You’re friendly neighborhood anxious teacher

Those of you who know me well know that I suffer from anxiety; not many people know quite how bad it is or about my lowest times, but generally I’m pretty honest about it. 

But I often get asked how I can stand in front of a class of teenagers every day and talk confidently without having a breakdown, if I suffer from anxiety. Well, the first thing I will say is that I am certainly not the only one. And secondly, I do it with great difficulty, but do it because of the satisfaction that those student who say things like ‘thank you’ gives me. 

In many ways having anxiety makes me better at my job; I don’t want to let anyone down, I meet deadlines (that matter), I’m punctual and even when I am ill or off cause my kids are ill, I give clear instructions for cover because if I don’t I get really worried that it’s all going to go wrong and then it will be blamed on me by all parties involved (and breath).

But yes, it’s hard. I begin every morning by forcing myself out of bed and I immediately start worrying about the day. I think about everything that happened the day before and if I made a fool of myself or said anything wrong that is going to bite me in the ass today. Did the students go home and complain about me on social media or to their parents? Did I say something really stupid to a colleague that they then laughed at behind my back?

And then I start worrying if that is all going to happen in the day ahead. Am I going to fuck up in every single little way possible? Playing all the scenarios of the day in my head over and over again until I feel sick. And eventually I have to get in the car and go to work. 

After dropping my kids at their various locations, I stick on Radio 1 and these 15 minutes of listening to Grimmy is the only time I am silent for the rest of the day and listen to someone else chat shit instead of students listening to me chat even more shit. 

I arrive at work and start to get that churning feeling in my stomach; it’s getting closer to 9am. Am I prepared? Do I even know what I am talking about? Are they going to know more than me about this particular topic? Can I pronounce the term correctly? What is that kids name again???

After a bit of catch up in the office it’s time to go. I gather what I need and go to the classroom to set up. They are already waiting, I say give me 5. I log in and get everything set up. I literally need 5 minutes to just stare at the screen and gather myself. 

I finally open the door to let them in…and like magic…it’s all gone away. Just like that. Teacher Rhiannon appears. It’s like I am an actor…a bad one, but it’s definitely not me; it’s not the personal I see in the mirror ever morning. And at the end of the day everything that has just happened feels so surreal and I’m not sure where the time has gone. 

I go home and then play the role of mum, which is a whole other story! 

The vicious circle starts again… 

Don’t even get me started on the weekend and Sunday nights! 

Advertisements

World prematurity day

I felt that today was an appropriate day to write another blog and just ramble on about my thoughts and feelings. Today is World Prematurity Day is a global movement to raise awareness of premature birth and the devastating impact it can have on families. 

Most of you who have ever read my blog know that Emily was born at only 24+5 weeks, ultimately meaning that until she is two years old her development will be judged on her corrected age. A preemies corrected age is based on their due date, meaning Emily is 13 months corrected, but 16 and a half months actual. Even this far along it still blows my mind and I get tounge tied whenever anyone asks me how old she is. 

Everyday, and today in particular, I am still painfully thankful to the doctors and nurses that helped Emily survive and get over every bump she hit in NICU. Sometimes I think people forget that we were so close to loosing her and we feared the worst every single day she was in hospital, and for months after. These thoughts still crop up, these feelings come back and I have to hold back my tears and swallow my anxiety. I imagine I will feel like this forever.

There are so many moments that I will never forget; watching her go past me on her way to NICU and having to wait 12 hours to even see her again, seeing her the first time and having no idea what was going on and staring at her in amazement. The first time Alex met her little sister and wasn’t phased by it at all, I was envious. The first time I held her and it felt like a baby rabbit on my chest. Each and every time her heart rate dropped and she stopped breathing and the nurses had to give her a rub… literally just needed reminding to breath! The first time she wore clothes… but I wasn’t the one who dressed her 😦 And obviously the day she came home and the feeling of being completely lost about what to do next…that was the first normal parenting feeling I had. 

It never properly sunk in, what we were going through. No one ever just sits you down and explains has happened and what might happen going forward, we we’re just repeatedly told to take one day at a time. 
When we finally settled into our accommodation at the hospital, I would go up to nicu to express in the middle of the night and then say hello to her. The NICU was different at night; dark, quiet and calm. It gave me time to think and take it all in a bit more and these were the times that I would cry the most. I would apologise to Emily for letting her down and putting her through so much discomfort and for not being able to carry her for longer. 

