Real Pregnancy Talk: The Woman’s Guilt, Part #1

Let’s talk about how it feels to not have undergone hours of intense labour.

If you’ve had a chance to keep up with my blog in the last few days, you’ll know that I recently gave birth to my baby boy, Dorian Lee. Well, here’s the thing…can I really say that I gave birth to him considering that he was born via emergency C-section?

This is something I’m struggling with at the moment and is the subject of today’s post. As I mentioned in my birth story, my experience of bringing Dorian into the world was not at all what I expected and did not go to plan (even though I didn’t even have a concrete birth plan to begin with). I had to consent very quickly to a C-section because my baby’s heart rate was dangerously low. Now, to be honest, I had always joked that I wanted to have a C-section because it would be easier than having to push an entire human out of my unmentionables. But, let’s be real, a C-section is major surgery and isn’t advisable if not completely necessary, and that’s what all of my friends and family kept reminding me. In the end, though, I had no choice but to have a C-section and it wasn’t a particularly easy one at that. 

Even though I am currently still recovering and feel bruised and battered in a lot of places, I do have quite a bit of guilt with regards to my birth experience. When my husband and I were leaving the hospital after my 2 day recovery, we actually ran into a man that we had one of our prenatal classes with. He was holding his adorable newborn and immediately asked me how my labour was. I explained to him that I had an emergency C-section, which he seemed really shocked by, but then he told me that his wife went through a 29 hour labour and my heart fell in my chest. How can I say anything to that when I was merely wheeled into an operating room and got to come out an hour later with a beautiful baby boy, no conscious effort on my part required? I felt embarrassed that I didn’t actually have to do anything physical or challenging to receive this incredible reward, and I almost felt that I somehow shirked my womanly duty or something like that. I didn’t have to push for hours, and that honestly makes it feel even more surreal to me that this sweet boy I’m holding in my arms is mine because it’s almost as if he appeared out of nowhere. 

I know, from speaking with my friends and family and especially my mother, that these feelings are totally unfounded. I had to make an incredibly difficult decision when consenting to my emergency C-section, and I had to fully surrender to my team of doctors and nurses at a moment that was overwhelmingly frightening and confusing. I truly feared for my baby’s health and safety, and for my own as well, and that is no small thing. So why do I feel like this isn’t as valid a birth experience as pushing for 29 hours would have been? Why do I feel that earning my motherhood badge requires going through a very specific type of birth? As I type these questions, I know how crazy it is to think this way and I know that, no matter how it happened, the most important thing is that my baby entered this world healthy and secure. I think that society plants in our head all these notions about what pregnancy and motherhood have to look like and how it should all happen, and that is seriously detrimental and can mess a woman up in ways that are profound and unfortunate. I for one think we need to do away with all expectations surrounding pregnancy, birth and labour, and motherhood, and remember that each person’s individual experience is valid in its own right and as long as it works for mother, child and family, it is absolutely perfect.

So, I’m throwing out my preconceived notions about what labour should be like and continuing to remember that I made a baby, he was with me for 9 months and I cared for him like no one else on this planet ever will, and he is here now for me to love, nurture and adore, regardless of how he got here!

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

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Real Pregnancy Talk: My Birth Story: An Unexpected Emergency C-Section

“Even the best laid birth plans can go sideways.” ~ me, a few months ago

Let’s talk about how it feels when your birth story goes completely off the rails.

Remember when I wrote a few Real Pregnancy Talks ago about how even the most thorough and realistic birth plans can sometimes go awry? Welcome to my life!

Let’s begin with an exciting announcement… My son, Dorian Lee, has finally entered the world!!! On Tuesday October 1st, 2019 at 11:58am, he burst onto the scene with hardly any warning, weighing 6lbs 9oz. I was 3 days over 40 weeks at that point, so his arrival was definitely something my husband and I, as well as our family and friends, were very eager for. That being said, when labour got underway, everything happened sooo quickly and my head is still spinning from it all.

On the night of Monday September 30th, after walking all day with my husband on a 10k journey, I started to experience really terrible cramps in my lower back. I had been having some bleeding for a few days prior to this, but after a trip to the hospital’s obstetrical ER, I was told that this was totally normal and simply my body preparing for labour. I was, naturally, on edge about this though, and so when I started having more intense cramps on Monday night, I started to feel like I was moving into more active labour. By early Tuesday morning, after no sleep at all, my husband and I noticed that my cramps, or rather what we now realized were contractions, were lasting about 1 minute and were happening every 3 to 5 minutes. We decided to head straight to the hospital to not risk being too late.

When we got to the hospital and were admitted to triage, they started to monitor my contractions and examined me. I was only dilated to 3cm, and so not very close to the “pushing stage” of labour at all, but they began to see that my baby’s heart rate was dropping slightly every time I had a contraction. The doctors decided to admit me to the birthing unit so that they could continue to monitor the baby and hopefully move me closer to real labour. As I waddled over to my birthing suite, I started to feel a bit more anxious, but overall I just felt excitement that we were finally going to be meeting our son.

When we got into our birthing suite, we were told by our nurse that it would be a good time to consider an epidural. I was all for having one anyway, but the nurse explained that time was of the essence because if my baby’s heart rate continued to drop, I may need to consider a C-section and if I didn’t have an epidural done straight away, I would have no choice but to be put under general anesthetic if a C-section should need to happen. I of course wanted to avoid that, and I really was becoming fatigued by the pain of the frequent contractions, so I decided to have the epidural. Unfortunately, there was a bit of an issue getting the epidural to work properly and I had two separate doctors try to administer it, which was uncomfortable as I was still working through the seemingly non-stop contractions. My husband even fainted when they were trying to get the needle in…his first time ever fainting in his life, probably because of the insane amount of stress we were under and watching me undergo a tricky procedure multiple times until it worked. It eventually did work, though, and I felt blissfully calm and at ease as I settled back into my bed and realized that, yes, I was still having intense contractions but I couldn’t feel a single thing. This was the most peaceful part of my labour, when I felt the most confident and excited, and it’s also when my husband called our parents to tell them to come to the hospital. I was still only dilated to 3cm so we knew (or, I should say, we thought) we still had hours left of waiting for our baby boy.

