Childbirth and becoming a dad

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Becoming a dad is a rites of passage. In transition i’ve been connected with all seven base level human emotions - anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise. I’ve also taken a minor financial hit in the form of hospital car park payments.

It started when at 39 weeks and 2 days of a ‘low risk’ pregnancy my wife Jen popped into the hospital for a check up after a day of slightly reduced baby movement. Initial checks (heart rate and movement) were fine, but a follow on scan showed borderline results regarding placenta functioning and it’s ability to provide appropriate oxygen and blood levels to our baby. I took the phone call at work and Jen was in tears. The consultant had recommended she stay at the hospital and begin the induction process that very night. This news came as a big shock. We’d invested a huge amount of time and effort into a planned natural home birth. I headed home and we spent an emotional few hours talking through our options with Jen’s mum and Natelie our doula.

 *note - A doula is a woman or man who gives support, help, and advice to a couple during pregnancy both during and after the birth. Info -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doula 

That evening the babies movements were fine and given the borderline results we opted for a second scan the following morning to clarify findings. The next morning we spoke to a different midwife about our results and she gave a far clearer explanation of what was happening. She also explained that the results were a concern, rather than an immediate risk. This put us at ease somewhat and help clarify why they were recommending the potentially lengthy process of induction rather than a fast-time intervention such as an emergency C-Section.

Standard baby checks were again fine, however due to the babies head now being deep within the pelvis they were only able to provide a partial read from the second scan. These results showed improvement which gave us initial hope, however without a full reading they didn’t have a complete picture and again we were recommended to stay in and begin the induction process. Hope was replaced by resignation. 

‘Our ‘vision’ home birth was gone.’

Even if we’d gone ahead with it, the whole event would have been shadowed with fear and anxiety. A state which would be in complete opposition to the calm and relaxed environment we knew optimal for a natural and uncomplicated birth.

We provisionally booked in to begin induction that evening but realised coming home we weren’t ready. We’d both slept terribly the night previous and were still grieving the loss of the home birth. Neither of us were in the right mental state to begin the potentially long slog of induction. We made the decision at this stage to shift back beginning the process to the following afternoon. We would still monitor babies movement and be into the hospital if anything shifted. However this time would allow us to first clear the decks at home, getting rid of the home birth kit, packing away the birthing pool and tidying the house. Secondly we used this time to pretend we were in early labour. We batch-cooked a chilli, got some decent sleep and went for lunch in a local cafe. Home birth grieved and processed we felt positive and in the right mindset to head into the hospital.

Jen then had a massage from Natelie just before we departed which involved further discussions about our situation. This unsettled her again somewhat and I found it quite hard to suddenly hear her doubts having been so clear. We argued a little and then agreed that this wasn’t helping. We were going to go to the hospital but would remain checked in with one another every step of the way. From my coaching experience I got the impression that Jen’s doubt here was a very natural last minute fear-driven resistance. One that can often surface just before making a step towards unchartered waters.

We arrived at the hospital, were admitted onto the ward and left sitting alone on a hospital bed in a tight space encircled only by only a curtain. The situation proved to be a real low moment for Jen. We were in the exact place we’d done everything in our power to avoid being. It was tough to see her so upset. I comforted her as best I could and shifted into hunter gatherer mode taking the only decision that could possibly go any way to improving matters…I headed off to fetch food. Outside I got chatting with a tall South African gent who’s wife was in the bed next to us. They’d begun their induction that morning. Turned out they only lived two roads down from us which quickened the bond. I appreciated the brief space and birth partner to birth partner sharing.

The interaction settled me somewhat, but on returning it was clear that Jen was still mentally somewhat shell shocked. It is rare I have ever seen her in such a low and uncommunicative state. A midwife then appeared and explained what would be happening and then we had a visit from a clinical consultant. We enquired more about our earlier scan results and the need for induction and she looked us both in the eyes and laid it down pretty direct and clear. At the time her straight talking approach really shook us up, however in reflection it was useful in help clear any remaining doubt we had about the choices we’d made.

Something that didn’t help our anxiety is that after this blunt conversation the monitoring system Jen was hooked up to showed what appeared to be a very low heart rate for the baby. We panicked and called immediately for the midwife. Turned out that was in fact Jen’s heart rate and we’d been looking at the wrong reading!

After this I then started to fully register the environment we were in. It was time for me to have ‘a wobble’. The appearance of multiple doctors and midwives at our bedside had really shaken me up. Up until a few days ago my wife had been through a low risk, smooth pregnancy, building up to wonderful, calm and surreal birth of our child at home. Now we were here, surrounded by interchanging medical strangers, bleeping machines, greenish walls, square plaster roof tiles and smell of hospital food.

