You

Dearest you,

I was on the other side of the world watching the cherry blossoms bloom when I began to feel odd. Sick and woozy, as if I’d eaten something bad. I almost passed out on packed tubes and in scorching onsens. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind that this felt very familiar and only mentioned it in a joking way to your father – I couldn’t bear to hope and be disappointed.

A week later, jet-lagged and home again, I took a pregnancy test and within seconds two pink lines blossomed. It was the first sign I had of you. Almost three years exactly from learning I was pregnant with your brother, I was pregnant with you.

It had been the longest winter. April is the cruellest month and it was then things finally snapped with a family member. The crisis team was called and there was talk of secure psychiatric units. Things were so bad I wasn’t sure if I should go to Japan at all. How could I go? I felt so ill with stress I was barely sleeping, on the verge of fragmenting myself. To survive I would need to dredge every bit of my energy and resources. How could I stay? 

So we went to Japan, your father, your brother, me and you – my little stowaway. And among the mountains and the cherry trees, I felt something in me emerge from hibernation that I thought was long dead – hope.

With your brother, I could think of nothing else. With you, there were long periods when I forgot about you. Not because you were any less wanted, but because I wanted you so much it hurt.

It was as if I couldn’t look at you directly. I worried if I did you’d disappear as if you were never there. You shimmered like a moonbeam at the corner of my eye so precious and yet so ephemeral.

It hasn’t been an easy pregnancy. I have sat heavily bleeding in the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) more times than I can count, convinced that you were gone. Only to see you moving in flickery black and white, busy with growing and utterly indifferent to my panic. My love for you has only grown in tandem with my fear of losing you. I’ve struggled through gestational diabetes, more recently high blood pressure and anxiety that has never quite left me. Externally this pregnancy has coincided with some of the most challenging events within my extended family. Much as I have tried to protect myself and by extension you from the stresses I cannot help but worry about how you will have been affected.  I have felt so anxious this pregnancy about losing you, I haven’t been able to shout as loudly as I would want about your presence. But step by step, day by day we have made it to 38 weeks and you are almost ready to enter the world.

I am so in awe and completely poleaxed by my love for you. I am so utterly terrified of the capriciousness of this world I am bringing you into.

You are moon-skulled with star-fish hands and your brother’s nose. Your favourite position is wedged securely under my ribs as close to my heart as you can get. You are never more active than when I am in the water, shifting from side to side like a tiny Kraken. The feeling as I wait to meet you is like every childhood Christmas rolled into one. Oh the anticipation as if my body can barely contain it. I cannot wait to see your face, to hold your tiny hands, to feel the soft susurration of your breath.  Until then stay and grow, my baby,

Love your mummy.

The Promise


One night I dreamt I visited Santorini. I didn’t know what it was called then – just that it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Closer to the sky, it seemed god-touched. The azure blue domes made the bright white walls shine even higher. The town tumbled down the hill vertiginously. Below the wine-dark sea sparkled stretching to infinity.

In my dream, I was old my hands wrinkled and covered in sunspots. HWSNBN was stooped, his hands gnarled and weathered as mine. We walked haltingly down the cobbled paths curving between the cave buildings until we reached the sea. We sat in the comfortable silence watching the children play it on the docks. 

The strangest part of this dream was how I knew two things: we had never been able to have children. And I was happy.

When I woke up I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How could I be happy and not have children? This dream came to me when infertility was killing me slowly. If it hasn’t happened to you that may seem hyperbolic – but it has you will know exactly what I mean. I wasn’t sure how many more months I could stay on this cycle of hope and despair. How many more times I could be torn apart and slowly piece myself back together?

Then I dreamt of Santorini and I knew, the way I knew my own face, that whatever happened I would find a way to be OK. Maybe that longing to be a mother would never fade, would twinge like an old wound when I thought back on my life. Maybe life wouldn’t look anything like I envisaged. But somehow, in some way it was possible to build a life among the wreckage. A good life with joy as well as sorrow.

If I was reading this I was struggling to have a baby I’d think ‘Fuck her’ of course she’d say that now. How can she know that? She got her happy ending.

And I did. I am so unbelievably lucky to have Nibs.

But I know that because this year when struggling with a different tragedy there was only one place I wanted to visit. Last month we went to Santorini: He Who Shall Not be Named, the toddler and me. And it was even more beautiful than in my dream. But more important than its beauty was the promise Santorini held – that healing was possible.

My visit to Santorini was very different than how I had pictured. I wasn’t visiting to heal a heart broken by infertility but by trauma. It wasn’t a couples trip, but one with the family  I wasn’t sure I would ever have. Instead of spending evenings staring lovingly into each other eyes, we spent our time tackling our toddler as he tried to repeatedly throw himself into the caldera. We swam in the sea, we sat and watched the sunset, we marvelled at how beautiful it all was.

The details had changed but the promise remained the same. That one day, somehow I would find my way back to OK.

The one thing that I know is true is that life is both beautiful and brutal. Sometimes even at the same time. I remember sitting next to my sister in intensive care laughing more than I could ever remember I had. I also remember weeping in a corner of a garden centre so much that I didn’t have any tears left. Beautiful. Brutal. Brutiful

What happened to my sister’s is always going to hurt. Just how losing Lianne will always kill me. It will always be the wound that never completely heals. The ‘what if’ that haunts my life. There are things that hurt us so badly the only thing we can do is figure out how to live with them.

Some days distracted by the joy of watching Nibs the pain fades into the background. Still, present like a background ache but not at the forefront of my mind. Some days the pain is so excruciating  – it’s all I can do is to breathe through it. Still, I have days when it fells me anew. Both my sisters I think, both of them?

‘No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all?’

A holiday couldn’t cure that. How could anything? But it did remind me that I had felt like this before: lost, broken and hopeless. And before that and again before that many times. And yet I am still here. I have survived 100% of my worst days so far.

Out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and with a lot of work I know now that I can find my way back to OK. I am not there yet. I may never be entirely there. But slowly piece by piece I am putting myself back together. The promise of Santorini showed me that no matter what life throws at me and those I love there will always be a path back to OK if we search hard enough. There has to be.

One year of you

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A year ago exactly you were placed in my arms. You were blanched white with wrinkled star fish hands. You looked stunned like a fish flipped from the water and onto my chest. You didn’t cry but just regarded me through eyes as dark as galaxies. And I stared back.

I’d be prepared not to feel anything at first. Mum friends had warned me it can take a while to feel a connection. Or I’d hoped I’d have a strong feeling that you were mine. Instead I just looked at you looking at me as if you were trying to memorise my face and thought ‘Oh it’s you.’ Like you were somebody I had known a long time ago and always longed to see again. You weren’t mine anymore than the stars and the moon were mine. From the beginning you were a hundred per cent yourself.

How to describe you? Most babies seem to take a while to come into focus; their fourth trimester happening outside the womb. But from the beginning you clearly communicated what you did and didn’t want. I have to be quick to keep up with you. You’ve always been mercurial smiling and babbling one minute then throwing yourself to the floor as if your heart is breaking the next. As an introvert it’s fascinating to see how much you love being around other people. At Christmas you herded the family from room to room like a tiny sheepdog. You talk constantly, even in your sleep.

I see pieces of both families in you. You have your daddies love of puzzles and cautious methodical approach of wanting to take the world apart to see how it works. But you feel things deeply and intensely like me, and love books.

During that endless first night as a mother, where I didn’t dare sleep in case you disappeared like fairies gold in the sunlight, I said to the midwife ‘I don’t know what I am doing’

I still don’t. But I have faith that we will figure it out together. 

So here’s to one year of you. To one year of cuddles and over excited clawing at my face. To one year of night feeds, kissing your warm downy head. To one year of navigating the brave new world of Mum’s groups, baby sensory and soft play.  To one year of watching you learn how to lift your head, roll, sit up, crawl and stand. To one year of soaking up the moments because you are growing so fast.

Here’s one year of you my Nibsie of the Noos. I love you more than words can ever say. Never stop being you.

Why my baby is crying (as told by him…)

Why my baby is crying (as told by him)

Inspired by this I haz Staff do the transcribings. Yor welcomez!

  1. Staff put me down
  2. Staff pickz me up
  3. Staff only spent 22.45 minutes with me today. I iz lonely
  4. Look at this sound I cans make Staff. I cans do it louder
  5. I iz hangry
  6. Not this boob, the ovah one. The OVAH ONE!
  7. Staff iz late/eating/paying ovah staff affection/doing the sleeps. Commenz paddy.
  8. MA TEEF OWHIE.
  9. I kick Staff in tit and they do the shouting and I haz a scared.
  10. I no like the wallpaper
  11. Staff looks at me funny
  12. Staff no look at me. Staff haz eyes closed and is making the snorings. Staff, STAFF!
  13. COLDZ. Staff, STAFF Ma furz.
  14. HOT. I no order this weather. Staff send it back and commenz the fanning.
  15. Stupid Staff I wanted to wear the yallow frock coot. THE YALLOW WIZ THE BUNNIES.
  16. I iz making the water. I iz making the water go high. I invent a water fountain! I iz clev- NOES IN THE FASCE.
  17. Oh dearz I have disgrazed maself in ma pantaloons. Again.
  18. Staff lowered me into the cold pit of despair, aka the cots.
  19. I dreamz there was no moar milk. I haz a sad.
  20. NOT HAIRY STAFF. OVAH STAFF. WIF THE MILK!!!
  21. I iz practising ma sleep screaming skillz. Whadja mean Staff do the sleeps too. I iz no paying Staff to do the sleeps.
  22. I WAH cannae WAH do WAH the WAH rememberings
  23. Ma chariot dipped below 30 fathoms and I do the wakenings.
  24. NO! I iz not an imbecile I wants the other toy.
  25. I iz having the funz times with the Staff. So much funz. Too much funz… FUNZ OVERLOAD… ERUPT
  26. STAFF! STAFF! The nipple is no in my mouth
  27. It iz between five of the clock PM and the midnight, so iz time for the grizzles and wailing. What?! Iz in the handbook. What do you mean I no come wiv a handbook. Staff is making a funs wiv me.
  28. I rooted on the barren dessert where baby dreamz die. Aka hairy Staff’s chest.
  29. Guess…
    You have chosen pourly. WAAAAH
  30. Reasonz

 

Newborn baby essentials for first time parents

 

NewbornSo you’re having a baby. You’ve read all the books, your due date is looming and you’ve bought everything you’ll need for yourself postpartum but what does your newborn baby need? Before you give into that excited urge to buy all the things (yes, those baby shoes are gorgeous, and no they aren’t really necessary) remember newborn babies don’t really need much beyond a boob or bottle, something to wear and most importantly a pair of arms to hold them. However, there are some essential products out there that can make your life as a new parent a thousand times easier. As an *ahem* experienced parent of a four-month old, here are the newborn baby essentials I could not do without during those early days.

