Guest Kween: LAURA BOUCHET “I’ve Felt Like An Imposter For Most Of My Career!”

Guest Kween: LAURA BOUCHET “I’ve Felt Like An Imposter For Most Of My Career!”

As I sat on the stage, my heart was thumping so loudly; I was certain the whole auditorium could hear it beat through my microphone.

A prickly heat rose through my body, my face was flushed and my eyes stung. I felt like if I took a breath, I was going to throw up right there in front of hundreds of my industry peers.

Let me digress for a second: I’m fully aware that so far this sounds like a middle-aged woman’s version of Eminem’s Lose Yourself but truth be told, I did feel very ‘8 Mile’ at the time. Okay, snap back to reality, I mean, back to my story!

Why was I, of all people, chosen to speak at this conference? “For god’s sake, don’t lift your arms, the sweat marks under there look like you’ve absorbed a swimming pool” Shit, I’ve been asked a question. “Why me? WHAT THE HELL DO I SAY NOW??!!”

This moment was meant to be the highlight of my radio career. I was supposed to sit in front of these people and speak about what I knew.

In a hazy blur (kind of like the camera work on The Blair Witch Project), I fumbled my way through the conference. People applauded, some even thanked me afterwards. Liars. That was a train wreck. I was a total imposter!

The next evening at the industry awards night, the same fools who asked me to speak on stage decided I would also win the highest accolade I could achieve for my job, ‘Best Show Producer’.

It was a huge honour but there wasn’t a single part of my soul that could enjoy any of it. I woke up the next morning with a feeling of dread and a terrible ache in my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking someone was going to knock on my door and tell me there’d been a terrible mistake. That I’d have to hand the trophy back. That I didn’t deserve it.

Hi, I’m Laura and for the past 12-ish years, I’ve been producing radio. Award winning number 1 radio.

Yep, but before I got here, I worked my butt off. From barbecuing sausages at promo events to stuffing prizes into padded envelopes; I got dirty, I woke up early, I stayed back late and I often did it for free.

I’ve now spent over a decade working with some of the most successful and respected media personalities in Australia and won ‘even’ more awards. I’ve also mentored young producers who have gone on to have their own brilliant careers.

Yet no matter how far up the ladder I climbed, that familiar waft of barbecued sausages from my first day would follow me. I was constantly waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder, rip me down off that ladder and say out loud the words that were continually taunting me in my head “You don’t belong here”.

What I had was a giant, crippling dose of Imposter Syndrome.

To save you googling it, here’s the Wiki definition of ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.

Doubts their accomplishments.  Check.

Fears being exposed as a fraud. Check. Check. Check.

Did I just win Imposter Syndrome Bingo?

Did you just call out “Bingo” too?

Imposter Syndrome is more common than I ever imagined, and it is particularly prevalent among women. Why? Well, probably for many, many reasons.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve identified based on my own experience:

A tendency to shrink around men. I really want to preface this by stating I love the industry I belong to, and the opportunities it’s presented me with. Like so many industries though, it is heavily dominated by men. Strong men with big personalities. Men who shine and command attention when they walk into a room. Have you ever shrunk yourself in the presence of a strong, shiny man? I sure have, countless times. These men, by the way, have every right to shine but it does not mean we have to shrink. Shrinking yourself only fuels Imposter Syndrome.

Common messages we hear, we think, we even say about other women.

They must have slept their way to the top.”

“They’re wearing their ‘close the deal’ skirt today.”

“Grow some balls.”

“You have to be more of a bitch to get ahead.”

You get the idea. Quite often it’s said in jest. But these shitty words are telling us that it’s unusual for women to succeed through hard work, intelligence and a career plan. This too fuels Imposter Syndrome.

Comparisons with other people. For me, that ‘other person’ was my own husband. (Yes, we are the clichéd product of a chance meeting by the office photocopier).

For a number of years, my husband and I were professional rivals, producing the #1 and #2 radio shows in Sydney; from within the same building.

It was a pretty sweet arrangement for the most part. Until my show beat his to the #1 spot.

He was gracious in defeat (at least to my face), but it was the innocent comments from other people that triggered old mate ‘Imposter Syndrome’ to flair up again.

“How’s HE doing?”

“Is HE okay?”

“I bet you’ll be cooking him his favourite dinner tonight!”

I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy that success. All I felt was that HE missed out on something that he deserved, therefore I didn’t deserve it at all.