I was upset and angry about the environment we found ourselves in. Jen was described as had a ‘patient’ number, but was she sick? Or was she about to move through the most natural life experience there is on earth? We knew that the space for an optimal birth experience was a relaxed, quiet and low lighted place. One where the all important hormone for birth, oxytocin (the love hormone), would flow. Instead, from what I could see everything in the environment we were was working against this. My expectations of what to expect on a labour ward couldn’t have been more far off.

The arrival of a midwife to set Jen up with the first pessary broke my depressive brain pattern. From now on they would be dropping in to monitor the baby every 6 hours. We were now free to roam so took a stroll to a different part of the hospital, grab a drink and regroup. Talking things through we finally came to acceptance. 

‘We we here, we weren’t going anywhere else, we’d make the best of it and when we ‘left it would be as three.’

Back on the ward we prepared the curtained space we had to make it as comfortable and homely as possible. This included bringing our own pillows, affirmation cards, lamp from our bedroom and a family photo. This made us both feel better and helped counter some of the environmental flaws I’d reflected on earlier. We then got into bed together to distract ourselves watching a recent episode of one of our favourite t.v shows, ’The Apprentice’. I then left, heading home to allow Jen to get some rest. Living only 4/5 minutes away from the hospital assisted in making this decision. 

At 3:45am I had my anxious sleep broken, receiving a text from Jen with an update from the midwife baby monitoring. All had gone well with observations. Jen was experiencing some lower back pain and regular tightenings, signs she was moving in the right direction. She further reported she was feeling strong, positive and really looking forward to seeing our baby. This was like music to my ears. It felt fantastic to read this and know that after all the stress of the past few days Jen was in a good headspace. My emotions got the better of me as I cried a little before drifting off into a light snooze.

Then just after 5am I received a second text from Jen stating that she might be having contractions and although not to rush, it might be worth my heading back in. I slid out of bed, took a cold shower, threw some clothes on, packed up a final few bits and drove back in.

Arriving at the hospital it was clear from Jen’s discomfort that business was picking up. Not that the midwife on duty had appreciated this. Jen had been arguing with her for the past hour regarding her status. Jen knew instinctively that her water had broken and she was having regular contractions. However the rather lackadaisical midwife took some more convincing and it wasn’t until she finally completed a vaginal examination would it be confirmed that it was game on. Jen was 4cm dilated and now in active labour!

This came as a real surprise. From what we’d understood the induction process was a long road and the whole birth scene unlikely to happen for at least another 48 hours. This was not the case for us as Jen gripped my shoulders to work through another intense contraction, it was on like donkey kong! 

More cavalry arrived in the form of Natelie as we helped shift Jen into our allocated delivery room. This status shift meant that Jen would be allocated a 1-2-1 midwife to monitor proceedings. Thankfully the midwife on duty that night was the brilliant Lois. Lois was a well spoken Jamaican lady and had been operating as a midwife for over 34 years. Her calm and confident presence was most welcome and I could tell by Jen’s instinctive response to her arrival we were in good hands.

Once we were in the room it was clear Jen was really going through the rounds. The rapid rate of her contractions giving her little time to hydrate and catch breathe before nature sent her back out into the ring for more. Jen naturally found her position on her knees, on the floor, rocking back and forth over a birthing ball. We then introduced gas and air for the first two breaths of each contraction to help take the edge off contraction intensity.

There was no time to think or process. I was in complete response mode, championing Jen, making her as comfortable as possible and responding to any of her or the midwives requests without question. Sometimes right with Jen at the centre of the action. Other times on the outside waiting for my next tasking or opportunity to support in any way possible.

One amusing moment was when Jen requested I spray water on her face to help her cool down with a water bottle we’d brought with us. All gravy, however having not tested it I failed to realise it didn’t have a soft spray option and instead was to fire a powerful thin stream of water directly into her face. One go with that and it was thrown aside never to be seen again.

Then, only an hour after being in the delivery room Jen reported the urge to push! With this news the midwife would need to check that she was fully dilated requiring her up from the floor and onto the bed. This took quite an effort but eventually we got her up. When the midwife carried out the pitch inspection it was confirmed that she was fully dilated (10cm) and babies head low and fully engaged. It was time to shift gears and for the baby to begin its journey down the birth canal. No ‘rest and be thankful’ phase for us.

Jen continued to work through the contractions, Natelie keeping her cool and hydrated at the front, me supporting with light touch massage at the back, the midwife working around us to monitor progress. On occasion Jen would go very quiet and then suddenly let out a deep groan that I swear at one stage shook the room.  A medieval sound more likened to that of some kind of creature from Game of Thrones than anything remotely human.

Then, after about 40 minutes there was an indication from the Lois we weren’t far from the final whistle and she pressed the call button for the second midwife. She promptly arrived and a tray with apparatus was wheeled to the foot of the bed. I remember pausing for breathe and time slowing down at that moment, in a matter of seconds our child was going to be with us.

