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Birth

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I love birth stories. I was dead keen to write one… before I gave birth. For the first few weeks afterwards, I was carrying around too much shame to even speak about it: I’d done it wrong, I hadn’t been cool (I lost my shit completely, and then lost it some more), I hadn’t coped.

I did too much hippie reading beforehand and wanted to try a natural birth, but when it came to it that epidural was the single best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’d have named my child after it, if it was called something slightly nicer.

We had a plan worked out — if I asked for pain relief, Diogo was to gently talk me out of it unless I used the pre-arranged safe word. (It was “quesadilla”, pronounced the way my 70-year-old, rural-Canterbury-raised mother pronounces it: kwes-a-dill-a.) When it came to it, I was screaming it in his face before he even had a chance to ask if I was sure.

Let me backtrack a bit.

I went into labour naturally at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I’d gone to bed the night before feeling like something was happening, and every inch of me was positive that I couldn’t be overdue. There just wasn’t room. I’d never been able to comprehend people who realised they were in labour and went back to sleep (the most exciting thing that’s ever happened is happening after nine months of waiting and you sleep through it?), but I woke up at 1:45 that morning, left myself a note on my phone that said “I’m pretty sure this is it”, and went back to sleep until 8am.

The next day was a blur. The contractions rapidly ramped up to between 5 and 10 minutes apart, and then… stayed there. All day. And all night. And they hurt. Technically, that early phase doesn’t even count as labour — it’s “pre-labour”. It’s not, apparently, meant to be that painful. Later it turned out that Nico’s head was in the wrong position, so nothing was progressing, and I think I had back labour (you feel the contractions primarily in your lower back, and the part where the pain is meant to go away between contractions just doesn’t happen…).

About 4am the following morning, I rang the midwife on call. The contractions had made it up to 4 minutes apart, were crazy intense, and it had been over 24 hours since I’d slept or functioned or been comfortable. She said, “you haven’t had one while we’ve been on the phone; it’s still too early” and I burst into tears.

And so we continued until lunchtime the following day, when my midwife was due to visit anyway. At that point they’d slipped back to about 7 minutes apart. She checked my blood pressure and it was too high, and there was protein in my urine. After a couple of weeks of threatening it, I was finally over the line of pre-eclampsia now that I was already in labour.

Because of that, my midwife said we could go to hospital and, if I wanted, she’d induce me to speed things up. An induction was number one on the list of things I’d said I wanted to avoid in my birth plan, but after 24 hours without sleep, I didn’t take much convincing. Faster seemed better.

(Little did I know that 18 hours later I’d be frantic with excitement for a woman to cut my vagina open with scissors to speed things up. I clearly remember being beside myself that she was taking the time to anaesthetise me first. Shit escalates fast during birth.)

It took until about 6pm for the drugs to actually start and things to kick off: in between we went out for lunch and then again for dinner, me white-knuckling the table through contractions and hoping no one noticed that the ridiculously pregnant woman wasn’t just in danger of going into labour but actually was.

The syntocinon ramped things up fast. I don’t remember if the pain got much more intense, but there was no break from it now and my back was starting to be constant agony. I couldn’t find any way to get comfortable. I don’t know how long I held out for — it could have been three hours or ten minutes; time had ceased to have any meaning — but at some point it occurred to me that we’d been at this a day and a half and almost nothing had changed. I’d skimmed half of the birth skills book I’d been putting off reading between contractions the night before, but it contained such sage advice as “curl your toes into the carpet” and “light a pleasantly-scented candle”, which is the kind of earth-mother shit I’d find delightful if I’d, say, stubbed my toe.

I’d read a lot about the medicalisation of birth — the idea that (male) doctors have divorced women from the natural processes of their bodies and made a beautiful act of nature into a medical emergency. Unfortunately, these books had kind of convinced me that birth wouldn’t actually be painful. Several of them even said in words, “birth shouldn’t be painful”. Thus I found myself in probably the opposite position to most of my friends, who’d had the dangers and interventions hammered into them by their antenatal classes, midwives and friends and went into labour terrified. I was surprised to find myself in such pain. And I didn’t feel at all equipped to deal with it. I’d packed a fucking scented candle and some Rescue Remedy.

