The land of the free

I dropped my twins to nursery this morning, and my daughter (almost 4) had a small wobble when I was heading off, and needed to be hugged and comforted by one of her teachers, and reassured I’d be back in a few hours.

I walked away, my heart breaking, thinking of all the kids in the US right now being taken from their parents, when even in a safe, trusted environment small kids are so fragile and vulnerable, needing comfort about even the smallest planned separation from their parent.

And the parents… broken from getting their kids, despite all the danger, to what they think will be a place where things might be better in comparison to the violence of where they’ve left… to be told their kids are being taken for baths, and then realising they’ve actually been separated.

The similarities with Nazi Germany are chilling. Being a Jew was made illegal, and this then used to dehumanize Jewish people and justify their treatment. The constant hammering on about these people’s ‘illegal’ status by Trump and the Republicans, and that being used to justify what is totally inhumane at every level, is history repeating itself.

To apply for asylum you have to enter a country, apply for asylum immediately and then you’re not ‘illegal’; the US is stopping people from applying for asylum, and taking their kids before they have a chance to do this, which is a violation of US and international law. When I try to imagine the hopelessness of people who can’t go back or forwards, it crushes me. And the terror the kids must feel… unimaginable.

It’s reprehensible what’s happening. Families coming to seek asylum, being arrested before they have the ability to do so – kids stripped from them and put in cages. And the US government and a portion of the population condoning this. Dark, dark times.

London Moonwalk 2018: we walked the walk, and limped the limp!

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As 2018 approached, I decided to pull a bit of time back for myself to concentrate on health, slow and steady weightloss and overall wellbeing, after 3 years of feeling like I’d given everything possible – and then some – to my three-year-old twins, my career and all the other demands.

One of the potential personal challenges that caught my eye was the London MoonWalk – I’ve seen reports about it before, and it’s always been a bit of a bucket list item for me… walking a marathon in London past loads of sights, through the night, in a bra, to raise awareness for breast cancer, and support for grant-making charity Walk the Walk….what’s not to love?!

This year was its 20th year running, so myself and friends Heather and Mark decided to sign up, and take on what is known to be a pretty fierce challenge! Here are inspiring words from Heather about her own motivation behind doing this challenge:

“This year I will have made it to ten years living with stage IV breast cancer in my liver and bones, which is a small miracle given that I had a roughly 15% chance of making it to this point. When my friend Donna suggested doing the London Moonwalk it seemed like a brilliant way to mark this moment so I couldn’t say no and roped my husband Mark into it too. 

Cancer will always loom over my future, but I learned to accept this by understanding that a life isn’t valued by its length, but its depth of experience. Nearly ten years ago I promised myself that having cancer wouldn’t reduce my world. I have travelled to new places (in the photo that’s me in Swedish Lapland :)), forged new friendships and deepened old ones, learned new skills and taken on new challenges. This seems like a good tradition to continue, so on 12th May, Donna, Mark and I will walk 26.2 miles at night through London for the Moonwalk – my toughest physical challenge since bring diagnosed with breast cancer!

Walk the Walk is a grant making breast cancer charity that gives funds to charities big and small that are involved with breast cancer in order to make a difference to the lives of as many people as possible affected by the disease. This is where you come in! If my story has made you smile or stop and think for a moment, please consider sponsoring me and the team just a few quid so that everyone affected by breast cancer can be given the support they need and are offered treatments that give them the chance to live their lives. Please donate so that there can be many more positive stories like mine.”

So signed up we were, and the next thing to think about was training. I was already in training for the London Marathon, happing the month before, so that had me covered, and Mark and Heather covered some epic walked distances during their own training.

We received pre-walk packs with useful training info, as well as the famous white Wonderbra – ready for decorating – and a rather fetching pink cowboy hat, this year’s theme being Wild Wild West.

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So it was feathers and hot glue at the ready, to get me decorated for the big day!

