Powerful Bloody Women

I’m open about most things. To the point of oversharing, definitely. But I don’t think I’ve ever written about periods before. Or, for that matter, been able to use the phrase ‘menstrual cycle’ without embodying the spirit of my uptight Year Nine sex-ed* teacher who didn’t understand the concept of lesbianism and seemed awfully uncomfortable telling a class of teenage girls what this menstruation nonsense was all about.

(*It wasn’t called sex-ed. I’m British; it was called Personal, Social and Health Education which is much more repressed and unhelpful.)

Anyway. Times are changing, my friends, and here I am, using the phrase ‘menstrual cycle’ on a publicly open platform. I don’t even care if you cut me out of your life for such a transgression! Gosh and cripes.

It’s just, I’ve only just realised how much power there is in really knowing what’s going on with myself every month. Physically, mentally, energetically… When I discovered that there was a pattern to the madness of my life – and one shared by practically every woman – I had a total ‘aha!’ moment. Except…that makes me sound like Alan Partridge.

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We’re actually quite similar, facially…

More of an ‘Oh!’ moment, then.

I can’t help but suspect you won’t be interested in the history of my period (why not, though?) so feel free to skip the next paragraph. I provide it only for backstory.

When I was about 27, I came off the pill after more than a decade and found myself battling really shitty skin again. That was why I’d gone on the pill in the first place. But now I just wanted to have some control over my body and my skin – I wanted to be well and function properly without having to rely on chemicals that were having fuck knows what effect on my body and fertility. I tried a lot of things: veganism, supplements, psychotherapy (on myself, I should add – I read a book called Skin Deep that was all about the psychology behind having acne. It was a fun read), affirmations, meditation, keeping a cycle-diary. I was desperate for my period to return so I could see what effect my hormones were having on my skin. When I got to day 245 of my cycle, though…I started to think something was up. At some point in all this, I did have a period, and then it went away again. When I got pregnant with my first daughter the midwife asked for the date of my last period. I told her it was 9 months ago; it was a weird moment.

Fast forward to this year – and I finally got back in the flow (as t’were) after pregnancy and breastfeeding etc. I had three cycles, at which point reflecting on my behaviour caused me to pause for a moment and squint into the distance. I asked myself, ‘am I dealing with a split personality, or is this somehow…normal?’

Because, seriously. Let’s (wrongly) assume I have a 28 day cycle and take an average month. For half of it, I’d be a motivated writer, full of ideas and confidence and – crucially – the ability to sit down at my keyboard and write. Then for a quarter of it, I’d be unable to do anything but critique everything I’d written and snippily edit my work, finding fault with it all. Then, for the final quarter I’d be able to do NOTHING AT ALL. No words. Words would not happen. I wouldn’t even want to open my laptop, let alone muster up creative energy and pour it out.

That happened several times, and each time, that ‘dry’ week made me question everything. (As did the annoying critiquing month, but as least then I was still sort of writing).

And it’s not just writing. You should see my wardrobe. It’s the wardrobe of someone who doesn’t know who the hell they are. It’s mostly grey and black, and sensible boots and tights. But there are weird things in there. My pink fur coat. Suede pink platform sandals I can’t walk in. Tropical print skirts. Sheer shirts. Crop-tops. A jumpsuit! Cute, quirky slogan tees that I put on then immediately replace with something less controversial.

When I purchase those things, I’m desperate to wear them. But by the time they arrive and the weather is right for me to do so, it’s like I have no idea why they are in my wardrobe. It’s like someone else ordered them for me. A fun version of me. The version of me I like to think I am, but frequently turn out not to be.

I make social plans that just two or three weeks later I dread the thought of, despite my excitement at the time. I make plans to decorate my house in pastel colours, only to find a week and half later that I want to paint everything navy and embrace low-lighting.

I kind of rolled with it, but all along I wondered… Is it just me? Am I really just so insecure that I can’t make up my mind who I am or what I want? Because I don’t feel insecure. I like myself a lot, even if I never know quite which version of myself I’m going to wake up to.

Then I downloaded an ebook called Adore Your Cycle, by a women’s coach and author called Claire Baker. I’d followed her for a while via her blog, and something kept pulling me back to her and her approach to women’s health and periods. I made the decision to download her book – and just as I went online to do so, she sent an email with a 50% off code. Winner.

