Reasons to be grateful: 2020 wrap up

I’m already a couple of days late with this post but I figure given the year we’ve just had, that’s ok.

It’s been a strange old year and I know many people are glad to see the back of it. Given how tough it has been on many of us it would be insulting to start getting preachy about how everyone should be taking stock of their reasons to be grateful, but I do find it helpful to take stock of mine.

Here in the Magpie nest we have been some of the lucky ones. After a couple of years of fertility treatment, early this year our son came into the world. While we didn’t have the best time in the hospital, we all made it home unscathed and he continues to grow, and astonish, and amuse us every day.

We had been home with him for just a few weeks when the world went into lock down and all of the mum and baby groups that normally populate the lives of new mums shut down. While this sounds like we may have missed out, we are lucky enough to have a garden, and so we spent much of those early days with our new baby in the garden, quietly getting to know each other. I feel like this time, where it was just the three of us, was a bit of a gift now I am looking back on is from a cold December. We were able to get to know each other a bit before the outside world was able to intrude. In those heady, sleep deprived days it was possible for most of the lock down to drift past us, and it is only now that we are beginning to miss the bright lights of Central London.

On the creative side, while we may have missed out on many of the groups and visitors that are a normal feature in the life of a new born, I did have more time on my hands and was able to finish a draft of my novel, Feeding Jasmine Valentine. Since then I have been able to ask some friends to read it and get some feedback. In 2021 I will be working through it, my main aim for the year being to develop a draft that is good enough to send to agents.

While I do feel we have been very lucky this year, and have slipped through it mostly unscathed, I am very aware that there are many people who have not been as fortunate. I hope that 2021 is an all together kinder year to everyone, and wish everyone reading this good wishes for the year ahead.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Mother’s Day and difficult times

As I write the I’m sitting in bed with the baby asleep on my chest and I’m managing to sip luke warm tea without dripping it on his little white best. I’m not sure what parental skill level that is but I am grateful for being able to do it at all. Yesterday was my first ever Mother’s Day. It feels a bit strange to me, like I can’t quite own that title yet. I’m not sure if that relates to having an IVF pregnancy, or if it’s because the world feels a bit upside down at the moment.

I have been writing a novel over the last year in which one of the main characters goes through a psychological/ physical change which involves becoming more aware of their physical body. When I became pregnant it didn’t occur to me that this experience would help me get under the skin of that character, but having a baby has turned out to be a profoundly physical, almost animal experience.

I was always a bit suspicious of the pastel coloured, sugary depiction of mother hood that seems to predominate in our culture. So far motherhood for me has not been particularly picturesque. I’ve been strongly reminded that however much I may like to live in my head, I’m very much a biological being. I had a cesarian section and have been limited in what I can do as I recover. I’m only just able to lift things again, and still get very tired when I walk for more than half an hour. My body automatically produces milk to sustain my baby, who decides when he wants to feed whether it is convenient or not.

It’s also been a bit difficult to get ‘back to normal’. We have been hibernating as a little family for almost 3 weeks as the coronovius upends normal life outside. We are just getting to the point where we are ready for little trips out if the house, but everything has closed and all of the little social groups and things like that for new parents are on hold. My body begins to look like it did before I was pregnant, but I can’t swim because the pool is closed, or walk far because we are social distancing. It will probably never quite be the same again.

Even against that background I think we are very lucky. We delivered the baby and came home before the hospital was full of people with the virus. Inside my partner makes me tea and does the washing while I cuddle the baby. We are happy and warm together, and have enough food for a few weeks. I have much to be greatful for.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Reasons to be grateful – the NHS

The only place to be at 5 o’clock in the morning.

I had an emergency C section 2 days ago on the NHS after a pretty long, fairly painful. Many of the careful and skilled hands that looked after me and baby magpie belonged to an immigrant. We are both doing well as a result.

Under the new points based system proposed by the UK government many of these people would not be considered skilled at all. I’m not sure what is going on, but I’m pretty sure stripping the NHS of essential staff is not what most people voted for. Just putting that put there.

2019: Thinking about Now or Never Times (part two)

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In my last blog I wrote a bit about what I had been doing last year, which apart from being pregnant and moving house twice, turned out not to amount to much. However in this past year, where I’ve been feeling a new person grow and develop inside me I have noticed that I have felt differently, or at least more strongly about things than I had before. I have been thinking a lot about how, in a number of ways, this time of my life feels like a kind of ‘Now or Never’ time. The new year is always a good time for reflection so I wanted to put some of these thoughts out there – I’m very interested to know if other people have reached similar moments in their lives.

  1. Having a baby at all – Over the last few years I became increasingly conscious of my biological reality. My time was running out, egg wise. So from that point of view it really felt like ‘now or never’. We have been immensely lucky to have been able to access IVF on the NHS and appear to be having a healthy pregnancy. So in some ways this issue now feels like it’s almost past, although I won’t feel properly comfortable with that until he’s safely out in a few weeks time.
  2. Living a creative life – I will go on maternity leave in a few weeks time and everything will change for me. I’ll not be doing the day job for about a year, and may find that I can squeeze in enough scraps of creative time to build a different kind of career. I do very much like my day job, which is in mental health research, and think it is important. But it’s emotionally very tiring work and my heart does pull me towards something more creative. Maybe with all the change that will be happening in the coming year, this could be a good time to try to change that too. However, everyone I have spoken to who actually has a baby has said to me not to make any plans, at all, so I may be thinking well beyond my actual capacity to do stuff here.
  3. Reproductive rights – In my last post I talked about the tiredness I have been experiencing and how rubbish that has left me feeling. In many ways I have not felt myself. My pregnancy was very much a wanted pregnancy, and I have been fortunate never to experience an unwanted one. However, I have watched repeated assaults on women’s reproductive rights in the US this year with an increasing sense of dread. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be forced to go through an unwanted pregnancy. My very wanted pregnancy has really taken a toll on me physically and psychologically. I am completely in awe of what women can do when it comes to bringing new life into the world, and now I have experienced it cannot understand why it is not written or talked about more. But that superpower should be under the control of the women it is happening to, not a bunch of grumpy wealthy old white men.
  4. The climate – This is the one is the most profound ‘now or never’ moment in my list, not just for me, but for humanity. As I write this Australia is on fire. Homes, precious wilderness and entire towns are being lost. People and animals are dying. In London in the spring and summer this year I saw a number of Extinction Rebellion Protests and was very much on side with them. One evening my partner and I walked out onto Southwark Bridge, which had been closed by the protesters. There was a carnival atmosphere on the bridge and many of the protesters had bought art work, food and set up impromptu talks and musical events. The sun was setting and the air was hazy and warm. We walked, hand in hand, down the centre of a road that is normally reserved for cars. The effect was very romantic, but the air was hazy because it was full of pollution, and the protesters were there because we are at the vital tipping point now. We don’t have time to waste. I see a deep political cowardice on this issue running through governments across the world. Many of our politicians were happy to talk about having to make ‘difficult choices’ when they were merrily imposing austerity on the people least able to pay for it in the UK over that last ten years. But now, presented with an existential threat, they appear to wring their hands and say ‘oh but it’s too hard’. I’ve yet to hear the rhetoric of ‘difficult choices’ being applied to the petrochemical industry, or to our consumer culture. But now this is where the action needs to be taken, this is where those difficult choices need to be made. I wasn’t pregnant when my partner and I walked over the bridge that evening. But I have since thought about it a number of times and have felt guilty about having a baby. What kind of life will he have if we don’t act seriously now?

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

2019: Thinking about Now or Never Times (Part one)

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Lots of people over the last few days have done a kind of ’round up’ of 2019 in which they talk about highlights and low lights. I didn’t actually blog for the majority of 2019, taking an unplanned break due to personal circumstances which I will explain. For that reason I don’t really have a blogging round up to do, but I do have some thoughts about 2019 I’d like to share.

What I did in 2019

In early 2019 I moved house and started my first round of IFV. Those of you who were (probably quite disappointed by now) followers of this blog will know that I had struggled with treatment for infertility for over a year before this. To be honest I did not expect it to work for me, but I was entering the final few years of my 4th decade and was very aware that it was a ‘now or never time’ for something like IVF to work, so we went for it. In May this year we became pregnant on our first go, and we have stayed pregnant. I am now seven months pregnant, my belly is large and I can feel my baby squirming about inside me through out the day, which is pretty amazing. Having managed to get pregnant, my partner and I decided to move closer to my sister, who has also had a baby this year. So we bought a house and moved again just before Christmas. It has been an eventful year.