Our parents arrived and came into the birthing suite to say Hello to us, and my mom stayed with my husband and I because I always knew I wanted her in the room to provide me with extra love and support. It was at this point that things started to happen really rapidly and the whirlwind began. The doctors were still noticing that my baby’s heart rate kept dipping whenever I had a contraction, so they thought it best to move labour along a bit faster if possible. They started to give me oxytocin to increase the frequency of the contractions and help me to dilate faster, and they quickly saw that I was dilated to 6cm within an hour of being on oxytocin. However, the doctors and nurses became very alarmed when they noticed that my baby’s heart rate was dipping even lower with each more intense contraction, and I remember my main nurse rushing into the room and saying that she was very unhappy with my baby’s heart rate and thought we should stop the oxytocin to give him a break. A resident doctor agreed with her, and so they stopped administering the oxytocin, but they also mentioned to me that I should consider giving consent for a C-section because they were that worried about what was happening to my baby. 

It was at that moment that I had no choice but to fully surrender to the doctors and nurses. This was something I had no problem doing because I have always had complete confidence in my team and the hospital. My husband and I chose early on to go to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto for our care because we believe it is one of the best hospitals in Canada, if not the world, and so I told the nurse and doctor that I had no birth plan whatsoever other than to follow their advice completely and let them do whatever they felt was appropriate and needed to be done to keep me and, especially, my baby safe. After telling them this, I was given the forms to sign to consent to a C-section and was told that they would continue to monitor the baby’s heart rate but that at least they were ready to perform a C-section if necessary. I settled back into my bed and got ready to wait and see what would happen next. Somehow, the uncertainty didn’t phase me at this point as I had decided to place my trust in the doctors and nurses and let them guide me through the experience.

But then, what I thought for 9 months was going to be a relatively average birth became an emergency. Not 5 minutes after I signed the consent forms for the C-section, about 4 doctors and nurses ran into my birthing suite frantically. I was so confused because I had just been told that we would be monitoring my baby for a little while yet, but apparently his heart rate had dropped so low that they were extremely concerned. I was told that I was going to be taken for an emergency C-section immediately. Although I had maintained my composure up until this moment, I instantly started to cry. I honestly believed that my baby was going to die. I can’t explain why I felt this way, but I just had this ominous foreboding come over me, and I burst into tears, asking the nurse if there was a risk that my baby was already dead. She assured me that everything was and would be fine, but I couldn’t control my fears and I continued crying as they wheeled me into the operating room. My husband trailed behind with one of the sweetest and kindest nurses we had met who helped him get prepared to enter the OR himself. This meant that I was brought into the OR alone, and my nerves started to overwhelm me as the team lifted me onto the operating table. 

Everything was a frenzy in that operating room. I had never had surgery before this (other than having my wisdom teeth removed, which I consider pretty standard) and so I had no idea what to expect, but I definitely thought it wasn’t normal that at least 10 doctors and nurses were running around, rushing to get me prepped and saying things like, “We need to get this baby out now!” I kept asking the anesthesiologist to assure me that I wouldn’t feel anything because I was still weirded out by the epidural not working the first time around, and he administered a few different types of medications, as well as laughing gas, to ensure that I was completely calm. This meant that I was delirious and loopy, though, which only made me more aware of the frantic preparation around me and convinced me further that my baby was in serious danger. I have never been so scared in my entire life, and I remember fighting with everything in me to stay awake, not faint, and maintain control of my sense of self so that I could vigilantly watch out for my baby. After another 30 to 45 minutes of surgery, which involved hearing minute details of the doctors putting my organs back in place and stitching me up, I was free to move to the recovery room and finally hold my baby.

There is nothing better on this Earth than holding the adorable Dorian Lee in my arms, and although my birth experience was not at all what I expected it would be, it is so very true that having your baby with you at the end makes everything worthwhile. I would undergo a hundred more surgeries to have Dorian Lee beside me, and at the end of the day, I know I made the only decision I could to keep Dorian safe and sound. That’s all I need to think about to remind myself that, C-section or natural birth, all that matters is that my baby boy is healthy and here with me. I guess this all just goes to show that, particularly when it comes to children, you can’t always plan ahead or obsessively control every aspect of life…you often need to just go with the flow and let life’s little miracles run their course to beautiful fruition. And, I think we can all agree that Mr. Dorian Lee is pretty beautiful, isn’t he? 😍😍😍

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

The Book I Have Avoided for Years ~ #JNGReads Wide Sargasso Sea

This year has been an incredibly challenging one for me, what with being pregnant since the first week of 2019. This particular time is especially challenging, as I am over 39 weeks pregnant and anxiously await my baby’s imminent arrival. 

So, what would compel me as a fierce lover of Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë (I even have a Currer Bell tattoo!) to read what would naturally be a very difficult novel like Wide Sargasso Sea right before going into labour? I have no idea. Maybe I felt it was the last big hurdle I needed to overcome before the peaks and valleys of motherhood…a test of strength and will, perhaps? It’s also short, so I was definitely hoping I’d finish it before my baby arrived (spoiler alert: I did…he’s still not here). I can’t give any other explanations than those. 

