and we attended a pre-marriage course at our church: we just had a heady little secret!

The second wedding

We had set our 'official' date not long after our engagement, but had our legal wedding over two months before the official date because registry offices are apparently very busy places and we just about managed to grab the January date! The date we'd chosen was the weekend before Easter, for the practical reason that I wasn't actually able to finish my job in Reading until the end of March.
Rings no. 3 - matching wedding rings.
Engraved on mine: "I am my beloved's..."
Engraved on his: "...and my beloved is mine"
(from Song of Songs)

I had always avoided making wedding plans without a groom. I've never been the girl to pick out dresses and rings while still single - just didn't want to go there. After all, I wanted the groom to have a big say in everything to do with the wedding, not just arrive on the day in a suit! So when I actually did have a wedding to plan, I didn't do it on my own: Mr. and I were a team. We thought about what we valued and what mattered to us, and what didn't. The result was something of an unconventional, yet totally perfect-for-us event...

We're not into formal things. We love people. At our wedding, we wanted to be able to invite absolutely everyone! Friends, family, co-workers: it was to be a day of bringing everyone together. No RSVP's, no gifts, no registries - just a celebration for all. Luckily our Bristol pastor was totally up for it when we asked if we could just get married on a Sunday morning, in the course of a regular church service. This was the perfect solution: for us, there was no building or band to hire, no number of guests to plan for, no seating arrangements or decorating costs. And for everyone who came, an opportunity to hear the Gospel!

For me, my wedding day was also the day I became a member of this new church family in Bristol. They embraced the celebrations with huge enthusiasm! Everyone was dressed up on the day; one lovely lady took it upon herself to make us a wedding cake (we hadn't planned on having one); a professional chef, member of the church, cooked up a delicious buffet lunch so that after the service, everyone could just stay put and eat together.

Memorable moment of the day (although there were so many!) - after walking down the aisle to meet Mr. at the front, he leaned in for a kiss, which I refused... to everyone's great amusement... he made up for it at the end of our vows with a kiss that just about swept me off my feet!

And that's our story, folks.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Our love story - part 2

If there was a subtitle to this post, it would be Faith & Love.

When we met in Fuerteventura, it took us all week to establish that we were definitely going to meet up again, so it wasn't until the flight home that we had a real, deep conversation about... well, deep things. He asked me if I knew how old he was, and I honestly didn't - and was honestly surprised to find him 12 years my senior, which I'd never have guessed! Also, divorced. None of it thwarted the sense of peace I had, though, as I sat there in the airport cafe with him holding hands.

On the flight back, we had four more hours to talk. Cutting to the chase, at one point I asked: "What do you think of God?" - a pause, a breath, a gulp later, the answer boiled down to agnostic; he thought there was more than just the physical, that there was a spiritual dimension, but not a personal God with thoughts and feelings. My next question was, "So what do you live for?" - another pause, breath and gulp, I think he found that one harder to answer...

Once we'd met up back in the UK, where he came to a carols by candlelight service where I was part of the choir, I think he was intrigued by my faith. I hadn't kissed him, and had told him I didn't really want to kiss anyone other than my husband. [I still laugh at remembering this - when I said that, his taken-aback response was, "Where is he??" - so had to explain!] So my faith certainly had an impact on the way our relationship was progressing, which is perhaps why he wanted to learn more about it. When I asked if he'd like to do an Alpha Course and explained that it was an opportunity to learn about and ask questions about the Christian faith, he immediately said yes.

Having found a church near him that ran the course, for the next three months I would travel to Bristol every Wednesday after work to attend it with him. I was amazed and humbled to see him grapple with, question, and seriously examine the claims put before him with an open and curious mind, never just dismissing or ignoring an issue. I remember how I learned about Christianity and fought every. step. of. the. way. to find arguments against everything that I found! 

I had a very hard time reconciling my growing love for him with the fact that, until a good three months into being together, we didn't share something as basic and deep as our faith: the defining factor in my outlook, world view, and identity. I couldn't stop feeling more and more deeply for him, yet I had no idea what he'd be thinking at the end of the course! It was a scary, emotionally risky time but I could not hold back.

Taken on our wedding day,
just before I came down
the aisle. One of my favourite
photos of him, ever.
By the end of the course, Mr. had not had all his questions answered - I think no one ever has every single question answered - but he found it made sense and decided to follow Jesus. In his words: "I knew I needed help and direction in how to do life well. Glad I found it." Too easy, I wondered? Is he doing this because of me? 

I made a point never to ask him if he was going to connect with that church, if he was going there on Sunday, if he was going to small group... I had to see what he'd do. And what he did was run with it. He became part of a small group (which I visited maybe twice before we were married; it was his group, his church, his walk and growth) and dove into this new life as if he'd been waiting for this all his life. I guess he had - I guess we all have - just some of us are perhaps more aware of that. 

He knows he's found a good thing, and he's grabbed it with both hands. I feel privileged to have shown him to the signpost, but he's walked that road himself.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Our love story - Part 1

There's a wedding at our church tomorrow, two dear friends getting married and we'll be there cheering. And earlier this week another dear friend in a distant place has been in touch to say she's found love.

So today I'm reminiscing, thinking back to the heady days of getting to know Mr. and growing closer - sometimes I feel so settled in our togetherness, it's strange to think I haven't always been with him. But it's only been about two and a half years since we first met! So, if you'll please indulge me, I'll try to keep it short but this is the story of our love.

We met on holiday. Going with a group seemed like good option for me as a single who didn't want to be alone on holiday, but neither did I want to go on a 'singles' trip. I found Traveleyes, who offer group holidays where half the people in the group are blind/partially sighted and the other half are sighted. As a sighted guide, you just act as a friend and helper to a different person each day. And you get a discount! I figured that's a great way to meet some interesting people and have a fun holiday as well as being helpful, so needing to get away from the UK in winter and get some sun, I went to Fuerteventura with them. And so did Mr. for much the same reasons.

