2022 into 2023

Reading time: 15 mins

It’s time for another annual roundup, but this one’s been a notably very different year. Here’s some of the memorable bits… fashionably late this time around!

The big one… having a baby

I should probably start here! This has unsurprisingly been the main event that shaped the year. But before I jump in, I wrote about my thoughts on child-related sharing here, which hopefully gives a bit of context if you’re finding this post rather lacking in specifics about the baby themselves!

The first part of my year was struggling through the last trimester, when every day a new part of me felt like it was breaking. Pregnancy and bodies are absolutely amazing (and freaky) but wow did it take a toll on my poor body. I’d originally planned to stop work closer to the birth, but decided to pull the start of my leave forward to prioritise both of our wellbeing, which in hindsight was absolutely the right thing to do, even if it later came back to bite me financially and practically with nursery (more on that later).

I spent most of that time at home, juggling a combination of project managing major home improvement projects, and trying to get prepared and organised as much as possible. I was grateful to leave a lot of the practical pre-baby stuff to my husband, and I focused on getting my head around everything.

For a mix of reasons I’d been anxious about birth

Despite wanting children for years I firmly believed there was no good way for a baby to come out(!). As much as I was trying to stay optimistic and be proved wrong, when the time came absolutely everything went wrong and I still stand by my original view! Everyone tells you not to have your heart set on a particular vision of birth, so I was prepared to go with the flow but wasn’t ready for what ended up being quite a traumatic experience. I had a long, horribly painful (failed epidural yay), and exhausting labour, which ultimately took a sudden turn and I was rushed in to have an emergency c-section. Thankfully the team were excellent and from that point the procedure went well, but the kid still needed a short stay in NICU.

Not expecting to have a caesarian brought its own challenges. I found the recovery ward experience awful – being expected to prove I could take care of a newborn despite processing everything, working on almost zero sleep in two days, with a wound that meant I could barely turn over in bed, plus rules that visitors had to be kicked out from 8pm to 8am (even partners) felt utterly cruel.

Getting home was better, but still tough. Again not expecting the caesarian, I rapidly realised how ill-prepared we were. I couldn’t get out of bed on my own. I couldn’t carry the baby up/down stairs. I couldn’t drive for 6 weeks yet we live a drive away from civilisation. I’m very independent and I found it mentally very hard to be so utterly reliant on others (something that I’m still struggling with even now whenever I need time for things like job interviews). I also was not a fan of giving myself daily stomach injections for 6 weeks, but generally my wound healed really well (scars are cool) and all in all, in hindsight I wish I’d gone for an elective c-section from the start.

A teeny little baby hand holding my finger
Very early days

Life really did change every single month, with some being more or less challenging

Sleep and my health has unsurprisingly dictated a lot. However, despite and because all of this, I’m incredibly proud of myself for coming through it all and ending up stronger. Parenting has been incredibly hard in so many ways, but has also been the amazing and revelatory experience that everyone gushes about, and it’s also helped me get to know myself a lot better. I was worried I’d be bored after a while, and whilst some days at home absolutely are samey and dull, I’ve also been surprised at just how much fun it’s been, and how much I’ve enjoyed spending time with a little squirt who can’t even talk back. Seeing a personality develop, the old cliche of seeing the world through their eyes, and them slowly learning skills and developing their body to be able to do new things has been utterly fascinating. Swimming, reading books, going on walks, music, sparkly lights, and trying all kinds of new foods have been particular highlights that we’ve enjoyed together.

A misty night, looking down a watery moat where either side trees and bushes are lit up in pastel colours. The water is still and there are lit reflections, plus two illuminated floating white balls.
Absolutely loved the Christmas illuminations at Helmingham Hall

Assorted adventures

Whilst everyone else seemed to spend the year “getting back to normal”, for us it’s been another year of no international travel. A combination of wanting to protect us and the baby, getting our head around parenting and it feeling just too stressful to go abroad, plus costs meant that we stayed reasonably locally. But there have been adventures!

Notably there’s been lots of family time, including Norfolk and back in a day fairly early on to meet my wider family as a surprise, various trips around the Suffolk coast with my mum, and visiting her in Kent (including the much-loved park I spent a ton of time in as a teenager). We also went on a family holiday to Whitstable with my brother and his young baby, and had another break in Dungeness with my husband’s family to celebrate his mum’s milestone birthday.

We’ve had lots of memorable “firsts”, including baby’s first music festival (2 months old), firework display, pumpkin picking, and going to see Christmas illuminations. I’ve enjoyed making the most of my time off work with trips to explore towns and cities around us, plus some very random days out, like Clacton Pier SeaQuarium (truly SeaWorld it is not!!!), Bury St Edmunds to see the world’s first internet enabled bench, and to Ipswich on a quest to buy daikon. There’s also been lots of garden centres, gardens, farm shops, woodland walks (baby loves trees)… and what feels like complete abuse of my annual zoo pass!

A collection of photos from adventures, including plants, fireworks, the night sky, pastel beach huts, modern interiors, a festival, sealion tunnel, and seaside.
Assorted happy adventuring times

Adventures minus the baby

Time alone has always been important to me, and whilst it’s obviously not possible to do this as much, there was also a reasonable amount of time doing non-baby adjacent things.

I had a couple of nights in hotels alone, first staying in London the night before my Japanese exam (my first full night’s sleep in a very long time!), and then having a night down in Brighton for dConstruct.

I really enjoyed the Farewill summer party, at least up until the point where I decided to volunteer for a very competitive football match, completely bloodied my feet from playing barefoot, and nearly passed out (turns out it wasn’t a good idea to push my post c-section body past the limits…!). I’ve had several other trips in to the office, including a fun leadership team dinner too, and it’s been nice to stay in touch with the world of work, albeit fleetingly.

Dinners have been few and far between as I’ve still not been eating inside, but I really enjoyed a very special tasting menu at Angelina in Dalston, and a trip to Koya. The latter was as part of a lovely evening in London where we went to the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern, plus a couple of drinks in the bar (I booked tickets with free champagne, somehow mistakenly thinking they were going to be on a terrace, but we survived!).

Another collection of photos from other adventures, including art in front of St Paul's, a Japanese garden, cocktails, red phone booths, Brighton beach, my reflection in the Kusama exhibition, and a box of razor clam sashimi
Other happy adventuring times... minus small human

Work… or lack of!

As I mentioned above, I left work earlier than originally planned because of my health suffering in pregnancy, but I’m proud of how I got everything set up well for my absence. Running the process to appoint my interim cover left me with lots of confidence that the team would be in a good place.

I originally thought I’d jump straight into Keeping In Touch (KIT) days, but once I was off I changed my mind, again deciding to focus on me a bit more and switch off properly. As such I didn’t do any work at all until after the birth, and when I did regroup with everyone it turned out a lot had changed. In general I found it really weird being on maternity leave. It’s an odd kind of limbo, especially in startup world where everything moves so fast. Even when I started having some KIT days, there wasn’t much I could usefully contribute outside of offering things like one-off coaching sessions or attending more standalone workshops like to refine the company values. As such I started to feel very detached. I always felt very warmly welcomed by everyone when I popped up, but I personally found the leave process to be quite alienating when I’d been used to working full-time for so long.

Unexpected curveballs, and deciding to make a change

In August, we started looking at nurseries – something that in hindsight I should have looked into and made some decisions on a lot sooner. The one we’ve signed up to wouldn’t be able to take my kid until April 2023, which left us with a gap of several months between when I was meant to return to work and then. This was quite a difficult moment for me, as I’d started missing the enjoyment that I get from work, and I was also worried what it’d mean job and career-wise to be off even longer. On top of that, there were big financial implications, both with me being off even longer as the primary earner/primary carer, as well as seeing just how much it’d cost in terms of nursery fees going forward.

Everything started to coalesce a bit, and I realised that a combination of the extra time off, probably not wanting to work full time, needing a role where location/working arrangements could be flexible around things like nursery, and changes to the business and what the priorities were going to be over the next couple of years meant I started thinking about a change.

After lots of chats with people at work I handed my notice in at the start of October, which was sad but I felt confident was the right thing for both my family and career. Since writing this, I’ve had some very interesting conversations and introductions, which I’m incredibly grateful for! It’s all very much helped me firm up where I want to focus going forward. I’m hoping to get something more solid in place over this coming month, but am still open to any late curveballs so please do let me know if you have anything that you think could be interesting!

Over Christmas when I mentioned job interviews I had someone say “but do you actually want to go back to work?”, and something that I’ve realised this year is that yes, I really do enjoy that side of life. There can always be more work life balance, and always be more meaningful stuff to do, but I’ve genuinely missed using my brain professionally. It’s also important for me to show my kid that women can have successful careers.

Some small bits I’m proud of

Despite focusing on family life and saying no rather ruthlessly this year, I did still do a few professional bits when I felt they were right.

  • I appeared on Skiller Whale/CTO Craft’s The Pod Presents: Primarily Context-Based podcast, talking about how can, and how should, technology influence business decisions. I also wrote an associated blog post
  • I had an article published on the LeadDev site: building bridges with difficult coworkers
  • Amongst my blog posts, Finding your leadership style was featured as one of the most-read Leadership articles of 2022 in Pat Kua’s Level Up newsletter.

I’ve also submitted one CFP for speaking next year. I’m not planning on doing lots of events, but I have a couple of talks potentially in mind so am open to at least discussing it if you’re looking for speakers for your conference.