A bit of backstory, though… I once had a vehement fight with a fellow student about this novel when I was in fourth year university. He started to go on and on (before a totally unrelated class, might I add) about how disgusting Edward Rochester is for locking Bertha in his attic because she isn’t even actually mad. I asked him what evidence he had for this because, while Brontë’s portrayal and Rochester’s treatment of Bertha is problematic in some ways (I’m mature enough to accept that), there’s still nothing in the text that says Bertha doesn’t have the issues Rochester claims she does. Well, this colleague of mine said that wasn’t what it portrayed about her in Wide Sargasso Sea…and then I went into a whole rant about how one author’s interpretation of another author’s text cannot be taken as an authority over it and said I didn’t give two figs what Jean Rhys said about Rochester or Bertha (my colleague was quick to retort, “Her name is Antoinette!”) because she wasn’t Charlotte Brontë. I told him I would never read this glorified piece of fan fiction and, admittedly, our friendship was rocky after that. 

Now here we are more than 5 years later… And I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about? This is the novel that has spawned tons of literary criticism? This is the prolific tale of Antoinette Cosway Mason that is so lauded in academic institutions everywhere?

I’m undoubtedly biased, I own that fact, but this story was just not all that impressive to me. I didn’t feel any connection to Antoinette or her voice whatsoever and I also felt indifferent toward Rochester’s narration. The story didn’t drum up any sympathy in me and I don’t feel like I learned anything from it or as though it enlightened my understanding of Jane Eyre at all. There simply wasn’t enough meat to it, and I have to say that I expected much more…I expected to be violently moved by it, either in a good or bad way, but instead I felt indifference. I expected to rant about it to my husband, to feel angry and enraged by it…or I expected to be changed by it and to feel this desire to go back to the original text and revisit things. Instead, I closed the back cover and shrugged my shoulders, thinking, “So what?” There was one moment, cited below, that made me reflect briefly on Rochester’s treatment of Bertha in Jane Eyre, but it was too short and easily skimmed over, to me, to warrant an entire novel and years of academic study. I found myself wondering why I resisted reading something, for so long, that would prove to have so little impact on me. 

“‘Why did you make me want to live? Why did you do that to me?’

‘Because I wished it. Isn’t that enough?’

‘Yes, it is enough. But if one day you didn’t wish it. What should I do then? Suppose you took this happiness away when I wasn’t looking…’” 

I find myself thinking that Rhys’ other works must be better than this. Again, I’m sure I’m biased, but I feel that maybe academics have latched onto this story to try to understand a mysterious, shrouded character without realizing that there isn’t that much insight offered in these very few pages. 

Anyway, I finally read Wide Sargasso Sea so go me! I only wish I knew why it mattered so much that I did. 

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Pre-Baby Book Reviews ~ #JNGReads

Happy Hump Day, dear Readers!

I’m back this evening with a whole bunch of book reviews. I have to be honest, my intention was to hold onto these reviews and post them as part of bigger, themed entries with reviews for a few other books I’m hoping to read soon…but then, it hit me all of a sudden that my baby boy could come any day now (read my blog entry about not so patiently waiting for him here) and at that point, I might very well forget about posting these reviews I’ve had in my “back pocket” altogether. I have already posted them on Goodreads – that’s usually the first place I update as soon as I’ve finished a book, so if you’d like to join me over there, I’d love to chat books anytime!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some reviews for a bunch of books I’ve read recently. I very much hope that, even when my baby decides to join us, I’ll be able to continue reading and reviewing whenever I have a spare moment.

Help Me by Marianne Power

I feel very conflicted about Marianne Power’s memoir of sorts about her time spent reading self-help books and attempting to better herself because of them.

On the one hand, I really did like Marianne’s voice. I found her funny, relatable and bubbly. I appreciated her frequent use of exclamation points (every sentence in my own text messages ends in one), and I thought that, despite her discussion of her depression and her quite constant putting down of herself, she came across as positive and optimistic. She seems like the type of person I could easily be friends with because she came across as, overall, very endearing and lovable.

But on the other hand, the discussion of each self-help book was tedious and annoying to me. I’m not really a self-help person myself, and although I’ve spent this year trying to come to terms with my anxiety, I haven’t actually picked up any cliché books like the ones Marianne does. I’m not trying to come across as stuck up or anything, but I do believe there are problems with a lot of self-help books out there, and they are similar to fad diets in the sense that it’s easy to become enamoured with them and jump on the bandwagon, only to go careening off it mere months later. Marianne recognizes that as well, which I really appreciated (otherwise, this book might’ve verged on insufferable), but she also does buy into a lot of the books when she is reading them, and that can be kind of frustrating as a reader who is a bit more…well…cynical and pessimistic, I suppose. I just couldn’t buy into everything Marianne was reading, and it made it hard for me to relate to her in the moments when she was buying into it all. It made me want to tell her, like her friends and family members do, to snap out of it and focus on reality instead, and my inability to do that through the pages of a book was hard for me.

Like I said, though, I continued to be a fan of Marianne from the first page to the last and I did find myself rooting for her. I just don’t know that I found there to be anything profound about this book as it almost read like a diary. It was personal and very raw in points, but it wasn’t a self-help book in itself, and so it didn’t help me on my own journey of understanding my anxiety at all. Not that I really expected it to, but it was certainly a lot more about Marianne’s experiences and life than I expected it to be, although that ended up being the thing I liked best about it, I think.

And, as I mentioned, Marianne does go through a really rough period of depression at one point of the book and she is blatantly and bravely honest about it. I respected that immensely and it was definitely the portion of the book I was able to engage with the most and take the most from. The quotes below are a good sampling of what Marianne talks about in this section, and I found myself re-reading them several times because they seemed to describe my own feelings as if Marianne was inside my head.

