An Open Letter to Marie Kondo

Dear Marie,

Thank you so much for making the wonderful programme Tidying Up come on my telly via the magic of Netflix. All the mums in the playground are talking about it and it seems like such a wonderful way for us all to get our collective shit together (before sorting through it and discarding it, right?) However, I’ve had a go and I got a bit stuck so I have a few questions. I’m hoping you could answer to enable me to complete my Tidying Up journey.

Firstly, is joy the only emotion we’re going for here? Did you hold all the other emotions close to your heart first before settling on joy? Did you go through serenity, fulfilment, gratitude, hope and inspiration before discarding each one and deciding joy was the one for us all?

What are we supposed to do about the stuff that doesn’t belong to us but rather inconveniently only brings other people joy? My friend was a bit upset when her husband watched an episode of Tidying Up then got rid of all the stuff that brought her joy to make room for his own. Thankfully he decided to keep her, after giving her a good feel to check for joy.

I am certain that my kids toys do not bring me joy Marie (apart from the fingerlings parent and baby monkey because awww). I would happily scoop them all up in a black bag and leave them out for the bin men, rather than try and unstick one more splodge of slime from a school uniform cardigan, or trip over one more twirly flashy spinny thing on wheels at 1am. But I think my kids might be a bit put out.

I went through my daughter’s changing table full of medical supplies and continence products, and I tried really hard but I couldn’t find a single spark of joy there. What, in your opinion, is the best way to store suppositories in a way that sparks joy Marie? Perhaps a decorative basket? Does it matter that my daughter calls the suppositories bottom sausages and tries to give them to her toys? Do you have any tips for getting shit stains out of rattan Marie?

I know you say we should share the joy of tidying up with our children. I tried to teach them to fold, I really did, but the little one preferred taking all the folded clothes out of the drawer and putting them back in the washing machine. The big one showed more interest, but at the start of the lesson told me she already knew how to do it before screwing her t shirt up in to a ball and hurling it in to the wardrobe.

If we’re being honest honest Marie (or should I call you Miss Marie like all the well behaved and obedient children on your to show?) my kids don’t always bring me joy. Just this evening my daughter cried because we were playing hide and seek and I found her. She later exacted her revenge by quietly putting a soggy pink wafer biscuit in the pocket of my favourite hoodie. What can I do about them Miss Marie? I know I’m not supposed to get rid of them. Should I fold them in to tiny squares and put them in a drawer?

What about my rape alarm Marie? I suppose that falls under the ‘joyless but necessary’ category you describe in your books. I’m supposed to store like items together aren’t I? Do I put it with the other electricals or with the baggy jumpers?

What category do psychiatric discharge papers come under Marie? Paper, health or sentimental? Should I save them to look back on fondly? Or do I follow your advice for other sentimental objects and display them prominently so I can enjoy them daily? I came across them yesterday when sorting my papers and they pulled my trachea down to my navel. Do they spark joy? Let’s see. “Mrs F (apparently you are not allowed to be a Dr when you are mental) exhibits emotional disturbance, experiences and behaviour congruent with a postpartum psychosis triggered by obstetric trauma”. I checked for joy Marie, I didn’t find any. Perhaps I did it wrong because I found myself unable to throw them away.

Am I doing it wrong Marie? Am I supposed to discard all of the messy and joyless parts of me too? All of the unclean and untidy and inconvenient histories that lay buried in a drawer between the mortgage certificate and the warrantee for the dishwasher?

Would you come to the pub with me and my friends Marie? We get drunk and swear and talk about our fannies, which I suppose on second thoughts is a bit messy for you isn’t it? Talking of fannies, mine is certainly not very tidy in recent years what with all the scalpels and forceps and stitches and all, but it does still bring me joy. This is a quandary as I can neither get rid of my vagina nor tidy it up. Any advice Marie?

I did my best and now I have loads of bin bags to ditch. Except everyone has been watching you on the telly and now the charity shop has a sign on the door saying ‘no more kids clothes or toys please’ and the shoe bank slot has got wedged with plastic bags again. What shall I do with them now? I don’t want to send them to landfill. Global warming doesn’t spark joy for me Marie.

