WOW – I’ve got to speak in public!

Tomorrow, and the day after that, I have to speak in front of an audience. I say ‘have’ – I was asked and I said I would. Slightly wondering what on Earth I’ve got myself into. Am I going to be well out of my nervous depth?

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I am going to be part of two discussion panels at the WOW – Women of the World festival. Click the link to see the website and what it’s all about but, essentially it’s a festival celebrating and discussing all things woman – what women experience specific to their sex and gender, how perceptions of women are changing, what sort of power women have and how things that only women can physically experience, like childbirth or miscarriage, can affect both women and society as a whole and how these things are changing rapidly. Both for better and worse. It will be fascinating, to say the least, to be a part of this and also to be part of the audience for other parts. I love seeing how the way humans exist differs from culture to culture and I think I’d like to go to the festival even if I wasn’t involved in it. In the news today they are discussing how 1 girl in 10 in the UK doesn’t have access to appropriate menstrual products. How is this even the case in 2017?

I was approached by one of the lovely programmers who had read my blog, and she asked if I’d like to be involved in both the Birth Stories panel and the Disability, Women and Taking Action panel. I could’ve chosen to not take part, or even just speak at only one discussion, but both are so important to me and how my life is currently turning out that I felt like I should do both, or I’d really regret it. I’d kick myself if I was to watch someone else possibly with a disability talking about their experiences of childbirth, in the UK, and think that perhaps I could’ve added something worthwhile, or something people should hear (god that sounds knobbish).

Anyone who knows me probably knows that I don’t often partake in public displays of verbal discussion – I used to find any reason at all not to have to read aloud to the class in school, college or university, my mum had to recite the Brownie Promise* for me when I was a child because the idea of everyone looking at me while I spoke made me burst into tears. And although my partner and I will be getting married in the near future, the thought of being the centre of attention and then having to speak ACTUAL WORDS in front of a group of people gives me the heebies, and even the jeebies. I think I might get married in a cupboard. [*I’ve just watched some videos on YouTube of girls doing their Brownie Guide Promise and I’m a little freaked out at how archaic and cultish it seems!]

So tomorrow I shall be talking about my experiences of childbirth (involving my own children, I don’t quite remember my own birth). I LOVE talking, very openly about pregnancy and giving birth. That is when I’m only talking with one or two people. But maybe I won’t spontaneously combust and I will find some legible sentences from within, to talk about something that I love so much – giving birth to my own children. Giving birth as a severely physically disabled woman was always going to be a bit of a science experiment for me and I think for the medical professionals too. but it went surprisingly well compared to what I imagined it might be, so that will be my angle of discussion – The Science Experiment of a Disabled Woman Giving Birth (Star Wars font please) Hopefully, people will be able to hear me, I’m told there will be microphone technology!

On Sunday, I will be talking alongside more lovely ladies including Liz Carr (of stand-up comedy, disability activism and Silent Witness fame). We will be exploring how often it is disabled women who are left out almost entirely when it comes to the Women’s Rights Movement, and what some of the key battlegrounds are around being female and having a disability. This will involve talking about anything disabled women experience from education, healthcare, finding and sustaining a career and attitudes from people that along with millions of others, I experience on a daily basis. Something as small as a shop assistant addressing my PA instead of me is only the start of it. I think my angle for this talk will be about wanting my life with a disability to just be as easy or as difficult as if I didn’t have a disability. I don’t want to be seen as an inspirational person just because I have eaten toast for breakfast without crying about being disabled. Although come this weekend I may well be blubbing into my morning cup of tea.

I will update in due course with how successful this weekend was….. ahhh.

@shopgirlygm

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The Painful Fourth Trimester

I’ll start this by saying that, for me at least, having children is one of the most magical things I’ve ever done. I love my three more than anything and most days if I really think about it, I can’t quite believe they are mine and that my body made them. There are lots of parts of the whole parenting thing that I love. You get to be a kid again and enjoy the things your children enjoy, at the same time as being their protector and their mentor. But it’s not always magical. Sometimes having babies is pretty shitty.

Giving birth is something that I strangely enjoy, despite all the pain and blood and the pain and useless gas and air and did I mention it’s painful? Going into labour is confusing and scary and exciting. You have no idea how things will unfold, how long it will all take and you’ve forgotten or haven’t yet experienced how bloody painful it is. But it’s happening and that means you get to meet your baby soon, and that’s what you want most. For your beautiful (you hope) baby to be here and you’ll both be well, you and your partner will be euphoric for at least some time and then you’ll get to carry on life at home with your now bigger family.

