Living Large, Feeling Small.

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I’m back to big, living large and emotional about it. My “born-before-his-time-renaissance-man” would probably say I’ve hit the skids. And it’s not what you think…

Before I go on, I must acknowledge my extended absence from the blog and pass on my apologies. You see, it can probably be best explained when I tell you I got really happy (and busy) at about the same time I stopped losing any more weight and the goal posts in my life suddenly changed. I think it’s also of note that we often feel the need to be heard most when things are tough (think how many facebook status updates are angry tirades about other drivers) and so when life got good, I no longer had the same urge to keytap away.

But today, like I have done my whole life, I turn back to writing to try and make sense of the world when I can sense myself slipping back to a place that I simply refuse to revisit (yep, I can hear the mental health gods laughing at that one).

So where were we…..

Around February this year, I had just begun my frantic downsizing (in the form of skip hiring and random belonging throwing) and was about to embark on a camping trip with the toolman in an attempt to get back to basics (both were rather happily unemployed at the time and looking for direction). Miraculously, in clearing out all the clutter of the mind, the house and our relationship, a few very special things happened.

Firstly, being physically and emotionally lighter and in full recognition of the absolute living hell the toolman and I had fled only a short 18 months before, we had an absolute ball. My paranoia about shape and size left me and I swam, drank, ate and sunned myself like a Jackie Collins character in a back shelf romance novel.

Runner up in the happy stakes was the offer of a position with a charity that I had spent some time volunteering with and that was personally very meaningful to me. Considering potential pay cuts and our scary financial situation but running with “happy wife, happy life”, the toolman quickly made a commitment to support me in my new role.

But then look what he made me do. I went and fell in love all over again and as we all know, the more love you have, the more you have to give and so I went and fell pregnant.

Anyone who has read this before today probably remembers I was rather perturbed by a gammy set of ovaries for some time. So it didn’t actually occur to that I may in fact be pregnant when I started feeling what I now know as the tell-tale signs of pregnancy a few weeks after returning home.

It’s about this time that things started getting really good. Like, really good. Money problems were no longer money fears, work seemed meaningful, the toolman became the funniest and most endearing man alive, and I had what I had always always wanted. ..my baby snug as a bug.

So it confuses me that as I sit here now, eight months pregnant, with everything that I have ever wanted, I feel dejected. It’s even worse that as I contemplate the above and know how grateful I should be, I feel such confusion about my position that I have retreated from the world.

It seems that whenever I leave the house, I invite such a tirade of horror from other mothers and fathers alike, that is so invalidating, so patronising, I’ve been inside for days now crying. And as much as I have tried to come up with explanations that explain the motivation behind telling these stories, I’ve become too lost in them to find my way out.

Let me digress for a moment to illustrate my point (it’s a curvy one, stay with me).

I have spent a lot of time in the past dealing with mental health problems that has seem me spend a lot of time as an in-patient, changing medications constantly, dealing with sweats and pains, hallucinations and paranoia, judgement and stereotypes and some darn right scary situations. What I do know is that if you told me that you had been diagnosed with a problem, needed medication and in patient treatment what I WOULDN’T say is this:

“Gee, you better prepare yourself for the fact that you’ll never sleep again. Those night sweats are a killer. Oh, they might drug you so much you’ll wet the bed too. Better look out for that one. But no worries, you’ll start to feel a bit better, feel a bit normal again and then BANG- you’ll lose your sleep all over again…so don’t get cocky cos’ for a year you’ll feel like absolute shit. Forget your husband…he’ll be the dust. He’ll probably start looking around. And your body will turn to crap as well. Aches and pains. Better start massaging those muscles now cos’ the leg cramps will continue every single night for the next four years”.

You see, I forecast no value in “warning” anyone about any of this. But the greatest misnomer going around is that future mothers need to be told, to be warned, as it’s the kindest thing to do. Ironically, the above is not very far away from what I heard in the past few weeks. There is however, an even more cruel mode of communication amongst mothers and mothers to be which I like to refer to as “The Question Trap”. This is how it works…

You are asked a question which usually sounds genuine (don’t be fooled, no one cares what your answer is, the lioness is coiling back, ready to spring), you answer said question, trying desperately to avoid landmines that you can sense are underfoot but don’t have the map for, and Boom…you’re shot down blazing, pieces of your confidence floating through the air like confetti. I swear I can now see the satisfaction in the eyes opposite mine that read “that’ll take you down a peg or two”.