What if I finish my tidying marathon, and achieve a kind of bland, blank house where everything is hidden in a drawer and everything is perfectly, neatly folded? Either out of sight or standing up on its own? Will I have done it right? Is that what joy looks like Marie?

Or what if I end up alone in an empty house? What if I hold myself tight and check for joy and I can’t find it? I thought about chucking myself away once Marie and I don’t honestly think I’d do it again.

I’m hoping you can find the time to respond to some of my questions. Let me know about that drink.

Joyfully Yours

Dr Firebird

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Teachable Moments

[trigger warning – birth trauma]

So much has been happening since my little FireChick was hatched last October that the original purpose of the blog has gotten lost. It’s been such a whirlwind dealing with her illness day to day that beyond a few tweets, I’ve not really talked much about her birth, working through the trauma of the first and my mental health afterwards.

I can honestly say that I think of her birth fondly, with that warm glow that I expect many are lucky enough to experience first time around. So much so I think the full story deserves its own post, at a later date.

I’d like to share a moment from the birth though, where unfortunately I did re-experience some trauma and flashbacks. It was a solitary moment in an otherwise good birth, which I share because I think sadly it could have been avoided, in much the same way that wonderful planning and support did avoid any more significant trauma throughout the rest of the birth.

Labour was pretty well established, and I felt like I was in my stride using gas and air and hanging off a knotted scarf for pain relief. Due to my risk of postpartum haemorrhage I’d agreed to be cannulated – in case I was in need of emergency medicines or a transfusion. I remember nothing of the junior doctor who came to cannulate me – barely even their gender. They were not particularly rude, condescending or cold, nor remarkably warm, understanding or patient. A routine doctor for a simple routine procedure. Yet unlike every other staff member I worked with during this labour, I don’t believe they were informed of my trauma history.

I was asked to sit still on the edge of the bed while the cannula was placed. Anyone who’s given birth or witnessed it knows that this is no mean feat. But I managed it, cannula in despite my position making things more painful. The only thing left was to tape it down. Except I felt a contraction coming. I needed to change position. I managed to communicate this but was told no, I had to stay sat where I was on the edge of the bed. I pleaded that they could just wait and do it once the contraction was past but again, no, it had to be now, this way. The midwife told me to use the gas and air for the pain.

I huffed long and deep, too much, and that horrifyingly familiar, greyed-out, floating feeling crept over me. A feeling I hadn’t had for three and a half years, a creeping horror that I was in fact still in my first labour and about to die. I let out a throat ripping scream as I felt my vision and my sensibilities fading. Yet through that fog, I felt my husband’s gentle hand on mine. I heard him explaining to the bewildered doctor that I was having a flashback, an explanation he repeated to me, quietly and calmly. He reminded me where and when I was and showed me a photo of our older daughter. “She’s grown up, look, you’re not there anymore”. Shaking, I came back in to the room. I trudged the soles of my feet against the floor. I took in my surroundings, naming boring objects I could see as I’d learnt in EMDR trauma therapy. I let out a few heaving, shaking sobs and got on with the business of birthing my second baby.

Now why was that necessary? I wasn’t in danger. I didn’t need urgent medication, fluids or blood. Perhaps the cannula may have needed to be placed again, but so what? A little patience, a little more explanation to the doctor and I don’t believe that moment needed to happen at all. It was a small moment in the middle of a very positive birth, it didn’t ruin the experience but I do believe it was avoidable. The clear trigger had been the high amount of pain, awkward position and being told I couldn’t move. All three could have been avoided with better positioning and better understanding.

I hope that doctor went away with more than a sense of bewilderment that night, perhaps with curiosity about birth trauma and how to prevent it. Perhaps they just moved on to the next patient without a second thought. If you’re a health professional, it’s these little teachable moments that can make all the difference in preventing trauma and re-traumatisation, don’t let them slip by.

For more information and support on birth trauma, contact The Birth Trauma Association @BirthTrauma or join the Twitter hashtag #birthtraumachat on Monday evenings UK time

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Confessions of a benefits scrounger

With the UK General election coming up I’m seeing the old arguments pop up about benefit scroungers and people who don’t give a s*** about paying in to the system for something they don’t believe they’ll ever get out.

