Children

Children

Its been a while since I’ve published a post. Accompanying Miriam  through her labour and meeting the lovely Hassan was the culmination of where I had wanted to be for a long, long time. I have not felt the need to write so much since then. But for anyone following my new life here is  an update before I properly go offline  for a while. Over the last six weeks I have been spending a lot of time with  Hassan and Miriam. It’s been an honour to see Hassan’s development over that time from  an unfocussed newborn baby to one who is growing out of 0-3 month babygrows and seems already to be very much aware of what is going on around him. I have also continued to see some of “my” older babies – its extraordinary how quickly they start to look like small children.

Since I retired in May the only times I have felt unhappy are when I have looked outside of my personal life to the often depressing and occasionally frightening world around me. Its probably because my life is full of children these days that a report in today’s Guardian reduced me to enraged tears. Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal studies projects that – as a result of welfare cuts – by 2020/21 childhood poverty in the UK will be at the highest level since records began in 1961. I am ashamed and furious that we can be allowing  this to happen. Surely the most basic and essential test of a developing civilised society is that we see an ongoing reduction in the number of kids who’s start in life is blighted by poverty? That we are seeing such a reversal in what has been  slow but steady downward trend I find frankly horrifying. For me the highlight in recent public events was the extraordinary general election. If there needed to be a single good reason to bring about an urgent and  fundamental change in government, surely, surely this has to be it?

When I started this blog I mentioned that I had just found out that my daughter was pregnant and expecting twins. Their due date is now getting near. Over the past month I have stopped taking on new doula clients for 2017 to make sure that I have enough space for my own family – one of the great advantages of my new life style is that I have the freedom to do this. I am going to continue  slowly developing my massage business but  there are only so many blogs I can write about the wonders of social media and other forms of promotion (I have many friends and family members much better placed to do this!). So I have decided take a short sabbatical from my blogging career . I will start again in the  new year.

Week 21 – work-life balance

Week 21 – work-life balance

My post-birth high from last week continued for most of this. I have also really enjoyed spending time with new mother and baby Mariam and Hassan. It is a bit of a cliche but new babies change so much in a few day or even hours. And it’s lovely to be part of some of those early “rites of passage” like  the first bath.

I have seen the two parts of my new working life overlapping a few times now – when I have given massage’s to my post natal clients and supporting Mariam during her labour. But they came together in a new way this week. I had my first massage client to have found me entirely via my website – a pregnant woman looking at short notice for relaxation in very late pregnancy. I was keen to help and managed to do so by asking  other clients to  move their appointments and giving up on some “admin” time I’d promised myself.

This made me realise how busy I have been over the past few weeks. The unpredictable and varied pattern to my life is one of the things I like a lot after years of Monday-Friday  9-5 (or 8-6,7,8 as was more often the case). But in the middle of the week I realised that I had not had a proper day off for nearly three weeks and I was suddenly very tired. I can see that there is a bit of a risk that doing something I love so much means that I completely lose a sense of work/life balance. I’m not overly-worried. In fact with the feast and famine nature of self-employment have some concern that I may not be busy enough over the next few weeks. But it is something I recognise I should keep an eye on. My father said to me the other day “I thought you had retired …”.

Week 20 – Birth

Week 20 – Birth

My apologies to anyone who has been waiting for this blog, frankly – for entirely positive reasons – I have struggled to write it. This week I really did have a dream come true and describing this in a non-clichéd way while respecting the privacy of my wonderful brave, strong client (who has asked me to call her Mariam in this blog) has proved difficult. So I’ve decided to just get on and describe some of what happened and as long as Mariam is happy I will publish.

On Wednesday 20th (a week after her expected date of delivery) Mariam called me in the morning because she had had a “show” and was having a lot of what she thought were Braxton Hicks contractions. Mariam did not have another birth partner and I wanted to be there as early as possible so I went over to see her. We went to a pre-planned ante-natal appointment together and the midwife confirmed that Mariam was in the “latent” stage of labour and warned us (as we knew) that this could go on for a long time – potentially days. We spent the rest of the day together in Mariam’s home with her contractions increasing in frequency, length and intensity. I reminded her to eat and drink, and reassured her from time to time, but mostly I was just an observer while she managed by moving round the room and mainly sitting on the floor when the contractions came.

Birth professionals generally advise that for contractions to be effective – to dilate the cervix – they need to be coming every 2/3 minutes and be lasting over a minute. By around 9.30pm Mariam’s contractions were coming roughly every 4 minutes and most were over a minute in length. We decided to go into hospital. Mariam was found to be 3cm dilated – whereas “active labour” is defined as 4cm+ which meant that we could not go into either the delivery suite or birth centre – in fact we were told that at that point they were both completely full. (September is a notoriously busy month for maternity wards.) However we stayed in the hospital and were taken to the general labour ward.

This was a noisy, busy place with little privacy apart from that provided by a paper curtain around a booth. Not surprisingly Mariam’s contractions slowed down for a while. Over the next few hours Mariam spent a lot of time walking around the ward and leaning against walls when her contractions came. She also managed to rest on the bed from time to time. I did very little during this time and occasionally wondered if it was useful for Mariam having me there. Then sometime in the early hours Mariam was sick and she began to ask for my support through the contractions – I pressed her lower back and pelvis during contractions and she rested on me between surges. Mariam began to want some other relief from the pain – the midwife we asked felt it was too early for gas and air, but agreed to Mariam getting into a warm bath. She stayed there for a long time, managing brilliantly through increasingly frequent and intense contractions while I held her hand and rubbed her shoulders. We both felt that labour was really progressing (though were also a bit scared that we might be wrong). Mariam was examined again and was 8cm dilated. Wonderful!! A huge boost. Midwifery staff who had more or less left us alone until this point started to pay attention. They also agreed that Mariam could give birth in the birthing centre. There was now space and Mariam would be able to use a birthing pool.

We transferred to the birthing centre and now had one midwife with us in a large quiet room. A huge change from the ward. Mariam was soon pushing. She started in the pool, but her contractions slowed down. So despite being exhausted Mariam came out of the pool and between contractions walked around the room. Sometimes I supported her while she squatted to push. At other times she sat up on the bed and pushed against me and the midwife Sue. This “second stage” took a long time (over 2 hours), but at the end of it all Mariam gave one huge roaring push and her son (Hassan) was born. He was placed on her stomach and within 10 minutes was rooting for his first feed. The wonderful Mariam had managed the whole labour without any drugs. She also delivered the placenta without medical assistance.

I still cannot get over how lucky I am that my first birth as a doula was such a wonderful, intimate and positive one. This was without any doubt, and far and away the happiest and most satisfying day of work I have ever had. Doulas talk a lot about the oxytocin high which can envelope all those involved in a labour – I am still feeling it. This last 5 months since I left Acas have had their ups and downs – though far more ups. Whatever happens now 20th-21st September 2017 is the proof to me that my decision to change career at this advanced age was absolutely the right thing.

Week 19 – last stage of planned personal development

Week 19 – last stage of planned personal development

Well that’s it. This week I completed the last piece of my pre-planned personal development jigsaw. When I retired I had set aside a bit of money for further training. Earlier in the year when I  thought through my business model I decided to include hot stones massage as part of my “offer”. I really enjoy receiving this form of massage and there are relatively few therapists near me who offer it. The course – by Bodyology where I did my diploma – was very enjoyable. And unlike many had a strong focus on how hot stones can be used as an active part of massage rather than just to warm the client. (The latter is the default approach of many therapists and most spas.) Now I’ve got to shift from the fun of developing myself to the more daunting prospect of actively promoting my business. After weeks of a default mood of  smugly delight with my new lifestyle I am once again a little scared.

(And for anyone out there following  this part of my story – yes I am still on call. )

Week 18 – still on call

Week 18 – still on call

I have just had my first full week on call waiting for my client to go into labour. Its an odd feeling needing to be ready to go to her at any point, while at the same time trying to get on with my postnatal and massage work and the rest of my life. So my approach has been to ensure that the car has enough petrol; not to have any alcohol and to make sure that I am no more than an hour’s journey from S (my client)’s home. I also check regularly (obsessively?) that I have a charged phone battery and a reasonable phone signal.  My heart races a bit every time my phone rings!

Meanwhile I have had two days’ this week in training  – both around multiple births/ parenting twins.  I attended a workshop for doulas run by Mars Lord   – a/the go-to woman in the doula community for any issue relating to twins. I also went with my daughter – whose partner was at work – to  an ante-natal workshop for the parents of twins and triplets organised by TAMBA – the Twins and Multiple Births Association. I loved them both. As I feel at the moment I would happily spend the rest of my life learning about birth-related issues

Week 17 – on call at last

Week 17 – on call at last

This week I have been focusing on my role as a birth doula. My new (first birth for both of us) client (another S) has a due date around the middle of September. We are both on a learning curve. Before we met this week I spent a long time working through how I will talk to her and other clients about the different stages of labour and the options that may occur at different points. When it came to it the conversation went all over the place raising lots of questions that I had not previously considered. I could answer some of these; others I had to research. At our second meeting I demonstrated of how we might manage labour pain at different stage and potential positions for delivering the baby. Very glad I did this – helped us to get to know each other and understand our respective physical limitations and boundaries.

We also agreed to jointly go on a tour of the maternity unit where S is due to have her baby. The experience was a reminder of how thinly spread NHS resources are, but also how many lovely people work there. When I rang up to check details for the tour I was told it was cancelled as the unit was too busy and had too few staff. In the end we decided to go any way – if only to work out parking and where S needs to go when she is in labour. But despite clearly being very stretched, and despite the fact we were rather pushing our luck being there at all, all the staff we saw were willing to give S time and to answer our questions – and we were able to see both the delivery and postnatal areas. To the relief of both of us. So now we wait. This is my first week on call since I started my new life and I will be until the baby is born.

Week 16 – I DO like Mondays

Week 16 – I DO like Mondays

In fact I like every day of the week now. I realised this week that I have not had that “Monday feeling” since I retired from the Civil Service – even though I am now doing quite a lot  of work (long may it last!).

This has been a really good seven days for my new life: I have had a lovely  few afternoons with my new postnatal family  who, together with the others I have worked with, have given me a lot to think about in the different roles that a doula can provide. Thinking back to the first couple of weeks after the birth I am struck again how important it is that visitors think about the new family’s needs before their own (understandable) desire to meet the baby. Doulas can help in this –  for example organising visitors to bring food for the new family and helping to avoid over-long visits or too many visitors at the same time.

We also  have the advantage of being someone that a mother can speak to who is completely on her side – but without the complications of family closeness. This requires a high level of trust which is why I decided when I started this blog that the focus would be on the development of my new working life – not on my client’s stories. So if I write anything which refers to any of the families I work with I check this with them first – and am very happy to change or delete anything they are uncomfortable with. (I have not had to do this yet.)

We also provide practical day to day support with those things that need doing but are so hard to get done with a new baby – like chopping vegetables for an evening meal or taking the rubbish out. And we are a source of information – on recovery from labour, on infant feeding, on sleeping patterns or whatever the family wants. As a new doula I know as little about some of these things as my clients but have the time and resources to find out. I don’t think I have  done so much desk research since I was a junior researcher – I love it.

The last main thing that I have been doing in the couple of months since I started this work is providing that extra pair of hands that enables a mother to get some rest/ sleep. So I am being paid to cuddle, play with and occasionally feed or change my client’s babies.

I realise that there is a risk that this weeks’s blog is getting too smug for words so will keep my remaining thoughts to a few words: this fabulous week has included: the first paid massage clients coming to my home studio; a great pregnancy massage course  so that I am now formally qualified to massage pregnant women in their second and third trimesters; and I have my first birth doula booking!!! Its a tough life . . .

Week 15 – first “job” comes to an end

Week 15 – first “job” comes to an end

My doula work over the last few of weeks has become focussed on providing support in the late afternoon/early evening. The families that I am working have babies of a similar age (c 2 months) and  are beginning to find their children sleeping for several hours at a stretch at nighttime – but evenings are difficult with babies (and parents) tired, but unable to settle easily. I am surprised by how much I like offering another pair of – less tired and relatively relaxed – hands at this time.

This Wednesday I had my last session with my first family. Another milestone for me. I have known them for about 5 weeks and seen so much change over that time. It’s such a short period by most standards but huge in the development of a child and new family. For example when I first met him J was a baby who  was only able to focus at short distances and was just beginning to show signs of responding to other people; and needed to be held most of the time.  A month on he clearly enjoys lying on his play mat where he touches and coos at his toys and he is very generous with smiles  for his parents and others who play with him. Am sad that our time together is finished but the timing does feel right.  Mostly I feel really lucky to have found  this role – it really is a great job!

Week 14 – social media

Week 14 – social media

When I decided that I was going to start a new way of working I knew that if anyone apart from friends and family were going to find out about me I really needed to engage with social media.   I had effectively avoided doing this during my time in Acas.  I had a Twitter account and was Linked In, but never engaged in discussion on the latter and wrote a total of at most 10 tweets over a 2 year period (my apologies to all my ex-colleagues who tried their best to encourage me in this) . This blog was my first tentative step in trying to establish an online presence. This weekend I gritted my teeth and set up a new Twitter account: @Fionathere4you . I always struggled at Acas with knowing what to share via Twitter. I felt that anything I might say was rather obvious – I had  probably been in the world of employment relations for too long . The advantage of a entering a new sphere is that to me everything is fresh.This time round my plan is see how I get on sharing interesting pregnancy and massage related material I come across; as well as updates on my “business” – just hope that it does not come across as totally banal!

Week 13 – www.fionathereforyou.co.uk

Week 13 – www.fionathereforyou.co.uk

My website is now live and I have spent a lot of this week turning the journal I have been writing over the past 3 months into a blog format.  My background in writing research and policy papers has not helped when it comes to the style of these, but my sister and web designer Alison has been great with her gentle feedback so I’m trying to be a bit more personal and informal than I am used to. And I always liked writing so am enjoying trying to do this.

I have done some more post-natal work this week. I also met another potential birth doula client – with the same lack of success as previously.  This chicken and egg dilemma of needing experience to get the work, but needing the work to get the experience, is beginning to get to me a bit. I do though have a new post-natal client as a result of the recommendation my first client gave.

Week 12 – exam results

Week 12 – exam results

And now I am officially a competent massage therapist. I received the results of my written exam and passed that as well. Found it very hard to keep a smile off my face all week.

For the past month or so I have actively been making contact with other doulas locally and nationally. Facebook seems to work for this in a way I have not appreciated previously and both my local FB group and the national one have already been helpful sources of information, support and work – one lead last week has lead to some new post natal work this week. I am also joining other networks and went to a Positive Birth group in East Dulwich. This involved around eight pregnant women/midwives/mothers/doulas/ hypnobirth trainers/ antenatal trainers (most in more than one role) plus 3 1 yr olds and 2+year old .  It was a lovely atmosphere which took me back to the best times with my NCT group after my son was born.

The one downside of a great week was having a cold which meant that I had to cancel one session with my new client – on the basis that the last thing a parent needs when struggling with a baby who will not sleep is for that baby to get ill. Difficult –  I felt guilty (and less importantly realised that there is no such thing as sick pay for me now).

More positively on the doula front my first client has recommended me to one of her friends who I will meet next week. And I have finalised my business cards and postcards and these have been printed and delivered. This has by and large been a brilliant week and I really love my life at the moment.

Week 11 – field of dreams?

Week 11 – field of dreams?

I did the practical exam for my massage diploma on Saturday. And passed. What a relief. I was even more nervous than I had been for the written exam (which I should hear about next week). With the likelihood of becoming a professional massage therapist now increased I  spent some of the week decorating one of our bedrooms to use as a therapy room. The question is “now I’ve built it will they come . . .” (apologies  to fans for slight misquote from  the film – but this is in its own small way  my “field of dreams”).

Lovely time with S and J this week. I  gave S a massage and have decided that this is something I will offer to all my postnatal clients who book me for a reasonable number of hours. A combination of the labour itself and feeding and carrying a new born  can be very tough on the back, neck and shoulders. I’m pretty sure that most new mothers would benefit from a massage to help with physical tension and as a source of relaxation from the stresses and strains of early parenthood.

I have been reflecting on difference between starting a new career as a young adult and an older one – I keep wondering whether life will ever feel “routine” again? I can’t imagine it but I and am all too aware that the shine wears off most new things after a while. How did I feel when starting new jobs /courses etc as a young adult??? Often completely lacking in confidence and a bit of a fraud I think – though always delighted to start new things.

Week 10 – first paid work

Week 10 – first paid work

I went to meet the  potential postnatal doula clients on Monday and started work on the same day. So pleased and excited! I spent most of the week with the family – especially mother – S – and 4-week old baby boy – J. The “work” (but has been far too much fun for that label) has  included providing  S with the chance to offload about her labour.  We have also  talked over feeding options; and started to organise her house which had major building work in the run up to  J’s birth.  I have also helped with some minor domestic tasks and – most fun of all – looked after J to enable S to rest.

As a mentored doula I need to write a report for my mentor at the end of each placement to help me reflect and develop. I have made a start on the one for my time with S and J which I will finish when I stop working with them. A bit laborious – but helped me to reflect on how things have gone this week.

It was the last day of massage course on Friday – getting ready for the practical exam and practicing again some of the more advanced skills. I am sad that this has come to an end because I’ve loved it. But the timing is good. Richard has sent me the first draft designs for my marketing material – really feels that things are getting going properly at last.

Week 9 – There for you

Week 9 – There for you

My lovely sister Alison , who does this sort of thing as her business, has agreed to build me a website. So I went to Edinburgh to visit her and get the site started. Meant I had to at last decide what I want to call my business – all the obvious things are taken which is one of the reasons I have procrastinated about this. In the end we agreed that the phrase “There for you”  is  appropriate for both doula work and massage therapy, so I went for that. Slightly worried that it is not specific enough but at least the decision is made now and I have bought my domain name : fionathereforyou.co.uk. I am excited with progress so far. Was really clueless about the whole process, but Alison is very patient and I am reassured that once up and running I should be able to manage the site myself. And my other sister’s partner – Richard Byrne – is helping us with the design so that I can have business cards and flyers printed. All beginning to feel much more real . . .

I did not get the birth doula job that I went for last week – the potential client was lovely about it but confirmed she had gone for someone more experienced. I had a telephone conversation with another expectant mother, but again think she is looking for someone who has “been there and done that” in dealing with the local hospital so I would be surprised to hear from her again. On a more positive note I had a long chat with a mother looking for postnatal support ASAP. Am visiting her next Monday with the view to beginning to support her immediately assuming we get along and can agree hours etc that work. So I’m ending another week with my fingers crossed!

Week 8 – first doula opportunities

Week 8 – first doula opportunities

My doula profile has been live on the Doula UK site for a few weeks now and this week I had my first enquiries. One was for a birth; the other for  post-natal work. I replied to both to say I was interested and had an interview for the birth job. This is supporting an older mother who is expecting her second child and whose partner may not be able to be at the birth. Due to her age the hospital has said they will want to induce her if the baby is not born before he due date. We got on well but she seemed disappointed by my lack of doula experience. This is something I’m quite worried about – why will anyone want to hire me to support them through their labour when there are plenty of experienced doulas out there? My fee reflects the fact that I am a “mentored” doula, but nonetheless I wonder.

I have been doing quite a lot of research and reading around current thinking on birth and early parenthood – one of the main things that doulas offer is to be a source of information for their clients. This has included a book on “hypnobirthing” which for those who don’t know is about the mother and her partner using self-hypnosis and mindfulness to manage the labour. I was fairly sceptical – but the book (Mindful Hypnobirthing by Sophie Fletcher – there are lots of others out there) made a lot of sense.  And the material around the impact of hormones in pregnancy and labour and the importance of activating the Parasympathetic nervous system aligns with what I have learnt on my Anatomy and Physiology course about the role of massage in promoting relaxation. I can see that the techniques could be helpful not only in labour but also for managing stress and assisting sleep during pregnancy and after the birth.

On the massage front I have sent a message out to all those people who I massaged as part of my course to say that I hope to be qualified soon and offering them one last free massage as a thank you – some take-up but not as much as I’d hoped.

Week 7 – actually on holiday

Week 7 – actually on holiday

This week was all about the family holiday – largely a break from developing my massage and doula work so not really relevant to the subject of these blogs. But it was good to use my massage skills to help my increasingly heavily pregnant daughter relax. It was also  a revelation to find out how good it is to start a holiday already relaxed, rested and happy after so many years of taking the first four or five days away to put work out of my mind.

The one thing I did do whilst on holiday was to book myself on another course. On hot stones massage. I have become slightly addicted to learning new things and a bit sad that my massage course is nearly over – which I admit is part of the reason. But I’ve also noticed a gap in the local market for this form of massage which as a client is a personal favourite of mine.

Week 6 – exam time

Week 6 – exam time

It was my Anatomy and Physiology exam on Friday. After neglecting revision all last week I went into overdrive this week and revised for a long time each day up to the exam. It is actually a really interesting subject. In the end the exam was not too bad – though doing a hand written test after years of computer use was challenging and I do wonder if the examiner will be able to read my answers. But relieved to have no more revision hanging over me.

For about half of a day when revising at home on my own I had my first feelings of doubt about whether I had made the right decision to retire from Acas. After the excitement of the last week the  lack of contact with other people made me feel a bit stressed and down for a short time. This did not last  – helpfully I headed off to a wedding and on a family holiday at the end of the week. Having more time an energy for my family has been one of the many benefits of my new life style. Generally I’ve been disgustingly cheerful ever since I retired. But this short dark mood, felt like a bit of a warning.

Week 5 – the election

Week 5 – the election

This whole week has been dominated by the election – fair to say development of my “business” has been on hold. I leafleted  on several days. I watched and read compulsively, posts, blogs, TV and radio programmes about the likely result. On election day in Bermondsey and Old Southwark I spent all day knocking on doors to encourage people to vote.

I started the week feeling optimistic about the election result (i.e not expecting a huge labour defeat!), but by election day was feeling pretty pessimistic – especially after election day pollsters predicted a 70+ tory majority. It was lovely working with lots of different people and the diversity and size of the campaigning group on Thursday was great and heartening. Long standing local activists seemed quietly confident of Labour retaining BOS , but the general mood was not to expect too much.

Me and Allen (my husband) went home at 19.45, exhausted. I decided that I would wait for exit poll and then go to bed rather that do the normal agonising thing of staying up hoping the picture will be better than I’d feared. Then  the EP result came in with a prediction of hung parliament which was very close to the actual result. Amazing. Felt like a victory for hope and optimism and definitely an end to what appeared to be May’s attempt to squash effective opposition by having a snap election . Goodness knows what future will bring. Would be great if we can now have a united party seriously challenging the Tories and supporting the leader whatever his limitations – Corbyn came over during the election as a genuine and honest man very comfortable in his own skin with a true vision. It may only be a fantasy that we could end up with a PM like that. Or that if he is successful, which now does feel like it may be possible over the next year, he manages to resist the realities of day to day politics and keep that integrity – but its a hope I am going to hold onto for now.

Week 4 – financial reality hits home

Week 4 – financial reality hits home

Terror very close to home this week. My whole family regularly goes out around London Bridge; my daughter works within minutes of Borough market. The location and nature of the attacks were so chilling and frightening. London is subdued and quiet. As well as feeling horror at the event and loss of life I am also anxious about what this will mean for the election. Fear usually plays well for the Tories.

I have focussed on revising for my anatomy and physiology exam- defaulting to the approach I took to my A levels 40 years ago. So I’ve brought a large stock of index cards and spent hours pacing the living room  rehearsing facts; or sitting past papers. This  will be the first written exam I’ve done since I was 21 and I’m VERY nervous.

Last week I felt really good about my massage skills – this week has been much less positive. I did two massages which, for different reasons, I did not feel went well. Feeling a bit low abut this.  But better about my progress to becoming  a doula. My profile is now live on the Doula UK site so in principle I may start hearing from potential clients at any time. We will see . . .

I have received my first pension statement. It’s reassuring to get this but all that money will be going into towards  domestic expenses. In recent years, since my children finished university, I have felt pretty well-off. It is a strange feeling that I currently have no cash going into my own bank account. I have savings  but these are diminishing. Welcome to the uncertain world of self-employment I suppose. For the first time I feel anxious about how it will be if I don’t start to earn some money. I have given myself the target of having my business up and running by 1 September – by which I mean I will have a website and will have started to do some paid work. Fingers crossed.