Honestly, it is transforming my life. I mean, I only read it last week, so it’s probably too soon to say, but the RELIEF and understanding that I experienced when I read the book was immense. She explains how women’s cycles follow different seasons – withdrawn, silent winter (when you’re bleeding), outgoing, flirty spring (up to ovulation), proactive and motivated summer (after ovulation), then reflective, critical autumn (pre-menstrual).

It explained all of my tropical-print skirts (bought them in my ‘spring’ phase). It explained my writers block (ALWAYS when I had my period, why did that not click sooner?!). It explained my drive to edit. It explained why for a week or so each month I’d suddenly want to change EVERYTHING ABOUT MY LIFE and do all the things I’d previously lacked confidence to do.

Ugh. Why did I not know this from the start? WHY? I can work with this knowledge! I know when to sit down and write, and when to expect my inner-editor to come out. I can plan for that! I can make peace with the fact that – for seven days or so, while my uterus decides to just fall to pieces – I’m actually not gonna want to create much, thanks. Just going to want to sit here, in silence, and watch chick flicks and cry about very small things. The book will wait.

And I know when to make life changes, and when to hold back. I know when to start trying to save the world, and when things are likely to overwhelm me and make me feel like my actions won’t be worth the effort. I know when to try and change my diet and make it stick. I know when to accept that I won’t be able to fight cravings, and to not give up just because I have a bad few days.

There is so much POWER in this knowledge. I can’t tell you how energised I feel by it. (I mean, I can tell you. That’s what I’m doing right now.)

You might relate to some of this, or you might relate to none at all and wish I’d stop saying ‘menstrual cycle’ already. I know when I mentioned it to my colleagues, they said I was sounding dangerously close to being someone who uses a Mooncup.

And you know what, I probably am. Maybe. (They are actually a lot bigger IRL than I imagined and that frightens me, so….it’s not a definite no.)

But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about being a hippie, earthy, ‘I am woman hear me roar’ do-gooder (I can only aspire to such giddy heights). This is about realising that we hold power in different ways at different times, and that if we learned to work with those powers instead of sucking it up and carrying on as normal, then maybe we’ll all be a little bit…better? Happier? Aligned with ourselves, at least. Empowered, definitely.

I’m going to be reading so much more into this. I’m quite excited about what else I might discover about myself. If you’re in any way interested, I’d recommend you check out Claire Baker’s website and see what resonates. Her free resources are a good place to start.

After a bit of experimenting, I’ve finally found the right week in the month where I can actually wear my red lipstick without feeling utterly ridiculous. I might even graduate to my jumpsuit, next cycle….

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Look lively, lads.

 

When is a breakdown actually a breakthrough?

This is totally out of left field, so bear with me. I may be having a tiny breakdown, or a breakthrough, or just….a weird moment of hormonally induced panic.

So, here’s the thing.

A few things have been going on in my life for the past two weeks, big internal discussions and revelations and changes. One of those things has been my never-ending search for purpose. I’ve talked at length about my writing and starting my self-publishing journey, but I’m not sure that writing alone is it for me. It’s my joy, not necessarily my raison d’être.

For a long time now I’ve been really drawn to the idea of coaching. Life-coaching, I suppose; the kind that helps people transform and grow and find inner peace and confidence and do things that bring them joy. But at the same time, the idea of life-coaching has always struck me as a bit…embarrassing? All I think of is that scene from Friends where Rachel’s narcissistic school-friend explains her new job:

Melissa: I wanted to get out of [real estate] and do something where I can really help people, and make a difference.

Rachel: Wow! So what do you do now?

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That’s how I can’t help feeling about life-coaching. Like it’s a job people do when they think they are changing the world, but are actually just being a bit wanky and pretentious.

Nevertheless, my heart is being tugged towards a career of connection and transformation, so I’ve been looking into coaching courses, and wondering if I’m ready to financially (and time-wise) make the commitment.

But whyyyy?

But all the while, I’ve been asking myself this: ‘What do I want to coach people to do? Who do I want to coach? Why?’ For a while I liked the idea of coaching people like me, who are trying to juggle motherhood and finding their own purposeful, meaningful outlets beyond parenting. Maybe even writers, who need to get rid of a lot of mental (and physical) blocks to find the time and confidence to follow their dreams of writing.

