When you are so far down the list of priorities, or your caring responsibilities are incredibly intense, self-care is something that is needed like air to breathe and clean water to drink.
Ironically, for the people who need it more that anyone, it’s often something that feels as achievable as climbing Everest. Much as I love to spread the message that mothers (and I’m focusing on mums because we are often the primary carers) need to get out of the house and put themselves first, I also know that can be a really triggering message to some of you.
Not every mother has the resources to leave their child. They may not a partner to share the emotional and physical load with. They may not have the money to pay alternative childcare. They may have a child so medically fragile, they cannot physically leave them alone and the childcare needed is so specialist that the options for help are severely limited.
Self-care looks very different in these situations and while regular nights out with friends and mini-breaks and date nights and evening classes would be amazing ways to press reset and make you feel whole again, we both know nothing like this is going to happen. So what do you do when time and finances are against you?
Life feels like a big black hole right now. You have fallen into the dark abyss you have been fearing for three months, ever since your sweet boy was born not breathing and the doctors hinted he might emerge with cerebral palsy.
You hoped for a miracle, but as more and more people shared their ‘miraculous recovery’ stories, the reality set in. There are disabled children in the world. Not everyone bounces back against all odds. Not everyone gets that happy ending.
You won’t get that happy ending. Not in the way you imagine, anyway.
Grief is natural. By crying over the direction your life has gone and all the ways it’s going to be different from your dreams, you are not betraying your child. It’s true: he won’t be the person you imagined and he won’t have the life you dreamed of for him. It’s OK to feel sad for this. The park is where you go to walk around and escape the crying but it’s also where you grieve deeply. As you sit watching the other children play, it’s OK to feel sad for the things he will never do like chase the pigeons, splash in the paddling pool, beg for one more turn on the slide, scoot away too fast down the slope, join the junior football clubs. Just remember that it’s you you’re actually are feeling sad for. He will never know about the joys of these things, but neither will he ever realise what he’s missed. You need to mourn what you thought he would do, so that you can make space to accept the things he can.
One of the great things about being the youngest of four is that I get to watch everyone else go through life’s milestones first. I can kind of try them on for size and make a mental note of what to do (or not to do) when my time comes.
The latest of these is menopause/perimenopause and, as I have three sisters in their late forties/early fifties, there’s a lot to observe right now.
Menopause used to be a taboo word. I think it still is to some extent. Something to be swept under the carpet or hushed up. No one wants to hear about extreme bleeds and crazy mood swings. No one wants to talk about ‘The Change’. After all, it’s the drying up and dwindling away of women as they cease to be important to the world.
Except that’s NOT what mid life is and that’s NOT what happens to women.
It’s time to change that outdated stereotype and stop letting the patriarchy keep us down! We are actually becoming strong, amazing, no-fucks-given powerhouses and we need to be respected for that.
We need to be telling our stories, sharing our struggles openly.
In the way that mothers have banded together to throw a light on the loneliness and difficulties modern motherhood can bring, I think it’s about time we were doing this for midlife women.
Luckily, someone has beaten me to it and created an amazing play all about it: Mid Life.
Mid Life, of which I have seen a 45-minute preview, is exactly the kind of thing we need. I cannot wait to see the whole thing. It was funny, it was sad and it was so well-observed (just wait till you see the suitcases containing the womens’ rage). I saw myself and my friends in these women, but it also made me realise what huge gaps there STILL are in society’s understanding of women and women’s stories. Especially as we age. We are a voice that isn’t being heard – partly because we aren’t being invited to speak.
Going to see this play is one way to change that. It will be on at The Bristol Old Vic and Barbican in London, but I’m really passionate about helping more women see it. There’s the chance it could go on tour to Brighton, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and more but it needs financial help to get there.
After raising a considerable amount to put it on at the Bristol Old Vic and Barbican, time is running out to reach their crowdfunding target. They need £2K more in the next 18 days!
I’d love it if you could help, and donate HERE not only because this topic is important to me (it’s the second post I have done on it recently) but this theatre company is important too.
Diverse Cityspecialises in making theatre accessible. That means, as well as giving everyone (black, gay, disabled, whatever, actors) a chance to act and be involved in productions, every performance is signed and audio described. To someone who is used to picking up the crumbs of accessibility for my son, instead of feasting on it as a main meal, this is huge. This play is no exception. Everyone will be able to access it and hear these women’s voices. What impact could that have for generations to come?
I read this post this morning and resonated deeply.
This bit really got me:
‘How could you possibly be [doing enough]? You’re a woman, living in an age of extreme expectation. Superwoman Syndrome has shaken off its shoulder pads, pulled on its activewear leggings and buddied up with Hustle Culture to provide you a continual feed of All The Ways You Could Be Better. If you’re a woman with a child, then throw in a dose of Peak Parenting, and the bar for a successful life is now so high the Hubble telescope would squint.’
These words make me cringe. I used to say this phrase all the time, thinking I was helping. But time has taught me it’s not true.
At the time, I didn’t know it was a lie. I made the mistake of thinking that my experience was the norm and that everyone would follow my path. That’s usually the mistake of the privileged, to assume that their experience is the only experience. In this case it wasn’t so much privilege as luck that was responsible for my naivety. Continue reading “‘It gets easier, I promise’”
In the interests of fairly representing this rollercoaster called parenthood, I feel compelled to write a follow up post to yesterday’s.
Yes, overall, we are happy. For the most part, everything is OK. We go to work and school and nursery. We drink coffee and eat scrambled eggs on Saturdays. We go to the park and for country walks. We sometimes see friends for beers or barbecues or trips to Peppa Pig world. We go to IKEA and eat meatballs, get lost in the showroom and have a hissed row in the car park. We are tired. In other words, we have good times and bad times and are like any other 2.4 children family. And yet…
That grief I mentioned? Today it floored me. If you’re on a similar journey to me, navigating the extremes of everything that parenting a disabled child throws at you, perhaps you need a reminder that it’s OK to not be OK.
This time seven years ago, I woke up in a London hospital after a couple of hours of fitful sleep, feeling like I had been hit by a bus. In some ways I had.
Sure, the bus was metaphorical, but nonetheless I was sore, bruised and covered in last night’s blood. There was no charge on my phone and I was all alone, feeling dazed and anxious.
I’d had a baby. My first. But he was at a different hospital. For those early hours of Monday 8th October, I couldn’t even be sure he was still alive. The hatred I felt towards the Bounty woman who burst through my cubicle curtains with her shitty newborn pack, calling out her congratulations, was visceral. But I didn’t have it in me to do more than nod and then burst into tears when she left. At that point I had no idea it was the midwives I should be angry at.
Happily, that baby was still alive. We had to take it day by day, minute by minute at times, but he was hanging on. Thanks to several poor decisions by the midwives who were supposed to be keeping him safe, he had suffered a catastrophic brain injury that altered the course of all our lives. Continue reading “Seven.”