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One of the elements that makes the challenge such a challenge – distance aside – is the fact that it’s overnight. In my own case there was zero rest beforehand; my husband was away the day of the event so I had my 3-year-old twins for 11 hours – i.e. NOT a restful situation – and then a quick handover when my husband returned, before I grabbed my bag and headed off, already feeling wrecked, thinking… how am I going to walk a marathon now?! But as I got closer to Clapham Common the number of people wearing pink, and all sorts of other random bright sparkly clothing, increased, as did the buzz, and I thought, LET’S DO THIS!

There was a fab pre-race atmosphere at the starting area, with a huge tent where we were all given some food, and there was even a bit of line dancing for those with energy to burn! I met Mark and Heather there, and we were all impressed with the bra efforts! Some people had gone to serious effort – was amazing to see everyone’s talk on the Wild Wild West theme.

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A bit of food, and a bit of caffeine, and before we knew it we were off!!

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There were men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes. We heard the oldest woman doing it was in her eighties – amazing!!

This was the course map – click here to see the Relive animation of the route we took.

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As I’d trained for and completed the London Marathon, which I’d run the month before, I was feeling fit and ready, thinking… A walked marathon… this will be tiring but manageable. And the reality? This was gruuuuueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeling!!

Bet we did it! And like all epic challenges, getting that medal – and being able to stop said challenge – was a very very sweet feeling!!

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I feel so happy to have ticked this off the list, and when I look at this medal I’ll feel incredibly proud – it sure wasn’t easily won! Will I walk another marathon? To be honest, I’d sooner run one – more training needed, but you’re finished a lot faster and the recovery – for me anyway – was substantially quicker!

The London Marathon took me 5:55, and to walk the MoonWalk walk it took us 9:17, so 3 hours 22 mins longer on my feet… and boy did my legs protest towards the end, especially my ankles! I’d say about an hour of that time was for loo breaks – we stopped 3 times, but had to queue about 20 mins each time. It was a long time to be walking/standing, and the end was more of a zombie march than power walk!

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It was a rewarding challenge to undertake, and crucially we (well, mostly Heather!) raised over £1000 for Walk the Walk, which organises the world-famous midnight MoonWalk challenge and takes teams of women and men all over the world raising money for vital breast cancer causes: https://moonwalklondon2018.everydayhero.com/uk/we-are-mammary

The Sisterhood

Something happened yesterday to remind me how motherhood, as soon as you enter the trenches, goes from concept to sisterhood: suddenly you are tapped into a network of other women who are dealing – or have have had to deal – with much of the same hopes, fears, anxieties, challenges etc.

But where is the line between personal experience and empathy for those having a different, sometimes more challenging, journey? Should those experiencing the latter, with additional challenges, ‘man up’, or should the former make more effort to don the other’s shoes and have empathy? Or both?

The incident in question that got me mulling on this was small, but it did get me thinking: someone in a local group shared an amusing picture of a toddler mistaking a mannequin for a real woman, and latching on. The caption was ‘real mamas are best’.

A lot read it as a cute/funny/a joke – can absolutely understand how – but others immediately reacted differently, seeing how the phrasing used could be problematic when considering those who are struggling right now to breastfeed, don’t feel like a ‘proper’ mum, or – as my experience goes – have people around them commenting negatively on the fact they’re formula feeding.

Being affected by others’ comments was never an issue for me personally, I’m relieved to say, though I’ve seen people really hit hard by others’ words. With twins in different locations for a month, and one tube fed who projectile vomited from extreme reflux up to 30 times a day until he was 14 months, breastfeeding would have been, 100%, a logistical impossibility for me. We had a complex pregnancy and knew formula feeding was likely to be our road, and had done the relevant research. Interestingly when I asked in my NCT course for info about up-to-date guidelines I was told, no, we don’t give info like that as we only actively promote breastfeeding. Okaaaaay… not very helpful. What happens when that woman, determined to breastfeed, can’t but has no info and a screaming, hungry child? This approach by them is hugely problematic in my opinion, especially as to formula feed properly there is a really specific method, and – having been trained by Great Ormond Street Hospital about best practice – I so often see parents out and about, mixing up bottles in such a way that won’t kill the bacteria in the formula powder, which can be incredibly dangerous for little ones.

