I’m finding myself often sitting and gazing at my now four month old twin daughters.
They already seem so big already. I am right there, close by each day and already I feel like I am missing out on so much. It is all passing by so quickly, their faces shifting in shape from newborn to the chubby faces of their age, almost between blinks. Every minute they seem to pick up fragments of personality, new skills, onwards towards the next stage. Sometimes I find myself, as they cry in my arms through no other cause than tiredness, looking at them warmly and steadily with rapt love, so aware that this stage will be over all too soon.
Their older siblings make things no easier. My biggest girl, my first born and for so long my little side-kick, is moving through the years at school at an alarming pace, becoming more and more independent and I’m painfully aware I’ve missed so much. Ever since my first period of maternity leave for her I have worked full time, often with overtime, to allow our life of the two of us to continue forward with security. I’ve missed school performances, despite my best efforts, and exhaustion has often meant I’ve not been entirely present for so much of our free time. That realisation, that admission, is devastating.
Recently, ever aware of time passing me by, I’ve started to fret that I’m not remembering enough. I find myself desperately trying to soak up the detail of each moment, trying to hold down every sensation – how the light falls across the babies smiles, how their skin feels on mine, the exact sound of their coos. These are the details of the times I will have to use to sustain me when I have to be away from them, as they put these early months behind them, develop and grow.
In this second maternity leave, I find myself dreading my return to work. I’m equally cursed and blessed you see. A well paying job but having to sacrifice time with my babies to make it work. All the security, but so little time to be with the very thing I am working for.
I know, it’s rare these days for anyone to have the luxury of staying at home to see their children grow up and it might as well be a pipe dream. It is what everyone would have, would that they could. But some people do – don’t they – they have the best of both worlds? Security and the time to make the most of precious moments?
This, surely, is something I can make work? I am creative, I seem to be able to write things people want to read. Would this be even possible? I have ideas for novels, for books, for projects. What would it take for me to advance this in a real way to try and make our dreams come true?
Last month was welcome in sweeping away and closing doors behind it. Taking with it the immediate instant sting of grief, of loss.
It had started with a tiny heartbeat. For us this was Hope, a miracle after an earlier loss. We saw Hope on a screen, wept and held hopeful hands togerther, marvelling at that tiny heart beating in less than a centimetre of potential.
Just three weeks later as my slightly rounded belly was pressed down, we saw Hope again, not much bigger but with that strong, minute pulsing absent. Hope was gone, lost. All there was now was grief and medical options to physically let her go.
That heartbeat had drummed out a promise of a future world, a world that we now know will not become. Thoughts had been turned to preparations. Preparations which are no longer needed. The loss of that tiny heartbeat had been incorporated into our own heartbeats, only to be a soft echo and nothing more.
Two weeks after that, well, what we are left with is the wondering – what is Hope?
What is hope? Defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “desire accompanied by expectation or belief in fulfillment”. The dictionary definition, as with so many words, falls far short of the lived experience of hope.
Hope is, in the absence of concrete guarantees, the need to get back up. Hope is not a wish, not a vision of what is better, it is the part that screams “DO NOT GIVE IN”. It is not a petalline and blush concept – it is found in the viscera, perhaps even is of the blood rather than the heart. It is the part of all of us that – in the face of abject mortality, in the line of failure after failure, after losses so great we fear we might never breathe again – tears apart at fear, at defeat, at fatigue. It understands that there can be better than this and shrieks “GET BACK UP.”
Hope is in every act of carrying on, every moment of continuing with each other, with our children who have made it into the world. Hope bursts through, blistering and ripping through grief, into love. It does it again and again and will not stop. Hope is the thing that unifies us all. It inspires courage and lets us start over again and again, and again.
Hope is not lost. Hope lives on always, in all of us.
* If you have been or are being affected by pregnancy loss please make sure you are supported. If you are struggling there are a great many organisations offering help and support. The Miscarriage Association and babyloss are good places to start. And, for all it’s worth, our hearts are with you too.
