The highs and lows of running

I’ve been stuck in a bit of a running rut lately, and I’ve been tough on myself because of it. Plagued by an Achilles injury since the London marathon, and the inevitable slowing down that happens to me over the summer months due to my hayfever causing chestiness and wheezing, it’s been making me pretty miserable. I haven’t been able to keep up with my old training pals, who are setting faster PBs, and I seem to have slowed down and lost fitness. Coupled with the fact that I am in the middle of training to be a running Coach, feeling like I can’t run at the moment is doing nothing for my confidence.

I’ve realised this month however that running naturally goes in peaks and troughs. Top coaches talk about training towards your natural peaks in performance, and advise you to book races at your fitness peaks. For me, running is what now defines me (although I challenge anybody who knew me during my first 25 years not to snort with laughter at this) and feeling like I can’t do it anymore makes me miserable and frustrated. However, I’ve noticed a pattern. In the past 4 years, my running has gone like this:

Summer 2010: tentatively take up running (again, after dipping in and out over the past few years) very slowly at first.
Autumn 2010: start up my running club and fall in love with it. Set some new PBs.
Winter 2010/11: get injured due to overtraining and bad shoes
Spring 2011: get back to running slowly
Summer 2011: love, LOVE, LOVE running. Discover the trails.
Autumn 2011: Discover speed work. Enter some longer races and set some PBs
Winter 2011/12: feel in the shape of my life.
Spring 2012: set my fastest time ever at a half marathon.
Summer 2012: train most days, including cross training (focused on my first triathlon)
Autumn 2012: discover I am pregnant. Slow my running down and reduce intensity and frequency
Winter 2012/13: running, what’s that again?
Spring 2013: give birth to my daughter. Running is furthest from my mind. However, somehow I enter the ballot for the London marathon. Am I nuts?
Summer 2013: back to running slowly, discover the joy of Parkrun and enjoy setting some new PBPBs (post-baby PBs)
Autumn 2013: find out they’ve let me into the London marathon. Run one of my slowest half marathon ‘races’ ever. Feel like I’ll never achieve that 26.2
Winter 2013/14: Train, train, train. Especially in the wind and the rain and the hail. Get FAST over mid-distances.
Spring 2014: complete my first marathon. I am superwoman. But I am also broken. Lose my mojo for a while.
Summer 2014: after limping around and experiencing the worst post-race blues of my life, I find my mojo on the trails. I can’t keep up with my old training buddies though, after I went solo for marathon training.

So where am I now? I’ve realised looking at the peaks and troughs of the last four years where my running has naturally peaked and dipped. I’ve drawn a little diagram just to help you see my journey in full technicolour. (Yes, I drew this. I’m a runner, not an artist.)

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I’m just coming out of a dip now, and I’m drawing a line under all that has gone previously. I’m certainly not marathon fit now. My Achilles feels better though, and I feel like I can focus on my half marathon in four weeks time. I’ll be training smarter, doing some cross-training on the bike and with cardio and strength exercises, and running no more than 4 times a week. And most importantly, I’m no longer going to compare myself to others, or to my former self.

Running, I will always love you, but sometimes we drift apart for a while. Like any relationship, we experience ups and downs. I feel that when we can get through the bad times together, we come out stronger. We’re ready for a great autumn and winter, let’s do this!

Letters to my daughter: time is precious

I promised myself I would write in your diary regularly as you grow up, but the truth is, time flies when you’re having fun and before I have even realised it, you’re already 16 months old, and I’m looking back shamefully at the blank pages and unwritten entries. It’s an old cliché, but it’s true. You’re growing into a beautiful little girl before my eyes, and while I am bursting with pride at every new thing you learn, it also makes me a little sad that you have to grow up so quickly.

Time is slipping away like sand through a timer. You are already so independent, a walking, yelling, giggling, screeching, tantruming toddler. You rarely let me feed you any more, preferring to master the art of using a fork yourself. You stomp about the house, you pout, you tantrum, but even this is endearing because I can see the characteristics of your dad and me in there. You are starting to say words – mostly ‘Noooooo’ accompanied by an emphatic head shake – at my earnest requests to have a bath or go to bed. Or eat something other than cheese. Your dad records the cute noises you make as you try out different combinations of consonants and syllables. You understand most of what we say to you now. You and our dog Bella have a special relationship; one of understanding and solidarity. We play games, we go for walks with Bella, we go swimming, we visit play groups, we have fun days out with friends. We have a lot of fun,

I sometimes lie in bed, after another whirlwind of a day has ended, and cry because I am so full of love for you as you are right now, and I need time to slow down so that I can bestow it all upon you. And this love doesn’t run out, there’s no point me saving it for tomorrow, because it grows exponentially with every second. I think to myself on at least a weekly basis, that THIS is the best stage of your development, but it just gets better and better.

I wish I could bottle every second with you. As you get older, I’ll encourage you to stay a child as long as you can. The world we live in encourages premature wisdom but please don’t rush to grow up. It may seem like I am saying this selfishly, so that you will sit on my lap just a little longer, but I want you to look back on your childhood with fond memories and know that as a family we made the most of our time. Your dad and I have just bought a bus. She’s called Slo Flo, and we are busy renovating her so we can go on our first camping trip this summer. I’m excited about us making some happy memories in her. You’re already pretty handy with a screwdriver.

Motherhood has completely overwhelmed me. As you know, I gave up work so I could spend these precious few years with you, and my expectations have been completely surpassed. Before you arrived, I used to wonder how I would fill my days on maternity leave, but you showed me the way, and your presence fosters a kindness, generosity and love that I never thought I was capable of.

Thank you my darling.

I dreamed a dream of marathons

I ran the London marathon this week. How mad does that sound? I still can’t quite believe it.

Ten years ago I set myself a very wishy washy goal that I would run a marathon before I was 30. At that time, I was a very different person. Still young at 24, and not really knowing who I was or what I was capable of, I had recently taken up running half-heartedly, in a bid to lose weight after gorging myself on all manner of Italian food while I was working out there. I had completed a Race for Life, then a couple of 10ks, and then signed up for a Great North Run to which I neither fully committed, nor trained for. It was a horrible experience which I only completed in 2 hours 35 minutes because I had Dan by my side (and the marvellous Red Arrows for the last mile). Nonetheless I went on to face the same nemesis for two consecutive years.

In the spring of that third year of running, in 2004, I went to support Dan in his very first marathon in London. As a spectator, I was immediately hooked on the energy of this magnificent race and decided I would love to do it one day. Then I promptly forgot about it. I graduated from university, Dan and I got married, and moved to Lincolnshire to start a new life. Running took a backseat, until the summer of 2010 when I decided to take the first tentative steps to running again. Over the summer I fell in love with it, and in the autumn I set up a running group in my village with my husband and two of our friends to inspire others to love running too. One other person turned up that first night, and gradually we grew into Witham Runners and a hub of our community. People began to refer to me as ‘the running lady’. I somehow gained credibility as a coach, so I took qualifications. Running was a big part of my life.

Fast forward two years, and three half marathons later, and I decided to enter the London ballot for 2013. Then, over a glass of wine with two of my running friends, we made a back up plan and entered the 2012 Chester marathon. I drew up a training plan, we started our endurance training, and then I discovered I was pregnant. Once again the marathon dream was put on hold, although I continued to support the long run training from the relative comfort of my mountain bike. I watched my friends and my husband complete the Chester marathon, cheering them on as a member of the race crew. One week later, my husband’s knee in bits from the pounding of the Cheshire roads, our postman brought news from London. Fate apparently knew I was pregnant and I didn’t have a place in London 2013. Dan, however, did. He made a very sensible decision to defer his place to 2014, based on his injury and the fact we would have a newborn, which would mean little time or energy for training.

In March 2013, my daughter Allegra was born. By that point, I was a frustrated runner, who had been out of action for 5 months, keen to put my trainers back on. Six weeks later I entered the London marathon ballot, this time to support my husband. If 2014 was going to be my marathon year, fate would decide. Then a week later, I began running again. 20 minutes the first time, feeling like I would burst open my lungs and my c-section scar. Gradually, I built my strength and endurance back up to a half marathon in October. Then news from London once again dropped into my letter box. I had a place. The hotel was already booked. Dan was already in, with his place from 2013.

2014 is the year that Dan will tell you I became a different person. I drew strength from some invisible force inside me. I was running six, sometimes seven times a week. Throughout the winter, I would regularly rise at 5:30 to go out and run before the baby woke up and Dan had to get ready for work. I learned to run on my own, something I had never before enjoyed and was the reason I had started our running group. Dan spent six weeks out of the country with work, and somehow, I stuck to my training plan, fitting my long runs in around friends and family who offered to babysit. If it was blowing a gale, or dropping hailstones on me, it didn’t matter; it was my opportunity to run and learn to be stronger. If I had to drive the 280 mile round trip to my mum’s so she could look after Allegra for me while I ran, I did. It has taken a village and a huge support network to train for this marathon, and for that I am thankful.

Sunday 13th April 2014
The two weeks leading up to the marathon had been stressful; I won’t lie. Judgement day was inevitably close, and I was frustrated with excess energy from tapering. I admit I had actually worried I may die during the marathon. I’m completely serious, and I now know a fellow runner did collapse on the day and subsequently die in hospital, so this wasn’t an irrational fear of mine; I absolutely respect the marathon as a serious endurance event. For me, it wasn’t a fun run, it was a test of my physical and mental limits, so it was a relief to be finally standing at the blue start where I could let go of all my worries and just get on with it at last. Dan and I said our goodbyes as we entered our separate pens, and I stood with thousands of unknown kindred spirits, soaking up the atmosphere; silent, meditative, calm and resolved. I heard the race start. We shuffled forward slowly for around ten minutes, then at last I saw the start and I began to run.

Already, people were shouting my name: “Go on, Shell,” “Good luck, Shell” and I felt brilliant! I waved to them. I gave them the thumbs up. I high fived a load of kids. What an incredible high! Then I immediately stopped at a portaloo for a wee, where I had a little chat with some ladies in the queue who were also having the same pre-race nerves.

3 miles. We merged with the red start, and I had settled into a good, comfortable pace at ten minutes per mile. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and it was a fellow runner from my club back home. An early boost to see a friendly face.

6 miles. I could hear the crowd noise increasing and I could sense we were getting close to the Cutty Sark. I had been looking forward to this section, as I knew it would be full of energy, and I was not disappointed. The crowd was five or six deep, and I was on a total high, getting a buzz every time somebody shouted my name. I took a selfie here, which conveys my joyful mood.

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I can’t really remember the bit after the Cutty Sark. I just got lost in thought and was focused on reaching Tower Bridge, another 6 miles away. I felt good though. My legs felt strong, I was feeling confident. I took on sips of water at every station, ran though the showers on route, including the hosepipes held by thoughtful firemen …

Then I turned a corner, and there was Tower Bridge. Wow. It looked amazing in the bright sunshine, all glistening and glorious. I remember looking at my watch at this point, my thoughts flitting to the men’s elite race, and thinking Mo Farah must have just about finished his race. Then my phone rang. It was Dan. ‘How are you feeling?’ he asked. ‘Strong,’ I replied, ‘You?’ ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ he confided. It turns out he was at the 16 mile point, having set off with a friend of ours chasing a sub 4-hour PB until his glutes started cramping at mile 10. The intense sunshine wasn’t helping. We agreed to keep in touch and speak in another few miles or so.

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I had by this point reached the halfway point, and gave myself a mental high-five. I was just counting down the miles now until the finish. I looked forward to reaching Canary Wharf in another 6 miles, where I knew I would see the UKRunChat cheer point for a boost from my fellow Twitter users who had given me a lot of support over the past few months throughout my training.

14 miles. I could feel myself starting to tire. I took another gel and a sports drink, and ran on, but I was started to experience Runner Rage. I was feeling annoyed at the bottlenecks on the route as the crowd took up half the road, forcing runners to squeeze through a smaller gap and trip over each other. It was messing with my running stride. Other runners were knocking my elbows as they overtook. A few tripped me up with their feet. For three miles I gritted my teeth and bit my tongue, although a few sweary words may have escaped under my breath. Dig in, dig in, I told myself. You’ll get through this in a bit. I couldn’t hear the crowd anymore. I was looking inward, while watching the arms and feet of other runners to avoid them.

18 miles. I saw the towering buildings of Canary Wharf. The field of runners seemed to have spread out all of a sudden and I had some room again. Wow. My anger was forgotten and I could feel my spirits lifting again. I felt like I was flying as I entered the echoing space amongst the reflective office buildings. The noise from the spectators was incredible. My mood soared, and suddenly I was superwoman again, flying through the twists and turns of the most exciting part of the route. It was so busy! Once again, everybody was yelling my name. I was whooping, I was clapping, I was cheering, I was grinning, I was invincible! I remember urgently scanning the crowd for our UKRunChat banners, and then, just after the 19 mile point, I saw them, and ran over to them like some possessed madwoman. Bear in mind I chat to these guys on Twitter, and I had only met a couple of them for the first time the previous evening at a carb loading meal, so I didn’t really know them, but I was quite free with the sweaty hugs (sorry guys!) and I posed for what has become my favourite race picture from the day. I look so excited by the whole marathon experience, and it portrays my feelings perfectly. (Thanks @crouchendcoops)