Maternity Leave. When I returned to work nine months after having my little angel/spawn of Satan, my Imposter Syndrome was at an all-time high.

It didn’t matter that I had a supportive employer and a team who eagerly welcomed me back with open arms. This stupid stigma around getting knocked up and taking time out to birth a child remained, at least in my head. I felt like an Etch a Sketch. My career had been shaken clean and I had to prove myself all over again. And how on Earth was I going to fool them a second time?! Changing my identity from career woman to mother, to career woman/mother was a complete head-fuck.

Imposter Syndrome is an exhausting beast. It held me back from taking on new challenges. It stopped me from growing. But, the good news… Imposter Syndrome is totally unnecessary and surprisingly simple to let go of.

Here’s how I’m doing it:

I started doing massive cannonballs into swimming pools. I’m being extremely literal here. I used to be the ‘cautious, ease myself up to my waist then stand on my toes and gasp as the cold water hit my ribs’ kind of swimmer. Until I realised I was letting irrational fear and a bit of discomfort get in the way of my swimming time. So, instead, I took a run up and bombed the shit out of that pool. You can see the symbolism here, right? 

When I stopped timidly easing myself into the water, I stopped timidly easing myself into life. I realised I was never afraid that I was not good enough. I was afraid of my own freaking success. I was scared to make a splash. I was scared to shine!

I CHOOSE how I feel. This will freak you out but, an extremely wise woman told me that the physical feeling of anxiety (refer to the first lines of my Eminem-style prose) is the same physical feeling as excitement! Whenever I’m in a situation where I get that response in my body, I change the label to excitement. And it works for me every time.

I celebrate my wins. Big or small wins, it doesn’t matter. I reward myself with a beer, a fancy dinner, or a new pair of shoes. And I make sure I enjoy every delicious moment of it. Not because it might not happen again, but because I earned it.

I repeat weird little mantras to myself. Like this one (you’ve probably seen your grammar pedant friends post a similar line on FB) ‘With Imposter Syndrome, you know you’re shit. Without it, you know your shit’.

This is not a modern day, happily ever after fairy tale by the way. In fact, there’s probably no ending to this at all. I still have many moments where that dreaded feeling kicks in. But it doesn’t control me anymore. I’ve decided that who I am is more than good enough AND if I need a reminder, I find myself a swimming pool.

Bombs away. xx

Laura is an award-winning radio producer who has worked with some of Australia’s most loved media personalities. She met her husband at the work photocopier and together they’re raising a mini-copy of themselves, little Juliette. Laura once got busted asking a colleague if she was ‘prettier than Giuliana Rancic’ by none other than Giuliana Rancic. 🤣

Laura also enjoys making drunk purchases on Ebay, because it feels like Christmas every time the delivery guy knocks on the door with a surprise package.

📸: @laurambouchet

Guest Kween: SIMONE WHALAN “What Happens After You ‘Wait’ Till Marriage!”

Guest Kween: SIMONE WHALAN “What Happens After You ‘Wait’ Till Marriage!”

Having someone you love and know really cherishes you is special and rare but greater than that, is having someone who loves and cherishes you, when you are going through your toughest times.

This year, I will be celebrating 12 years of marriage to my husband Andrew.

We wanted to build a life-long marriage of 50-60 years, so we knew we needed to build strong foundations from the start and not just get swept up in the excitement of a new relationship. I always wanted my first time to be with my husband on our wedding night. For me it meant that I was completely in this relationship; that my whole heart was in it.

We had both been hurt in relationships before and hurt others too. I had spent time healing, becoming confident in myself and with being on my own before needing another relationship. I had learnt to love myself more than ever and wasn’t reliant on needing that love from someone else to be ok anymore.

I was drawn to Andrew’s joy and quirkiness; which seem to fit with me perfectly.

We met in Melbourne. Andrew asked me out while I was living there but I felt I wasn’t ready to commit. Andrew waited and asked me out again once I moved back to WA.

Long distance relationships can be tricky but also really great. We spent the time getting to know each other by writing letters. Each week we would ask questions and answer them in the next letter. Some questions were fun and silly but some were also tough: like what were our strengths, weaknesses and insecurities. We were honest and vulnerable but we were invested in trying to understand each other.

Eventually, Andrew moved over to WA to spend time getting to know my family as well and boy, did he romance me. There was no denying this man truly adored me. He spent a whole night filling up my room with balloons (which he blew each by mouth) just to surprise me, he took me on picnics, and he asked me to marry him one morning, after a beautiful walk along the beach. Those times were amazing and we married in May 2007.