But my own body made that final call anyway: the trauma of my son nearly dying on day 5 meant I lost my letdown, and even though I’d been breastfeeding his healthy sister successfully to that point with mix feeding, as I wasn’t producing enough for her – not to mind feeding a second newborn also who wouldn’t latch so was getting his milk through hand expressing – it just wouldn’t physically come out anymore. It was the least of my worries at that time, though.

For so many, the way you’re treated when you formula feed can be incredibly affecting, and I know some who’ve had postnatal depression triggered by the fact that – despite doing all the research – breastfeeding didn’t work, added to that the fact people feel they can be quite judgemental. If I had a penny for every time someone saw me feeding and decided to tell me about someone with twins who successfully breastfed them… “isn’t that amazing?” Erm, to be honest, right now I’m just about able to keep these two and myself alive, but round of applause to your mate. I’ve even been called lazy when NG-tube feeding my son – maybe 2/3 months old at the time – in public.

What surprised me a little in the online conversation was, despite others having a similar reaction to me, so many came back to say, well, I formula fed and I personally don’t see this post that way, so there’s no problem.

To that I say: does that mean people who feel a bit jolted by this have to, therefore, just “get over” their issue? Is your experience the barometer here?

Or is it not possible to understand people will have different reactions to yourself, and that the best thing all round is to have a bit of empathy and sensitivity.

We’re all on this crazy train together, and need to support each other, and build each other up, and not push down. When I see women not having empathy with others who might be having a difficult time, or feeling a bit smug because things are going more smoothly for them versus the women around them for whatever reason – baby instantly took to the boob… everything just slots into line – it does make me sad. While this parenting journey is one of the best possible, it can be lonely and isolating, and I know I personally feel at my strongest surrounded by people who try to build me up and help. So my pact is to continue as much as I can to do this, and I urge you to do the same!

London Marathon done… now what?!!

I started this blog to document my journey from zero fitness in July 2017 to the London Marathon in April 2018.

When I started getting back into running last summer, my twins had just turned 3, and the 3 years of coping with pretty enormous amounts of stress had left me pretty burnt out across the board.

The challenges that come from having two newborns, then two toddlers, and managing a career, with no family living nearby, are huge. And for us, as one has had kidney failure from birth, we have a whole extra layer (medicalised care/hospital appointments and stays/stress and anxiety/responsibly/restriction and limitations) that is pretty hard to ever truly get across to those not in a similar camp.

In summary, there wasn’t a huge amount of time left for self-care in the early years of the twins’ arrival, but by the time they turned 3, I was just about feeling afloat enough to try to grasp some time back for me. When I see other mums able to get back into fitness 5 or 6 months after having a baby (even sooner sometimes!), I’m so pleased for them that it’s possible, but it does hit home just how hammered we were, by everything, which can be really saddening, looking back.

However, I’m just relieved I got there eventually, and the journey to the marathon was incredibly therapeutic: it forced me to find the time, somewhere, to start routinely looking after myself physically, as well as mentally. Also, having the chance to facilitate Great Ormond Street having more money in the pot has felt great too – allowing me to feel proactive. Feeling a lack of control is unfortunately something you feel daily when you’re dealing with a serious health condition in a child, so anything to combat that is a plus.

Having this blog has really helped, as the accountability – knowing people have been reading, or following me on Facebook/Instagram – has motivated me to get out there on days I haven’t felt I’ve had the motivation or energy. It’s also helped emotionally too; I love to write, but have had little time, and this has created a space to get thoughts down without too much time/commitment needed. It’s been an enlightening experience, and quite calming.

I’ve thought about “what’s next”, now the London Marathon is over, and I’ve done the various updates I’ve planned to do (on the Moonwalk, fundraising in my Irish village etc). I’ve decided that – as my weighloss journey is still ongoing (*loud sigh*), and I want to keep the fitness up – I’ll carry on with the blog, as a way of keeping up that motivation. Even if no one reads it, it will be a forum where I can keep myself on track, and can’t phone it in!