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Boosted, I ran on, and phoned Dan again as I made a loo stop. He was at 21 miles. He was suffering. I had just had a gel, a hug from some awesome Twitter people, and I was Superwoman, remember? I was going to save him! I ran on, knowing my husband needed me. I scanned the runners ahead, looking for his luminous yellow T-shirt. I grabbed two gels at the next fuel station; one for me and one for Dan. I was on a mission to find my husband and carry him to the finish line on my shoulders if I had to. 20 miles, 21 miles, no sign of him. I slowed to a walk and tried ringing him, but there was no answer. I tried to run again. Owwwww, suddenly my glutes didn’t work. I felt like they had cramped up, packed up and refused to move. I gave them a massage (appreciate that may have looked weird) and tried to run again. It hurt. I was still scanning the runners ahead for him. 22 miles. At this point I began to cry. I wanted desperately to find Dan and give him a hug. I was aware of spectators shouting my name as I walked/hobbled/attempted to run on, with tears streaming down my face, and snot bubbling, but I was lost inside myself. I wanted to reach the 23 mile point, where I knew I had some friends waiting for a much needed boost. As I turned a corner, I spied a lady holding out pieces of banana and took one, yelling my thanks as I willed my legs and my glutes into a run again. This time I was Banana(wo)man! To the rescue!

I was now on the home straight, I knew. We entered a tunnel, and I remember seeing enormous great balloons with motivational messages on them. Pain is temporary. Glory is forever. Enjoy the moment. You are so close. Never give up. I was tripping on sensory overload at this point and had fallen into a kind of running coma where I felt totally alone, and I think I took them as a personal message to me from some higher force. But they worked so much that I missed the 23 and 24 mile markers completely and I was suddenly able to draw energy from the crowd as I ran out again into the sunshine on Embankment. I suddenly saw two friendly faces, Nicki and Laura, two very good friends of mine who had come to spectate. I burst into tears when I saw them and stopped for a hug and some more banana as I composed myself for the last leg, then I ran on.

As I approached Big Ben, I remember speaking to Dan on the phone again. I was crying properly at this point, huge gasping tears rolling down my face as I gathered every last drop of energy from my body to finish this marathon. Dan told me he was waiting for me just before the finish so we could cross the line together and a huge relief washed over me, but I was so overcome with the need to preserve every ounce of energy to run, that I remember shouting at him not to ring again because it was taking too much effort! The photo I took of myself at this point doesn’t really convey my absolute misery. I felt spent, but I remember thinking to myself that I could walk the last bit and still make it back within the 5 hour mark, and this thought somehow spurred me onto run again. I turned the corner at the Houses of Parliament into Birdcage Walk for what would become The Longest Half Mile of My Life.

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800m to go. I wiped the snot and tears off my face. I was weaving from side to side of the road, trying to see ahead to the top of Birdcage Walk.

600m to go. I saw the St John’s Ambulance team assisting an injured runner at the roadside. I composed myself.

And then I saw him! I could see Dan standing at the 400m to go sign. I ran to him and burst into tears again. He held my hand and pointed to Buckingham Palace, and then the finish line. I had run a bloody marathon in 4 hours, 50 minutes and 43 seconds. I can’t believe I actually did it.

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I am crying now just writing this. I never used to be a runner. If you’re reading this, and thinking you could never do this, you’re wrong. We are all capable, and extraordinary, and I know this now. Training for this marathon has had a profound impact on me; I feel a different, stronger, gutsier person for it, and I would encourage every one of you to challenge yourself with something you never thought yourself capable of, because you will be a better person for it.

I am raising money for Ataxia UK http://www.justgiving.com/shellsmarathon Thank you to all those who have given so generously.

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Lessons in life and love: What a dog can teach a baby

We are dog people. We have always been this way, brought up in our separate childhood homes with family pet dogs, and then adopting a rescue dog of our own after we moved in together and got married. Our scruffy little beagle cross, Bella, is our best pal, and a part of our family. Unless you are a dog person, you don’t really understand this.

Introducing a new baby into our dog family was always going to be a little awkward. Having to move the dog out of her own room to decorate the nursery for the new arrival, for example, could have been a catalyst for jealousy, but the dog has adapted really well. I hear so many sad stories about dogs having to be rehomed after a new baby, that I was anxious to make the transition from childless to child as smooth as possible for the dog.

Bella has always been a gentle dog, and has shown a wonderful maternal and caring instinct over our newborn, coming to alert us in the middle of the night whenever Allegra stirs (I admit this CAN get a little annoying at times), and guarding the pushchair whenever Allegra sleeps in it.

Bringing up a baby with a dog in the house can divide opinion, particularly given recent events with dog attacks on small children, but handled correctly it can be a wonderful situation for a child to grow up in. Now Allegra is on the move, and delighted with Bella, I am teaching her respect for animals from a young age. Giving Bella space when she needs it, not invading her doggy spaces, being gentle with her. One of Allegra’s favourite games for the past few weeks has been stealing Bella’s bones and having a chew herself, and I admit I was a bit worried for a moment about raising Mowgli from the Jungle Book, seeing as babies learn a lot through mimicry, but with time Allegra is learning that the dog’s toys are not for playing with. I am not one of those parents who will encourage my child to ride the doggy like a horse. I believe that to raise a daughter with respect for animals is very important, and that this in turn will teach her respect for a lot of other things too.

Having a dog, I believe, fosters kindness in a person. It can teach you about unconditional love and loyalty. Sharing her food with Bella is an entertaining part of mealtimes for Allegra, and I’m sure she will not grow up to be selfish. As she grows, she will also learn about responsibility, through our commitment to keeping Bella well exercised at least twice a day (sometimes more while food is still being proffered from the high chair). Most importantly, if she absorbs even a fraction of the sheer joy that exudes from Bella anytime a ball is thrown or a walk mentioned, Allegra will learn the true meaning of happiness and carpe diem.

The most important job in the world

Today, I have made a huge, life-changing decision. After months of procrastination and soul-searching, I have set the wheels in motion to change my future, for the better. Probably (without a doubt) not as life-changing as the decision to bring a child into the world, but still important.

I have decided to not return to work, and instead to stay at home to take on what I believe to be the most important job in the world: raising my daughter.

I have been wrestling with this decision for a long time, and as such had kept my options open, opting for enhanced maternity leave, but squirrelling away the additional cash into a savings account – just in case. In the meantime, I have started up my own business from home, allowing me to work flexibly. Yesterday, I went on a training course, and leaving my little girl at 7:30 – albeit in the capable hands of her daddy – and returning home at 8pm was tougher than I thought it would be. The thought of doing the same thing three or four days a week, stressing about getting up on time, worrying if we’ve been up all night, getting the dog walked, getting everybody dressed and fed, especially if my husband is called away with his own work, wrestling with commuter traffic, clinched the deal for me. I do not want to be a stressed out rushabout mum. I want to have the time and patience to effect a happy family life for all of us.

I think I’ve always, in my heart of hearts, known that this is the right decision for me, but it has still been difficult to actually make it. I have had it drilled into me from a young age that having a good work ethic is important. My own parents taught me the value of money, and, hard workers themselves, they encouraged me quietly to work hard at school, and achieve. As soon as I turned 16, I found a Saturday job to provide me with spending money through my sixth form years, and have never been unemployed since (apart from a very unfortunate 3 week blip five years ago in the deepest doldrums of the recession). I was the first generation in my family to go to university, and have always believed in working hard. I thrive on being busy. Giving up my job as a marketing manager has been a tough decision.

However, I have also always believed that to bring a child into the world, you should be prepared to be fully responsible for their upbringing, and the opportunity to raise my daughter myself, at home, is wonderful. I am in no way intending to be controversial in this blog post, and criticise those parents who continue to work full- or part-time, because every person has their own individual circumstances and reasons for how they raise their children. I, however, am fortunate enough to have the option to stay at home, and lucky to have a husband who is able and willing to support us.

For me, the decision is not a financial one. I would rather have fewer holidays, and wait a bit longer for that new sofa than have to hand my daughter over to a childminder three or four days a week while I sit at a desk for the sake of a few hundred extra pounds (after those expensive child care costs). This decision is about our quality of life, and our happiness. I am excited that I can have full control over my daughter’s formative years. She is 8 months old now, and I am really looking forward to our next few years together, as she learns to make sense of the world around her, with me at her side to guide her.

Nursery rhyme nor reason

I’ve finally figured it out after all these years: what the Hokey Cokey is on about! I’m convinced it’s about dressing a six month old: “You put your left leg in, left leg out, in, out, in, out, shake it all about …”

At least the Hokey Cokey is only one of the nonsensical children’s songs, rather than a nursery rhyme, of which many are disturbing or downright upsetting.

Take Humpty Dumpty, for example. Each week, in the swimming pool, I, along with 10 or 11 other mothers, have to sing this to my little one, while she’s sitting on the side of the pool, splashing her into the water when Humpty falls, and then admit to her that all the King’s horses et al couldn’t actually put Humpty together again. I appreciate Humpty is an (apparently giant) egg, which in itself is a bit weird that he has a name and a personality, but what a hard lesson for a person to have to learn at such a young age: that mummy couldn’t fix something.

Rock-a-bye Baby is equally as disturbing. A baby falls out of a tree? And this appears on a lullaby CD that babies are supposed to listen to at bedtime* (it’s now banned in our house). Who puts a baby in a tree in the first place? Call the Social Services.

Nursery rhymes are full of horror: blackbirds pecking off noses like something straight out of a Hitchcock film; the three unfortunate blind mice who are chased and mutilated, and we all suppose Ring a ring o’ roses is about the plague (although this supposition is largely disputed). And don’t even get me started on Hey Diddle Diddle – an advert to Just Say No if ever I saw one.

I suppose it’s only natural that I want to protect my daughter from the harsh realities of today’s world for as long as possible. It seems I am not the only one. Apparently, a British ‘Society for Nursery Rhyme Reform’ used to exist, created specifically to clean up nursery rhymes. Many advocates of nursery rhymes, many of which may be based on real individuals and events, argue they are useful to both children and adults as ways of allowing them to imaginatively deal with violence and danger, and it has been argued that revised versions may not perform these important functions of catharsis for children. Still, at just six months old, I don’t feel my daughter needs to worry about this yet. She will learn about them, but not in my nursery. Although I am still humming the Hokey Cokey.

*her bedtime listening consists mainly of pop and rock music at the moment: she’s partial to a bit of Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys and Billy Idol.

You can have it all, if you like.

Last week, I posted a question on my social networks asking mums to debate the optimum balance between working and looking after children. I guess I was really looking for advice on whether I should return to work after my maternity leave. The results were fascinating.

Opinions ranged from those who have given up work completely to stay home and raise their brood themselves, to mums who literally do it all: full time work while looking after a family. A common theme ran through most of the answers however: guilt.

I have touched upon this ‘mummy guilt’ in previous posts, with my (lost) battle to breastfeed, and it seems guilt is a recurrent theme through parenthood. Whatever choices mums make, it seems they still feel guilty. Women who return to work after having a baby largely feel guilty at having their child raised by somebody else, whether that be a family member, childminder or a nursery. They justify it to themselves (and others) because they need the money, or the future security, or the sanity of being among their peers and being somebody other than mum. They say working makes them appreciate quality time with family much more.

Stay at home mums seem to worry that their children are getting bored at home, or that they’re not socialising with other children enough. They worry about the pressure on their partners to be sole breadwinners. They feel guilty about buying themselves a new pair of shoes or a haircut. They worry they are losing their own social skills, and brain cells, and even their identity.

I wonder if there is a happy medium. Some mums work part-time, or compressed hours. Can you really balance work and family; can you have it all? Those mums I have spoken to who work part-time say they do enjoy work, and they enjoy having a couple of days at home during the week with their little ones.

I’ve been doing my own soul searching lately about what I really want. Priorities do change when you have a family. I am in awe of those mums who work full-time, because I am finding raising a child MORE than a full-time job (and I don’t even do my own cleaning or ironing). I am really struggling to make a decision, because it IS such an important one, so much so that I have made a list of the benefits of returning to work part-time versus staying at home. Interestingly, underneath both options, I have written the phrase ‘Will people judge me?’ And I think there I have it: everybody’s circumstances are different; and nobody can say what is right for me. I have to listen to my heart and go with my gut instinct on this one, the same as with a lot of the parental skills I have learned over the past six months. People WILL judge me whatever I do: if I return to work I may be ‘too focused on my career'; if I stay at home I may be ‘lazy’. Mummy guilt originates only from other people’s opinions. If you do in your heart what you feel is right for your family, you will make the right decision.

So I am off to delete my list, and cuddle my beautiful daughter, and I am sure the decision I make will be right for us.