A year with the bees

It is just over a year since I started making my bee garden, after deciding to turn our small corner of lawn in the front garden into an amazing garden full of flowers to encourage the bees, and glorious sights, smells and sounds to bring joy to our senses.

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Here it is when we first moved into our house nearly five years ago.

You may rember it was a slightly spur of the moment decision. I may have roped a friend into helping me start lifting the turf whilst my husband was on the school run! Once started though we all got stuck in to create the garden of my dreams. A year ago this week I planted the first plants in the ground.

One year later and it had brought me more joy than I can begin to express. It has been my calm centre when everything is crazy, my chance for my body to stretch and lift, my time to let my brain go quiet. It is my meditation, mindfulness and exercise all in one.

The joy of hearing the bees happily bumbling from flower to flower covered in yellow pollen. Seeing the leaves emerge in the spring. Seeing the flower buds burst into colour.

Watching as neighbours walk past with their children and stop to point out their favourite flower. Seeing my own children leap from stepping stone to stone, smelling the flowers and crushing the chamomile and thyme under foot, releasing clouds of gorgeous scent.

It has filled me with such pride watching it grow, and motivated me to get busy and active when otherwise I’d be overwhelmed with exhaustion.

And the very best thing is that it is still so very young and has so much more joy still to bring me. The sheer number of plants covered in buds about to bloom is testament to all the excitement still to come as spring turns to summer.

Representing

Last week I had a big adventure. It may not have seemed big to most people, but it was so far out of my comfort zone that I almost talked myself out of even trying.

For a start, I left Cornwall!!

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Here I am, on the train, crossing the Tamar Bridge, which marks the divide between Devon and Cornwall. Now some Cornishfolk have been known to have panic attacks at the mere thought of the Tamar, but I held it together, despite the fact that I was off to the big smoke of London, by myself, to be staying in Central London, alone for the first time in my life, to be away from my children for the longest time ever, with a big challenge ahead of me…

I made it to Paddington, navigated the tube (down escalators are in my top three greatest fears, so the tube isn’t exactly my happy place), and found my hotel in Covent Garden, a very serviceable single room in a Travel Lodge.

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This was to be my base for the next three days as I attended the Royal College of Surgeons, learning to become an instructor on Advanced Trauma Life Support courses.

I have been a participant on the Advanced Trauma Life Support course three times in the past. It is a course I need to take every four years to keep up to date with the principles of trauma. It is taught by a faculty, which in my experience has been predominantly male, made up almost exclusively of consultants and with a large proportion of surgeons. I never really considered teaching on it myself, despite the fact that I have looked after trauma patients on a regular basis for almost ten years now, have taught about trauma care to junior doctors for years, with training and extensive experience in leading medical simulation teaching. I think the fact that I didn’t see people like myself on the faculty I assumed that they didn’t want people like me. The third time I took the course though, my male, consultant mentor suggested I put myself forward as a potential instructor, so I went for it, not really feeling expecting to be asked!

I have spoken before about my choice to be a specialty doctor, a non-training grade who can stay based in one hospital, in a permanent role, in the same department long term, with no plans to become a consultant one day. This allows me to stay in one place, to let my children stay in their home, go to school and see their friends without having to move every year, without me having to spend long periods of time living away from them. Having some flexibility in my working hours whilst being able to work full time. I am happy with that choice, but there are definitely times when I hear sarcastic, derogatory comments about specialty doctors, and it is hard not to take those on board. There are definitely times when I feel like I’m just not as good as those people who follow training rotations and become consultants. Sometimes it is hard to remind myself that I have made conscious decisions to be able to stay with my family, in an amazing part of the world to grow up, whilst working full time and financially providing a home and a life which provides us with lovely experiences. That’s not such a bad thing to have achieved!

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Wesnesday morning I rock up at the Royal College of Surgeons, and as I had expected there was only one other woman taking the course, and only one other specialty doctor. The faculty was almost all men again, with only two female doctors there. Sitting there at registration coffee hearing all the participants chatting about their training programs or their consultant jobs, I couldn’t really shake the feeling that I probably shouldn’t be there. It was very nice to chat to some other Emergency Medicine doctors though, hearing that all around the country they were seeing their patients on trollies in the corridor, that they were routinely going over four hour waits on their night shifts. It is a terrible thing that Emergency Departments have been allowed to get to this point, that our hospitals are so full, and social care in our communities is so lacking that our elderly are left to sit on cold trollies on corridors for up to twelve hours, and sometimes even more, when at their most vulnerable. It was good to hear though that it’s not just our hospital that has got to this point, and that there are still doctors around the country who have total enthusiasm and passion for our incredible specialty, and are still determined to provide the best care they can in very challenging circumstances.