It was time for the main event as the midwife announced the appearance of a head and I stepped back to sneak a look. My word, our child wasn’t fully born yet and it turned out he had more hair than me! Back to the front to continue to support Jen as me, Natelie, Lois and the second mid-wife championed her through the final pushes. Then the moment, I witnessed that first cry.

At 7:58am weighing in at a lightweight 6 pounds and 4 ounces our son Jack was born.

After some very quick visual checks from the midwife the next step was to get the baby onto Jen for that important skin to skin. This proved difficult as the umbilical cord was very short and Jen had delivered Jack on all fours. Thankfully, we managed to get him under her legs and onto her stomach to begin these special moments of connection. Then a bonding of my own, I was invited by the midwife to cut the cord. It felt a little weird to be cutting a piece of Jen’s body that was attached to my newborn child but a memorable moment none the less.

The next hour was rather bizarre. A minute after things had somewhat settled we both shed some tears of mixed joy and relief. Then at 8am a shift change, sadly the wondrous Lois was suddenly replaced with an eccentric, old fashioned english midwife who’s first act was to try and put an oversized red wooly hat on baby Jack’s head. It made him look like a misfit. This didn’t last and was quickly taken off and thrown to one side by Jen. She then tried to forcefully get Jack to latch on to Jen’s breast. Totally inappropriate and again shut down quickly this time by both Jen and Natalie.

Hat dramas aside at the top half of the bed everything was wonderful. At the bottom half however there was some concern. Jen had lost quite a lot of blood during the delivery and was now struggling to deliver the placenta.  After numerous attempts to pull the bugger out a decision was made it would have to be surgically removed in theatre.

The details of the low risk operation were explained to us and Jen was swiftly wheeled off to be knocked out under general anaesthetic. I was then left with baby Jack in my arms and Natelie for company. The sudden quiet and moment holding Jack in my arms was very special as was the next…his first poo! The earth moved beneath the towel under Jack and I was christened with a large volume of black tar-like substance called meconium. A substance I have since been told is made up of mucus, amniotic fluid, and everything a baby ingests whilst in the womb. Man, it went everywhere. Spewing out his all over my chest, stomach and destroying my favourite pair of diesel jeans. Welcome to fatherhood.

An emotional hour passed and Jen returned a bit groggy but awake from her operation. We remained in the hospital for the day and night returning home the following afternoon. I’ll never forget the first time coming through the door with Jack, it was like entering a brand new home. It was the same house but everything in the environment somehow felt different, a complete energy shift. That second night was challenging. Jack fed continuously throughout the night in order to assist and bring on Jen’s milk production. A minimal amount of sleep for all three of us. This event we since found out is known as ‘second night syndrome’ for babies.

The following day we then had some more difficult news. The blood loss Jen experienced meant that her breast milk had come late leading to Jack showing some mild signs of Jaundice (quite common in newborns). We were back to the hospital two days in row for blood tests and eventually it was recommend he had phototherapy treatment. This meant it was back onto the labour ward for another night at the hospital :-(

Heading back into hospital was mentally challenging having left just 48 hours earlier, however we knew it was for his long term good. The therapy would involve Jack lying on top of a blue lighted mat which could also be taken of his cot and wrapped around him for breast feeding. One of the most difficult elements of the treatment was that he had to wear a pair of paper eye covering googles wrapped around his head that also covered his ears. This caused great discomfort initially, however he thankfully settled as we moved through the night. 

Their was a silver lining. Two of the couples from our NCT (National Childbirth Trust)  antenatal classes were on the ward having recently birthed their own babies. It was great to check in with them, share stories and have a baby social in our room. Thankfully Jack responded well to the phototherapy and we were released the following evening. The next day was the first day in over a week we hadn’t been to or at the hospital. We were finally all clear to begin settling in at home as a new family. 

Since that time things haven’t been easy but we are slowly getting used to our ‘new normal’  as parents. With all of the anxiety, stress and emotion of that first week, the second week was somewhat of a comedown and natural rebalancing. The biggest challenge for us the loss of our structure and routine. Jack’s needs overriding everything for now. If he decides to want to feed for 90 minutes at 1am in the morning, so be it.

I’m writing this with Jack peaking at me from his ‘sleepy head’ cushion and reflecting the whole experience has got me more closely connected with the wonder of life and humanity. His arrival inspires me to recommit to my mission as a coach. 

I want my son to exist in a world where coaching is a fully understood, recognised and professionalised service. 

