Decision. What a loaded word and one that has plagued me since I was a kid. Perhaps it was being branded as ‘indecisive’ early on that informed my increasing inability to make coherent, measured (oh bugger it, ANY) decisions without having a mini melt-down – or perhaps it is just a part of my personality. Either way, I’m under no illusion – I’m shit at it.
Going to a restaurant – what a treat eh? Nu-uh. Just you wait for the panic. Because there is SO MUCH YOU COULD HAVE. Yes I’m greedy, hands up to that one, but honestly how are you supposed to focus on any kind of lucid conversation when pages and pages of possibles from the menu stand in between you and your dining partner? There are, of course, ways to combat this – be aware that if I’m ever meeting you for lunch, I’ve already got my mitts on the menu beforehand. If I haven’t I’ll just go with what you’re having – gotta keep things under control and all. And this is all just mundane decision making – what about the heavy shit – jobs, life, love and all that? Luckily I’m part of an industry where you are often completely absolved of any decisions – but in the not-so -great way. As an actor you are often told who you are, or can pass for (tired, lonely lawyer – YUP right here!), and your agent is there to bat away questions like: ‘but if I sign this two month contract in Slough, I’ll be unavailable if Ken Loach calls ‘ – ‘Here’s the contract Saskia, sign it by the end of today’. ‘OK’. But in all seriousness, being part of an age and an industry where there is no set path to follow, or ladder to clamber up, means that making bold decisions is tough. You’re ultimately plunging yourself into the deep, dark, unknown and it can be thrilling, but it’s a lie if we don’t stand up and say that it can be scary.
And if you feel like me, you’re not alone. They say that the heart of unhappiness in the current age is too much choice. The world is open to us in a way that previous generations couldn’t possibly imagine – we can go anywhere, or do anything. Sod bucket lists – we have phone ‘Notes’, email drafts and notebooks scribbled with what we want to do, and finding time to do it all is nigh on impossible.
So considering all this – what happens when your life is pretty much thrown on its head and out of nowhere you have to make the BIGGEST decision to date? What happens when there’s no escape, when the decision isn’t something you can flag to deal with later? It’s always when you least expect it, that’s what they say, but I thought that was when a real handsome, intelligent, funny Joaquin Phoenix lookalike waltzes into your life. Not when you fall pregnant, unexpectedly (and you’re definitely old enough to know better). On top of this you have absolutely no idea until you have all seven tests lined up on the floor next to a near empty litre bottle of Evian, and a row of those two little perfectly parallel lines are staring back at you. Not forgetting the premium test that so kindly tells you the amount of weeks pregnant you are, letting you know that this really shouldn’t be new news.
Well obviously there are some signs – the most obvious being the lack of your period. But I’m not alone amongst my friends in the fact that my periods are irregular and have been for a while, thanks to the chopping and changing of birth control, the stress that London living puts on my body, and I guess my genes (thanks MUM). I’d also been riding a pretty death-defying emotional rollercoaster in the weeks leading up to test-day, but I’d been in a job that had been getting me down, working completely unsociable hours and not seeing my pals, so that kinda made sense. I was also, clearly, out of tune with my own body wearing my ‘busyness’ around like a badge of honour and using it to explain away all the problems. Anyway, Bev Knight sung it straight, shouldja wouldja couldja, and all that – none of it really matters when you’re faced with the test results (my sister is THE most intelligent person I know but also told me when I called her in panic from the toilet ‘meh they’re probably not right anyway’- turns out they’re 99.9% accurate, thanks Chloe **in her defense she now claims that she was completely in shock and felt like it was happening to her…) Apparently you should only ever go to the doctors for a pregnancy test if it’s saying ‘no, definitely no little babies in here’ and you are much more in tune with your body than I was. If it says you’re pregnant, you pretty much definitely are.
Now came the days of trouble. Luckily I was incredibly fortunate to be in a very loving relationship with someone who I had, since the moment we met, seen lodged very securely in some kind of future. And who, as that fateful night proved, was very much on the same page as me – after having thrown the pee sticks at him when I got back from work (oh yeah I’d done the first tests in a disabled toilet in the theatre I was performing at – a word of advice: maybe just wait until you’re at home or something yeah?), his immediate response was: ‘shall we get more tests?’ But deciding what to do with this new information was not clear-cut for us. And that feels dirty to voice, especially as I know of so many people close to us, as well as countless stories I’ve heard or read, about people who are absolutely desperate for those two little lines to pop up. And the heart-wrenching pain that comes through it not happening, or the pregnancy not working out. I can’t even imagine how one could cope with that.
