Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Home for the Holidays

Aviophobia - the fear of being on an aeroplane, or other flying vehicle, while in flight.

I knew it would have a name, phobias always do. Not that it makes a difference if it has a name or not, it is still a defining part of me and my quality of life.

As my close friends, family and long-suffering husband are well aware, I do NOT like flying, just like I do NOT like feeling ill, or having skin rashes (hypochondria - alas, another 'ia' I suffer from...)

If it was left up to me, my life would go something like this: happily live in Staffordshire, England for all my days and then for holidays, travel the length and breadth of our most sceptred isle, by car, or train. I would get to see some breathtakingly beautiful scenery, enjoy delicious food & drink and return home, anxiety free...gosh, I could even travel to mainland Europe some years (ferry, car, Eurostar) and nosh on some croissants and Ricard. Sounds peeeerfect!

But someone had a different plan for me and decided I would live in South Carolina, USA, a mere 4000 miles from Staffordshire, England making sure the only way of EVER going home EVER again is by plane. Mmmmm, not peeerfect.

As I write this, I am 28 days away from boarding a plane for the first time since October 2009 and I am torn. In every way I cannot wait to go back to the UK, to see all my friends & family in real life, to be able to touch them and smell them (not in a weird way), not just SEE them in the 2D skype life I currently live in. But in every other way, I am already dreading the journey home.

By dreading I mean I have already begun to get butterflies when I think of the looming event (not nice, pretty butterflies either, these are big, brown, hairy moths in my belly). My chest tightens for a second and I begin to be drawn into my dark place, a place of unrelenting anxiety that won't end until I land back in the US on 12th January.

It is always this way. Once the confirm button has been hit on the flights, I am filled with an initial feeling of invincibility; yes I can do this I say to myself, I am OVER this stupid fear and I feel fine, but as the days and weeks go by and the reality of the flight draws closer, the initial glee begins to fade and is slowly replaced by worry and anxiety, which will build and build into an almost crippling crescendo by the travel date at which point I can speak to almost no-one as I have retreated so far in to myself to try and focus on getting through the travelling. I can hardly eat for the nausea, my stomach being akin to a sea in full storm mode. All I can throw down my neck is vodka (this does help).

I have spent a lot of my time analysing my phobia and I have decided it is two-fold. I fear both death in a crash and the lack of control in being so far off the ground, hanging in the air in a metal tube. Surely I am not on my own in thinking flying is bizarre and we are all stupid in trusting our lives to this machine!

Mainly, I fear death. I spend the whole flight anticipating the crash I am convinced will happen, that in the very next moment the plane will start to wobble and burst in to flames. Turbulence sends ME into a tailspin, where I will grip on to the seat or whoever is next to me (sorry James) and begin to pray. A lot of the time, I will stare out of the window at the wing so I can check for smoke or the ground as I feel strangely reassured to be able to see terra firma. It is a complete misery and can almost ruins all my holidays.

Now, back to my upcoming trip. Fortunately, we have just one 8-hour flight into Heathrow, no connecting flights on teeny tiny aircraft to cope with, BUT, I will have a 5 month old baby to deal with. Deep down, I am pretty sure she will act as a huge diversion to my fears and I will be able to focus on her needs rather than spend 8 hours locked in my own head, being stupidly self-indulgent. But more importantly, I don't want to pass on any of my pathetic neuroses on to her; I want her to grow up to be a confident, worry-free woman, someone who can board a plane and actually enjoy the experience and travel the world at ease. Perhaps it's time for me to grow up and be the adult and mother I am and put my selfish fears aside.

So, wish me luck and I will hopefully see you all at New Year...that's if the plane doesn't crash...(sorry, can't help myself!)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Rachel Stratford Portrait giveaway

While I was perusing my blog updates last night, with one eye on Sarah Palin's Alaska (what is it with that woman, I just can't stop watching her, like a car wreck!) I saw Nat the Rat was doing a giveaway.

I LOVE giveaways, freebies, coupons, discounts, anything that might save me a dollar, but I don't always enter online competitions for lack of time or maybe the 'gift' wasn't up my street.

But my, I am sooo pleased I clicked on this giveaway - http://asktherat.blogspot.com/2010/11/rachel-stratford-portrait-giveaway.html as it involves PETS!