I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe it would just occur to me as I trained and researched, and started coaching, perhaps. I’m not one of those people who has an amazing transformational story I can tell to demonstrate the benefit of coaching; I’ve changed, but internally; from the outside my life looks the same as it always did, even if I look at it in a totally different way.

Anyway, these are the things that have been mulling around in my head. So I did what I often do late at night, and asked my inner guidance system to reassure me and give me a sign. ‘I’ll know it when I see it,’ I told myself.

Breakdown?

Then today, I attended a mental health event at work. We had a guest speaker who talked openly about her suicide attempts as a teenager and her transformation from deeply depressed to becoming driven to inspire young people. It was a moving, raw and heartfelt talk.

But that’s not what did me in.

Afterwards, students and colleagues came forward with their own stories of depression, suicide attempts and bleak, black despair. There were so many more than I’d expected.

But that’s not what did me in, either.

When I got back to my desk, I logged into Facebook to share a post about the event with students, and I got side-tracked by a piece someone had posted about climate change. It was a really, really frightening piece. But not full of scare-mongering for the sake of it. I can ignore those. This was balanced and heartfelt, and basically made the point that, in the writer’s opinion, with the havoc we’re wreaking on the planet there’s no way many of us will make it to old age. That’s scary enough, but I have two little girls. Two little, innocent daughters. If I don’t make it to old age… What of them?

Ok, so that’s what did me in.

I suddenly felt overwhelmed with horror. I’m great at burying my head in the sand, but I couldn’t seem to stick it in for enough this time.

It was a tsunami of anger at people in positions of power and influence who should effing well know better, and at myself for not taking enough responsibility myself. I felt an avalanche of helplessness for not knowing where to start. I felt guilty for having chosen to have children, for bringing them into such an uncertain, indefinite world that I’ve not played a positive enough part in saving. And I felt absolutely terrified.

Just before I had my first baby, I had a dream where I was standing on a beach, watching a catastrophic tsunami slowly move towards us. All I could think was that I needed to be with my mum and dad, my brother and sister. We needed to huddle together. After my daughter was born I had another dream, but this time the sun was too hot, and the atmosphere was overheating. The end was imminent, and again, all I wanted to do was gather my family under my wing and huddle.

I recalled these dreams as I sat at my desk and had an unexpected cry, hoping nobody would walk in and see me. In an effort to combat the overwhelming fear, I started looking into groups I could join, or things I could do – anything­ – but it all seemed so hopeless and confusing and shouty.

So I went to the toilet and cried a bit more.

Tell me what to do

Then I came back to my desk, stared blankly at the wall, and said – out loud, like a madzer – ‘I’m scared. I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do.’

Nothing happened, until I realised that I had a blank email open on my screen, and that in the top corner was a little Microsoft lightbulb and a line saying: ‘Tell me what you want to do…’

And I stopped crying and laughed, because that was kind of cool. And then I realised that actually what I wanted to do was stop myself and others from feeling the way I did at that moment. I wanted to be able to take someone’s fear and guilt and overwhelm, and turn it into a positive, optimistic and hopeful plan that might even translate into real change in the world.

Heal yourself, heal the world and all that.

I don’t want to be the party-planner version of a life-coach. I want to help people feel like they have the power to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it may seem from the outset.

I want to help people do it without fear of not being enough, or of failing, and with fun and happiness and lightness. And swearing and smut, if you like – it’s your life, damnit.

So that’s my goal.

Changing the world, though. I mean, oof. I’ve got to start with myself, with my life. And you know what that bloody means, don’t you?

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I’ve got to dig out the re-usable nappies again…

Girl, Wash Your Face (and get out of your pyjamas while you’re at it)

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I’ve only recently got into audiobooks, thanks to a free trial of Audible, and I’ve gotta say, they’re a real game-changer when it comes to livening up housework/playing peek-a-boo, with the baby/drinking wine secretly in a cupboard.

My second ever audiobook was Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Wash Your Face, and I feel that for slightly flustered, confused and inadequate-feeling mothers everywhere, this book has a lot of appeal. It’s read by the author, and she’s got a great, conversational tone. You feel like you’re having a heart-to-heart with her after an inhibition-lowering glass of wine. Plus, she’s so honest. She talks about shaving her toes, for crying out loud, not to mention the many other oft-hidden aspects of being a woman, wife, mother, worker and all the rest of it.