I thought about how many hours I could keep doing this for, making bargains and deals in my head to keep me from begging for drugs. Finally, I asked my midwife how much longer she thought it might be. She said, “I’ll check your progress in another four hours”.

CHECK MY PROGRESS. CHECK.

Four hours was my outside guess for the whole damn deal: at this point I’d already been awake and in constant pain for over a day and a half. She’d check my progress in another four hours? Fuck that with knobs on, thought me. QUESADILLA QUESADILLA QUESADILLA.

And, oh, it was beautiful.

I even slept off and on for a few hours, watching my contractions scrawl across the monitors like mountain ranges, the baby’s heartbeat strong and steady underneath them. (One blessing: Nico’s heart never skipped a beat. He was utterly chill the whole time, still trying to squirm around right up to the moment he emerged topside.)

Things my midwife didn’t tell me: syntocinon is INTENSE. The pain of it is intense. Pushing under it is like being hit repeatedly by a truck that drags you under it until it hits you again a moment later like a truck snake that’s eating its own tail while you writhe underneath its snake wheels. Several people said later that very few people manage a natural birth once they’ve been induced, for exactly that reason.

I also didn’t know that the epidural would be stopped when it was time to push, but the syntocinon would continue. I’m still not sure whether this is the only option or if I missed a choice somewhere in the haze of that night. (At one point I remember looking over to find my left side covered in blood. This seemed completely unsurprising, even though I was fairly sure it wasn’t standard practice for a birth. Turned out my IV had been dislodged somehow and my vein was emptying itself down my arm and into a puddle on the bed. I felt very calm and not at all bothered about this at the time. Bigger fish.)

I don’t know whether it was me or it’s like this for everyone with chemically-assisted contractions, but once it was time to push and the epidural was turned off, there was no let up at all. By dawn, the contractions had concatenated one into the other and I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t even breathe. The pain in my back and hips was so intense that I all I could do was writhe and beg for it to stop, and then scream and scream and scream.

By this point it was my due date, two days after I’d left myself that note on my phone and gone back to sleep.

A couple of days later, through our shared bathroom door, I heard my hospital-room neighbour telling a visitor that she couldn’t understand why anyone would scream — such a waste of energy, she said.

Well, good on fucking you, perfect birther. I’m glad all your energy was productive. Mine felt like it was too much for my body, and the only way to bleed it off before it killed me was to get it out in noise.

I literally thought I was going to die. I felt like I was about to have a stroke. I was begging Diogo to make it stop, to let me out of my body just for a minute. And later, when I told Rachel B this and got to the part where my midwife then checked my blood pressure, turned white and immediately hit the emergency call button, she pointed out that that’s actually what was happening.

That hadn’t occurred to me until then. I’d been thinking about it purely in terms of my own failure: at a natural birth, at any kind of composure. Like, I knew things were going to get real in that birthing room, but I’d been thinking about, you know, the prospect of pooping myself in front of my love. I’d briefly worried that my scented candle might be too intense. Going full exorcist was nowhere on the birth plan.

To the medical profession’s credit, once that emergency button gets hit, things move. Doctors and nurses swarmed into the room. I lay there, legs akimbo, writhing and sweating in a puddle of my own drying blood, and could not have given less of a shit who saw what. If they were going to get the baby out, they could have told me they were sawing my legs off at the knee and I would have kissed them and offered to hold the saw.

A nice lady told me she was going to make a bit more room for the baby so they could get him out faster. Then she got out her scissors. I saw them very clearly, which I remember precisely because I couldn’t have cared less. “Oh, she’s going to cut me with scissors,” I thought, the same way you might think, “oh, there are scones at this morning tea”. Then they stuck a suction cup on his poor little head, and (and this is just my memory, so it may not be factually correct) a team of them lined up like a tug of war and hauled.

