Who am I again?

I often have people tell me that I live in paradise. That’s true. It’s so beautiful here. But we still have to live here… it’s very different to being on holiday in paradise. It’s so easy to get caught up in life that sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate what’s around you. I’ve really been trying to get better at that. I know when we are home and I go back to work I will long for the days where I was at home with my little guy in the sunshine.

Rob works a lot so often it’s just me and Michael. We have a good routine now thankfully and we have lots of playdates, walks, Mom lunches and he just loves his new babysitter so I’m much happier to leave him for the 8 hours a week that she takes care of him. But this move has meant that while I spend more time with Michael, I get less time with Rob. We have some great quality time together as a family at the weekend but not so much just the two of us as a couple. So yesterday for the first time since we arrived 9 months ago we had a baby free beach day. The sitter looked after Michael for the afternoon so we had five whole hours alone together. It may not seem like that big of a deal but it’s something that we have just never taken the opportunity to do.

We packed a cooler of drinks and snacks and went to Balneario Punta Salinas in Toa Baja. We sat in the sun, the Ireland V England Rugby game on one phone and the Irish general election count on the other having a drink and chatting. So we are never too far from home! Being parents, the move here and how busy our trips back home have been just all combine to mean we don’t get much alone time. Sometimes you just have to take an afternoon to not be a parent and just try to remember that at one point you used to be the centre of the other person’s universe. Having kids changes that. People say that when they grow up that it comes back again. I don’t want to wait 20 years for that. Life is for living and I want to live mine with as little regret and as much laughter as possible. I love my child more than anything but I was someone before I was a Mom right?

 

Sometimes you can’t be in control of everything….

Let me start by saying that this is not in any way a pity post. I in no way feel sorry for myself so I don’t want others to. I am blessed. I know that. I’m 29 years of age, I have a wonderful husband who works so hard to provide for his family. I have a beautiful son, one that for years I was unsure I would ever have. I’ve had a great career so far – working for Special Olympics was a dream for me. I loved every interaction with volunteers, athletes and family members. I loved working in politics for a brief period. I have 6 amazing sisters, all so different from one another but yet when the going gets tough I’m always astounded by the support, loyalty and compassion that they have. Each one would go without themselves to support one another. Particularly in the past 10 years since I left home, the friends that I’ve made have left their footprints in my heart and in my life. Those that have stayed up with me all night finishing university assignments, helped at fundraising events, supported me when times were hard and been there through many a night filled with food, wine and laughter. Like I said… I’m blessed and I know it.

I’m not sure at what point in my life I began to have anxiety. For sure it was while I was still in primary school. I’ve never been the popular kid… I wasn’t the cute child that had lots of friends and up until University I always found it hard to fit in and was constantly trying to be someone that I wasn’t to do that. It was hard. Thanks to a group of people during my teens who used me as a way to make themselves feel better, that anxiety got worse and made me question everything that I was about. I know most people hate their teenage years and that’s ok. At this point in my life I should have been addressing the feelings that I was having but I couldn’t. When I tried to, people told me that I was depressed when really that was far from the truth. I know now having been finally diagnosed with endometriosis and PCOS that I’m more susceptible to hormone changes and imbalances than most. However, the anxiety that came along with this was something that I’ve found very difficult to cope with.

The feeling of not being good enough can take over my entire life. When that happens I tend to isolate myself from the outside world and it can take a number of days to break through that. Having a child has made that more difficult as I can’t not face people most days as he can’t stay in the house all day. I’ve been in the situation where my husband has had to pick me up off the floor and carry me to bed while I stare blankly at him. I never want my child to see me like that. I won’t go into detail about how bad it’s been at times as it’s very personal and like I said… this isn’t a pity me post.

I just want to tell you… not only is it ok to not be ok. It’s normal to not be ok. You do not have to be perfect. Nobody is. You do not have to compare yourself to others. No two people are the same. No two relationships are the same. Stop looking at Instagram posts of perfect couples, families and lifestyles. Most of it is through rose tinted glasses. I love my life. I wouldn’t change a thing. But I’ve only gotten to that stage with the support of others and by not comparing myself to anyone else anymore. I’ve had friends tell me that I’m so lucky.. to have the husband, child, careers, house, lifestyle etc that we have. And I am. But they maybe haven’t realised that the very same day I’ve questioned a million times if I look ok in the mirror? Did do the right thing giving up my job? Do I play enough with my child? A million little things that when combined make me question my existence by the end of the day. I’m not sure exactly why but I can honestly tell you I will never be a confident person. I know that I’ve come across as confident and put together and competent at my job in my life but I’ve never felt it. I’ve never felt attractive and I’m constantly questioning what I can do to change how I look or how I’m percieved. I can guarantee I’m not the only person. That CEO that you think has it all together… She may be the very same. Anxiety can manifest itself as panic attacks but also in a cluster of questions about every aspect of your life. There are lots of things that you can do to help control these feelings without them consuming your life.

I have a pretty good handle on things most days and I can share what works for me with you:

  1. Exercise – its so important to get your body moving and your mind will catch up
  2. Diet – eat well, avoid alcohol and sugar and look after your body
  3. Talking – just let one person know how you’re feeling. You can’t keep it hidden.
  4. Meditation – when you feel a panic attack take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  5. Writing – for me it’s the most therapeutic thing in the world. Keep a notebook close and write down what happened before your felt the anxiety building. How you coped with it and how you came out the other side. It will remind you for the next time that you can get through this.
  6. Take time for yourself – go for that walk, take time away from looking after others and be mindful that you need to look after yourself too.

I really hope this post can be of help to someone. Remember, just because today is a bad day doesn’t mean that tomorrow can’t be the best day of your life. Just breathe. 

 

First world problems….

I guess we have been pretty quiet since Christmas. I find here sometimes that because the weather is pretty much the same every day that the days seem to blend together and all of a sudden the week has passed.

