Books, Reading and the 2015 Goodreads Challenge

I’ve never written much about my personal love of books and reading on this blog. It’s partly because, in many ways, it’s a private passion. In keeping with the general flaw in my personality that cares far too much what other people think of me, I’ve often found myself afraid to profess too much love for a given book or given author in case it goes against the popular grain, or is scorned by those whose opinions I value. I know it’s daft, because these things are personal. But still. I’m afraid to write or share book reviews, even of books I’ve adored, in case they accidentally reveal that I’ve missed an important subtext that the rest of the world grasped easily, and thus reveal myself to be a bit of a fool. Equally as crazy. But still.

I do love to read though. And I always have. The bookshelves lining my loft room groan under the weight of hundreds of books. Yet more sit in boxes, too loved to be given away, but not quite making the cut for permanent display. Initially I was sceptical of e-books, but now I’m so pleased to be able to carry a hundred paperbacks in my pocket, to never run out of reading material on the go and to not have to relegate further titles to the boxes in the loft. I still buy and read real books, but they are mostly either from the library or have some particular value in being paper copies – usually non-fiction titles. Books are everywhere in my house, and everywhere in my life.

Looking back I can chart particular periods of my life by the types of books I read. I went through a “coming of age” fiction phase, appropriately in my early twenties. I had another period where everything I read was some sort of social commentary. Yet another time in my life was defined by classic chick-lit. Easy reads that worked as pure escapism when I was under immense stress. And of course, last year was the year of infertility related reading, from practical facts through infertility fiction to tough personal memoirs.

It may sound dramatic, but at times books have absolutely saved my sanity. They’ve kept me from utter boredom during drawn out hospital stays. Passed long journeys by in the blink of an eye. They’ve been a simple comfort on lonely nights after the break up of my first long term relationship. Books have been there as a cover and a confidence boost when waiting alone to meet people, or simply marking time until a particular event. Books were also there as a stable part of my previous life when motherhood changed everything. Thomas spent a good portion of the time he was breast feeding in those early months with a book perched above him and those books kept me grounded during the madness. And of course, books have taught me so much from actual facts to ideas which have helped form the basis of my personal belief system and what sort of person I am or want to be.

So it’s about time that I shared some of this little love here, and nevermind what you think of me. It really shouldn’t matter if you think my reading choices are shallow, or you hate the books I like, or you got something completely different out of a story than I did. Because at the end of the day reading is a very personal thing. And after all, if we didn’t all love something different, there wouldn’t be half as many successful books out there as there are. And being a “reader” or a lover of books is not simply about analysing the classics or decouring only high-brow literary fiction. It’s much more simply enjoyment of the written word and the tales woven with it.

As a first step, I’ve decided to give Goodreads another go. I’ve been keeping personal records of the books I read for many years – a habit learned from my father. But in this day and age it makes sense to record this digitally in a place where I can also get further recommendations based on what I’ve already enjoyed – although at the moment I’m in danger of having an overwhelming long list of potential “next books”!

As a motivation – not so much to read, as I do that anyway, but more to keep up with the online records – I’ve also set myself a target in the 2015 Goodreads Challenge to read 65 books this year. This exceeds the loose “book-a-week” aim that I generally adhere to, but based on recent years which have also exceeded this, it should be readily achievable.

January has got off to a good start, with a few new authors discovered and some great reads. The month’s book choices have been somewhat coloured by what is available through the Kindle Unlimited subscription, which I decided to run for this month. In general I’m not hugely impressed by the Kindle Unlimited selection for the price, although this is probably a discussion for another time. (All I will say is that I know you should not judge a book by its cover, but these days self-designed covers for self published e-books stick out a mile – because cover design is actually a difficult skill. And whilst there is nothing wrong with self publishing, sadly almost anyone can do it, and sorting the wheat from the chaff is bloody hard work!) However I started the month with a desire to re-read the first two Hunger Games books and finally read Mockingjay. And since they are available through Unlimited, it made a month’s subscription worthwhile.

So here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

2767052 6148028 7260188  If you haven’t heard of the Hunger Games trilogy by now, then I’d be inclined to wonder if you have been living under a rock. I’d previously read the first two but wanted to read the final installment before watching the Mockingjay Part 1 film. To be honest, I’m not sure why I’ve not read it before. I know that opinions on both the films and the books are divided, but personally I find them pacy and well structured, even if the prose itself lacks a little something.