The course started with a written exam, which definitely challenged me, than ten hours of lectures and assessed practical sessions. It made my brain hurt, but you know what? I loved it  I learnt so much, and when I was actually in those practical sessions, demonstrating my teaching skills, well I didn’t feel inferior anymore  I didn’t feel like I didn’t deserve to be there, that I was the odd one out. In fact I totally held my own, and got some really lovely feedback. By the end of the second day when I was finally told that I had passed, the exam and all the practical sessions, and that I could now go out and teach on my next ATLS course I felt pretty damn proud of myself, and proud that it was ok to chose a different career path, whilst still being damn good at my job.

So whilst I’m aware that I’m not exactly going out there and smashing any glass ceilings, it’s ok to make the right choices for my career and my family. And maybe on one of those courses I will now be teaching on, there may be a candidate there who feels that she is represented on the faculty, and feel like she would be welcomed to take that next step too.

 

Lacking Grace

Hi guys, it’s been a while, and for that I apologise. We had a surprisingly lovely Easter holidays, despite me booking the wrong week for annual leave, and I have been super busy in the garden, and as this is not supposed to be a gardening blog I felt I shouldn’t bore you too much with those specifics. I have also been pretty busy, and pretty resentful about working so much, but don’t really want to moan on about that one either. I’ve just realised that despite working in the same job for nine years now, every two and a half years I’ve had a year off for maternity leave, which has really helped me regain the love when I’ve been getting totally fed up with it all. Now, with no new baby on the horizon I will just have to work my way through the wall and find the love again even when it can feel like a total slog. I’m sure it will get easier, my first step is to stop saying yes to extra shifts all the time.  I need to give myself a break.

I am not a natural exerciser. When leaving school I won the ‘award’ for the least sporty person in my year. As a small child I did dancing, and was terrible at it, and absolutely adored it. I did the lot, ballet, tap, contemporary, any class I could, and was equally bad at them all. The fact that I was, and still am, ridiculously tall, meant that I had very little control over my crazily flailing limbs. I was also a foot taller than anyone else in my class, just emphasising the fact that I was always the oldest in each class as I was rarely felt ready to take exams and proceed to a more advanced class.

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This sense of physical awkwardness has continued with me throughout my life, and is actually the cause of my blog name, I felt as I had absolutely no grace outwardly, I should actively try to at least have some inner grace. Not certain I achieve it, but it reminds me to keep trying.

I was always academic, and apart from the dancing I very much lived within my mind. In fact for a long time I didn’t really want to even think about the fact I had a physical body as well. Becoming a doctor within a very practical specialty has helped me integrate my mind and body slightly, and then going through pregnancy, birth and years of breastfeeding it has been pretty much impossible to forget I have a physical, rather knackered body, that I have to take into account also.

The glorious weather recently has motivated me to be out, working, in the garden at every possible opportunity. Strangely I have been feeling, so strongly, and for maybe the first time in my life, that I am really connected with my body, and really enjoying moving it more. I am getting real satisfaction not only from how beautiful my garden is looking, but also how it feels to bend and stretch and squat and reach and lift, whilst working in it. It has felt just wonderful to be able to do that, especially with the spring sunshine on my skin. Since recognising this feeling I have found myself more keen to move generally, and often find myself dancing round the kitchen, in the shower, with the kids, just because I want to move and love how it feels

This increased joy of movement, combined with staying at my mum’s house where there are mirrors everywhere has made me decide I should maybe actively try to look after myself better. In our house we have no mirrors, except the one I bought specially to live in the hallway so I could check my baby was properly wrapped on my back before I left the house. I only catch glimpses of myself in reflections in windows normally, and it is easy to ignore those.