I always think of Rach telling her birth story with Joe, and saying that she was surprised to look down and find a baby after he was born. I feel the same way about the moment when he finally came out — intensely, suddenly and overwhelmingly shocked as I felt a whole person, with shoulders and limbs, come slithering out of me. The size of him was staggering. The feeling of all those limbs working their way out… like, somehow, I’d sort of thought it’d feel like, I don’t know, a really big tampon? I’d only thought about the head, so I was kind of just expecting something smooth and round to pop out of me. But instead a whole human person came out of my vagina.

I was surprised by a lot of really obvious things that day.

Everything is a blur from there. I remember him being put on my chest and looking at him and feeling this… very casual relief. Like, “oh, there you are. Of course”. Nico himself didn’t surprise me at all, and I’d really thought he would. I’d spent months wondering what he’d look like, if he’d have hair (of course he’d have hair). I couldn’t imagine him before he was born, but as soon as I saw him I felt like he never could have been anyone else. At some point Diogo cut the cord and someone took him away and cleaned him up, either before or after the nice doctor stitched my insides back together. I have no memory of birthing the placenta.

My next clear memory is Nico already dressed and wrapped up in the little plastic cot thing, and the relief midwife suggesting I might get up and take a shower. I looked at her, stunned. Get up? Shower? Like, did she SEE the massacre that just happened? I just spent over two full days trying to get a human out of my body and now I should just… get off the bed and go to the bathroom?

So I did.

And nothing will ever be weirder than the first time you try and stand up straight after nine months pregnant. There was a hole in my middle where my baby used to be, and all my organs hadn’t realised yet. Taking a breath felt a little like my whole body was about to fold in and swallow itself like a broken accordion.

I started thinking about this post because I was reading an article about the percentage of women living quietly with injuries from birth. (I have more to say on that later.) It made me think about how intensely ashamed I felt of having had an epidural and a ventouse delivery, and how the (supposedly) feminist literature had convinced me that without my body doing everything naturally, I wouldn’t produce the right hormones to bond with my baby. I was genuinely scared that any interventions would compromise my ability to love my child.

I’ve always been cautious with my feelings. I was scared I wouldn’t have the emotional capacity to bond, to love a baby the way he’d need to be loved. I shouldn’t have worried. The first weeks were a tired, aching, oozing blur, but I never felt anything but overwhelming, enormous love every time I looked at his squashed little face with its wildly lazy eye.

Now I don’t know what I think. I think mothers should feel empowered to birth their babies however they want to, by whatever standards they think are best. I think caesarean rates are too high and fear and clinical surroundings probably do make birth harder than it needs to be. But I also think humans have a fucked-up reproductive process, and drugs and interventions save lives and stop a lot of suffering.

I also think mothers are fucking heroes. Goddesses. They’ve been to war. They’ve looked the kraken in the eye and raised a middle finger to his tentacles. They’ve brought new life into the world in blood and pain and love, and then they’ve got up and had a shower.

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I made this inside me. NBD.

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Dad of the year

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When I’m in the city alone for work (the one meeting I generally go to a week, while Brazil’s home on Wednesdays) and I see someone I know, they exclaim without fail, “but where’s your baby?!” like we’re bonded together. Soldered. Like he’s still a part of me.

I want to say, “he has a father”. I want to say, “have you ever asked his dad that, when you saw him out on his own?”. I want to say, “not sure” or “I left him in the car”.

Instead I laugh awkwardly and explain he’s with his dad.  Or he’s with my parents, if he is. His dad’s working four days now, so I can work a bit, and so he can spend more time with Nico while he’s little.

“Isn’t he a wonderful father,” they say. “So involved.”

When I told Mum I was taking on a project and Brazil would cut down at work, she asked, “but what about his career?”. What about mine, Mum?

