Changing lives… with author of Our Altered Life – Charlene Beswick

Today I am welcoming author Charlene Beswick to the blog. Anyone following CharleneCharlene’s online account of her life with her children will know how much she loves them. What they may not know though, is the internal struggle Charlene initially experienced when she first learned that one of her beautiful twins – Harry – was born with Goldenhar syndrome, which meant only half of his face had developed in the womb. Later the family would discover that Harry had autism too. Charlene’s book – Our Altered Life – is an honest and often humourous account of the deeply emotional journey she and her family went on as they learned to create a different way of life together to the one they had been expecting. 

Welcome to the blog Charlene, please introduce yourself to the readers…

I’m Charlene from Staffordshire, I’m 39 years old and mum to twelve year old twins Oliver and Harry. I was a primary school teacher for eight years, which I adored, but the workload and impact on my health (coupled with the fact the Harry is autistic and thinks that sleep is massively overrated) made me quite ill in 2014.

I replaced my teaching income with network marketing. You only get out what you put in with that industry and as the spare time I had allowed me to immerse myself in my writing, my focus and income (eeeeek) dropped. I now focus on writing my blogs and supply teach when I am needed. Occasionally I consider selling a kidney on eBay but hang on to it, just in case.

I am a sarcastic realist and a self-confessed cheese addict who absolutely adores all food! My favourite quote is ‘In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take’ as I feel that’s completely true. I’m not religious but I am spiritual and I think my experiences over the last decade or so have reaffirmed to me the importance of trusting your gut instinct.

I am engaged to Andrew and he has two children too, so we are a merry band of seven (including Sherlock the dog).

What’s the most significant change you’ve experienced to date?

Becoming a mother.

I understand now why my own mum was so completely incapable of making me understand the sheer intensity and depth of the love she had for me and my siblings. It really isn’t a feeling that you can encapsulate in a sentence and I was excited to experience a love that would transcend any description. I always knew that motherhood would change me to a degree and I eagerly awaited the arrival of my babies through my pregnancy, but having a baby born with only half a face formed and complex health needs changed me in a way I could never have imagined and I was totally unprepared.

What were your initial feelings as you processed what this change would mean to you?

Wow, that’s a huge question.

Initially, if I am honest, I fought it. I didn’t want to be a ‘special needs parent’. That’s not the life I had been dreaming of. I felt that I had failed Harry massively and that I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I doubted my ability to love and nurture him, and Oliver – his twin, and I struggled to connect with the intense and unconditional love that I had expected would flood over me. Parents offered me tales of hope and groups to join but I just couldn’t bring myself to access any of it. It was as if I was admitting my life was never going to be the one I expected and I wrestled with the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it. It was a very dark time for me. I wasn’t offered counselling and have always been perceived as a very positive and strong person, so I painted the biggest smile on my face and slowly imploded.

That is completely understandable and a natural reaction considering your new reality. How did you approach managing the change once you had accepted it?

Accepting our new life was a very gradual process. My boys were born by emergency c-section at 32 weeks and weighed only 3lbs 9oz so they were in special care for six weeks which made it harder to bond I think. But as I got to know the boys I simply fell in love with them both. I confided my feelings in my mum (not my husband, which was fatal for our marriage) and I sought private counselling to deal with my own feelings of failure. I threw myself into knowing as much as I could about Harry’s syndrome and prognosis as well as the intense care that he needed as an infant. In no time at all I ‘felt’ like a mum and as soon as I was at peace with the life we had now, I almost evolved as a person. Sounds very dramatic but I really do believe my boys created a mum from the broken wreck I was and without doubt I am a better person now.

What did you learn from the experience?

I don’t believe that I am a perfectionist in the sense that the end result of everything I do has to be perfect, but I do always give 110% of myself and believe that I should apply everything I’ve got (plus some more) to a situation knowing that whatever the outcome, I gave it everything. Having Harry really challenged my self-perception and I think now, I accept that your best is good enough and you don’t always have to push that extra mile to prove yourself to anyone. I also trust that if you run off course it’s not always a bad thing and that often the scenic route teaches us so much more than the easier route ever would have done. I don’t beat myself up when things go wrong (like losing my business) and I think I have a better perspective on problems. I always ask myself ‘Will this matter in two years time?’, if the answer is no then I give myself permission to let it go, if it’s a yes then I have to think about the ways I can make tiny changes in the here and now to help in the long run. Being so logical can be tricky for me as I do follow my heart over my head, but so far it’s helping to keep my blood pressure stable at least!

How do you feel about change now?

Strangely I have always chased change, even as a teenager. I love new beginnings; new jobs, new friendships. The idea of walking into a room full of strangers excites me as I just don’t know who I will meet and how we may affect each other’s lives. I thrive on change and see it as a challenge and adventure. Certainly, raising my boys has been the biggest adventure of my life. Change is inevitable. For me, fighting it is pointless and so it’s better to just roll with it and see where life takes you. I’m getting ridiculously philosophical in my older years!

What would your top tip be for someone going through a similar experience?

Don’t feel that you have to be brave all the time. It’s okay to have a pity party, just don’t live there. Try to keep some perspective on exactly how significant the challenge is rather than panicking straight away and don’t be too hard on yourself. You ARE enough. And make sure you are talking to people and being honest about your feelings.

Finally, if you could change one thing what would it be?

I would go back in time and tell myself exactly what I have said above. I thought that being brave meant never crumbling. Ironically, the bravest thing I did was to go onto antidepressants when I realised that my mental health was suffering. The only time you fail is when you give up on yourself.

Oh, and I would make all cheeses fat-free but taste-full (sorry, I know that’s two things!)

Wise words, Charlene. Real courage does lie in accepting that you might need help for a little while, and that it’s okay to be kind to yourself as well as others. I also think a lot of people would agree with your plea for fat-free and taste-full cheese! Thank you so much for taking part in ‘changing lives’.

Our Altered Life by Charlene Beswick

Our Altered Life

Synopsis: After a healthy twin pregnancy, Charlene and Mark were shocked to be told that one of their boys had been born with half of his face undeveloped. In seconds, the happy family future they had been planning disintegrated into turmoil and uncertainty.

Laugh out loud funny in places, heart-wrenchingly sad in others, and refreshingly honest at all times, Our Altered Life is Charlene’s wonderful account of how she struggled to forgive herself and bond with a baby she didn’t expect. Follow her transition through grief and anger, challenges and triumphs, loss and acceptance, to love for the life she has now with two children she wouldn’t change for the world.

Charlene has given anyone affected by facial differences, a glimpse into the innermost feelings of what it is like to travel this journey. Our Altered Life, with its adorable anecdotes and thoughtful considerations on life, makes for a compelling read. You’ll laugh and cry through this refreshingly honest memoir and when you finish, you’ll feel empowered by this relatable story of fierce love.

Erica Mossholder, MBA, Executive Director, Children’s Craniofacial Association

Buy the book

Social Media Links

Facebook: Our Altered Life

Instagram: Our Altered Life

Twitter: @ouralteredlife

Find out more about Goldenhar syndrome.

Don’t feel that you have to be brave all the time. It’s okay to have a pity party, just don’t live there. Try to keep some perspective on exactly how significant the challenge is rather than panicking straight away and don’t be too hard on yourself. You ARE enough. And make sure you are talking to people and being honest about your feelings.

Author Charlene Beswick

If you enjoyed reading this interview and would like to take part in the changing lives series, please use the ‘contact me’ form on the blog.


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