Water wipes

Have you tried to wipe meconium aka tar off a baby’s bottom using nothing but a bit of cotton wool and water, after 48 hours of no sleep while your baby screams like you’re cutting off an appendage? Learn from my mistake – get water wipes. A mix of water and fruit extracts they are safe to be used on newborn bottoms and they won’t leave you picking off bits of cotton wool off a tiny behind. Pro-tip: liberal applications of coconut oil after every nappy change makes meconium wipeable.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

I read so many pregnancy and baby books covering theories from as attachment parenting to sleep training. The one book I want to buy and give to all my pregnant friends is The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp. If you have a baby that is colicky, cries uncontrollably or turns from an angel into screaming bat-baby come 5pm (raises hand sheepishly), this book is for you. You can read more about the theory in this blog post but to summarise here. Pediatrician Dr Harvey Karp argues that unlike other animals babies are born before they are developmentally ready because of the size of their heads in relation to the pelvis. This means that the first three months are a fourth trimester outside of the womb as babies need to rapidly develop to function in the outside world. All babies had an evolved calming reflex to keep them from damaging themselves or mum in the womb, and if we can recreate these outside of the womb we can calm babies in minutes. These are called the five s’s: swaddle, side or stomach, shush, swing, suck. I was sceptical at first but the five s’s helped calm our fractious newborn in minutes. You can watch Karp in action here. The next five essentials are all ones that use the five s’s.

Co sleeper

My lovely friend Claudia lent me her co-sleeper which is a crib that attaches to the side of the bed. It was godsend for three very important reasons:

  1. Newborns have really odd breathing patterns and frequently take very looooong pauses in between breaths. A co sleeper allows you to check on your baby without leaving your bed. This saves you from diving across the room twenty times in one night in a move I like to call the ‘Why isn’t my baby breathing dive? Oh no, he’s fine.’
  2. Breastfeeding is made so much easier once you can do it lying down. No more getting out of your warm bed, arranging pillows behind you or even sitting up to grab your baby. Instead release boob, roll baby onto boob, doze while baby sucks then roll baby back into the co-sleeper. Or yaknow…
  3. Don’t. My sure fire way of waking Nibs up whether I wanted to or not was to put him down after breastfeeding. The way he reacted was as if I had lowered him into the pits of hell not an expensive, lovingly crafted crib. I had a choice hold him for twenty minutes until he’d fell into a deeper sleep or lie him next then very gradually inch him back into his crib. Having the crib as his back meant I didn’t have to worry that he would roll out of bed when feeding and he felt close to me. Which brings us nicely onto the…

Sling

I bought a Moby fabric sling initially. It may have been the sleep deprivation or the fact that I have worse block designs skills than my son. Who is four months old. But I could not put it together without putting my baby down, which defeated the point, as he’d then wake up. I needed a sling that I could strap my sleeping baby into using only one hand.

Enter the Beco Gemini which even this mama could put together in her sleep. What I should have done before buying this was: go to a sling library and try on a couple before buying. What I did: ask my friend Jo sling obsessive which one she recommended for a novice like me. Both He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I love it because the crossing straps distribute the babies weight and Nibs can be worn in a number of different positions as he gets older. The sling is brilliant for getting housework done while his Nibs naps. It allows me to get out and about without worrying if the buggy will fit through doors or on buses. And at grizzle o’clock it calms him down and will, if the stars are aligned, even send him to sleep if we walk around swiftly with him in the sling.

Ewan the dream sheep

White noise is a parent’s best friend. Whether it’s the dishwasher, car or even the sea, white noise mimics the sound of the wound and sends our baby Nibs into a deeper sleep. My little sister bought us Ewan the Dream Sheep which emits a soothing red pulse and has a number of different white noise tracks to choose from. Our favourite is a track we’ve nicknamed the haunted womb.

Gro swaddle

I was decidedly anti swaddle before having a baby. They seemed so restrictive and Victorian. Until I witnessed how my sons flailing limbs would wake him up multiple times a night and read about the Moro instinct. As soon as he was swaddled, he calmed down his little face relaxing and the swaddle seemed less like a medieval torture device and more like a full body hug. I credit the swaddle with helping our son sleep like less like an actual baby and more like a metaphorical baby from early on. We loved the Gro Ladybird Spot Swaddle for being so simple even this mama could use.

Love to Dream Swaddle

Now Nibs is a little bigger we’ve graduated to this Love to Dream Swaddle which is like a swaddle just for his arms. This helps restrain his natural impulse to violently batter himself in the face with his arms as sleeps. Plus when he’s wearing it he looks like he has wings providing many a hilarious photo opportunity.

Swing

Here’s the thing. As a new parent you get many a piece of useless advice of which the mos useless is sleep when your baby sleeps. The problem was like many newborns Nibs would only sleep when in motion as he was used to being lulled to sleep by the constant motion in the womb. In utero his most active time was 2am when all was still and I was trying to sleep and he commenced his kick mummy in the ribs done. So unless I mastered sleepwalking/sleep driving that advice was pretty useless. Until we bought the Joie Serina 2 in 1 Baby Swing second hand on ebay, aka the best money I ever spent. Save the money you could spend on a bouncer and get this electric swing. Like magic the swing on its most vigorous setting would send him to sleep in minutes allowing me to nap too. It also comes with white noise, vibrates, the swing works in two directions, and the seat can be taken off and used as a bouncer too. Seriously buy this, you won’t regret it.

Products for your first aid cabinet like:

A thermometer – ideally the no touch scan thermometer so you don’t have to keep your wriggling baby still while you check for a fever.

Nosefrida – this ridiculously gross invention the Nosefrida Nasal Aspirator allows you to alleviate a congested nose in seconds with the aid of saline drops and a suction tube. Its disgusting but essential especially if you have a baby in the season of the snot aka winter like we did.

Metanium – the yellow Metanium is like kryptonite for nappy rash. Most of the time we use a thin layer of sudocreme on our babies bum. But when he had a nasty nappy rash due to thrush a thin layer of this cream cleared up the rash in days.

Isofix base

Three door car + sleep deprivation= going anywhere is a hurry is a hassle. When you add in a screaming baby its amazing how a simple procedure of threading a car belt through a car seat becomes mensa level difficult. Get a Isofix Base for your car seat and you simply clip and unclip the car seat from your car. I held off buying one for three months until I finally gave in on the advice of my very wise friend Katy and I wish I’d done it a lot sooner. 

1,000 muslins

Nibs is a silent posseter. You’ll be holding him and suddenly your lap will be suspiciously warm. Before giving birth, my mother in law asked me how many muslins we had and I naively replied ten and she gave me the look. The look that meant haha, you’ll learn.

Within days of the birth we were on ebay ordering more and now I think we have close to 50 at least. Muslins are great as well as clearing up posset and protecting your shoulder when burping, they can be used to swaddle your baby, to tuck under your boob for hands free feeding and as nursing cover. Ours where just cheapo ones but if I had the money I’d get these gorgeous Faye and Lou Rainbow Muslins. 

Trial amazon family membership  

No matter how well you prepare by reading helpful new parent lists like this and faithfully buying everything on them (right? Right.), once the baby arrives you’ll realise, always at 3am, that you’ve missed some essential item. Amazon family have a free month trial with next day delivery, £20 off when you spend over £60 and deals on nappies and other products. It was ideal for those middle of the night ‘I need new bits for my breastpump’ purchases.

A village  

*Mounts soap box* Postnatal depression is at a record high in this country. And I strongly believe its because we aren’t meant to raise babies alone. It takes a village. At first I tried so hard to show that I could do it all. Hadn’t I longed for this? Then why was I finding it so hard. Things became easier when I started asking for help from my loving partner and co-parent HWSNBN, from my parents and his, from my sister and new mum friends. Workout what you need whether it’s food or a spare pair of arms so you can shower – and ask for help prior to giving birth.

Fellow survivors of the newborn stage, what would you add to the list? Mummas and dad’s to be, you got this!

Birth, motherhood and me

So I had a baby! And as expected I have many thoughts about birth, motherhood, and babies.

On birth

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Birth is like an event horizon. When you’re pregnant for the first time, it is almost impossible to visualise what lies beyond it. But one of the things I forgot is even if I was exceptionally unlucky, at most it would be 72 hours out of my life. I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the birth. I wish I had thought more about what would happen afterwards.