A world where as a man he can have access to a men’s group and gain informed access to both counselling as well as coaching support when he needs it. I’ve already began working with him in this way. From a coaching perspective he has mid-term goals around walking and language. He made an appearance online in my men’s group, where he had space to ‘process’ the drama of birth and come to terms with fact he’s never going back in. Right, enough of this writing business for now, I’m off to take a nap…it could be another long night.

Clive Maxheath

Men’s Personal Development Coach, Son, Brother, Husband and Father :-)

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In publication of this blog post I would like to acknowledge the following people and organisations.

  • Natelie Henriques (our doula) -  From day one you have been an incredible source of knowledge, support and wisdom. Anyone reading this who is either pregnant or looking for post-birth support, check out her website here - http://www.motherandbumpmassage.co.uk

  • The inspiring steam that work on the labour ward at the Q.E hospital in Charlton, in particular midwives Louis and Charlotte. What an amazing job you guys do, delivering up to 80 babies every week!

  • The NCT (National Childbirth Trust) organisation and the couples who were part of our excellent antenatal classes. Any future parents reading this, check out the NCT website here - https://www.nct.org.uk/

  • The ‘Working With Men’ organisation for delivery of their one-day expectant fathers course at Lewisham. A great training and opportunity to connect with fellow future dads. Check out the amazing work they are doing in the community here - http://workingwithmen.org/

  • Our family and friends who in both small and large ways supported us the whole way through.

  • Finally my wife Jen. For many years I have listened to you voice your fear of birth, but in the past nine months through both physical and mental training you turned it around. Well babe, the hard work paid off. I am grateful, proud and love you dearly xxx


Enjoy this blog article? I co-host a podcast with fellow coach Micheal Hilton called ‘Men on Form’ and sat down with him to share experiences (Micheal has 3 children of his own) in a recent episode titled ‘Childbirth - New dad reflections’ . Links to the podcast here:

Ituneshttp://bit.ly/2Men_On_Form

Stitcher - http://bit.ly/2Men_On_Form_Pod

Podbeanhttp://bit.ly/Men_On_Form_Podbean


Interested in personal development coaching and want to find out more? I offer a no-cost 45 minute introduction session to explore partnership potentials. I invite you to get in touch direct via my contact page on the button below if you’d like to start a conversation:


Trying times - A story of getting pregnant

 
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I remember the conversation well, it was Christmas 2016 and I and my wife Jen had made the decision to remove the biological goalkeeper and begin trying for a child.…it was our time! We agreed to ‘make the most’ of that particular party season. Next year there may well be a poo-ing, sleeping, feeding bundle of joy with us for Xmas dinner we thought!

 

Buoyed by close friends and family reporting quick fire pregnancies we were optimistic we’d be the same. In our mid-thirties, sporty and (putting the occasional large gin and tonic aside) healthy, we’d be fine. It was a simple case of commitment to the process and surely we’d get the result we wanted.

 

The early months of 2017 passed pretty uneventfully, we had a sketchy look at the time of the month, did ‘the deed’ and that was that. It was once the spring came around the early inner niggles began. Trying for a baby was become well ‘trying’ and even the use of that word didn’t sit comfortably with either of us. As the great Yoda once said:

 

‘Do...or do not. There is no try.’

 

Well, that’s great master Yoda…but you ever ‘tried’ for a baby fella?

 

We began digging into the process of getting pregnant, gaining a clearer understanding of related biology and timings. We were a team, but being members of the opposite sex this experience clearly meant different things for both of us. In terms of reporting, I would get a monthly thumbs up or thumbs down, for Jen it was something that she carried with her day-to-day. Various body responses giving hints or clues as to what may or may not be going on.

 

Once Autumn arrived the frustration dial had been cranked up. More bedroom time can never be a bad thing, but timing and ‘performing to hit a deadline’ can really knock the romance out of the dance. Autumn also highlighted a trip to Japan that we hadn’t got booked earlier in the year in case we got pregnant! Our overconfidence and naiveness had cost what would have potentially been fantastic trip :-(

 

By this time the ‘trying’  had truly become a large part of Jen’s daily life. Rather than beginning her first minutes awake with a soothing cup of tea, she instead rose early to pee on a stick and check in with ovulation cycles. Personally, I felt one of my values of ‘fairness’ had somehow been biologically trashed. I was frustrated and upset. Over dinner we both admitted how held back we both felt, this ‘trying’ was now taking over and having a huge impact in our lives.

 

It was here we decided to reclaim control. Speaking to friends it was clear that the ‘Facebook effect’ and hearing only a limited perspective of experiences had influenced us, We’d been naive. After all, how many people openly share the news they are not pregnant for the month. In personal conversations, it turned out many couples around us had struggled with a variety of related issues.

 

From now on would be making plans as if wasn’t going to happen, taking full advantage of the things we could do as a couple who weren’t pregnant. Jen did her PADI diving qualification (I had mine already) and we booked a holiday to Egypt. Where we could take control, we did, including speaking to our doctor and completing some fertility testing.