 

 

The Photographer’s Wife by Nick Alexander

23153467 This was a Kindle Unlimited find, and a new author to me, but one I have already earmarked to read more from.

Barbara – a child of the Blitz – has more secrets than she cares to admit.
She has protected her children from many of the harsh realities of life and told them little of the poverty of her childhood, nor of the darker side of her marriage to one of Britain’s most famous photographers.
With such an incomplete picture of the past, her youngest, Sophie, has struggled to understand who her parents really are, and in turn, Barbara sometimes worries, to build her own identity.
When Sophie decides to organise a vast retrospective exhibition of her adored father’s work, old photos are pulled from dusty boxes. But with them tumble stories from the past, stories and secrets that will challenge every aspect of how Sophie sees her parents.

It’s an epic tale, set in both the past and the present, that explores how previous experience and family dynamics can shape your life and identity. It is above all a human, character-led story and the author combines the different times and viewpoints with some skill and an easy, almost lyrical prose. I was completely drawn in by the main characters and whilst the plot twists weren’t exactly surprising to me as the reader, it was their effects on the characters that really made the story what it is. Impressive characterisation, attention to detail and a sensitive and realistic portrayal of complex emotions left me wanting more.

One Breath Away and These Things Hidden  by Heather Gudenkauf

131120239166559I picked up a set of three Heather Gudenkauf books in The Bookpeople sale, having never read any of her books before. I was intially drawn by One Breath Away because the plot sounded reminiscent of one of my favourite Jodi Picoult titles: Nineteen Minutes.

An ordinary school day in March, snowflakes falling, classroom freezing, kids squealing with delight, locker-doors slamming. Then the shooting started. No-one dared take one breath…

He’s holding a gun to your child’s head. One wrong answer and he says he’ll shoot. This morning you waved goodbye to your child. What would you have said if you’d known it might be the last time?

I can see where the Picoult comparisons come from – similarities in subject matter, the multiple viewpoint style ans small town American settings – but overall I feel Gudenkauf’s writing lacks the depth and complexity of many Picoult novels. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (Picoult’s plots can be irritatingly overworked and overtold) and I found this book both engaging and quite quick to read without a great deal concentration required. This was perhaps fuelled by the setting contained almost entirely within a single day. It’s fair to say that the conclusion became obvious from fairly early on, but there was satisfaction in seeing how the characters discovered what I had already deduced.

These Things Hidden is based around the story of a child left at a safe haven at a few weeks of age.

Imprisoned for a heinous crime when she was a just a teenager, Allison Glenn is now free. Desperate for a second chance, Allison discovers that the world has moved on without her…

Shunned by those who once loved her, Allison is determined to make contact with her sister. But Brynn is trapped in her own world of regret and torment. Their legacy of secrets is focused on one little boy.

And if the truth is revealed, the consequences will be unimaginable for the adoptive mother who loves him, the girl who tried to protect him and the two sisters who hold the key to all that is hidden…

Like One Breath Away it was a short and engaging read, but of the two books it felt more inconceivable and there was an element of unbelievability about the facts underpinning the entire plot. At it’s heart, however, it’s a book about relationships and what we will do for those that we love.

Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown

7089884I discovered Isabel Ashdown this time last year, when I read Hurry Up and Wait which was  deeply satidfying read full of accurate 1980s nostalgia. Somehow Glasshopper appealed to me less. perhaps because the central character is male. Perhaps because the setting is slightly earlier. However I now wish that I’d read it sooner.

Portsmouth, 1984. Thirteen-year-old Jake’s world is unravelling as his father and older brother leave home, and his mother plunges into alcoholic freefall.

Despite his turbulent home life, Jake is an irrepressible teenager and his troubled mother is not the only thing on his mind: there’s the hi-fi he’s saving up for, his growing passion for Greek mythology (and his pretty classics teacher), and the anticipation of brief visits to see his dad. When his parents reconcile, life finally seems to be looking up. Their first family holiday, announced over scampi and chips in the Royal Oak, promises to be the icing on the cake — until long-unspoken family secrets begin to surface.

It’s an impressive and moving tale of a family in crisis told from two viewpoints on two timescales which eventually intertwine and is perhaps most striking because of the completely unpretentious, utter normality. It’s full of growing pains, and sibling and family relationships and their difficulties. The characters absolutely walk off the page and their lives are painted vividly without losing believability or becoming over sentimental or sterotyped. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I did not see the ending coming, despite the early primer and as such it’s a book that stayed in mind long after I finished the final page.

Watch Over Me by Daniela Sacerdoti

12996846Another new author, through Kindle Unlimited.

Eilidh Lawson’s life has hit crisis point. Years of failed fertility treatments, a cheating husband and an oppressive family have pushed her to the limits. Desperate for relief, she seeks solace in the only place she’s ever felt at home – a small village in the Scottish Highlands. There, Eilidh slowly begins to mend her broken heart but soon learns she is not the only one in the village struggling to recover from a painful past. Jamie McAnena, Eilidh’s childhood friend, is trying to raise his daughter Maisie alone. After Maisie’s mother left to pursue a career in London and Jamie’s own mother, Elizabeth, passed away, he has resigned himself to being a family of two. But sometimes there is more to a story than meets the eye. Despite their reluctance, curious circumstances keep bringing Jamie and Eilidh together. For even when it seems all is lost, help can come from the most surprising places. But sometimes there is more to a story than meets the eye. Despite their reluctance, curious circumstances keep bringing Jamie and Eilidh together. For even when it seems all is lost, help can come from the most surprising places.

There is a bit of a theme in my January reading that much of it has been based around family relationships and the effect of past actions on the present! I’ll admit that the “failed fertility treatments” may have been a bit of a hook for me. I can’t honestly say that that this has been my favourite read. I felt the “supernatural” element was a little unecessary and actually the plot would have worked just as well without the need for a ghost character, who almost felt like a bit of an afterthought and a way to explain away any implausible moments. Stripped back, this is really a simple love story but it felt just a little too neat and, at times, cliched, to really engage me.

The Memory Child by Steena Holmes

18706032 Also a Kindle Unlimited find, this took a bit of getting in to.

When Brian finds out that his wife, Diane, is pregnant, he is elated. He’s been patiently waiting for twelve years to become a father. But Diane has always been nervous about having children because of her family’s dark past. The timing of the pregnancy also isn’t ideal—Diane has just been promoted, and Brian is being called away to open a new London office for his company.

Fast-forward one year: being a mother has brought Diane a sense of joy that she’d never imagined and she’s head over heels for her new baby, Grace. But things are far from perfect: Brian has still not returned from London, and Diane fears leaving the baby for even a moment. As unsettling changes in those around Diane began to emerge, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

A woman’s dark past collides head-on with her mysterious present in this surreal and gripping family drama.

Initially I found this quite a jarring read, but some of the difficulty is explained by the eventual plot twists. It has an interesting premise which I’m sure has been done many times before, but I’ve not read anything similar personally. As such it took me a good while to figure out what was going on, and it’s very much a mystery with multiple unanswered questions being the driving force. Sadly I feel that the basis of the plot, and the need to not overdisclose, prevented really good characterisation but ultimately the need for answers to all the questions kept me turning the pages. The ending, when it came, however, felt somewhat rushed, and Diane’s response to discovering her truth of her situation could actually have been a novel in itself.

The Lie of You by Jane Lythell

18690719I initially saw this as a Goodreads recommendation, and then discovered it was also available through Kindle Unlimited, so gave it a go.

One woman’s fear is a another woman’s weapon…

”When I look back on my relationship with Kathy I marvel at how naive she was, how little she knew.

But then, she always thought she had everything: the job; the baby; the friends; and him. She thought she was safe. She thought that nothing could touch her perfect world.

She should never have trusted me.”

A woman sets out to destroy a female colleague in this chilling psychological thriller.

It certainly took me a while to warm up to the writing style, which felt rather more stilted that I would prefer. You can no doubt see by now that I place quite a lot of importance on characterisation and that it’s the people that really make or break a lot of novels for me. In this case I found it hard to warm to, or identify with, any of the characters, although whether this was because of the characters themselves or the way they were written I’m still not entirely sure. Perhaps a combination of both. The contrast between the characters felt rather contrived and cliched, and the complete lack of mystery surrounding the characters lead to an absence of the sort of tense suspense I suspect the author might have intended. That said, I still wanted to find out if my assumptions were correct, and I didn’t identify all of the detail at the end of the book. Had I really cared about the characters, I suppose the ending may have changed the way that I thought. Overall let down by a lack of attention to detail and character development.

