Stress wasn’t an emotion I experienced regularly if at all pre-children. I took everything in my stride and applied patience and positivity to every situation. When I think back, I have had a very fortunate life, part luck, and part because of choices I have made but even in times of uncertainty, change, loss, and struggles I had never truly understood or experienced that horrible little word I now seem to feel and use daily, stress.
I don’t believe stress just happens overnight. I view people as sponges and stress as liquid. Slowly we soak up drops of water over time, in small doses. The sponge can do its job and if it is allowed enough time and space between exposure, the water within it will dry out allowing the sponge to continue absorbing any additional water it encounters. The problem occurs when the sponge is overused, it becomes saturated to a point where it can no longer absorb any excess liquid and even the smallest drop will spill out. It is in fact at full capacity and now unable to do its job.
I am currently feeling like a very old and full sponge and my goal is to try and create an environment which allows me to not just dry out a bit in between uses, as if I have been left on the side of a damp and dirty draining board but to be so dry, crisp and clean that it is as if I have just been put through a washing machine and then tumbled dried on a delicate setting, all ready and thirsty to absorb any liquid life throws at me.
What led me to reach near saturation? I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that I started to absorb water in volumes that prevented me from drying out but I can pinpoint several incidents that felt like I was either suddenly plunged into a cold bucket of water or thrown into a big, muddy puddle to slowly soak up the gunky mess.
The run-up to my thirtieth birthday seems like the ideal place to start, I believe this was the making of the adult me and the moment that my fresh, fuzzy green scouring pad slowly started to wear off. A few years prior to the big three-zero, a fresh-faced and enthusiastic twenty-seven-year-old and her husband decided it was time to start a family. I am a forever optimist and am always convinced something good is about to happen. Each month was ‘THE’ month until it wasn’t. A slap in the face by mother nature with all the usual stomach cramps and mood swings to accompany the ever-increasing disappointment. As we crept into the second year of mission “make a baby,” I definitely started to feel slightly deflated and defeated.
Exhaustion along with bloating, headaches and mood swings led me to visit my doctor who after numerous blood tests and investigations diagnosed me with coeliac disease and not a secret pregnancy like I had convinced myself. Applying my usual positive attitude, I happily adopted my new gluten-free life convincing myself this was the single one reason why I couldn’t get those outrageously expensive sticks to show the one little word I longed for.
More months, slowly absorbing those drops of water until suddenly I was thrown into a cold bucket of the wet stuff. Discussions of IVFT with doctors which rolled seamlessly into tests and before I knew it just days before I turned thirty Mr. C was chasing me around the room trying to give me that first injection which effectively put me into temporary menopause and kicked off the start of our IVFT journey. I don’t feel like I have the ability to truly represent the experience and emotions of this journey in written word so I will just fast forward to the end of the process and after developing a very serious and not so common side effect, OHSS, we eventually got our positive.
My pregnancy was delightful but like any and every pregnancy comes with bags of niggly little worries and concerns, a steady but constant flow of tiny water droplets. Within this period, we sold our house and at thirty-six weeks pregnant moved counties, back to a small, rural village where I grew up. Moving while heavily pregnant is an experience like no other and something I said I would never want to go through again. Little did I know then, just a few years later, we would be moving for the second time but with a two and half-year-old and a six-month-old baby.
Let’s take it back to the first house move. A beautiful three-hundred-year-old house needing lots of work and modernisation. I was in love with the potential and thought of the project. I laugh at pregnant, pre-child me now thinking I would have so much time on my hands that I could renovate the house in between feeds and during naps.
My daughter was pulled into our world eight days overdue in quite a dramatic fashion. My birth story like so many others was far from straight forward and in reality, a pretty traumatic experience for everyone involved. Just two weeks after giving birth I developed sudden post-partum hemorrhaging. I seem to like racking up all these rare medical health conditions if only I could get a badge to sew onto a jacket like an achievement badge in the brownies. In all seriousness, though I actually believed it might be the end for me and on the drive to the hospital, through blurry vision I started dictating to Mr. C how he needed to raise Eva in a world without me. Clearly, I survived and was in all likeliness not as close to my death bed as I felt. The trauma of it all was very real though.
The next fifteen months were a complete whirlwind, a crazy rollercoaster ride of parenthood and house renovating. Enough to make anyone’s head spin but each room ticked off felt like a victory. Just as I felt like life was getting back on track and sleep had become a regular occurrence again a visit to a supermarket changed all that. Whilst walking down one of the isles I suddenly spotted one of those ridiculously expensive sticks that I had used so often just a couple of years earlier and it dawned on me I felt a little sick, a little bloated and a little overdue for my period. No prizes for guessing what comes next. Two was always our magic number but after the journey we had gone through to get our daughter we had decided to just leave it up to fate and I hadn’t really given it any more thought until that magical word that changes everything flashed straight up without any hesitation.
