Just Relax…

I don’t need to tell you how frustrating these words are if you’ve ever been anxious about fertility or birth, or if you’ve ever suffered a traumatic experience that you are suddenly faced with again. I get it- they’re trying to take the pain, the worry, the whatever-it-is you’re feeling, away. But it doesn’t work. You are just left feeling a little bit more misunderstood, a little bit more isolated than before. Yet here I am about to tell you all how I’ve tried to ‘relax’ my mind over the last few months, what I’ve learnt about myself (that you probably already knew) and how I’m hoping to be a ‘smug’ mum who’s gonna boss this birth in a mere few days.

The jury is still out on whether hypnobirthing will stand me in good stead for the imminent birth of my second daughter. I still worry my anxieties are too deeply embedded or maybe I haven’t practised techniques enough, I don’t know. That’ll be another blog post. But what I do know is what it has done for me and I’m already grateful to hypnobirthing for that. I’ve got out of it things I didn’t know I would, dealt with some demons and maybe, just maybe, that is the key to a more positive birth.

It’s been one of those times where everyone knows something about you that you didn’t. I didn’t know I was an anxious person until recently. This will make my nearest and dearest laugh because I think they all know and have done for some time. But honestly, I didn’t have a clue. I just thought I was constantly being dealt a bad hand in life, now I know I haven’t; it’s just how it gets dealt with that’s the problem. If you’ve spoken to me for more than 5 minutes or so these last few months, you will have got the idea that I’ve been terrified of birthing again. To the point where it has taken over some of the enjoyment of this pregnancy which we’ve fought so hard for. I get really frustrated about that because I promised if I ever was lucky enough to get pregnant through IVF I would not complain about a single thing. I’ve been in a war with myself for feeling guilty and being ‘negative’ but not being able to help it either. I have mastered the art of conjuring up the worst possible case scenarios and replaying them over and over in my head like a box-set marathon, it really is a talent of mine.

Initially, I had convinced myself all this fear about birth is because I know ‘what’s coming’ and looked on at first-time mums in sympathy when really, they were the ones in control, they were the ones who were more prepared than me. To try and tackle these demons I attended hypnobirthing classes and hoped for a magic answer that would solve all my problems: Then I could be one of those smug mums who thought it was an ‘amazing’ experience. And maybe I still will be- I really hope so! I still have my reservations but they are nowhere near as bad as they were and I think, for me, this has been more about unearthing my anxieties and dealing with the pain of the past before I can even begin to look into the future. So even if all this hypnobirthing malarky is thrown out of the window mid labour- I will still be so grateful that it has helped me understand why I have been feeling the way I have and that I can manage that so much better now.

My daughter’s birth came less than twelve months after giving birth to my stillborn son, Archie, in 2009. As you can appreciate, I hadn’t grieved properly and dived into getting pregnant again. I was fortunate that this happened so quickly, yet I found myself back worrying every day about what was going to go wrong. It was no fun let me tell you that. As a result, I took everything day to day (literally) and someone how I ended up 39 weeks pregnant and about to be induced. I didn’t even fully understand the process of this I just nodded along and put my complete trust in what was being told to me. It sounds madness to say this out loud, but even at this point, I did not believe for one second that I was going to bring home a baby. I didn’t even want to put vests in my hospital bag for fear of bringing them home again, unused. So you can imagine how much ‘prep’ I did for birth. Zilch. Nader. None. With Archie, I was made to be as ‘comfortable’ as possible with much stronger pain relief than you would ordinarily be offered so I assumed this was the idea of labour. It was a major shock then when I had much less pain relief second time around and had no tools to help me manage or any understanding of how to help myself. I just wanted to lay on that bed and be drugged up until it was over, which is a terrible thing to say but it was how I thought it was meant to happen because I knew nothing other than my previous experience. It’s a hazy memory of me being a bit unreasonable with the doctors, dipping in and out consciousness and throwing up. At one point I even pretended to push because I was so exhausted, how did I think I was going to get away with that?! When Poppy arrived, nearly 12 hours later, of course, the game changed and it was euphoric but I remember saying to myself ‘I am never, ever doing that again.’ And I never will. Not like that, anyway. The third labour is imminent now but I refuse to experience that same experience again. This time around, I’m armed with a lot more knowledge, calming techniques and a very supportive husband so at least the odds are in my favour.