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie

 18819296My final Kindle Unlimited choice for the month
While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son as well as contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members, and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother, who was her ex-boyfriend. Tish volunteers to attend the funeral on her company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life.
This is another story told from multiple viewpoints, but with accomplished style. It’s a novel at its heart about family, love, responsibility and choices. The choices we make and the consequences are actions, whether active or passive, can have. My major criticism is that it perhaps didn’t portray grief in a very three dimensional way, although I appreciate that this would have taken away from the main plotline, it also left some areas of the book feeling a little superficial. Yet overall this was a captivating read that identified some hard truths about human nature.

Me and Mine – January 2015

2015 is the year that I’m determined will see me collect a complete set of twelve photographs of the three of us together as a family. In an ideal world there will be some nicely composed, properly exposed shots taken during days out or memorable occasions, and preferably taken using a camera rather than my phone. These are all things that I’ve generally failed at in the last two years of the Me and Mine project.

On the one hand, we’re off to a good start – I have a photograph to share. On the other hand… Well at least it wasn’t taken on my phone!

January is always a strange month. And this year, between less than great weather, illness, work and other commitments, it’s not been the most exciting or productive month. So I suppose this photograph, taken at home, does reflect our January quite well. I staged it in the one area of our house that tends to get reasonable light in the winter: the stairs up to our top floor which are flooded with the light from a rooftop skylight. There are a lot of problems with this setting, however. Not least juggling a camera, tripod and a very energetic three year old on stairs could easily be a recipe for disaster. With that in mind, this was a bit of a one shot deal. One chance to position us correctly, get us all looking at the camera and expose it correctly. As it turned out my test shots of an empty staircase didn’t allow me to get the settings quite right and as a consequence I’ve over-blown the top of the shot – exactly where all that lovely natural light is!

But I like it anyway.

And at least no one fell down the stairs!

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dear beautiful

How to Tell Your Infertile Friend That You’re Pregnant

I don’t know if there will ever be a day where a pregnancy announcement isn’t like sucker punch right in the gut. I’m not sure when the time will come that I don’t cry big, fat, snotty and unattractive tears in response to someone else’s joy. At the end of the day, there is no good way for someone who is infertile to hear the news that you are procreating. But there are a bunch of things that you can do to ensure you make it the best experience it can be, to let your friend know that you’ve considered her pain and to make her feel loved and supported as your life moves on in a way that hers cannot. So here are my top tips for announcing your pregnancy news to your infertile friends.

1. Just do it. If you’re reading this, you obviously know it’s a delicate issue and it’s human nature to shy away from difficult things. But remember that it will be much harder for them that for you. You will have a short period of awkwardness or guilt to contend with. But you have your pregnancy to focus on. Your friend will continue to be reminded forever of the joy that she cannot share in. It won’t get easier for either of you if you put it off, so just do it.

2. Consider telling early. By which I mean before you tell the rest of the world, and maybe even before the first scan if you’re intending to wait that long to make a general announcement. This gives them space to get their head around the issue sooner and means they may be ready to share in genuine joy once the wider announcement is out. Being one of the first to know is a small thing, but also may mean a lot to your friend and make them feel valued and considered. And if the worst should happen in your pregnancy, you may well also find your infertile friend is an excellent source of support. Infertile people are experts in the heartache associated with trying to create new life and can be counted upon not to say “Oh well. it wasn’t meant to be” or “You can just try again.”

I would especially urge you to consider telling early if your friend is going through or about to start an assisted reproduction cycle (IUI/IVF/ICSI etc). They will likely find it much easier to cope if they find out whilst they still have their own hope that the cycle is going to be a success for them than if you show them a scan picture just a few weeks after the failure of treatment. Trust me, I’ve been in that exact position, and I really wish I’d known before the negative result, rather than a couple of weeks later.

3. How you tell will depend a bit on your friend. Personally I think a phone call is the best. It’s more personal and caring than a text or email (which suggests you are hiding from something you find hard). But a phone call is easier for your friend to end than a meeting in person should they wish to cry, shout, scream or react in any other way. We don’t really want to cry in front of you, because we don’t want you to think we’re sad about your news. We’re just incredibly sad for ourselves. Understand too that we may not want you to be the one to comfort us.

Do remember that telling one half of a couple does not constitute telling the whole couple. It’s not the same as for your normally fertile friends, where it does not matter if one finds out on Facebook. If you tell one half of the couple – particularly if you tell the male half – be respectful enough to give them time to break it to the other half before putting on social media. I did not appreciate fining out about a close pregnancy via Facebook because Ian had had the news broken to him whilst we were both at work and, rightly, wanted to tell me when we were both home so he could give me a hug. Two hours was all that we needed.

4. Try to stick to facts. Be honest and hold off the platitudes. It’s fine to say “I appreciate that this might be difficult for you, but I really wanted you to know that I’m pregnant. Please take all the time you need to deal with my news.” Don’t tell us that you’re sorry. Of course you’re not – you wanted a baby. So do we. I’d be more upset if I thought you were sorry it had happened. Don’t say that you wish we could be pregnant too so that we could share it. We wish that with all of our hearts and don’t need a reminder that it isn’t happening. A text about something completely unrelated to babies a few days later could also be a good idea, to help your friend realise that you’re not going to go completely baby mad on her and help her find a way back in to her previous relationship with you.

5. Don’t, whatever you do, discuss the details of the conception. Don’t tell them how quickly it happened. Absolutely do not offer advice on how to conceive – infertiles are experts on the theory and will doubtless know much more than you can imagine. Do not tell them that you struggled if this really isn’t the case. For the record “struggling” would mean taking over a year, or needing some kind of medical intervention to get pregnant. Feeling as though “it will never happen” after three cycles is not struggling. If you were actively trying for less than a year, and didn’t have outside help, please just don’t talk about it.

Especially don’t tell us that it was an accident. Or that you’re not sure if you even want a child. Don’t make jokes about super-sperm, your husband only having to look at you to get you pregnant, or that you can be a surrogate/sperm donor once your pregnancy is completed. Those things are really not funny, nor helpful.

6. Understand that your friend is not angry at you. They are simply deeply, overwhelmingly sad for themselves. We do feel joy at other people’s pregnancies, but it takes time. Try to let your friend know that you understand and give them space or time. Allow them to raise the pregnancy as a topic of discussion, if they want to, rather than raising it yourself. You need to accept that they may not want to talk about it. I’m sure you have plenty of other friends to get excited with so it will not hurt you to focus on things which are not baby related with your infertile friend.

When the baby arrives, ask if they would like to come for cuddles (sometimes it’s what we thrive on) but don’t be offended of the answer is no. It’s not personal. Take our lead on how much we want to be involved. For some people it might mean the world to be allowed to change a nappy, but it might just be too hard for others. Automatically being pushed out because we’re infertile is just as bad as being expected to coo over every picture, however, and our reactions will be very individual, so please take our lead.

7. If you are more of an acquaintance through social media, then please don’t be offended if we don’t rush to join the congratulatory tweets and Facebook comments. I don’t tend to congratulate many (any) pregnancy announcements in these circumstances these days, because I simply find it too hard. Sorry, but again, it’s not personal. You don’t need one extra “Like” or comment to make your news any better than it already is, so please just enjoy it without worrying how many are also enjoying it wit you.

In regards to social media – and even in person announcements with groups of people you don’t know intimately, such as work colleagues – be aware that you don’t necessarily know who amongst your friends is struggling with fertility issues. Never comment on the fact that someone doesn’t seem happy about your pregnancy news, or didn’t bother to comment on it. Again, just bloody enjoy your fantastic good fortune. And be sensitive in what you say. Comments about your “struggle” to conceive – as above – could offend more people than you realise. Just think about whether it’s really necessary before you say it.

I’m not suggesting that you need to smother you joy, censor your happiness or make every picture private. I’m just suggesting that the expectation that everyone else will feel only joy for you is unrealistic. Friends will always feel joy for you, but it may be mixed up in a heap of other emotions you can only guess at.

And always remember that the tables could easily be turned. Just because you are pregnant now doesn’t me that you won’t – like us – experience secondary infertility in future. A little bit of compassion, sensitivity and understanding goes a long way. You’re having a baby. You are so, so blessed. That’s all that really matters.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

{Living Arrows 2015} 3/52

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“Cheeeeeeeeeeeese”

Look at that face! Just look!

This is the face that Thomas will pull if you are foolish enough, as I was, to ask him to smile for the camera.

I don’t delete these images. Nor the ones that are out of focus. Or where, despite the fastest shutter speed possible in the given light, Thomas is little more than a blur of colourful clothes. I don’t delete them because one day, I’ll look back at those pictures and remember just how difficult it was to photograph my son as a toddler and pre-schooler. All of these less than perfect shots capture exactly who he is right now, at this point in his life. The never-sitting-still, ants-in-his-pants bundle of completely over-enthusiastic energy. That’s him. And the only possible way to truly capture his essence is in poorly timed, poorly focused images.

I also don’t delete then because when he’s a sullen teenager who won’t let me get near him with the camera at all, I’m sure I’ll laugh about how much disliked this stage in photographic terms!

And quality aside, this is the face that wakes me up each morning. That greets me after a long day at work. That tells me a hundred things with hundred different expressions. It’s the face I’ll never get tired of seeing.

My boy.

Living Arrows

“Just Relax”

Since we reached the definite end of our fertility journey, I’ve found myself opening up about it more. I don’t mean that I’m telling everyone I meet or walking around with a sign attached to my back, but I am talking more about it as and when the subject comes up. I’m talking about it because, in an odd way, it’s therapeutic for me to share, but also because infertility still remains such a taboo despite affecting so many people. If my tiny voice can make a tiny change in awareness, then that has to be a good thing.

There is one place that the subject comes up more than any other. You can’t get a group of mothers with similarly aged children together without certain topics arising. You know the ones – food choices, schools and… the subject of “more children”. Of course, my closest mum friends have known all along about our struggle to conceive another child. But there are plenty more mums that I class as “good acquaintances”. The ones that I see week in and week out at the same groups or activities, or at pre-school drop off and pick up time, but never outside of those arenas. They’re not friends, yet we know a fair amount about each others lives through our children. They’re exactly the people I’m opening up more to about our experience of secondary infertility.

And for the most part, the reception has been great. Warm and supportive. Others have confided their own, hitherto unknown, difficult journeys. People have told me how sorry they are with sincerity, and validated my desire to have another child when I’ve still been wondering myself whether all of this isn’t just selfish indulgence. Not everyone has known what to say, of course. Some people can’t help but offer practical solutions, or supposedly helpful anecdotes of their sister’s-best-friend’s-cousin’s miracle conception. Sometimes I’m in the mood to try some gentle attempts to alter perceptions. Sometimes I’ll patiently explain things like why the adoption road is fraught with difficulties for a couple in our circumstances and it isn’t necessarily the simple solution they present it as. More often I’ll just let it roll over. I’ve been doing this just long enough now to have become good at self preservation.

There is one thing, however, that people say that is guaranteed to generate entirely the opposite reaction to the one that they are promoting.

It’s that old chestnut “Just relax, and it’ll happen.”

Sometimes it’s dressed up in one of those miracle stories. You’ve all heard the one about the couple who “stopped trying” after countless years and many rounds of assisted reproductive techniques only to conceive a healthy baby the very next month, simply because they’d “relaxed” and “stopped trying”?

That’s the one that raises my blood pressure and pushes the anger buttons that lie right at the bottom of my heartache.

So let me tell you, right here, why this seemingly innocuous little statement is so offensive to people struggling with infertility of any sort.

For starters, it’s not even accurate. Even leaving aside the fact that relaxation is not going to magically alter the number and quality of my available eggs or Ian’s sperm, there is not a single well-designed scientific study that shows any positive correlation between relaxation and successful conception, whether naturally or by IVF or other techniques. Furthermore, there’s not really all that much anecdotal evidence either. The tales of long-lost family members, or distant friends, conceiving simply because they relaxed are far outweighed by the number of women who conceive in, for example, war zones. The women who conceive as a result of rape, under unimaginable stress. The huge number of babies conceived in deprivation to which our middle-class, developed-world problems not only pale in comparison, but simply cease to exist as problems in comparison. Life prevails. Women have proved this over and over again and conception can happen in the most horrific of circumstances. The vital ingredients are eggs and sperm, not a zen state of mind.

That aside, however, suggesting that relaxing is all we need to do in order to conceive is completely ignoring the fact that we did not wake up one morning, decide we wanted to have a child, and then have a complete meltdown at the stress of the situation. I can assure you, if I’ve ever seemed stressed about our infertility (clearly, I have) the stress is a product of the situation, not its cause. Hell, IVF is bloody stressful, especially when you are juggling a demanding professional career and a toddler to boot. But when we started trying to conceive a second child, it was fun. Imagine that! Sex at the start was not about timing. I wasn’t taking my temperature the moment I woke, examining my cervical mucus or peeing on sticks to confirm a hormone surge back then. We were just making love.

A whole lotta love.

Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Especially as we were coming to the end of our first year of parenthood when physical intimacy hadn’t been the highest thing on the agenda for months. It took a long while for the stress to set in, as it does for every other infertile couple that I’ve spoken to. If relaxation were the missing ingredient, we’d have  had a much better chance of hitting the jackpot right back at the start.

The biggest reason, though, that I cannot stand to hear the relax line is this: When you utter those words, it implies that you think this is our fault.

Think about it for a moment.

When you tell us to relax what you’re really saying is “If only you stopped worrying about it so much, you’d have your baby by now. This is all in your control if only you could manage your emotions.”

And you know, I’d give up work tomorrow if I thought it would help. I’d give up every possession we have to live on a remote island in the sun, to do nothing but sip cocktails, practice mediatation and have heavenly massages if that would give me what I long for.

I’d move heaven and earth to have another baby.

Trust me. Even if I relax to the point of melting away, neither heaven nor earth are for moving.

{Living Arrows 2015} 2/52

Thomas is a really fussy eater.

You might not believe that, based on the number of pictures I seem to have shared of him stuffing his face, but the range of foods he will eat has shrunk steadily over the last couple of years. If I let it get to me, mealtimes could easily be an immense battleground with tears and tantrums on all sides. And believe me, sometimes I’m very close to that. But instead I save my frustration for the people that spout the nonsense about how “feeding your baby a wide range of foods will ensure they grow up eating a wide range of foods” and “babyled eaning creates much less fussy eaters”. I know that this stuff is utter claptrap because Thomas could not have been fed, nor more happy to eat, a wider variety of food from weaning until things went downhill between the ages of one and two. He was fed many of these foods in ways that babyled weaning purists would be impressed by (although our approach was truly more Thomas-led and involved cutlery as well as finger food, spoon feeding as well as self-feeding – it’s probably a tale best left for another time).

However, Thomas also really loves food.

Well, as long, that is, that it’s one of the foods that he likes. Thomas is very much all or nothing!

This week’s picture was taken about thirty seconds after Thomas was served a bowl of pasta bolognese in Pizza Express this weekend. This is very definitely a food that Thomas really loves – even more than he loves my own version, much to my chagrin.

But then, you can probably tell that just by looking at the picture!

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(By way of comparison, this post includes pictures of Thomas devouring the same meal almost a year ago)

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{Living Arrows 2015} 1/52

Or rather, 1/however many I actually manage to share.

And notice there that I said “share”. Not “take”.

Devoted readers may have noticed my tendency to start projects on this blog and not quite see them through. I started sharing a 365 project two years ago, but the photos fizzle out before the middle of the year. I joined in with the Living Arrows project last year but the posts stop less than six months in. Yet in both of these cases, I don’t consider that I really failed. The 365 project foiled me in the organisation and the sharing. In actually finding and editing the pictures and then getting them on to my bog in a relevant and timely way. Oh, and the old devil perfectionism, that haunts me. You know, feeling the photos weren’t good enough to share! But having gone back through my photos for that year since, I’ve identified just five days on which I did not take a photograph. Failure, no doubt, to some 365 purists, but given that I’d stopped motivating myself with the actual goal of completing the project, I think that was pretty impressive.

Likewise with Living Arrows, of course I have a picture of my son, or something related to him, representing his childhood, for every single one of the 52 weeks of last year.  I don’t need a challenge to ensure that happens. I can’t stop myself taking pictures of him and for him. No, I simply failed miserably at sharing them here in a timely manner.

So why am I trying again? I’m not sure, when the odds of success seem anything but in my favour. I think it’s mainly because I’d like this blog to be a bit of a one-stop archive, if only I can organise myself a bit better. I’d like to be able to look back through the edited “best bits” of our years in one place, rather than wading through digital folders stored ten deep to pick out my favourite memories.

And you’re only truly destined to fail if you never try in the first place.

The photo I’m sharing this week was taken at the cinema as we waited to see The Penguins of Madagascar. It eclipsed all others I’ve taken this week, despite the poor lighting and grainy quality of the phone snap, because it absolutely sums up Thomas’s personality. The head tilt, the cheeky wink and the accusatory finger admonishing me for taking a photo. This is absolutely Thomas, at age three and two months.

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