New Year: A Time for Reflection

Three years have passed between New Year 2016 and New Year 2019. These were the last time I felt strong in myself and confidently optimistic about my ability to strive into the year ahead, and the first time since.

Three years ago, I simply couldn’t imagine being where I am now. Given my recent trauma (little did I know there were still two cases of harassment to follow) I had certainly written off any possibility of getting married, buying a house was far from my mind and children seemed a dream away.

New Year 2016 was just before I hit rock bottom, the eye of the storm as I rallied from abuse and assault before plunging into deep depression just a month later.

The Power of Hindsight 

That same month I met my husband and, as I have said before, without his intervention I hate to think what might have been the outcome.

The sound advice given to mental health suffers is to NOT make any life changing decisions.

However:

I was suicidal and got married

Bought a house whilst struggling with depression

Had anxiety and had a baby

None of these actions where taken lightly, a lot of consideration went into each and a lot of love, peace and healing was gained.

I have been incredibly blessed.

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Return to Work: What’s Good for Baby, What’s Good for Mum?

I have a new emotional expedition I hope you will join me on. 

The time is approaching for me to make a big decision: to go back to work, to extend maternity leave or to stay at home. I have a few weeks before I need to give a final answer and, as ever, this is my exploration space. 

Before We Begin

There are so many factors that go into every individual’s choice that the concept of a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of mothering needs to be exterminated. Unless you are outright neglecting, manipulating or abusing your child, there is not a wrong way to parent. 

I find it’s often women perpetuating these notions of right and wrong, I suspect driven by our own insecurities. We are desperate to be perfect, a desire fuelled by hormones, anxiety, love and the pressures of society (real or abstract). 

As ever, opinions are polarised, and the middle ground, although walked by so many, is obscured almost entirely by the prevailing opposites. In this instance, the two extremes are full time work and staying at home although a range of alternatives exist including working from home, being self employed, part time work and I am sure many more I have just never considered. 

Where I Am Right Now 

As I say, there are many, many things to consider, and I want to begin by acknowledging how fortunate I am to have maternity leave in the first place. I have the good fortune to live in a country that has statutory maternity leave, to be an employee and work for a company that I trust to uphold my rights. I am very blessed as not only is this not the experience of women in many other countries, it is not the security afforded to all in my own. 

Currently, beyond going round in circles about the choice and logistics of each outcome, I am aware of the implications of all options on my mental health and wellbeing. 

There have been great blessings to maternity leave but, as a workaholic, there have also been struggles. 

Therefore, there are not just the practical influencers such as finances, child care, the dog and our schedule as a couple to consider, but also emotional; family considerations, couple time and my own well being. 

Some might think it is selfish, but this decision is not just about what is best for baby, but also what is best for mum. 

Out with the Old, In with the New

Here we are again. Another New Year, another birthday.

I hope you are recovering from your celebrations, are feeling hopeful and excited about the year ahead. To those of you who find this season challenging, I wish you strength.

For me, this is always a day of reflection, I suppose a bit delayed; I should really look back on the last day of the last year, not the first day of the new one.

So much has changed, and I have so much to thank you for! Truly, I do. Thanks to you I have persevered and can now celebrate my blogging anniversary.

I had so many ideas of how this blog might be and what I would explore. I knew going in that it could be a cathartic process but I could not predict the extent of healing I have experienced.

I have been quiet over the past few months as a result of facing some of my toughest experiences. I achieved my goal of exploring traumatic events and the struggles that followed. In November, I gave birth to a healthy baby, having banished the shadows of the past. I wanted so much for my baby’s experience to be untainted by my own trauma and through blogging I have managed to gain closure and process the emotions enough to separate the present from the past.

I leave that trauma behind in 2018, having carried the pain with me for over two years. I finally feel free.

I am future-facing, forward-looking and excited as I embark on a New Year of experiences.

Preparing for an Eternal Family

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk in my Church Ward about preparing for an eternal family. I feel prompted to share sections of this talk, after all, the blog is called Dreaming of the Temple, inspired by the exploration of my spiritual, as well as temporal, experience. If this post appears as unfamiliar territory, a sense of context can be gained here.

Introduction

I felt completely unqualified to make any remarks on this topic whatsoever; I am not confident that I have fulfilled my own hopes for spiritual preparation before starting to grow our family, let alone those of the Church. I still feel uneducated in the full doctrine, history and organisation of the Church, there are elements of Scripture that are still unknown to me and, despite considerable dedication, at the time of the talk, Samuel and I had not yet been sealed in the Temple (an outline of what this entails can be found here).

Other than suggesting that Heavenly Father enjoys irony, why was this topic assigned to me?

There is a considerable part of me that is always cynical, perhaps not an attractive quality, especially not typically admired in religious circles, but personally I think a pinch of metaphorical salt is healthy (literally from a nutritional point of view, not so much). In this instance, the cynic in me was thinking, ‘Sure you want me to talk on this, I am the current first time mum in the Ward’. However, being asked to speak in Sacrament meetings is not to be taken lightly, so I set about giving the topic some serious thought.

The conclusion I came to was that our little family presented an example of the principle ‘endure to the end’, and thus, that the work does not stop after receiving the sealing ordinance. Being sealed is an exciting prospect and full of spiritual significance but it is not the culmination, or defining feature, of a relationship or marriage. It is an increase in commitment to each other, not an opportunity to relax, at the risk of taking this blessing for granted.

Spiritual and Temporal Growth

I have frequently struggled with feeling that, despite what I consider my best efforts, I do not live up to the ideals of the Church, a sensation now exaggerated by preparing for parenthood; seemingly growing increasingly idealistic, judgemental and competitive. For instance, there are some that don’t yet classify me as being a mother, and others who would tell me that I am already doing everything wrong. I know that this is not a unique experience, and it applies to religious experiences too.

One of my favourite talks from General Conference is by Elder Holland from October 2017 ‘Be Ye Therefore Perfect… Eventually‘. Yes as a couple we are preparing for an eternal family, but everybody’s spiritual and temporal journeys are different. For me, I had hoped to have a stronger grasp of the doctrinal points of the Church and Scriptures before having children, but I also know that what is more important is that I continue to study and learn and I look forward to the fact that my child and I will be able to grow in the Gospel together.

Make Your Home Like the Temple

Looking back, I am still not sure exactly what the obstacle was to our initial sealing attempt in June last year (the delay of our second in June this year was due to the delights of pregnancy complications). We both held active recommends and I had just completed the Temple Preparation Classes (Samuel served a mission, so had done this years before). When there were changes to the Bishopric, however, we were told the date we had chosen was not feasible.

This was upsetting, not only because of our desire to be sealed as a couple for eternity, but because the date we had chosen held personal significance. But through the emotions, I received a strong impression that not being sealed at that time was because there was about to be a considerable change in our circumstances. Sure enough, a few weeks later, we found our house and moved away. For me, the change in location, and being in a more local Ward, has greatly strengthened me spiritually, has aided my recovery from mental illness and resulted in both of us feeling more settled, resulting in us preparing (now commencing) to grow our family.

Announcing Your Pregnancy

Today, my husband and I announced my pregnancy. As is usual for us we are being unconventional and have not waited until the end of the first trimester to make this announcement.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. The tradition of waiting until your first scan is because this is considered concrete confirmation of the pregnancy. It is well established that the first few weeks is the time of highest risk of loss. However, any loss before the 20 week mark is classified medically as miscarriage and waiting until 3 months is sadly not a guarantee.

2. Pregnancy announcements are personal. There should not be rules about when and what time is the most suitable to share your excitement with others. You may choose to announce it as we did, in person to family, close friends and work managers and then on a social media platform to more distant friends and acquaintances.

You may feel that it is easier and more equal to tell everyone you know at the same time via a public announcement. This way no one feels that they were the first or last to find out or that another friend was favoured.

There are also those who choose to keep their pregnancy completely private and this is a fine choice too.

3. The physical effects of pregnancy will already be apparent to the expectant mother and her close family. This is a planned pregnancy and as you may imagine of someone who is extremely anxious, I had been researching since we got married various stages of pregnancy and parenting. But even what accumulates to 2 years worth of reading and listening to other women’s stories in no way prepared me for the effects of early pregnancy.

Although there are no outward signs and I have been extremely fortunate to (so far) escape morning sickness; the exhaustion, nausea and digestive occurrences, are more than I ever anticipated. I also did not expect the cramping!

As a result of all of this, and the work that I currently do which involves performance storytelling and entertaining, I wanted my managers and colleagues to be aware that there were occasions that I was suffering intense discomfort and I wanted them to know why. It was also important for me to have my place of work informed of the pregnancy in case there were complications or loss.

As I do not sit at a desk were I could discreetly relieve myself if I developed intense morning sickness (or any of the other delightful digestive effects) I needed them to be aware that this wasn’t a 24 hour sickness bug but something that would go on for months. For this same reason, in the dreadful instance of pregnancy loss I would not be able to put on a smile and entertain and this would impact my work more extensively than in other lines of work.

This may come across as unattached or overly focused on negative outcomes, but rather than seem disengaged, the intention is to demonstrate how your circumstances will inform your personal choices throughout pregnancy, including the announcement.

4. Whilst I completely understand and respect that this is a very private matter, as a blogger intent on exploring her personal mental health and wellbeing more generally, I would always be inclined to be open about any loss during this pregnancy. Of course I hope to goodness that this will not be the case, and we would both be devastated if it did occur. But I advocate being open about all things and miscarriage is still widely treated as a taboo subject. Great headway is being made in conversing about other forms of emotion, grief and mental health, but for something as frequently occurring as pregnancy loss there is still alarming silence.

5. It is common to announce pregnancy on special occasions, public holidays or anniversaries. Whilst any day of the year is a fine time to announce such wonderful and well-received news, such occasions can add an additional sense of celebration and provide more ideas for a fun public announcement.

For instance, in our case, our first midwife appointment fell two weeks after we learnt that we were expecting and just before Easter.

As a religious family, Easter is an important time for us. It is the Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection after His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Because of the atonement (remembered on Good Friday) we are able to repent and be forgiven. This is a celebration of second chances and new life. It’s one of the reasons for chicks and eggs being motifs of Easter.

Hares, which have become rabbits in modern Easter marketing, are associated with the ancient fertility goddess, Astarte or Ishtar. Again we are looking at representations of new life. New life coupled with fertility symbols made an irresistible possibility for a pregnancy announcement.

6. So don’t hesitate to announce your pregnancy at a time and in a way that suits you because of conventions and traditions. Each individual, pregnancy and family is different and that should be reflected in the way that you choose share your joy with others. There are so many contradictory opinions being continually expressed about the right way to be pregnant and to parent that the sooner you start establishing the best way for you, the better.

Self-worth and Pregnancy

I recently found out that I am expecting. The pregnancy is planned and we are delighted. I am not very far along but I have already noticed a positive change in myself.

Last night I was at a work meeting and I found myself to be more comfortable in my own skin and joining in discussion.

I am not shy about sharing my thoughts but usually I agonise over it; analysing every word and response, dissecting the details of tone, body language and expression.

It wasn’t until I was on the train home that I realised that I had an increased certainty about my ideas and more contentment in my existence. I no longer felt like an impostor, like I was taking up someone else’s space.

Usually, I am sitting intimidated by the knowledge and experience of my colleagues. Last night, although I was impressed and filled with respect for the things that they knew and I did not, I was aware that I too had knowledge.

The only thing that has changed is that four days ago I learned that I am expecting. I don’t know where this confidence has come from, I don’t know if it will last, but for an individual who has spent a large portion of her preconception preparation aware of her mental health and concerned of the possibility of developing ante- or postnatal depression because of my medical history, I am intrigued to see how I emotionally develop as my child develops inside me.

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 3

Dreaming of the Temple. I have mentioned before the associations these words conjure for me. The temple is a literal place, it represents calm and tranquillity with oneself, surroundings and circumstances. However, I’m not just dreaming of one day going to the temple and being sealed to my husband, that is not were the dream ends. There is a huge emphasis on family in our church, and especially at the temple. We have the belief that families are forever.

When my husband and I are sealed any children we have will also be sealed to us. This is not just children born following the sealing ceremony, but children who were born before, and if a convert’s parents choose to join the church years later they also have the opportunity to be sealed to their children and future grandchildren.

For us, dreaming of the temple represents our hopes for our family. We have not been married very long and as a result currently have no children. We have been discussing starting to try and conceive and, I’ll be honest, it has thrown up more questions than we thought it would.

Call me naïve, but I really thought that once we had told each other that we both wanted to have children and we felt like we were in a good place to do so, that that would be it. We both knew that this is what we wanted, it’s one of the reasons we got married when we did and we even bought some baby books we saw in the window of a charity shop that we passed on the first day of our honeymoon (as a joke gift to ourselves).

But since that initial decision we have been going round in circles. I created this blog as a thinking space, and that is what it is going to be over the next few days.