This lady I heard about for the first time last night, Rachel Stratford, seems an incredibly talented artist and looking at her dog drawings, I just KNEW my little Bobble dog would work as the perfect model. Now, I am not biased in any way, but he really is the most beautiful fluffball I have ever come across...I hope Rachel agrees??!

So, I think I have covered all the bases for maximum competition entries...fingers crossed for Mr Bob!!

Monday, 8 November 2010

A Birth Story

Since I created my blog last year, I have started following many other bloggers on a wide variety of subjects including journalism, cookery & being a teenager (!?) but by far the best is http://www.natthefatrat.com which follows the musings of twenty-something American Natalie. Her writing is fantastic; funny, touching, crazy. The main reason I happened upon her blog was a post I read about her battle to conceive a child, she brought humour & humanity to a difficult subject.

As my life here took off and my blog lapsed, I stopped reading other blogs for many months until my blog-bug awoke one day & I logged back on to Nat The Rat and what joy, she was pregnant! Her subsequent blogs chronicling the pregnancy have been a pleasure to read and to be able to share in her impending much-longed for motherhood has been a privilege.

The baby arrived of course, to a beautiful, heartfelt post about the birth of a soul and a mother and reading it through misty eyes, I felt inspired to write the story of the birth of my little soul, so here it is in full Technicolour!

37 weeks came and went, I uttered a not-so quiet missive to my unborn child 'OK, time's up, the pot is boiled, you can come out now' but she must have been asleep, or something as she ignored my pleas and carried on cooking for another 3 and a half weeks.

The week before the birth, I went for my 39 week OB/GYN appointment, full of glee for the impending cervical check (enough sarcasm there?) hoping to find I was about to go into full labour right there and then. But no, no change from the previous week; 2-3cms dilated and 70% effaced. The doctor said I could go on well past my due date. I felt pretty deflated, my hopes of a prompt baby arrival were floating away downstream. I was beginning to realise this child was no child of mine already, me being so fastidious on time keeping! After all, I came bang on time for my birth, why wouldn't Miss Priest?

So, I was lying on the bed at the doctors feeling a bit blue, when the lady doctor asked me why I hadn't booked in for my induction yet? Induction I thought, why? I'm not even 40 weeks yet? But deep inside I felt a glimmer of hope, an end-date, finally. She said I was advancing enough to be induced and promptly booked me in for the following Wednesday. Feeling a bit numb, I mumbled my thank yous, and checked out of there for the last time.

I got in the car to drive home and cried all the way. Not small tears, big, bouncing hailstones, sobbing so hard my chest heaved.

Tears of exhilaration mixed with terror, fear and unbelievable happiness, it began to dawn on me that within 7 days I would be a mother and I would meet my baby daughter whether she liked it or not. The reality of the situation felt like being slapped across the face, and it hurt.

Being English, I expected to last until 42 weeks before an induction would be needed and I couldn't understand why I was being rushed into a birth when clearly the baby wasn't quite ready (I learnt why the hard way, more later). But I agreed to it, deluded in the thought that the baby would still come under her own steam within the coming week.

Well, surprise surprise, baby didn't show up, so off I trotted to the hospital Wednesday afternoon with my bag packed full of onesies and Hello! magazines (priorities in order as always). My lovely nurse Barbara put in the IV (surprisingly painless, thank God) and left me to rest for a few hours, before they introduced the first drugs.

In between all this nursing and doctoring, my parents arrived to see me. No big deal you may think, except that they had just flown 4000 miles from the UK and I hadn't seen them since winter. The happy coincidence of them arriving the day of my induction is nothing short of a miracle and I was so incredibly happy to see them; they left for the night, along with my husband to enjoy a lovely meal downtown, leaving me to ripen my cervix for the next day's antics.

Because I was hooked up to 2 monitoring belts and a blood pressure machine that went off every 15 minutes, squeezing my arm until it went numb, I didn't sleep very well. This was further compounded by the wake-up call at 5.30am from another lovely nurse who told me to get showered (why, I will never know, as the cleanliness was short-lived) and started my Pitocin at 6.30am.

When my husband arrived around 8am, all was calm and I was IN CONTROL. I was a strong, Earth mother, batting off these puny contractions with my little finger. We would watch the machine, ooohing and aahing in wonder whenever another one hit. So far, so good I thought. I can actually do this I thought. But in the back of my mind lurked dark thoughts, memories of the ante-natal classes and some vague recurrence that the end was the hardest bit?? Nah, I'll be fine I thought...