I’ve always believed the opposite – that those who can afford it should contribute to look after the most vulnerable in society. And as some regular followers may know, I recently joined the ranks of the ‘benefit scroungers’

My youngest daughter was born with a disability and now we claim Disability Living Allowance for her. It enables me and my husband to share her care and pay our mortgage, my husband can work less so we share the load (and the jobs that require two people!). My other daughter suffers less because she has more parental time than she would if I was looking after her higher needs sister by myself. 

For the people that think benefit claimants sit on their arses smoking and watching jeremy kyle all day, here’s what I spend my time doing:

  • Drawing up medicines
  • Making up specialist formula
  • Washing and sterilising syringes
  • Changing ostomy bags
  • Emptying ostomy bags
  • Emptying and cleaning personal care equipment
  • Arranging appointments
  • Planning for hospital stays
  • Monitoring temperature
  • Monitoring output
  • Monitoring wet nappies
  • Calculating fluid balance
  • Uh oh! Ostomy bag leak, finding something quick to entertain my eldest so I can change the bag again
  • Cleaning up and sterilising after everything got covered in poop
  • Washing clothes
  • Cleaning more syringes
  • Emptying the ostomy bag again
  • Dropping in prescriptions
  • Washing more clothes (sigh, more poop everyhwere)
  • Cleaning the super sticky special formula out my sink drains
  • Collecting specialist prescriptions from the hospital pharmacy because my local one won’t do it
  • Filling in dwp forms
  • Sending dwp evidence
  • Arguing with trolls on social media who think we’re all scroungers who sit on our arses
  • Reading the back of food packets for ingredients that will put my girl in hospital 
  • Ordering new medical supplies
  • Emptying extra bins full of used medical supplies
  • More washing
  • Oh yeah…. looking after my other child!

The list could be longer. It doesn’t include all the normal mum stuff everyone does like feeding and playing or the school run.  I didn’t choose this life but it’s the one I have. I’ve been a high earner who never thought I’d need to claim benefits but now I’m so grateful the system is there so my family can stay afloat.

A lot of nurseries aren’t set up to look after kids like mine. You know what it would cost to pay a nurse to do what I do? About £300 a day, presuming they only do basic care (they can’t arrange appointments or prescriptions for me) and I came home to take over after work. How much do we get in benefits? Just over £300 a month. As far as I’m concerned that’s win-win.

It prevents me from experiencing the severe mental health problems I’ve experienced before by reducing my stress (shall we calculate how much that super specialist care costed??) It prevents my husband from burning out at work, it protects my older daughter’s mental health. How can this be anything but a sound investment?

I hope next time you come across someone who believes us benefit scroungers sit on our arses all day, that you’ll think of us and show them this article!
Image copyright: British Broadcasting Corporation 

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Bring Back 2016

Remember when Andrew Lansley was health Secretary,  and after months of fuck ups and ignoring staff and the public he finally got the sack, and we thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse than him,  then we got Jeremy Hunt? That’s what 2017 is like for my family.

We are only 5 days in and already it’s as much a motherfucker as 2016, if not worse. In the last 3 days I’ve had my hopes of ever breastfeeding again dashed, my husband got hit by a lorry whilst he was driving the girls to town, and now the littlest one is back in hospital with a virus, just when she was about to reach ‘longer out than in’.

I feel like at the moment I barely get the chance to celebrate the little good things before a ton of shit falls on my head again. Yesterday firechick exceeded her birth weight first the first time, at 10 weeks old. We’d barely popped the cork on the champers before she started one continuous, day long poonami that’s seen her lose it all again. So here I am in children’s A&E at 2am and I can’t even bring my buggy because the wheels won’t fit in to the damn small car after a SODDING LORRY DROVE IN TO THE BIG ONE. 

PS, I haven’t expressed for 7 hours so my boobs are about to explode. Happy Fucking New Year.