As a mum-to-be you hear a LOT of labour horror stories. Looking back now, it’s amazing how much of my memory of the labour has faded replaced by what came afterwards. Yes, it was painful but I had a baby at the end of it.

I find it interesting how much of being ready to give birth is about physical readiness versus psychological readiness. I spent the day before I went into labour sewing Nib’s mobile. ‘It’s the last thing on my maternity leave to do list.’ I announced brightly to HWSNBN. Somewhere in my head a tick had been placed on the list and there was just one last item:
Have a baby.

I woke up at 1am contracting three minutes apart. But I’d had Braxton Hicks for days so I wasn’t sure this was it. Then half an hour later I turned over in bed and my waters broke with a sudden pop and I knew it was time.

Our NCT teacher told us your waters breaking wasn’t like in the movies – it just a trickle. DUDE, it was exactly like in the movies. It felt like I had Niagara falls in my knickers and out of the biological indignities that were to come it was almost the grossest.

The grossest was the vomiting. Imagine having a contraction, perhaps the worse pain you have ever experienced and as you are trying to breathe your way through it you projectile vomit. Again. The midwives were thrilled ‘open mouth, open cervix’. I was less than happy. I’d never imagined I’d met my child covered in green bile. But nobody ever said labour was glamourous.

As somebody whose always been self conscious about her body I worried beforehand about how I would feel lots of strangers seeing it. I can’t count how many people saw my poonani, nor did I care.

I had gathered together so many supplies for my birth – aromatherapy oils, playlists and birth balls. What I actually wanted was a dark room, a bucket to throw up in, to be on all fours, and for HWSNBN to push on my spine so hard it gave him bruises.

Which brings us to… back labour. From the moment I woke up contracting and felt that Nibs, after being in the optimal position since week 20, had turned so his back was grinding up against mine, I knew I was in for a rocky ride. Back labour feels like the baby is trying to exit via your spine. It isn’t only extraordinarily painful but the pressure is almost unbearable and it turns out is visible from the outside. HWSNBN described afterwards as like a scene from alien as my coccyx pulsated and bulged outwards.

There are lots of things you can do to try and turn a back to back baby. I tried them all (not knowing that he had the cord tangled around him and he was stuck). Being in the birth pool helped for a bit. Being in on all fours helped for a while. But as he descended I began having back to back contractions. I would breathe my way over the hill of a contraction and just as the pain began to fade the intensity would slam back up to the peak again. I was getting tired and we had a choice. Stay at home for another hour and try and turn him or transfer to hospital. I asked to be examined. If I was in transition I’d stay at home and bear it out. But I was only six centimetres. I cried, despite the midwives comforting me. Six centimetres at home in this time was amazing, they said. But I was done – we made the decision to transfer.

Before labour in our long discussions I’d asked HWSNBN to be my advocate as I have been known to be less than assertive. But apparently (I have no memory of this) when everybody was milling around the ambulance, they kept offering me pillows and water for the journey, I snapped ‘JUST DRIVE.’ They did.

Putting my clothes on and leaving the house was hell. I had to stop for each contraction. I kept my eyes closed in the ambulance. And I didn’t even care as people stared at me as I waddled through A + E or in the lift up to the labour ward as I panted sucking on the gas and air.

In hospital I had an epidural which alleviated some of the pain but none of the pressure – thanks back labour! However, the contractions began to space out so I could breathe in between them.

It became clear that the baby wasn’t coping very well as his heartbeat was dipping during contractions. I could tell that the doctors and midwives were worried. All I could do was lie there helpless and ask over and over again ‘Is my baby OK?’ 

A lot of the things I worried would happen did. I got transferred to hospital, the pain was, at times, so unbearable I lost control during contractions, I tore. But in the end only one thing mattered that my baby was safe and well. When his heartbeat kept dipping, if a scalpel had been in reach I would have cut him out myself.

My labour was short by first labour standards at around 20 hours. But it felt like no time at all – the day a brief window of light before the darkness fell again. Midwives kept changing shifts and I’d look at the clock and see that hours had passed.

In labour the world retreats. The room had one of the best views over Brighton but I barely saw it. There was nothing but this small room, this breath in between contractions, this baby and me working together so he could be born.

You never forget the midwives who delivered your child. During the long night and day and night I was in labour we had lots of different midwives. I was so glad that it was the last two who delivered my baby. They were brilliant, compassionate, open about what was going on, and so encouraging as I pushed the baby out.

As the baby was getting so tired and his heart wasn’t returning to normal in between contractions, they gave me half an hour to push him out. I put my chin down and focused. Although I knew that after an epidural it can be harder to push – there was no doubt in my mind that I could do this. One advantage of having back labour was I always felt the pressure of baby. And as I began pushing I could feel the baby moving down with each push and even when he finally flipped round the right way in my pelvis. As he was crowning and I was panting through the stinging, doctors barrelled into the room with a gurney. They took one look in between my legs, told me to ‘Good job, carry on!’ And left again.  

As soon as I saw him I knew it would be OK. He was silent, a colour not found in nature and a midwife was furiously palpitating his back as the other worked the cord free as it tangled around his neck. I cried and I think they thought it was because I was worried. I wasn’t. I knew he was OK, in a weird way deep down in my bones. I cried because he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

They put him in my arms and we just stared at each other and I thought ‘Oh, there you are.’ There was an immediate feeling of recognition, like running into somebody beloved I had not seen for centuries. He was tiny, blanched white and smelt of clementines. His eyes were universe dark and he had an expression like he’d been here before. We stared at each other for hours and he didn’t make a sound.

I pushed out the placenta, they sewed me up, people came and went but HWSNBN and I just stared at this perfect being we’d made and he stared back in a trifecta of love.

On postpartum

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Apres the birth was the biggest high, followed by the deepest come down of my life. There were moments of being caught up in the most blissful love bubble ‘Look what we made. I love him so much my body can barely contain it.’ and moments of being snagged on the rocks of despair ‘This is so hard. I can’t do this. I’m a shit mum.’

I didn’t think motherhood would be easy. But when I imagined it I saw it through the filter of  pre-baby me. Well rested, non bruised and not on a hormone crash from hell me.

A friend described it best when she said postpartum is like being in a car crash and then being handed the most precious and fragile being you ever saw and told not to drop him. How can you look after somebody else when you need looking after yourself?

As we walked up to the postnatal ward, I heard another mum being bought in howling. Just the sound of another woman in labour made me feel like I was going to throw up again.

Word up to all the expectant mothers, even if you don’t tear you’re going to feel bruised and tender for at least ten days post birth. Good thing you’re not going to be spending a huge amount of time sitting on your behind breastfeeding a newborn. Oh… wait. To add to the mix I had a huge purple bruise from where Nib’s head had engaged in a prolonged battle with my spine, that meant putting any pressure on my back was toe-curlingly painful. Breastfeeding involved arranging an elaborate system of pillows and a piles cushions around and under me while the baby howled for his dinner.

Ah, the post labour poo. Read this mamas-to-be and god be with you.

Good friends bring pressies for the baby. Amazing friends send pressies for the baby and for you. My lovely fairy godmother Ros sent me a postpartum package including tinctures and arnica, cool packs and a savoy cabbage. Yes, really. It was hands down the best present I received.

Night sweats – because what every woman wants to do with less than ideal pelvic floor control post birth is ask herself the question in the middle of the night ‘Is that puddle I’m lying in pee or sweat?’

I expected to get postpartum depression (ever the optimist). I didn’t. What I did experience was postpartum anxiety. It did not last long but it felt endless at the time. A lifelong sleepaholic I suddenly had horrific insomnia my thoughts racing so fast I could not follow them. I jumped at every sound convinced that there was something wrong with my baby. After a couple of days of me not sleeping more than an hour at a time, HWSNBN took Nibs in the other room promising to bring him in for feeds. But every time I closed my eyes I heard the baby crying. Yet whenever I went to check, he was fast asleep. ‘He’s OK.’ HWSNBN would tell me. But I could not shake the conviction that he wasn’t and that I had to be hypervigilant to prevent anything from happening to him.

The insomnia did not help. My baby was sleeping, my husband was sleeping but I could not sleep except when the exhaustion grabbed and I fell into darkness for a hour or so. I haunted the flat like a little ghost. During one conversation in the middle of the night I realised I was so sleep deprived it felt like I was having a stroke. I could tell I wasn’t making sense but I couldn’t articulate that thought. I could not articulate anything.

Day fucking five really sucked. Mention into the other mums and you get the shudder of been there, endured the hormone crash. In perfect storm of shittiness events conspired to make mine pretty awful.

Picture the scene me manic from not sleeping more than a hour at a time when the midwife comes to weigh the baby. I’d expected that he would have lost some weight. He was still quite jaundiced, sleepy and had to be woken to feed and throughout the feed. But the night before he’d fed almost constantly – surely he was starting to put weight back on? I knew as soon as she placed him on the scales that something was wrong. ‘He’s lost too much weight.’ But he was feeding constantly the night before, I said. ‘Yes, he was feeding constantly because there wasn’t enough milk. We need to see how much milk you’re creating and make a plan to get his weight back up and if that doesn’t work we’ll admit him into hospital.’ I pumped and we stared at the measly amount of milk that dribbled out and then she wrote out a plan: breastfeeding every three hours, expressing breast milk and then supplementing with formula. I could barely hear her at this point over the siren blare of my baby is starving and it’s all my fault.

After she left, HWSNBN was sent out to get formula and pumping equipment. ‘You’ll be OK?’ He asked as I stood in the doorway, rocking the baby and weeping. There was nobody I could call to come sit with me. My family were over the other side of the world. His were an hour and a half away. And as I tried to feed Nibs it became clear that the milk wasn’t coming. I felt like the shittest mum ever. How could I have missed that he was starving? He cried frantically until his little body was exhausted and he fell asleep in my arms. This was the nadir.