 

We also began to look at and get excited about the potential of adopting. We attended an information session and began finding out more about the process. We’d both always been passionate about the idea since we first met so after months of the struggle it was great to have a different option to get excited about.

 

As a result, we entered 2018 with a new action plan. We would carry on ‘trying’ however if by October Jen was no longer pregnant we would stop and begin the adoption process. Having both a plan A and a plan B meant we stepped into the year far more relaxed about our situation, comforted by having 2 outcomes that both excited us.

 

Then, the evening before flying out on holiday to Egypt at the end of January Jen reported she was late. When first told the news I remember I mentally panned it off as another misfire, however an initial test (and then another for completeness) confirmed it. Jen was pregnant. I remember that night after finding out barely sleeping a wink. It all felt surreal. As I am writing this Jen is 28 weeks pregnant and that feeling hasn’t changed.

 

So that's been my story so far with at least getting pregnant. I appreciate everyone’s experience with this will differ. When it comes to becoming or not becoming a potential parent there are many choices one can make, many different outcomes. What I do know is that for me the support of close friends, family and in particular, my men’s group with processing what was going during this time was invaluable.

 

For any couples out there about to start ‘trying’. My advice is to research some of the basics, however, plan as if it isn’t going to happen and if it does readjust along the way. That way you won’t be missing out on lost opportunities. We never know what result the biology roulette wheel is going to throw up, it would appear all the planning and coaching in the world can’t guarantee that.

 

If you’d like to hear more about my ‘getting pregnant’ story I co-lead a podcast called the ‘Men on Form’ and produced an episode (number 28) discussing the experience. You can download this and other episodes on one of the following podcast platforms here:

 

Ituneshttp://bit.ly/2Men_On_Form

Stitcher - http://bit.ly/2Men_On_Form_Pod

Podbeanhttp://bit.ly/Men_On_Form_Podbean

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If you’d like to reach out and get in touch regarding this article or coaching matters, contact me directly via my contact page here:

 

Mud races and obstacle courses - A ‘Tough Guy' challenge story

There was an eerie stillness of nerves and anticipation as smoke bellowed across the field below. Then, with an ear shattering Boom! the cannon fired. The cries of hundreds of combatants in the air as we stormed downhill toward the enemy ahead. Was I on an 18th century battlefield? No, I was in Wolverhampton on a cold January morning and this was Tough Guy 2016!


The quest began 6 months before on a somewhat warmer summers morning. A ‘fun challenge’ I’d thought, running a mud race with a group of like-minded guys. A quick google search led me to the ‘Tough Guy’ website. I glanced briefly over the material, sent invite messages to friends, gathered responses and made a booking for a small team of us in double quick time. 

It was only a few weeks later when cheerfully introducing our challenge to a mate over pint that the alarm bells were raised. His response was coupled with a very concerned face of sudden concern.

‘Oh mate, I did that 2 years ago…utterly brutal, never again’ 

At home that night, my research hat was now on. The event covered 15 km sprinkled with all manner of fearsome looking obstacles, it wasn’t going to be a turn-up and ‘wing-it’ type deal. Turns out I'd committed us to one of the toughest mud race events on the circuit. An initial response of anxiety was cooled by a deep breath and realisation that the event wasn’t tomorrow. We had time on our side but we needed a plan!

Getting through the event required fitness to cover the 15km distance and strength to get over and under the many obstacles. To match the objective I quickly designed a number of hybrid gym sessions combining sharp bursts of cardio with sets of body weight strength training. I then diary locked them across the next 3 months for personal accountability.

Second, I organised some group training sessions with the other men. Bouldering (indoor climbing with no ropes) was sociable and going to prove to be decent training for the obstacle sections. I coordinated a Saturday morning session for us at a the ‘The Arch Climbing wall’ centre in South London -  www.archclimbingwall.com

Getting outdoors was important too, so for the second session, we met in a local park to run through some circuits. Not quite as much fun, especially when I found out the hard way a bar I attempted to use for pull ups still had ice on it from the night before! 

At the start of the new year, we had a cold weather blast where for a few days in a row it dropped below zero degrees centigrade. Fear of the cold kicked in along with a noted a Tough Guy statistic:

‘A third of those who start…fail to finish.’

Anxiety returned.