Development wise we have been very lucky. Emily has no health conditions relating to being premature and she is doing really well for 13 months. She is walking and babbling like a loon. 

Many other premature babies have not been lucky and are left with life altering conditions such as cerebral palsey, chronic lung disease and autism. It can affect baby’s intensines, sight, hearing and development. No matter what though, we are blessed that they survived; whether born at 23 weeks or 37 weeks, each and every single preemie fought to be where they are and their families went through hell to come out the other end stronger. What I have leanrt about preemie parents is that they are always supportive, give amazing advice and don’t judge, because we are all just so grateful that our babies are even here 💜💜💜💜💜

Further Education – the truth

As a teacher in further education for the last 7 years, I have always heard from other people ‘that must be easy, cause they want to be there’. I used to say, yeah in a way, most of them want to be there. Most of them choose to study Media production because they have a passion for it, but some would choose it thinking it would be easy, then either learn to love it or just leave at some point. 

Education or training then became compulsory up to the age 18, which unfortunately meant more teens choosing the subject because they simply had to study something. It meant more students, more groups, more work…but more money? More equipment? More staff? Don’t be silly. 

More recently the GCSE grading changed for English and Maths which has meant more learners retaking these GCSEs whilst also doing their full time level 2 or level 3 course. It’s a lot for them to do, and it is a lot for us to manage; making sure they’re attending their GCSE sessions, as well as their media sessions, tutorials, enrichment activities and newest of all, work placement. 

Still, you would think learners choose media because they have an interest in it. You would hope that it being compulsory would mean they would attend. You would also be under the impression that being over 16 would mean they actually have some sense of responsibility and respect. But alas, every year it is actually getting worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still have amazing and passionate learners, who make teaching still worth it. They make me laugh, they make me think, they give me the satisfaction for the job that I should have. 

But…when others decide not to show up, pick and choose what sessions to attend, turn up late, not return after breaks, sit there and do no work whatsoever…that is really demotivating. It makes me want to cry that these teenagers and young adults have absolutely no appreciation for what they are getting, what they are entitled to; a free education. An opportunity to further their knowledge and grow as people. To have guidance through the transition from child to adult.

But what can we do about it? Honestly, very little. We offer so much support through different channels and ultimately we are the ones left to feel like we have failed as teachers. I won’t go into detail about my workplaces procedures, let’s just say, it’s not working.

And fyi, no we don’t get the school holidays. “But what do you do in that time?” I hear you cry. We wrap up the previous year, sometimes still chasing students for work. Filling in numerous forms and making sure our students are going be sent their qualifications. We plan our schemes of work and our lessons and write assignment briefs. We complete yearly staff training for safeguarding, equality and diversity and how to embed ‘British Values’ (coughBScough) into our course. We look at equipment, fixing what we can and begging for money for more to replace broken things (what money?). We work hard to get ready for the year ahead when realistically we have no idea what to expect. 

Let’s face it…government cuts to education and policies regarding compulsory age and the GCSE grading, alongside a lack of mental health support for young people (and anyone) and MASSIVE cuts to additional support for those with learning needs, and austerity meaning families can’t always support their children by giving them bus fare to get to college…it is clear the reason these 16 year olds have lost their confidence in the system and their passion to learn – and it isn’t the teachers. The system has failed us all. 

Frustrations of raising feminist children

I am a feminist. I am a teacher. And most importantly, I am a mother. I am a mother to two girls. Two girls that I know will come across the same inequality and misogyny that I have during my 30 years on this Earth, and that millions of other women have and will. 

I’m not just talking about bringing up feminists, I’m talking about bringing up children who accept that everyone in this world is different and has the choice to be whomever and whatever they want (but also trying to make them aware of the oppression). But it’s hard. It is so hard because everything else around us still pushes the “difference” between boys and girls. So here is me telling my 5 year old she can be whatever she wants in life and there is her watching The Crystal Maze asking “why are they only sending girls in when boys are better?”. It is like hitting my head against a brick wall!

I’m lucky in that Alex doesn’t question race, she simply knows that people are different ethnicities and so far school has been good at teaching different religions and cultures. She has questioned boys wearing make up and girls wearing trousers. I do explain that some men like to wear dresses and put on makeup etc and women and men can wear what they want. And she just moves on. However, other people destroy my hard work by saying that this is not okay!? 

