‘Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it’ Buddha
I have invited people to share their Rubies in the Rubble stories, their experiences of glimmers of hopes and silver linings. No matter how tough the day, week or month, there is always something good to be found amidst the mess. Whether it’s the snotty kiss that grounded you on an awful day, or how a random act of kindness gave you renewed belief in mankind.
Keep an eye on this page for some great guest blogs, or view the #rubiesintherubble hashtag on Instagram and share your own!
I’ve followed Harriet on Instagram for a while now. Her approach to life, her honesty and her lack of fear around discussing topics that so many of us shy away from, is what draws me back to scrolling her blog! She may well feel fear however, as she clicks ‘publish’ on some really weighty topics, but she swallows it down in the hope that others will find comfort and voice in her words. And they do. She is the creator behind Toby&Roo, a popular parenting and lifestyle blog aimed at sharing the wins and woes of parenting. She is a mum to three, four if you count her wrinkly pooch Yoda who even has his own popular Instagram page. Harriet is a self-confessed coffee addict and mum bun wearer in dire need of a nap, she’s a hide and seek legend and self-certified nerf gun warrior. You can find her on Instagram, facebook, twitter and her blog.
My rubies in the rubble experience was my miscarriage. It sounds silly to say that something I found so profoundly distressing, something that cause such grief at the time, was a ruby in the rubble experience. It was though.
Before Edith I fell pregnant with another little soul, Toby was around 18months old and we weren’t delighted to be honest. We came round to the idea eventually but it was sooner than I expected and it was a bit of a surprise to say the least. If I’m completely honest in the first few weeks of pregnancy we both felt as though it was a bit of an unwelcome entity that was about to make our lives 100% more difficult and it was something that we just couldn’t get excited about. Then around 4 weeks pregnant I started to get excited, even though Adam remained stoically displeased that baby number three was on it’s way, a baby he professed he never wanted to have. He was done at one, perhaps two at a push but never three. Those weren’t his slightly unhinged and sleep deprived dreams, they were mine. Still, I told my girlfriends who laughed and joked with me about being breeding machines and I rang the midwife to book myself in for an appointment. At 6 weeks and 3 days I noticed a pinkish discharge at work, still working in that retail job that I never really loved. I put it down to an implantation bleed – I had already had two babies and miscarriages are the most common for first time mums right? Yeah, I would be fine.
The following day, whilst playing at home with the kids I slipped off the swing. I looked at my husband and knew that something wasn’t right, within minutes I felt a wetness and rushed to the toilet to find I was bleeding. We decided that I would drive through to the hospital on my own and that Adam would stay with the boys, I would be fine, it probably wasn’t a miscarriage Adam kept reminding me, it was just a bleed. Don’t panic – but I knew. I was panicking because I knew and yet resigned at the same time.
At the hospital they asked me to come back for scans to determine whether this was an early pregnancy miscarriage (EPC), taken blood tests to check my hormone levels and sent me on my way. We had three days of waiting, of questioning whether there was a baby still growing inside – Adam feeling the brunt of my upset with me telling him I *knew* there was no baby there, knew that I had lost this baby and him trying to be his usual infuriating, optimistic self.
Once confirmed that I had suffered a miscarriage I felt such a sadness and if I’m honest I felt a resentment towards Adam, he didn’t want this pregnancy anyway. I distinctly remember turning to him one night in one of the mammoth fights that followed and shouting the words “Why do you care? You didn’t want the baby anyway, you’re probably delighted that I have…” It was one of those arguments where all the resentment, all the anger that he went to a football match when I had only just had a miscarriage instead of being with me, the resentment that he was never excited about anything but his stupid football or sports came rushing out in heated words that I thought I meant but hadn’t really considered.
He said nothing, I went to bed.
A few days later I was speaking to his mum and I mentioned that I didn’t think he was bothered at all, still stinging from a lack of communication between the pair of us and an invisible barrier that had wedged it’s way between us. It was only then that she told me about a conversation that they had together when Adam had taken the boys up for a visit and I wasn’t feeling up to it. His mum told me that when the kids were playing he broke down and told her how sad he was, how much he had wanted this baby – for him, for me, for us.
That evening we had a talk (mainly me, I’m the talker… constant talker) and we opened up with each other in a way that we hadn’t for such a long time. We broke through the impasse that had been sat in front of us for so long, broke through the invisible wall that was built on miscommunication and resentment. I had booked us a trip to Center Parcs because I wanted to run away for a few days, forget the miscarriage and the sadness. It’s there that we fell pregnant with Edith and it’s that very thing that really brought us closer together as a married couple.
Had I not had the miscarriage I think the resentment would have continued – in a way it took that for Adam to realise that he really did want another baby and for me to stop blaming him for everything.
Edith was our ruby in the rubble, but so was opening up and having a healthier dialogue in our marriage.