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In Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis debunks a number of lies we’ve been told about how we should feel or what we should do, in the hopes that we will shake off the shackles of societal pressures and reclaim our authentic, glorious selves. Hollis is a Christian and refers to her faith frequently throughout, but in a way that I found relevant to people of different or no faiths. (I know a handful of people who instantly go on the offended offensive the minute the G word is mentioned, so I guess for those, this ain’t the book.)

She covers a really wide range of topics with easy-going humour and frankness, touching on sex, relationships, career success, grief, parenting and appearance and much in between. I liked the chapter on achieving your dreams, on being a good writer, and particularly the final chapter: The Lie – I Need A Hero.

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These books often find me at the time I need them most, and I finished listening to this book on a chilly Thursday when I’d spent the whole day at home with my baby, a day when I hadn’t fully bothered to change out of my pyjamas, merely throwing a jumper over my PJ top and scraping my hair back into a messy, unwashed half-bun. I’d managed some writing while Little Pixie napped, but I was doubting my abilities, second-guessing my future and I definitely stank of fish courtesy of a jar of absolutely gross-smelling baby food.

The final line of the book is the titular ‘Girl, wash your face!’ and as I heard that, I realised that’s absolutely what I should have done that morning. It made me determined to do several things:

  • Throw away all of my slobby looking pyjamas-slash-leisure wear, so that I am no longer tempted to pretend that I have actually changed out of my sleepwear. Opening the door to the postie in a pair of flimsy button-down jammies, or a silky nightie, is a line I am not prepared to cross.
  • Wash my bloody face in the morning! I might not always be able to stretch to a morning shower (sometimes I just can’t deal with the crying and whining and baby clinging on to the edge of the bath and screaming every time a droplet of water hits her) but I can splash myself awake, slather on some CC cream and pucker up with some tinted lip balm.
  • Move this body. Writing is not a healthy hobby when it comes to posture and exercise. I bought a book on beginners Tai Chi several months ago with the intention to start in the new year. However, we’re now into February and I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of the book, plodding through a chapter on how to breathe properly. I need to set aside some time to speed-read it so I can stop making excuses and get to the step-by-step actual Tai-Chi bit. Also – I’m weirdly craving some sort of boxing/kick-boxing class. This must be a passing phase – I didn’t really enjoy learning karate that much in my twenties. I think I just want to feel strong and capable (as though I’m not already, after three years of carrying a child in one arm whilst hefting washing baskets up and down stairs).
  • Give my writing the credit it deserves. I’ve come so far, and absolutely no good can come of doubting myself now. My instincts have always served me well (when I’ve followed them, anyway. Who knows what kind of yacht-owning, mega-wealthy influencer I could be today if I’d followed that urge to start a make-up review website back in the early-noughties heyday of personal web pages – anyone remember Moonfruit.com??)

In summary – if you are a woman, and you ever doubt yourself or are holding onto any resentments over your past, your body or your abilities, then this is a really uplifting, honest and inspiring book. Run a bath, pour a glass of wine and listen to it on your bluetooth speaker. We all need a bit of tough love and gentle truths.

 

