When you’re a teenager you are asked to fill out a questionnaire (usually on some very outdated computer program) and then they tell you what career you’re suited for. Of course if you have half a brain you can pretty much answer the multiple choice questions in such a way as to fix the answer to something that sounds cool when telling your peers. I think I was told to be a film director. Sounds cool, is probably actually very difficult and in fact nothing to do with what I would actually want to do.
The thing is I am now 31 years old and still as unclear about what I want to do.
I have spent the last few years as a stay at home mum and it has been fantastic. It’s had its challenges and there have been more than a handful of times where I have threatened to go back to a 9 to 5 job and get someone else to look after my kids. However, I never really mean it. My kids are awesome and if I had to pick a boss I’d rather it be a 2 foot tall person that I can pick up than a 6 foot tall wanker who I actually have to pretend to respect and agree with.
This year, though, Rufus began primary school and Eloise will be starting nursery and so the reality of what my life will look like when I’m not needed at home full time is becoming ever more obvious. So what am I going to do. Thankfully we are in a privileged enough position that Nick earns enough to keep us in the black. We’re not ‘rolling in it’ but we’re doing ok and that’s great because it means that I now have the luxury of deciding what I want to do regardless of the salary it may generate.
Prior to Rufus I was working in charity and it was fine. I was good at my job and I liked the people I worked with but it didn’t really fulfil me. I have always been good at organisational work but it’s not exactly a passion. My passions have always leaned more towards the creative side. I studied drama, dance and even film and always expected that I would lend myself to a creative industry but for complicated reasons those opportunities never really came my way (not that I really expected them to). So I found myself at 26 working an office job and then one day when my period was four days late I took myself off to the work bathroom and took a pregnancy test. I didn’t really think it would be positive but I wanted to put my mind to rest. Well, it didn’t do that, instead there was a very clear positive result that left me breathless. It was certainly not planned. I was already engaged but had kind of thought I’d wait until after the wedding to have a baby but I guess plans change and from that day forward my priority has been being a mum.
The situation is this country, particularly in London, is that childcare is extortionately expensive and the salary that I was on at the time barely covered it. The measly childcare voucher scheme did not really help that much so idea of me going back to work to earn just enough to ay for my child to be cared for by someone else seemed wrong to say the least. So that was decision made. I was no longer an office worker I was a full time, stay at home mum. Now you might be thinking, great you can do what you want. Ha! I do what my children want. I get woken up by them at 6:30, I have to get out of bed right away to meet their demands for food and drink. They run my schedule daily. I ensure they eat well, drink enough water and get exercise but everything else is pretty much up to their whim and any parent who says otherwise must run some kind of Victorian workhouse.
Now I’m not the type of parent who allows their children to run wild. It is important to me that they’re polite, respectful and kind to everyone but I just don’t feel the need to fill their everyday with activities and outings so for the most part they do lead the play and it’s great. Two little bosses who get me to read stories, pretend to be a pirate, fly with wings and eat copious amounts of breadsticks. Of course this has meant that the last four years have been pretty full on and I have not had the headspace or wherewithal to do very much else.
When Rufus was about 9 months old I felt like it would be good to train in something so that when I was ready I would have a skill to market and earn money with. The thing that seemed the most suited to my attention seeking and event loving self was celebrancy. Being a Celebrant means that you can conduct weddings, naming ceremonies, vow renewals and funerals. In this country we have yet to make it legally binding when a celebrant conducts a wedding so you can only say the flowery words and registrar is still required for the legal part. Anyway, I trained to become a Celebrant and I loved it. I definitely have a side of me that loves performing, speaking to groups of people and I even really enjoyed the writing process. It’s great to have a black page with which to fill with all the fantastic words that you used to describe love, family, hope and joy. It’s sounds incredibly corny but it’s true and for someone as cynical and unromantic as me, it came as quite a surprise that I loved it so much.
So after training I started my business. I never intended for it to be a full time thing, it was just supposed to bring in the odd bit of money every now and then to help us save for holidays, or house projects etc. However, starting a business is hard. Finding clients is really hard and while I may enjoy writing about other people I am terrible at selling myself. I actually feel rude asking for people to pay for my services. I’m just Jennie, nothing worth paying for (or at least that’s what my inner voices were saying). I managed to book a couple of naming ceremonies relatively quickly and that was great. I don’t just love my own kids, I love all kids. They’re so wonderful and funny, it was a true pleasure writing ceremonies celebrating all the things that made them great. But then the work dried up. I was struggling to make contacts and as soon as people found out my fees that seemed to put them off. I knew I was starting out at below market rate but it was still really hard to get any one to bite. Eventually I had a call from a groom who was in a desperate situation. Their celebrant had pulled out at the last minute and they needed someone to step in right away. I jumped at the chance and later that week, after a frantic purchase of appropriate wedding attire and learning of the ceremony, I conducted their wedding. It was really, sincerely one of the best days of my working life. It was so wonderful to witness this incredibly beautiful moment where these two people declared their love for each other in front of everyone they knew. I felt so honoured to be there. To not only witness the moment but help it actually happen.
Around this time I found out I was pregnant with Eloise so I decided to stop looking for work as I tend to get very tired in pregnancy and didn’t want to add more stress to my life. We were also planning to move house to give us more room for our new addition and if you’ve ever attempted moving house you’ll know that it is as stressful as trying to land a jumbo jet with no flying experience while the true pilot is passed out beside you. I hate moving house, which many people may be surprised by as we have done so many times in the last 5 years, but I really hate it. The amount of admin and aggravation involved in lining up all the cogs to make it go smoothly (which it never does) is enough to make you want to just live in a box in a field somewhere and go off the grid forever. So with all this stress in my life Celebrancy fell to the wayside.