Our lives here are so different to where we were this time last year and while I miss my work and family and friends I aim enjoying the peace that I have here. Currently the boy is having his afternoon nap and I’m sitting in the shade on our patio with an iced coffee writing and appreciating just how beautiful my surroundings are.

I’ve already spoken here quite a bit about the challenges associated with Puerto Rico, island living and my lack of Spanish. I genuinely try to turn these differences into positive things but sometimes it takes all of my energy to do that.

In December, the AAA (water company which is state owned) were doing some maintenance on our neighbour’s home. During this they seemed to damage our pipes and water supply. We called and added our home to what I can only imagine is a long list of complaints that they have and no one came to see us. It came back for a couple of days but with very low water pressure and we went to Ireland. When we came back once again we had no water at all. We phoned again. They promised someone would be here within a week. No one came. We phoned daily. Then hourly. Then someone came. And then they left without fixing the issue. I phoned the water company again and I’m told it’s fixed. I’m standing in the house saying well no it’s not! It took another week for someone to come because we had to go to the back of the queue system again due to the fact that someone had visited the house. Eventually we got our water back – it was gone a total of 5 weeks. The next day I come outside to see a a pipe spewing enough water to create a very attractive water fountain. It’s been three weeks and the water is still flowing and nobody has come to fix it. And guess what? We then get a water bill for $400 considering we had no water for 5 weeks and that we didn’t cause the issue in the first place. Now tell me at this point that you wouldn’t have lost your cool?!

Our house is beautiful. I love it. But the houses here just aren’t built well and all seem to have plumbing issues. We had a plumber during this past week come and fix two leaking sinks and numbers leaks in the ceilings. The next day I meet 3plus inches of water in my hallway where the toilet in the master bedroom has flooded and there is water everywhere! It took over 5 hours to clean up. I mean.. It was just one of those days where I contemplated that if I was in Ireland I would be currently working on a general election campaign but instead I was here cleaning up toilet water!!!

Obviously that moment passes pretty quickly and I appreciate the amazing opportunity we have to live here in paradise and spend so much quality time with my son and that I’ve got to meet so many lovely people that I feel blessed to call friends.

Being an expat here has my guard up.  I’ve had enough bad experiences here now in Dorado to know that people think that they can rip us off and that we will just pay it. I had a cleaning lady come to my home to view it. I wanted her to come every second week to clean floors, bathrooms and windows. She said she would only come if she could come and do a deep clean of the entire house. She wanted $500 for the deep clean and $100 a week to come and do my bathrooms and floors and she would have to come every week. Crazy! Who spends $500 on cleaning?! I spoke to my house owner and asked her to arrange a cleaner for me in Spanish and see what would happen. A lady came and wanted $100 for a deep clean and $50 every second week for windows, floors and bathrooms. Its upsetting at times that I have to watch my back so much for fear that I’m being taken advantage for but  I’m not going to let that get on top of me or ruin my experience here on the island.

I’m living in paradise. Something has got to give right?!

 

 

2016… The best yet?

I’m not a big fan of New Years Eve. I find it emotional during the countdowns and the singing of Auld Lang Syne. I’m not sure if it’s just me or if  its a common theme but from the age of about 12 I’ve always hated it. I’ve had some great nights out as an adult surrounded by friends and family but have still always found myself reflecting on the year before; those that are no longer with us that we miss and the uncertainty of the year ahead.

I went into 2015 with a huge amount of angst. I was unsure of when I would return to work after my maternity leave, if at all and what job I would go to. I was struggling with the loss of my mother and being a first time mother myself. I just felt that 2014 had been such a challenging year that I was finding it hard to imagine that 2015 could be any better. How wrong was I!

It started in January with a job offer out of the blue. A real challenge and a move from fundraising to politics. Something that I was chuffed to be considered and that I was really interested in. It meant going back to work early from maternity leave and moving away from my husband but having to learn to balance family and work was something that I was going to have to face at some point. I was excited. I was really for the challenge. Literally a week later Rob came home and said  that he had an opportunity to relocate on an assignment abroad with his company. Part of me wanted to say wrong time, wrong place but part of me was also intrigued and wanted to know more.

We graduated from University during the recession. A lot of our friends took time abroad teaching or travelling. We stayed in Ireland and worked our asses off. We both had permanent jobs within a year of graduating but were on average working 50-60 hours a week. We have had some amazing holidays and financially we were comfortable but we missed the travel bug. Our plans to travel the world had been replaced by working weekends and just trying to keep up. This could be a great opportunity to live abroad and for me to stay at home with our son. We took a risk and I’m so glad that we did.

There have been some hard times – missing family and friends, missing weddings and events and being so far from home. The language barrier can be a challenge. However, I’m so glad that we have done this. We have challenged ourselves, Rob in taking on more responsibility in his career and working in a new environment with a different culture. Me by giving up my career and learning to be at home all the time in another country. I’ve had to put myself out there more than ever before. I’ve always enjoyed meeting new people but my main resolution for making this move work was to say yes to every invitation. So I’ve said yes to every couples date, drink, play date, coffee that I’ve been invited to. And it’s  been the most rewarding part of our move. We have made some great friends in the past seven months, people that I know we could rely on if we were needed anything. It’s been such a big move for us but I’m so glad that we have done it. I’ve worried about my career and what I’ll do when we come back to Ireland but I keep reminding myself that on my death bed I will never wish that I’ve worked more. Spending time with my family and raising my son is far more important. We may be far away from home but we now have a better quality  of life, more time for just the three of us and I get to see my little boy laugh every day.

So all in all 2015 wasn’t the year that I expected it to be. It was so much better and I’m so glad that we took the risks that were presented to us. I’m now so excited for what the next year will bring.

So what do I want from 2016?

  1. I want to get through 2016 with my family healthy and happy.
  2. Learn Spanish.
  3. Do the Digital Marketing masters that I’ve been putting off for  years.
  4. Do a course in graphic design.
  5. Continue on my fitness journey and be happy with my progress for 2016.
  6. Write more.
  7. Look after my mental health.
  8. Be more mindful of others.
  9. Be thankful for everything I’m so blessed to have.
  10. Most of all I want to wake up each day and be positive about the day ahead, take a deep breath, take in my beautiful surroundings and live each day to the full.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2016!!