How to write a novel when you have kids

As a parent, there are a million things that seem to take priority over writing.  Playing with your kids, feeding them, putting them to bed (which currently takes us about 4 hours), cleaning the house, looking at Instagram, just sitting with your eyes closed for ten precious minutes…  It just seems so difficult to commit to carving out time to write.  But if you want to be an author, as opposed to just a writer dreaming of writing, then commit you must.
I don’t have any easy answers, either.  You have to make sacrifices and you frequently won’t want to – but hey, you’re a parent, sacrifice is your new middle name.  I’ve become more and more determined to force at least one book of mine on the world, for entirely selfish reasons.  And so I’ve had to figure out ways to do it that still allow me to be a good mum, partner (bit iffy on that one, actually) and family member.
Here’s my advice.
Be flexible about how and where you write. On your phone while they are drifting off to sleep, in a notebook while they are playing, on the reverse of your toddlers colouring book, wherever you can – if you wait until you have unfettered access to your laptop and an uncluttered desk you may die at 97 with your novel still inside you.  Embrace file sharing apps like Dropbox to make syncing across devices easier – I use Evernote (the free version) so that I can easily copy notes from my phone across to my laptop when I get to it.
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Rather than have a dedicated writing desk (there’s no space for one in my house and in any case, my girls would NEVER let me sit at a desk when they are around) it might help to have a dedicated writing ‘dumping ground’ (maybe a drawer or box) where you collate all the scraps and notes and scribbles that will eventually contribute to your novel.
And for the love of God, write that idea down at 2am.  It may well be mind-blowing, but you almost certainly will not remember it in the morning.
Make your peace with sacrifice.  If you fight it, it will make you resentful and frustrated.  Just accept that if you really want to follow your passion and make this book happen, you’ll have to give up things like early nights, fancy mealtimes (toast crumbs on your keyboard, anyone?) and your favourite TV shows.  Not forever!  But for now. It’s tough, but if you can’t write when your kids are around then your options are pretty limited.
Set short, sharp bursts of time.  Put the timer on, tell the children you are writing your stories, set out activities for them, and go at your writing hell for leather for 15 minutes. Your kids might allow you longer – mine need my attention after about 15/20 mins of solitary playing.  15 minutes of writing might not sound like it amounts to much, but think about how many 15 minute chunks of your day disappear without you doing anything.  If you set a timer for a little burst of writing 4 times a day, then it feels like a game for the kids (if the activities are fun/you use your best showman skills to sell ’em on the idea) and you get about an hour of writing a day.  That’s 7 hours a week, and that, my friends, is a whole day’s work.
Get your kids involved. Depending on their age, you could tell them a little story about your main characters and draw them a picture of them (or their pet, car or outfit, depending on what your kids like) to colour in whilst you write.  OBVIOUSLY if you are writing steamy romances then the details you share might be limited.  ‘This is Darcy.  She lives in a dungeon, wears an eye mask – yes, just like Batman! – and enjoys…horse riding.’ Whatever, if you can, just let them into your writing life a little bit in whatever way works.
Don’t give in to guilt. Guilt is insidious and utterly pointless. You love your kids, they know you love them, so cut yourself a break when you need to crack on with your own thing. Imaginative play is what sparks the desire to write, draw and create in the first place – and encouraging children to play alone for a few hours each day isn’t neglect! It’s positive for your children to see you working hard on something you are passionate about and equally positive to recognise boundaries – you are their parent and their rock, not their eternal playmate.
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Highly symbolic photo of smiling rock-parent by Creative Designs on Pexels.com

Above all, just do what you can.  I’ve read success stories from authors who have written bestselling novels in 15 minutes a day whilst on maternity leave so it’s definitely possible, even if it’s definitely not easy.
I make sure that I read my kids plenty of stories and I hope that one day they will want to write their own alongside me, but until then, I’m just doing my best to do what I love whilst still showing them I love them.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any tips and advice for sneaking in precious writing time – or any kind of ‘me’ time – around looking after children!
Love
C x

When you’re tired of parenting, you’re tired of life, guys!

Or you’re just a tired parent who’s tired and needs maybe two or three uninterrupted hours of horizontal existence without being bashed in the face with plastic balls and a cuddly George the pig.

Or, like me, you are 38 weeks pregnant and just tired, dude. And have feet sticking out of the right side of your body. And heartburn every time you eat a verboten, blood-sugar-raising biscuit (guilty heartburn is worse than regular heartburn) And can’t really stand the thought of getting in the car, never mind bundling a wriggly pixie in a car seat against her will.

I confess, without an awful lot of shame, that my patience is wearing worryingly thin. I love my daughter to distraction, but also don’t really want to play with her that much at the moment. I don’t have the mental or physical capacity. I mostly want to stare off into space, or occasionally cry because I want my mum to come over and just make me feel like a big, cocooned baby for a few hours but she can’t because, the Met office keep throwing up gimpy weather warnings.

So far in pixie’s two years of glorious life I have managed to laugh in the face of stressful situations, for the most part. Like, when she got taken to hospital last year in an ambulance because she went all weird and feverish and rashy, I still managed to a) not cry and b) laugh with the paramedics. Or when she drew all over the walls/TV unit/windowsill/my face. Ah, so what, it’s just ‘stuff’, I remember thinking.