It’s not actually all about me. When Brazil asked to work fewer hours, daycare was raised as an alternative. Like the only issue was whether I had time to work – not whether he had time to parent.

(Also, I’m a better parent when I have something other than my son to think about. Five days at home on our own made me a crazy person. Two sets of two days keeps me engaged. Keeps both of us happy. And makes his dad happy too.)

Last Wednesday, I went to a meeting and Brazil took Nico to a local cafe for lunch. An older lady sitting near him watched him feed Nico his bottle, take him to change his nappy, and chat to him while he ate his eggs and bacon. She came over. “Is that your baby?” she asked, and after he replied in the affirmative, “but where’s his mother?”

Her tone implied, is she dead?

Once the fact that I was alive and well was straightened out, she was beside herself. “Aren’t you wonderful,” she gushed. “Out all on your own with the baby!”

I’m just saying, no one has ever stopped me in the street to tell me what a great parent I am for leaving the house. (And I frequently think I really deserve it.)

Because Brazil is lovely, he was pissed. He appreciated the woman was only being nice, but he sat across the kitchen bench from me later and said, “it’s fucking depressing. Is the bar really that low? Feeding my child a bottle without supervision makes me dad of the year?”

Yep. And working at all makes my parenting questionable. Welcome to the world, baby boy. I hope things have changed a bit by the time you’re a parent.

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Well, I’ll be.

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I’m thinking about becoming a florist, or a clothing designer, or a carpenter. What’s the word for people who make shoes? A shoemaker, Google? Surely not. I want a word like milliner. Ah, cobbler. I’m thinking about becoming a cobbler.

About becoming almost anything that involves creating physical things that can begin and end and be held and used. Anything that isn’t behind a screen and doesn’t involve grammar and sentence structure. I’m thinking about painting and lotion-making and preserving. About dill pickles and jam and crumb structure.

You should see my sourdough these days. You should try my jam.

I’m thinking about how much I love my job when I’m under pressure, and how that doesn’t go at all with any of these other wild, earth-mother desires I’m filled with. I’m thinking about how I’m applying for mentors at the same time as I’m wondering if I should be mentoring. Talking to schools. Helping. I’m clutching at everyone else’s philanthropy, knowing their cause isn’t quite mine but feeling so badly like I’m letting the side down, not contributing, not giving back.

Not even creating, really, in my own time. (Other than the sourdough and all that jam.) Instead, I take a lot of naps. I water the garden. I read recipe books and mindfulness books and Harry Potter in Portuguese (page 25!). I count the baby’s kicks. I fight nausea and fatigue by giving in to them, immediately and gracelessly. I make endless lists of things we need to change before the baby comes. I exhaust Brazil with trips to Mitre 10 and discussions about natural childbirth and my urgent desire for black and white curtains in the baby’s room.

I meditate, but restlessly. I’m working on it.

I’m too hot all the time.

I’m not interested in anything except the baby but I’m mad at anyone who dares to imply it. I drop things constantly. I eat too much sugar and I’m obsessed with fruit and I’m still not 100% sure if I’m allowed all this coffee. I feel beautiful and sexy and powerful, like my body was made to do this, and heavy and slow and broken, like every inch of me is falling apart. I’ve found myself and I’m losing myself. I’m a force of nature and a wild design error. Everything is exactly as it should be, but surely it shouldn’t be like this?

I am. We are. He’ll be.

We’ll see.

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Spicy food and cat litter

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When people talk about pregnancy cravings, they name normal things like ice cream or sawdust or pickles. This baby is obsessed with chilli. I’m putting it on everything, in quantities that would make my normal self burst into flame. I’d blame Brazil’s spicy Latin genes (#racism), but he’s an even bigger chilli wuss than I usually am.

My brain is adjusting to a new scale of time. We’re making plans for things that won’t happen for two years, or five, or twelve. It’s like my whole life has opened up in front of me, ripe and ready to finally be lived — but it’s also narrowed down, and thinned out.