I was brought up by a woman who also didn’t let me misunderstand the world. I was surrounded by homophobic and racist people but somehow it never rubbed off on me. My uncle is gay and my mum had many gay friends so it was just completely normal to me. Ever since I can remember I have been more confused by people who don’t accept it than homosexuality itself. I hope my children feel the same. 

Being a teacher in further education for the last 7 years I have seen big changes in teenagers. They are more open about being homosexual or any part of the LGBTQ community and it’s a beautiful thing to see. There are unfortunately still idiots who call people or things ‘gay’ as if it’s an insult and it’s so frustrating! And I still see mysogyny in the classroom, aimed at myself and the female students. There is a significant difference between how students behave with me and my male peers. Between parents and teachers it’s our job to instill more equal attitudes. 

Alex won a prize at the beginning of this year along with two boys in her class. One boy was given a dinosaur thing, the other a boy a dispicable me sticker book…and Alex was given a doll. If I did this in my classroom I would be lynched. What was the teacher thinking? Just give them all the same thing like stickers or a colouring book, you can’t go wrong. I do encourage Alex to play with all kinds of toys; she has personally decided that she prefers dolls and princesses, but is also getting into more boardgames and loves Harry Potter. I have used this opportunity to teach her about Emma Watson does for equality. 

There is only so much I can do to teach my children how to be strong, freethinking women and understand that they can aim to achieve anything in life. If so much else around them counteracts these teachings, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

I still have many years to come and the teenage years will be when appropriate behavior in relationships comes in, I only hope that by then schools also teach more in their sex education. 

I don’t want my girls to grow up being cat called, sexually harassed or simply being push overs for men, but if they have to grow up in that world then I want them to know it’s unacceptable and they don’t need to put up with it. 

Keeping friendships 

I have always thought that I am good at keeping friendships going no matter what is going on in life, but I have come to the realisation that this isn’t really the case. People move away, people get busy jobs, people get married and maybe even start a family and all of these things can stop you from keeping your friendships going. 

My friends and I will hang out for birthdays and the occasional other special events and very occasionally go for lunch or go for a drink. And it’s always in my head that it’s just cause of I have kids. They are demanding, they do take up a lot of my time and sometimes when my other half and I have a kid free night we want to spend it with just each other.

But you don’t necessarily have to spend time with your friends to still be able to call them your friends. I can message them anytime just to ask how they are or even ask for a favour and it doesn’t matter if we haven’t spoke in weeks. And to me that’s a good friendship. I suppose these days I lack a bestie and that makes me a bit sad…I’ll never be a bridesmaid, or a god parent (not that I believe in that) and I’m not really the go to person for advice. I miss that.

My biggest struggle and my anxieties come from the lack of friends with kids. I want to be friends with other parents and there are definitely mum’s I know that I would be friends with even without the kids. But does anyone else feel like it’s a bit forced? Even if you don’t want it to be! I don’t get invited to any meet ups and play dates or even round for a cuppa…it’s always me pulling and I think in the process I am just fucking annoying. If anyone else feels like this I’d really like to know! 

I am going to spend this half term with my girls and pondering my anxieties further and working out what on earth is wrong with me! 

Here are my wondefuk girlies eating crumpets and watching Bing 🙂 

It still hurts

Every day someone asks me “how is Emily doing now?” And I answer “she is doing great thank you, just like a regular baby”…however still small for her actual age, but thats understandable! 

Every day someone asks me “how are you?” And in the British way I answer “not bad thanks, how are you?” Because that is generally what they want to hear. 

If someone asked me “how are you doing now, after every that happened?” the answer would be very different and not very British. In fact, probably more Scottish with the F word for commas. 

Everyday it still hurts. I still think about the 15 weeks she spent in hospital and how that was hard for all of us. I think about not going to term with my baby and have flashbacks to the event itself. Fane and I still talk about it because everyday we still relive it all in our heads. And it still makes me feel sick and frightened because we easily could have lost her.

I still feel stabbing guilt for what it put Alex through and how much she had to grow up so quickly. That she had to spend her last long summer before starting school visiting the hospital most days. That she had to wait for the simplest request when I had to express, but she was also helpful and so understanding to the situation. That the first time she held her baby sister, she was covered in canulas and long lines.