“‘I’m just tired,’ I said. Tired. How many times had I said that word when I didn’t know what else to say? When I didn’t know how to say I’m lost, I’m scared, I’m lonely, I feel like I’m losing it…?”

“I have always been prone to getting down. It starts so gradually I don’t notice it. I start waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of non-specific panic and waking up in the morning with a feeling of dread and anxiety. Bit by bit this grows until it feels like the day – and the world – contains nothing but cliffs for me to fall off.”

“I thought it was normal to feel like the bottom of your world was falling out every day – I thought that was just how people felt. You just had to try harder, keep going, hope that one day it would get better. Also, being diagnosed as depressed was code for being a failure. For not being able to nail this life business.”

Okay, that all sounds really negative and makes it seem like this book is a big downer, but it really isn’t. Despite facing incredible lows, Marianne is able to feel happy a lot of the time and the book does end on an optimistic note. But, it’s also realistic and Marianne is honest about the fact that she might not feel happy every single day and that her whole life hasn’t been magically transformed, and that is alright. Having moments of joy and gratitude are sometimes enough.

Overall, I enjoyed Marianne’s writing style a lot and I would be interested to read her work as a journalist because I think she has a really witty voice. I perhaps didn’t love the subject matter of this book, but I did grow to like Marianne very much, so that made it a successful enough reading experience for me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I have never read The Odyssey. 

I am not a particular fan of Margaret Atwood…which, yes, does make me a bad Canadian, thanks for asking. 

But, The Penelopiad I thoroughly enjoyed! I read it entirely in one day. It would’ve been one sitting if I didn’t have obligations to attend to. I highly recommend this one as it might be the best Atwood work I’ve ever read. It was short but felt profound; it had many meaningful messages about what it means to be a woman (overshadowed and overpowered by a pompous but important man) and a wife, but was easy to digest. Overall, a GREAT read!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kiss of Deception, despite some obvious problems with it. I have to admit right off the bat that the story is a slow one and very much feels, by the end, like a precursor to bigger things to come in the rest of the series. Other reviewers have mentioned that the plot is very repetitive, and this is certainly true as it outlines main character Lia’s day-to-day life working as a waitress in a small town in minute detail. However, for some reason, I still found the story incredibly enjoyable to read and, when I sat down with it, I found myself turning the pages rapidly. It is true that not very much happened, but it was still quite entertaining and I felt compelled about halfway through it to go to my local bookstore and pick up the other two novels in the series so that I could begin them right after finishing this one. I also grew to really like Lia as a character by the end of the story, and I am curious to see if my interest in her will only grow as I get into the next book, or if my intrigue will wan. 

Overall, although this book wasn’t fabulous per say, it was pleasant to read and I did find myself being drawn in by Pearson’s writing style and her ability to weave together a story. I am very curious to see what comes next in spite of myself.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

*Note: I do plan to continue this series and was intending to write a larger review of the entire thing at some point, so that is why this particular review is so short. Hopefully, I will get around to the rest of the series soon!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Real Pregnancy Talk: The Waiting Game

“I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting.”

~ The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

Could this be the last photo of me as a pregnant woman? When will my baby decide to join us?

I am nearing the end of my journey. I am just over 37 weeks pregnant. This means that the baby in my belly, who has lived there for what feels like forever but has really only been a short piece of the grand scheme of my life, could arrive at any time. It is perfectly safe at this point if that happens, and while I am excited for him to finally be out here with my husband and me, I am also terrified of this moment. When I lie in bed at night, sleep drifting slowly in, I feel my chest clench and my heart race, imagining him lying in his little bassinet beside our bed. Everything is about to change.

So, I am waiting, for this boy that I have never met but who is going to be the most important person in my life. I am constantly assessing every symptom I feel, on red alert for any traces of contractions, any weird sensations that could mark his impending arrival. But, at the same time, I have no idea when he will choose to actually join us. Will it be tomorrow? A week from now? Will he wait until even after his due date? No one can tell me, not even my incredibly qualified doctor. And so, I wait.

I waited a very long time to meet my husband – 22 years to be exact. I had no serious relationship before him, and I very acutely felt before meeting him that I was waiting to find that special someone, that no one before him was quite right. Even that experience, though, feels comparatively insignificant as I sit here waiting to meet my son. This is a child that my husband and I created together, that is completely made up of parts of us, and it is surreal and scary and fascinating to think that, when he does come into the world, it will be entirely because of us. We are responsible for him in so many ways and will be for the rest of our lives.

Is this our final photo as a twosome? We wait, not so patiently, for our son to make his appearance…

I am not a patient person. I think most people who know me would in fact describe me as very impatient. In this case, however, I have no choice but to practice patience and let my son do what he needs to, in his own time. I, personally, pride myself in never being late for anything, so I am hoping he takes after me in this sense and will join us at least by his due date. But again, what influence do I have over this? None whatsoever. So, like one of my favourite characters and a great example of beautiful motherhood, Clare Abshire, I will do the only thing that I can…sit here…waiting.

“Without you I’m workin’ with the rain fallin’ down

Half a party in a one dog town

I need you to chase the blues away

I’m waitin’, waitin’ on a sunny day

Gonna chase the clouds away

Waitin’ on a sunny day”

~ “Waiting on a Sunny Day” by Bruce Springsteen

Janille N G

Girl with a Green (and Very Impatient!) Heart

Understanding the Science of Stress ~ #JNGReads ~ A New Non-Fiction Favourite

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” – Paradise Lost, John Milton

I have always loved this quote from Paradise Lost. I have it written down in several notebooks, typed out on a sticky note on my laptop that I frequently scroll over, and even had it framed on the wall of my room when I lived with my parents. From the time I first read it, back in second year university, it became a sort of mantra for me, providing me with comfort and reassurance that even if times seemed particularly bad and I felt incredibly stressed, my mind was strong enough to control those feelings and to get me through whatever stressors I encountered.