So many things will be harder or take longer or be off limits for a while now. I don’t feel like I spent enough Wednesdays drinking impromptu wine… but I also did almost nothing else for over a decade, and I know I was ready to move on.

So many things will be out of my control. Baby will have their own timetable and set of priorities, and my career and social life are unlikely to make their list. The nature of what we do means the work comes when it comes — I don’t plan to take maternity leave, per se, but I also can’t make any plans about how or when I’ll work. Projects may or may not come up. Baby may or may not cooperate. We’ll make it work as best we can.

But at the same time, some sense of urgency has lifted. I’ve got time to do things and write things and see things. We might not get to travel beyond NZ and Brazil for a while, but we will eventually — and when we do, our little people get to do it too. (I’m sure that will come with its own set of issues, but it also feels pretty cool to me.)

I’m scared I’ll never have time to write for myself, but I need to make time for that, and currently I’m not doing that anyway. The optimistic, slightly dim part of myself is sort of hoping that “ask a busy person” thing will kick in and I’ll discover reserves of organisation and focus I never knew I had.

I fully expect future me to read that back and laugh until she cries.

The cat and I are in a battle over the garden. Everything I plant, he promptly digs up and shits on. I’m currently on the sixth iteration of my vegetable protection system.

After he dug up the carrots, I covered the whole garden in bird netting. Lucas immediately shat on top of it, managing to dig up the lettuces underneath without tearing a single hole in the material.

Next, I raised the netting with stakes. He sat on it until it collapsed, and then shat on it again.

Then I added a fortress of bamboo skewers poking through the netting. That night, as far as I can tell, he perched himself on a stake, backed gently over the netting, deposited a perfect pile of shit in the middle of it, and left without breaking a single skewer.

Finally, I raised the whole thing about a foot on each edge, then tented it over a teepee-like contraption in the middle. Then I fortified it with skewers and weighed all the edges down with blocks of wood.

Now he shits on my flowers.

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What an asshole.

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16 weeks

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I’m trying not to think too much about who this baby is. They’re their own person already, even inside me, and they have their own story. I don’t want to have too many expectations about what I want or hope for them.

Still, I hope they get their father’s musical talent and his easy way with people. I hope they love learning as much as we both do, and we can foster and build that love in them. I hope they feel my sense of wonder, but maybe direct it a little better. And now I’m projecting things again… I don’t want a baby to do the things I couldn’t or be what I can’t.

I hope they see the world is beautiful and magical, and that they have power within it — power to make things better; to change things for themselves and others; to get what they want if they have the courage and grit to work for it.

I hope the world is still a place worth living in when they’re grown. I hope my generation will do more than my parents’ to ensure that happens. I hope I can be a good mother. (I know Brazil will be a good father.)

Mostly, I think, looking at my friends’ kids and myself as a child and the world as it is right now, I hope they realise that life is an active thing, a verb to take and run with. This world loves passive box-ticking: school, work, mortgage, car, TV. You can follow all the rules and never actually live, never realise that your life is yours, and unique, and meant to be lived, not just consumed.

I desperately want my children to know what it took me so long to figure out: that there are more choices than anyone will ever give you. That breaking the rules isn’t always bad, and won’t always get you in trouble. That grown-ups don’t know everything, and you don’t have to listen to them when they tell you writing doesn’t pay and you should probably be a lawyer. That there’s time to figure all of this out. That your opinion of yourself matters more than anyone else’s of you. That you can’t please everyone. That love shouldn’t be hard, but it does take work. That you deserve it.

I hope I learn to listen to myself, too. I realise, the longer I think about it, that I need to work on some things myself if I want my children to be healthy, well-rounded people. I worry, if we have a girl, about everything society will teach her about the way she should interact with the world. About marketing and pornography and instutionalised, insidious sexism.

But I also think about how my mother was on a diet for most of my childhood, and my grandmother before her. I’ve been obsessed with my weight to varying degrees since I first noticed, probably around 11, that I was tall and strong and needed a bra. (Although I remember worrying about it earlier than that.) My self-confidence is so directly tied to my bathroom scales I can look at any photo of myself and tell you exactly what I weighed that day, and how I felt about it.

How can I teach a little person that their happiness isn’t tied to their size if I still don’t believe it myself? How do I show them that society’s arbitrary standards of beauty are bullshit when I wear makeup and shave my legs and sometimes buy stupid heels that make my feet bleed?

That stupid, endless feminist battle: sometimes I like to look pretty and dress up. I feel good when I look good, and I do that for me, not for anyone else. But I hate that it’s expected. I hate the sneaky, slimy subliminal messaging that tells girls from before they even hit puberty that everything about them needs to be altered or improved or removed to be found suitable for society. Wax this, dye that, tan these, tone those.

And, if we have a boy, how do I teach him to respect women in a society that still doesn’t? When he’ll grow up with violent mainstream entertainment that features women as passive set decoration, if at all. When anything for girls is considered shameful to everyone but girls. When porn.

We’re considering not finding out the sex in advance, partly because my head will probably explode at the inevitable deluge of pink gifts if it’s a girl. But there’s nothing wrong with pink just because it’s associated with girls. Deriding things for girls just because they’re things for girls is fucked up too. Pink isn’t the problem. Tiny tutus and glittery shoes are awesome, and every child who wants them should have them. Every child.

“Girls’” lego makes my blood boil, because lego is a children’s toy, not a boys’ toy. Heavily made-up baby dolls in tiny skirts make my blood pressure skyrocket. But I’d love my little boy to have a sparkly tutu and a baby doll, and I hope my little girl will be into dinosaurs and space.

But those are their own decisions, because they’ll be their own people. If I wish for anything, it’s just that they have the freedom in this crazy world to become whoever they want to be. To be true to themselves. To be kind to themselves.

And to listen to their mother.

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Hey baby

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I had ideas about the kind of pregnant person I was going to be. I was going to be effortless and energetic and lithe. I was going to do yoga every day, and fill my baby with positive energy, and never eat sugar or refined carbs.

All I eat is refined carbs. Right now, I’m sitting in Nando’s eating chips.

Pregnancy is rough, folks. It’s hard to talk about, because it’s exciting but also utterly terrifying, and you’re happy and grateful but also everything in your body has gone completely insane, and all the parts of your brain that aren’t occupied with throwing up or staying awake or acting like you’re still human at work are running a constant, anxious loop of “what if, what if, what if”.

In that first 12 weeks, I wanted to be excited. I wanted to talk to my baby and fill him or her with good thoughts and make all sorts of plans for our exciting life together… but it felt like any of that might jinx it, or like it was too scary to let it feel real when it all seemed so fragile.

So every week I looked up “fetal development at x weeks”, and then directly afterwards I looked up “miscarriage at x weeks”, and spent hours reading harrowing first-hand accounts of everything that’s ever gone wrong for anyone. With every pain or ache, I found someone, somewhere in the internet, who’d had that pain or ache before they lost a baby.

I called this strategy “being informed”. Brazil called it “insanity” and begged me to stop.

In between, I felt constantly ill and dragged myself around the house with the energy of a listless sloth. I thought about eating vegetables and whole grains, and instead ate bags of lollies and my body weight in buttered bagels. Everything I ate made me feel sick, but whenever I wasn’t eating I felt sicker. It was like having a round-the-clock hangover for three months — with a side of narcolepsy, since I’d frequently find myself accidentally asleep at all hours of the day. One afternoon I woke up on the floor beside my desk, curled around the heater like a puppy with a toy.

I did yoga twice, though. So there’s that.

Whenever I’ve tried to go on the pill, I’ve become anxious and depressed, losing interest in almost everything except crying and worrying. I’d forgotten until recently that the pill produces hormones that convince your body you’re a little bit pregnant. No wonder the first trimester went badly for me — progesterone and I just aren’t friends.

