Life, Lately – A Catch-Up

It has been a terribly long time since I last logged into this site. In fact, it’s over a year since I last posted on here, which is not ideal for a professional writer.

While I love writing, and I have had my own website of some kind or other for well over ten years now, I must admit I’ve been so consumed with paid work that writing for/about myself has felt like a luxury I can’t afford. Add to that a busy home life, it’s been something I’ve wanted to find time for, but has always slipped down my list of priorities.

As I look down the barrel of a significant life event, I feel like writing more frequently about my home life is a worthwhile endeavour, for my own sanity and posterity, even if nobody ever reads a word of it. I figure as good a place to start as any is a round-up of what’s happened over the last year or so.

Moving house

In May 2022 my partner and I bought our first home as a couple. We’d been living in my little maisonette for a few years, but with two kids between us and both of us working from home, it was getting a touch cramped. It felt very strange saying goodbye to my first home, which I’d bought in 2017 and had been the first place I’d ever lived totally alone. It was a dinky little place, on top of an Indian restaurant, and was our son’s first-ever home, where so many of his first experiences happened. It was bittersweet, but the new house has been a vast improvement. Not only do the kids have their own rooms, we have a lovely little garden and everyone has a little more breathing space.

Injuries, injuries and more injuries

About two weeks before we were due to move, Alex took his eldest kid (V) to an indoor skate park so they could both practice skateboarding. They’d been gone for a few hours when I got a call to say Alex was “quite badly” hurt and that I should get there ASAP. To cut a long story short, Alex had lost his balance, fallen hard onto the ramp, and broken right through his femur, at the hip joint. We got him to hospital (with a great deal of screaming and swearing) and the next day he had his broken hip surgically repaired. He was incredibly brave considering how much pain he was in, and the gruelling recovery. He still has a bit of a limp some days, and a cracking scar. It also meant he wasn’t particularly mobile on the moving day, which would have been fine if it hadn’t been for what happened next.

Following Alex’s injury, two days before moving day I slipped and fell while holding our toddler, Niko. Trying to avoid hurting my son, I landed quite awkwardly with out combined weight onto my left elbow. Not only did I manage to dislocate my shoulder, but it turned out I’d also broken three bones in the process. Getting the extent of the damage correctly diagnosed took several months, and it’s been decided that it will need surgical correction. The main problem is that I’ve knocked a chunk of cartilage off my shoulder blade, where ligaments in the shoulder joint are supposed to be attached. It’s left the shoulder quite unstable and weak, and will ultimately require a fairly intense surgery with a lengthy rehab process. I might do another post with more detail about my rubbish joints but, for now, this surgery is on the back burner.

Solo

Apparently, we decided our lives weren’t quite busy enough, so in the summer we brought Solo home. She’s a Labrador x German Shepherd and she has been a huge part of making our house feel like a home. She is a bit bonkers, impossibly huge, and the best company while I’m working from home. She’s now nine months old and absolutely massive, and the kids adore her as much as Alex and I do. The cats tolerate her.

Quitting my job

In 2019 I landed something of a dream job, as a content manager for a boutique publisher. I really enjoyed my job, and had some fantastic experiences. However, covid came along and I was furloughed in March 2020 (which just so happened to coincide with me falling pregnant with Niko) and the company made some fairly radical internal changes. When I returned from furlough/maternity leave, it just wasn’t a great fit anymore, for me or for them, and in July 2022 I finally decided it was time to start freelancing.

It’s something I’d been thinking about for years, but I had always been anxious about the financial instability of freelancing as opposed to a salaried role. It was a bit of a scary leap to take, especially as we had just moved into our new house, but ultimately it has been the best thing for my mental health, work/life balance, and personal fulfillment. I have ended up with some slightly unusual working patterns which have made a social life slightly tricky to orchestrate at times, but my family and friends have got used to me having my laptop in tow. Plus, my work is flexible enough to allow me to work around my toddler, which has been a real godsend. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some really cool projects and find some really lovely clients. While I’d never say never, I can’t imagine going back to a 9-5 office job again any time soon. I have some really exciting ideas for developing my work to include some more creative projects alongside the more analytical/marketing-oriented stuff, but that might have to go on hold in the short term because of a more time-sensitive incoming life change…

A new baby

“Oh my god, not another one?!”

In September, Alex and I decided to start trying for our second, and last, baby. We’d had significant trouble conceiving the first time, and assumed this time would be equally difficult. Not only that, but we had a miscarriage in September 2021 (and I’d had three miscarriages before having Niko), so we thought that it would be a while before we’d actually see two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Little did we know that when we agreed to start trying we were already pregnant.

