Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The guilt starts here...

I posted this one on Insta last week while I was away on hols.

I chose my words carefully as I am wont to do. I worry about being misunderstood, or upsetting one of the women I love for whom pregnancy isn't an option, or all sorts of other things.

I am spectacularly good at self censorship.

This week in an online due-in group I am a part of, a woman asked if she was alone in her feelings of unhappiness in her changing body.

She isn't, but I noticed that everyone including me was very quick to temper their responses with comments around it all being worth it, it's a short time for a huge reward etc. Just like I've done up there really.

And it feels like the underlying, unspoken feeling is one of fear and guilt... Fear that someone will assume a resentment of the baby, guilt for having these feelings about our bodies when we should instead be entirely thankful for the miracle of life no matter what the perceived personal sacrifice.

Because that's what motherhood is, and it starts from conception right? A sacrifice of self for the child. Martyrhood is what we should be aspiring too, and if we dare voice disappointment or sadness or discomfort we are being selfish and so the mother-guilt begins.

From the moment the world becomes aware of your pregnancy everyone else knows better than you what you should be doing. You should not be having a glass of wine. You should be buying all the right things. You should not eat ham/cheese/ice cream. You should exercise for 30 minutes three times per week. You should not put on too much weight. You should put on more weight than you have.

It is exhausting. At a time when you are already at your most exhausted.

I would like to believe that the majority of women are not stupid. That they make educated, measured decisions for their bodies and their babies without the need to be lectured or patronised. That they listen to their care providers and make good choices for THEMSELVES even when those choices may not be the ones their mother-in-laws, friends or possibly even partners would make.

And I think it is okay to say that pregnancy sucks, because for many of us it does.

For me personally, pregnancy means a likelihood of antenatal depression and anxiety. These things suck.

It also means that the body I worked incredibly hard for over the past few years and had come to love for its abilities has been lost in a roadmap of stretch marks, diminished muscle mass and an inability to do the things that I love so much - run and lift.

I think it is okay for me to mourn those losses. I can do that with zero resentment for the daughter I am carrying. She rolls around and wakes me up at night already and I feel like I know her and I love her so much. She is a blessing, felt even more keenly as the due dates for the babies we lost have passed by over the last few months.

I know what is coming. I can't wait to see her face and to hold her.

But I feel heavy and tired. My face gets puffy and my fingers swell up. I get itchy. My skin is blotchy and the legs that ran 42kms a couple of years ago feel like lead by the early afternoon.

I'm a mother, but I am a person as well. It took me years and years to find a peace between the two when I had my older children, and to be perfectly honest I think I made sacrifices in the name of being a 'good mum' that not only didn't particularly benefit my children but actively damaged my self esteem and my relationships. Hindsight is a fine thing.

I love my children. I am a great Mum. Our new baby is lucky to be joining our family and will be so intensely loved and adored. But I don't enjoy 90% of what pregnancy entails and that is okay. Wanting to maintain a relationship with my partner beyond that of co-parenting isn't selfish - it's crucial. Putting myself first is important, and my kids are the ones who benefit when I stop trying to be some sort of supermum and go back to just being Kate. Kate is enough.

I've been a parent for 13 years. I get a whole lot of things wrong all the time.

I'm doing fine.

You are too.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Not today, OK?

I watched RUOK? day rise and fall this year with my usual feeling of discomfort.

It feels like the message has shifted a fair way from where it began. The posts I saw about it spoke of 'reaching out' and 'making contact'. I saw no mention specifically of suicide prevention.

I saw lots of people ask RUOK? in their social media statuses, and I guess some people maybe actually DID directly contact loved ones to ask them if they were okay. No one asked me if I am okay that particular day, so I don't know for sure if that is a thing that happens or if we just post our public update with the best of intentions then feel the job is done.

It's a complex thing, mental health. I admire people and groups who want to raise awareness, to increase understanding of what it can look and feel like, to support people in crisis. But again this year I wondered if this is a great way to do it.

I like that it gives me an easy platform to talk to my kids about mental health I guess, but that's a conversation for every day not just one designated special day.

I watched a dear friend who has and is living through extreme pain, and who has done so in a relatively public way which I admire so so much for many reasons - comment fairly innocently on how RUOK rubs her up the wrong way given that she has been failed spectacularly time and again by the mental health system. The replies she got were astonishing.

It felt a lot like people just could not cope with their views on the organisation/day being questioned - that they were so entitled to their own feeling of virtue having posted the RUOK question, and having claimed to be ready for an honest answer (really? are you?) that they could not stand someone having the audacity to share her own personal experiences which were so out of line with their views of themselves. Instead they took it out on a woman, their supposed friend, who they KNOW has an experience of the system that is so far beyond what many of us will ever experience and which most of us actively hope we never need to. There is something really wrong with that scenario.

I'm not okay at the moment, maybe that's why this has struck me harder than usual this year. Pregnancy hormones mess up my brain chemistry something wicked and as much as I hoped it wouldn't happen this time, it has. I am doing all the right things and I have great support. I WILL BE okay. And if you ask I am going to say 'fine thanks' because I am trying really freaking hard every single day to BE okay in the moment and unless you are my family or my bestie I really hope that what you are seeing IS the 'okay' version of me. You don't want to know the inner dialogue and I don't really want to share it with you and unless you are one of those people there is a good chance you don't really want to hear it either.

Ben Pobjie wrote about this over at Medium and he's summed it up pretty spectacularly I think. 

I'm open to being challenged on this, but not in the way my friend was thanks. We are all entitled to our own opinions based on lived experience and I like a good, positive, awareness raising, community supporting campaign as much as anyone. For me though, RUOK has missed the mark. I have a lot of people in my life who I touch base with often. I am blessed to have a number of people do the same for me. We don't need a day for it though, we need an open conversation about mental health, practical real life support and safe spaces both on and offline every single day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The things you miss.

They're not the things you might once have thought.

Of course you miss the people, more than anything else... more than you thought possible when you left.

But it's tiny moments that make you catch your breath.

It's driving through town and being pelted by memories both joyous and terrible everywhere you look... the jewellery shop where you bought your best friend a gift in some tiny attempt to thank her for holding your hand through the darkest days; the hospital where you watched your son go under a general anaesthetic and held your breath for over an hour just wanting this one thing to go well for him; the shopping centre you spent so many hours wandering through with small children; the cafe where you went on a date with some guy and talked for hours, this guy who meant you'd never go on a date with anyone else after that and who now holds the space with you as you await a new life created together.

Even all this time later those memories flood in along with so many others, but they aren't the ones that squeeze your heart the tightest.

Those are at the lake, along the rail trail, throughout the roads of the small town you lived in.

Those are the memories of endless hours on your feet walking, running, training for the events that shaped your weeks and gave you a sense of purpose in a time filled with confusion.

Those are the memories of becoming the person you'd secretly hoped you could be, and remembering that actually she was part of you all along.

Every time I go back it is harder and easier. Every time I wonder how it feels so much like home when I was there for such a short time. But it does, I guess because there is so much of myself left all over the town and on the trails and around the lake, just waiting for me to come back and claim it again.

One day perhaps. One day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A little bit pregnant.

That is what I am. Or quite a bit, actually. A few days off the half way point, to be absolutely precise.

Let me save us both some time.

Yes it is my fifth baby.

Yes it was (very much) planned.

Yes my other kids are excited to have a new sibling early next year.

Yes I know what a TV is (and could you be a little less predictable and boring next time?!).

Yes it is my partner's first baby, and yes he is incredibly excited and happy but he's also pretty happy to be part of the lives of my other four children and they love him just as much as he loves them.

No we are not married.

No we are not from the same cultural background.

No, it isn't an issue (it is 2016 FFS!).

No I didn't 'expect' to be having another baby after my four, but life is never boring and as big shifts go this is a pretty great one.

No I don't actually care what you think about the size/shape of my family. If you don't like the idea of five kids then don't you have them, okay?

Yes I've heard pretty much every comment imaginable over the past ten weeks.

Yes, the majority of the time things are said from a place of good will and I appreciate that and will laugh along with you like I've never heard that one before.

Yes I know there are a few people out there who have some feels about this, and to those people I would pretty much say perhaps it's time to get yourself a life of your own? Mine is already taken, and if you dislike it so much perhaps you'd fare better to walk (or click) away and not come back. Cheers.


Glad we got that out of the way.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

From the spectrum.

I read a thing a while back that described the autism spectrum as being not linear, but a full circle where various behaviours and traits might inhabit certain quadrants and a person might display a high degree of one element and none of another. It took me a while to wrap my head around, but it actually makes a lot of sense too.

Both of my sons are on the spectrum, but because they present so differently and my older son is 'higher functioning' I find it easy to forget sometimes that I need to apply the same processes in terms of communicating effectively with him as I do my younger son. I '' the term higher functioning deliberately, because whilst my younger sons ticks a lot more boxes in terms of what we might think of as autistic traits, both of my boys cope well in the world and have developed their own individual skills and coping strategies that help them make sense of what goes on around them and if I think of the spectrum as a circle I can see where the autistic elements that contribute to my older boyo's diagnosis differ enormously from those of my little mate.

If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person hey?

A few weeks ago the fifth anniversary of my smaller boy's diagnosis slipped by without any fanfare but not unremembered either.

I will never forget that day as long as I live. Sitting with my Mum after his appointment and feeling so overwhelmed and so scared, even though I had known that something was amiss for a really long time.

I couldn't have imagined him being where he is now. His little sister's babyhood was spent being carted around to various therapies, I can barely remember a lot of it which makes me sad but it is a story that many autism families know so well. It wasn't really until he attended a specialist kinder that my boy even started speaking, but you would never guess that was the case to spend time with him today.

He turns 8 in a couple of weeks. He is all arms and legs and elbows and knees. I see him at school running around with his little gang of mates, go go go with no apparent aim but just running because that is what they do. He has low muscle tone which has always been the case, but he's displayed an amazing ability for endurance running... we've been at his brother's footy training and I've watched him run lap after lap of the oval at a consistent, comfortable pace. It is like he switches to autopilot - I hope it is something we can help foster as he gets older that might give him some escape from the business of making sense of the world every day.

He is doing well academically. He has an individual learning plan and I meet with his teacher and support staff regularly to reassess his goals. We are so blessed to be at the school that we are - the support he receives is second to none and I've watched his abilities skyrocket over the past year.

Living with my son is like being on a rollercoaster sometimes. We laughingly refer to his cyclic behaviours as the 'full moon effect' but there's an element of truth in there as well. For a week or so out of every four he glazes over somehow... it is harder to connect with him and we go back to having to slow down and focus on things like eye contact, deep pressure and repetitive tasks to help bring him back to himself.

We've had a couple of very autistic weeks in a row at present, which has almost felt a bit like mania on his part he has been so high. He is stimmy and has difficulty controlling himself physically. His speech is very fast and he's literally bouncing off the walls at home. It is tricky, but it is part and parcel of his delightful self and in a few weeks he may well be back in a much more calm state. I actually love that he saves this for home, and at school the only real indication that something has shifted is that he ceases eye contact and needs fiddly toys and the like during floor time. Given he works so hard to get through the day in a fairly contained way, it's no great surprise that we see the explosion of emotion and energy at home.

Most of all though, as always, he is my beautiful son. People fall in love with him easily because he is an easy kid to love. He has an infectious smile, he says the most hilarious things, he is affectionate and loyal and so much fun to be around.

Five years ago I was so scared of what autism would mean for my family. Today I know that I would not change a thing. Both of my sons will do great things in the world, and maybe they will be things that a neurotypical person would never even think to do.

They are ausome.