Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Letter to my 16 year old self

This post is inspired by a book that's just been published in the UK . In it, lots of celebrities write letters to themselves when they were 16, giving advice they wish they'd had back then. I heard a few excerpts on Radio 4 Woman's Hour the other day, and it got me thinking: what would I say to my teenage self, if I could?

Dear 16 year old me,

I'm not entirely clear why I'm bothering to write this, as I'm fairly sure you're going to ignore this advice anyway, knowing you as I do. Still, I reckon it's worth a try, as so far the only person you really listen to when it comes to advice is the voice inside your head. Who needs to listen to parents, anyhow? What do they know? Anyway, I digress.

I know that at the moment, the future - and the life outside your parents' very lovely but isolated country home - is an intoxicating mixture of exciting unknown opportunities and frightening potential failure. Will you be able to succeed in your chosen career, something you've wanted to do for years already? When will you be able to live somewhere more exciting, ie. when will life, as far as you're concerned, eventually start? Will a boy ever feel the same way for you as you feel about them? Will your thighs/bum/boobs ever resemble those of the ladies on Baywatch? Questions, questions, questions. Here, I'm hoping to provide just a few answers. Ignore them at your peril.

1) Firstly, career. I've learned over the years that persistence really pays off, and trust me, yours will, in the end. But be prepared for a great deal of rejection. Try to learn to rationalise it and focus on the good things you have going for you. Work hard, try not to get too emotional (always a struggle for you!) and keep your eye on the prize. But the other really important thing to bear in mind, and something that will become more and more obvious as you grow older, is this; a career isn't even half of what's really important in life.

2)As for moving somewhere more exciting, let me tell you that very shortly, life will never be dull again. In fact, you will find yourself looking back on the halcyon days of wandering open fields with a Sony Walkman with fondness(but only occasionally!) All too soon you'll be at University in the big smoke. Oh, and then later on you marry this amazing man whose job will ensure life is NEVER dull! But more of that later...

3) As for the body image issues, well, the good news on this is that your body, despite what you might think right now, is lovely, and probably the best it will ever be! (That's sort of the bad news, as it's downhill from now on!) The other good news is that you will come to love it and appreciate it. You'll never quite rid yourself of your insecurity (very few ever do) but you soon realise that we all have bits of our bodies we don't like, so we're all in it together.

4) Now for the biggie. BOYS. This topic has been consuming you ever since you developed female hormones, and it will be with you a while yet. I think years of single-sex education haven't done you too many favours on this front, leading you to find all boys exciting, whether they are arrogant idiots or not. I'm quite torn on this point, actually, as I really believe every single mistake you will make in relationships makes you into the woman you will become, so I don't really want to give too much advice. I can't stop myself however from specifically telling you that, when your first serious boyfriend breaks up with you at 18, I'd like you to walk away completely, and not hang around in case he changes his mind... But come on, who am I kidding, you're going to ignore me anyway! Oh, and the other thing is... It WILL all be ok in the end. Despite the emotional rollercoaster you will be on for another 10 years, there's a rainbow at the end that's really worth waiting for. So, enjoy the ride, as best you can.

Now, for some extraneous bits and bobs:

If you're being bullied, know that the people who are bullying you probably have bigger problems than you do.

Many of the most successful students academically struggle to translate that into success in later life. So don't worry if you come (God forbid!) 3rd place in an exam!

Love and appreciate your parents, because you have no idea how long they're going to be around, and, infuriating as they might be, they are very very precious.

Persuade your mum to let you go clothes shopping with friends and a budget, to avoid mum-influenced teenage fashion disasters (I still bear the scars...!)

Lots of friends come and go. Don't be too upset about the ones that go by the wayside, this happens a great deal in life. The ones that really matter are the ones who stick with you.

Oh, and Frizz Ease is a product of brilliance. Use it on your hair!

And finally...

When something amazing is happening to you, like leaving school, going to Uni, meeting your husband, and getting married, savour every single moment. Take lots of pictures, and keep them. Keep your letters and cards. Because one day, these will be more precious to you than you could ever imagine.

Enjoy it! The best is yet to come.

Lots of love,

You xx

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Back into the lion's den

Some of you will remember this post, in which I unwittingly found myself attending a mother and baby group coffee morning.

As I was undergoing fertility treatment and was hormonally challenged (to put it mildly) at the time, it was a complete disaster. I ended up weeping uncontrollably in front of a group of complete strangers.

Well, the other day I faced my nemesis again, although crucially, this time willingly. There's a very active group of new and expectant mums here which meets once a week, and I decided it might be a good thing to make some new friends in a similar situation to me. I had hoped to do this via ante-natal classes, but finding group classes is proving tricky out here, so I figured a coffee group might be another good option.

The morning didn't start well. My husband was away, and as I drove to the venue I began to get horrible pains in my chest. I was extremely frightened, and when I parked up I found the pain was worse when I stood up, so I sat back in the car and tried to calm down. I rationalised that, as the pain was high up in my chest around my breastbone, it was most likely heartburn, something I've only had mildly in the past, but had read could be a problem at this stage of pregnancy. Eventually it eased off a little and I walked very slowly into the cafe and found the group.