We met at Stansted Airport. He was late. I was wearing huge sunglasses. He tells me he didn't really know what to think of me hiding behind those; I was immediately attracted to him. He's handsome, but especially, his kind eyes.

He took this pic of us - at the time just
being friends - that was pretty much the
first time we touched, I'm quite sure.
The entire week was an intricate dance of getting to know one another, while we each had responsibility for a new person each day and wanted to make sure we spent quality time with them. We went on each of the optional outings, and often chatted. Somehow we happened to sit together at breakfast and dinner, and it wasn't long before others caught on that something was developing... in particular, one couple who teased and encouraged us in equal measure - until, on Friday at the end of the week (Saturday was home time) the guy more or less ordered Mr. to put his arm around me. Which he did. And then we walked back to the hotel arm in arm, and that sort of settled the matter.

The next day, home day, we knew we'd meet up again. I drove home late at night from the airport (he and others were staying overnight as it was very late) and heard nothing from him the next morning. I sat on my hands, got busy cleaning, trying to read - until finally, after midday, he texted. He'd thought I was going to sleep in and hadn't wanted to disturb. Phew!

I'm pretty sure that from that day on, we were in touch at least every day. He never 'played': I knew, all the time, that he was sincere and that he liked me. No games. I consciously let him set the pace - mostly - but he was always clear and honest with me: a quality of his that I still value hugely.

How did we get from there - December 2011 - to here - married with baby on the way? Stay tuned for the next installment....

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Why I pick city over suburbs - even & especially with family

A non-baby post, for a change!

Our 'spare room' - which will be baby's room.
Small but perfectly formed...
We live on a boat. A large boat as boats go, but a small space by most local standards. It's a confined space without outdoor space of our own, and that has some downsides - notably, the dog needs to be walked every time he needs the toilet, he can't just be let out. Later on when we've got the child, equally, I can't just open the back door and say, out you go!

Beyond that I truly struggle to come up with downsides. I love living in the city. My grandmother, with whom I rarely agreed about anything, was a city dweller all her adult life (and brought up two children in Vienna) and could not understand why anybody wouldn't choose to live in such a convenient place. I lived in New York City for a while and I'm still in touch with an amazing family with three girls who choose to live in Manhattan, right in the place which the majority of people (who can afford to) will leave as soon as they start families.

Bristol certainly doesn't compare with NYC in scale, but it's city living, make no mistake. So, you ask, it's crowded and living space is small and why do I love this?
One of our local parks - usually plenty of dogs
to play with!

  • I get to live on a boat! - OK this isn't the kind of city living most people experience, but.... a boat! The character, the freedom to roam, the water's reflections on the ceiling... I love our home.
  • Walking everywhere. Within (easy) walking distance are my dentist, GP, vet, a convenience store, and pretty much all the attractions tourists come here for. Within longer walking distance is my work, the main city centre with all its shops and services, the hospital, local markets. Our car gets used, on average, twice a week - the Mr. cycles to work as it's too far to walk, so he gets a workout each day without having to think about it.
    Not using the car has several advantages:
    • It keeps me [somewhat] fit to walk rather than drive places.
    • My Mr. enjoys cycling and it keeps him seriously fit - his route is very hilly!
    • Wear & tear on the car, and fuel cost, is much reduced. 
    • If I need to get somewhere in a hurry I can drive, but most of the time the walk to wherever I'm going takes me as long (short) as it would if I lived in the suburbs and drove to things.
  • No gardening / ground maintenance. It's no accident that we have no allotment... I can't stand gardening. I'm not sorry to have no grounds to maintain! I do love a good outdoor space, however, and there are five large outdoor spaces within easy walking distance. We call the closest one, a small green under a flyover right by the river, 'our backyard' - almost the entire way to it is car free and the dog can go off lead, once there we can sit on benches or in the grass as he explores in safety. I look forward to times spent with our little one there too. If we want to walk a little further, there are proper woods to explore, a stately home with its grounds, ponds, rolling hills... how can a puny piece of yard compare?
  • Neighbours. Now this may again be specific to our situation, but we know and talk to our neighbours. We help each other out. Anywhere I've lived in suburbs people rarely even knew their neighbours, and since everyone has their own large house / space to retreat to, life doesn't really happen in shared spaces the way it does in the city - where much of the living is done outside the small home, like in parks, libraries, or in our case, sitting in the sunshine on the pontoon with the neighbours. 
  • Community. A different kind, not thinking about immediate neighbours but communities of interests. Whatever your interests: in the city, you'll find a group of like-minded people doing interesting stuff. I played Volleyball in New York City, and ran with the Hash House Harriers; in the last few months I've been astonished at the amount of community spirit and support for local mums. There are baby friendly cafes with baby/toddler activities; regular meet-ups for walks; plenty of baby/toddler activities to get involved in and make friends. If you're lucky enough to find an interest-based group in the suburbs that chimes with your own interests, good for you - but mostly, if it does exist, it's probably quite a long drive away.
  • Culture. This from a totally non-arty person. I appreciate having local history and culture right around me, being able to access landmarks and tourist attractions and - in the future, with kiddo in tow - museums, the zoo, aquarium, libraries... all of which run kid-friendly programmes and features. Free and cheap opportunities to learn and entertain kids abound here.
I have never felt confined in the middle of a city. I don't always love all aspects of cities - in larger ones, the pollution, overcrowding, sheer noise and so on can make me crave a getaway into silence and solitude. But I always come back to the city. It's where so much life happens, and I can't wait to introduce our little one to the bustling life of the city!