So I think my hormones went a bit loopy, but I also think this shit is just hard. You’re sick, and tired, and your body is doing all sorts of things it’s never done before. It’s hard not to lose yourself when nothing feels like you anymore — even without worrying about what’s happening with the baby and what life will be like once it’s born. It’s heavy stuff, made heavier because you’re not supposed to tell anyone it’s happening, and even if you do, it’s kind of not socially okay to express any feelings that aren’t 100% positive.

These two posts made everything better — I highly recommend them to pregnant ladies, mums and humans in general:

We’re midway through week 14 now, and the light, as everyone kept promising me, is at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t manage to even make that connection about progesterone and my feelings until the fog started to lift a couple of weeks ago — one morning I went outside and stood in the sun, and realised in feeling delighted by this that I hadn’t felt delight in anything for months. It feels like I spent some time trapped in a sleepy, dazed, directionless fog — not all bad, but just missing all the usual good bits.

It’s nice to have those back — the joys of food, of friends, of sunshine and gardens and cats and finding hedgehogs on the path in the night. Of having a lovely beardy gentleman to share a life and a family with. And now we have a baby to be excited about too. (All going well. Everything is looking fine so far, and without my hormones convincing me that the whole world is fundamentally terrible, it’s much easier to be reasonable about the odds of that continuing to be true.)

So my new aims for pregnant me are fewer, and kinder. I want to be gentle with myself, and remember to go outside, and spend time with the people and things that bring me joy. I want to let myself be excited about our future, and accept that I have little to no control over whatever’s going to happen. And maybe I’ll also cut down on the carbs.

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Thoughts on self-employment, six months in

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It’s six months this week since I resigned from my day job. Here’s what I’ve learned…

(First, some caveats. We’re very lucky. Very lucky. Things have worked out for us because we do something very specific that hardly anyone does well, in a very small city, with an even smaller web community filled with people we already knew either professionally or socially. Those people have taken chances on us that have given us the experience we needed to get clients on our own. Those people are amazing and we owe them a hell of a lot.)

If you think it’s possible to quit your job, quit your job.

Six months ago, I was terrified. I remember a late-night conversation in my kitchen — me asking my boyfriend for the eight thousandth time if he thought I was doing the right thing. Him reassuring me that it would work out, that money was just money, that he had a steady job if we didn’t get any work. The idea of not having a regular paycheque seemed so utterly terrifying, like I wouldn’t have any control at all.

Oddly, now I feel like I have more control than I ever have. I can’t guarantee we’ll have any money six months from now, but it’s within my power to go and get work, to turn down work, to decide when and how we’ll work.

When people hire us, they’re paying us enough that they have to take us seriously. They can’t squander our time or our work like employers can (and frequently do). I have the freedom to ask for what I need to get things done, and to go away and do it well, without interruptions. I can’t tell you what a difference those things make to my morale, my productivity and the quality of my work.

Until I didn’t have to do it anymore, I didn’t realise how much energy I’d been losing just by spending eight hours a day in a noisy, open-plan office filled with constant distractions, emails and meetings. Turns out I do my best thinking outside, usually while walking. If I lose focus, changing location can help me get it back — sometimes I migrate two or three times across the city in the course of the day. I’d spent twelve years battling my concentration span, only to find that, mostly, it’s just that nothing about a 9-5 office job matches the way my brain works.

(Central heating is amazing, though. God I miss central heating.)

Now, on days when I’m unproductive, I don’t waste anyone’s time or money but my own — I can give up, go and annoy my cat, and try again later. When I’ve got nothing to do, I might not get paid, but at least I’m free to spend my time on whatever I want.

The deal I made with myself when we started Sixtyproof was that I’d save enough money for six months’ rent and expenses before I quit, so I didn’t have to go to sleep every night worrying about paying the next bill. The first year we existed, I managed to save less than a quarter of that, and worked just about every weekend. If a client hadn’t cold-called to offer us tens of thousands of dollars of work we needed to be available Monday to Friday to take, I’d still be sitting at my desk in an agency, writing app micro-copy and trying not to die from boredom.