We moved back to Melbourne and began our life together. There were some big adjustments.

Let’s be honest, I was not great with having my own house, living with someone 24/7 and suffered some serious home sickness. But it wasn’t until two years into our marriage, that we had our first big test.

Just before our wedding, I had found out my dad had died. I hadn’t seen him since I was little, so I shut down my emotions and said I would deal with it later. I was ok to never look at it again but I became withdrawn, unhappy and just not myself; this grief was trying to come out and it was scaring me.

Andrew was also struggling with the fact that this person he married, wasn’t the same person he fell in love with. But Andrew gave me space and didn’t try to fix me or change me. We went on a road trip to outback South Australia and met my dad’s family, visited his grave and I finally grieved.

I knew there would be a time when I would return the favour and be strong for him too.

Following on, we continued living in the city of Melbourne, running our own cafe for a couple of years and enjoying married life once more.

In that time, we had three children in four years and needless to state, life got busy, really busy. I struggled after the birth of our second child (later to realise it was PND) and at the same time the pressure was mounting for Andrew.

I had noticed that Andrew and I weren’t talking as much and he didn’t quite seem himself but at the end of the day when the kids were asleep, we were both exhausted too, so I would put it down to that. This went on for six months (maybe more) until we finally talked and I learnt that the heaviness of life and fatherhood was affecting him.

This was now my time to be brave for him, to listen, give him space and help him get the support of family and friends.

From these difficult times, things needed to change: like making sure we both have a ‘time out’ from the kids, see our friends and do things we both enjoy. We acknowledge that these are simple things, but they’re also the first things we both drop or forget when life gets a bit too much.

It’s easier writing all this down now but as someone who has always struggled to open up about her feelings, it can still be a challenge. I guess, I grew up believing this lie that no one really cared about what I thought or felt, so I shouldn’t express it. I now choose every day to speak up and be honest instead of letting this lie rule my life and relationship.

Learning to communicate freely with each other, without fear of judgement has been the greatest tool we have.

If we hadn’t spent that time at the start of our relationship to really get to know and respect each other, would things be different? I’m sure there are always going to be misunderstandings and rough times in a relationship, no matter how strong your foundation is. But I do believe, building our strong foundation, gave our relationship the best chance it had to succeed.

For my children, I hope they will see what a relationship of love and honour is like from us directly and that they will not settle for less. I want my children to be able to build life-long relationships too and to become the men and women who know who they are and what they are worth.

In these 12 years there has been a lot of laughs, and yes, at times many tears too. We have had some incredible years together and some years, we are just happy we managed to survive. We know that with children, the daily routine of life and being human, there will always be trials. But I am thankful every day that I have my best friend and my partner for life by my side, ready for whatever life throws at us next.

Simone is a 30 something living in Melbourne. She is a wife, mother of 3 and lover of all things bright and colourful. Is there such thing as too much colour? Simone doesn’t think so!

📸: @me_as_mum

5 reasons we’re all here for DUMPLIN’ (and why your inner Kween needs to watch it stat!!)

5 reasons we’re all here for DUMPLIN’ (and why your inner Kween needs to watch it stat!!)

Dumplin' (2018)

‘Dumplin’ is the plus-size, teenage daughter of a former beauty queen, who signs up for her mum’s pageant as a protest that escalates when other contestants follow her footsteps, revolutionizing the pageant and their small Texas town.’

5. The unexpected, celebrated but totally necessary new-kind of female lead.

Netflix and chill? More like Netflix and brill!! Ok, that didn’t quite work BUT… how fucking great is it that the last couple of teen-based movies to come out of Netflix (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Sara Burgess Is A Loser to name a few) have all had these incredible female lead characters of all these different shapes and sizes!? I die!

While watching Dumplin‘ my heart simply burst with joy and not to overplay the ‘bigger girl’ card but my lord, I wish there were these kinds of chick flicks around when I was younger; oh to have grown up in a world where healthy representations of women existed on the silver screen. I mean, the only storyline that was drummed into my pre-pubescent brain was ‘the guy notices the girl once she’s changed everything about her appearance’. Yawn! Gross!! So firstly, bravo Netflix and secondly, thank you.

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The role of Willowdean is played by the relatively unknown gem of an Aussie Danielle Mcdonald, who effortlessly brings this feisty, fabulous and fucking real character to life.

And spoiler alert: SHE GETS THE GUY IN THE END without changing a single god damn thing about her fine self. Yasss!