My partner James has also written about this experience- unusually from the perspective of the dad. I warn you, it is heartbreaking but worth reading here.
It started with a simple dream, a hammock under a tree…
Stuff. It’s a bind isn’t it. I’ve been accumulating it like lint for years. I’ve never been wealthy. Much like everyone else just modest gains in income, but roughly breaking even each month after consumerist drives have led me to the acquisition of a cool what-not, the must have doo-dad or the pretty, shiny thing. Stuff that keeps me in the exact same position I’ve been in all my life – treading water.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fortunate comatose position to be in – but lord knows it’s a waste of a life if stuff is all you have to show for it at the end.
In finding the boy, my soulmate (a concept I never believed in, much less daring to hope he was an actual, real person) I found a real dream. First mooted as a donkey sanctuary, where I could rest my weary head in a pretty, flower covered straw hat, it evolved into the simple idea of a house in a wood with a hammock. Security and a home in which to go the long way round for coffee (coffee via stopping for a kiss naturally). We wanted a home where we could run as close to self sufficiency as we could – green energy, harvested water and a garden to eat. We didn’t want for much, just a simple and quiet life spent with our babies and each other.
But, over the last year this dream has seemed to become ever distant with the pressures of work, the new challenges of housing a family which all of a sudden was being added to by two new girls and trying to accommodate the wants and desires of our older, more vocal brood. With these pressures come little oddities. The need for “spoiling” ourselves which, roughly translated, was just spending money on a takeaway, or two, or more a week – because of convenience and exhaustion. Little treats to myself included buying books, many of which are on a pile of books that I continue to have little time to read; items for the babies – often which are not needed but that I wish to have just in case; objets- little bits of art, ephemera and, for the want of a better word, tat; finally food – spending on what I fancied at the time rather than engaging in the tedious exercise of packed lunches or cooking what I had in (which in turn has led to obscene levels of waste.
As I say, although I’ve had the luxury of being able to sustain these behaviours, I’m not wealthy and it has been just enough. The boy, bless his heart, has quietly and without comment left me to this wasteful waistrel approach to my disposable income whilst using all his earnings to support our family and to ensure he is able to drive the many miles to collect his children each weekend. He has no space in that to treat himself.
But this accumulation of stuff has brought us no closer to the dream of hammocks by a house in the woods. It has simply given us more things to move, more things to dust and less freedom to make our modest dream come true.
I can’t even tell you where my attachment to things began, but it has been a long standing fixation it seems. I remember being a precious child about the tea chest of toys I had. My mother couldn’t afford much when we were growing up – until I was two she was a single mum, having given birth to me at 18 years old – even with the support of my adoptive father as he became – we didn’t have much for many years. Even so, I had an old tea chest, enterprisingly coated in a piece of poly-vinyl faux matt leather, about a foot and a half cubed (I recall emptying it out and sitting within it – a toy that held toys). It was full of toys – some home made such as the full wardrobe of Sindy clothes lovingly produced by my mother and aunt – many second hand or donated to us – with the rest made up of the biannual occasion of new toys at Christmas and birthdays. All in all my parents did well for us on a limited budget. The point of this segue into nostalgia is that I would cherish each and every fragment in that tea chest – right down to the broken bits in the bottom – and would never cede an item when it came to being persuaded that some of it had to go.
This continued into my adolescence when I became increasingly precious about stuff. I’d walk a portion of my two bus route across town to school to save the fare and would take to spending it on things in charity shops along the route. Things only ramped up when I remained at home and went to uni for a year, a squandered period in which I invested my student loan in clothes, things and going out – further supplementing my habit with money from my part time job. As I embarked on a career aged 20 – already with a substantial cache of crap – I left home and continued to buy, buy, buy unfettered by the criticism of my parents.
I moved several times, each time hauling a greater and greater quantity of things, moved in with partners and broke up with partners. I never allowed the disposal of more than a handful of items each time. It wasn’t until, after one break up which meant I had to store all my earthly belongings in my parents garage and my precious stuff was destroyed by a fire, that my collection was reduced.