Waters were broken with what probably ended up being a pitchfork the membranes were so intact and the Pitocin level was upped. For the next few hours, I didn't look at the contraction monitor with such pride, my oohs and aahhs were more internal, less excited, more painful. I began to say less, became more introverted and when James would ask if I was OK, I didn't answer right away.

But, the contractions weren't in vain and by late morning I was well up to 9cms dilated. Woo hoo I thought, nearly there now, I CAN do this, I AM doing this.

And then, nothing...no progress, I had stalled at 9cms. The nurse & I had a little con-flab, I was brave and said UP THE PITOCIN! Let's do this. I reckoned that fewer hours with stronger contractions would be better than more hours at a slower rate. Mistake #1.

With this renewed optimism I also refused an epidural for what felt like the hundredth time. So insistent were they to stick a needle in my spine, I'm surprised they even asked me my permission. Even James was saying I should take it. But no, I thought, I CAN do this, I am woman, and beat my chest and roared. Mistake #2

As the increased Pitocin kicked in, I began to see the error of my ways. No washcloth was strong enough to take my bites, there weren't enough ice-chips in the world to quench my thirst.

And then came the desire to push. I had heard a lot about this feeling, the uncontrollable urge to bear down and there was no mistaking it. With each contraction I felt like my insides would just push themselves right out, whether I helped or not. But still I was told, no, you're not quite ready, keep breathing.



After about another hour whining about having to push and please, will someone come and check me so I can get on with it, the doctor came in and must have given the green light, because, out of nowhere (literally, they came out of the walls), about 20 people assembled around the bed, stared preparing baby things (!), pulled out the stirrups and off I went.

It soon became clear to me I am a pretty lousy pusher. I pushed as hard as I could, but nothing seemed to be happening and I was tired, so tired, I couldn't lift my legs, my whole body was overcome with pins & needles and the pain was searing. Here in America, if you don't have an epidural, there really is nothing else to take, no gas & air, nothing. All I had was a poxy oxygen mask, although I gripped on to it as if it was my only source of life.

Apparently, they could see the baby's head, she had a lot of hair. Big wow I thought at the time, good for her, now come out and show ME the hair. Then the doctor asked me if I knew how big the baby was supposed to be...mmm, something fishy was going on. I did a quick bit of maths; small Clare + pushy no worky = big baby. Again, mmm. Luckily, the nice doctor man was also doing the maths and realised this wasn't going to happen, so he whipped out his little suction machine and then the room went black.

I didn't pass out (I think), but I had closed my eyes and entered a tunnel so dark I couldn't see anything except the white heat of pain. A pain which I could never describe in words, except to say it was probably endless and which I later realised had a lot to do with the stage 4 tear I had afterwards. I repeat, stage 4...apparently, there are no higher stages. Discuss.

In the midst of despair I shouted "I can't go on, I just can't do anymore" to which I heard the words, "you don't have to, she's here!'. I opened my eyes to see daylight and the blurry image of my pink baby being whisked over to the table.

I was so overwhelmingly happy it was over I could have climbed a mountain there and then. Sadly, I don't remember feeling euphoric about the baby's arrival, more that the ordeal was over. Herein lies the result of my earlier mistakes. Looking back, I should have taken some pain relief and I should have been advised that my baby would be 9lb 0oz before I went into the whole natural childbirth thing.

But then, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and being patently mad & stubborn, even if I had known she would be big, I would still have gone pain free.

In the hours that ensued, I was enveloped in a fuzzy, warm world of painkillers and love. Love for my husband who had played such a magnificent, unflinching part in the 10 hours of labour; love for my family who were clearly relieved all had gone smoothly and both myself and the baby were healthy; love for the wonderful doctors and nurses who had had to put up with the crazy English lady who gave birth to a 9lb-er with NO DRUGS. (This was a first there, clearly).

But most of all, love for Imogen Louise. The bearer of so much pain, but also, so much joy. Looking at her pink, puffy face with her eyes clamped shut, the little pink & blue striped hospital hat perched on her fuzzy head, my life slotted into place.