OR may I add, without the male lead (Luke Benward) tearing down another female character in the process. GOALS!

There are so many wonderfully relatable moments in this movie. One in particular involving Willowdean’s first kiss with dreamboat Bo and ahhhhh seriously, just kick me right in the feels why don’t you!!

4. Team Jen

Putting my Friends-obsessed self to the side for a minute, Dumplin’ is the Jennifer Aniston movie we never asked for but always needed. Jen totally shines in the part of Willowdean’s former beauty queen mother; serving all the sass but proving once again, that it’s impossible to dislike her, even if she’s occasionally playing an uptight mole!

Jen also is the Executive Producer of the movie and the driving force behind the ah-mazing Dolly Parton-themed movie soundtrack; even to the point of getting Dolly personally involved herself. Bless!!

But for those playing at home: if Rachel left Ross, moved to Texas and raised Emma on her own with Aunt Monica, THIS could also be the Friends movie we’ve all been frothing for as well. 😉

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3. Drag In The Kweens Pleeeeease! 

Gone are the days (thank god) when the popular girl in high school decides to give the misfit a makeover and all of the sudden everything is a-ok.

It’s now very clear that: Honeeeey, if you really want a proper ‘do over’ (starting with the inside out), send in the drag queens.  And who better than some of our Ru Paul favs. Riiiight?

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2. The feel good quotes to ONLY live your life by.

This movie covers all the big hard stuff: loss, death, betrayal, body image, loneliness, feminism (so have the tissues ready).

But if you take anything away from watching Dumplin’, it’s the quotes below:

“Go big, or go home.”

“If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.”

“Figure out who you are and do it on purpose.”

“It’s hard being a diamond, in a rhinestone world.”

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!”

“I’m not the Joan of Arch of fat girls.”

“Join the revolution in heels.”

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1. Hello Dolly!

Must I go on? Yes, of course I should!

There is no doubt in my mind that the linchpin of this entire movie is the music of Dolly Parton. From Jolene to Here You Come Again (my personal fav), Dolly’s voice sets every scene on fire and gives it that little bit more tug of the heart strings.

The story of Dumplin’ matched with Dolly’s heart-wrenching lyrics, has had me streaming the ‘Dolly greats’ for over a week now: it’s like listening to her for the first time all over again. It really is a perfect pair!

So, do yourself a favour (😋) and watch this movie immediately and then download the soundtrack on Spotify straight after! This is the feel good movie of 2018. Yeeeha.

Guest Kween: REBBECCA D’ROZARIO “I’m Sorry, There Is No Heartbeat.”

Guest Kween: REBBECCA D’ROZARIO “I’m Sorry, There Is No Heartbeat.”

There it was, a few small words, flashing on a little screen of a super high-tech digital stick… ‘Pregnant 2-3 weeks’.

It was 4.30am, the day after Father’s Day. I was so excited. Yes, I couldn’t wait till a more decent hour to pee on that bloody thing!

As I stared at the words I knew my life was never going to be the same. I already felt different, after decades of hating so much about my body, I was finally so in love and appreciative of it. I was going to be a Mummy.

I ran into our bedroom to wake my now-hubby and presented him with his belated Father’s Day gift. Half asleep he opened one eye: “You’re going to be a Daddy!”, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Over the next two weeks the symptoms came on thick and fast; sore boobs, constant nausea, complete and utter exhaustion, and being repulsed by the smell of cooking meat. I reveled in all of it; I thought it meant my baby was growing strong and safe.

Then the spotting started.

I remember googling ‘spotting in early pregnancy’. All the articles said it was normal. ‘Implantation spotting’ was what they called it. All the mummy bloggers stated the same thing: nothing to worry about. Regardless, I made an appointment to see my doctor.

I had blood tests every second day for a week, my HCG levels were still increasing… everything must be ok. I was sent for an early ultrasound just to make sure everything was looking ok too. The technician said I was measuring 6 weeks, even though I was technically 7 weeks. “Its normal to be a week or two out” she said. “I can’t see a heartbeat, but it may be because it’s too early”.

I knew in my soul that things weren’t right.

That night, with my arms wrapped around my belly, I spoke to our peanut and told it that under no circumstances was it to leave my warm comfy belly until I said so. I then prayed and pleaded to God, the powers that be, the universe, Mother Nature, Mohammad and anyone else I could think of who might be listening, to please please protect my peanut and keep it safe.

It was early Sunday morning, there was no longer spotting, there was bright red terrifying blood.