Today was Day One of the next phase: exercise and diet with a focus on getting the number on the scale down, as well as concentrating on the fitness.

It’s 30 weeks (209 days) to Christmas Day. I’m not going to set a very fixed goal, but hoping to get a couple of stone off by then. Any more, then bonus!

So it was trainers on this morning, and the fruit is stocked up. Onwards and upwards!!

Stop exporting the issue, Ireland

Today I flew from Cork to the UK. How many women have made that journey, Ireland having slammed its door in their face? The raped, the victims of incest, the children carrying children, the parents whose babies won’t survive, the domestic abuse victims, the women who can barely afford the flight to England not to mind another child, the cancer sufferers who know their life-saving treatment will be stopped…

Enough.

The cycle of shame, repression and control has to end.

This is the generation to do it.

For too long Ireland and the Catholic Church have controlled women, under the guise of concern for the unborn. It’s another story when they arrive: when watching a documentary on the Tuam babies last night – over 700 babies dead, thrown into a septic tank – emaciation was a regular reason given for their death. Starved by nuns. One mentioned was 3 months. Abused, sold, killed… Sorry, Church, if I don’t take your lead here, and instead focus on biology and basic human/maternity rights.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to claw back women’s rights.

I no longer have a vote in Ireland but am crossing everything – for my relatives, my friends… our daughters – that those who can will vote yes for the people here now: women, and the adults and children around them who need them.

#repealthe8th

Next challenge: the London Moonwalk 2018!

Just in case I missed the challenge of getting through 26.2 miles, I’ve got my sights set on the same distance again in 11 days: the London Moonwalk!

It’s a marathon-distance walk, which begins at midnight in Clapham and spans across London, taking in many sights. Oh, and we all wear bras – eek!! *googles how to hide wobbly bits*

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I’m doing it with my friends, Mark and Heather, as part of team “We Are Mammary”! This year marks ten years of Heather living with stage IV cancer, which makes the walk feel especially momentous as we mark the journey Heather has had to date – a warrior and absolute inspiration all the way!

Walk the Walk is a grant-making breast cancer charity that gives funds to charities big and small that are involved with breast cancer in order to make a difference to the lives of as many people as possible affected by the disease. This is where you come in! If my story has made you smile or stop and think for a moment, please consider sponsoring me and the team just a few quid so that everyone affected by breast cancer can be given the support they need and are offered treatments that give them the chance to live their lives. If this is a cause close to your heart, and you’re like to donate towards it, you can find our page here.

Now, just to bling up this bad boy!!

I’m a London Marathoner!

Before last week’s 2018 London Marathon, 1,042,960 competitors had finished the race since it started in 1981. For the new total add to that the more than 38,000 who finished this year, despite the grueling conditions… a number than includes ME! Even though it was the hottest London Marathon IN HISTORY – and that even slight heat on a day when I’m pottering around is almost too much for me – I managed to get round the 26.2 miles to complete what will forever remain one of the most memorable events of my life.

I went into the day with a plan to enjoy myself as much as possible, and a loose/very adjustable time goal of around 5:15. When I realised we were going to be running in conditions resembling a sauna, I adjusted that goal to “5 something”, hoping to come in anywhere under 6 hours; I’ve ran one previous marathon – 11 years ago, pre-twins, when I was much fitter/slimmer than now! – and I did that in 4:36, so thought being in the one-hour-above bracket versus two meant I would feel less far away from that time! Saying that, I knew I’d be thrilled to finish at all, given the heat and the fact that I was only a few months back to running, but I was delighted to come in at 5:55, so was doubly thrilled to have hit my revised goal as well as have finished the thing!

It was the most brutal run of my life, and I saw so many runners collapse along the route and have to be tended to/stretchered off; I felt grateful that I got over the finishing line unscathed. Over 100 very seriously ill runners were taken to hospital during the race, with many more treated on the course, and it proved to be an even more mammoth task than so many of us had anticipated/predicted. A marathon is epic… A marathon in heat? Almost unbearable for many.