But on Friday when she threw her big bouncy ball at my (full) cup of tea, and it splashed all over a carpet I hate anyway, I almost exploded. It took everything I had not to lose it with her (she’s two! She’s adorable! She’s not responsible for my mental health!) and I restrained myself to a very loud ‘NO! You DON’T throw BALLS when there are HOT DRINKS about!’

And this weekend the poor thing has mostly been entertaining herself because I refuse to move from the sofa, with occasional sojourns to the kitchen for contraband, which I then don’t even attempt to hide from her, with the result that she’ll probably ride this sugar-high until she starts pre-school.

Also, I’m having ridiculous conversations with her. She ripped up a way-too-tempting sticky-up piece of her book, and I told her to be careful with her books. Then she found some pages I’d ripped out of a magazine and started ripping those up. At which point I said, “No, don’t rip tha-! Oh, actually, no, it’s ok, you can rip that up because Mummy doesn’t need it anymore. But as a general rule, don’t rip things up, because they might be important. In fact, don’t rip things up unless I specifically tell you to. Which I won’t, because that’s just going to confuse you.”

She nodded sagely and said ‘No, absolutely, mother, that makes perfect sense. I’m two, and can absolutely be trusted to make rational judgements about what is and isn’t appropriate to arbitrarily destroy. I totally see your point, thank you for raising it in such a clear-cut and considered way. Excuse me now, while I scribble on the coffee-table with this black crayon.’

What I’m trying to say is that my standards have temporarily (dear God I hope it’s temporary) dropped and I have no choice but to ride it out and hope it does my child no long-term damage because the alternative requires more than I am capable of mustering right now. She’s still getting loads of cuddles, if not stimulating play and/or conversation, and I feel like that must be the most important thing, right?

Right?

Good, glad we’re all agreed on that.

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I swear, I looked down for two seconds…

 

Pregnant Mothers Can Still Be Glamorous, Damnit!

I was shamed by a cashier at Asda this week, readers. Aloud. Along with the latest edition of Glamour magazine I was purchasing some sundries, which may or may not have included Size 1 nappies, Size 6 pull-up pants, double-strength heartburn tablets, maternity pads, massive pants and assorted medicinal items (I’m taking no chances with the hospital bag, after having to leave the last-minute packing to Alex last time and subsequently rocking up for Phoebe’s birth with just a pair of Spanx, a pack of panty-liners, a pair of non-maternity leggings and a poncho).

Anyway, the checkout lady looked at the magazine, looked at my stomach and my hospital bag goodies, and snorted.

“Glamour?!” she cried, in mocking disbelief. “What do you want with Glamour magazine?!”

I laughed it off as I was too busy trying to hide some of the more embarrassing items at the bottom of the see-through shopping bags, but as I drove home it prompted a thought spiral.

  1. Bitch.
  2. She has a point though.
  3. Am I too old for Glamour magazine now? At 32 and a pregnant mother, am I no longer their desired audience? Depressing.
  4. But isn’t that sort of my decision to make?
  5. I mean, the articles all bang on about millennials want this and millennials desire that, and by the skin of my teeth, I’m a millennial, right?
  6. And it’s MY choice to read the magazine, thereby appointing myself as their actual audience.
  7. Why the hell do I care what that old lady thought about me? I deliberately chose her checkout because she looked in the least likely position to judge me on my purchases.
  8. OH MY GOD THE MATERNITY PADS ARE SITTING ON THE BONNET.

They’d fallen out of the bag when I was looking for my keys.

ANYWAY. After I’d got home and made myself a soothing cup of decaf tea and chowed down on a KitKat, I realised that actually, I felt empowered.

I may not be going to any festivals this year, I may have no immediate need for a bikini-body diet (or indeed, a bikini-body), and I anticipate being severely limited by this season’s fashions depending on whether or not I can breastfeed in them, BUT I can still eke out my own special brand of style and glamour. I can still feel like me, and I can still aspire to look and feel great. It’s just that I happen to have the pleasing fall-back position of not really giving a shit if I don’t.

So pretty mama, on Mother’s Day or any day, don’t let anyone kill your buzz.

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Basically me right now, but with more KitKats and less standing up.