Eloise was born in May 2015 and as I have mentioned in a previous chapter, that didn’t exactly go smoothly so I was not in a place to do anything other than just survive for a while.
About 6 months ago we had been living in our new house (yes, another one) for a few months, our finances seemed stable again, Nick was happy in his job, Rufus was settled in his new preschool and Eloise was growing up incredibly fast everyday when I started, for the first time in almost 2 years, to ask myself – what about me? I was suddenly, or at least It seemed suddenly, feeling really good. I felt happy and calm for the first time in such a long time and I realised I now had some room in my head to think about me. What did I want to do or be? I was still profoundly content in my role as a mummy but I wanted more. I wanted something that was unrelated to anyone else. In my role as mum it’s related to the fact I have children, my role as wife is because of my husband. I wanted a role that was for and because of me.
So the first question was, back to Celebrancy? I really liked doing it and I knew I was pretty good at it but I really hate selling myself. I don’t want to awkward exchange of ‘uh, would you be able to pay me now? Could you pay me before the day? Could you confirm that you’re happy to go ahead?’ So painfully uncomfortable for me. So it was decided that I would leave the door to Celebrancy open but I wouldn’t actively market myself. I had a FB page, website and links on other sites so if people wanted to find me for their ceremony they could.
Second question, if not Celebrancy then what?
I have always been opinionated, I have always felt strong in my convictions and becoming a parent has only heightened this side of me. Once you become a parent you are suddenly excruciatingly more aware of how everything that happens in the world effects your children now but also in the future and I felt an immense responsibility to try and improve things for them. For example the day before I was induced with Eloise I voted in a general election. This election resulted in the end of dire situation that was the coalition and began the Conservatives reign of terror (or at least that’s how it felt at the time). I actually found myself apologising to the midwives that were looking after me knowing that sweeping cuts would be coming to the NHS as a result of the election. Not long after that we had the pure joy (note the sarcasm) of Brexit and again I found myself walking into shops and apologising to shopkeepers who felt they no longer belonged or were wanted in this country anymore. This was not the tolerant, kind and compassionate world that I had planned on raising my children in. So what was I going to do? Was I going to just sit and cry in the knowledge that the good that I believed existed in the world was crumbling around me or was I going to stand up and fight. I’ve never been very good at sitting still.
I decided that I needed to start speaking out.
I started by getting involved in my local constituency by doing political campaigning and then I took part in protests. By the time Rufus and Eloise were 3 and 1 they had collectively attended and marched in 4 protests. I plan to continue (however a lot of the last minute ones tend to be in the middle of the day when I’m busy with school and nursery runs).
Even though I was getting more involved in politics, speaking out more publically and campaigning I still felt like my voice wasn’t being heard and that I wanted to do more. One thing that I really feel passionate about is mental health. I have dealt with depression, PND and PTSD in my 31 years as well as social anxiety which at times has been crippling. It’s very important to me that mental health is talked about more openly and that better provisions are put in place to help people. I decided that it would be better to focus my efforts to begin with and considering I was still on antidepressants as a result of my PND and birth trauma it made sense that the first real subject I tried to tackle was maternity mental health.
I’ve always felt that it is all well and good telling people to be more open about mental health struggles but it’s actually more poignant if you are prepared to do so too. Therefore, the first thing I did was film a video of me discussing my traumatic birth. I had tried to write it down a number of times and had struggled to find the right words to convey the depths of the emotion I had experienced and continue to experience at times. I had never filmed myself talking about it before and I don’t think I had ever spoke through the whole experience in order either so when I came to record it, I was really nervous about how I would be able to get through it. I decided that I wanted it to be all one take, no edits, just me talking as honestly as I can. (See below).
I have to admit the video was as much a video to highlight the truth of my situation for others as it was to highlight the truth to me. It was incredibly therapeutic to sit and say it all, get it all out. I remembered moments that I thought were lost forever. It was the most honest I had ever been with myself about how everything had felt at the time and how it continues to feel. Before I had the chance to think twice I uploaded the video and shared it on social media. I then ran away from my computer and buried myself in getting the kids ready for bed, making dinner for Nick and I followed by a long bath. The next day I was brave enough to see the reactions.
That morning I was overwhelmed. The reactions and responses I got were far more positive than I ever could have imagined. All of my friends who have children and watched it were the first to come back with wonderful messages of support. People who I knew had suffered similar traumas messaged me and thanked me for my honesty. I was so touched and pleased to have reached so many people. That day I realised that I was in a position where I felt strong enough to talk honestly about my emotional state, and I wasn’t scared of the response so I vowed to do it more.
I had recently joined the Birth Trauma Association group of Facebook and through that learned of Birth Trauma Awareness week (god how I wish I had known about this group after Eloise was first born) and offered myself up for anything they needed in regards to helping to get people talking about this particular issue. It was such a wonderful thing to know that I was finally using my unfiltered, outspoken, passionate, opinionated and occasionally annoying self for good.
I’m not sure where all of this honesty and passion is going to lead but I am continuing to make videos talking about things that matter to me as well as making videos that are trying to be honest about mental health (god knows I have a lot of experience with this topic).