Now, I’ve not known Kelly long but I knew that if I ever met her, she would become a friend. By the time we met in Feb 2018, she already was. She exudes an infectious warmth and honesty, and her #rubiesintherubble story tells of how something wonderful has come out of a journey of someone she loves so much, being devastatingly diagnosed with Huntington’s disease.
Kelly’s mission is to raise awareness for Huntington’s Disease, and she shares her story over on her Instagram (along with tales of motherhood drenched in openness and encouragement). But she is also hugely passionate about equipping people to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and live a little more in the moment. I have been using her Bees Knees journal for more than three months now and it has become a valued part of my daily routine.
So, I’ll leave you here, with Kelly’s powerful story that will have you grabbing the tissues for a few different reasons. Thank you Kelly. I feel immensely honoured to call you a friend.
Summer 2004, aged 18, enjoying the summer holidays, university weeks away and not a worry in the world.
Dad calls my sister and I downstairs, and we grumble our way out of our rooms, pretty annoyed at the parental interruption to our teenage VERY important business of MSN Messenger, listening to The Kooks on repeat and planning the perfect ‘first day at uni’ outfit that would give a message of, ‘I’m cool hang out with me’ whilst also saying ‘Whatevs, I’m so chill, here if you fancy a chat’.
Ushered into the kitchen by a nervous looking Dad, we were invited to sit at the little round table in our kitchen, where we found Mum, head down, a serious lump in her throat clear to see.
‘They’re getting a divorce’ was my first thought. They’d been fighting recently, Mum had seemed to be angry, a trait she never had being a gentle natured, period drama loving, caring, quiet bookworm.
I sat down ready to take the news and watched as Dad looked at Mum before taking a deep breath.
(Heart stops, throat closes, shoulders tighten)
‘Mum’s going to get more poorly, but we don’t want you to worry, we are going to take care of things’
(Heart plummets into stomach)
Dad went on to explain that Mum had a condition called Huntington’s Disease. He explained that they had known for several years but didn’t want to tell us until it started to take control. It was important to them that this didn’t affect our childhood.
Huntington’s Disease is a genetic neurological condition that attacks the brain, affecting a person’s control over everything; rationale, eating, walking, talking, empathising. It causes a person to choke, slur speech until speech is no longer possible, consumes their body with involuntary jerky movements, affects their ability to think rationally bringing depression, mood swings and aggressive behaviour in some cases and in a shitty nutshell, takes everything from them but doesn’t kill them but rather weakens them until something else takes their life. It’s known as the Armageddon of diseases, likened to Motor Neurone, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s put together. Symptoms begin from any age between 30-50 and life expectancy is between 5-20 years.
Mum had started to scrape the car on occasions, walk slower alongside bumping into us when walking and we had noticed her foot would move up and down when sat cross legged. She had also begun to move her fingers whilst sat with her hands in her lap. Both my sister and I had noticed these things but not enough to talk to each other about it and had just put had put it down to Mum being clumsy.
Dad then took a moment to pause before telling us both that this disease was hereditary and that there was a 50% chance we carried the same gene. At this point, Mum completely broke down, and sobbed with her hands in her lap and her head bowed down visibly consumed with guilt, fear and pain. She sobbed the words ‘All I care about is that you two don’t have this. I’m so sorry’. It was like 7 years of waiting to say those words to us poured out of her in one crumbling sob. It broke my heart.
To be honest, the experience is quite a blur to me, but I remember this moment crystal clear. My sister sobbed for my mum. She was so over protective of her and gave her a cuddle. Dads’ eyes filled with water and he shook it off to be strong for us all and I sat there completely still, bolt upright and silent. I remember telling Mum not to worry, and that it was cool. The conversation was left in a very non chalant manner as my sister and I wandered back to our teenage business to try and digest the information whilst going about our mindless tasks; Mum and Dad suddenly on new territory, wondering what to do next. Do we let them have a moment? Do we make them talk? I can’t imagine what they went through mentally following that conversation.
That was it. We didn’t really talk about it again for a while. Mum just started to get more poorly, and we just took each day as it came. After all, who could be prepared for such a thing as Huntington’s Disease?
Just as a side note, back when Mum and Dad had us, there was no genetic test for HD. In fact people didn’t know much about it, and so families had children just like everyone else. Much like a family with a history of different cancers, this was the same. You just focussed on the positive and believed that any illnesses would be cured by the time your kids grew up. In 1997 a test became available to determine if someone carried the gene and would develop the disease, and as Mum and Dad were planning a third, they decided that for them, it was something they needed to know before making a decision. It goes without saying they never tried for a third child.
So there was my rubble. This was my war zone. A new world to navigate, new thoughts to digest and suddenly a mum who might not be around when I grow up and potentially my fate in life diagnosed at 18. There’s a 50% chance I am going to become disabled, unable to talk and eat and probably die young. That’s a challenge for an 18 year old let me tell you.
My parents gave me everything I ever needed growing up, and continued to make my life as normal as possible as Mum’s disease progressed, and to this very day they do the same. Mum is now 14 years into the condition, and although my mum in every way, it’s been a really long time since I was able to say ‘Mum, what do you think? What shall I do’. That’s been especially difficult since becoming a mother 8 months ago. I’ve missed her in those helpless moments when you feel like the only one in the world who has ever left your baby crying in the cot just to take a breath and refocus. I guess that’s where Instagram has been an incredible community for me.
I can tell you that I tested negative for the condition. After 13 years of fearing it, I was given the result that I needn’t worry anymore. The only way I can describe the 13 year built up to that moment would be to say it’s like having a gun pressed against your forehead every minute of everyday, not knowing if it’s loaded and if it is, when it’s going to go off. It’s the most intense weight I’ve ever known and around that, you have a mirror image happening live to the person you love most in the whole world; Mum.
There is a story to my Huntington’s Disease journey, and that is over on my blog but my negative test result for the condition is not my ruby. It would be wrong to call that result a ruby. It was a flip of a coin, and the coin fell the way I would have hoped and that is where I leave it. People don’t know what to say when you test for a condition like this, but a few comments that I struggled to digest in the weeks following the news was ‘I always knew you didn’t have it’ and ‘It’s good karma. This is because you’re a good person’. People mean so well, but comments like that would destroy me. Nobody deserves Huntington’s Disease, neither do they earn their freedom from it. On top of that, you can not have a ‘feeling’ someone doesn’t have this condition. Until the age of 46 my mum was just like everyone else, fully able and sound in mind. It was a gene defect. You can’t see it.
So what is my ruby? Where is the gem? How can there possibly be something wonderful in such a tragic circumstance?
The ruby came well before my test result. Amongst that struggle, and in the thick of that minefield came the gift of perspective. One of the most useful tools I’ve ever owned, and one that has served me well in some crappy situations since, including divorce, losing my home, almost losing my business and indeed, testing for this condition.
I don’t know when it was born within me, but what I do know is that it has matured more and more as each day goes by and I learnt quite quickly that this trait was infectious to those I had around me. Having the ability to reset pretty sharpish, as well as finding a way to stay calm amongst a whole host of serious situations has now become my calling in life. I’ve gone from a frantic, running out of foundation is the end of the world, my fucking hair got wet in the rain I’m fuming type of girl to a ‘Kelly, remember you here and you are alive?’ kind of woman. I mean, it’s definitely got more depth than that, but that thought goes through my head a lot when I feel myself surging into a frenzy. I don’t want you to think I have this dialogue with others. I couldn’t possibly. Every experience is valid no matter what it involves. This event in my life actually gave me huge compassion towards others and their struggles. I’ve not got a bitter vein in my body for my situation and I’ve learned to understand that my life experience is not another’s, and therefore everyone’s mental band width is directly proportionate to what they’ve experienced. I appreciate their worry and understand it’s within the limits of their knowledge and personal ride. It’s not my place to pass judgement, neither their job to understand life from my perspective. However, this mindset has equipped me personally to be able to deal with situations much more logically, and in turn gave me a toolkit to help others to refocus, find something positive and to stay cool when things get too much. I’ve become the calm in the chaos and that is truly a lesson learnt. Just like a diamond is a piece of coal that did well under pressure, this skill I’ve developed is a ruby that was discovered amongst the depths of my rubble.
I don’t want to sit here preaching about how much perspective I have on life, like I waltz through my days on a pedestal of positive outlook without a worry in the world. That would be a lie and I’m an honest story teller. I still have my moments. Life is still ever evolving. Things are always new. Motherhood. Relationships. Business. The world as we know it. They are always changing and inter changing. New rubble could be just around the corner. I still cry when I feel like my to do list is going to make my head implode. Or scream at my partner when I feel like he doesn’t understand the new pulls of motherhood. It’s normal for me to rush my way through a few weeks before I take time to stop and reset or to catch myself moaning about the washing basket and how it’s slowly taking over the bathroom. But what’s changed is that every night (and I mean every single night), I lay down on my pillow and say thank you. I think of all the things I am lucky to have, and I close my eyes peacefully with no anger, negativity or worry. I am ok. In that precise moment I have all that I need to be safe, warm and at peace. This repetitive outlook has shaped the way I cope with tragedy. I feel empowered by the experience that was thrust upon me at 18 and that turned my world upside down. My ruby in the rubble was the person I became through the struggles I faced and I am a kinder, stronger more genuine person for it.
I now fundraise directly for the project that is constantly discovering new treatments and potential cures for Huntington’s Disease as well as chatting about HD over on Instagram to try and raise awareness. By doing this, I feel like I am contributing to a better future for those who didn’t get the result I did and it helps me to accept my result knowing I am dedicating a chunk of my life towards that research.
There are always things that have a negative impact on us and I could choose to focus on the negative way this all affected me. But I choose to hone in on the positive. I hold on, with pride, to my ruby.