Lots of much-needed home improvements

Since moving in years ago we’d done extremely little to the house, and in all honesty we’d been putting it off as we knew there was a lot of work. We’d had a full survey done in 2021, and despite trying to get work started since then it typically all happened in the few weeks leading to my due date, with the scaffolding only coming down the week before. It was all quite stressful, but the team did a great job and we ended up with some important improvements.

One of the biggest pieces was that we’d had cracking and water starting to come in through the bricks above windows whenever it rained badly. The house was shoddily built, and we finally had actual lintels put in, replaced all of the warped windows, and decided to upgrade to bifold doors. We also replaced all the guttering, fascias, and weatherboarding (also broken and causing issues), fixed some small bits of the roof, and took down old satellite dish that was damaging the chimney.

We had a full asbestos survey done, and asbestos tiles hidden under some carpet removed.

After that we completely gutted the grottiest dumping ground room, ripping out the multiple times cat-weed-on carpet, and the inherited built-in wardrobe that was installed wrong. We got the asbestos artex ceiling boarded over, took off old paper and found the wall was made of some random bits of wood plus an area where an old cupboard had been, replastered, and eventually turned it into a nursery which is now the nicest room in the house!

There were new modern radiators all round, which have helped massively with our heating bills. Good timing considering the cost of living crisis and me not earning for a long time 😬

In the garden, Storm Eunice left a tree partially uprooted, which fell down on the day I went into labour. We tried to save it as it was somehow still alive, but the rootball was too massive and it had to come down. The rootball’s now a feature, but the tree’s resprouted from the stump, and I’ve planted a hopefully lovely autumn acer rubrum. I also worked on clearing another garden area which is now hopefully going to be full of bulbs come the spring. Finally, we upgraded our garden furniture from about 10 years ago, making the decking into a place we wanted to spend a lot of time in the summer.

Some other little notable aspects of life

Hy husband got a company car for the first time, and we’ve joined the ranks of electric vehicle (not a Tesla 😒) owners. My favourite thing about it is the reversing noise reminds me of the sound effects for orbs from the Crackdown games.

I read 19 books, having a massive gap between the newborn days when I was essentially trapped in the baby’s room (as I couldn’t lift/do stairs), and then getting back into reading when I started using a little LED light during milk settling/nap times. I’ve also managed a fair bit of gaming, particularly in the very early days where it was very easy to game whilst the tiny squirt napped on me so much throughout the day! However as time’s gone on, with so little free time during the day it’s been really clarifying to understand the things I’ve wanted to spend time on, and what actually gives me energy and enjoyment in life.

I’ve blogged about it here already but I was incredibly proud of myself for passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test at level N3 over the summer, especially as I did it in the midst of newborn life chaos.

Top down view of my N3 certificate, with a small pebble covering persoal details
My JLPT N3 certificate

After nearly three years, Covid finally got us

Coming up to the end of pregnancy, especially with so many builders unmasked in the house, was extremely stressful. I spent what felt like weeks FFP3 masking constantly in my own house, and spending the rest of the time not really seeing anyone or doing anything. Partners hadn’t been banned by the hospital trust through the first few waves, but that changed and if my husband had tested positive on the day he wouldn’t have been able to come in with me. In hindsight, given the ordeal I ended up having it would have been absolutely awful for both of us and I’m glad that I made the sacrifices.

After the birth we were similarly cautious, on my side especially given that the baby had been in NICU for breathing-related issues. Given that I live with ME/CFS and have to work hard on managing my energy and symptoms at the best of times, I was also keen to avoid long covid or long-term unknown impacts for both me and the baby – something that we know worryingly little about.

However, despite all of this, somehow it got us. I’m still not exactly sure how, although we spent time inside and unmasked with family members on both sides over Christmas (even though we asked people to test), so it wasn’t a massive surprise. It hit me particularly hard, hence why this post is so delayed! I’m still not feeling healthy, and am trying to take it as easy as possible to minimise any longer damage.

Thoughts on 2023

I didn’t manage to do my usual new year reflection and planning, which I’d like to do even belatedly as I always get a lot from it. However, I do have some things in mind for the year ahead.

I’d like to make the most of what little covid immunity we may have in the short term, doing some things that I otherwise don’t feel safe to. Longer term, we also have some plans in the works for some family adventures which I’m also looking forward to.

I’m looking forward to getting back to work, but also I’m excited to continue seeing the kid continue to grow and change, and making the most of more fun times with them before I go back properly.

And finally, I’m excited to build on that new-found certainty around the things that are important to me, and how I want to be living. Whether it’s little decisions around how to spend time, or bigger picture calls like work/life balance and how I want to spend my energy, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about myself in 2022 and am keen to continue with that.