But, what I have learned in the last year is that (sometimes…often) the mind isn’t enough. Robert M. Sapolsky has a similar quote in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: “To a certain extent, our perceptions and interpretations of events can determine whether the same external circumstances constitute heaven or hell…” The crux of Sapolsky’s text, though, is that the mind isn’t always strong enough to overcome external circumstances and put them in perspective and, what’s more, sometimes the mind isn’t even capable of doing this sort of heavy lifting if there is a disorder or disease (such as depression or anxiety) that prevents it from doing so. To believe that the mind can persevere in all instances and actually change one’s perspective on reality 100% of the time is foolhardy and naive, and probably was incredibly detrimental to me back in university and had adverse effects on how I would learn to cope with stress as an adult. The point being that understanding stress and the science behind it is no simple task and certainly can’t be reduced to the belief that the mind, if persistent enough, can get a person through anything.

I don’t often read non-fiction books. In fact, I rarely read them, if ever. However, it seems that this year I have done a lot of reading of non-fiction and the main reason for this is that I have felt empowered and motivated recently to finally try to understand my anxiety. When it became evident, towards the end of my first trimester of pregnancy back this past March, that my anxiety was going to be made much more severe by my pregnant condition, I knew (partly because my doctors were telling me) that something had to give and that I needed to get a better handle on my anxious condition once and for all. Not only for my baby’s health, but also for my present and future well-being and overall happiness. Part of this process has involved seeing a psychiatrist and learning about meditation and mindfulness techniques. Part of it has been about exercising as often as possible and forcing myself to go out and interact with my friends and family members even when I don’t feel up for it. But, I have always been an avid learner, a true student at heart from the moment I entered my grade one classroom, and so I felt that I wanted to supplement my doctor’s appointments and daily activities with reading material that would allow me to come to grips with feelings I have had for my entire life. I never have put in the effort to truly understand my anxiety in this way, and I immediately picked up the self-help book Let That Sh*t Go by Kate Petriw and Nina Purewal hoping that it would be a quick and easy read that would at least help me feel a little bit better. It certainly did and it was good, but it wasn’t anything truly groundbreaking or earth-shattering and it didn’t by any means fundamentally change my perspective on anxiety. I next delved into a book recommended by my psychiatrist, Mind Over Mood, and this was of course a huge eye-opener to me in that it taught me the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy and worked wonders to help me reframe my insecurities and fears and better manage my heightened emotions. What I felt these two books lacked, though, was an explanation of what was going on in my brain, of the chemical, biological and physical mechanisms that were clearly contributing to my anxious state and probably had been since my birth. It was a desire to get to the bottom of these internal processes that led me to pick up Sapolsky’s book.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is easily one of the best books I have ever read, of any genre or category. (That’s right, I’m putting it right up there with Jane Eyre although it is, naturally, a very different text!) I was utterly blown away by Sapolsky’s work, and as someone who has never studied psychology and who only studied science up until the end of high school, I was thoroughly impressed by how accessible and relatable he made the scientific explanations in this book. This type of text could easily become overwhelming, but Sapolsky is very careful to keep things manageable for his reader, and he even infuses dry humour, jokes and wit into the text (especially in his often unexpectedly hilarious footnotes, which are a must-read in themselves). He of course uses terminology like “glucocorticoids” and names of “catecholamines” like “epinephrine” and “norepinephrine” often, but he uses them so frequently and explains them so thoroughly that the reader gets the sense, by the end of the book, that these concepts aren’t all that incomprehensible. 

I also made a conscious effort to take my time while reading this book, not because it felt dense at all, but because it did feel heavy. I admit, it was an emotional read for me because I could so easily and fundamentally relate to the findings that Sapolsky examined; I became one of the test subjects he discussed because I recognized how my experiences fit into the results and conclusions. On the one hand, it was nice to know that there is a scientific explanation for why I feel a certain way, but it was also jarring and terrifying to be confronted with so much evidence and research to explain something that I have kind of taken for granted for my entire life. It made my anxiety feel that much more real and that much more difficult to ignore.

Chapter 15, thus, became an incredibly meaningful chapter for me as it investigated anxiety disorders and the personality types that lend themselves to these sorts of disorders. Needless to say, I checked pretty much every box, and that was, as I mentioned, both liberating and scary. There was this sense, as I read, that Sapolsky just understood ME, on a fundamental level, and again, while it was nice to know that I am not alone in any of my feelings, it was also emotional. It made me even more moved when Sapolsky began to call anxiety a “disease” and distinguished it from chronic stress as being rooted in “a cognitive distortion”. Sapolsky posits that, whereas chronic stress is normally a response to an actually perceived external stressor (whether physiological or psychological), anxiety can arise due to stressors that are entirely imagined. This is definitely in-line with my own personal experiences, and while I appreciated the understanding Sapolsky’s description provided to me, no one ever wants to hear that they suffer from a disease. That’s not an easy pill to swallow, and I found myself realizing that I even exhibited anxious tendencies and behaviours as a young child (such as obsessive thinking and phobias) and becoming a bit saddened and melancholy about this. With my increased knowledge certainly came a better understanding of myself, but this wasn’t always a pleasant experience to be sure.

