As many of you know I recently took my clothes off, save for a mismatched pair of funky socks, for a photoshoot. They are at the bottom of this post, but I'd ask you to read about my reasons for doing it first.
Primarily it was Kate On Thin Ice who invited me to do it, she who writes an inspirational blog about boosting women's mojos and giving them confidence.
Yes, I thought, I will show the world that we must celebrate our Mummy bodies, in all their stretched and squidgy glory for they have created our beautiful children.
Then I thought I might as well raise a bit of cash for my chosen Down Syndrome charities while I was at it. Nothing like getting your kit off to get people to look up and give, I figured.
£3500 WAS RAISED FOR VARIOUS DOWNS SYNDROME CHARITIES. THANK YOU X
So, at 43, I did it. My photograher friend at Photography by Maryna donated her time and expertise, along with a make-up lady Julie of Angel Face and Geoff produced a video of the preparations and my reasons. But I found the day strangely emotional, as this behind the scenes photo shows.
|The tears behind the bravado|
Why was that?
I thought at first it was because I was thinking of all the families just starting their journeys with their little ones with Down's Syndrome and remembering that tricky time of acceptance and adjustment for us.
But no, it was more than that.
I then thought perhaps it was because the last time I was naked in our house with a group of people around me, it was at the planned home birth of Natalia. Perhaps my body was remembering, revisiting the shock and worry.
It was only when I was chatting to a journalist one evening about the photos and why I wanted to share them with other women, that I suddenly realised why that day had been so emotional....
Like all women, my body can tell a story, the story of my life.
The growing up and adjusting to my new shape, the hideous toes I hid until I was into my twenties and moved to Cornwall where flip flops are de rigeur, the growing to accept and gloss over the bits you don't care for and make the most of the bits you do.
Then there was the stuff it has lived through the horse-riding falls, being married to husband number one Mr Aggressive, the keep fit fads and phases, the parachute jump, the minor RTA.
And then I turned my thoughts to babies
I have been pregnant a total of 7 times. It's quite a lot and it's not something I think about every day. But they are there as part of my journey.
We first became pregnant unexpectedly quickly on our honeymoon, a paradise beginning in the Maldives. 5 weeks later that ended amid blame: the sun, the diving, the rum. I was desperately upset, for life is supposed to go exactly how you plan it when you are first married isn't it? I Googled and researched and planned a detox. It would not happen again.
I became pregnant straight away after our second attempt. We were already more cautious, keeping the pregnancy quiet even from family because it didn't seem real. But it was very real and the morning sickness kicked in with a vengence. I was so desperately ill, lost weight, was listless and struggled to keep down dry crackers and San Pelligrino water. Anything else was unbearable, even the smell of food. Bob had to eat in the garden at one stage. Gradually the illness passed and out came our beautiful, strong, feisty, dark Mia, the image of her father. She was an undiagnosed breach, but luckily we managed.
Being a Mum was wonderful yet all consuming. The tiredness continued, Mia didn't sleep well and breastfeeding on demand continued for many months. The last thing on my mind was another baby at that moment. But, just around the time of Mia's first birthday I became unexpectedly pregnant again. It seemed too early, but I knew I would have coped, but by the same token I was wary of my body's ability to sustain this pregnancy. I had a 50/50 chance right? The track record showed it.
I was right. Again at around 6 weeks I miscarried.
Lying on the sofa in pain, covered in blankets. I began to wonder what was wrong. Why was my body rejecting these babies? Surely there couldn't have been something wrong with both of them. My diet was incredible, I was taking Folic acid, I was only 34. Was that too old?
My GP said there was nothing to worry about and that they would only investigate after 4 miscarriages in a row. Gosh, what if that happened. 4! I wasn't sure if I could take the emotional trauma.
We moved house and quickly pregnancy number 4 was conceived. This time when I saw the blue line, there was no excitement at all. I just thought, 'Right, let's give it our best shot. Here we go again." It became a challenge.
I rested as much as you can with a 1 year old, lifted nothing. But to no avail.
I sat at a baby sign class, looking around the room at other pregnant Mums, so happy and oblivious to my pain. Tears plopped silently onto my lap. Why was it seemingly easy for others and not for us? A selfish thought.
My head knew we were lucky to have Mia and I knew other's pain was much worse. All our losses were early but my heart was growing fearful that I would not be able to make a sibling for our firstborn.
It wouldn't have been the end of the world, we would have coped, adopted maybe. But those were my honest raw feelings of the time.
Pregnancy number 5 came fairly quickly afterwards. I getting frustrated with my body, cross and angry, impatient too. I began searching around for more help, a definitive answer.
I went to a herbalist and Foresight who tested a sample of my hair and prescribed various vitamins for the shortfalls it highlighted. If any of that works it was too late. Again the dull ache that signified the end. The lack of sickness or hideous metallic taste always a sign it would come. I was clutching at straws I guess.
Bob found it hard to comprehend my dark despair. He urged me to relax, that all would be fine, and that anyway we should be grateful for having Mia. I guess for many men, until they see a baby it is hard to feel a pregnancy in the same way as a woman does. She lives it after all.
So, now on the regime of various vitamins, Natty was conceived. I panicked, was desperate to know if all would be fine. I paid for a private ealry scan at 6 weeks. The heart was beating and we were to go home and wait. Nothing more could be done. There were no answers.
The metallic taste came and the nausea rose, I knew these were positive signs. Less nausea than with Mia but never-ending vomiting right until the day she was born. It was miserable but I clung to the notion that this was a good sign. Family tried to take over when they could, to entertain 2 year old Mia. CBeebies played on a loop in between.
When Natty arrived, and there's enough written on this blog about her entrance into our world, people said things about the state of my eggs, my age, why hadn't we had 'the tests'. All those questions making me feel that I had caused her medical problems. Again the body was at fault. I feared my marriage would be over because of an extra chromosome. My body looked fine on the outside but it must be decrepid on the inside. Did all those other miscarriages have DS too? The genetic counsillors could not tell us. Apparently there are no answers to some of life's hardest questions.
It's funny how your mind works when you are in shock because in reality Bob bonded with Natty far earlier than I was able, saying she would be just fine, his Italian belief in family outweighing anything else. And of course babies with DS are born to women of all ages and backgrounds.
But here is the thing:
Natty is not a mistake, nor an error. She is just as perfect as Mia. They are incredible and we made them. Not only that but my body produced every single drop of milk they both drank, for Natty that was expressed life-giving milk that passed down her nose tube for 3 months. When the tube was removed she breastfed successfully for 18 months. Thank you body.
After a period of readjustment, almost mourning that baby we thought we were expecting, Natty drew us in, melted our hearts, began her life long work of teaching us and the world around.
She will face obstacle in life, but we are here to try and smash them out of her way. Perhaps, deep down, this is me trying to make up for that teensy bit of guilt, that I too was initially a part of those barriers.
Maybe that's why I throw my whole life into changing things for others, not ever wanting any other parent to feel the desperation I felt in those early days, and working to knock down and obliterate those obstacle for her and others like her. My head knows I didn't cause them but my heart is determined to smooth the way.
A couple of years ago came the very last pregnancy. A dangerously ectopic one that found its way despite a coil in place. That time I was relieved when no medical intervention was needed to save me from surgery, that my body dealt with it by itself.
So that is why I chose to take my clothes off. To thank my body for the babies, those with us and those lost. To thank it for feeding our girls for 3 1/2 years between them.