The pregnancy hasn’t been 100% straightforward. Early on I had some bleeding, and we had multiple very early scans to ascertain whether the baby was viable. Initially, they couldn’t find anything in my womb but could find a large cyst on one ovary. Then they could find a sac in my womb but no sign of life. Finally, at the third scan, we could see evidence of a developing embryo. It was a rough ride, but as of yesterday we are officially 30 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby girl!

I’m really excited to see my son become a big brother, and to meet this tiny little girl who has been making me throw up since October. She’s due in late May, and I’m planning to post a bit about my birth experience with her. It’s been a bit all over the place so far, as initially there were some concerns that my placenta wasn’t working and that the baby was worryingly small, but she’s now measuring perfectly normally and it looks like my dream of a water birth might be back on the cards. I’m trying not to set my heart on any particular birth experience, just in case some other complication pops up and changes our possible options, but we’ll see.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

One of the more off-the-wall entries in my 2022 event schedule was my appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire! Contractually there are limits to what I can say about it, but it was a really cool experience and I walked away with a prize of £32,000. It was a completely bananas stroke of luck, and has been colossally helpful in helping us get our ducks in a row for this new baby. In fact, as there is no maternity pay for the self-employed, my maternity leave is essentially being sponsored by ITV.

I would whole-heartedly recommend going on a quiz show if you have even the slightest confidence in your general knowledge skills (and the emotional fortitude to deal with a bit of Twitter trolling… people are mean) and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

So… what’s next?

The next ten weeks or so are going to be all about getting the family, and the house, ready for this baby to arrive. We’ve got a few practical considerations to account for, like bulk cooking to fill the freezer with snacks and microwaveable meals for the early days of new-babyhood. Plus there are still some bits of furniture to rearrange. Niko does seem to have a base-level understanding of the fact that there is a baby in my belly, but if I’m being brutally honest I don’t think he really understands that an actual baby will be coming to live with us sometime in the next two and a half months. I’m sure he’ll take to big-brothering like a champ, but it’s going to be an adjustment for all of us.

I’m planning to take three months of maternity leave and work with Baby Girl at home while I get back into the swing of things. I’ve got some ideas for managing my workload with a baby at home, as well as trying to make time for some baby classes and personal projects. I know some of it might be wishful thinking, and if Niko as a newborn was anything to go by maybe I should just plan to survive and leave it at that.

Anyway, those were the main headlines for the past year. Writing it all down has made me wonder how we got through it all in one piece, but this year is only going to get busier! There’s a lot to plan for, but a lot to look forward to. I can’t wait.

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How I’m Planning to Make an Extra £30k this Year

I’ve never been particularly financially motivated. I have always been ambitious, but as long as I could pay my bills I have usually chosen jobs that I thought would be a better fit, rather than the ones offering more money. I’ve run small businesses but I’ve always been more focused on recouping costs and making my products affordable rather than maximising profits. It’s not a great business strategy, but it has historically made me relatively happy.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a rough couple of years, financially speaking. I’m not alone in that. Between furlough, maternity pay and the cost of nursery fees my bank account has taken a bit of a hammering since the start of the pandemic. On top of that, I am a mother now, so my money isn’t just for me anymore, I need to be able to take care of my son. I couldn’t get life insurance because of my chronic illnesses, so while I have accidental death cover I can’t leave an awful lot for my son if I die of an illness.

Morbid, I know, but it needs to be talked about.

This year is a big year for me financially. We want to move into a larger house, I have an international wedding to go to and I am turning 30 this month and would like to be able to realise some of my bucket list projects. Plus, after a cancer scare last year, I feel really insecure about my health and want to make sure I have some savings put aside for my family in case I croak.

So, what am I going to do about it? This year, I have set a goal to make £30,000 of additional income.

How am I going to make extra money? Good question!

Crafting

I have always been crafty and creative, and this year I’m going to be making various things and selling them in my Etsy shop. I have come to accept that I am not a one-trick pony, I am a chaos horse, and there is no point trying to squash myself into a single product niche. I am going to make what feels right and what I enjoy making and sell them as best I can.

Freelancing

I have professional skills and years of experience in digital marketing. I have picked up some regular freelancing hours and I’m looking to take on more work ad hoc, like blogger services, social media management and content writing.

Other services

I am a cat-sitter and have a couple of previous clients with travel plans this year. I’ll be promoting this service more, and I’m considering taking on some dog walking clients as well.

handmade art piece by elena bjorn

Art

I have never been comfortable putting my art out there because I’m a perfectionist, but one woman’s anxiety-riddled splotchings are another person’s wall art. To that end, I’m going to start sharing my art more and offering it for sale.

Passive(ish) income

I have a few ideas for this, all of which involve a bit of set-up, so I’ll keep you informed if and when it pays off (pun intended).

This website

Ok, ok, I know this site is a little bit quiet at the moment, I do. But I’m going to fix that this year. Not only am I going to write more content, but I’m also going to work on monetising this site in a meaningful way.

You might also be wondering, why £30,000? The main reason is that I’m turning 30 this year, so it seemed like a good number to aim for. Plus, that is roughly the amount of income that I lost while I was on furlough and on maternity leave over the last two years. It seemed like an auspicious number, plus it’s quite a big goal without being completely unreasonable, so hopefully it’s enough to keep me motivated without becoming demoralised.

I’ll post monthly updates here to keep you all up to date with my progress, but I post daily updates on my TikTok (@elenamakesithappen), so follow me there if you want to know more!

Wish me luck, it’s going to be a big old year.

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I got knocked up… what’s next?

decorative photo of elena and alex's ultrasound scan of niko

If you follow me on socials you may have spotted that I made a very small announcement a few weeks ago: Alex and I are expecting a baby in December!

We’re really excited to bring our tiny human out into the world, especially as getting pregnant was less than straightforward. I was diagnosed with severe PCOS, and had to take a medication called metformin to get my ovaries to work. Metformin is primarily a diabetes medication used to stabilise your blood sugar, but one of its unofficial uses is for encouraging ovulation in people with PCOS. It has some pretty significant side effects, mostly by giving you IBS-like symptoms, but in our case it was worth it, because it actually worked.

That positive test was life-changing, and we were so excited. For about a week I was a bundle of energy, chirping about all the thoughts in my head, making appointments with midwives and really struggling to keep our tiny secret under my hat. But after that first blissful week came the sickness. Jesus christ, the sickness.

My mum had hyperemesis gravidarum with me, so I knew that extreme pregnancy sickness was a possibility. From six weeks pregnant I was an exhausted puke fountain, living in fear of overwhelming smells or driving around roundabouts. 90% of food was suddenly off-limits, and the only things I could consistently keep down were ice pops and Powerade. This culminated in an admission to hospital for two bags of IV fluids and several hours of monitoring because I’d started vomiting blood and couldn’t even keep water down.

The sickness has been pretty grim, and has actually made furlough a blessing in disguise. I got furloughed back in March and haven’t worked since and, while it has been driving me slowly mad and a paycut is never a welcome change, it has meant that I can nap and marathon Treehouse of Horror episodes fairly guilt-free. If I feel like I haven’t done much in the past three months it’s because, honestly, I haven’t. Growing a human has been my sole covid-19 lockdown achievement. I couldn’t even do the paint-by-numbers I ordered before one of my cats threw up on it.

Speaking of covid-19, it has made the whole pregnancy experience quite odd. I was referred to my local Early Pregnancy Unit a few days after my positive test because I’d been bleeding and having stabbing pains, and I had to get a pelvic exam from an out-of-hours doctor in full PPE, which was rather like being fingerbanged by a welder. Then I went for a transvaginal scan, again from a team with masks and visors on. I still haven’t met my actual assigned midwife, or had an opportunity to tour my birthing unit. When I was admitted to hospital this weekend I didn’t see a full human face for nearly 6 hours. While I absolutely appreciate the need for PPE it is odd putting yourself in the hands of people whose faces you can’t see.

Alex has been my absolute hero through all of this. Despite the fact that he’s still working (and bloody hard, far longer than his contracted hours) he has looked after me, the cats and the house while I’ve been a floppy mess. He’s held my hair back, fetched puke buckets and bought me nice bread. He hasn’t been allowed to come to my NHS scans with me to see the baby, which has been really tough on him, so for an early Father’s Day gift I booked a private scan in Bristol, where we both got to see baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It was worth every penny for him to get the chance to see our child kicking their froggy little legs, live on screen.

As of today I am 15 weeks and one day pregnant, with the baby due on December 14th. I have a little over five months left of this pregnancy, and I’m slowly starting to get some energy back. I have so much I need to do with the house to get ready, and thanks to furlough I have a teeny tiny budget within which to achieve all of it. It’s really strange to think that I might only be back at work for a month and a half before I go off on maternity leave – it’ll be the least I’ve worked in a year in my whole adult life.

I don’t intend to suddenly become a mummy blogger (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s be honest, I’m hardly a regular poster) but as and when I feel like I have something to say that won’t fit in a Tweet I might find myself here, typing away. For now, I’m going to go and research hypnobirthing courses and book a timeslot at my local dump. Gosh, pregnancy is exciting.

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Changing My Mind About Motherhood

Throughout my teens and early 20s I was fairly adamant that I didn’t want to bear children. I thought that, maybe, I might adopt one day if I really wanted to start a family but otherwise I had no intention of inviting a child into my life on any kind of permanent basis. As far as I was concerned, I had more important and interesting things to do than childrearing.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly maternal individual. I have two younger brothers and nearly a dozen younger cousins and, while they’re brilliant humans and I love spending time with them now we are all adults, there were times throughout my childhood where I, precocious and difficult as I was, found being surrounded by young’uns a bit of a chore. This is a failure in myself and not in them, but maybe that accounted on some level to my apathy. When my youngest brother was born I used to spend a lot of time singing to him in his little bedroom, but I was sent to boarding school when I was 8 and he was 3, and missed seeing him growing up. At boarding school I was bullied pretty badly and, aside from a couple of sweet and wonderful friends, it was a rocky decade. To put it simply, I didn’t even like children when I was one.

During my awkward young adult phase at University I was still broadly disinterested in having a kid, and paranoid about pregnancy, especially after having a miscarriage when I was 18, losing an embryo I didn’t even know I’d been carrying. This experience only made me more averse to the idea of ever getting pregnant on purpose. Anyone I dated from 2008 until now will tell you that I am prone to panic, buying pregnancy tests in bulk and squinting at them for the merest hint of a suggestion that my eggs have defied all the odds (and all the contraception), found a stray sperm somewhere and got fertilised without permission. Stupid eggs. Why can’t you just stay in my ovaries until you’re called upon?

Maybe it doesn’t help that, as the eldest in my generation of my extended family, I didn’t know many people around my age with babies. Broadly speaking, that’s still the case. Without spending any real time with small children I had built up an aversion based on my perception of strangers’ babies and toddlers in public places; screaming, mucky, sticky, inconvenient and wearisome. I wouldn’t say I actively disliked children but I sure as hell didn’t want one.

Whichever way I pictured my life, there were no children in the frame. I didn’t quite have a handle on how my career or home life were going to develop but I planned to be too spontaneous, too busy, too chaotically creative and itchy-footed to procreate.

What I did want, and have always wanted, is a life filled with animals. Lucky for me that’s exactly what I’ve had. There were always dogs in my family, but for the last 5 years I’ve had pets of my own, from a small fish bowl (which was fairly quickly upgraded to a tropical tank), to “just one” rabbit (which ended up being 13 adult rescue bunnies and two accidental litters over 4 years), an ill-fated dog adoption, three fostered semi-feral tabby kittens and, finally, two weird, wonderful, stroppy adult cats who have claimed my home for themselves and are kind enough to let me lodge there as their live-in butler.

I don’t know how, with all this in mind, I found myself staring at a negative pregnancy test two weeks ago, filled with unexpected disappointment. I’d taken one because my ever-unreliable period was even later than usual and I was due for a brain scan, which I wouldn’t be allowed to have if I was pregnant. I needed the test to be negative. My partner and I are not trying for a baby, nor are we ready for one. So why on earth was I upset by the result I expected?

As it turns out there are a few possible culprits for my unprecedented broodiness which, looking back, has been making its presence felt more and more over the last year or so. While I don’t think I’m especially affected by the number of acquaintances in my social media feeds who are expecting, or have recently had babies, I do hold my friend Jess partially responsible. Last summer she had her first baby, an amazing tiny person, and spending time with them both has got my uterus glowing. Jess is so capable and so engaged as a mum, and I swear she has magic powers (including a song about corn which stops baby tantrums in their tracks like a mute button). Even her birth story, which is more of a cautionary tale than anything else, didn’t silence the voice in the back of my head saying “You want one of these mini people.”

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To a certain extent I think my colleagues have had an impact too. I’ve never worked with so many parents before, certainly not young, creative, ambitious ones. Seeing them juggle parenthood with a hectic and demanding career, in a company that respects their home life, has opened my eyes to a modern parenthood that I saw as an ideal rather than an achievable possibility.

I definitely blame my wonderful partner, Alex, who is already a parent. We were friends for years before we became a couple, and the photos and stories of him with his daughter (who was 4 when Alex and I first met and is 8 now) always made me melt a little. The way he talks about the number one girl in his life means I’ve never struggled with the fact that I am, at best, number two. I have yet to meet her, but I know enough about her to write a compact encyclopaedia. I don’t think anyone has a longing to be a step-parent, but I can’t wait to take a more active role as “daddy’s girlfriend”.

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Don’t get me wrong, I (and we) are categorically not ready for a baby. We don’t live together, and my house is still not finished. Technically, though separated, Alex is still married, and although we’ve been friends for nearly 4 years we’ve been a couple for less than 6 months. I’ve only just made it through the probation period of a new job and have barely done any of the things most people want to cover off before introducing the encumbrance of an infant. But, all that aside, I think it’s safe to admit that I’ve changed my mind on motherhood. It might not ever happen, and if it does it shan’t be soon, but one day I would like to have a baby. Maybe. Just the one. Or maybe two. And a dog.

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