The response was an Amazon purchasing frenzy. In coming days some neoprene gloves, a vest pair of socks and a hat arrived at my door and I purchased proper trail running trainers. A pair of running tights, long sleeve compression top and breathable sports t-shirt were quickly added to complete my new wardrobe.  As I began to train in my new outfit. I was amazed at just how well the neoprene gloves and socks responded to the wintry conditions. All good news, although I did now look slightly like a running deep sea diver :-)

With the last few training sessions under the belt, me and fellow ‘Team TG’ members Darren and Ray were our way to Wolverhampton. We’d decided to drive up the evening before and stay overnight in a hotel which proved a great idea. We weren’t going to be confronted with any sudden travel problems and the choice left us free to relax on the eve and morning before. Our long-suffering partners were also going to be coming along with us, their support both welcome and highly valued.

After a huge breakfast, on route to the site I remember experiencing

‘Conflicting feelings of fear and confidence’

A glance at the weather forecast helped cool anxiety. It was cold and going to rain first thing, but we weren’t going to be experiencing any sub-zero temperatures. 

Arriving on site the setup was rustic with wooden huts, and a huge barn. An initial walk past a St Johns ambulance vehicle was a chilling reminder of the realities of the situation. There might be pain, there could be blood! There were to be 4500 competitors with a further army of supporters and course organisers taking on-site numbers up to nearing 10000. The place had a festival-like feel, a hum of anticipation and buzz in the air. Here’s a ‘live’ video I shot at the scene that captures the emotion:

We were to be starting near the back which meant we got to stand with our nerves a little longer. Shuffling towards the start line felt like moving toward going over the top (except of course without the guns) a truly mental experience - anticipation, anxiousness, and endorphins all firing at once. A flavor of what it must have been like to go into battle. I say a flavor, as I do remember sharing a joke with a gentleman dressed as a woman with a short skirt and long pink pig tails - I’d spent my outfit money on weather combating lycra, he’d clearly chosen to focus more on 'the look'. 

A few minutes later after a slow trudge up the hill we were there, the start line. Things all suddenly happened rather quickly - after a countdown, the cannon fired and we were off. After a bum slide down a grassless hill, we were up and into a light jog, the cheer of supporters helping us on our way. After all of the build-up, it felt good to finally be underway. 

*Note - If you missed it there is a video of the start of the race taken by one of our partners at the beginning of the article.

The first half of the course is a country run with obstacles spread out including a lot of over and under cargo nets. The first really challenging section required us to run up and down a 50m hill, brutal on the legs. At one stage we were jogging behind a crazed 40 something-year-old gentleman who’d decided to complete the course wearing very little clothing but carrying a trumpet. Every now and again he would play a few notes and get people laughing or shouting along with him.

Shortly after followed a volume of waist high ponds we were required to go through, working both legs and arms hard. The repetitive nature of this task made it brutal, not even lycra can protect you from an ice cold soaking

There were some small touching moments here as strangers became teammates for but a moment, working together to help one another in and out of the water.’

10 minutes after this section we experienced one of the scarier moments. A man slipped and went head first over one of the wall obstacles in front. Thankfully he turned in the air just before hitting the floor, avoiding serious injury.  With all of what was going on, I was glad to be in a group. We looked out for each other, took turns to lead and waited for one another where required to stay together.

The second half of the course is where the majority of the building work focus had gone. A back to back maze of obstacles to challenge both body and mind. Nerves were back in the air as we approached. We were going to be pushed hard, but had a bonus in the form of regular support from our partners and the rest of the crowd. 

One of the obstacles was a shuttle run through some hanging electrical wiring. When legging it through I took one for the team - a 'zap' on the shoulder scaring the living crap out of me and making others laugh. A more dramatic section of the course concerned a run and then jump over a flaming fire pit. Personnel thankfully on hand with fire extinguishers should someone fall a little short on their leap. 

Then there were the lake sections. Here I felt for my team member Darren. Wearing contact lenses,  he’d been carrying some goggles around his wrist the whole way for this very section, however, climbing into the water, on removing them they snapped?! We looked at him, he stared back for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and kept moving forward, we soldiered on.

One of the toughest parts of the course concerned a bottleneck of people waiting to climb down some ropes. The delay meant we were standing with time to think (and get cold). Our minds drifting away from the present and into the fear of challenges ahead.

We kept moving as I tried to mentally block out the sight of a number of people dealing with St johns ambulance personnel in the background. One girl had dropped out with what appeared to be a foot injury, another man was wrapped in tin-foil towelling, shivering, clearly struggling with Hyperthermia. Our sluggish jogging now slower than walking pace, we made it to the final lake with the finish line in sight up on a small hill the other side. Time for one more moment of drama, the rope was snapping up between our legs as up as we pulled ourselves up the last hill! One miscalculation here and we might've fallen at the last stand due a fatal hit to the nether regions! 

Thankfully we all managed to survived this last challenge, fears fading replaced with relief as we each hauled over the finish line. We’d made it through as a team, knackered, dirty, cold but gifted by with a warm sense of achievement. 