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Three days

A lot can happen in three days

That’s  three days of not putting on weight. Not sleeping in your own bed. Not sleeping with your husband

Three days of not putting your little girl to bed

Another three days of missed swimming lessons, playgroups and play dates. three more days of not seeing your friends

Three more days of not introducing your gorgeous new baby to the world and the beautiful sights outside a hospital ward 

Three days of your husband not getting proper sleep

Three days of encroaching on grandparents hospitality. another weekend of them not seeing their daughter because there’s no room. 

Just Three More Days might not be much to you. but it’s an eternity for my family.

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Crunch Time

I’m writing this the evening before my induction, at 40 weeks plus 10 days pregnant. Things haven’t quite worked out the way I’d hoped. 

Despite weeks of intense Brixton Hicks contractions and false starts, there is still no sign of baby. I can’t help but feel a little let down by all the reassurances I’ve had from health professionals, about second labours generally coming earlier and easier. I’m trying not to let it affect my trust in them as I prepare to hand over my vulnerability to them in the coming days. I know that nothing is certain and that we don’t get to pick and choose or control these things. 

I’m allowing myself some space to feel disappointed though, that feels important. I don’t do empty positive thinking – I think it’s at best ineffective and at worst invalidating, I prefer to honour my difficult feelings no matter how painful that might be. It really does feel important to acknowledge, this is not how I wanted things to be, not again. It makes me cringe slightly when the ‘It’ll all be fine’ brigade try to cheerlead me along. Because it might not. It’s already not. I’d rather you just sat beside me, gave me a hug, and maybe just said, I’m sorry it’s not how you want it to be.

So how did I get here? My whole birth plan has been about avoiding certain things – amongst those, induction and augmented Labour. However, the closer I’ve gotten to the point where the only real option left is an elective section, the less appealing that has seemed. I’ve spoken to friends, family and Twitter family about their various experiences with both sections and inductions and it just made me realise, no one method is guaranteed to make things easier. I’ve done a little more reading around both, and actually realised there was a lot I didn’t know. Like the fact that last time I had what’s known as an augmented labour, and that there are induction methods you try before you get near a syntocinon drip. Before I knew it I was sat in front of my obstetrician uttering words I never thought I’d hear myself say. I’m willing to try induction again. (I just read that back. Am I nuts??! Don’t answer that).

I tell myself that it IS different this time – there’s the option of mobile epidural so I don’t feel like a prisoner chained to a hospital bed. Ditto for intermittent monitoring or telemetry if more observation is needed. And one big mighty reassurance that at any time, short of being about to push, i can back out and opt for a section. 

It’s been a headfuck trying to manage all my various risks – pre-eclampsia, birth trauma, postpartum haemorrhage, then all the stuff that comes after – postpartum psychosis and postnatal depression- some choices just seem impossible because the options are good for mediating one risk but bad for another, or vice versa. 

When it comes down to it, I’d rather avoid major surgery if I can, and hopefully have a more straightforward recovery, so I am willing to give induction a go. I just have to keep my eye on my goals and the things I want to avoid – I do not want a vaginal birth at all costs. The forceps I had last time, although I don’t have any traumatic memories about their use, left me so bruised and sore that I’m not sure my recovery was any quicker or less painful than a section. I certainly still can’t get my head around the idea of being able to walk the same day as giving birth, let alone go home. I also need to keep my eye on how long it all takes – the main focus postpartum to minimise risk of psychosis is going to be  rest, and I don’t want to start off from a position of major sleep deprivation again. As for pain, well I think I’ll just have to roll with the punches on that one.

So here we are. Lunchtime tomorrow I’ll get one of the prostaglandin pessaries, with 24 hours to see what happens, followed by a 6hr one if there’s no movement. At my (two, unsuccessful) sweeps I was examined to be ‘favourable’ (a glowing review, if ever I heard one, haha!) with some dilation and effacement already. The first one did *ahem* dislodge a few things too so hopefully this will start something off. That’s better than the sweep in my first pregnancy, where the midwife couldn’t even reach my cervix let alone do anything with it. And after 24 hrs of labour I was still only 1-2cm. After the pessary  I’ll be able to go home so in theory I won’t get caught in the snare of the hospital and their cascade of ‘might as well’ interventions.

I’ve been trying to mentally prepare myself this evening – I’ve done some pregnancy yoga, and even some visualisation relaxation that helps with birth trauma. I have to say, it really helped me feel more positive about the whole thing and more excited to meet baby, rather than being weighed down by all the negatives. Husband is working late tonight, which is a shame as I could really do with an early night and I usually wait for him to come home before bed. 

There’s nothing left to do but wait – bag is packed, appointment is made, babysitters informed. Deep breath, here goes, see you on the other side.

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To my friends about to have their first babies

A few friends of mine are due with their first babies VERY soon (or in the case of one, have just popped one out). This raises all sorts of conflicted feelings for me. I want to share with them the dark collective secret of motherhood, the one that was kept from me until after I gave birth, that those first few weeks, for most, are hell. One compassionate friend had tried to warn me, but I dismissed her comments as ‘negativity because of her own experiences’. Boy was I wrong. 

I want to tell them all the things I wish I’d known, but I don’t want to scare them. Or worse, I don’t want to be wrong. My worst fear fear is that I warn them of the shitstorm that’s to come; the horror of birth, the Sisyphean task that is breastfeeding, wondering when you’re bouncing the baby at 4am whether you’ve ruined your life.  My fear is that I tell them all of that, and not to worry because it’s normal, and then it never happens to them. Their birth is a breeze, breastfeeding is easy, they love every minute of being a new mum. Because that means it’s just me. I’m just someone who can’t hack motherhood. And the implications of that for someone who’s pregnant again…yikes. 

So, here’s all the things I wish I could say. 

Dear friends,

Wow, so you’re about to pop! That’s really exciting, but I remember how terrifying it is too. You’re not sure if your body can do it, does it really hurt that much? What if it all goes wrong? Well, you know what, it might. And that is NOT your fault. You’ve probably been to some lovely fluffy birthing classes, where they’ve talked to you about birthing postitions, and a positive mental attitude, and pelvic floor exercises, and a load of things that might make a little difference, if you’re lucky enough to have a straightforward birth in the first place. But if your body, like mine, has decided it just isn’t going to do things the easy way, then none of that will mean shit. And I hope you can feel liberated rather than scared by that, that you can let go of the responsibility for how your birth turns out, because it turns out a heck of a lot of it is just biology. You’re a marathon runner? Great, I think it’s wonderful that you take care of your body and make sure you’re fit and healthy. But don’t be disappointed if your body decides that doesn’t matter, and turns your baby round, or holds on to it for dear life, or decides to drop your heart rate dangerously low. It’s. Not. Your. Fault. 

I also hope you are able to let go of what you think you know about babies already. It’s great that you’re a devoted aunt. Fantastic that you’ve got a degree in education and early years development. All those years experience in childcare, wow! You know what all that is good for? Beating yourself up with when you STILL don’t know what the hell you’re doing. And you won’t, for a long time. Remember how hands on you were when your sister had a baby? That’s all great experience, but at some point you got to shut the door, go home and sleep. Don’t worry if you freak when you realise there is no going back from this. Your sister did too, she just waited til you weren’t there, and buried it under an Instagram photo of the baby in the cute onesie you bought. None of us has a frickin CLUE in those first weeks. 

You think you know how you’re going to handle it all now. You’ve done your reading, your research, made your choices, made your plans. But believe me, if you can even follow through on half of them half the time you’ll be doing well. You can’t plan for something you have absolutely no experience of. It’s a different world on the other side. You will change your mind, you will compromise, you will be so tired sometimes you will just think f*** it and do whatever’s easiest. It’s OK. 

Terrified the baby will stop breathing if you look away and go to sleep? Yep, we’ve all been there. Motherhood is like having a film peeled back from your eyes where you can suddenly see danger EVERYWHERE. At some point you will probably become completely overwhelmed by the terrifying sole responsibility that is  keeping your tiny human alive. You might even react by handing it to someone else and going AWOL for a few hours just so you can breathe. Yep, still normal, don’t sweat it. 

And never, EVER, for a second, think you can’t tell anyone how you’re really feeling. It’s only when you do that you realise, this is just how it is. And it will get better. When you need to tell someone, I’ll be waiting. Good luck, kid x 

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