What I have learnt the most is I have been majorly influenced by my past experiences of birth and I needed to put those to bed. As I left that final hypnobirthing session, the air did feel different. I felt I had let go of something. You know when the air is just different and you know something good is about to happen? Like your first night of a brilliant holiday abroad or the aftermath of your engagement.

I understand the reasons why I had a painful birth with Poppy now, I didn’t help myself or know how to cope; I thought it was the midwives’ job to do that for me; turns out, it isn’t. I understand that I was grieving the loss of my son and wasn’t mentally prepared to relive that whole experience in the same hospital, same ward less than a year since his birth. I was panic-stricken and uninformed which I know causes adrenaline, hindering hormones that are designed to help you.  I understand that I need to keep active and calm to help myself and not hope it will all ‘go away’. So I’m going to stop saying I had a ‘bad’ birth with Poppy and accept that there were reasons for that and it was essentially my mind that didn’t cope, not my body. No one promises you a perfect birth, but at least I can put to bed some of my past and begin to deal with the future now.

Babe- I’ve got this. Or at least I better bloody have.

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The Divorce.

Like most toxic relationships, I stayed in way longer than I should’ve. I ignored my gut instinct and began to make excuses for the way things were. ‘After this holiday, it’ll get better’. ‘New year, new start’, I’d convince myself. New year, a new excuse was the reality.

In the beginning, it was a true romance that blossomed well. I dedicated my time, fought hard for what I wanted and was emotionally invested. I got out what I put in and I was made to feel secure, valued and worthy; my ego often massaged, it had the makings for a lifetime of happiness. It was a marriage, a commitment; I relied on it and it relied on me. Because of it, I was creative and independent and it brought out the best in me. I learnt along the way, obviously, and I wasn’t perfect by any means. But for those first few blissful years, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.

But then the red flags. The flags that were ignored, the flags that I chose to see in green rather than the detrimental colours that they were. The flags that asked- ‘is this you? Is this what you really thought it was going to be?’ At first, it was easy to ignore the signs, I could say it was tiredness or we just ‘needed a break’. I’d blame myself for spending too much time together and not enough of doing my own thing. Other people didn’t help. I’d observe those who had it all together and envy their lives. Why was I finding it hard but they seemingly weren’t? Why were my weekends filled with anxiety and guilt about trying to delicately balance everything in my life with zero thanks? Goalposts began to change constantly and heads were turned at spritely new versions of me. I used to be like her, I’d think.

I kept at it but things began to take its toll. I began to lose interest but wasn’t interested in going elsewhere so my energy dipped and I lacked motivation. I didn’t get out of this what I was putting in and we just disagreed on the fundamentals. I became a drain on the whole relationship and I resented the fact that so much had changed between us without my say so. I couldn’t even choose a colour pen by myself anymore. I had lost control and found myself in a situation that I did not know how to get out of. I wasn’t happy but I didn’t know what to do about it.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Then we’d have our good days and I’d convince myself all was good again. One or two weeks break at a time and I’d feel ready to give it another go.

Looking back, it was all very textbook really. I’d bore my friends about my troubles but then never did anything about it and the next they saw me I’d be ‘fine’. But we weren’t. We were going in different directions and as much as I tried, I was losing the fight.

Of course, I’m happily married. I’m not talking about that marriage. I’m talking about the other marriage. The one I was in for ten years. My teaching career. They say us teachers are always married to our jobs. Well, sadly, we’ve parted ways and I hope that I will find happiness in something else as much as I did in those first few years. It’s a job that’s changed, for the worse in my opinion; unnecessary tasks and unrealistic goalposts that do not benefit the children merely tick boxes for government-led initiatives. I have the fond memories, the fabulous friends and the knowledge that I know I did my best for those children throughout the years. Sadly, teaching doesn’t do its best for teachers.