Moving back into the main organisational area a different kind of madness ensued. Caked in mud we grabbed our gear and were ushered into a crazy communal shower barn. Indeed, getting clean in such conditions and into fresh clothes was quite the challenge itself.

Back in the car and finally warming up I did a quick health check. A bruised knee from a slip on one of the climbing obstacles, some cuts on the other leg from a crawling section, all in all I’d made it through pretty unscathed. Looking out of the window I remember beginning to space out, I'd sleep well that evening and indeed for the next few nights…

Clive Maxheath - Men’s Personal Development Coach

P.S I produce a newsletter every month that includes a personal development toolbox (book, app, podcast and video), along with event updates. Sign up here:


As an addition to this article here’s advice from my experience for those considering one of these types of challenges:

  • Do your homework before making the commitment. Although on the surface it may look like fun and games many of these events are serious undertakings with risks associated. If there are any health doubts i’d recommend speaking to a medical professional before signing up.

  • Get booked up well in advance in order to give you time to plan, train and manage logistics. Also ticket prices are sometimes cheaper if booked earlier :-)

  • Carry out research and invest in some appropriate gear for the challenge ahead. (Or take an off piste approach run it in your underwear as i noted a few entrants did!)

  • Recruit others to do it with you. The camaraderie and support of doing it as a group really helps and you’ll have the experience to share together for the rest of your lives.

  • Fear around these events is completely natural. Being organised, well trained and leaning on the support of others is what will counterbalance and get you over the line:

‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’

Here are links to four of the most popular mud races as well as a related community website.

  1. Tough Guy (Last race in 2017) - http://www.toughguy.co.uk

  2. Tough Mudder - https://toughmudder.co.uk

  3. Spartan Race - www.spartanrace.uk

  4. Nuclear Races - http://nuclear-races.co.uk

Community website ‘The Muddy Race’ hosts online community, related information and has details concerning a huge number of related events all in one place. 

 Link - https://www.muddyrace.co.uk


As well as being a Tough Guy 2016 race completer I am a Men's Personal Development Coach - details of my services are contained on the other pages of this website. If you want to find our more and start a conversation, click on the button below to be taken direct to my contact page:

You can also link in with me on Social Media at any of the following touch points:

 

Mid-twenties crisis to working as a men’s coach

 

By 25 I felt like I’d ticked all the boxes – I was cruising through life, unconsciously striding British society’s well-lit path. I’d exceeded expectations at school, swanned through sixth form and loved my university days – all I needed was a job that paid a half-decent wage and I’d just landed it! It really was as simple as that.

However, once the initial excitement of my employment and a pay cheque or two wore off, I began to feel that something wasn’t right. “It was something that would pass,” I told myself. I had everything a mid-twenties young professional could desire right?  As the months passed, my feeling of uncertainty didn’t. On the rare occasion that I was on my own alone (I didn’t like being alone!), these thoughts of frustration would appear. Relentless voices in my head saying “you’re not fulfilled, something isn’t right”.

‘My world was turned upside down’

On reflection, perhaps I didn’t give these voices any space to be heard. Old “survival” habits I’d carried over from university were seeing to that – dance floors, a heavy social drinking habit, and a sport watching obsession. Distractions enough to keep those voices down and out of the way, safely in the depths of my shadows. Little did I know the gold that lay beneath.

Things suddenly shifted. In a matter of week's I broke up with my girlfriend, moved out from home and received news my younger sister was to be facing life-threatening cancer. My world was turned upside down. I’d been confronted with the realities of life, of the mortality that is our human experience. I’d no longer ever take tomorrow for granted.

Spending more time alone in self-reflection, my inner voices were finally heard. As the truth surfaced from the darkness I could see I wasn’t getting quality or fulfilment at the deepest levels of my life. I didn’t have my “Why?”

Confusion naturally followed. On one hand, I had all I’d thought I’d ever wanted, though here now, I realised that was all on the surface and underneath I was in the opposite state, I was lost! I craved change, I was hungry for inner exploration and external action to understand what was happening to me so I could get clear on where the hell I was going – and why.

Being an analyst by trade I was going to start collecting data for a very personal piece of work, my own self-diagnosis. To begin I set up a folder on my laptop called the “life project”.

The internal work would be done in the external form of Journaling. This was the qualitative data set I would utilise to review, analyse and identify patterns. With structure I would self-stage regular monthly reviews, then in time full year reviews. Within these sessions I’d list key successes, note patterns (e.g. an inability to say “no”, leading to tiredness) and areas I wished to change/improve.

I studied goal setting. Setting myself regular goals, underpinned by self-accountability to weekly and daily tasks. This process generated quantitive data which when coupled with the qualitative results from my journal gave me a rich picture of where I stood and where I was consciously heading. Working holistically, inside and out, I slowly began to unpack and rebuild my life, making changes for a new version of myself, connected with who I was at the core and who I wanted to become.