 

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Being a tourist

I promised a while back that I would get out of Dorado more and see what else the island had to offer. Things have been super busy to be honest but we have done some more exploring.

Erin go Brath

We had family visiting in early November so we booked a day snorkelling upon the lovely Erin go Brath. It had been recommended to us and it really didn’t disappoint. I’m not a swimmer at all – I can’t stand water on my face and I really wasn’t sure that I would snorkel but after talking to the crew I felt fully assured that I would perfectly safe in the water with a life vest and gave it a try.

The boat docked from Fajardo and that part of the island is just so beautiful. We were under a little time pressure that day so we didn’t stop to eat etc there but we will definitely go back. Hopefully when we finally get to go to Bio Bay and explore!

It’s bad that I can’t remember the name of the island that we sailed to but it was deserted. It used to be used by the military so the actual beach had some signs saying not to go further into the trees due to explosives!  All eight of us, including 3 kids under 15 snorkelled together to a reef and saw some great fish. The captain said that you would often see baby turtles etc in this part but we didn’t on that day. At lunch time we had a bbq cooked on board which was amazing after a morning in the water. I didn’t participate in the afternoon snorkel but the others went with one of the crew as he wanted to guide them to a different part. They had a ball! I haven’t looked at prices of charter boats so I don’t know how it fares comparatively but this worked out at $130pp excluding taxes. I think it can take up to 8 people and you can rent it exclusively like we did for $700-$1000 depending on the time of the year.

More information can be found at http://www.egbc.net/index.shtml 

 

Puerto Rico Helitours 

A few months back there was an online charity auction for the local library here in Dorado. We couldn’t attend the fundraising event on the night so we decided to bid on some of the items to support it. This item seemed like the ideal way to get out of Dorado and see more of Puerto Rico – from the air!! We bid on a helicopter tour of the borinquen shore of which flew over the beautiful north coast and Isla Verde. We had great views of Old San Juan and I have to say it was great. The guide was really informative. I thought I would be more nervous about flying but it was pretty cool! It would be something I would definitely recommend to people to try out. It’s pretty short – about 15 mins – but you see a lot and if you’re like me and hesitant about flying then it’s perfect. It was so beautiful and really shows San Juan in a fantastic light. Cost is $140 per person and there is a couple of different tours that you can try.

Company was http://puertoricohelitours.com/en/  and they have really excellent trip advisor ratings.

 

We took the advantage of a babysitter on a Saturday after the helicopter ride and went for a stroll in Old San Juan and had the most amazing Tapas in a little place called Pirilo. I think this its best known for pizza but it was fabulous and I’ve heard a rumour since that they’re opening in Dorado too so I would more than welcome that. It was a little hot for the walk at Midday so the cocktails there were a nice refreshing treat! This is also why I have no pictures of these amazing food or drinks… we were too hungry to wait to take any!

 

Bacardi Factory – Casa Bacardi

When my sister and her family were visiting it was also her birthday. She’s a little bit of a Bacardi fan (she could have shares in it!!) so luckily the home of Bacardi is here in Puerto Rico. We decided to do a mixology tour which includes a drink at the bar upon arrival, the historical tour of the factory and then a mixology class where we learnt how to make Mojitos, the Culebra and a Daiquiri. I really enjoyed this. Both myself and Rob were driving so my sister and her husband had to drink our drinks too so they really enjoyed it! It was a great laugh and as part of a bigger group the guide was really good at making it fun for everyone. I didn’t think that the boys would enjoy it and they both really did. Rob has now perfected the mojito and it’s our current drink of choice at home too! There’s a cool gift shop at the end and Bacardi is slightly cheaper there than in the supermarket but they have some cool novelty items and we got some cocktail shakers etc.

Price was $45 excluding taxes per person and it lasted about two hours.

More information on their website http://www.visitcasabacardi.com

 

So we have finally left Dorado and have explored some of the tourist things to do and see. Next I think we will head the other direction towards Arecibo and beyond – maybe to Ponce to find things to do. We are going home to Ireland now in less than two weeks and we are so excited to catch up with our friends and family. We have some guests here in March so I’m sure there will be lots more exploring to do then!

Becoming a parent….

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It’s a lovely Sunday morning. I’m sitting on the sofa in our little office drinking a caramel nespresso coffee and listening to the rain outside. I can hear the tv and the singing of nursery rhymes from the living room from where I left the two boys having a cuddle and some bonding time.

However, not all is right in this house. There’s a smell that I fear is going to take some very heavy duty chemicals to get rid of. Our little boy was a little off food yesterday and when we put him to bed at 7pm last night without eating, we thought that we would be up many times during the night. At 8am this morning I was watching his video monitor wondering was he ever going to wake up and should I go and check on him when the banging of a door stirred him and Rob went in to pick him up. The poor little thing had vomited during the night all over his cot and him and combined with a disgusting nappy (diaper for those of you that aren’t from Ireland), he was put straight in the shower while I tried to tackle the clean up and the smell. It got me thinking about the joys of parenthood and how different expectation is versus the reality.

Let me start this by saying that I wouldn’t change a second of it. Not the supermarket tantrums, the sleepless nights at the start or the fact that all I can smell in my house currently is stale vomit.

To be fair I never thought much about what to expect when there would eventually be a baby when pregnant. I was so sick in the beginning and with the constant threat of miscarriage, I just went from one day to the next in a daze which mainly included trying to get to the bathroom without throwing up or eating crackers on the couch to get the strength to get to said bathroom. I bet I was a real joy to live with!! I had some very sick days where I was desperate to feel well again and be able to go about life as normal. I just hadn’t realised that from the time that the word, “pregnant,” showed up on that clearable digital test that life was never going to be normal again. Our world was changing and I really feel that there’s nothing that can be said to you to prepare you for it.