I feel angry every day that I couldn’t be with Emily 24/7, that I couldn’t give her every feed and change every nappy and hold her hand everytime she was poked and prodded. I am still angry to this day that a nurse put her in her first set of clothes. I didn’t express it on the day as i was so grateful that she had just been transferred to Bedford, but I am still angry. 
I am also angry that my maternity leave started 3 and a half months early. That plans were thrown out the window and that we took a massive financial hit when we needed funds to get to and from Cambridge (and hitchin for Fane). My actual maternity pay ends in a week when Emily is 9 months old, but only 5 and a half corrected. I am lucky enough to have a lot of holiday that I can take to make up for the first 15 weeks, but most people dont have that privelage. 

I feel guilty everyday that Emily is doing fantastically, where as many other premature babies will feel the life long affect of coming too soon. 

I still hurt, I’m still angry, and I still cry. 

Fed is best

Being a mum of 2 and surrounded by other mums whether its in public places or on social media, I hear the phrase ‘breast is best’ ona daily basis.

I dont dispute that breastfeeding is the natural way that a mother should feed their baby and that most of the time breast milk is the most nutritious form of food. However, I am so painfully sick of the phrase and the negative stigma that it is gives bottle and formula feeding. 

Not every mum is able to breast feed and I would be here all day listing reasons why it isn’t always possible, these are just a few – milk doesnt come in, latching issues, tongue tie and allergies.

Personally, with my first, I breast fed for a few weeks…and it made me sick. I couldnt keep up with her demands as I didn’t have the time or the stomach to eat much. For the same reason I couldn’t express long term. So after weeks of hints and tips and advice and pressure from all direction, I decided breast was not best for Alex and I. She thrived and put on more weight and was generally happier when we switched to bottle feeding and formula. We were all happier. 

And then of course there is Emily. She wasnt breast fed or bottle fed for the first 15 weeks of her life. She was fed through an NG tube, and sometimes not fed at all and had a long line going through her veins giving her nutrition. I was extremely lucky that I was able to express a ridiculous amount of milk for Emily, but I met many mums who couldn’t. I have also met many mums whos children went home with an NG tube or even a PEG and some of them go months and even past their first birthday being fed through these means for medical reasons.

When it came to trying to breast feed Emily the pressure was too much, on me and her, it would just result in frustration. So we decided to go with the bottle so we could get her used to it and get her home as soon possible. And we decided that once the gallons of expressed milk we had frozen ran out that we would switch to formula. I expressed for nearly 4 months and it ruled my life, I was determined to enjoy every second of Emily being home with her family and not be attached to a machine for any of it. 
The most important thing for Emily and for many other premature or sick children is being fed and gaining weight. And obviously the same goes for term and well babies, they need food whether it is from breast, bottle, tube or other means. 

Fed is best.  

The honest truth about being home with a preemie 

4 weeks ago we were discharged from the special care baby unit after 15 weeks of being between The Rosie in Cambridge and our home hospital in Bedford. For the last 4 weeks everyone has asked “is it nice having her home?”. The answer is of course Yes! It’s amazing having our baby home and being able to have some sense of normality. 

But honestly, the last 4 weeks have been just as hard and as stressful as the 15 weeks previous and I feel completely out of my depth. 

Emily is my second baby, so I know what it’s like to be home with a regular, healthy baby and can’t help but compare. I wasn’t neurotic with Alex at all; cleaning happened when it happened and visitors came whenever. When Alex had her first cold we were a bit worried because we could tell her throat was sore but a quick trip to the GP and some paracetamol it was all sorted…

This time I am cleaning as much as time will allow and washing my hands more than I did in NICU, visitors are most definitely limited (although people don’t really seem eager to come round), and they must wash and gel their hands before they even consider touching her. I want to physically punch every person who stops in the street or at school or the supermarket to say how cute she is as I’m petrified they’re going to touch her. We even bought disinfectant surface and air spray…something I would never even consider before!

She got a cold and I went to the GP and was immediately referred to the paediatrician at the hospital and their biggest concern was it turning into bronchiolitis, but they sent us home with an open access note. The following day we were back there with the same concerns and the doctor was a little concerned…but she is absolutely fine after about 4 days. I sense that every time Emily has even the slightest cold we are going to freak out and do the same thing all over again! 

When in the hospital the nurses all said to try to avoid going out to crowded places for a while…how exactly can we do that with never ending follow up appointments? For at least a third of the days we have been home, we have been out for some kind of appointment and it will be like this until she is atleast 2. One of these appointments was in London and we had to get the train (luckily not the tube); not the place you want your preemie to be when they have been home only a week. 
Just to reiterate, we are over the moon Emily is home and we love her so much, this post is just raise awareness that it’s not over once your discharged. 