Stress and happiness are not always opposites I find I am often overwhelmed by a deep-set feeling of happiness and contentment while my surface emotion is just stress and exhaustion. The thought of another baby while filling me with joy truly terrified me. Mr. C worked long and unsociable shifts meaning I often lone parented. I couldn’t get my head around how it was possible to be outnumbered by two tiny humans and survive on a daily basis.
During this pregnancy, Mr. C got accepted to go for a promotion within the police. A profession he had dedicated around eighteen years to. It involved a lot of preparation and time spent preparing away from his family. When he received the email to say he had not been successful, the stress of the last few years suddenly and quite dramatically came spilling over, it was the last bit of liquid needed for him to reach full saturation. The professional disappointment, the injustice, the long hours, the commute, the time spent away from his young family, the pressure to keep our lovely new home over our heads, the sleep deprivation and pretty much every other disappointment he had faced throughout life came spilling over. He had reached his limit, taken on too much water and needed time to dry out. I truly wish I could have been a better wife and offered more support to him but in truth, I was pretty saturated myself. Running around after a toddler whilst pregnant with a big baby was literally taking it all out of me so at the end of the day I just had nothing extra to give.
We talked a lot, shouted often and cried at times but there is no option when children are involved other than just getting up and getting on with it. No time to take a break, no time to dry out. The reality was we sat on the same draining board and worked together to absorb lives liquid. When he reached full capacity, I took on what extra water I could, whatever extra liquid needed mopping up. But I was already saturated so it didn’t take long for me to reach my limit as well.
The plan was weeks in the making; little snippets of conversations here and there which gradually evolved from a crazy pipe dream to something that could actually become a reality. Our choices where simple. Carry on the way we were and race to see who drowned first or change life. We decided to be brave and chase our happy.
Our vision was to sell our lovely big house, which had started to feel like a burden around our necks. The lack of time, energy and funds to get it to reach its full potential weighed heavy on us both. It was our muddy puddle that we were left in to slowly absorb all the murky water. Just a constant source of unnecessary stress. Using the equity, we would buy a small semidetached house in a beautiful village just a few minutes away. Build a small extension to give us a little more space and to live mortgage-free which would give Mr. C the financial freedom to quit his job and temporarily take over my dad’s business while he figured out a longer-term plan. The ultimate goal was to give ourselves time to dry out, to simplify life in any areas we can control, to have financial freedom and quality family time. Surely nothing else matters in life?
I write this with a cup of herbal tea in one hand, sitting in bed looking at a very wet but soul-satisfying rural view outside my bedroom window. Our journey and search for a simple life did not run smoothly and is ever-evolving. We had rocks in our path and fell in puddles along the way. At a point in our lives when we felt we were at full capacity, we somehow managed to squeeze ourselves out and make room to absorb more liquid. Some days it was myself soaking it all up, other’s Mr. C would take on the last bit of water he could contain. It didn’t feel like it at the time but two sponges even at full capacity are better than one. Sharing the burden and load even if unhealthy gave each of us short periods of time to dry out enough to carry on.
Last Christmas was spent in a small rented house after our building work went wrong at the hands of a conman. This Christmas we are in our own home, putting our plan into action. Eight months in and I feel like I am drying out a bit more each day. As that water starts to evaporate, I have room for other things, other thoughts and feelings again. I have time, space and energy to be a better mother, a better wife, and a better person. I feel wiser about life and somehow more optimistic in a realistic way.
Throughout all of this, even at full saturation, when stress felt like it was consuming every bit of me, when my heart was constantly in overdrive and my body ready for the next fight, throughout it all I knew deep down it was just a moment in time. That it was a temporary situation and that everything would turn out how it was supposed to be. There is no end to this story. No magical solution to instantly transform you and rid you of stress. Life is just made up of moments and chapters. I am still giving us a big pat on the back for not choosing to settle, to try something new and to live the life we choose not the one we are expected to live. I am sharing our story in the hope that it inspires anyone who feels they are at full capacity to try and take their own action however big or small to allow themselves time to dry out. Try to accept things as they are knowing that hard times will pass. Choose the life you want to live and to realise in life it is never too late or too hard to change. It won’t be easy but nothing easy is worth doing. Our search for our simple and stress-free life is currently in full swing.