HWSNBN and I embarked on the fatten the baby up plan. I’d breastfeed on one side and express on the other while HWSNBN fed me sips of water and food. After the baby had finished we’d offer him the milk I’d expressed earlier and then formula if he was still hungry. Before setting an alarm to wake up in an hour and half and do it again. I remember it being hard but I also remember the love and that feeling of being on the same team.

I’ve always been notoriously talented at hiding when things are wrong. My leg could be hanging off and I would still insist that I was ‘Fine. Oh that? It’s nothing. Tell me about you?’ Birth robbed me of that skill – I lost my filter entirely. I sent out messages into the ether to my friends spilling my emotional guts. The responses, ah me, they make me want to cry even now. They were so lovely. In my vulnerability came honesty and connection. Sadly the filter is firmly back in place now. This is one thing I miss from the postpartum period.

Weigh in day arrived. The midwives wanted to see a weight gain of 60 otherwise we’d be admitted to hospital. Luckily the January genes for putting on a shit-ton of weight are strong and he had gained 300. I tried and failed to not cry on the midwife.

Like it had never been the anxiety began to fade and I slept for three blessed hours in a row and it was wonderful. I’m not sure why it went. Was it simply hormonal and the hormones had began to fade? Or was it emotional? It wasn’t until the midwives told me that my baby wasn’t putting on weight that I realised I had been carrying the fear from the birth that my baby was not OK. Plan fatten baby up gave me somewhere to challenge my anxiety and like that it dissipated. Looking back I realise how lucky I was in comparison to other women whose babies were seriously unwell. But at the time my anxiety seemed so real, so valid.

On breastfeeding

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I thought breastfeeding would be as simple as take boob, pop boob in babies mouth, baby feeds – done. Insert hollow laughter here.

Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I have ever done. None of it was easy. In the first three weeks I cried almost daily about how hard it was. The temptation to say fuck it and only give him formula was almost overwhelming. But a small voice inside me said just try another day and I did.

If I wasn’t supported in the people around me I would not have persisted. From the kind midwife who suggested giving him a tiny bit of expressed milk to satiate his hunger, then breastfeeding him when he was so hangry he refused to latch. To all the other women my friends and at the breastfeeding clinics who said yes breastfeeding is really, really hard but it gets better. To HWSNBN who did everything so I could feed our baby. From bringing me endless glasses of water and food, to changing nappies and taking him around the park so I could give my sore boobs a rest. And for encouraging me to keep going when things were tough.

The first challenge I faced when it came breastfeeding was physics. Nibs was born on the small side and my boobs are anything but small. He’s seven weeks old now and much to my little sister’s amusement my boobs still dwarf his head.

The second challenge was genetics, I was the most uncoordinated person I know until I met… my son. Latching was like trying to touch opposing magnets. In the early weeks it would take up to half an hour and HWSNBN’s help to get him to latch. Where he would feed for a couple of minutes and fall asleep, and then the whole process started again.

The third challenge was medical. I have PCOS which means that my breastmilk supply is lower than average . Nibs like many babies had jaundice which equates to one sleepy baby who doesn’t really want to feed. As breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, having a sleepy baby who didn’t really want to feed meant my already low supply dwindled further.

My boobs the day milk came in two words: rock tits.

They say breastfeeding isn’t meant to be painful. Seriously? Tell that to my fucking nipples. It gets less painful as your nipples get more desentised but still sometimes when he latched I have to count to ten.

Getting newborn to latch is like trying to put a sock on a snake.
‘Hey baby, here’s the nipple.’
Baby turns head in the opposite direction.
‘Baby the nipple, it’s here.’
Baby bobs frantically headbutting nipple.
Baby manages to get nipple in his mouth (yay), and his hand too (no).
Baby latches on and while latched whips his head back and forth still searching for the nipple. Yep Nipple whiplash, it’s a thing.

Years ago I read about Melanie Klein’s theory of the good/bad breast and the concept of splitting. I thought it was bullshit. But Klein was right on. Sometimes Nibs loves the boob and sometimes he hates it. Being a mother is about being able to withstand both.

The breastfeeding books speak about being in a comfortable position. But I’d stay contorted in the most awkward positions because I had finally got him to latch and who cared that I was bent double over my baby. And if the remote control was out of reach well, love meant enduring Jeremy Kyle.

I’ve breastfeed through thrush, engorgement, blocked milk ducts (twice), cracked nipples… I’m just waiting for mastisis and then I’ll have the full set.

In some ways, having to introduce a bottle so early was a blessing in disguise. It has meant that HWSNBN can feed the baby and have that bonding time together. Even better it means I get a blessed hour off. Bliss

The best thing about my breastfeeding app. It tells me how long I’ve been feeding for and which breast I last fed from. The worst thing about my breastfeeding app it tells me how long I’ve been feeding for. 8 and a half hours! No wonder my arse is numb.

Cluster feeding was demoralising as hell and it hit in week three just as HWSNBN headed back to work. Unless HWSNBN or his mother were there, I couldn’t eat, or wee or even take a sip of water. I didn’t leave the house for days because he would not stop feeding and as he was finally putting on weight I did not want to interrupt him. He still cluster feeds at night but it isn’t all day so I am so thankful for it.

I quickly learnt to prioritise in those brief moments when I wasn’t physically attached to Nibs. Have a wee, drink water, eat something and perhaps if you’re really lucky nap. Fuck housework.

Some babies are into fast food. Feeding my baby is like trying to feed a narcoleptic drunk gourmand who ordered the fucking tasting menu goddamn it and he will finish it. Even if it takes him three hours actual time (thirty minutes effective feeding time) A sample feed looks like this.
Feed frantically for four minutes.
Fall asleep.
Get put down.
Howls indignantly.
Come back for a two minute soupcon.
Fall asleep while possetting on self. Handed to daddy.
Howls while rooting on daddy’s nose.
Repeat until mummy declares the boob restaurant is closed. Baby does not understand language yet so ignores this.

Stuff Nibs hates:
Being put down
Having his nappy changed
People touching his feet
Having his cheesy armpits cleaned
Being stripped naked
Falling asleep on the boob and waking up to discover the boob is no longer there.

Stuff I will do to get him to feed (because I am eviiiiiiiil):
See all of the above

They said it takes six weeks to get breastfeeding established. By week four it was noticably easier (barring the really painful thrush episode). It’s the end of week six now and I finally feel like we are in a rhythm. What I would say is you need to what is best for your baby AND you! Whether that’s breastfeeding, combi-feeding or giving formula your emotional and physical wellbeing matters too.

On motherhood

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Pre motherhood me would judge the fuck out of some of the choices I’m making. Mother-me would pour me a gin, give me a hug and tell me I’m doing my best.

Having a child unearths a lot of shit from your psyche. I am not somebody who likes being dependent and I hate asking for help. Having a sister who needs extra help, I think I made me grow up fast and decide that I didn’t want to burden people by being too needy. Since having a baby I am physically, financially and emotionally dependent on the people around me and I hate it. I feel incredibly uncomfortable which I think indicates growth.

It takes a village to raise a child. We aren’t meant to do this alone.

You will welcome the people who come over and want to hold your baby. You will want to worship the people who come over with food, pop a load of laundry on, and make you a drink while you hold your baby.

There are a lot of nasty jokes made about mother-in-laws but mine has been amazing. In those early days when I was a walking zombie and later when HWSNBN went back to work she would come over every couple of days and help out.

Being a mum eclipses everything else. I lose hours staring into his eyes. There isn’t a to do list anymore.

Being perpertually late person naturally is exacerbated by having a baby. Leaving this house is like martialling an army. An army that waits until you are just picking up your car keys before pooing up it’s back.

Saying it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t also wonderful. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

One day he may be 33 too and taller than I will ever be, but he will always, always, always be my baby.

During the birth, he was born but a new me also emerged. I am not sure what mother Rowan looks like. But I can’t wait to find out.

Sometimes you have no choice but to put your screaming child down and have a wee. It doesn’t make you a bad mum – it makes you somebody who values continence.

On marriage

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When I met HWSNBN I was 21. I wasn’t sure I wanted to even get married, let alone have children. I never chose him thinking about what kind of father he’d make. Luckily those qualities I fell in love with as a partner map perfectly onto being a dad.

My bestie asked me what I was doing for Valentine’s day and I replied sarcastically that HWSNBN and I were playing the ultra romantic game of pass the screaming baby. But it’s true I have never loved HWSNBN more than when he sees me pacing with a screaming Nibs and says ‘Let me take over for a bit’ and I go cry-sob in the shower. It isn’t roses and chocolates but it is love.

On the dark side, I have never hated him more when he complained in all seriousness ‘I never got out anymore.’ The baby was four weeks old. Complaining to a new mother about never going out, is like bitching to people in a famine regime that the size of Quality Street tins are a bit skimped. Know your audience!

I don’t mind admitting that HWSNBN is better at settling him that I am. He seems less affected by Nibs’ crying whereas to me it’s like an alarm saying do something! One of the downsides of having boobs is that I use them as a pacifier. Whereas HWSNBN has a whole host of tricks at his disposal.

It’s ridiculous that dad’s only get two weeks of paid paternity leave. I was lucky because HWSNBN works for himself he could work from home most days or ask his mum to come down when he wasn’t able. I don’t know how other women do it. 5.30pm has become my favourite time of day.

I am a better parent with him around.

On babies

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I never knew much about babies and to me they all seemed alike. Tiny, sleepy bundles that looked and acted like drunk old men. Now I have one I see the differences.