By the time you get home most of your family and friends have heard the news and can’t wait to see and hear all about the new little being. They’ve stopped asking how you’re feeling and are now asking how much sleep you’re getting. And the looks on their faces when you say “oh not too bad, about 2 or 3 hours at a time”, tells you that they slightly pity you because they can’t think of anything worse. These facial expressions are most helpful when you’re trying to be positive about the amount of sleep you’re having. You like it when family and friends will come and stay and buy take-away food, bring cake and hold the baby so you can drink a cup of tea whilst it’s still hotter than 20 degrees Celsius.

Over the first few days, these things happen: Part of your baby’s anatomy (hopefully just the umbilical cord) will shrivel up, turn a bit gunky and then fall off. Nothing is quite like it and it’s not pretty but in a strange turn of events you feel compelled to hold onto this gross little thing as a keepsake. You also feel gross – you haven’t picked up the eye liner in about seven days and you look and feel weak and somewhat ghost-like. You need to sleep only marginally less than you need oxygen to survive, and no matter how much people tell you to, sleeping during the day when the baby sleeps just doesn’t happen. Whoever came up with that nugget of advice needs to have a baby. You will lie there on the sofa for over an hour listening to BBC News on very low volume (being in the loop on current affairs is apparently quite a priority for me) with your eyes shut and you won’t fall asleep, because at any given moment, probably when you just manage to fall asleep, your baby will fart and you’ll jump out of your skin and take a further thirty minutes to relax again, at which point the baby will wake up.

After a few days you might be turning into a hermit because you haven’t stepped into outdoor daylight for quite some time, you’re wilting like an unloved plant and you think maybe a change of scenery will perk you up a bit. Just when you go to get in the car your boobs will start leaking and because you were cocky and didn’t wear breastpads, thinking you could manage to not leak just by squishing your boobs against yourself in a stealth-like manner when you feel an unwanted let-down, you’ve now got to hope that the matching 50p sized blobs of wet milk on your top will evaporate before you get to the supermarket. You get to the supermarket and you have a bit of a nervous breakdown trying to make a decision on which trolley to choose. You could put the baby in the trolley with the raised up bit that you strap the carseat onto (I am well aware of the campaigns to ban these ‘unsafe’ trolleys) but because it’s so high up and you’re in a wheelchair, you cannot see your baby for the duration of the shopping trip. Your PA (in my case) understands this issue and is just as irritated as you that there are no wheelchair-friendly baby-carrying trolleys. Because disabled people don’t have babies of course. You opt for the stupid trolley with the carseat holder and cry inside at this minor problem which doesn’t feel at all minor. Your baby is 4 days old and you’re still firmly in the stage where you have to look at their face every 3 seconds to check they’re still alive. That, and you’d like people to know that he belongs to you. You try very hard not to cry in public about this and feel like you’ve failed at this day already, this being a tiny obstacle but reminding you of how this parenting thing is never going to come as straightforwardly as it does for the average mum. You feel particularly anxious at being in a large supermarket at this stage postpartum and don’t really know what you’re supposed to be doing, so the only things you buy are shampoo and oven chips. You leave as quickly as possible and get home to be able to burst into tears on your partner’s shoulder for no apparent reason other than failing miserably at buying things in a bloody supermarket. It’s also your partner’s last day of leave and you know that tomorrow his shoulders won’t be around to cry on. Crying again. There’s a lot of crying.

In the following days you will burst into spontaneous tears whilst you’re getting dressed, sat on the sofa, sat on the toilet and many times whilst sat in your wheelchair. Unless you don’t use a wheelchair – in which case don’t worry, you can cry standing up. The baby is feeding well and putting on weight though which is the desired progression, but you still feel like you’ve accomplished nothing in the last few weeks. Check-ups with your lovely midwife have turned into check-ups with a health visitor which is scary and you want to hold onto that era for a little longer but you can’t.

You seem to have forgotten so much about the new baby stage and what the hell you did three years ago. You can’t remember how often you used to feed, or when they started to have a sleep routine or really just how the hell you do this. You’d also quite like to have an appetite again rather than just eating for the sake of needing energy to feed and be half awake. Food is a chore for the time being but hopefully it will start being fun again soon.

Suddenly the idea of seeing friends and colleagues at work fills you with nerves and you realise you’re not quite sure how to be a ‘new mum’ again in front of some people. People who aren’t used to seeing your boobs in the middle of the day. What will they think? Will they think you’re doing a good job?

Surprisingly your other two children have been nothing but adoring and helpful since the birth of their little brother. They haven’t experienced him stealing their toys yet and for the time being he’s the best thing ever. Your five-year-old takes pride in choosing his babygrows and vests when he’s puked on himself one too many times, and your pride levels rocket when you watch her holding him and rubbing her face on his velvety head because she is so in love with him. Your three-year-old is equally as in love with him but shows it in a more “I’d like to squish his head and then make his feet clap” kind of way, but she takes her job of putting nappies in the bin very seriously. You and your partner find this mildly amusing and think it’s a fitting job for the culprit of the most recent episode of pooing-in-knickers.