What I did gain, most definitely, was a better comprehension of the biology of anxiety and a greater appreciation of the fact that it is a physical, scientific condition rooted in the brain. I’ve always known deep down that my anxiety is not something I have very much (if any) control over, but it is easy to believe, when something is a mental struggle, that if you can just be stronger, you can get past it. That is, after all, what Milton suggests and that quote from Paradise Lost is still one of my favourites. What is important to remember, however, is that mental illnesses are in fact just as physical as clearly physical ones, and although I always had an inkling of that, Sapolsky’s book solidified it for me. It made it clear to me that I shouldn’t be hard on myself, that I might not be able to conquer this all on my own, and that is okay. It made me realize that, just as I would seek help for a broken leg, there is nothing at all embarrassing or shameful about seeking help for a troubled mind. On the contrary, it is actually quite important and necessary.

I’d like to close my review with a few quotes that particularly spoke to me from Sapolsky’s text. I will never be able to explain myself the concepts he espouses (he is a scientist, after all, and I don’t claim to be), but hopefully these quotes will give you a sense for how he writes and what value can be derived from picking up this book. It is one that has undoubtedly changed my life in so many ways and I would not hesitate to recommend it to those who wish to get to the root of what their brains might be undergoing on a daily basis.

Quotes That Particularly Resonated with Me:

“Anxiety is about dread and foreboding and your imagination running away with you.”

“the distorted belief that stressors are everywhere and perpetual, and that the only hope for safety is constant mobilization of coping responses. Life consists of the concrete, agitated present of solving a problem that someone else might not even consider exists.”

“most things that make us anxious are learned…we’ve generalized them based on their similarity to something associated with a trauma.”

“For all anxious people, life is full of menacing stressors that demand vigilant coping responses.”

***********

“Find ways to view even the most stressful of situations as holding the promise of improvement but do not deny the possibility that things will not improve…Hope for the best and let that dominate most of your emotions, but at the same time let one small piece of you prepare for the worst.”

“Find that outlet for your frustrations and do it regularly.”

“Have the wisdom to pick your battles. And once you have, the flexibility and resiliency of strategies to use in those battles…”

“Sometimes, coping with stress consists of blowing down walls. But sometimes it consists of being a blade of grass, buffeted and bent by the wind but still standing when the wind is long gone.”

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

How to Dress Like High Lord of the Night Court ~ SS Sponsored Post

Hello dear Readers and welcome to another post sponsored by my husband, SS! As you may already know if you’ve been keeping up with my posts here, my husband recently decided to read the A Court of Thorns and Roses … Continue reading

Summer Series ~ The Beautiful Books by Christina Lauren ~ #JNGReads

I have finally done it! I have finally finished the Beautiful series by Christina Lauren – check that off the Romance Reading Bucket List!

My first experience with the Beautiful series was when I noticed my mom reading Beautiful Bastard sometime when I was in late high school or early university. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in more “hardcore” romance, so I didn’t pick it up myself. It wasn’t until last year, when I picked up the final book in the series, simply titled Beautiful, and absolutely LOVED it, that the series was brought back to my attention. At that point, I had so many other books on my TBR and I was trying my hardest not to buy any more books, so I read Beautiful and then made a vow to pick up the rest of the books in the series at a later date. Fast forward to this year, when I discovered that my local library had an app available where I could request ebooks to read on my phone, and I started putting all the books in Christina Lauren’s most famous series on hold in rapid succession. Now, months later, after many sweltering summer days spent with these swoon-worthy characters, I am finished with the series!

I’ve posted reviews of some of the books in the series in other posts, so I will link them below. Once I got to Beautiful Player, though, I decided to start saving up my Goodreads reviews to include in one larger post, so you will find those reviews below as well.

1) Beautiful Bastard – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

1.5) Beautiful Bitch – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

2) Beautiful Stranger – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

2.5) Beautiful Bombshell

This short companion to the second novel in the Beautiful series (which I accidentally read after Beautiful Player…oopsie!) was plainly a lot of FUN! It was short and sweet, offering a concise story about one day Bennett, Max, Chloe and Sara spend in Las Vegas, and it was the most entertaining little taste of the life of these friends (as well as Beautiful Player’s hero, Will) outside the larger storyline. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in one sitting…highly recommend it to those engrossed in the Beautiful series! 

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

3) Beautiful Player

You’re so fucking beautiful, I didn’t say.

I love you so much, I didn’t say.”

Ah yes, another wonderful Christina Lauren escapade to keep me company over the last two sunny, summer days.

Let’s be real, I’m not ever going to have anything negative to say about any of the books in the Beautiful series. Are they masterful works of literary art? No, okay they’re not. But are they damn enjoyable and intoxicating? Heck yes. If you’re a fan of the romance genre, this is a series that absolutely cannot be missed, and I am pleased to say that Beautiful Player delivered yet another steamy, sweet and adorable story that I couldn’t put down. I adored Will – I am a sucker for tattoos, so I figured he and I were going to get along from the start – and I found Hanna to be really cute and genuinely easy to like. Of course, there are your typical cliché obstacles in this story, as in any romance, but there was nothing annoying about that because it’s exactly the delicious distraction I wanted. 

What I love most about the books in the Beautiful series, though, is how they all weave together. I love the fact that the main characters in each of the novels are best friends, and I particularly appreciated how much time Bennett, Chloe, Max and Sara received in Beautiful Player. I think this novel in particular highlighted the friendship between the main characters and really started to grow this cast of characters further. I especially loved that George got a brief cameo as well, and the whole experience of reading about Will, Bennett and Max’s weekly lunches and Chloe and Sara shopping with Hanna made me feel like I was a part of their friend group too. The little details about Bennett and Chloe’s wedding were also super exciting to read about, and because I read the final novel in the series, simply titled Beautiful, quite awhile ago, it was nice to be able to remember where each of the characters end up in that one and feel a smile coming to my face as I envisioned how much more wonderful their lives would get.

Needless to say, this is already one of my favourite romance series, and I already have Beautiful Bombshell in my hands ready to be cracked open. There’s no doubt I’ll be speeding through it because I just can’t resist hanging out with these new fictional friends of mine again.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

3.5) Beautiful Beginning

“‘We’re married,’ he said quietly, pressing another kiss to my belly button. ‘I’m your safe place. I’ve always been your safe place.’”

Honestly, what is there not to love about Beautiful Beginning? As a companion to Beautiful Bastard and a Happily Ever After to Bennett and Chloe’s love story, it is pretty well perfect! There is angst and anticipation and it is certainly incredibly steamy. But it is also sweet and adorable and there are moments that truly warmed my heart and reminded me of the days leading up to my own wedding to my husband. More than all that, it is actually a hilarious novella, and it focuses much more on Bennett’s character than any of the previous novels in the Beautiful series have, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I actually laughed out loud several times while reading this (the thought of Bennett, Max and Will chasing dresses down a highway was almost too much to handle!), and I had a permanent grin on my face from page one. 

This is a necessary read for lovers of the Beautiful series, particularly those who will always have a soft spot for the OG couple, Bennett and Chloe. I finished the entire thing in one day, and believe me, it was a day wonderfully and pleasurably spent!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

3.6) Beautiful Beloved

This instalment in the Beautiful series was a bit tricky for me to read, I have to admit. This is entirely down to the fact that I am currently about 7 months pregnant, and so getting a glimpse into Max and Sara’s lives after the birth of their daughter, Annabel, hit very close to home. I’ll be honest that I have struggled recently with reading the books in this romance series because they are EXTREMELY steamy…and being relatively the size of a whale right now and having my mind constantly consumed by thoughts of my baby (who is also constantly moving inside me), I haven’t felt particularly sexy myself in the last few months or even been thinking of that sort of thing. In that sense, Beautiful Beloved was probably the easiest story for me to connect to right now, as far as romances go, but at the same time, seeing Max and Sara struggle to rekindle their intimacy with their newborn a few rooms away was a tad jarring and nerve-wracking to me. Nevertheless, this was an essential story to read in this series, and I particularly liked being introduced to Max’s brother, Niall, who I know will play an important role in his own story soon. The bottom line is that Max and Sara are eventually able to find a balance between their love for each other and their love for their child, and that was really nice to see and certainly gave me hope for my husband and me. It was also really adorable and lovely to see two of my favourite characters from this series acting particularly domestic, and again, this is definitely a necessary read if you are a fan of the Beautiful series in general.

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

4) Beautiful Secret 

I really enjoyed this instalment in the Beautiful series! It felt very unique and different from the other novels in the collection, particularly because in this case, the hero Niall is the one who is inexperienced and uncertain. I found myself relating very much to Niall’s tendency to over-think things to the point of obsession, and Ruby was a charming heroine in her own right. I enjoyed watching her break down Niall’s walls, and their journey from lust to love was entertaining to witness. I found Niall’s hesitancy to enter into a relationship to be quite realistic, and while the story wasn’t very intricate, I found it to be a pleasurable summer read! And of course, any chance to encounter Max and Will again, even briefly, is always welcomed! 

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

4.5) Beautiful Boss

I think Will and Hanna might be my favourite couple from the Beautiful series. (Shh, don’t tell Chloe and Bennett!) As someone who was particularly into academics and considered getting my PhD in Literature for a very long time, I related to Hanna the most out of any of the heroines in the series. I think the main reason I like this couple the best, though, is Will Sumner, who is just delicious in every imaginable way. I’m a sucker for tattoos (I convinced my husband to get his first one just months before our wedding and now he has a full sleeve, which upped his hotness to exponential levels, in my humble opinion), and the fact that Will is both nerdy and sexy as heck has made him a standout character in the Beautiful series from the beginning. So, all that to say that I was really excited to return to a story about Hanna and Will, particularly one that starts off with their wedding. I also appreciated the exploration of Hanna’s struggle to balance her career and her relationship, and although the story was very short and concise, I thought it was a really well done investigation of how straining work can be on a couple from time to time. Once again, Christina Lauren have written an entertaining and enjoyable read, and I would say that Beautiful Boss is another must for all fans of the series to delve into!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

5) Beautiful – ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

That’s all for now, folks! I am quite sad to be finished with this series because I grew so fond of so many of the characters, but I am also very happy that I have it under my belt now because I truly feel it is a cornerstone of the romance genre. 

Have any of you read this series? If so, which of the books was your favourite one? Or (more scandalous question) which of the couples was your favourite?

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Leonard Cohen’s “Nevermind” ~ The Story of Rhysand & Amarantha? ~ SS Sponsored Post

This post is sponsored by my husband, SS, who is now apparently an expert on the A Court of Thorns and Roses series and world.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my husband randomly decided to pick up the ACOTAR series a few weeks ago. You can read all about my reaction to this rather extraordinary occurrence here. What’s most adorable about the whole thing is that he has now started to think about the characters, particularly Rhysand, even when he’s not reading (I’m sure all of us fans can relate!), and really not a day goes by that he doesn’t bring up Rhys somehow and compare one of his own daily experiences to something Rhys has said or done.

The other day, SS came home from work and told me I had to listen to the song “Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen. Granted, I have heard it before (I actually saw Leonard Cohen in concert years ago and was familiar with the fact that the song was used as the theme for the second season of the TV show True Detective), but SS wanted me to take a closer listen to the lyrics and think about how they described Rhys’ experiences when he lived Under the Mountain with Amarantha. I have to be honest, at first I really thought it was a stretch…but then I actually started listening and could really see where SS was coming from. The song is beautiful, more of a poem melodically spoken to instrumental music as is typical of Cohen’s style, and I really did get a sense of enclosure and claustrophobia from it, this feeling of needing to escape something or someone. Then, as I honed in on the lyrics, I did start to think about Rhys being trapped Under the Mountain and having to conceal his true feelings and identity, as well as forget (as much as he could) his friends and his home. I’ve included a few excerpts of the lyrics below, that SS hand-selected, and I do actually think they relate quite strongly to what Rhys describes as his experiences and struggles when he speaks to Feyre candidly in A Court of Mist and Fury. 