Let me give you an example that I have relived over and over since I fell pregnant. There are two main varieties, pick which one works for you.

Option One

Mother: “Are you going to use cloth nappies”

Me: “Yes”

Mother: “Why?”

Me: (This is where I insert the explanation about financial benefit. Crying poor is much more savoury than simply saying you think it’s a better choice – see what I mean about landmines).

Mother: (After a few seconds thought). “Well you realise that there is the cost of the washing powder and water and that it actually uses more greenhouse gas to wash them all the time. I give you a month before you go to disposables. You really should just see how you go. (Finishing slightly out of breath)”

Me: Silence. I never once thought of telling a mother who uses disposable nappies to “see how they go” but anyway….

Option Two (This one is the real beauty)

Mother: “Have you thought about a birth plan?”

Me: (MAYDAY! MAYDAY! THIS IS A TRAP!). “Ummm…yes…ummmm”

Mother: “You’re not bloody having it at home are you?” (Because that’s not loaded at all).

Me: “Umm..no” (Don’t let it slip about the birthpool for heaven’s sake). “I’m going to the hospital”

Mother: “And what about pain. Are you having a natural birth?”

Me: (Now this is where you tread carefully, I’ve learnt over time. I used to reply with big doey eyes that yes, I was going to try for a natural birth…I laugh now at the naivety).

“Umm, well I’m going to hospital but I’ll try to do what I can without any pain relief.” (Don’t say birth plan, don’t say birth plan).

Mother: (Half satisfied but still hungry for a kill). “Well, you can’t prepare for childbirth and really there’s no point in a birth plan because you have no control over it anyway. Plus you think it’s so important before you have the baby but realise how stupid it all was thinking about it once the baby arrives. I wouldn’t make your mind up just now (said with a laugh), just wait and see”

Me: (Yep, so my fear is stupid. Yep, my preparation is stupid. I feel small and silly for having a plan and on top of all that, the absolute most traumatic thing you can say you a trauma survivor is that you will have no control, even if it is the truth).

Why is it so threatening that I might want to do it like this? Why do I have to be told that my choice is silly and naïve and that I am considering doing something “the hard way”? You wouldn’t say to someone who is looking at detox, “Just wait and see how you go…you’ll be grabbing for relief in no time”, you’d be all “you can do it”, cheering from the sidelines.

I thought the other night that I had come up with the plan of all plans to avoid setting someone off. A master scheme that I could implement in future- Just lie about my intentions. When asked the question about pain relief, I replied that I was going to hospital ASAP, and would probably just have an epidural if I was offered it. But still no love; “Won’t that just slow labour down” was the reply, “You really can’t plan for these things you know”.

The innate problem with all this when I really think about it is that from the moment you are thinking about a baby, you are constantly struggling against someone up the line who knows better than you. I thought that when I fell pregnant I would finally be able to do what I had wanted to do my whole life…join the ranks of motherhood, talk with meaning. But there was always someone telling me with a sideway glance that “you know you can’t eat soft cheese don’t you”, desperately trying to put me in my place.

And perhaps this is where I am at today. I feel put in my place and invalidated. I have spent a long time finding a voice and I make no apologies that over the past few years I have often yelled more loudly than I needed to (I was just getting used to it you see). You see, I kept a secret for a long time and I made a promise a few years back that I wouldn’t do it again which has resulted in me often overstepping boundaries and saying things that others don’t necessarily appreciate (stiff upper lips and all).

But despite my best efforts, in order not to challenge or confront others, I feel that over the past months, something has been chipped away slowly. I have been invalidated and inadvertently been silenced in so many interactions that I wonder whether I have been taken back to that place where no one speaks and why I find myself now, in my own home, unable to speak to anyone, including the toolman.

Fear creeps in when writing this as I can hear judgement (perhaps just my own) that reads, “Here she goes again, banging on about the past” but maybe it’s time to get my voice back. Perhaps my experiences are valid enough, just for me, because they are mine. Or maybe I should push more love out to the world that seems so keen on judging others (and most poignantly, probably themselves).

Or best of all, maybe I should go back to making a plan and start up that yelling again…

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