Unfortunately there weren't any other expectant mums there this time - they were all new mums. Still, I sat down and the lady next to me suddenly said "I know you from somewhere..." As I was puzzling about it, she suddenly piped up, "Oh yes, I remember now. I was at that coffee morning at your compound....."

Horror flashbacks! Acute embarrassment. This woman has witnessed my worst ever public breakdown!

Luckily, she couldn't have been nicer. She congratulated me warmly, introduced me to her son who was in her tummy last time we met, and made me feel welcome. Once I sat down I owned up to my killer heartburn, and all the women present reassured me that that was what it was, and that I had nothing to worry about. One even gave me some Rennies to try to combat it. I was extremely grateful.

One of my friends at home told me a while ago, however, that you grow to both love and hate these sort of groups. Love the fact that you can get reassurance and advice, but hate the fact that they can also be exclusive and competitive. (Well MY baby sleeps through the night! Well MY baby can sit up now! Etc.) We'll just have to see how I find it.

It's certainly a miracle being on the inside of one of these groups now, rather than on the outside looking in. The outside is a cold, frightening and desperate place to be.

Other related news - I did my Glucose Tolerance Test yesterday, because my doctor thinks I'm at high risk of gestational diabetes due to my PCOS. It was pretty horrible. They give you a nasty sugary orange drink to drink after 12 hours fasting, then take four separate blood tests over three hours. Brilliant. I was so knackered by the experience I slept for three hours when I got home in the afternoon! Fingers crossed I pass it...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

New life in 3D

We've just had our 22 week "anomaly scan". This is where they check for any obvious problems with the baby's organs and limbs, and I'm happy to report that bump passed with flying colours! We are so relieved. The scan was a particularly amazing experience because it was in 3D. This meant that we were able to see our baby's face for the first time, a magical experience we will never forget. Bump was sucking its thumb and smiling!

I've been feeling the baby kick a lot recently too, which is also a pretty amazing experience. My husband has even been able to feel the movement from the outside - I think we're breeding an athlete! This is less of a bonus at night when I'm trying to sleep. Night-time seems to be bump's favourite time! This doesn't augur well for our sleep!

In other news, I've just spoken to my mum in the UK on skype. It's snowing heavily there, and she moved the webcam so that I could see their garden blanketed in the white stuff. A small part of me feels a teensy bit jealous (there's something very romantic about snow, isn't there) but I also feel rather smug sitting here in 25c in a t-shirt, looking at the sun shining down outside our apartment, when she's in -2, in a thick jumper, hugging her portable radiator. There are definitely benefits to living out here!

Friday, 1 January 2010

Aviation security under the spotlight, AGAIN...

Gordon Brown's announcement today that the UK will "move quickly" to enhance airport security strikes me as shutting the door after the horse has bolted. Aviation security is always reactionary - locking flight deck doors after 9/11, banning large bottles of liquids after the transatlantic liquid bomb plot. Now, we have various kneejerk measures including a ban on leaving your seat in the last hour of flight (?!) How on earth that's supposed to stop a determined terrorist, I have NO idea. But it would be hell for pregnant ladies like me, I can tell you!

No, what needs to happen now should have happened years ago. We need to get rid of our feelings of prudishness and a slightly skewed interpretation of human rights, and bring in body scanners and passenger profiling at every airport.

I know that some people feel that body scanners invade our privacy, but really, I feel the security benefit and lack of hassle involved far outweighs the unease some feel about others seeing what they look like under their clothes. And as my Dad says, it will be worse for the person checking the scans than for him! In all seriousness, the scanning technology currently being trialed in the UK at Manchester Airport involves technicians in totally separate rooms with no view of the security area merely flagging up issues to their colleages on the ground if necessary. Therefore they have no idea who they're looking at on these scans, and even if they did, how quickly would they get bored? At some point during the first day, I bet. After all, we're all pretty similar underneath! And when you consider how useless a metal detector is against today's terrorists (they don't tend to favour grenades and knives these days) I think body scanners represent the only realistic way forward, whether you're offended by them or not. And just think for a second.. No need to take off your belt and shoes, no need for a pat down... I know which option I'd prefer!

And as for passenger profiling - this has been largely shunned due to fears that certain sectors of society will feel victimised by it. But without getting into statistics here, lone male travellers and people of particular faiths and lifestyle (which of course depends on the motive for terrorism at a particular time) have been shown to be the greatest risk. What's so wrong with asking a few extra questions? True, determined bombers could try to get round this by, God forbid, bringing their families with them, etc, but it's worth a try. I think most people would be prepared to put up with a little extra hassle if it makes them safer.

So, that's what I think. Clearly my view is influenced by the fact that my husband flies planes for a living, and that I'm a frequent flyer myself.

What do you think?



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