The first night Nibs threw up every half an hour gobs of yellow mucus. I sat and watched over him terrified he would choke and drown. It was first experience of motherhood that sometimes there is nothing you can do but bear witness and be there for your baby.

If you have a baby that screams uncontrollably for hours, it can almost unbearable. The one that helped was imagining the screams were him talking. Very loudly. For hours.

It’s OK to think your child looks a bit weird sometimes. Sometimes I think he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Other times I think he looks like a cross between Pob and a monkey.

The principle of the fourth trimester governs many of my early parenting decisions. Nibs has gone to never being cold, or hungry, or not held to experiencing all of those things. No wonder it is overwhelming.

He loves staring at me the most. Followed shortly by the curtains.

Nibs hates to be put down. If he could he would cling to me (preferably) or Johnny at all times. At 7pm when I’ve been feeding for hours and he’s howling, I would do anything to be alone. I miss having my body to myself. But sometimes in the dead of night when I feel his warmth on me I think nobody will ever love and need me like you do and it makes me want to cry with the tenderness of it all.

You can’t spoil a baby. A child yes, but not a baby.

Babies noises are deceiving. Throughout the night he will frequently sound as if he is choking on his own vomit only when you turn on the light – there is no posset to be seen. Paradoxically when he does posset it dribbles from his mouth silently like Bishop at the end of the Aliens movie. Frequently while fast asleep he will emit a sleep screech that is so terrifying it alone makes me glad I religiously did my pelvic floor exercises. We’ll just settle him for the night when he will start hiccuping in his sleep. Loudly. His favourite thing to do is lie there asleep making snuffling, snorting and burbling noises. HWSNBN calls this his ‘look mummy I am sleeping. Look at me sleep. I iz very good at the sleeping’ noise. I call this fucking irritating. Other times I will wake in the night and he will be lying silently in the dark staring at me. #mybabyiscreepierthanyourbaby

Babies are gross and because you love them you become gross too. He has possetted on my hair, stomach and nipple. Once he threw up on his fist then sucked it like it was a lollipop. I took a photo. Sometimes I don’t even know myself anymore.

When pregnant I read in the newborn book that babies feed on average every two hours. That’s not too bad, thought me. At least your getting around two stretches of sleep. What I didn’t realise is that’s two hours from the start of the feed and by the time you put them down you have forty-five minutes before the whole cycle starts again.

You win some, you lose some. I hesitate to write this because I am so tempting the baby gods to curse me for my hubris. But Nibs sleeps absurdly well for a newborn. WINNING

I expected the nights to be bad – but the first fortnight aside they have been bearable. The evenings on the other hand… ah dios madre. When the clock turns 5pm my angel child turns into the bat baby from hell. He has a full agenda of screaming and feeding or screamfeeding and he isn’t going to stop until he’s done. This is coincidentally the time when my reserves and patience are at their lowest. Luckily it is also the time when HWSNBN comes home. 

The days are long but the years are short. As I write this Nibs is six weeks old. He is smiling and burbling. He loves to be held upright so he admire the curtains. He’s grown almost 30 centimeters. I can’t wait to witness the little person he grows into.

I thought I would have this strong feeling of ‘mine’ when I saw him. But he doesn’t feel like he came from me. He feels like a gift from the stars and the sky and I am just looking after him for as long as he will have me.

They didn’t say it would be easy, they said it would be worth it. And it is so worth it.

Seeking a friend for the zombie apocalypse

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F32 desperately seeking: a confidante, partner in crime and faithful sidekick.

Must possess the wit of Dorothy Parker and the loyalty of Winnie the Pooh.

You will have an appreciation for Youtube cat videos, killer make up skills that you don’t mind sharing, and a European frankness that I envy. Ideally you would not be put off by endless discussions about the best survival tactics for the zombie apocalypse, tolerant of my bibliovore ways, and prefer pyjama parties to parties. 

We’ll argue over who loves Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie more, but I’ll always let you win.

No racists, homophobes or misogynists need apply.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friends recently

The ones I have.

The ones I’ve lost.

And the ones I hope to make in the future.

I know I am lucky. I have a few best friends who have known me for aeons and feel like family but most of them live far away.

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I have a smattering of friends from Uni, work and my early twenties who I don’t always see as often as I would like. When I do it seems like no time has passed and we’re drunk on the ghost of green shit and possibilities. I have lots of friends I’m still in contact with via the wonders of social media. And there are one or two friends I’ve phased out because of… reasons.
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But I miss having close friends nearby.

I want to have friends like I did when I was 15 and you just knew that when Friday night came you were hanging out together, no exceptions. I miss that.

I miss living alongside people like I did at Uni, always knowing that day night there would be somebody there.

I miss how easy it was to make friends when you were 5 and all that qualified someone for BFF status was that they loved Jem and Holograms too.

I miss the intensity of the friendships I used to have when you were so attuned you knew almost everything about each other.

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How I made friends when I was five

Growing up changed things. I love my work which is so demanding and fulfilling, but I worry it doesn’t leave enough space for me time let alone time with my husband, family and friends.

But still I crave more friends. I want a Miranda to my Carrie. A Serena to my Blair. A Buffy to my Willow. A Cici to my Hilary. An Ann to my Lesley. A Idgie to my Ruth.

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I want a friend I can call up and be like ‘Want to get into our jammies and watch RuPaul’s drag race for the fiftieth time and lets talk about who is the fiercest vs the fishiest?’ And she replies ‘Yes, Mama.’ And we do.

There is just one problem – me.

 

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I am supremely absymal at making friends. Glaciers form friendships quicker than I do.

My supreme social awkwardness doesn’t help. I find small talk excruciating and it can take me years before I become familiar with people enough to relax. I could get all analytical and tell you it was down to being bullied at school, which I am sure had its effect. But really I think I’ve always regarded new people like a dog views a living room full of cats. The best I can hope for is to be tolerated but I’d settle for outright disdain. This attitude definitely isn’t helping and I’ve noticed how it makes me passive when friendships are being formed. Basically I lurk near people I want to befriend until they take pity on me and make friends at me. Not creepy at all then. To be frank its a wonder I have any friends at all.

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As I’ve recently learnt thanks to my homegirl Lizzie Bennett, it’s no use saying we’re not good at things if we will not take the time to practise them. So I’ve set myself the challenge of making the latter half of 2015 the year of friendship. Even me, awkward, overscheduled, and chronically out of practise can make one friend in a year? Surely…

After googling how to make friends (don’t judge me search engine) I’ve come up with following plan on action.

1. Cultivate the friendships you already have.

This makes utter sense. I know loads of awesome people who a) I used to be close with and have drifted apart from or b) I’m friends with but want to be closer to. So it makes sense to try and enrich those friendships. Especially as they are a somewhat captive audience to my freakish introvert charms. But I don’t know how to go about it? Without being awkwardly sidling up behind people and asking ‘will you be my friend?’

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2. Take up a hobby

I’m not so sure about this one. Lots of my hobbies (lying on the sofa reading trash fiction, lying in bed reading trash fiction) only seem conducive to flying solo. Plus the vast majority of my closest friends differ so completely from me. One of my best friends loves everything Cath Kidston and wants to be Nigella Lawson. The other loves tattoos and comic books. Although I think the love of cats in a pretty strong glue I am not sure that’s why we are friends – I think it’s because their awesomeness transcends words and it has little to do with what they like but who they are.

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3. Find a app

Why isn’t there a friend making app? Someone please help a girl out and invent one.

So plan of action developed I, in typical Rowan fashion, made a list of friends I want. I’m looking for:

A friend who likes to dance like an eejit to 90’s hits

Somebody who worships the ground Tamora Pierce walks on too.

Friend(s) who like playing board games but not in a competitive way048e6cfa9056973db9b69d73786c4463

Dinner party friends (I will live out my come dine with me fantasies)!

Writer friends who I can talk about the fictional people in my head with and they don’t give me the side eye about

Infertility friends who will stop me cutting a bitch if I get told one more time to just relax. (Does relaxing fix my broken endocrine system, fool? Does it REALLY?) I have already arranged a meeting with some ladies I’ve been chatting with online. This is seriously exciting. Cross your fingers that they won’t all hate me.

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Friends who are obsessed with charity shopping as me, and also this is important, a completely different size and shape to me so we don’t fall out.

A friend with whom I communicate exclusively in cat gifs. (I already have one of those to be fair but I want another. A girl can never have enough cat gifs)

Friends that like long Sunday walks in the countryside preferably with a dog. (We did have awesome friends that totally filled this niche but they went and moved to Australia and took their dog with them! Meanies. So we have a vacancy.)

A friend who lives with walking distance and over the years we become the kind of friends who just pop over to see each other

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Friends who love brunch as much as I do and never miss our regular brunch date on the third Sunday of the month.

The nicest thing about compiling this list is it made me realize how many friends I already have. All I need to do is get out there and *shudder* talk to people.

Easy, right? Watch this space…

 

2014: the ask and the answer

there are years that ask questions and years that answer So 2014 is dead, long live 2015. For at least 363 more days at least. In what’s become a little bit of a tradition (2013, 2012, 2011) around these parts here’s my year in review. PicMonkey Collage In January I, along with my bestie Ros, had our hair chopped off in memory of dearest Lianne who is gone but never forgotten. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA So many lovely people I knew (and a couple I didn’t) donated money to help the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice. You are all awesome people. Group hug? 7b18c2e374d885d5d0dfa4c487270e6f I also dabbled in veganism and gave up cheese for ONE WHOLE MONTH. It was really fricken hard, you guys? PicMonkey Collage2 In February we travelled to see our friend’s Gareth and Akie get married in Tokyo. Just looking through the pictures makes me want to go back. 10152487_10154013172425347_998519313_n We ate sushi, we visited temples, we went to Tokyo Disney. But I need to see the cherry blossoms bloom, I need to go to a cat cafe, I need to have another creme brulee pancake. PicMonkey Collage As if one awesome holiday wasn’t enough, we then flew down to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef, drive down the great Ocean Road and caught up with our friends Roger and Sarah nine years on from our last visit down under. It was the trip of a lifetime and being back in the dead of winter makes me wish even more I was back under blue skies with Roger and Sarah. imag0459 In March I celebrated my ten year anniversary with the love of my life HWSNBN In April suffering from a post holiday hungover of epic proportions I began 100 happy days. Which I totally will blog around. One day. Soon. Ish. Maybe? 10614337_10154590667765347_665743070654031433_n I had one of the best summers on record spending most of my time in Pells Pool. Although I still haven’t been to a drive in *sad face*. bdc040dcd8b61cfe78eaf36b55ac76f7 One of my personal highlights was leaving my job after seven years. Although I missed my lovely colleagues it was time to move on taking a role within a NHS mental health service. Having more time and space allowed me to grow my private practice in leaps and bounds. And I’m cutting my hours down even further at work because of how much my practice has started to grow. 2014 was the year my career really started to thrive. 48f4d996069917ea8bb7424ed0c30105 I turned 32 and shared 32 hard fought life lessons. Trust me on the absinthe. I missed Lianne Irayla Munaf very much. 10436087_10154701418330347_2555328602007480889_n HWSNBN and I travelled to France to stay in a chateau and watch our friends Amelie and Joey get married (yep 2014 was the year of the destination wedding). There was sun, there was wine, and there was streaking. And it was so awesome, we’re going back again this year. b270b8c18939049b5f492bc380ff7f61 After much deliberation, I came out of the closet and talked about the difficulties HWSNBN and I have been having trying to conceive. Although those dreams of being parents still feel very far away talking about this openly has been an extraordinarily healing process. Thank you for all your messages and kind words. They have meant more than I can ever say. 20669f13fc6898b6d0d38096098b2b20 In a not unrelated note I spent much of November and December working out like a mofo. So far with the help of the body coach and Jillian Michaels dvd’s I’ve lost just under two stone even with time off for good behaviour over Christmas. 10448234_773253149415290_3495426446452203943_n I’m back on the exercise wagon today and I want to die. 10647124_10155002811660080_7374141430422395895_n Looking back over 2014 has been really interesting. If the last couple of years have been full of questions, 2014 had the answer: turn towards, turn towards, turn towards. It felt like this year all the work I’ve been putting in on myself began paying off. I got unstuck. I believed that I was good enough. And instead of waiting for a knight in white and shining armour I saved myself (with a little help from a group of strangers, one or two friends and a bearded guru called Steve). IMG_3590 Despite myself I still get excited by the possibility that new years brings –the chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. But this new years, I looked over my life and felt content. So much of what I want I already have or am I working towards. There are certainly some dreams I wish would come to fruitation sooner rather than later. But although I hope the more I learn about infertility and life how much I realise this stuff is in the lap of the gods.

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But this year I am more accepting than ever of the parts of myself that are difficult or uncomfortable. I am OK, for now, with not being OK. 779b9611760d4a5373f401815320e858

32 years exactly, and 32 lessons learnt

Me with my beautiful mama and grandma
Me with my beautiful mama and grandma

Today exactly I turn 32! When I was 15 I always thought that by 30 I’d have it all sorted. I’d be well-established in my dream career, the holidays three times a year, the gorgeous house, the perfect husband and the one kid with the other on their way. Yeah… not so much.

But it’s funny I am so content with my life, I am really am. In reality my life is so much richer and surprising that I ever imagined. I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’ve come from and where I’d like to go and here are 32 hard-won lessons I learnt over the last 32 years I’d tell my younger self. My own personal ‘Everybodies free to wear sunscreen.’

1. It’s OK to change your mind. Many times.  You will keep yourself stuck for months and years by insisting you ‘shouldn’t’ feel this way. You go travelling by yourself at 20 and hate it. You ‘should’ love your job in publishing but you don’t. You ‘should’ have it all together by now. Like clockwork every seven years you upheave your life. But out of the wreckage new things grow.

2. Be vulnerable, but only with people who deserve it. Those parts of yourself which you are most ashamed of are where you connect with others. And that ‘me too’ feeling is better than any drug. Remember what Lester Bangs said: ‘The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.’

3. No one person can be everything to you. Not your mum (even if she is wonderful), or your husband or your best friends. Much as you hate to admit it, no woman is an island and you need people – lots of people. A friend who you can dance with at 2am, and a friend who likes jogging bottoms and trashy tv about drag queens and vampires as much as you do. A friend whose known you for so long they remember when you got your first bra, and a new friend who sees you just as you are now.

4. Try new things, challenge yourself and expand your horizons. You contain multitudes.

5. You like what you like. And it’s OK to enjoy reading more than listening to music, to find shopping boring but to love going to museums.

6. Expectations will bite you in the arse. That big night out you planned for three months will end with you crying in the loos. That quick drink after work with friends will turn into an epic night out. Make plans, make many plans but remember life is what happens when you make other plans.

7. Observe the campsite rule in all things. Leave people’s hearts, nature and the world in a better state than when you arrived.

8. Therapy is like a long trudge down into a deep canyon. You are terrified, you have no idea how deep this goes. You don’t know if you will ever emerge. All you can see is two or three feet in front of you but in the end that is all you need. It is the best thing you have ever done.

9. If someone tells you who they are, believe them

10. If you are ever confused: look at what people do, not what they say. Words are fucking cheap, actions cost. When you’re 18 you will fall for your best male friend. He’ll tell you he loves you hours before kissing every other girl in the club. For a month the dissonance between these two thoughts will tear you apart. Until one day you ignore the words and look at his actions. The hardest lessons are often the most valuable

11. At 20 you look back at photos of yourself at 15 and think my thighs look normal. At 25 you look back at photos of yourself at 20 and think how great your body looks. At 30 you look back at yourself at 25 and think how pretty you were with happiness shining through every pore. You are not as ugly or as fat as think you are. And the trick to muster is to be able to look into the mirror and realise how gorgeous you really are.

12. Remember the lesson of Florence Foster Jenkins – ‘People may say I can’t sing but no one can say I didn’t sing.’ Do things not because you are good at them but for the sheer pleasure of experiencing them.

13. You will spend your adolescent and twenties tormented by the opinions of near strangers. One day you will go to a friends wedding. You will see people you haven’t seen since you were at school. And you will realise with the sense of something lifting that their opinions of you don’t matter. And you will dance like nobody is watching because who cares if they are.

14. Be kind. The things you will regret most are failures of kindness. Be kind, be kind, be kind.

15. Know the difference between being kind vs being polite. Kindness is calling people on their bullshit. Politeness is saying nothing because it’s not done. Fuck being polite.

16. Listen to your feelings. That feeling of envy you get when a colleague mentions she is studying counselling will lead you down a new career path. That anger you feel with an old friend is a sign your boundaries are being violated. The bubbles of happiness you get when he takes your hand tells you he it. That fear you felt is a gift and you need to use it.

17. Listen to your body. Three Dr’s will tell you that stabbing pain in your kidney is a muscular ache and not the cyst a dark passenger growing inside you. 5 years later two Dr’s will tell you to relax ignoring the hormone fluctuations which make carrying to term almost impossible. You know your body inside out, so trust what you feel and don’t give up.

18. Find some way of moving your body that you love and do it regularly. Yes, I know exercise sucks but there will be one form of exercise out there which will make you feel gloriously fully alive. When you swim you feel like you are flying through the water.

19. Choose experiences over things every time.

20. Run your own race. You are running your own race and all those other people they are running different races with different goals. Keep your eyes on your own track. Remember ‘the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.’

21. Treat the people you love better than strangers.

22. Let go of things. Forgive if you can not because they deserve it but because you don’t need to keep carrying this stuff around.

23. Embrace space. You enjoy being busy. You want to do all the things now. But allow yourself time to wander, to daydream, to relax. Magic happens if you give it space and time.

24. See as much of this world as you can and not just the furthest corners. Try to explore your home town as if you were a tourist.

25. Learn how to manage your anger. For years when people annoy you instead of a) saying something you will b) distance yourself until they stop. Learning how to be assertive and express your feelings is one of those skills to master sooner rather than later.

26. When you were in your teens, you will 80% responsible and 20% a hot mess. Looking back you will regret that the ratio wasn’t reversed. Be ridiculously irresponsible while you still can.

27. You don’t have to earn your place in this world. For years you will almost kill yourself trying to be enough. Then one day after a lot of effort you will realise you always where enough. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz the way home was inside you all along.

28. First impressions are often bullshit. The first time I met my husband I thought he was incredibly handsome in clean-cut old movie star kind of way. I was also certain he was gay. The first time I met my best friend I thought she was a bitch, sorry Ros. You will be wrong about lots of people so bide your time.

29. Absinthe is always a bad idea.

30. You will make many mistakes. They are inevitable and unavoidable. Learn from them. Forgive yourself and move forward making newer mistakes.

31. Don’t settle.

32. This is your one true wild and wonderful life. This moment here: a woman on her birthday writing this blogpost is all there is. You only get one shot make it count my darling. Eat the peach that is life until the juices run down your chin.

 

Sand, tombs, pharoah’s revenge: minimooning in Egypt

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NB: I wrote this last year and never published it because I forgot. Better late than never.

First of all this post is dedicated to my travel adviser and Egyptologist Karen, whose fantastic recommendations really helped make our minimoon special.

I’ve always wanted to visit Egypt but never thought we would be able to afford it. But we got a great deal by waiting until a week before the wedding to book our minimoon. Plus it was such an exciting contrast to wedding planning which I was so over at this point. Frak, a year and a half of planning, instead google some places. Decide to go to Luxor. Book it. Less than a week later land in Luxor. Brilliant! I ace at planning holidays.

Due to University commitments, we decided to save our honeymoon to Cuba til next year. But we still wanted to take a week to decompress and unwind. HWSNBN and I can rarely afford to travel abroad so I really wanted our minimoon to be epic. Hot, relaxing yet also an opportunity to stretch our cultural horizons: Egypt was perfect. Plus it gave me the opportunity to cross Africa off my continents list and you know how I feel about crossing things off lists.

So the two days after getting married we boarded the plane to Egypt. The plane was so deserted that once it took off we could have sat with a row each. (We didn’t obviously, we were on honeymoon and contractually obliged to be ridiculously lovedy dovey at all times.) Although summer is traditionally the slower season (too hot for the tourists) this was my first sign of how much the Arab spring plus the recession in the UK was effecting Egypt’s tourism. The lady we sat next regularly visiting Egypt a couple of times a year and said both Thompson and Easyjet now only flew once of week instead of the half a dozen flights they used to charter a couple of years ago. She was amazing helpful and gave us the lowdown on what to do and what do avoid, how to haggle and the most common scams to avoid.

The case of the missing suitcase

We landed just as the sun set affording us a beautiful view of the brightly coloured lights of Luxor crowded either side of the black expanse of the Nile. As we walked down the plane steps the heat hit me like a blow. Nothing can prepare you for how hot Egypt is. The kind of arid heat that dries your sweat before it even has a chance to cool your body. It’s not the hottest place I’ve been to, that would be Alice Springs Australia. Or the most uncomfortably hot, step forward Bali, Indonesia. But Egypt was definitely in the top three hottest places Rowan has visited.

At the airport as we queued to buy our visas, some rather frantic Egyptians wandered up and down the queues holding up clipboards with different names on them, including ours. As I went to step forward HWSNBN motioned me back. The plane lady has already warned us about the visa scam where you are taken aside to buy your visa from a special (read: expensive) visa desk. After we bought our visas we identified ourselves to the transfer guy. He was incensed. ‘You bought the wrong visa. You will have to buy another from my friend.’ We insisted we were fine. ‘You will not get into the country.’ We did.

As we queued at the baggage carousel the Scammy Transfer Guy was STILL insisting we had got the wrong visas. HWSBN quickly found his case but although there was a suitcase that looked very similar to mine, mine was not to be seen. With a sinking feeling HWSNBN, I and the Scammy Transfer Guy stared at the suitcase that was not my case making its lonely way around the concourse. I should at this point tell you about the argument HWSNBN and I had when packing. This is not unusual as I get unaccountably vicious whenever I have to pack. I am a bad packer. I hate it. When we went travelling HWSNBN backpack consisted of neatly folded items with things he needed in a hurry like boots or an anorak towards the top of the pack. Mine was a jumbled chaotic mess which slowly decreased in size as I left items scattered behind me like the slowest undressing race ever throughout Australia and New Zealand. Which lead to me having to unpack and pack my backpack every night as I could never find anything (because it was either a) lost forever in the red dust or b) crumpled at the bottom of my pack). Anyway I digress, the argument started because HWSNBN advised me to pack a change of clothes in case my bag got lost. Because I am a bad packer, I ignored HWSNBN’s advice. All I had in my hand luggage was my passport, wallet, an eye mask, bottle of water, four books, trashy magazine and gum. This was going to be the best Project Runway challenge ever!

So we stood there: me minus my suitcase and HWSNBN valiantly trying not to say I told you so. At which point we were approached by Helpful Airport Guy. We explained the situation. ‘Ticket. Passport’ I handed both over. He examined them and then the suitcase. ‘This is your suitcase?’ No, it was very similar but it was not. Scammy Transfer Guy asked the same question. ‘It looks like mine but it’s not.’  Airport Guy asked again. ‘This is not my suitcase’. He checked the tickets against the suitcase. He checked again. Finally he pronounced ‘Madame this is not your suitcase.’ I concurred. In a whirl of activity Helpful Airport Guy disappeared with the bag that was not my bag and my passport. Fifteen minutes later, I was officially beginning to freak out. It was late night, I was hot and sticky after travelling all day and the Scammy Transfer guy was still blabbering at us about how we went to the wrong visa desk, and I had no luggage and now no passport. (Because I am S.M.R.T. Who gives their passport away to a random airport official? Kids don’t do that.) I made a decision. I could cry here in the middle of the airport or I could go to the toilet, calm down, and maybe as if by magic when I got somebody would have found my suitcase. When I emerged like a guardian angel Helpful Airport Guy was there. ‘Come with me’ We followed him outside and there was my bag and a rather stoned looked bag abductor who would have gotten a shock when he opened the suitcase and found maxi dresses instead of megadeath t-shirt. I was so relieved I could have hugged Helpful Airport Guy. I settled for shaking his hand lots as HWSNBN gave him a large tip.

Our first hour in Egypt for me defined the two sides of the Egyptian people. The vast majority were warm, welcoming and went out of their way to be helpful. But because of poverty, desperation and in some cases greed, you had to be careful of being scammed. It’s really sad that the latter tend to make you so suspicious of the intentions of the former.

Rules of the road

Then tightly clutching my suitcase (‘We will never be parted again, baby.’) we were hustled into the mini bus taking us from the airport to our hotel. As the Scammy Transfer Guy tried to convince HWSNBN that we should use him for all trips, uh nope. I got chatting to the lovely L and V, friends who were holidaying together. In the mini bus was the first time I got a glimpse of Egyptian traffic which was terrifying. In Luxor as part of the traffic calming measures there are speed bumps. Egyptian drivers solution to this dilemma is to swerve over to the other side of the road into the path of the oncoming traffic avoiding the speed bump and then swerve back. Headlights are used sparingly, to flash other drivers, the street lights relied upon to see by. Hooting party buses passed us both sides light up to look like a disco ball/wideboys dream that charter people too and from the villages. Horns are tooted to say a) hello b) goodbye c) get out the road d) all the time. If you asked d) you’d be right! In the middle of the grassy verge between lanes of traffic sat groups of men, smoking hookah and debating. I couldn’t help but notice conspicuous in their absence were the women.

Our mini-moon haven

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Our hotel was on the edge of Luxor away from the hassle of the town. We passed the lines of taxis queued outside and drove into this green haven on the banks of the Nile. It was the perfect oasis of calm I needed to relax and unwind recommended by the lovely Karen. Now as everybody who is newly married knows one of the benefits is being able to drop the H-bomb with impunity. I had already told the airport clerk, lady sitting next to me on the plane, the air hostess, Helpful Airport Guy, Scammy Transfer Guy and L and V. But when it came time for me to check in I started to get a bit embarrassed. If I said that we were on honeymoon would it make it too obvious I was angling for an upgrade. But HWSNBN was nudging me ‘We’re on honeymoon.’ I not so casually dropped into conversation with the receptionist. ‘Yes, there is a note on our system.’ Karen has already taken care of this for us. This is because Karen is officially awesome. Just like that we were upgraded to a suite and as we were all inclusive we also got blue plastic wrist bands to wear. I felt like royalty albeit with questionable taste in bracelets.

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We dumped our bags in our room and headed for the buffet at the restaurant. Despite being close to last servings the food was plentiful each night themed around a different cuisine. Predictably English night was the worst. I was worried beforehand whether there would be enough choice as HWSNBN is coeliac and I am vegetarian. Yes, we are officially the couple you least want to invite to dinner. But there was lots of different options. The chef even made special dishes for HWSNBN. AMAZEBALLS. After dinner we flopped at Carters Bar. I being sadly unable to hold my liquor chose water. HWSNBN opted for a series of cocktails the size of his head. There we were regaled to some truly odd renditions of popular songs by the weird singer caterwauling. Including our first dance song (SQUEE!) Then it was time for bed. (In one of the best beds I’ve ever slept in. I wanted to take it home with me)

Nile cruise

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Our first day we had one plan to acclimatize ourselves to the heat. This was the theory at least. Later in the week we realised the only way to get shit done in Egypt was wake up mega early, do stuff, then retire back to hotel when it hit the mid 40’s at around 10am 🙂 As we had arrived late at night we really wanted to see Luxor during the day and locate ourselves geographically. Our hotel had twice daily shuttle buses into town and a shuttle boat. We picked the boat and sat on it all the way into the centre of Luxor and then back to the hotel (much to the captain’s confusion). It was perfect seeing Egypt from abroad the Nile. The ibis birds pecking among the reeds, which was so exciting as I had only seen them in hieroglyphs before. Small children cooling themselves by splashing each other in the Nile. Most people seemed to get around by water taxi’s like ours. White boats with brightly painted details called amazing names like Midnight bliss, Desert night and my personal favourite Titanic! It was so deserted our captains even allowed HWSNBN to take the wheel for a while.

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This was our second glimpse that everything was not right in Egypt. Along the banks derelict cruise boats were parked up in lines, their windows empty and shuttered. Later that afternoon with V and L  we formed a plan to visit the no-hassle market (hah). To get off the boat you had to walk across other people’s boats in one long chain to the shore ‘helped’ by a mob of little kids. On another occasion when making our way across the bridge of boats I stepped in the Nile. Ewh!  We stopped briefly to refresh ourselves at the Winter Palace which was like something out of Agatha Christie novel. Before deciding to walk the ten minutes to the no hassle market.

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This was a mistake; a) it was very hot, b) pavements in Egypt as cracked strewn with rubble and with kerbs not built for my squat little legs c) as tourists in the down season and with the current political problems we might as well have been wearing signs that said Hassle Me! Immediately we were mobbed by taxi drivers/ horse carriage drivers/ felucca and street sellers. The noise as they tried to attract our attention was incredible. In the middle of this hubbub we were approached by Fake Gardener from our Hotel who advised us to get a taxi to visit the no hassle market and to find the cigars HWSNBN was desperately hankering after. Later I realised we were recognisable from our all inclusive wrist bands (each hotel had a different coloured wrist band) and this was a classic scam. Exhausted we negotiated a price and were off. Except not to our destination but to a shop where Fake Gardener also got a commission, then again not to the market but a pharmacy.

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Every time we stopped crowds of children as young as four gathered begging for money or food, which was so tough. By this point we were getting really fed up and asked us to take us back to the Winter Palace. A block or so away the taxi driver said that as it had been over an hour (actually it was 40 minutes I had been timing it) the price of the ride 2 quid (already more than we had been told to pay) to 60 quid. Proportional not. We all got out of our taxi’s and started walking while the taxi driver and Fake Gardener followed us shouting at HWSNBN as he tried to negotiate. In the end he threw at tenner at the taxi driver and fake gardener who had started shouting at each other while we ran into the Winter Palace. We hid inside while the driver lurked outside and made threatening gestures at us until the mini bus came. Looking back I can see at as an adventure but at the time I was so worried for our safety. Back at the hotel we learnt our experience was not unusual. Another couple at our hotel went outside the hotel once to visit the market. Rookie mistake, visiting an Egyptian souk as a westerner is like wearing a sign reading: hassle me, I am a rich tourist. They came back and refused to leave the hotel for the rest of the week. An attitude I really didn’t understand: why visit Egypt is you’re not going to see the tombs, the temples, the Nile? (Not only did I see the Nile I fell into it, because I am starring in my own chick lit book.)

Pharoah’s revenge

On our second day HWSNBN got Pharoah’s revenge. Before we went we had read lots of advice such on avoiding salad, fruit, and ice, and to only drink sealed bottled water and be obsessive about hand sanitising. And we were. But in the end every European person we met got Pharoah’s revenge sooner or later, what mattered where the degrees. And HWSNBN in typical all or nothing style got Pharoah’s revenge so badly he was placed on a drip. The hotel were amazing organising a Dr, negotiating a fixed price and sorting the Dr out  when he mysteriously tripled the price. Yeah, the doctor tried to scam us.

So the second day he spend in bed only emerging for the El Mouled Festival a traditional night of Egyptian food and entertainment (whirling dervish! Belly dancers!) on the lawns by the side of the Nile.

Karnak temple

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The first thing you need to understand about Karnak temple is that it was built for the pharaoh’s living god’s and is built to suitably godlike proportions.

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We visited for the sound and light show in the evening where the temple and hieroglyphics was lit up while a cheesey 80’s voiceover played.

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Shutting out the voiceover just the size and scale of Karnak is awe-inspiring. And I would definitely return.

Misogyny in action

One of the only upsides about Egyptian attitudes towards women is that HWSNBN got hassled by streetsellers, taxi drivers, barman while I was ignored. I found it very difficult. In the taxi back from Karnak with L and V the taxi driver asked HWSNBN ‘Are these your wives?’ Like Papa Lazarou, except less funny. With all other women and the majority of the men being so covered up I did begin to feel conscious of my body. I do feel it is important to be respectful and did cover up outside of the hotel, which many tourists didn’t (hotpant lady I am talking to you). But as a feminist I do have issues about the assumptions that underlie this cultural practice. Without getting too political if you are so incited by a glimpse of my ankles really you’re the one with the problem not me. End rant/

Balloons P1080035We’d never been on a hot air balloon. So we decided to take a (relatively) sedentary exploration by air before we took on the Valley of the Kings the next day. We got up at 4.30am and were taken in a mini bus into Luxor.  There we boarded a boat over to the West Bank (ai!), then a mini bus to a large dusty airfield. It was still dark the Nile slide like silk past the boat. Breakfast was a delicious Arab Twinkie. (American’s explain the big deal about Twinkie’s to me, because I do not get it). In the ‘airfield’ the balloons lay their brightly coloured discarded carcasses lying in the sand. Our pilot, who was amazing, let off a kids balloon to see about air direction. The reason they fly so early is because later in the day it gets too hot for the balloon to rise. With the extra heat provided by the burner in the centre of the balloon even at 5am in the morning I was sweating.

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As the balloon made it’s swaying process upwards I watched the ground drop away from us. Below were hundreds of discarded blue bottles littering the entrances to the tombs like black sunken eyes in the bronze hills. Ahead were the sandy hills cradling the Valley of the Kings, behind the Nile snaking between the green and verdant fields and eastern Luxor. From above you could really see why Egyptian towns were tied to the Nile and the fertility it provided. My favourite thing was the noted Egptologist Carter’s house sat alone on a hill.  If you do one thing when visiting Luxor take a balloon ride. It was absolutely magical.

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An hour later we began out descent heading down into the fields as our pilot tried to steer us between telegraph poles and towards the road. Bracing ourselves in the landing position we overshot hitting the edge of the road before crashing into some bushes the basket tipping on it’s side. As we regained our breathe and the balloon guys wrapped up the balloon I noticed we’d created an Egyptian traffic jam of two guys with the donkey and a beaten up car. In celebration of not dying in a bush the ballooners tempted HWSNBN and me into a honeymooner dance. Then it was back to hotel for breakfast and bed at 7.30am.

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Towel animals

It started with a swan accessorised with Egyptian cigarettes. As the days progressed the towel animals got more and more elaborate. On our last day we gave the biggest tip if only to make the uncanniness stop.

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Egypt is…

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The uncanny delay of the morning prayers floating over from the West Bank to the East Bank

Baking searing heat that saps the will from your bones. The heat arising from the hot stones like an embrace.

Palm trees

The slow, slumberous beauty of the Nile

The beautiful calligraphy of written arabic

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Drunk foreigners cackling in the pool

Every evening before dinner we would sit in the Sundowner bar watching the sun set over the Theban hills. Twilight seemed to last about five seconds as the light levels drop from seeringly bright to pitch black. At night the Valley of the Kings was lit up with an unearthly green light and every night I would think three days til I can see the tomb’s, two days, one day.

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Valley of the kings

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We’ve visited the Mummification Museum (GROSS) and the Luxor Museum (FASCINATING) it was time for the Valley of the Kings. (NB, they don’t let you take your camera inside hence the lack of tomb pics). Unfortunately the day we went was the day I came down with Pharaoh’s revenge. Ugh. Now if you have every been to Valley of the Kings you will know that it one of the worst places to feel ill. Apart from the tombs, recesses cut into the hill, it’s just a valley snaking between the hills and a corrugated shack under which all the Europeans huddle in the shade. One of the fellow guides said come 2pm even he is dripping sweat in the Valley of the Kings.  

But all I had ever wanted was to see the tombs and by golly was I going to do this. We had a guided tour with a fantastic Egyptologist who talked us through the history. Basically the tombs were built in the Middle Period after the Early period equivalent (the Pyramids outside Cairo) had been deciminated by grave robbers. To the ancient Egyptians the pyramids was the connection between mortality and immortality. The valley was chosen because of a pyramid shaped mountain and contained the tombs of the kings, queens, nobles and my favourite the craftsman.

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Outside the entrance to the tombs is a diagram of the topology and the tombs burrowing beneath them showing you the scale of the work. Even the priests didn’t know where previous tombs were and often tombs had to be abandoned because they accidentally bisected other older tombs. As a anti-graverobber strategy it failed as all except Tutankum tomb was ransacked. One of the reasons they believe his tomb wasn’t discovered was because another tomb was built over the top of it, effectively hiding the tomb. In fact Carter only discovered the tomb by accident. One of his water jugs cracked in the heat and the mule got stuck in the mud. As they dug the mule out they discovered some steps. Digging down further they found an unbroken seal. Carter telegrammed his sponsor and waited 21 days to open the tomb! When they did, legend says they were so overwhelmed by the gold they tore Tutankamun’s body to pieces 😦

Back to the tombs you were allowed to visit three and not allowed to take photos inside. I can’t really describe what it was like descending into the cool darkness. It felt unreal, that we were finally able to see the brightly coloured paintings, drawings and burial chambers I had always dreamt of. Inside some of the tombs was early Christian graffiti. My awe was slightly lessened by the Egyptian guy who looking for a tip started pointing things out on the walls like a game of say what you see. Except he was  touching the walls. Dude, no! 

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After this, we stopped at the Valley of the Workers. Rameses the I created this village to stop the workers returning to their homes on the East Bank and gossiping instead they were segregated in their own village on the West Bank. On their monthly day off they would build their own tombs. There was something very joyous about the bright colours and images on a stone mason and his wife surrounded by their prize possessions. These tombs were a claustrophobics nightmare. Think a tiny tunnel with small steps that even I, Queen of the Shortarses had to crouch down. It was the highlight of our trip.

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Bye, bye Egypt.

It was time to go home 😦 With a weird sense of completeness as we checked our baggage we ran into Helpful Airport guy. ‘My friends’ he said embracing us and with a beckoning finger we skipped the security queues and boarding queues and we whisked onto the plane. For a moment I totally felt like a rock star.

This was our first trip to Egypt and I hope not our last. I would definitely return.