We have half a dozen appointments coming up and awaiting more…including an MRI, for which she will be under general anesthetic, and laser eye treatment for ROP, which will be this week. We have had to reschedule her immunisations twice too and one of the receptionists at the surgery wasn’t particularly understanding about the situation. 

Emily is also on a number of vitamins and medicines. Trying to get more of these has been a nightmare; the GP has queried everything even though it’s all there on her hospital SEND! I don’t understand why it is so difficult and it makes me so frustrated, it’s like they have never dealt with a premature baby before. 

I don’t know who to have confidence in anymore. The specialist nurses and doctors were amazing in the unit, and now communication has completely broken down. 

This is our baby. Our baby who was only 1lb 2oz at birth and struggled to gain weight. Our baby with a virus that may affect her sight and hearing in the future. Our baby with and fragile immune system. Our baby who is lucky to have survived…and now I feel like we are on our own.  

But she is extremely cute…

5 things that blew my mind having a premature baby

It wasn’t until I was 20 weeks that I started to be scared about my pregnancy. I had a scan in which Emily was coming up too small which wasn’t a massive concern; it was a blood test that resulted in us deciding to do the amnio. A week or so following I started bleeding and this lasted 2 and a half weeks before Emily was born at 24+5. This wasn’t necessarily connected to the amnio.

It isn’t until you’re in the situation that you start to consider the possibility that you might give birth early and that you’re baby might be sick. At no point do you consider how many families go through the same thing. This is a list of things that certainly blew my mind about having a premature baby. 

1. Around 220 premature/sick babies are born everyday in the UK. Meaning they need specialist neonatal care and 

2. There isn’t enough care to go around.  Bedford is a special care baby unit, level 3, and The Rosie where Emily was born is a level 1. Most units are 3, many are 2, and few are 1. There are only 40 cots available in The Rosie…this level 3 unit covers all of the East of England. Bedford has only 12 cots…and they want to close this unit down!? 

3. And then there is the transport for these sick babies. If Emily were born in Bedford she would have needed emergency transport. In the East of England, ANTS is the ambulance service which is provided by St.Johns. There are only 3 ambulances. 3. For the entire region. Emily used this transport three times and received a very cute bear as a momentum of this part of her journey. 

4. And one of the weirdest things is that you cant actually stay with your baby and be the primary carer. Lots of people I spoke to just assumed that we could, but sadly not. We were lucky enough to be in The Rosie when Emily was born and even luckier that we were able to stay there for some of the time. The sick children’s trust are able to provide 8 rooms for the families of the sick babies in nicu…but like I said earlier, 40 cots. 8 rooms…40 cots. And few people there actually live in Cambridge. Most families that I met lived an hour or more away. The accommodation is provided on  a priority basis and it was really helpful spending the first 5 weeks there, but it was heartbreaking to have to leave.  

Bliss – One of the biggest barriers to families is a lack of overnight accommodation on or near the neonatal unit. As a result, parents across the country are having to cut their time with their baby short so they go home to sleep. More than a third of all units do not have dedicated accommodation for parents of critically ill babies who live many miles from home, and only five out of 29 neonatal intensive care units have enough accommodation to meet national standards. 

This accommodation should not be a luxury, it is a nessicity! Believe me, I am not blaming the hospital or the NHS in any way.

5. Maternity leave is the next thing on my list. I spoke to HR a week after Emily was born and was advised that my maternity leave started the day after she was born and would be the same length. This is government policy, not my work. My statutory pay is 9 months, the first 3 and a half of which was spent in the hospital. In order to have more time at home properly bonding with Emily I am using holiday; not all mums have that privelage. you may have seen the recent campaign about this online and on TV.

I will add one last thing that I was surprised at during this whole experience – the overwhelming support of every single person in my life. Family, close friends, old friends and new friends….and even complete strangers. Everyday they offered kind and encouraging words. So this is my advice for anyone going through this right now – even though having a premature or sick baby in nicu can become an extremely lonely and isolating, talk. Talk to anyone and everyone. Still try to see your friends and family outside of the hospital, chat to the nurses, go to any groups they have available and definitely talk to other parents on the unit. It doesn’t need to be lonely. 

Emily – nown 6lb 2oz ❤❤❤