What I actually did in 2019, instead of blogging

Since becoming pregnant I have experienced quite severe tiredness. I thought that it would be something like anxiety that got me, but actually I have been in a good place, mental health wise, for most of the year. I was also worried that something would go wrong with the pregnancy, but so far we have been very lucky. However, I have been incredibly tired throughout the whole of my pregnancy, and the IVF beforehand. So tired t that most of the year has passed in a daze. I have managed to keep up the day job, and have taken very little time off sick. However I have struggle to keep up the kind of thinking, and creative stuff I was doing, often losing many extra hours a week to napping. I have managed to write quite a chunk of my novel here and there, but it will need significant re-writes at some point. I have also been watching a lot of crime dramas in a kind of mindless daze.

It has left me feeling rather rubbish, because, apart from the amazing feeling of him moving about inside me, I cannot claim to have enjoyed this much wanted pregnancy that a team of scientists and clinicians helped me and my partner to create. I have a number of friends who have not found IFV successful for them, and so I feel very guilty about actually complaining, but let’s say I have not felt myself. Last year I was swimming 5KM swims, and at times this year I have barely made it up the stairs. I’ve not really been able to help my partner much with the logistics of moving house, again, although I was able to unpack a lot of boxes when they arrived. I don’t know if this level tiredness is normal, but I have to say if it is then frankly I don’t know how women with large families do this over and over again. Still, not long to go now, and hopefully it will all be worth it.

So that’s mostly what I’ve been doing this year: lying about, watching telly, or sleeping.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

I think my cat may be a vampire…

I have been a bit quiet lately, despite saying I would be getting back to blogging. I’m knee deep in an IVF cycle at the moment and I’ve been really tired. I hope to be more functional soon.

In the meantime here is a little picture of my sleepy cat, who I think may be hiding a secret double life as a vampire.

Thinking about next year

I have been a bit quiet of late. I’ve been really tired and had to concentrate my energies of doing just a few things rather than the usual broader scope of stuff I get involved in. However I’ve not been sitting around doing nothing. I have begun to write a novel that has been hanging around in my head for several years now, and am not so far off finishing my film now. I’ve also enjoyed seeing some art recently, and particularly enjoyed the chunks of arctic ice that were outside of the Tate Modern for a short while (see photos here).

I’m hoping with the coming of the new year I’ll be feeling a bit more like myself again. Keeping that in mind I’ve been thinking a bit about when next year has in store. We’ll be moving house in February, to be closer to work. The rationale is that this will cut down on travel time and be a bit less stressful, although more expensive. It looks very likely that we’ll also be starting IVF later in the year so that is something to get mentally and physically prepared for. With that in mind I have more swimming, climbing and walking planned, and maybe a bit of running too. How about you?

Creatively I have quite a few things planning. I’m hoping to wrap up my film this year and get a draft done of my novel (or novella, I’m not sure how long it will be). I’m thinking about publishing some short sections here – is that something you would like to read? I’m also planning more art and the beginnings of an animated story. So that’s plenty to be getting on with.

I hope you have all had a good festive break and are looking forwards to the new year.

Open water swimming and infertility

So the title of this post suggests there may be some proven link between open water swimming and (in) fertility. As far as I know, ‘officially’, there isn’t one. But I have been connecting the two things in my mind for a little while now and, if you would oblige me, I wanted to muse on that a little bit.

The photo above is of my sister and myself just after finishing the Haver Castle 5km swim last weekend. The water was really cold for us (as fair weather swimmers!) which may have contributed something to my sister whipping round her first 5km in around 1 he 45 mins, and a PB for me at 1 hour 51. Numb toes are a good motivator for a quick finish. The setting at Haver Castle is rather beautiful to look at from out of the water, but it’s not the nicest place to actually swim. It turns out that the lake at Haver Castle is pretty shallow and there is a very thick layer of squidgy mud covering the bottom of the lake. If 50 of people are swimming in front of you (I like to take a slow position at the back, doing breast stroke so I can appreciate the view) they churn the water up so it’s a dirty swim. It’s difficult to get a firm footing on the floor of the lake to adjust goggles, (or cough up some of that dirty water) and too shallow to tread water. I’m glad we did this one but probably won’t rush back to do it again.