With both babies I have naturally lost all my baby weight, plus an extra stone or so, when they were about 18 months old. I’m guessing it’s hormonal because neither time did I try to lose weight at all. I had a similar experience when I had my implant taken out, I lost almost three stone without even trying. Sadly though after each of these natural losses I have put all the weight back on again just as easily. I am now the heaviest I have been except when pregnant and with my increased awareness of this fabulously useful body of mine, I feel like I should do something to help it out.

To this end I have signed up for a six week internet program with health, diet, and exercise, aimed at mums with kids who need some extra help to look after themselves whilst trying to look after annoying, distracting, exhausting small humans too. I have never actively tried to diet, and I don’t intend to now either, but moving more and eating less magnum ice creams would definitely be a step in a positive direction. I think there is also quite a focus in this program on core strength and the good old pelvic floor. I have to say (too much information alert!) that after a third degree tear and then a 10lb3 baby, mine has pretty much left the building. I did get referred to a gynae physio (just the very thought of it makes me shudder) when my first baby was about six weeks old. Now seriously, at that point I was still pretty much crying every half an hour and had forgotten what sleep was. My entire life had crumbled around my ears and I had no idea what my name was. I was in pretty much constant pain and my baby cried if I didn’t bounce her up and down for sixteen hours a day so that was probably not really the time to be thinking about Kegels. I never went back, and have been hiding my head in the sand ever since.

I’ll let you know how I get on, don’t go expecting miracles! But I will hopefully at least have a beautiful garden to show for all my energies!

 

Patient Mummy

I find that being a doctor and a mother sometimes leaves me with really difficult choices. Naturally it falls to me to decide whether and when our children need medical attention, and I always find it an impossible call to make. The few times I’ve taken my daughter to the GP he has asked me how her chest sounded or whether I have tried any treatments myself first, and seems surprised when I say no, I prefer to be her mother rather than her doctor. When we’ve had to take her to hospital appointments, the consultants will speak directly to me, using long words that I remember distantly from medical school but which aren’t really relevant to the specialty I have been in for the past nine years, and don’t bother explaining anything to my husband at all.

When my daughter broke her arm I gave her all the painkillers I could, made her dinner, which she ate one handed whilst quietly sobbing, before finally conceding that she could probably do with an X-ray.  When the doctor, a colleague of mine, examined her, I couldn’t bare to look at her swollen, bent arm, and seeing her X-ray made me cry.

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I am officially bored of the kids being poorly now. After a month in total of chickenpox quarantine after first one, then the other, got pickled in spots. As we have recovered from that my daughter got the tummy bug romping through the school, and now the delightful common cold has arrived. After days of being croupy, snotty, and coughing till he was sick, I was up all night with the two year old struggling to breath.

I spent several hours wondering to myself how poorly he needs to be before it’s acceptable to take him in to my own emergency department. As he got more obviously exhausted and more distressed by his efforts to get his breath in, I could hear him grunting from downstairs as I went downstairs to find the calpol. I could feel his chest sucking in between each rib under my fingers as I held him up. At that point I thought I probably couldn’t wait for the GP later that day. The dark before morning arrives is always the most terrifying with a poorly child, somehow once it gets light they never seem quite so ill.

I did make a point of not looking how busy the department was, and how long the wait was before I left. I worked yesterday and the department had been total carnage with an epic wait to be seen. I knew that if I had decided he was poorly enough to see a doctor as an emergency then he would have to be nurse triaged, and if he wasn’t as poorly as I was worried about, he would have to wait like everybody else, but somewhere that he had access to the medicines I was concerned he might need.

As I booked him in at the reception desk I already felt stupid, that I’d obviously overreacted and that I should have been able to sort him out myself at home. When the nurse said he was working really hard I was more relieved than I should have been to hear someone else say that my child was actually poorly. Seeing him turn from an exhausted, clingy, dribbly little soul, to his usual chattery self after having a big dose of inhalers made me sure I made the right choice to bring him. After the dose of steroids he was back to excitedly exploring all the new toys in the waiting room.

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By the time we’d been there a couple of hours and the new medicines had time to work I was totally confident to take him home again, with some extra meds in my handbag.

Now it’s like it never happened. He’s back to having tantrums about not being allowed to use the electric drill, or have his sister’s new magazine, with only the quietest hint of wheezing as he strops. Back to causing carnage in the garden, getting covered in mud and spreading it around the house.