I had always believed America was the Land of Opportunity; a place where dreams came true. Well , my dream came true July 22nd 2010 15.55pm when I met my daughter for the first time and she was worth the wait.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Fall for Greenville

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells."
(John Keats (1795-1821 'Ode to Autumn')

As a rule, I am not a fan of poetry; I just don't 'get' it. Generally, it is overly verbose and self-indulgent. I much prefer a good book. However, I make an exception when it come to Keats. To be fair, the only reason this poet has ever figured on my radar is because I was taught it very well at school by a great teacher (Mr Leach for all my NULS friends out there!!) who, through careful diligence, helped us work through each line, making sense of the complicated narrative.

And boy, am I pleased he did, for the full poem is quite beautiful, encapsulating the magic and fecundity of the harvest season. As soon as September comes round and the shiny green leaves begin to tinge with oranges and browns and the sun lowers in the sky, I recall the poem and marvel at how timeless and perfect it is.

Now, I fear that I have been brewing this post for too long; I first had the idea for it about 3-4 weeks ago on a dog walk in the park when autumn was certainly at it's peak. But I had no camera with me, so the beauty is just in my mind now, sorry. The idea has been brewing for so long, I am afraid it has stewed, as where there were once vibrant reds, ochres and crisp leaves underfoot, there is now just mush and a general brownness to the park. But hey ho, I have a 4 month old baby to work in to my blogging schedule and sometimes she wins the fight! I will post it anyway even though the pictures are not as pretty as they once were.

The synopsis is that Greenville, SC was certainly not ill-named; it is a lush and handsome city that benefits from oodles of sunshine and regular rain showers leaving the parks and countryside fresh and green, not burnt and desert-like despite temps nearing 100 F at the height of summer. But without doubt, it is at it's most majestic in autumn, or fall as it is known here (a typically American no-nonsense name. Leaves 'fall', let's call the season Fall!)

Just as Keats describes in his poem above, autumn is defined here by mists, maturing sunshine, warm days and a plentiful harvest.

As the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words, so I will stop rabbiting on and show you what I see every day on my treasured dog walks.

(This isn't very autumnal, just a cute squirrel!)

Last one now, I promise!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Being thankful

Now, I don't want to be a Debbie Downer on my blog in any way, at any time, but today I felt compelled to write about an incredibly distressing subject that has been all across the UK media today. The singer Lily Allen and her partner lost their unborn baby yesterday 6 months in to her pregnancy.

A blog is probably a silly place to talk about such unimaginable awfulness as there are no words that can describe or come close to what Lily and her family must be going through. So, I don't want to be contrite and blab on spewing sympathetic nonsense about it. Mercifully, I don't know what she's going through; I can only imagine, and my imagined thoughts are very dark. I'm not sure how you recover from such tragedy.

I was fortunate enough to have a very easy pregnancy and birth and have a beautiful 3 and a half month old baby girl. This is no exaggeration, but I don't believe a day went by in those 40 weeks and 4 days of gestation when I didn't have a worrying thought about the health of my baby. Those fears didn't leave me after the 12 week scan, they were there all the way up to delivery.

According to the Tommy's charity website, in England & Wales:
  • about 149 babies were born preterm every day
  • about 290 women experienced a miscarriage every day
Every DAY! So there but for the grace of God, go us all.

Very distressing statistics, which not only highlight how common miscarriages and pre-term births are, but also show that for such a 'common' problem, there seems to be relatively little ever heard about it in the wide media, with it rearing up only when a 'celebrity' is involved. Sadly, but for understandable reasons, miscarriage is still a problem hidden behind closed doors and dealt with very privately. The wide range of emotions the mother and father go through are normally expressed to each other and even close friends can be kept out of the loop, as they battle to come to terms with their loss. Feelings of despair, unanswerable questions about why this should happen to them, shame and guilt are just the beginning and more research needs to be done to find the answers and reduce the figures we see above.

In an ideal world, nobody should have to suffer a miscarriage at any stage of pregnancy, whether at 4 weeks or 40 weeks. Charities like Tommy's do incredible work to this effect and need a louder voice. Visit www.tommys.org

As you can tell, Lily Allen's tragic loss has preyed heavily on my mind today and with Thanksgiving just around the corner here in the US, gave me a reason to stop for 5 minutes and count my own blessings. I don't have a perfect life by a long shot and there are some things I wish I could change, but I stopped and gave a quiet thanks to the world for my health and that of all my family and friends.

Today, I breathed the fresh air outside and looked up at the clear cornflower blue Carolinian sky and was thankful. I hope everyone can find just one thing to be thankful for today and think about those less fortunate who are suffering through harrowing times.