I remember a friend of my mother’s remarking at the time that, although devastating to me, it would be liberating in the long run. I didn’t see it like that then, especially as I was aware of that friend’s own attachment to things, so I picked up where I left off.
By the time I met my future ex-husband I had less stuff and it wasn’t until our marriage fell apart and I moved out that I realised how little I had. I remember moving into my own flat for the first time, the first property I had ever owned, and scraping together what free furniture I could to put in it so my then toddler daughter and I could build a home. From this starting point I dedicated myself to filling that place, taking my solo earnings and investing them as and when I could, with pieces of second hand furniture and new bits and bobs. I did so and by the time I met the boy I had once again stuffed a space with things. Fortunately, due to his own disasters, he came with very little, so once again I got away with maintaining the collection. He even diligently moved all of this when it came to moving into a bigger house, which circumstances meant could only be a rental property, literally filling the house with all this stuff.
The time has now come where, with the arrival of our twins, any gains I’ve made in savings are being put into the luxury of maintaining my maternity leave. The dream is no closer and I have to reflect on my role, or lack of therein, in that. I cannot change my income situation and the boy does his thing to just try and keep the plates spinning. I’m certainly in no need of handouts and would not accept them – so I have to think of what I can do to change these circumstances.
In honest reflection it means I have to deal with the stuff and my need for the stuff. It has to make a contribution to our lives or it has to go and contribute for its previous upkeep by being sold. It is of such volume I’m not even certain where to start, but go it must and not for any sort of zen, tackling the clutter reason. I have to accept that my attachment to things stands between us and a dream.
Now, the last time I did a silly minded challenge to self was in ridding myself of a wardrobe full of clothes in 2016 – what a ludicrously decadent thing to be able to do – but it meant I was able to shake off my fast fashion habit (chronicled at my Quiet Radicals blog).
I’m giving myself a year, yet again, a year to turn it around. I’ve no expectation of that meaning by this time next year we’ll be ensconced in our house in the woods. What I’m aiming for is a turnaround in my behaviour and laying a foundation to make that dream a reality, to save (for) that dream.
More early morning dispatches – today I sit typing onto the laptop at 4am. An odd sort of kindness to myself, waking up in the early hours to be fully awake to feed my children, but it has helped me carve out thinking space and in turn writing space. This is time I am starting to make my own, to tap into something that is ill afforded to me in the hours where it is easier, and more acceptable perhaps, to go about the business of tidying and binge watching television.
Self kindness is something I have always struggled with. I have not been as kind to myself, by a long chalk as I have been to others. I’ve always been subject to a greater level of criticism, scrutiny and intolerance from my own view of myself, something I would not impose or even consider applying to anyone else. I’m hyper critical of my appearance – I can’t be seen dead in public without any make-up, the dimensions I see in the mirror are apparently not what everyone else sees and I worry constantly about not being a good enough mother. Even in the introduction to this blog I’ve managed to knock the fact that I’m doing my best in being a mother of twin newborns, a seven year old and stepmum to an eight and six year old, a partner, a daughter and all the other roles I strive to fulfil, and reducing my lack of time to pursue my intellectual ambitions as down to being lazy.
I suppose by reflecting on how kind, or more importantly how unkind, we are to ourselves goes a long way to answering what kindness might be.
For me, this clearly involves addressing judgement. I don’t consider myself as judgemental of others, but I am aware of how judgemental I am of myself. I’ve discussed the matter of self kindness widely with others, both in person and via social media and it seems it is as complex as anything else. One of the themes that has emerged is the link between self kindness and worth. For some of us we don’t treat ourselves kindly because we simply don’t believe we are worthy.
For some people this meant they struggled to do themselves simple kindnesses such as making themselves a cup of tea in the morning, or to make sure that they even ate during the day. For others it meant that they actively tortured themselves with the details of their own perceived shortcomings.