My thoughts – like so many others – are with the family of Matt Campbell who so tragically died just under 4 miles from the finish line. The ‘Finish for Matt‘ campaign will help to ensure that the legacy he leaves is a large one; at the time of writing this his JustGiving page – which he set up to raise money for Brathay Trust in his father’s memory – had reached a total of more than £327,500.

That spirit, which has led to a massive drive to remember him, was so evident on the day itself. As I approached the starting area in Greenwich Park the morning of the marathon, uplifting classical music blared from speakers, and I felt the first choked-throat moment of the day – what was the first of many!!

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The atmosphere overall was fizzing… with nerves, excitement, goodwill, emotion… everyone felt part of something incredibly special. Here I am before the start, still relatively fresh-faced, hiding in the shade while I can!

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It was great meeting up with other Great Ormond Street runners too. Hats off to this guy who ran in a costume that must have been baking!

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After bag drop, and an epic loo queue, it was time for the national anthem, and the cheer when the queen hit the start buzzer at 10am was insane! This was actually happening!!

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Us ‘regular’ runners were able to watch that part on screens as we were starting in waves after this point, and then it was our turn to line up in our relevant pens, ready for take-off!

I was near the end of the starters and looking ahead at 40,000 people – people from all walks of life with the same goal that day – was really moving, and I felt moments from tears several times.

The vests of the 3 runners in front of me said ‘In Memory of my husband’, ‘In Memory of my dad’, and ‘In Memory of my son’, and looking at those words – fighting back the tears – it hit home how for so many of us we’d already dealt with more than a marathon distance could throw at us, even in the heat. If we could come through what we all had, then we could do this!

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I didn’t cross the start line until 10.50am, and with the heat and nerves I already felt energy sapping, but that soon came back as I crossed the start line to the cheers of the crowd, and we were off! Only 26.2 miles to go – easy peasy!!

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The London Marathon itself is a jumble of so many things: crowds; people shouting your name; costumes; run-through showers; thinking ‘one foot in front of the other; looking out for friends and family; taking in landmarks; having an ‘OH MY GOD I’M RUNNING ACROSS TOWER BRIDGE’ moment!!’

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Most people I saw were running in a charity vest, and it was so moving to think of all the reasons why people were running. My own – raising money for Great Ormond Street who treat my three-year-old son’s kidney failure – was something I thought about in the darker moments, reminding myself of everyone who’d supported my run and digging deep to push on, and thinking of how much GOSH will be doing for us in the coming years. Every time that voice said, ‘you can’t do this’, I thought of why I was doing it, and for who, and kept putting one foot down and then the other, and repeat and repeat.

It was great having people to look out for on the day, and what really helped me was knowing at what mile to look for people – the crowds are so insane, with everyone calling your name to support, that it can be easy to miss people you actually know! The spots my husband and friends went to were Mile 6, just round the bend of the Cutty Sark, around Mile 14 (top end of Narrow Street, which was a top tip from someone as a quiet-ish location, which it was!), and then Mile 24, just after the Blackfriars Underpass. Here I am then and I can tell you the smile here is all about seeing my husband/friends, and knowing the end is close, and not reflective of how I’m physically feeling at that point!!

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And then it was on to the homeward straight! It was such a strange feeling at this point – my entire body feeling like lead, but the thought of finishing and the excitement of the crowds making the adrenaline pump. Running down towards the palace and around the corner onto the Mall, with everyone cheering, is seared into my memory as a TOP moment!! Just indescribable!

Here I am on the final approach… willing myself to get to the end, and get that medal!!

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And then, the final part of a long journey… 26.2 miles, and 6 months of training…

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BLING!!

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A journey complete, and the running bug officially kickstarted again after it being pushed to the side (i.e. splattered with a sledgehammer!) since I had my twins almost 4 years ago. The past 6 months of training, building my fitness from scratch around an already hectic schedule, has seen me have to reach very deep and as well as feeling fitter and stronger physically, the same can be said for mentally and emotionally.

The London Marathon may not be a marathon I’ll ever have the opportunity or luck to do again – and it might be a distance I never get to repeat – but forever I’ll have the honour of saying I’m one in a million… a London Marathon finisher!