While I was swimming (after my lungs got used to the cold and agreed to work again) I was thinking a bit about the changing relationship I have with my body. I think when I was younger I may have been a bit more interested in what it looked like. Now I’m more interested in what I can (and can’t) get it to do. So I can get it to swim me around a chilly muddy lake a couple of times. But so far I’ve not coaxed it (either with or without medical intervention) into making a baby.

When you are having treatment for something like infertility a strange thing happens in that you become more aware of what is (or isn’t) happening in your body, while at the same time feeling less control over that situation. This week I’ve been learning more about the link between exercise and better health for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and how regular exercise and good diet can help settle some of those wayward hormones. I’ve been trying more consciously to do the things I know that would support my body through some of the treatments I’ve been having. Its true that I feel better when I’m doing some training for something than when I skip out on exercise. Maybe the link between swimming and fertility isnt just in my mind, but a reality in my body too.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

DIY Sould repair and ‘Womb Art’ – does anyone really want to see that?

I think I have been putting off posting this for quite some time because I’m really not sure who would want to see this kind of thing. I had been working on a little series of pieces called DIY soul repair, which had included a skull and a heart. I was thinking about a kind of gothic steam punky series that would involve bones and other bodily organs. And then I started having all sorts of tests and treatments for infertility and the series itself felt more relevant. So I felt I had to get a uterus involved. So this third piece in the series now looks like this (available on things on redbubble here).

Still F__king perfect_blue

So I was actually pretty happy with the way that turned out. But I also felt it was a bit depressing, so I took photos the white paper cutouts that I used as stencils for the red paper parts on this piece and used the outline of these to ‘cut’ other photos of papercut flowers I have to create something a bit more positive, which turned out like this (available on things on redbubble here), which I kind of like because if feels a bit cheeky and a bit more positive given the current empty state of my own uterus.

The lady garden 2 red

So I am not really sure if anyone would be into this kind of thing, but here it is, anyway. I think I kind of enjoyed making these for me anyway so I’m not bothered if no one else is interested.

I also make non uterus related art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Reasons to be grateful #6 – swimming with my sister

SWIA0424-20x30There hasn’t been a huge amount of activity on this blog for a week or more as I’m a bit exhausted and taking a bit of down time. However, Laurie from the lovely blog Meditations in Motion posted this post a few days ago which included a very kind write up of me and the magpie blog. It reminded me of the picture above which I had wanted to post for a while, mostly with her in mind. She writes very well about her experiences of running distance races. I’m not a distance runner, but I am a distance swimmer.

I started swimming longer distances last year, at a similar time as I began looking having tests and treatment for infertility. It was also about the time that my sister and I started swimming regularly together. The photo above is from the Great East Swim at Alton Water which happend back in June – it’s of me and my sister, finishing a 2 mile swim together (I’m the bigger, more sausage shaped one!). My sister is faster than me, but I have the edge when it comes to stamina. In that swim in particular she flew off at the start but I caught up at around the 1.5 mile mark and we swam the final half mile next to each other. In these group swims everyone wears the same coloured hat, and it can be difficult to find another person if you dont start together, so we got really lucky. At the end we got out of the water together, and finished just one second apart. We had a great swim that day, mostly becaue we got to finish together.

My sister and I swam a lot as kids, but during our early adulthood we lived in different places and I certainly took big breaks from swimming at times. My sister lived abroad for 4 years, and moved back to London two years ago. Soon after that we began swimming together regulalry when we could. Its been really great as we never really spent that kind of regular time together as adults before. She was one of the first people I spoke to about my infertility, which was kind of suprising because I’m not really a talker when it comes to difficult things. I am greatful that we had swimming to come back to together. It made me think about how it is worth spending the time establishing yourself in a physical hobby or sport when things are going well. Having something physically challenging (that you enjoy moderate progress in) to indulge in when things feel a bit dark is a very helpful thing indeed. I have just signed myself up for a 9 km swim next year in the Big Welsh Swim. This will be the longest distance I have to date. I am looking forward to traing with her for that.

I am also greatful to Laurie for prompting me to write this post and for her supportive messages over the last few months.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.