The middle

The middle


Credit: Mark Basarab

I have always loved before and after stories. Cinderella transforming into a princess. The ugly duckling becoming a swan. The hungry caterpillar emerging from it’s chrysalis.

And if asked I will talk to you honestly, happily and at length about my own before and after stories; afterwards. I’ll tell you about how I went from desperately trying to earn my place in the world to believing (most of the time) that I was enough. I will talk to you about what grief taught me about love. I will describe my struggle with infertility and how I lost three stone to access IVF and instead fell pregnant naturally.

The key word in that sentence above is afterwards. People tell me that admire my honesty in writing about the situations I have found hard. My reaction is always mixed: part proud but also part feeling like I have just pulled off a con. It’s takes courage to show somebody your scars, it another thing entirely to show somebody your wounds.

I am very good at talking about difficult experiences afterwards. When time has lent some distance and perspective and things are less raw. But sharing that brutiful (half beautiful/half brutal) bit in the middle of something I am struggling with? Ugh.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I cannot find the words to name what is happening to me.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I feel an expectation that I need to go away in private and figure my shit about before I can be in company again.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel so bruised and skinless that an inadvertent glance could hurt me.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel stuck. I cannot go back and unknow what I have learnt. But I have no idea how to move forward.

When I am in the middle of something hard I don’t know the story ends. I don’t know whether I will triumph or fail. I don’t know what the meaning of this experience will be until afterwards.

When I am in the middle of something hard, the last thing I want to do is talk about it.

But that’s what I ask my clients to do every day. There is so much I could say about what is happening within me right now. But I am in the middle – so I don’t. Until now that is.


I read this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, one of the writers who inspired me and it floored me. Yes, it is important to share our truth but what about sharing our unknowing. Why don’t we talk about the bits of our life that are still in construction. So inspired I am trying something new today. Even though thinking about hitting publish gives me a knot in my chest and that sinking sensation of being emotional naked.

Here are some things I am in the middle of:


I’ve always been ambitious, it’s one of my defining characteristics. But when people ask me ‘when are you going back to work?’ I want to jam my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until they go away.

I don’t want to work again, ever. Despite the fact I love my job and staying home isn’t an option financially. I am desperately frightened that if I go back to work that ‘Push the river’ side of me, that relentless driving force will take over. And there won’t be any space for me or Nibs or anything other than pushing forward at all costs. Until I have figured out how I can work without letting it take over – I don’t want to go back. I expect my motherhood bubble will pop at some point and I may long for another identity other than mother and to exercise my intellectual muscles. But for the moment…



Having and mothering a baby has made me realise how abysmal I am at mothering myself. If I were an actual mother and child I would report me to social services for neglect. I have realised recently where this lack of self-care comes from. But I don’t know how to move forward and it makes me feel sad and stuck. Why can take care of other people, but not myself? I am starting to notice how much this is affecting my relationships with my husband, child, family and friends. And it the affect on them that is motivating me to change, not on me. That fact makes me feel even sadder. I am trying to go back to basics and ask myself daily what I need. But it is so hard and humiliating. Shouldn’t I have learnt how to take care of myself already? Is it too late to learn?


I eat emotionally, always have done, and it’s becoming a problem. I eat as a reward, out of comfort, to console myself or just mindlessly. I worry that Nibs will see me and develop some of my habits. The worst thing about this, is that I successfully lost a lot of weight before getting pregnant through revolutionising my eating habits. When I was pregnant I was really careful about what I ate. But the combination of breastfeeding, tiredness, and boredom have meant I have been eating cake like it’s going out of fashion.

The feeling that keeps on popping up that I should be over this by now? I know how to eat healthily. I have done it before. I have all the tools in my toolbox but still I keep self sabotaging. Sadly I think the issue is I can moderate my approach to food when other people are at stake – but not when it’s just about me. Instead I circle around and around this issue never progressing


He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I have been in better places. Don’t get me wrong, we’re OK but we could be better. Lack of sleep and lack of time, as individuals and as a couple, has taken its toll. I find this immensely frustrating because as a couples therapist I knew that having a baby was one of the biggest stressors on a relationship and I had a chance to memorise the classic fight up close:

Stay at home parent: I love the baby so much but sometimes looking after him alone is so hard. I resent so much that your life continues almost unchanged whereas I am tethered to a tiny human being. You get to leave, to speak to other adults, to pee in private. I am never alone but I am so lonely.

Working parent: But you get to see it all: all the tiny ways he changes every day. I miss it. I miss him and you get to see him all the time and you don’t appreciate it. He’s growing so fast and I am not here. Plus work isn’t the holiday you think it is.

Repeat ad nausem

9 months ago I assured myself we wouldn’t be like that. Cue hollow laughter. We, OK being brutally honest, I have not been kind to HWSNBN recently.

It is so entwined with me not taking care of myself that I know that before I can reconnect with HWSNBN I need some time for me. To figure out who I am as a mother and individual after this immense lifechanging experience. If I am set boundaries and ask for my needs to be met; I will be a better partner to him. I am not in panic mode at the moment partly because I don’t feel like I have the headspace to panic. We are trying different things – some of which seem to be helping. We’ll see.

The future

I am very torn on if/when we should try for another baby. It took years, and years last time. And I am hyper aware I may not have years of trying left. I never want to go through that agonising desperation of trying and failing to conceive again.

But I am not ready. I am not even close to ready for signing on for the intensity of a newborn. Some days I look at Nibs and he’s so wondrous I can’t imagine not trying to give him his sibling. Some days he seems so big to me and miss him being a tiny baby in my arms with an ache in my womb. Then I have a dark day where I feel like the shittest mum alive and think I am never having any more children. 

So, this is where I am at right in the middle with all the mess and none of the glory. Watch this space.


Don’t push the river


I’ve always been a determined sort of person. My mum tells the story of how after watching me play as a little girl her best friend turned to her and said ‘Elle pète le feu’, which literally translated means she farts fire. Digestive issues aside, I find it funny and a little sad that even when playing as a child my character was so apparent. I don’t know where my determination comes from. Did I emerge from the womb with a certain tilt to my jaw as if preparing for a blow? Did I get the message from watching my older sister, who is disabled, and conclude based on how hard she works that it is effort that counts?

For the longest time I have been aware of two sides to me: the dreamer vs the determined one or the lazy one vs the slavedriver.

Like everything each part of me has helped and hindered me. Being determined pushed me to study and get the grades I needed to wipe the dust of my small town off my feet. It helped forge a new career path before I was thirty. And when things got tough it helped me continue to write, to work, to exercise and in relationships. But lately I’ve been aware of the darker side.

‘Don’t push the river.’

I couldn’t get the phrase ‘Don’t push the river,’ out of my head. It nagged at me like a loose tooth. Don’t push the river was the opposite principle to how I lived my life, yet why couldn’t I let it go?

Don’t push the river, means that despite our plans many things are outside of our control. If we continually pit ourselves against the uncertain forces of nature we are going to get hurt.

I have made a career out of pushing the river:

I pushed the river when I walked to school, too focused on the fact I was going to be late to notice I had ripped the bottom of my soles off and my shoes were filling with blood. (True, and gross, story).

I pushed the river when I stayed in publishing although every day felt like trudging through treacle.

I pushed the river when I went travelling even though I had just fallen in love.

I pushed the river when after my best friend died during my counselling course and I refused to take a day off or stop until I had got my first.

I pushed the river when I worked 50 hour weeks until even my eyelashes were tired.

I pushed the river when I stayed in a role that bored me for the maternity leave, even when it became clear that the babies weren’t coming. Might never come.

I pushed the river earlier this year when I caught tonsillitis followed by pneumonia… and still went into work.

I pushed the river every time I put my plans ahead of my health and overall wellbeing.

Even reading through this list most of me is horrified but a part of me is impressed. Look at what you could accomplish, if only you put in a bit more effort, it whispers.

For the last couple of months I have been trying to accomplish four things:

-set up my own business

-gain experience and earn money working with the NHS

-lose weight to improve my fertility

– and, yanno live my life.

When I see it written down like that I can appreciate how huge each of those things are. And how impossible they are to accomplish all together. Pursue one, and you sacrifice the other. Go for money and you have no time to take on new clients. Pursue setting up my own business and I won’t have the energy or time to lose weight.

For six months I tried to do it all. It came to a head on a Monday. I had 62 items on my to do list. The first, ring the hospital to chase my referral. Forty two minutes afterwards I collapsed in a sobbing mess after failing to resolve anything or even talk to another human being. (This is not unusual in my dealings with the NHS. In my experience the care we have received has been excellent, but the administration side? OOOFH.)

In that moment I realised I needed to stop pushing the river. There are important things in this world, but there comes a point when everybody needs to cede defeat. And I am more important than the river, my goal.

I decided to quit my day job the next day. It terrifies me the idea of being entirely self employed but I needed to do it for me. (The day after I got an offer for my temporary dream job – the universe delivers).

‘It’s in my nature.’

HWSNBN and I love the fable of the frog and scorpion. When one of us does something particularly special the other will quip. ‘It’s in my nature.’ The story goes:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.” The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”

I don’t expect an overnight change. I expect I will always be fighting the urge to push the river. I will always struggle to balance the person vs the plan. It’s in my nature. But I don’t want to push the river at my expense, not anymore.