It’s good to have a plan. You need to have a plan. But at some point you have to take the risk — and that point is always going to come before you’re ready for it. Be sensible, but not too sensible.

Get good at talking…

I’m an introvert. I’m also a writer, not a talker, and a lover, not a fighter. The business world is not designed for people like me.

As an employee, I was endlessly frustrated by the fact that the people who made the most noise got the promotions, were credited with the ideas, and had their opinions considered. There is no correlation between talking the most and having the best ideas… but the entire system of corporate business is set up as if there is.

As a consequence, if you want to convince people you know what you’re talking about, you have to sound like you do. (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say “I don’t know” when you don’t know — but say it with confidence, and offer to go and find out.)

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last six months is to start talking. I used to wait until I had my entire thought mapped out before I started speaking — so, often, someone else got to my point first, or the moment passed before I could formulate my argument. I got nervous worrying that I’d forget my thought or my point would turn out to be irrelevant once I said it — and sometimes it was. But so much of everything is conversation and relationships that even if I put forward an idea that turns out to be a dud, it’s usually worth exploring to find out for sure.

I’m not saying I’ve become a noisy blowhard (or at least I hope not) — I think I’m still a good listener and a careful thinker. I just had to start trusting myself and taking risks, because confidence is so key to building trust with clients. They’re trusting you with their money and their intellectual property — you have to be able to show them that you deserve that trust.

…But don’t play the game.

Your work should speak for itself — you just have to be able to talk about it intelligently and on demand. You don’t have to become a jargon-slinging, bourbon-swigging ad-man. Our industry is filled with guys in tight shirts and hundred-dollar haircuts talking slick, stylish nothing over the top of one other. We don’t think we need to be like them to play in their sandpit. We’re (trying to be) unapologetic about being women, about Sara being a mother, about not having a fancy office and a retinue and polished pitch-patter that’s 90% name-dropping and buzzwords.

We’re also actively trying not to hire. It seems like that’s the thing everyone does — like growth is success in and of itself. We started Sixtyproof to do what we love to do, well, all the time. But we also started Sixtyproof because we hated working in offices and being tied to our desks for eight hours a day, and we have (or want to have) families.

We don’t need an office, so we don’t have one. We have almost no overheads — no one else’s wages to pay, no rent to keep up with, no equipment to buy. That means that if we want to work 15 hours a week, we can. Sara can take the morning off and play with her daughter. I can take a day to work on my novel (which is what I’m meant to be doing right now). On the flip-side of that, if a client needs us to work through the weekend to meet a deadline, we can and happily will.

Hiring six people might make us more “successful”, but it would also mean we’d have to go back to working in an office. We’d have to show up and leave on time, and we’d have to manage our staff’s work rather than doing the work ourselves. We’d definitely never get to go on holiday again (as opposed to now, when we’re hopeful that’s only a “probably”).

The week before I quit my job, I told one of the senior guys at work that I was thinking about taking the leap to self-employment. He asked me to think forward five years — did I want to be “some mom and pop two-man shop”, or be a top man in an agency like the one I worked for, making loads of money for prestigious clients and managing a bunch of juniors? It was obvious which one he thought sounded more impressive — and as soon as he said it, I knew exactly what I wanted.

Our goals have never been money or the trappings of success. Success, for me, is doing really good, involving work — on my own terms, in my own way, with time to write my own stuff and go on adventures with my boyfriend and read too many books about climate change.

Right now, we’re managing that. And that’s pretty cool.

I’m not sure why I felt the need to write any of this down, other than that maybe I wish someone had written it down for me so I could have felt slightly less scared and alone in my kitchen that night. But if anyone out there is thinking about going out on their own… be brave. Back yourself. And feel free to get in touch.