Some days you feel like you’re doing okay, you’ve kept the baby alive for a few weeks now and every day you look at his little face in awe at how brilliant he is. Some days, more than you’d like though, you feel completely overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at the same time, exhausted, anxious and pitiful. Everything is difficult right now. Then you look at your partner holding his baby while the girls are giggling and using felt-tips to draw ‘tattoos’ on Daddy’s back, and realise you have the perfect little package of people right here on your sofa. And you know that one way or another, between all the crying from you and the baby and the puke and the poo and the stressful mornings, everything will be okay.

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The thought-process of Breastfeeding.

So I’m pregnant. I’m excited, nervous and pretty overwhelmed. I think I’d quite like to breast feed, that’s what I will hopefully do but if not I’ll have bottles bought on standby, you know, just in case.

Meanwhile, a simple, quick and painless act called childbirth happens (in no universe EVER).

Aww look! My beautiful baby! (Tears, emotion, blood, tears, etc) I really hope I can get this feeding malarkey off to a good start. 

Okay, latching on. I’ve learnt a lot about this in antenatal classes. Nipple-to-nose, baby opens mouth wide, insert boob. How hard can it be? 

EXTREMELY BLOODY HARD. This baby is absolutely minute, she weighs 5lb 10oz and I think my nostril is bigger than her mouth. How the hell do I make this happen. Millions of women worldwide do this every single day, maybe it just takes a few attempts to get her to see just how irresistible my nipples are. Then it’ll be easy. “Strip her off down to her nappy”, they said on the postnatal ward, “she’ll wake up and be more alert and want to feed”.

She latched on! She stayed on for 76 seconds, I counted! It was amazing, I did it finally. We’ve cracked it. 

Okay it’s been 4 hours since she tried to fool us into thinking she’d feed. Nope, nothing since. I’m going to have to express by hand. How hard can that be? 

MY NIPPLES… I WANT THEM BACK!!! Where the hell have they gone! Oh no, wait, there they are, hanging out down there with my belly button since being stretched like a balloon being tied in a knot. But at least we have milk, all 1ml of it. Don’t drink it all at once now Amélie. 

Okay, you drank it all. I have nothing left to give now except my actual nipples, but you have no teeth so good luck with that.

Formula it is then. This feels so weird, I really thought I’d be able to breastfeed.

I’ve been home for 10 hours now and OH MY GOD MY BOOBS ARE GOING TO EXPLOAD. GET ME TO SAINSBURYS, THEY HAVE BREASTPUMPS…STAT. (Didn’t actually say STAT).

I am a cow. An actual real-life human dairy cow woman. I feel SO attractive right now. She has latched on a total of 5 times in three days, that is kind of progress. Right? 

I don’t want to give up on the actual feeding, what is wrong with me? My mum did this without problems, for a whole year. I can’t physically hold a bottle and a baby at the same time with my useless hands. This is going to be so difficult. I could keep on expressing but that’s a very tedious job where I don’t get much milk out and there’s so much else involved, sterilising, measuring, heating, none of which I can do myself either. The milk has come in properly now though, maybe it’ll get easier?

DONT TOUCH ME. I am fully aware that I have a sudden case of breast-Tourette’s but, bejesus this bloody hurts. I might instead saw off my breast with the blunt side of a bread knife and extract the milk that way, I think it would hurt less. Whose idea was breastfeeding anyway? Do not touch me either mini-child, your mouth is my nemesis! 

Okay yes, you need a feed again, I get that. Make yourself at home, left or right for you madam? I’d recommend the house breast. Would you like a taster before going for the whole thing?

She’s doing it! That’s the majority of the day now where she’s actually entertained the idea for a substantial amount of time and fed from me properly. Does this mean she’s exclusively breasted? I think it does. Man I feel smug right now.  I love this.

I hate this. It is 4.02am, we last met at 1.32am, that is not good behaviour. You CANNOT be hungry right now. Short sleep cycles you say? Stomach the size of a marble you say? Remind me why I signed up for this again. Oh yes, she’s right there in front of me staring at me with massive blue eyes. Then I remember all over again, why I chose to do this. Breast is most definitely best all round but this, is the one thing that ONLY I can do for her. I can’t change a dirty nappy, I can’t get her dressed and get kicked in the face in a miniature sock-battle or lollop around the room trying to soothe a grumpy baby. THIS is my job.

I have boobs and, well, what else are they for?

Okay tiny girl, you’re 15.5 months old now. It has become as much a part of our bedtime routine as brushing teeth and reading What The Ladybird Heard, but you are growing so fast and taking my nipples with you every time you turn to look at the TV whilst feeding. I love you very much, but I think we’ve done it now. Save some for your baby sister, who will be born when you are 2 years and 8 months old and I can start this all over again and teach you all about how brilliant boobs are. Months go by very quickly.

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