The war was lost

The treaty signed

I was not caught

I crossed the line

I was not caught

Though many tried

I live among you

Well disguised

I had to leave

My life behind

I dug some graves

You’ll never find

The story’s told

With facts and lies

I had a name

But never mind

Your victory

Was so complete

That some among you

Thought to keep

A record of

Our little lives

The clothes we wore

Our spoons our knives

The games of luck

Our soldiers played

The stones we cut

The songs we made

Never mind

Never mind

I live the life

I left behind

There’s truth that lives

And truth that dies

I don’t know which

So never mind

I could not kill

The way you kill

I could not hate

I tried I failed

This was your heart

This swarm of flies

This was once your mouth

This bowl of lies

You serve them well

I’m not surprised

You’re of their kin

You’re of their kind

Never mind

Never mind

I had to leave

My life behind

The story’s told

With facts and lies

You own the world

So never mind

I live the life

I left behind

I live it full

I live it wide

Through layers of time

You can’t divide

My woman’s here

My children too

Their graves are safe

From ghosts like you

If you’d like to listen to the song yourself, we recommend the lyric video linked here: “Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen.

What do you think? Has SS officially lost his mind and succumbed to his obsession with Sarah J. Maas’ series? Let us know in the comments below!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

✳✳✳ How It Feels When Your Husband Reads Your Favourite Series ✳✳✳

Last weekend, I woke up gently to the sound of pages turning beside me in bed. I kept my eyes closed for a few glorious seconds, reveling in the smell of well-worn and well-loved paper, and imagined what beautiful novel the pages might belong to. Then, it hit me: if I had my eyes closed, how could I also be reading? I couldn’t, and so that must mean that someone else was reading beside me.

Knowing that my husband isn’t much of a reader of books (graphic novels of the likes of Neil Gaiman and podcasts and Ted Talks are more his style), I immediately jolted upright, wondering who had intruded into my bedroom. It was then that I saw that very same husband of mine sitting up in bed with headphones in his ears and a book on his lap. After scrutiny of what I could see of the cover, I realized that he was reading the novel A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. My heart nearly exploded in that moment.

That’s right – my dear husband and father of my soon-to-be-born child had decided to start reading the ACOTAR series that morning. Not being much of a reader as I said (in his defense, English is his second language so he’s always been a bit of a slow reader and has found that frustrating throughout his life), he decided the best approach was to read my copy of the novels while simultaneously listening to the audiobooks to keep him on pace. He explained all of this to me after I managed to lift my jaw from the floor and ask him what he was doing with my book. He said that he had been wanting to get into reading fantasy for a really long time, and thought this would be a good series to start with because he knew how much I loved it and wanted to discuss it with me. My heart grew about ten sizes and I’m pretty sure I was the living, breathing version of the heart-eye emoji as I gazed down at him. 😍😍😍

Now, here we are a week later and he is just about to finish A Court of Mist and Fury. Imagine how fun (and funny) it has been for me to sit beside him, reading my own book, and hear his reactions to a series that is extremely special and dear to me. His running commentary first started towards the middle of ACOTAR when he started to feel “suspicious” of Tamlin and like he was a bit too much of a “cocky bro”. He then met Rhysand and decided that he was far more interested in him than Tamlin. He did remember me gushing over Rhys and so I think he had an inkling that there was going to be a big romantic shift at some point, but I found it hilarious when he started comparing himself to Rhys and talking about how he too likes to convey an unruffled and overly confident persona when faced with tough situations (ie- just like when Rhys is Under the Mountain and mouths off occasionally to Amarantha, seemingly without a care in the world). I do believe that there are many similarities between my hubby and the epic High Lord of the Night Court, but I can admit that I’m probably a bit biased…but, of course, I fed into his comparisons willingly and enthusiastically.

As he got into ACOMAF and did decide that Tamlin was a total knob, my husband started to compare the way Rhys rules Velaris and manages his Inner Circle to the way he manages at his workplace. He actually called me from work a few days ago to tell me about a meeting he had with his team, and he literally said the sentence, “Yeah, the way I approached the issue was basically how Rhys would have a discussion with Cassian and Azriel…” And I just said nothing for a couple seconds and then was like, “Oh, of course it was, baby!”

Now that he’s almost finished ACOMAF, he’s 100% invested in Rhys and Feyre as a couple and as rulers, and he is itching to get to some battle scenes (Just you wait, man, just you wait!). He’s also begun planning his ACOMAF-inspired tattoo (Could I love this man any more? I didn’t think so, but apparently I can!), to commemorate his reading experience. One particularly funny thing is that he has been quite critical, of all things, of the steamier scenes in the book, claiming that if Rhys were such a “god” in that department, he would know to do things a bit differently. I’ll spare you all the NSFW details of his rants, but suffice it to say that my husband feels that this specific talent is where he and Rhys deviate…making me, according to him, quite the luckiest woman in any world, fictional or otherwise.

Anyway, sorry for the long Sunday post, but I just wanted to get down my thoughts and feelings about my husband delving into one of my favourite series of all time…something that I never in a million years thought I would witness. It has been a romantic, entertaining and hilarious experience so far and I can’t wait to see how he fairs with ACOWAR and ACOFAS! And, when he exclaimed to me a few chapters ago that he “totally ships Feyre and Rhys”, all I could think was, “You and me both, babe…but never as much as I ship me and you!”

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart