There’s nothing quite so grounding as pregnancy. I am a professional person with some quite important work on. I teach and mentor other people in both a scientific and theatrical field and over the last few weeks when I’ve been back at work, I’ve been mentoring some students in their first year of University studying a relevant degree. To them, I am a sorted, successful, totally with it woman in her thirties with one child and one on the way and still maintaining a successful career. When I mention that we’re about to move house, that opinion that I’m out there having it all seems to be cemented.
The big secret that I’ve been trying to get across to a couple of particularly nervous and worried students who have asked whether it’s possible to have a family and a career is that, it does not matter how old you are, how confident you seem; all of us are winging it! Those that look like they have no problems and all the success are just slightly better at winging it than those who are obviously struggling!! I thought I’d share a few of the secrets that I shared with a couple of students last week.
- We’re moving house soon and only have a week or so to pack up our house and get everything sorted. This is happening whilst I’m almost four months pregnant. I spent one day in particular a couple of weeks ago diligently going through belongings and brutally throwing things away or putting things in piles to send to charity or take to the car boot. I also had to respond to some emails, send out some invoices, have a phone meeting with a solicitor and entertain my energetic 15 month old. WHAT a woman, juggling all of those things and keeping all those balls in the air. Oh….EXCEPT; my 15 month old drew all over the TV with a crayon, I never changed out of my pyjamas, and at one point whilst my little girl was napping I came across some photos of my husband and I when we were dating and I sat in soppy tears reminiscing for the hour that I could have got things done child free!! Oh and the postman got an eyeful when I had to open the door and my little darling decided to pull open Mummy’s dressing gown. The picture is less ‘with it’ woman and more ‘what a mess’ now isn’t it! On the outside, I was full time working/full time mothering and full time life-ing! On the inside, a must have afternoon nap was the only thing that kept me sane that day!
- My kidneys aren’t working very well so along with this pregnancy I’ve been having a lot of additional sickness and stomach cramps. Any pregnant women will recognise that stomach cramps are one of those symptoms that make you paranoid that something is wrong with the baby. During a recent script read through evening, I had a sudden onset of these cramps. I was surrounded by my production colleagues and our cast (some of whom I was meeting for the first time) and I was reading in for a role that we hadn’t yet cast. What I needed to do? : keep reading, stay professional and keep a cool head. What I wanted to do? : burst into tears, curl up with a hot chocolate and cuddle my husband. My weird compromise?! : I held my breath to try and control the pain and then had a coughing fit as I caught my own air, let a few escapee tears out as I was coughing so they’d be unnoticed, got some water and then rejoined the room, oh yes, and then when I got home, I got the hot chocolate, tears and cuddles! So not quite as ideal as I’d like but at least I managed to minimise the crazy!
- I’m a huge fan of an American series called ‘How To Get Away With Murder’. It’s something we’ve been binge watching late at night. However, in one episode (SPOILER ALERT) one of the characters is found to be six weeks pregnant. Oh, and she’s dead. Now, this is sad news. This (fiction!) is not, absolutely lose it sad but that is exactly what happened! I started with a few surreptitious tears that I could wipe away without my husband seeing. They then soon developed into some uncontrollable river, accompanied by stomach ache because I was trying not to cry which then only led to baby based madness! We paused the programme and called it a night on our TV session! However, after going to bed I inevitably couldn’t stop thinking about it because my brain hates me, so I spent quite a few hours wide awake watching comedy on my iPad trying to curb the my own irrational thoughts. I also spent a good half an hour in my daughters rooms looking at her sleeping peacefully, (luckily she didn’t wake up as a tearstained pregnant woman is probably quite a frightening image to wake up to!) safe to say the next morning I was not my brightest eyed or bushiest tailed! The image from the night before also took a good few days to leave my conscious thoughts. Such is the life of some with a very creative imagination! Good for writing scripts, crap for staying sane!
As you can see, from the above, the image of confident, professional success is slightly marred. But I am pretty confident that if you look behind the closed doors of every successful person man or woman, you will find they’re own version of coping with stress/dealing with whatever pressures they’re under. None of us have a manual for ‘how to win at life’ as nobody does ‘win’. There’s a famous saying that if everyone put their troubles in a bowl, and you knew what battles people were fighting, most of us would be happily taking our own problems back out instead of trying to swap!
In the main, all the stresses in our life are down to our life choices. The cons to our chosen pros. So our life is busy and we’re never bored, which we love, but when illness or something similar gets in the way, it puts us under quite a lot of pressure; we work very much as a team and when one is out, the other is really quite swamped! We have quite a different way of life to the ’norm’ which sometimes makes getting support a challenge as we’re not necessarily on the same timescales or routines as friends and family. I know other people who love a more routine way of life but do sometimes get frustrated at not having enough time with their family and get fed up of having to get things done at the weekends. Likewise, those who work part time to have more time with family have more stress about having enough money; and on the other end of the same scale, some people enjoy a really luxurious lifestyle but consequently have to work all the time and their stress is not getting to enjoy said lifestyle as much as they’d like. And with parenting it’s the same, full time Mothers worry they are looking after their children well enough and working mother’s often worry they’re not around enough for their children, especially if they have to rely on a high level of childcare. Even when you know you’ve made the right decision for you and your children, no Mother, and in fact no parent, is sure they’ve got it 100% right a 100% of the time. It’s all about balancing your priorities.
There are pros and cons to every decision in life you can make, but one of the things I try and put across to the new set of students is that it’s useless comparing yourself to others. Some people who are ore openly a mess have it together much more than those who manage to hide their stresses and anyone who seems to have a perfect life, has a whole other side to them that you don’t and won’t necessarily know about. So the 18 year olds who see me working in my chosen field with a happy family, about to move and expecting another child, don’t see the decade of hard work and ups and downs it took to get here. It’s twelve years since I started my first degree and when I had to write in one of my first assignments where I wanted to be in ten years, the picture was that of an eager 18 year old who had no real idea where I’d be! I know 18 year old me would be happy with where I ended up but a lot of what I’m doing would be so unknown to my younger self, how could I have planned it out then? The magic of our twenties, time for mistakes and trying things out and finding our way!
That’s not to say I’m all sorted! We have a bucket list of things that we are constantly updating and we’re constantly altering plans based on where life takes us. In my first blog post I talked about wanting to go to the Great wall of China with my children and that’s still on there. But since March 2014 when I first considered becoming a parent, I had no idea that within Scarlett’s first eighteen months, I would travel to Paris, Brussels, Portugal and New York, only one of which being a holiday! So they weren’t on my plans, but certainly made a welcome addition to them. In my very early twenties I wanted to do a placement in a prison which then closed down; at the time I was bitterly disappointed as it affected my plans. However, my subsequent placement led to one of my eventual career paths. Age 19 I was devastated when my boyfriend broke up with me, and I told anyone that would listen that I was going to die alone (I’ve always been quite dramatic!). I look back now and smile at how I could have imagined that was the end for me, and I happen to have ended up with a boy I met aged 5. A relationship that has surpassed all others but one I wouldn’t have even been able to imagine back when I cranked up my Christina Aguilera CD’s and swore off all men! And aged 28 I still had no clear direction of where my life was really going. And now nearly 31, it’s not that I have a clear picture of the road ahead, I’ve just finally sat back and just let life happen to me. Sat back, relaxed and seen where it’s gone and when I started doing that, everything really did fall into place. Not without work and effort. But certainly with a lot less heartache and a lot less complicated. When I now have to choose which bit of a path to take, I look at my priorities (my children and my family) and I think about what would be best for them and what would make me happiest…period. I no longer start trying to predict what it might mean in five years because you can’t know. I no longer start with looking at which would make me the most money or look the most impressive or even what other people would think was ‘coolest’. All of those things (for me) just added unnecessary pressure and made decisions much harder to get to and I used to find I’d end up making the wrong choices for the wrong reasons.
One student is struggling because they’ve broken up with their boyfriend, and in one of her messages to the forum I monitor, she explained to the others that maybe if she transferred to be near him, they could work things out. In the meantime she was posting lots of photos on social media to show him how much she didn’t care and how much fun she was having. So instead of her first couple of weeks of uni being about making friends and starting a new chapter, she’s writing her chapter based on what one other individual may or may not look at. Instead of focusing on her, she may look back and realise that she never really made the right decisions for her because of a short lived teenage relationship she can barely remember when she hits her late twenties. Of course, as a teenager, you’re not going to listen to some middle aged person telling you how to live your life, it’s the magical mess of being a teenager! I certainly didn’t, and there are certainly some questionable decisions I made back then that make me cringe now! It’s a cliche that in your thirties you become more at peace with who you are and who you want to be but in truth it’s because you’re no longer necessarily in an educationally induced rat race directly comparable to your peers. The element of competition, however unintended, is unavoidable. In school, or at uni, you spend day in, day out with your peers and you’re at a time of your life when you’re supposed to be developing and making life choices and moulding your future. in that kind of prolonged ‘audition of life’ period, how can you not look around you at see how other people are doing? And it tries to come into life at any points, what is so and so doing about her childs schooling?/how long is such a body taking for maternity leave?/that person doing a similar career to me has done it this way instead etc etc etc. There’s no end to it really, you have to take yourself out of the equation and stop the comparisons, stop the competitions. Just stop! For me, I’m happily open about the tough times and the cons of my chosen life path because a) I’m happy with the choices I’ve made so don’t feel any reason to hide them and b) I think it’s pointless to pretend you’re invincible. That doesn’t stop me trying to act as if I can take on everything! In fact anyone who read my last post will know that I’m on strict instructions to stop trying to say yes to everything, or people please by getting involved in everything I can. My life has and most likely always has been chaos, which suits me and my family down to the ground! I love the fact that I’m currently: researching as part of a team with some clinical trials, preparing for a Paranormal Festival which has one show I’ve written and one show I’m producing in it, I’m sitting on an audition panel for an upcoming Winter UK tour show, I’m on a committee for a charity event at the beginning of next year AND I’m in the middle of moving house! And although sometimes our lifestyle has us burning the candle at both ends (and now i’m pregnant I have had to make some changes to my future schedule), we honestly wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m sure some people are doing it ‘better’, earning more from individual projects, or gaining more notoriety, or throwing up less during their day (morning sickness never does just stay in the morning after all!) or however you want to try and compare other people. In the same way that some people are slimmer than me, wear better clothes than I do, have fancier haircuts than I do, or an keep flowers alive for longer than I do (which is easy to do, I’m useless at keeping flowers alive and consequently am not a fan of them!)! But where do you draw the line at comparisons? You can drive the best car and some will have a cleaner house. You can star in an award winning film and someone else will have a happier family life. You can produce the most beautiful diamond and there’ll always be people who prefer rubies! It’s all swings and roundabouts. And for my students, the comparisons may seem to those of us that have been there and done that, slightly more futile, but it’s all relevant when you’re going through it. So at 18, if you turn up at a fancy dress party in a less well made Wonderwoman outfit, what you don’t appreciate at the time is that for some people, the fact that you’ve made it yourself is way more impressive than the girl whose just gone and paid for one. Likewise, the girl whose desperately concentrated on her ex boyfriend runs the risk of not noticing the several boys who would probably love to get to know her, and the girl she is, not the girl she’s trying to portray. And not just about other attention, she’s so busy competing with someone whose not even necessarily aware of it, that she’s not enjoying herself. She may have posted the most social media pictures but when you look at it from the outside, ‘winning’ that doesn’t seem all that attractive or conducive to a happy start to university.
There’s nothing quite so grounding as pregnancy. In the same way that it doesn’t matter who you are, we all use the bathroom (even if you own a diamond encrusted toilet, it won’t mean you’ve done anything more glamorous than those using a regular one!), and every pregnant woman goes through their own set of unglamorous and unavoidable symptoms! It’s hopefully a refreshing reminder to students who perhaps think that i’m breezing through successfully to see me run to the bin in the corner to throw up. Granted it’s not pleasant for anyone involved but it may at least make them think twice about my ‘perfect’ and ‘easy’ life! Instead of competing we should all be giving each other a helping hand when needed. Life is hard, it’s painful and some of us all feel like we need break from it sometimes. However, dear friends, what we all have in common is a hundred percent record for getting through those tough days we didn’t think we’d get through. And next time we’re finding it tough, we could all do with being reminded of that. But before you look at your neighbour/sister/best friend/man at bus stop and think how easy they must have it, just know that even if you’ve caught them on their best day when you’re on your worst, nobody is without their own internal battles. So if you find yourself comparing your life with others either through social media or when you catch up with them over coffee, try and see yourself through more positive eyes, try having a look through your own highlights reel and remember that living YOUR life really is something quite wonderful.