I don’t believe that there is ever a right time to start a family. I certainly wouldn’t have put myself in the category that was ready! But it was meant to be. I didn’t know it at the time as I was so shocked to discover that I was pregnant.. but this little boy was born exactly when he was to give me strength. He helped me through the loss of my mother and he arrived just in time to meet her. I know she had worried about the possibility of me never having kids due to the medical conditions that I’ve been diagnosed with. I feel she was ready to let go when he was born safely into the world and had been baptised. That’s a gift I’ll treasure. No matter how stressful it was at the time, my mum held my son and knew that we were both ok. I know even though she couldn’t express it, that it meant a lot to her.

You’re supposed to be in good hands when giving birth in Ireland – it’s one of the safest places in the world. Yet, there is nothing to prepare you for how scary labour is. I have a pretty high pain threshold and to be fair after months of pain and sickness during pregnancy I had gotten used to a lot. Maybe its just me, or maybe it’s women in general but we tend to be very critical of our birth experience and compare it to others. I’ve heard lots of women talking about the trauma of their delivery ending in an emergency cesarian because they feel that that they failed at something that people do everyday. Shouldn’t we be grateful for the medical advancements that allow us to deliver these babies as safely as possible rather than being critical of ourselves for not delivery naturally?

I was induced. After three gels and 12 hours later I started contractions. I could cope with this pain. However, after 23 hours and no sign of progressing past five centimetres dilated I was hysterical. I’ll admit it. I was not coping well at all. I was shaking with shock and pain and no matter how many times the midwife told me to calm down that I would distress the baby I couldn’t control myself. I could see the worry on my husband’s face. I wanted to be able to take control of the situation and do something. In hindsight I don’t feel that I had enough guidance from the obstetrician or the midwife. I was so hysterical at this point that when the obstetrician came to check on me I asked her for a cesarian just to end the pain. She laughed and walked out and organised an epidural for me. One that failed and that I later learnt I should never have been given as I was actually 10 centimetres and hadn’t been examined. When they did discover this I was told that I would have to wait an hour to push – and I accepted this in my naivety at the time. I was a private patient and had chosen the doctor I wanted to deliver my baby. She was on call that night and I would later discover that I was left for an hour waiting to push as she was delivering another baby. One hour and 23 minutes later we were told that our baby was in distress from being stuck in the birth canal and would need an emergency delivery. They would try to turn him and if not successful I would go to the operating theatre. There was a paediatric team there waiting to take him as his heart rate had dropped. Thankfully, he turned with a vacuum and came out naturally. But those 5 seconds that it took him to cry were the longest of my life. I remember my husband hugging me and telling me how well I had done, but I never felt that. I just felt guilt – that I had coped so badly with the labour and that I had accepted an epidural too late and that he had gotten into distress. It took me  a long time to realise that it was the medical professionals that were wrong in these instances and not me. We need to stop comparing birth stories and celebrating those that do it “naturally.” Surely the best way for a baby to be delivered is the way that is the safest for both mother and baby?

Adjusting to motherhood was something that thankfully came naturally to me. I had worried for my entire pregnancy that I wouldn’t bond with the baby. The sickness, the stress of my mother being sick and my lack of maternal feelings had gotten me so worked up that instead of being excited about the arrival at the end I was convinced that I wouldn’t want the baby. My consultant had taken my husband aside the day after the birth and told him that I was twice as likely to suffer from postnatal depression than most because of my gynaecological conditions and the impending death of my mother. She warned him of what to watch out for and advised him  what to do in the case that it should happen. I thankfully managed to escape from this darkness. I had very sad and teary days after the funeral but I had a baby to get up for and had to get on with things. I was one of the lucky ones. Nothing to do with strength or me as a person – I just didn’t become one of the statistics. I believe post natal depression to be such an immense feeling that it can never be understood by someone that hasn’t been through it. I can’t imagine it and I’m in awe of those that suffer and come out the other side.

Those first few weeks are scary. You’re exhausted and to be honest when it’s your first who knows what they’re doing? Well we certainly didn’t. Do you want to know my advise? Ignore all advise and do what comes naturally. I was blessed with a placid baby who was a good sleeper. I was a bit of stickler when it came to holding him. He went into his bassinet when he was awake and went to sleep without rocking or aids. He wasn’t held when he was asleep ever. He went to his own room at 6 weeks as he was sleeping 8 hours and I was awake waiting for him to wake up. But trust me, I don’t believe that it was anything that I did that helped him to sleep. Some babies do, some babies don’t. We were one of the lucky ones. When we were doing night feeds I was lucky that Rob was so good. We really split them as I wasn’t breastfeeding. And this meant that I got some sleep which was badly needed after the pregnancy, birth and then the funeral. The one piece of advise I would have new mothers is to take some time away from visitors and having to leave the house where possible to bond with your child. I took a week where the only person I saw was the postman. I had a special relationship with him! He saw me in my pjs those early days more than he saw me dressed. He once put a note in the door telling me that he had a package and if I wanted to get dressed that I could and he would be back in ten minutes with it. I appreciated those little things when he would stop at the door and ask me how much sleep I had gotten the night before.

By Christmas Michael was four months old and was sleeping 12 hours. We were blessed. He had his own little personality but was so quiet and had never been sick. We know how lucky we were. Once he started moving though at about 10months old it was a completely different story. He’s still very good but he’s what I would call spirited now. That’s a nice term for he knows his own mind and knows how to get what he wants. We have no clue what we are doing! There’s no rule book for how to deal with this and to be fair even if there was how would this be applicable to every kid when each child is so different? We have the tantrums and the throwing of food and the obsession with the dishwasher, dryer, washing machine, fans, remotes, phones, laptops, the toilet…. anything dangerous or expensive and he’s there. But we also have the cuddles… when he’s playing he will often come over and put his head on my knee and say ahhhh. It’s adorable. He gets so excited when you pick him up in the morning or when you come into a room after being away. He will run to us and give a huge hug or high five and loves affection. Those smiles and cuddles combined with the fact that I get to sleep mean that I can cope with the tantrums in the supermarket where he’s trying to climb out of the trolley and is throwing everything out of it onto the floor while trying to reach for the magazines to pull the covers off all of them!!

12250173_10153462523704219_6336930920334045067_nAnother thing I hadn’t anticipated was the feeling of jealousy. Yup. I said it. He’s a Daddy’s boy. Loves when his daddy comes home. When Rob is home he won’t look at me. It used to really upset me – I mean come on.. after the pregnancy and birth and everything I had been through to have him I’m only second best. This was something I really had to come to terms with and something that I couldn’t describe. I couldn’t understand it. I’m over it now. They have a special relationship that I love watching. It’s growing all the time as Michael gets older and they do more things together. I’m so grateful that he’s such a hands on Dad and he loves how much Michael wants him when he’s home.

I guess what I’m trying to say is there isn’t any book that you can read or any advice that can be given that will help you adjust to becoming a parent. Saying things like, “Oh you’ll never sleep again,” isn’t helpful. Everyone knows this already. It’s just focusing on the negatives of having a child. You should be saying, “Oh, newborn cuddles are the best.” There’s no right time to go ahead and do it. People are thinking way too much about it these days and how it will fit into their lives. Trust me, it doesn’t. Your whole life will change – but for the better. They will become the centre of your universe and you will adapt everything around them. But nothing is impossible. I sometimes miss the spontaneity that we had before we had a kid – but that’s just nights out and jumping in the car to do fun things at the last minute. It’s much more fun now and I can guarantee you that if we didn’t have a child that we would be in Ireland focused on work and not enjoying the crazy but wonderful adventure that we are currently on!

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Grief.

I’ve been writing this in my head for sometime now but I could never seem to find a way to get all the words right or express it in a way that would make sense. The past two years has seen so much upheaval in our lives that being honest, if I had known what we were about to face, I would have most likely stayed in bed.

What I’m about to write here is so personal and I’m not sure I’ll ever press publish on this post but I need to get it all out. If I do publish then I hope someone will read it and take something from it that will help them when going through changes or a hard time.

In September 2013 all was pretty good in our world. We were a year married, blissfully happy and we were ticking the boxes of everything we wanted to do in our lives. We both had secure and stable jobs that were challenging and fulfilling, we were just home from having walked a section of the Camino de Santiago, I had spent 10 gorgeous days on holiday with my sisters in Spain, we had gone on a lovely stay-cation in Ireland to celebrate our anniversary and there was lots more adventures to come. I was about to move jobs internally on a year secondment to work on a big event and it had just been announced in work. I was excited. I was moving back to Limerick, where I had gone to University for a year and I was moving closer to friends and I was sure we were moving towards a better quality of living.

On the 19th of September it all changed. I had been to the gym at 5am for workout and by 7am was showered and at my desk and feeling productive for the day ahead. I got a text from my sister saying not to worry but that my mum had got a call the night before following some tests she had had a couple of weeks previously and they wanted to see her straight away that morning. Being one of seven girls meant that while my mum didn’t want any of us to know and to worry, a secret never stays a secret for very long. I sat at my desk and just thought to myself, this is nothing to worry about… we have already been through enough… there is no way that this could be cancer… life and god just aren’t that cruel… we can’t go through this again. (We were just returning to a new sense of normal following the death of my 5 year old nephew from a rare form of Leukeamia. His sister was diagnosed with a different form of leukeamia  in 2012 and she was coming towards the end of her treatment at this time).

I waited with an anxious knot in my stomach, staring at a blank computer screen and unable to focus. Shortly after 11am the call came. It  was indeed cancer. Esophageal cancer. The woman who never drank alcohol or smoked and who looked not a day over 50 at 68 years of age had cancer. I felt numb. God could be that cruel and we were going to all have to rally together and face yet another battle.

Many  tears were cried. I think in a way no matter what the prognosis is, when someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer then you start to mourn in some ways. Then we started to get stronger. We would get through this. She was so strong, a fighter and if anyone could do this she could. They told us that the cancer was also in her stomach. That she would need major surgery to remove it and intense chemotherapy to have a chance. No one spoke about how advanced it was or what her chances were. We didn’t want to know. We just wanted to have hope that she was going to come through this. I decided not to take the job in Limerick. I didn’t feel like I could commit to it when my mind was preoccupied and I wanted as much time as possible to be at home with her.

In October she had surgery. She had her stomach, spleen and part of her esophagus removed. She was incredibly strong. I remember her six weeks later at home and fussing over all of us making dinner and  tea when we were all stuffed. She was a fighter. When she started chemo she got so weak. It was taking a serious toll on her body when she was struggling to eat and drink. She was trying her best but the chemotherapy was so intense. She would go once a week and receive it intravenously and then continue it through a bottle at home for six days before she  would go back again. This was for 18 weeks.

In early December I was feeling unwell. I was tired and my glands and throat were swollen and I took a couple of days off work. I have been diagnosed with two gynecological conditions, PCOS and Endometriosis. I had surgery in 2012 and had been told that the likelihood of conceiving a child naturally was probably not going to be an option for us. Imagine my surprise then to realize during my days home from work that I was pregnant. Both myself and my husband spent an entire day on the sofa shell shocked. This wasn’t something we were realistically planning. We had lots to do before we would become parents right? I mean we couldn’t even decide which county in Ireland we wanted to live in! Within five days I had horrible morning sickness. The name morning would suggest that the afternoons would be ok… Nah, I had all day nausea, unable to get sick  and get some relief. I was to spend most of the next 16 weeks in the foetal position feeling miserable. Within two days of finding out we were expanding our family we were incredibly excited. If you waited until you felt ready then maybe we would be waiting forever. It was the middle of December 2013 and we were sure that 2014 was going to be the year  that everything would come right and our family could all be together without illness and stress.

I was having minor bleeds in the early days of this pregnancy so my GP directed me to bed to rest. My mother, exhausted from chemo and not able to keep fluids down was admitted to hospital where they could monitor her. I phoned her after a couple of weeks of bed rest to tell her she was going to be a grandmother for the 14th time. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide it over the holidays as I was so sick and not able to do much. She cried. I wished at that moment that I could be there with her and tell her in person. I knew she was thrilled for us but must have been wondering if she was going to be around to see this baby grow up.

Christmas was hard. Mammy got home from hospital and me and her sat on the sofa together and let all the men do the cooking. We laughed a lot – it was a sight to see my husband and my dad try to book dinner for 28 on Christmas day. Google was their best friend even though my dad has no clue  what google is!! Mammy’s hair was falling out and it was driving her crazy. On December 27th she phoned  her hair dresser and asked her to come to the  house  to shave it. She was just an incredibly strong woman. I was still having bleeds and cramping and was still being told to stay in bed. Not sure if I was ever going to get to full term or have this baby I stayed where I was and tried to remain positive. On January 1st my dad celebrated his 70th birthday. Our parish priest came to the house and said mass and we all had Sunday dinner together. I could see in my Mum’s face as a devout catholic what this meant to her. My dad said it was the best birthday he ever had. I left that day to travel back to Cork to our own home feeling positive.

As January went on I was climbing the walls at home. Too early to tell people I was pregnant and feeling miserable, sick and worried, the days alone were long. Towards the end of the month the bleeds were easing and while the nausea was still bad I decided I was going to have to try and get back to work. I went for our first scan at 9 weeks and it was amazing. Little hands and toes were visible and I phoned my Mum after, telling her everything was ok and I was convinced that I was having a boy. February went by in a blur. I was exhausted and just trying to get through the days in work to come home and sleep. I was still nauseous all the time  but slowly I was gaining strength. Mammy’s chemo was being reduced as they felt she wasn’t able for the strongest dose they had originally put her on and she was doing a little better. However, by March she was suffering badly with side effects and at this point she had lost so much weight, was unable to eat much to keep up her strength and was feeling very down in herself. She was suffering so badly with the side effects that her and her consultants decided that she should stop the chemotherapy and take her chances. We waited. Waited for a pet scan to tell us she was cancer free and waited for her to get strength and eat more and to start to feel better. The pet scan came back clear and we were delighted. Thus far her treatment had worked and surely it was only a matter of time before she would be full of energy.

April saw me start to suffer with my pregnancy again. A bleed and severe pains in work meant an admission into the maternity hospital. My back was starting to give problems so I started physio. Another couple of weeks later in Wexford one weekend I started having pains again. Back to hospital. Each time thankfully the baby was ok. At the end of April my back had completely given up on me. I had severe SPD and the physio decided that the only way for me to remain mobile was to go on crutches. At this point I had a huge bump and was detracting lots of attention while hobbling around. It also meant I was struggling to drive and get around and all in all I was feeling like the moaniest pregnant woman ever. I hated not being able to do day to day tasks. We were due to move house in June and I was wondering how I  was going to get everything done! My Mum wasn’t herself. She was quiet and introverted. She wasn’t feeling better and we were wondering if she was depressed after everything she had been  through.

In June my physio and consultant decided that I should cease working. I still had eight weeks left to my due date but that it was now too much of a risk to be active and that I should start taking it easy. On the 19th of June I finished work. Excited to move house the next day I was sitting on my kitchen floor packing up delph when I started having blurry vision. I was swelling in my hands and feet. My husband picked me up off the floor and put me into the car where once again I was admitted to the maternity hospital. I was suffering severe migraines and had to be treated with pain relief intravenously. A week later I was still in hospital, very weak and fed up and no sign of getting home. I had an MRI. There was no reason for why I was in so much pain. My Mum was due to go to the hospital for the results of her pet scan and scope that she had done two weeks previously. Her consultant had said on the day of the tests that things looked good and he had no concerns. Going for the results was a formality. I tried calling them after the appointment and no one picked up. I fell asleep and when I woke there was still no answer. I was getting anxious and when my husband walked into my hospital room in the middle of the day I knew from one look at his face that it wasn’t good news. It was back. It had spread. There was nothing that they could do. The reality hit me like a tonne of bricks. She wasn’t going to be ok.

I immediately discharged myself. The  phone call  I had with her that night was the hardest I ever had. I cried. I wanted to be strong but I couldn’t be. I wanted to tell her that she wasn’t allowed to leave me. I was about to become a mother and I needed mine. I needed her to be there for her grandchild and tell me how to be a parent. There was so much I needed her for.

I went home to Wexford. I stayed in the house with her for what would be the longest and hardest six weeks of my life. The hospice nurse came. I cried with her and asked her how long she had. She told me weeks to short months. I started to resent being pregnant. I couldn’t go through this pregnant. I couldn’t have a baby without her around. I couldn’t look after her properly as I couldn’t lift her or help wash her or take care of her. I felt so useless. I was tired of the sympathetic looks and nods of relatives as they all came to visit. I wanted this baby out and to hand it to someone to take care of so I could take care of my mother.

I kept in regular contact with my consultant as the hospital was three hours away. My husband drove me down every two weeks for a check up. At 37 weeks she warned me that she wouldn’t be allowing me back to Wexford again and that I would need to stay close to the hospital. The day I left my parents house was one of the worst days of my life. I couldn’t keep it together and I couldn’t say goodbye. What if I didn’t make it back on time? What if this was the last time I saw  her and I hadn’t said everything that I needed to say?

When I went for my check up the next day, my consultant informed me that due to low blood pressure, limited movement of the baby and continued migraines that I would have to stay in the hospital now until the baby was born. I explained about my Mum possibly not having much time and she decided that induction was probably the best option. At this point, removed from the sadness of watching Mammy deteriorate, I was enthusiastic to have it over and meet this baby. I won’t go into detail about my induction or labour. It was 2 days of torture and would be a blog post in itself but in the end we were blessed with a beautiful healthy boy that we called Michael, after my dad. We hadn’t told people about the induction so they wouldn’t worry so they were all delighted and surprised to hear about his arrival. I thankfully got to leave the hospital the next day and I returned home to Wexford with him to my family when he was three days old.

He was a great distraction I have to say for everyone concerned. It was strange, having one life beginning as another was ending. My mum held him. I know it took all her strength. There were some pictures taken that I will treasure forever. Even though in them she doesn’t look like the woman I know, I can show Michael in years to come how he met his Granny and how she held him and loved him. We had Michael baptized in our home when he was 14 days old so that she could be there. She blessed him and after the event I sat beside her and brought him over to her. She said, “God bless you child,” and kissed his forehead. It was the last time I ever heard her speak. I think she was happy to see him baptized and she was ready to let go. She deteriorated over  the next day and passed away at home two days later surrounded by her family.

Death is strange. I’ve been present now when two people have passed. Both differently. It’s torture watching someone let go. It’s something I’ll take with me forever and something that has effected me probably more than watching her deteriorate. My mother was an amazing woman who worked hard all her life. She was a devout catholic who prayed every day. In fact I often heard her pray to St Joseph for a happy death. I hope she got it. I hope she’s watching us and the afterlife is just what she hoped it would be. No one deserves it more.

This post was supposed to be about grief but I fear I’ve digressed. Grief isn’t something that can be measured. As a family, we were inconsolable. Our matriarch was gone. The woman who birthed us, fed us, scolded us, laughed with us and taught us so much was no longer with us. Yet, at times during her wake and funeral we laughed. Strength came from somewhere. Neighbours and friends looked after us. Fed us. Did exactly what she would have done.

I honestly wouldn’t have gotten through the next few weeks without the support of my husband, family and my closest friends. The friends that listened to me cry, that visited and held my hand and made tea and helped with the baby. He was a source of joy in all of this. Although I have to say being commiserated with and congratulated in the same handshake or hug over that week was hard. I never could find the words to thank people or talk about the baby when I felt such loss.

He became my distraction. I could focus on that and not grieve or think about things. I could be positive. But that doesn’t work. You can’t hide from loss. You have to go through the stages and accept it. It takes time and it can’t be rushed. Everyone does it at a different rate. Everyone deals with it differently. There isn’t a time when you should be done with it or ready to move to another stage of it. You have to take your time. Be kind to yourself. Talk about the person. Cry. Smile and remember them fondly. Then you begin to learn how to focus on the day to day things. How to adjust to live without them. You never get over it. Life will never be the same again. Life just become different. You have a new routine. A new gap in your life that will never be filled but you learn to live with it. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you should be over it or done grieving. Do it in your own time.

It doesn’t matter if its a parent, sibling, spouse or friend. When someone passes who has held  a significant role in your life you need to take the time to adjust to live without them. It wont be easy but you’re stronger than you think. You will get through it. No matter what life throws at you, you will be ok. Lean on those around you and talk. Open your mind to meditation, yoga, running… Whatever it takes to let you have the head space to process what you’re going through. Don’t hide from it. Once you gave processed it, you can start to learn to live with it.

Our new home!

12074813_10153404077099219_146891505809964845_nSo I’m writing a separate blog post tonight about our new home as it’s been an eventful few weeks.. I have to say, the house has been worth the wait. It took us six months to find the right place to put down some roots in and I really do love it. It’s in an area called Sabanera in Dorado and it’s in a quiet cul de sac with only four houses and we have a lovely outdoor living area. Some pictures below. Please excuse the boxes!!

We realised a couple of weeks ago that Rob was actually going to be in the States from the day after we moved for a week. So it was a bit hectic getting everything over and you would be surprised just how much we have accumulated in such  a short space of time. Thanks to Mr. Amazon!!

So we got  everything over and unpacked the essentials. The relocation company didnt manage to have our  power or water switched on, even though they had plenty of notice but nothing surprises me anymore. Rob left for Chicago and it was just me and baby for a week of unpacking.

All was going well and was relatively peaceful until I opened a drawer  in the kitchen one night to see the biggest bug I have ever seen. Ants, geckos and Iguanas I can deal with but bugs will be the death of me. I tried to spray it to kill it but it got away. After a bit of investigation I learnt that it was a Caculo, which is called a June bug in the states. It freaked the  crap out of me. So, on the phone and I had an exterminator  organised for the next morning! He came and sprayed everywhere and assured me that would be the end of it. Until the next night, when I opened the drawer again and he was back! I’m screaming and throwing the box in my hand at the floor and off I go for the bug spray again and again he gets away. A friend and neighbour came over to try and help me find him and we pulled everything again out of the presses and found him and sprayed him and still he gets away!! He’s indestructible!

So, two days goes by and I don’t see anything so I’m getting confident that I’m now bug free. Until Friday afternoon when I opened a drawer in the kitchen and found a dead cockroach. I’m not able for this! What did I do? I closed the drawer and left it there until Rob got home the next day to dispose of it. So while also trying to unpack this week, I’ve now  emptied every cupboard and washed every piece of delph, glass and utensil three times. It’s been three days now and thankfully there has been nothing else. It’s definitely a downside to living in the Caribbean.

The other being how long I spend sitting around waiting for people. If  a trademan; the pool guy, exterminator, air conditioning technician all say  that they will be  there in the am, then don’t expect them until at least 4pm and that’s if they turn up at all. It’s so frustrating but I’m getting used to the Island living. Their nature and culture is just so much more laid back. You have to roll with it!

Anyway, minus our unwanted guests in the house I love this place and I am so looking forward to it being my home while we live here in Puerto Rico.

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And the months go by…

imageIt’s now been five months since we made the move to Puerto Rico and in so many ways it has flown. It’s hard to believe how long it has taken to organize the simple things here. I last posted in July  that we had found a home. We have literally just moved in last week. I never believed it would actually happen until we were in the house and had been handed keys!!

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We went home to Ireland during the summer to catch up with family and for some events. Our time there was hectic! The day after we arrived I had the pleasure of being the birthing partner for my sister who gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Mary Rose after my late mum. I was privileged to give her first bottle, change her, dress her and spend so much time with her in those early days. She’s a cutie!

Then we went to Galway to catch up Rob’s family to attend the wedding of our friends Stephanie and Vinny. We were disappointed to discover that the accommodation that we had booked for our weeks in Galway turned out to be a scam and we lost a significant amount of money. I was pretty upset about it until I came to terms that at the end of the day its the person who scammed us that has a lot of bad karma coming their way and that we cant get caught up with these things and just had to let it go. The wedding was amazing and it was wonderful to see such a happy couple and to catch up with friends.

The rest of the time was spent rushing around celebrating Michael’s first birthday party with both families and seeing friends. Rob flew back to Puerto Rico after two weeks and I stayed with Michael. We were busy organizing the christening celebration for the new arrival and a few days later we hosted a fundraising coffee day in our home in aid of the hospice homecare that helped to take care of our Mum and allowed her to pass away at home with her family. We owe them a lot. Mammy’s anniversary came around quickly and we had a mass to mark one year. It was nice to see family that we haven’t seen in a while and get around and talk about her. It has been a hard year and in so many ways I just don’t know where the year went.

imageI flew back to Puerto Rico the end of August with Michael. It was a LONG day but we managed thanks to the lovely staff of Delta airways and the kindness of strangers who helped carry things and watched him while I went to the bathroom. This was particularly true for the Dublin – New York part of our trip but unfortunately not the same for New York – Puerto Rico. I was almost in tears after 23 hours travelling in SJU struggling with three cases, a car seat and a baby while lots of mine and passengers stood back and offered no assistance in helping me get outside to meet Rob. Frustrating to say the least.

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Since we have been back I have been really focused on trying to get into a routine. I need it; I’m missing work and the structures that go along with it. It’s tougher being home with a 1 year old than I anticipated and it’s hard to get used to island living and the slower pace that comes with it. The local gym in Dorado has provided some of that routine. They have great childcare and I go four mornings a week, two with a trainer and two solo and I get to take Michael and keep an eye on him. When I come back then he sleeps for two hours which means that I get to have breakfast alone and shower which is just so precious. Already after three weeks I feel better for having something to leave the house for. We go to a baby gym to a music class on a Wednesday morning with some other friends and their kids and its lovely. So nice to see all the kids mixing and integrating together. My next plan is swimming lessons for both me and baby!

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I mentioned earlier that we have just moved into our new home. It’s been such a long process. When I viewed the house the owner told me that it was unfurnished so we have been buying some things and trying to get organised. Rob called the owner last week just to confirm details and she told him that she was actually partially furnishing the house!  It suits us  as we don’t want  the hassle of shipping/selling items in two years time but I just wish things could  be more straight forward here at times and that people would just tell you what the story  is!

I’ve felt taken advantage at times because of my lack of Spanish and being an expat. Even in the gym that I’m going to! My friend also attends and after a discussion on the price we discovered I’m being charged double her quotation for personal training and was being charged more for the membership fee also until she complained about it. I’m not sure why I was targeted but I’m guessing its because they think I don’t know any better!

Anywaimagey, we have been trying to get out more and do things and see Puerto Rico. We went on a hike and Zip line experience a couple of weeks ago and that was lots of fun to do something different. We are going on a helicopter ride in the next few weeks too. A trip to Old San Juan for a stroll and some food and drinks have all been enjoyable experiences. We really need to start enjoying the island and seeing what it has to offer at the weekends.

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So after four months I’ve learnt some things.

  1. You don’t have to stop at a traffic
    light after midnight if there’s nothing coming due to safety and car jacking.
  2. Nobody seems to believe in recycling.
  3. At  times just putting gas in my car frightens the life out of me!
  4. Siobhan is apparently too hard for people to make an effort to pronounce so my gym trainer has just decided to name me Jane.
  5. People seem to have difficulty returning supermarket carts/trolleys back to the bay. They need to bring in the coin slots here for them!
  6. Puerto Ricans do not like to be left at a traffic light after it’s gone green for more than 3 seconds.
  7. They love to stand in a queue. Especially in Walmart.
  8. They get married and have kids really young here.
  9. Apparently it’s illegal to drink and drive but  I see plenty of guys coming out of the gas station with open cans/bottles and getting in their cars.
  10. With the exception of gas everything here is more expensive than home and Ireland is a rip off!
  11. There doesn’t  seem to be any fresh fish and the quality of vegetables and fruit is deplorable.

Dorado really is a strange town. There is such a mix of people living here. You have so many of the wealthy american’s availing of Act 20/22; a huge number of expats who by and large have their expenses paid by their sponsor company and then the local Puerto Ricans. These seem to be  split into the wealthy that live in Dorado Beach East/Sabanera/Paseos and then those outside of those communities. How do those people feel about the cost of living here? How do they survive? I struggle to comprehend just how big the social divide is to be honest. From my own perspective I feel how expensive it is to live here so how can those earning the average wage pay for necessities such as electricity and water?

Anyway, I fully intend on leaving the expat bubble over the next couple of months and emerging ourselves in the culture. Dorado is certainly a place that if you never wanted to leave and wanted to be surrounded by native English speakers all the time then it would be totally possible. But where is the fun in that!!

Putting a roof over our heads!

So… We have a house! The contract has come through on the house that we wanted in Sabanera. We don’t move until October but I’m such a believer in what is for you won’t pass you. This is the home that we were supposed to be in. We love this house! It’s unfurnished but I’m now so looking forward to choosing everything so we can make it our own. I am so looking forward to being settled so that we can call Puerto Rico home and spend more time together as a family. And the outdoor living area in this house will really help that! I can’t wait to throw our first party here.