We called the Healthline and were told to go straight to the hospital. I was too scared to breathe, let alone cry on the way there. I started to talk in my head to our peanut again, begging for it to hold on, telling it how much it was wanted.

When we arrived, I was taken into a room and was examined. “Cervix still intact, everything looks normal, but we wont know until we can get another ultrasound, you’ll need to come back Wednesday when the technician is back in”.

I remember feeling sick that my baby could be dying inside me for another two whole days and there was nothing I could do about it.

The next two days felt like 20 years, and still the blood came. I burst into tears every time I went to the bathroom. I cried every hour of those two days. I lied in bed each night willing my body to hold my insides in, praying and telling our peanut how it needed to stay nestled safe inside because it was so loved, so so loved.

Wednesday morning came and so did the blood. I weeped during the examination, and not because of the pain or all the blood, but because I knew what was to come.

The ultrasound confirmed our nightmare: “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat. You are nine weeks along but only measuring seven weeks.”

The earth split completely in half, as did my heart. I was told that my body was not expelling the fetus, and because it stopped growing two weeks prior, I was at risk of infection or other complications.

I was offered to go home and wait to see over the next two days, if my body would naturally pass my baby and if it didn’t, I’d have to come back and have a D&C. Or I could have one there and then.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t breathe. I just broke down. I decided to have the procedure, I couldn’t stand the thought of my baby being dead inside me.

Before the procedure I had to make one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever made.

Dad picked up the phone and I could barely get any words out, I was drowning in my own tears “Dad, I’m at the hospital, I need to have surgery. I’ve had a miscarriage.” We hadn’t even told our families, we were following the 12 week rule, which in hindsight is one of the most stupid things I’ve ever heard of, and whoever started that ‘trend’ needs a good solid kick to the shin!

Hubby and I decided to take a break for a year so I could recover and focus on enjoying our newlywed bliss for a while. We are still hopeful of becoming a family in the future.

This was my first experience with miscarriage, and unfortunately it wasn’t my last. I suffered another excruciating miscarriage just two months later.

Yes, I found out I was pregnant for the second time on Boxing Day. I lost the baby at seven weeks. Every year it’s hard because it’s another year we don’t have either baby to celebrate Christmas with.

You definitely feel the loss more at special times of the year, and especially on your due dates. They used to be just a random date in the calendar but after the loss of a baby (or 2) those random dates become days of hollowness and reflection.

I light a candle on each of my due dates, as well as the dates I miscarried, to acknowledge our loss and as a symbol of hope for our future babies.

No one talks about miscarriage and how common it is until it happens to you. They don’t tell you that 1 in 3 pregnancies won’t make it past the first three months. They don’t tell you how painful it is, both physically and mentally. They don’t tell you how betrayed you will feel by your own body or how to cope with the immense and all-consuming guilt.

It’s so important that the grief surrounding the loss of a pregnancy, the loss of a baby and the loss of all the possibilities and dreams of the future is something that is validated by society.

This is why we must discuss and diminish the taboo surrounding miscarriage, so that women no longer suffer in silence.

Rebbecca works as a HR consultant in the public sector, is fur-mumma to her gorgeous puppy Benni, and is a freshly down the aisle newlywed. She is currently honeymooning around the world with her new-hubby, both of which are self-proclaimed geeks, and tragic Harry Potter fans with the tattoos to prove it.

Rebbecca is also incredibly grateful to Sands Australia for their support during her time of need.

Sands is a miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death charity. They operate across Australia assisting anyone affected by the death of a baby.

Sands has five key information services for bereaved families, including their National support line (available 24/7), live chat, email support, men’s service, and a network of local groups as well.

Happily Ever After? Guest Kween: CAITLYN FAIRHEAD

Happily Ever After? Guest Kween: CAITLYN FAIRHEAD

To celebrate #STFTL’s one year anniversary, we’re checking in on some of our favourite Kweens and Kings.

What are these gems up to now? And how much can really change in a year? So…

Happy 1st Birthday #STFTL! I can’t believe it’s been a year. We’ve had some good times, haven’t we? All those mornings reading your posts in bed instead of getting ready for work… I’ve treasured every one. You’re a breath of fresh air out here, girl, and we love you. Keep doing your thing!

When Carmela asked me to write this ‘one year on’ piece, I felt like a bit of a fraud, because very little has changed since this – I’m still very much the mother/wife/teacher/whinger I was a year ago. But I’m a whole year older now, so some things must have changed, surely.

I’m still teaching (it’s going good, thanks for asking), studying (also good), mothering (it’s good/relentless) and I suppose I’ve grown a little bit. I still don’t feel like a grown-up though, it’s like any minute now someone’s going to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to step aside so the real grown-ups can take over.

Has anyone (a child, probably) ever told you they want to be like you when they grow up? I recently had this experience and I’m not going to lie to you, it was a bit of a shock.

Not that a five-year-old might look up to me (she’s five, she doesn’t know any better) but that I’m considered a ‘grown-up’. Not just an adult, someone who has literally ‘grown up’, A GROWN-UP!

I looked at her little face and, after briefly wondering why my own kids don’t say these things to me (note: do not pull at this thread), I chuckled pretty lamely and said something like: “Oh, wow, and I’m not done growing yet!”

I’m willing to concede that at 32, I’m possibly not getting any taller at this point. And I admit I’ve done some grown-up things. I got married and had kids (not necessarily in that order), sometimes I buy the expensive tissues instead of the 99c ones and I know my tax file number by heart. Those seem like grown-up things.

But in lots of ways, I’m nowhere near grown-up. I have the attention span of a goldfish and still have a lot of things I want to achieve. I still run late in the mornings. I think thongs go with everything and I drink the cheapest wine I can stomach. I still don’t know what half the settings on my washing machine do and I can’t do eyeliner to save my life. At best, I’d say I’m en route to being a grown-up, but still a way off.

After some pretty self-indulgent reflection on my part, I think I’m in this weird, in-between stage where I still feel like a young person, but at the same time am bloody glad I’m not one. I guess that cliché about growing old, not growing up, is pretty spot on.

I love that I’m not in my twenties anymore. God, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for my thirties. Going to bed when I’m tired! Saying no to things! Making time for myself! Taking risks! Having a career! Being wiser, smarter, sexier (‘cause of the smarts) and not caring what people think of me! (At least, not as much as I used to). It’s bliss. I’d honestly never be a teenager again.

I don’t know if this feeling is unique to me or what, but frankly, I’m really enjoying getting older. Granted, in the scheme of things I’m still young, but so far I’m only getting more comfortable with myself with each passing year.

Wrinkles? Gimme ‘em. Grey hairs? Sure. Retirement? Farkin’ BRING IT. I know, I shouldn’t wish my life away (or my kids’ lives, since I’m supposed to be enjoying every precious moment, woopsee woops), but you can’t bloody tell me Gloria Steinem wasn’t onto something when she said this:

To that little girl who may one day read this (you just never know): don’t worry a damn about growing up, my darling. Eyeliner is hard, girlfriend, and to be honest the cheap wine does the same job. And f*** that washing machine, too. Just enjoy growing older.

Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’m in my seventies, but this growing-up business can go jump. Growing older is where it’s at!

Caitlyn is a thirtyish-year-old teacher with a passion for good books and cheap wine. She has two children and an ever-patient husband, though her true love is Mexican food.

 

Guest Kween: TAM HEINJUS “My Wonder Twins And A Fight For Life.”

Guest Kween: TAM HEINJUS “My Wonder Twins And A Fight For Life.”

I just remember being so fucking angry.

Why is it that a chick on crack can deliver perfectly healthy babies? And here I am, off alcohol, off ham, off mouldy cheese, off everything!! And yet, my babies – yes, plural – babies! Are fighting for their fucking lives?

It was at this point, the NICU psychologist suggested I continue my sessions.

The NICU.  The Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit.

It’s a world unto itself.

My hope is, you never have to experience it. It’s where all the really sick babies go; and the lower your bed number, the sicker you are.

My twins occupied beds 1 and 2, for over six weeks. It was only about half of their time in hospital… and yet, we were lucky!

Hi. My name is Tam, and I was never going to have kids. I have one ovary (the result of an ovarian cyst removed during an endometriosis operation). However, in a bizarre twist of fate, I conceived on the first attempt at pregnancy.

So again, lucky right?!

Yep. These are the things I kept telling myself, sitting bedside in the NICU, while twin 2 stopped breathing for the 10th time that morning.

It had already been a difficult pregnancy! At 12 weeks, I’d been told I was having a miscarriage. Only to discover, I’d actually lost one of three.

At 20 weeks my water broke, and I was told to abort the pregnancy, and start again. I ignored that advice, and decided to take it day by day.

Every day was a long day. Especially after the twins had been born. Welcome, 12 to 15 hour shifts sitting bedside in the NICU. These are my children. I love them. But I couldn’t sit for 15 hours a day.

I couldn’t sit there and watch them stop breathing every three to four hours, only to be brought back to life. With that moment of hesitation every now and then, when the regular ‘tricks’ didn’t work. When the monitor kept triggering the non-responsive alarm a few too many times; wondering if this was it. Am I going to lose a baby right now, in this moment?

It was mentally draining.  Day in.  Day out.

My only reprieve was going to milk myself in what we called the ‘boob room’ every three or so hours. Hooking my massive twin mum melons up to a double suction machine, to get every last drop of milk out for the twins’ current diet of 1ml, every two hours. Yep. 1 ml!!!

Fun fact: even when you deliver a baby 15 weeks early, your body knows you’ve expelled life, and starts producing milk.

Just a reminder, my name is Tam.

The woman with: one ovary, two premmie babies and a gazillion tears.

A miracle mum to twins born at 25 weeks gestation.

I can tell you, at 25 weeks, babies are U.G.L.Y.

Their skin is transparent.  They still have hair all over their bodies. And they’re small.  So small. Imagine a tub of margarine, and add a half. That was the size of the twins. Less than 30 cms long from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes.

Black eyes, because their eyes actually haven’t developed yet. And their lungs are so tiny, they actually can’t operate on their own; so they need breathing assistance, 24 hours a day.

Add to this, a Swine Flu outbreak.

It’s 2009, and Melbourne is reeling from a Swine Flu epidemic. I walked into the NICU, and the section where beds 1 and 2 are, is isolated. The rest of the beds in that room have also been removed.

There’s a certain kind of paperwork across a bed area, next to twin 2, so I know someone’s baby has died.

Truth is, I saw that baby dying the day before, when the nurses called a code blue. I left my babies’ bedside that day, so the mother of the dying baby could spend time alone with her miracle. The mother of that baby saw me the day after. She didn’t speak to me. She simply squeezed my arm in appreciation for allowing her to be with her baby privately.

For us, the isolation meant five days of sitting bedside wearing face masks and waiting for the results of two blood tests. Finally we discovered the twins didn’t contract Swine Flu.

What they did contract though, was a certain ability to talk to each other subliminally.

Still, Twin 1 wasn’t well at all.  For the best part of nearly two months, machines had been doing the breathing for her. As her mother, I’d only held her a handful of times in those eight weeks. In fact, it was seven days before I got to first hold her after she was born. Seven fucking days. An entire week of not being able to hold my newborn daughter.

I had to sit beside her crib, and just watch a machine breathe for her, holding onto her tiny little leg while another blood transfusion made its way through her translucent foot.

It was at this time, twin 2 needed an operation that could only be performed at a different hospital. So, off we went in the morning for surgery. There was no room in the NICU for twin 1 post-surgery at this other hospital; so we were on ward. It was AWFUL.

I pleaded to get my boy back to the same hospital as his sister, and back into the same NICU and as fate would have it, we luckily qualified for the last transport ambulance for the ‘week’.

We made our way back to the hospital where twin 1 was pulling her usual ‘help me breathe’ routine. As twin 2 was wheeled past twin 1 on his way back to his crib, he stopped breathing.

Alarms start ringing. Twin 1 then decides to stop breathing also. More alarm bells!

The nurses put twin 1 and twin 2 side by side. They both start breathing fine. No alarms.

And this continued for the entire night.

This was my life. Watching these tiny, tiny humans communicate through lung capacity!

I had visitors during the week, each helping me take my mind off the fact that one or both of the twins could die at any second. But it was the weekends that were the longest.

One weekend hubby would be down, relieving the pressure on me for a few hours. The next weekend, I’d be on my own.

We lived four hours away from the hospital and with a mortgage to pay, another child to care for… there were only so many times he could come and visit.

I remember thanking the guy at the local coffee shop with a card when we were allowed to leave the hospital. He pretended to understand why I had looked forward to his coffee every Tuesday afternoon. He really had no idea.

No one has any idea how hard it is to have a premmie baby, unless you’ve actually had one (let alone two).

This isn’t meant to be an ‘I’ve done it harder’ story. This is simply a ‘Fuck, I did it hard’ story, that you may or may not identify with.

Either way.  Motherhood…

It’s the hardest, most rewarding, awful, beautiful, gratifying, disheartening, fucked up, beautiful thing… ever!

I just hope your journey, doesn’t include a NICU. But, if it does, I’m here if you need to talk.

Tam Heinjus is an overworked, underpaid creative writer who writes for passion when she can’t pay the bills. A woman who tries hard to be a good mother, wife and friend… and fails miserably at all three some days.

Tam Heinjus

365 Real Days

Guest Kween: JANAE BRANDIS “My Angel Baby.”

Guest Kween: JANAE BRANDIS “My Angel Baby.”

The last Friday of June in Australia is Red Nose Day and I’m one of the unlucky parents who this day has a very significant meaning to.

For as long as I can remember, all I wanted to be is a mother. Growing up all my friends had specific career goals that they wanted to achieve but for me, all I knew for sure was that when I ‘grew up’ I’d be a mum!

Well, as they say ‘dreams do come true’ but my journey into motherhood has been far from what I dreamed it would be as a little girl.

On Monday, the 22nd of August in 2011, my dream became a reality when my first son Nate Lachlan Brandis was born. My labour was long and if I’m honest, waaaay more painful than I could ever have imagined. I ended up in an emergency C-section but it was totally and 110% worth it when my big 9lb 9oz baby boy was handed to me.

The first week was tough, Nate’s blood sugar levels were so low, he needed to stay in the special care nursery. My milk never came in, which after my third baby I finally discovered I had IGT (Insufficient Glandular Tissue) which is quite common with women who have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). Recovering from a C-section was also no walk in the park! After that week, I caved and decided I was going to bottle feed (my now starving) child.

I have to admit, it was one of best decisions I ever made. After his first full bottle, he slept!! He slept so well that I was the mum at my mothers’ group who lied to all the other poor mums because I felt so bad that my now three week old baby was sleeping eight hours straight a night! (While they were up every hour to attend to their baby.)

Nate was the easiest, crusiest, happiest, cheekiest baby I’ve ever met. (I’m not even joking, he actually was!) He fitted right into our world so perfectly. My husband Paul and I both thought life was pretty damn sweet.

When Nate was ten months and three weeks old our lives were irrevocably changed when he passed away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). I was totally blindsided. How could this beautiful, innocent soul be taken from us so soon?

I was that mum who never put the cot bumper in the cot and dressed my baby in a sleeping bag instead of blankets (as that was the SIDS recommendation). I did it all and it made no difference!! It just didn’t and still doesn’t make any sense!

The next few days, weeks and months were a total blur. All I can remember is the amount of love that surrounded Paul & I from our family and those few friends (who know who they are) that we now consider as family.

I remember in the days after Nate died, I was peeing on a pregnancy test just praying for my baby to come back to me; like I was asking for some sort of miracle.

The pain of losing a child never leaves you. You just learn of ways to cope and live with the pain, as if it’s a new part of you.

So that’s what we did. Paul and I decided to live life. We both took nearly half a year off work and travelled the world together. We did so many amazing things on that trip from learning to scuba dive in the Greek Islands to skydiving over the North Shore in Hawaii to learning the art of making traditional Spanish sangria & paella in Barcelona. It was exactly the escape I needed but it was also such a bittersweet time in our lives too.

In the back of my mind, I expected to return from that trip pregnant and it devastated me that I didn’t. However, after nearly four years of struggling with infertility and having to go on a range of fertility meds, we were finally blessed with our rainbow baby, another son Luca. Luca’s name (as well as being a family name) means ‘bringer of light’ and that he certainly is!!

Two years later we were blessed again in a rather suprising & unplanned way (due to some of my own serious medical issues, which is a whole other story in itself) with the birth of our third son, Hudson.

Being a parent after the loss of a child is hard, I mean ‘parenthood’ is hard in general but it adds a whole other level. Those fucking ‘mum guilts’ creep in way worse when you’ve just had enough but it makes you appreciate the little things just as much too.

Nate’s still every bit a part of our family. Luca knows all about his big brother ‘Angel Nate’ and Hudson will grow to know about him too.

So this Red Nose Day (as I do every day) I will be thinking of my darling Angel Nate and sending love not only to him but to all of the other angel babies and the families they have so sadly left behind. Please join me.

Find out how you can be involved and support Red Nose Day here. Help reduce nine deaths a day to ZERO and donate.

Janae Brandis is a Bunbury girl, born and raised. She’s been married to the love-of-her-life for 10 years and she’s a mother to three gorgeous children; one of whom lives in heaven. Janae is obsessed with wine and cheese but thinks chocolate is life. In other words, don’t come between her and her Snickers bar.

📷: Red Nose