But for us, having kids anytime soon was not part of any plan. We were both in the middle of acting jobs, had spent most of our earnings on booze and breakfasts for the last few years and, at that time, barely had any space of our own (we were living in a shared house). Yes all arguably very selfish reasons, but up until that exact point in time, I’d only ever really had to think about me, so it was pretty natural. So, rather than being flooded with joy at the results, I was, I must admit, more numb than anything. Perhaps it was my brain subconsciously aware that in this haze of fear I was going to have to make a decision one way or the other – very much against my nature. Or was it just the fact that this was really fucking massive?
Straight after we’d gone to the doctors the next morning (for now our 8th test), I ran off to meet a great pal for brunch – convincing myself that it had been booked for ages and that I REALLY NEEDED TO GO, OK. I sat down opposite her, no doubt coming across as incredibly wired, before blurting out what had happened. Luckily she’s an incredible human being and an absolutely beautiful friend. She listened, comforted and agreed that we could go for scrambled over poached (oh the fun of what I could and couldn’t eat was just beginning), and mostly made things seem a lot more real and manageable – for these reasons I’ll always love her to the moon and back.
What followed over the next few days was a lot of talking, thinking and list-writing. Yes we were incredibly lucky that we were able to make this baby, we could both recognize that (my boyfriend, Jonny, certainly had a few moments of shoulder-shimmying and pursed smug lips – he was a man who’d just discovered that his little guys are a fighting force, after all). But it would have been irresponsible not to have considered every side of what was happening and leave no stone unturned. We had to know that whichever way we went with this, that it was not in haste; that our decision was informed and considered. Getting headspace from London was a massive help and is now something that I would absolutely swear by. Changing up your environment even if it’s just getting up away from your desk and going for a wander will give you a touch more perspective and, without doubt, a clearer head. For us it was a night away in Eastbourne (oh the glamour of the British seaside in October!). So, we shut ourselves away in our hotel room, made use of the free hotel stationary and covered the bed with our thoughts. One thing that this time showed me was that lists are not just a useful way to get your thoughts into some kind of coherent sentences, but they are also a true signifier of what you want to do. Of course you can always find a positive to outweigh a negative – you can just keep on going and going until the imbalance of the list reads in the way you want it to. By the by, the same theory can be adopted in tossing a coin: if you can’t decide between two things, find a coin, toss it in the air, and listen to your reaction when the answer is revealed – DONE. And our lists worked as an incredible force for revealing what we truly wanted.
We read what the thoughts were all saying, then went to get some dinner. We came back, still feeling the same, and decided to sleep on it. We woke up the next day, confirmed that we still felt exactly the same, and made the choice to actually make the decision (and then see how we felt – and yes, the answer was exactly the same). Sometimes, big, bold choices in your life are great – on the spot YES’s or NO’s are exhilarating and feel powerful. But there is no shame in letting a decision settle in and figuring out your response as you go. If we needed a sign that we had made the right choice, the seagull that defecated right into the centre of my forehead the moment we left the hotel (a constipated old sod who launched his excrement like a luminous yellow pellet, leaving a little bruise on my head for the rest of the day) was perhaps a good one to go by.
So yes, we decided to keep the baby – now known as peanut to our friends and family – and I’m now approaching my 30th week of pregnancy (another thing that no one told you about, everyone chats in weeks the moment you get preggers- because in truth you’re actually pregnant for 10 months – WHO KNEW). Yes it hasn’t been all sunshine and butterflies – the weeks after we made the decision and kept it quiet weren’t always times of the kind of giddy excitement that you see on TV – sure there were happy moments, but they were still punctuated with tears, panics and nightmares. Even now I get pangs of sadness at how much I fear I am going to miss out on as the rest of my friends carry on as we were before. And let me tell you something right now – non-alcoholic beer just doesn’t cut it. Don’t even get me started on Schloer. But, not for one second have I regretted the decision Jonny and I made. And thank fuck the maternal instinct has kicked in. The first scan – prior to this everything was still shrouded in disbelief – left me gasping for air and fighting through teary eyes as the screen jumped to life, revealing our tiny little dancer giving it some for the camera. And it has only gotten stronger as peanut has grown (s/he is currently the size of a Pineapple, according to my pregnancy app), started kicking and getting hiccups after I eat certain foods (silly bugger).
DECISION as our new theme is therefore one that sits very close to my heart right now. Firstly, I know that whatever decision we had made would have been the right one for us. I just hope that if we had gone the other way I would have had the courage to write a piece in response to the theme. I think that’s what it boils down to, whatever method you use to make a decision (be it fast or taking your sweet time), it’s all part of the process and it’s all completely RIGHT for you. Do the things that will help turn the volume down on the background noise – I am a huge advocate for getting out or going for a massive walk. Swimming is also a good one. And if all else fails, make a list – it will tell you exactly what you’re thinking, before you’re even aware you’re thinking it.