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This is why I always reassure parents as I examine their incredibly well and happy looking children, who they assure me was close to death before they arrived. I tell them that they haven’t wasted my time at all, and that small children like to make us all look like liars by getting better the moment a doctor comes to see them. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to my own words though, and not worry about looking like a fool in front of friends.

 

Excited

I know I moaned, quite a lot, about all the bloggers and instagrammers raving on about how amazing and wonderful and beautiful Autumn is, and each to their own, but seriously! SPRING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I just cannot possibly begin to even express in words how much I absolutely adore this time of year. It is just complete magic. Every day (to be fair usually in the rain these past few weeks) I take a little walk outside, carefully observing and mentally logging the changes, looking for those bulbs poking through the soil, the clusters of tiny green leaves emerging from what looks like dead sticks of last year’s plants, the magnolia flowers emerging from their furry buds and the blossom emerging on the fruit trees. I adore the way that the tiny new leaves on the trees literally glow with the most perfect green. And that spring sunshine when it finally does appear feels like it’s warming my skin, and underneath, my blood back to real life, not that miserable half-life hibernation of winter. 


I am not a hot weather person. I am pale and pasty and have to retreat to the shade like a vampire. I have never had a tan in my life and I feel like I might melt if the temperature creeps beyond the early twenties, but I seriously think I might suffer from SAD as soon as the autumn hits. Having New Year in January is utterly pointless, I have no motivation to do anything except wrap myself in blankets and eat chocolate, but now, well surely right now absolutely anything you have ever dreamed about could surely be possible, maybe?! 


Today the weather is completely wonderful, and actual magic is in the air, from the mating calls of the birdsong, the coconut breeze from the wild gorse, those first, slightly winter-drunk drone from the bees, all of it speaks of genuine magic made into reality that you can touch and hear and smell everywhere. Sadly I am working nights tonight so have had to give in and come to bed to try and get some rest, but talking of magic, tonight will be the first time I have ever worked a night shift where the clocks will go forwards one hour, on my watch. True magic indeed.

Right now I am just so excited for the future that I can barely catch my breath. Soon we will go hunting for Easter Eggs, this year in my mother’s garden for a change, which we are all looking forward to.  Then we have a very special third birthday to celebrate and shortly afterwards my bee garden turns one. I cannot wait to see how beautiful it will be this summer from its humble beginnings of a boring lawn. I long for family memories made in this amazing county we live in, if I can coerce the children to actually get dressed, put the iPad down and get out of the front door every so often without arguing myself into an early grave!!

Working it

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I love being an emergency doctor. I cannot think of anything I would rather do, except a lifetime of pootling in my garden. Despite being meek and mild and terrified of pretty much everything, I seem to have found my home in the emergency department. Amazingly I love the chaos, the noise, the carnage that is about to hit at any moment, the constant stress, split second decisions, the incredible team and the camaraderie. I really like very sick patients, alongside patients that I can fix and send on their way. A few stitches, a quick manipulation and a plaster cast and they’re on their way. Or patients who need every resource we have available to keep them alive just a little bit longer. Entering medical school I would never have predicted this for a second, but this has become my beloved second home. The very best things about the job? No bleep to make my heart race, and when I leave at the end of my ten hour shift there is always somebody else to take over responsibility. When I walk out of there, I can usually leave it all behind.

But fuck me, this is a hard job! I haven’t watched Casualty in a while, but what I remember of it could not be any further from the truth. I do not have the time to resolve my patients’ family feuds, or their love lives. I am not a professional matchmaker and counsellor. Despite many of my patients’ preconceptions, this is not a shop where you can come and demand the X-ray, scan, drug or procedure that you can’t be bothered to wait for. It is not my main role to smile and offer you and all the family you have brought with you, a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits.

Life has changed a lot in the ten years since I first started here. It is now the norm to have the corridor lined with trollies, to have patients waiting on those trollies for twelve hours until we can find them a bed on a ward. It has become standard practice to take histories and examine patients in a corridor in front of a host of other patients and their relatives. We get fined if we put a female onto a male bay in the main hospital but it’s ok for us to ask patients about their bowel habits in front of a crowded audience.

Its easy to become detached. You have to become detached. If I carried every patient with me, their hopes and fears, the impact on their wives and husbands, their children and parents, I would be crushed within days. If I worried about every decision I made, scared about every patient I sent home, I would become completely paralysed. I have felt it happen, and I have definitely seen it cripple others. I have seen people tie themselves in knots and admit every single patient they see, just in case. Though obviously hospital admission and endless tests comes with different  risks and I can’t afford to forget that.

Despite me carefully developing my heartless bitch stance, there are patients that will never leave me. The middle aged lady with a huge tumour, that was fungating through her skin and bleeding heavily. I was the first person she had ever told, ever shown it to. She had never found the right time, always having to be available and strong to support everybody else in her family. The baby brought in blue and stiff when they never woke up for their next feed. The man fighting for every last second of his life as we had to forcibly hold him down desperately trying to get lines and tubes into him, to give him that very faint chance of survival. Having to hold his wife up as she made the long walk to the resus room to see her husband for the last time, crying whilst all the eyes of the people in the corridors watch her silently. The familiar face of friend or family who comes in unexpectedly to horrible news. Even in my sleepy corner of the world I have looked after shootings, stabbings, hangings and drownings. I have looked after mass casualties from motor vehicle accidents. More assaults and suicide attempts than I could ever keep track of. I see some of the very worst of humanity at times. In the past week I have had to attend training on child abuse, modern slavery, domestic abuse, female genital mutalation, radicalisation and terrorism. These are things I am expect to always suspect in the back of my mind with every patient that I see.

And with all these cases I do what I can, write my notes, and then click onto the next patient in line. I leave the resus room to find fifty patients in the department, thirty of whom are waiting to be seen with a four hour wait. Then I have to put the smile on my face, apologise for the long wait, and try to listen to whatever is concerning them, whether that be the tickly cough that has been bothering them for the past six months, which they haven’t found the time to see their GP about, the drunk who spits and swears at me, or the old lady with a broken hip who apologises for wasting my time.

In one article published in a cardiology journal, the average life expectancy of doctors is 76 years. For ED doctors that falls to a terrifying 57, the shortest of any medical specialty. Sometimes after a run of particularly rough nights I’d be amazed if I make it that far.

Seriously though, I do love my job and wouldn’t want to do anything else, and I am so grateful to all my team members who keep me going and who keep choosing ED however tough it sometimes feels. I love you guys ❤

 

Guilt

I think as a society we have largely moved on from the idea that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Instead it seems we have moved on to the idea that a woman’s role is feeling guilty. It seems that we are now pretty much expected to feel guilty about pretty much every decision we make, whether and when we decide to have children, how we birth those children, how we feed them, how we parent them and how we afford them.

In the past 24 hours I have read two very good articles about guilt, and found myself struggling to identify with either. The first written by the wonderful Robyn Wilder discusses the guilt involved in a second pregnancy. The guilt that she is failing her first child by having another, and the guilt that she won’t be able to love a second child as much as she loves her son. I can totally understand that sentiment, but it was genuinely not something that I ever felt. I always felt completely confident that there was no limits to the amount of love I could feel. I knew that that space in my heart would just grow. Loving my son, my second child, turned out to be the very easiest thing I have ever done. Despite my tricky relationship with my own sibling, I genuinely thought that having one of her own would be a good thing for my daughter. I realised it may not be easy, but was sure that overall it would be positive. It turned out to be the kindest thing I have done for her. She is so much more settled in herself since becoming a big sister. I realise it is not always this way, but for some reason I did not share that sense of guilt. My My second pregnancy was not without it’s emotional turmoil, and I spent most of it wondering how the hell I could survive having two children, but guilt played little part.

The second article concerns one of those ultimate mother guilts we are all supposed to feel. The Working Mummy Predicament. I absolutely do not feel guilty for being a full time working mother. Not at all. Admittedly we have found a work situation which, on the whole, has worked really well for us. We have made choices, that I will work full time while my husband is the full time at home parent. I have put off training and exams and moving around the country and hopes of becoming a consultant in favour of a lower paid, lower respected job where I have long term job security in one place. I work long shifts, nights and weekends so that I get to be around for my children all the other times. So that I get to do my share of the school runs. So that I can spend lazy days at home lounging around in PJs with my boy before he enters the world of school himself. So that as the sole earner we can afford to pay the mortgage and have one parent home full time. I realise that a life in emergency medicine seems about as family unfriendly as they come, but it works for us. Obviously there are days when the kids are poorly and I have to leave them, and yup, I feel pretty sad then, but I don’t feel guilty. I accept the choices that I have consciously made, and accept the consequences of those choices. It’s not perfect, but overall it works for us all.

Don’t worry, before it seems that I am neglecting my duty as a woman to spend my whole time wallowing in guilt. In fact this morning I managed to work myself into a right tizz, feeling guilty about not feeling guilty about these things. Does that make me a terrible mother? Do I not love my children enough to feel guilty about working? I am a terrible doctor for not feeling guilty about my lack of ambition? And now I’m wondering if I should even post this blog? Am I guilty of being an annoying smug mother? Ugh, if I spent less time worrying about how I should be feeling just think of all that extra time I could be spending gardening!!

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Lockdown

According to my husband, the last post was a little on the smug side. Sorry if it came across that way. Believe me, the fact that my daughter watched (under duress) a blackbird splashing in our extremely tiny pond (essentially a particularly severe puddle) is just about all I have to be smug about.

The chickenpox is hitting hard, my morale mainly rather than my still feisty and cabin-fevered children. That coupled with the worst of Cornish mizzle has left me feeling pretty much like a total failure of a parent today.

Knowing we would be stuck in quarantine all week I ordered my daughter an absolutely gorgeous book, all about the changing seasons and the wildlife around us. I imagined us sat curled up in a blanket, having bonding mummy-daughter cuddles and exclaiming over the beautiful illustrations whilst learning new facts about our incredible world. She literally turned one page, looked at it scornfully and asked if she could play on my iPad again yet?

From the moment I have become a mother my daughter has done a pretty good job at skewering my romantic idealism. Pretty much nothing has gone to plan for the last six years. I suppose that’s probably not a bad thing, but it’s definitely not always easy.

In desperation to try and get her unglued from a screen I found myself flicking through a book about arts and crafts projects you can enjoy with your children. Full of photos of gleeful children and their masterpieces. The few times I have tried to engage her in crafting or drawing or cooking, and now, heaven help me, homework, has pretty much always resulted eventually in her losing interest within three seconds and me finishing it by myself. So instead of giving me exciting inspiration the book just left me wondering how i am so completely incapable of engaging my daughter’s interest in any way. Am I trying too hard to try and force her to be what I want? Am I in complete denial of who she really is? Should I just embrace her desire to watch back to back Tintin movies 14 hours straight?

I don’t know, but I know this is going to be a long week…

The model

As a parent I am very much aiming to lead by example. More Do as I do than Do as I say.  Believe me there are many times this does not go to my lofty ideals, like all the times my daughter exclaims “Oh for God’s sake!!” if I ask her to do something she doesn’t want to. She does too good a job at following my example perfectly on those occasions!

At the moment I’m hoping that by showing them how important it is to us to be outside in nature, to try and support our local wildlife and to grow some of our own food, one day they will remember the importance of those things. Maybe even one day to find the joy on them that I do.  Even if yesterday I almost lost my mind when out planting some new arrivals, whilst they badgered me and badgered me about going inside until I stropped  and sulked and stamped my way inside with the job half finished. And today whilst me and my husband scaled precariously balanced ladders in the rain to erect new bird and bat boxes (right now is National Nest Box Week) to try and encourage more flying visitors to our home, they sat indoors watching Tintin films.

At the same time both children know how vegetables grow and have eaten sun-warmed raspberries straight from the cane. They have fed our chickens snails we’ve found on our plants, and then collected the eggs that those snails eventually become. When asked what herbs are my daughter replied “they’re plants you grow in the garden that makes cooking taste nice.” They have seen worms wiggling in the compost and can tell the difference between a honey bee and a bumble bee. They watched a blackbird take a bath in our pond this morning and have found an old warty toad hiding in the damp shadows. I think those things matter, maybe more and more now in a world where they also see me and their Dad looking at our phone screens every ten minutes.

So whilst they may learn some expert bickering skills from their parents they will hopefully also learn a little bit about saying sorry when they’re wrong and discussing what they’re upset about and finding a way to compromise.

There are so many things I could set a better example of. Of being brave, being open and friendly to new people, knowing how to say what you mean, and ask for what you want. And at the same time they set a pretty good example to me a lot of the time and slowly I’m learning to be a better person (some of the time!)

In other news our wild primroses are starting to bloom and the willow fedges are definitely alive!

Oh, and we’re on chicken pox lock down, not that you’d realise it from this blissful little picture!

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Not sure I can survive half term take two, complete with house arrest! Maybe I might even be able to coax them into the garden by the end of the week…

My body, my choice

I have wanted children from the furthest back I can remember. As a small child I planned to have ten! Five boys and five girls and I had their names all planned out (all with a distinctly 80s flavour). Whilst endlessly single, in my mid twenties, I genuinely started investigating options and finances for IVF if I was inevitably still single once I hit my thirties.

Thankfully by the time I hit thirty I was married to a very lovely man and was seven months pregnant with my first child. We went through the standard screening procedures offered in this country looking at risk factors for genetic disorders. Prior to having these tests, and getting back the letter telling us we were low risk, we had already discussed and decided that whatever the results of that letter I would not consent to further invasive tests, and we would definitely continue with the pregnancy. Receiving the low risk letter felt strange, it didn’t reasssure me at all, I had heard too many stories of people being told they were low risk and going on to have a child with Down’s syndrome. The whole thing just felt kind of unpleasant. Again we had the twenty week anomaly scan, with the understanding that it might help us prepare for any issues that might arise, and maybe start any necessary planning to deal with any abnormality that was found, but still certain we would continue with the pregnancy regardless. Again the twenty week scan returned with an all clear.

I was totally naive. I know that now. Having had my first child and being thrown into a pit of completely not coping with motherhood but somehow surviving, I cannot begin to imagine how much harder it would have been to throw in serious disease or disability. And yet I stand by that choice. Before medical school I worked with children with severe disability. I saw, from my rather cosier view point, the level of care those children needed, and with my naive brain, the impact it had on their parents. I work in the health service now and see on a daily basis the effect that our medical interventions have on people, and believe very strongly that often the treatments we encourage these people to endure are really not in their best interests. We continue to inflict painful interventions with unpleasant side effects on people who are quite clearly dying. As a health service I feel we should get much better at saying, no, this is enough. And yet, for my child, growing inside my body, well whatever those screening tests had shown I wanted to at least give them the chance to live.

In the second pregnancy after long discussion we decided to refuse all early screening tests. We had the twenty week anomaly scan but again, with certainty that we would continue the pregnancy regardless of the findings.

These were my choices though, in discussion with my husband. They were the ones I felt were right for us. Since having children I understand far more clearly the enormous physical, mental and emotional toll they bring. I understand how they impact on every single aspect of your life, career, finances, relationships, interests, prospects, wider family and social status. I have sat there in the middle of the night having not slept for days, with a snotty, miserable child and dreamt of my old life and questioned my life choices. I’ve had moments where if I could wish them away I quite happily would.

And these are my desperately longed for children. I have always been in favour of easily accessible abortion for all women. Since having my fabulous, exhausting and much loved children I believe in it even more fervently. Absolutely no woman should be forced to have a child they do not want, a child that they do not feel they have the resources to look after. Losing that power of choice has enormous implications for not only their lives, but that child, and if they have them, their partner, other children and family. Surely if we talk about high impact healthcare, providing safe access to abortion, alongside good counselling services, for all women is right up there in terms of quality of life indicators.

Of course, preventing unwanted pregnancy to start with is even more crucial. In a world where sex sells, where the majority of young teenagers have seen internet pornography, and where arguably the most powerful man on the planet feels that ‘pussy grabbing’ is acceptable, then anything which limits women’s ability to access expert advice on contraception is frankly ludicrous and surely hypocrisy of the highest order.

Despite everything I have written I found myself in the position,many years ago, of taking the morning after pill. I completely stand by that choice also and do not regret it for a single second. It is my body and ultimately I get to choose.

None of us can control everything that happens to our bodies, nature has a way of surprising us at every turn, but within those constraints we should always be allowed to make informed choices about how we deal with that. It is terribly sad  that there are many women in the world today who are not educated about their bodies or their contraceptive options, and are denied access to safe abortion. What I find utterly disgusting is that powerful men in one of the richest countries in the world, go out of their way to make it even harder for these women. I cannot help but believe that if the burden of pregnancy, birth and childcare fell upon those men, that things would be very different.

So while my choices may not be right for everyone I am so thankful that I had the ability to make them for myself, and I will always support the rights of other women to do the same.