In my own experience it was the prioritisation of other’s needs beyond my own basic welfare – every time. Putting others first is not a completely negative thing – it is the basis of service and duty. When unmitigated self-pressure and sacrifice go unchecked and unrecognised over a long period, however, it leads to self-neglect, burn out and serious health (mental and physical) implications. Almost two years ago I found myself in a situation of burn-out and stress at work. I had been putting work ahead of my own welfare for around a year, whilst trying to balance my responsibilities as a parent and to care for a relative. I came to the point that I was almost unable to go into work – how I carried on going in is still something I am not able to explain. My temper was short, my memory was poor and daily I found myself searching for vocabulary which could not be called to mind. The worst of it was the physical panic reactions – the feeling of my heart racing, the sensation of being trapped and the inability to remember anything.
It took me a long time to learn that I deserved to be factored into my own priorities. I had to train myself in the skill of saying “No” whilst being able to reconcile this with my own sense of what was right. I took to taking little steps towards self care – giving me time for myself, starting to acknowledge my self imposed high standards and how I should let go of all my “shoulds”. It is important to note however that I started to resolve this with the help of a very talented and eminently qualified consultant psychologist. Accepting help is a vital self kindness I wish to address at another point.
As it was, when I became stressed at work, it still wasn’t for myself that I went for help. It was for my daughter, when she became the victim of my short temper, albeit just with a single snappy comment made to her, but once was enough.
Ultimately for me, drawing on my own experiences of behaviour and therapy, and the discussion with friends, my conclusion on kindness to the self boils down to two elements:
1. Recognition of self worth
2. Honouring needs and wants
And I don’t mean this in a manner of two separate things in isolation – these factors work in a cyclical fashion – one feeds the other. You can’t honour what you don’t recognise and unless you honour your value then how can you recognise it?
When it comes to honour I’m not considering devotional offerings of animal sacrifice or utilising an altar – I’m considering small ways of making sure to share kindness with yourself.
I am doing my own stepping forward, if only in trying to lead a more deliberate live of love and kindness…
Trite isn’t it. The idea of once every year the cliché of fresh starts. A barrage of fitness posts on social media, healthy eating tips and resolutions to effect change are abounds. Predictable, dull.
But in this world, this world that is so very different to the world at the start of 2016, normality is no longer predictable. In point of fact the world is becoming a darker and much more terrifying place. What we learned from 2017 was that in the war between good and evil is that a) evil is something that is contested and not agreed upon, no matter how similar it is to commonly accepted reference points from the past (I refer you to the ‘good folks’ mentality of the American right towards what ostensibly appear to be Nazis; and b) good will not always win, just because it should.
It is into this world that I have brought two new-born girls, alongside my eldest daughter and another son and a daughter I welcomed into my blended family. In these dark times I have to admit, I am afraid. I am afraid for my children. We appear to be at the precipice of epoch defining change and there are no apparent leaders stepping forward to contest that definition being written by those who would profit from it at the cost of all the precious attributes of humanity – kindness, humility, hope and shared progress. Who will stand to unite those who will not accept the sale of the world to the highest bidder?
But there is hope. There is always hope. From between the shadows there are quietly stepping forward thousands of men and women who are ready to make change. They are ready to lead – some in grand ways which might form governments – some of whom are willing to lead in the smallest of ways, making better choices at home and hearth – and neither of these types of leadership are of greater value – all world leaders begin with a home of whatever description and the better we make these homes, the stronger we make these families, the greater the chance we give the fight for good.
So, though the “New Year, New Starters” have previously been some sort of herd thought process, oft driven by consumer culture, perhaps we should see them as much, much more. These are the little manifestations of hope. Hope that we can all change and be better. Good has not yet lost.
So I apologise, with the launch of this new blog I am part of that wave of post-Christmas optimism. I am doing my own stepping forward, if only in trying to lead a more deliberate live of love and kindness, writing it out onto a message to stuff in a bottle and tossing that bottle out on to the turbulent waves of the present.