My “life project” had identified a desire to teach and by taking action, I landed a secondment working as a youth team leader, supporting 16 to 24-year-olds for The Prince’s Trust charity. The charity supports young adults to re-engage in either full-time employment or education. Completing this work uncovered a natural aptitude for coaching and motivating groups in a classroom environment. Another identified desire was a deep need to travel, which with hard graft and a goal mindset, became a dream come true – backpacking around the world for a year.

‘Don’t drown the pain or ignore the questions’

On my return from my global adventures, I knew needed the support of other men and found it in the form of Kenny Mammarella D’Cruz’s MenSpeak men’s groups. This inspired me to continue my work with groups incorporating coaching – this time with men, creating The MAP. Today I have my challenges, but I am fulfilled. I’ve found my “why” in the form of coaching men to “walk their talk” as piece-by-piece I serve and develop my practice.

For anyone who may be experiencing this time in life, my advice is not to drown out the pain or ignore the questions. Keep asking, keep testing and maybe start a “life project” of your own. For a long period I chose to go it alone, but in hindsight engagement with others at an earlier stage would have helped me to realise what was happening within me and make some required changes sooner.

If you need to take action, engage with one of the MAP services here and start “walking your talk”. For a safe place to talk, groups such as Kenny’s enlightening MenSpeak groups are well worth a try.

My mid-twenties crisis was a challenging, confusing and very lonely time in my life. I now consider it my great teacher, a gift in terms of giving me insight into my purpose, passion and personal potential. Next step – live from my “Why”, serve others and become the best coach I can possibly be.

By Clive Maxheath

 

Undercover agent finds men’s groups

 

In my late twenties by applying self-development techniques I’d learned from books, I lifted myself out of my mid-twenties crisis. Back then I was like a personal development version of an undercover agent. I was like James Bond (except with less hair and without an Aston Martin in the garage), doing what men are supposed to do right? going it alone! With my new powers and focus, I could manifest anything I wanted. In search of goal achievement glory, I ran a marathon, nailed promotion and traveled around the world for a year.

‘Then something shifted…’

Returning from travel I noticed something was different. The post-travel blues set in as low energy and a state of mild depression took over my psychology. Setting goals and taking action still brought results but something was missing. I tried explaining to my friends that I was facing challenges. But there wasn’t much time for a gentleman who was struggling because he wasn’t traveling around the world (after a whole year) anymore.

Then something shifted. I was listening to a podcast called ‘The New Man’ and the host Tripp Lanier was talking about men’s groups. I was inspired. The moment I took my ear plugs out I knew I’d found my next step. It was time for this undercover agent to admit, with this particular mission he could no longer go it alone. I immediately began my search and through the internet found Kenny D’Cruz’s men’s group service – Menspeak. I liked the sound of what he was offering and without hesitation signed up to a meeting later that month.

After just one meeting I knew I had found the place where I was finally going to get some answers. To share my feelings like this was fantastic and the experience of getting authentic feedback invaluable. Feedback devoid of conditional, pre-defined projections of who I was, was worth it’s worth in gold. It was refreshing to hear I wasn’t the only one who struggled. There were other agents out there feeling insecure and getting angry with themselves sometimes too. Sharing experiences with other men gave me a deeper understanding of where in my psychology current challenges were coming from. By sharing them in this way, I felt clear and able to move on.

‘Missions and Goals’

It was at one meeting when Kenny mentioned Missions and Goals I realised the next stage of my quest. With my personal development knowledge, there was a place in the men’s group arena for a new type of group. Kenny’s groups were about self-awareness and ‘being’, where my group would provide a complementary focus on the ‘doing’ part of the work. My service would be about group accountability and support with taking action for men and their plans. I established the Men’s Action Project (The MAP) in Feb 2012.

Every month leading the group coaching program was a learning curve and I was amazed at the successes and life changes experienced. With the support of my now mentor Kenny I was able to capture key learnings and make improvements to my delivery session on session. On completion we

‘Celebrated our results’

Including; a job promotion, smoking kicked to the curb and a weight loss/fitness goal knocked out of the park. From here I’d go on to run another two group coaching programs.

For five years now I’ve been going at it with the support of like-minded others. In my men’s group, I have a team to regularly discuss both internal and external challenges with. I’ve had my ups and downs, but day by day I am succeeding and learning. A less undercover and more overt operative than in the past. In summary with the support of other men, I’m a more confident, successful and ultimately happier agent than before.

Interested in men’s group coaching? I’m recruiting for a new men's group coaching program starting in January 2018. Details concerning the group coaching program and link to my contact page here:

Want to talk? The button below will take you to Kenny's Menspeak men's group site where you can find out more: