My dear friend Tabitha put me onto Stephanie Snyder’s classes on Yogaglo a few years back.
Although I’ve never met Stephanie, or even been in the same room as her, she is my yoga teacher. It’s amazing how much wisdom she can impart while also giving your body, mind and heart a good workout.
The key to our freedom is through service … To serve love and serve each other.
I am filled with gratitude to be able to take a class with her whenever I get the chance. There is always washing to hang out or put away, and a meal that needs to be cooked, but any time I can get on my mat and do some yoga gives back to me ten-fold. Yoga is the perfect practice for pregnancy, postnatal aches and pains, and life in general.
I am inspired by how honest she is about her own struggles and failings, and how generous she is with her love and support. She is all about giving yourself permission to feel overwhelmed in early motherhood. I hope that this same spirit is echoed in our book.
Avalon Darnesh is a sharmanic birthkeeper and mother, who is on a mission to support women so they can awaken their full potential.
Have you ever read a simple idea and been so struck by it that it stays with you forever? That’s how I feel about a lot of things that Avalon Darnesh says.
I am so grateful for her work, and it’s inspired me as we have been working on our picture book for new parents You’re Doing Great, Baby.
The two biggest things I have learnt from her are:
Instead of putting your ‘parenting’ hat on, try just being yourself. It’s much more real and less energy.
If I’m in a funk or feeling angry, I visualise what my parenting hat looks like (e.g. stiff red velvet with a small brim), and visualise me putting on a totally silly beautiful hat instead (e.g. a floppy, felted purple hat with felted flowers on it).
We are very lucky to have another guest post. This time by the lovely Shannon Taylor.
Shannon is a crafting, beginner vegie-patching, freelance writing mum of two, living with a muso hubby and a pug on Sydney’s northern beaches.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anything can really prepare someone for first-time parenthood.
You know you’ll be tired. You know it’ll be hard. You know you’ll be sore. You know you will feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. You know you’ll be crazy in love with your baby and will do anything for it.
But no matter how much you expected to be tired, sore and clueless, and despite being totally crazy-in-love with your new baby, nothing quite matches the utter culture-shock of having a child of your own.
Now, I always was the maternal type. The one who, as a kid, mediated arguments, soothed boo-boos and make decisions when consulting a grown-up would have resulted in big-time big trouble.
As a teenager, I was the one who dealt with pissed-paralytic friends, broken hearts and friendship infractions. “You’re going to be such a good mum one day,” I’d always been told.
So when I became pregnant, I had no worries. I could do this! Motherhood would just come naturally to me. Mothering was what I did.
Parenting would be hard, for sure, probably the hardest thing I’d ever done. It would be relentless and I would be tired and my patience would be tested. My body would be weird.
But I would take it all in my stride, quietly and determinedly, like I had done pretty much everything in my life so far. Or so I expected.
I am naturally drawn to women’s wisdom. Most of what I read is non-fiction written by women, and I have too many heroines to name. I have written about women who’s work has in some way inspired our book, including: Cheryl Strayed, Pinky McKay, Gretchen Rubin and Stephanie Snyder.
The quote in the picture above is from Brené Brown – a Texan researcher and academic in the field of social work, who writes about vulnerability, love, shame and wholeheartedness. I discovered her through her TED talks and have read all her books. I am a major fan of her work.
I was re-reading the chapter on ‘Wholehearted Parenting’ in Brené’s book Daring Greatly, and I basically wanted to transcribe it all into this post because it is all so spot-on. In fact all of her books have nuggets of wisdom that are useful for parents. All of her ideas are based on interviews with hundreds (if not thousands) of people about their lives, their struggles and what is important to them. She distills what she has learnt into her wonderful books. I highly recommend seeking them out.
Below is a quote from Daring Greatly that I hope is echoed in our book. If I keep this in mind during those harder days, I find I’m kinder to both myself and my kids.
I know there are a lot of lists out there of what to do if a friend of family member has postnatal depression (PND) but I wanted to write my own list to capture the things that helped me. I’ve also had input from other women I know who have suffered from perinatal anxiety and depression.
PND and related mental illnesses vary in symptoms and severity from person to person. If you are concerned for the safety of a mother or her child/children then seek professional help immediately. There are resources at the bottom of this post.
Understand that PND is a mental illness. It’s no-one’s fault and it isn’t anything to be ashamed of.
Respect her privacy if she doesn’t want to talk about her illness, symptoms or treatment. Let her know you are there to listen if she does want to talk, but encourage her to get professional counselling/therapy as well.
If she does want to talk about her experience, do your best to listen without judgement.
Understand that she won’t be her usual self at this time. With help and time she will get better.
Tell her you love her and that she is going to get better.
When she is starting to feel a bit better, or on days when she doesn’t feel so bad, sharing a laugh together can be wonderfully healing for everyone. Sometimes laughter comes at the most unexpected times and babies/little kids are excellent to have a laugh with.
It’s important that you look after yourself. Supporters need support too.
It’s probably not helpful for her to hear a big list of the things she can do to to feel better. Depression and anxiety make it hard to make decisions and chances are she is aware of all the things she could be doing to feel better but is having trouble doing them. For example, rather than tell her she needs to eat better, try cooking her some nourishing food (fish, protein, fresh vegetables, soups, stews) and dropping it off at her house with no expectation of a chat unless she would like one.
There probably isn’t much you can say that will help them, but there is stuff you can do. Be guided by them. If she would like a chat then ask them how often she’d like you to call them and check in. If she would like to go for a regular walk, do that. If she would like you to come and play with the baby while she has a nap then do that. If she would like some adult company during the day then that’s a great way of showing support.
If she doesn’t want to see people please understand this isn’t a rejection of you – she just can’t deal with company at the moment. I really went to ground both times that I had the depression/psychosis and didn’t want to see anyone except immediate family. I really appreciated friends who let me know they loved me and understood that I would see them when I was ready.
Be respectful of her choice to either take, or not take, medication. It’s her call.
If she wants to seek the help of a psychologist or therapist (again, it’s her choice), do whatever you can to help make it possible e.g. offer to babysit while she goes.
Be ready to share in her joy when she is feeling better. Acknowledge her strength and courage.
Cut her some slack with getting *stuff* done. When I was at my worst I wasn’t up to eating, let alone cooking and cleaning.
If she does manage to achieve something in her day but can’t see it, remind her that she’s doing great.
Let her have good days and bad days. It is such a rollercoaster for everyone involved, but it’s going to be easier if you just leave space for her to feel how she is feeling.
If she needs time away from the baby then help make this happen. If she needs to not be away from the baby then be supportive of that too. She’s going to be the best judge of what she needs.
Random acts of kindness can really help. Whether it’s an unexpected meal, cake or box of fruit and veg dropped off at the door, or a pretty card sent in the mail, or whatever, random acts of kindness remind your friend you’re thinking of her.
Consider making routine contact. I had a friend call me every Monday during her lunch break at work. She knew my baby would be asleep and it was a good time to chat. If I felt like it, I answered the phone, if I didn’t she left a message. It could be an email, text, whatever, but regular, gentle contact will let her know you really are there.
Check with her partner how they’re doing and whether there’s any way you can help them to help your friend.
Sometimes she may need an advocate e.g. someone to accompany her to a medical appointment.
If it’s your partner who has suffered PND and you’re thinking about having another child, be ready to have open conversations about what you would do if it happened again. The book What Am I Thinking (referenced below) is a helpful discussion starter for this.
Pretty much every time I listen to Cheryl’s Dear Sugar Radio podcast, which she does with Steve Almond, I am struck hard by the truth of something she says. She manages to articulate things that my body/heart knows but my mind didn’t. I am so inspired by her writing and her honest, compassionate advice.
In an episode entitled ‘The Wounded Child Within’, the Sugars address a letter writer grappling with the question: “Are we ever able to fully let go of our past?”
In answering the question Cheryl touches on her own past (which included the all-encompassing love of her mother, an absent and abusive father, and the death of her mother when Cheryl was in her early twenties). After her mothers’ death, Cheryl became self-destructive as a way of coping with her grief. (She chronicles this period of her life in her memoir Wild.) In reflecting on how it is that she managed to survive that period of her life she said:
I had been loved too well to ruin my life.
This idea feels familiar to me, and yet I had never thought of it like that before. I want to put it in bold with rainbows behind it, because I think it is true and amazing.
My parents loved/love me in a way that makes me want a good life for myself and my own family. Their love is present in me like a cell that has divided again and again and is the blue print for my love for myself and my loved ones.
Their parenting wasn’t perfect (just as I am not a perfect parent). Can we just agree there’s no such thing as a perfect parent?
They did their best and there is something about their love which keeps me on a loving path with myself. It’s my safety net. I have had tough times in my life. I have made bad decisions. But ultimately I know how to love myself because of how they loved me.
But what if we weren’t loved by our parents in a way that nourishes us? My Mum had a troubled relationship with her own parents, and she felt saved by the love of her maternal grandmother. Her Gran’s love is present in her love for me.
Surely giving our children this love safety net is one of the greatest things we can do for them.
I find it very comforting to visualise an imperfect but beautiful safety net made of the love of all of my ancestors, present inside of me and my children.
Pinky McKay is a lactation consultant who writes about parenting. Her catch- cry is:
Be as gentle to yourself and your beloved as you are to your little one(s).
She talks honestly about mummy self-doubt, how overwhelming new motherhood can be, and how parenthood changes relationships with partners, friends and family. I found what she has to say about the wide range of ‘normal’ when it comes to baby sleep very comforting.
She feels like a kindly aunt rather than a parenting expert and every time I receive one of her newsletters there’s something useful in there. Her own children are grown up, but she still manages to remember what those early times felt like and her compassion and non-judgemental attitude towards new parents is very inspiring. Leo’s favourite muffin recipe is even based on her oatmeal muffins (I add choc chips and raspberries).
She was kind enough to write a lovely endorsement of our book.
It was through Pinky’s Parenting by Heart program that I found the work of Naomi Stadlen who wrote the great book What Mothers Do – Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. Naomi uses the voices and experiences of real mums to explore the unseen work of mothers and their incredible bond with their children.
Thank you Pinky for everything you do for new parents.
This is part two of a three part series about living with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT).
You can read about my story here. Here are some things I have learnt from my two experiences of breastfeeding (and supplementing with formula) due to IGT.
Best is best, sweet lady.
Only you can forgive yourself.
Try to make peace with, and love, your breasts. They are doing their best.
Give yourself permission to grieve and feel sad/disappointed/angry.
It’s not always going to feel so hard.
IGT fucking sucks.
Just because you can’t exclusively breastfeed it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed at all.
The vast majority of people who see you breastfeeding/bottle feeding/using a supply line won’t judge you. They may be curious if they see you mix feeding, but they won’t judge you. Women often give themselves a much harder time than anyone else would.
Surround yourself with support. Because IGT and related conditions are pretty rare, sometimes your best support will be from other mums online. Like the amazing IGT Mamas Facebook group.
Once I imagined love, rather than just milk, being transferred through both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, I felt so much better about it all.
It’s really annoying to read in a lot of breastfeeding literature that it’s very uncommon to have bonafide low supply (i.e. supply issues that aren’t due to some other issue with baby’s latch or introducing formula etc.) when you have bonafide low supply.
If you’re having a tough time in those early months, even things said with the sweetest of intentions can induce parental guilt. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.
Let’s celebrate the things people have said that were actually helpful! They will be different for everyone but I bet there are some that are helpful for lots of new parents.
One of the cards we got when Leo was born really stuck in my mind. As well as congratulating us and saying how gorgeous Leo was, it read:
I hope you’re enjoying parenthood and there are more ups than downs.
That one sentence, amidst all the cards saying how excited they were for us and how we should enjoy this precious time, meant SO MUCH to me.
It was the kindest little reality check. No judgement was implied – just a simple wish for happiness and an acknowledgement that early parenthood can be hard yards along with all the joys.
Helpful thoughts and practical advice people have shared with me:
This too shall pass (the good will pass, the bad too. So you may as well really be in this moment).
We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Make gratitude a daily practice.
Give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed.
Instead of putting your ‘parenting’ hat on, try just being yourself. It’s much more real and less energy.
It’s hard work being a baby – they’re learning so much and exposed to everything new.
You’ve got to be kind to be kind (rather than being cruel to be kind).
Motherhood is a marathon not a race.
Think about the sleep you’re getting rather than the sleep you’re not getting.
Start making dinner in the morning.
Say yes to whatever scares you most. Acknowledge it and then put your yoga to it. The fear will begin to shift and then you can see possibilities again.
Holding on tight is the surest way of seizing up any real potential for growth and change.
If something’s really not working then change it. Gently.
Unless babies have a poo in their nappy there’s no need to change them in the middle of the night.
Remind yourself that you’re doing great! (that’s the advice of our book).
In future posts I’m going to talk about some of the amazing people who have inspired me in my parenting (and inspired our book). I’m also going to write about the unhelpful things that people say to new parents.
What have been helpful things people have said to you? Please share the wisdom in the comments below!
As I get older and get to know myself better I see that a sense of community is integral to my happiness. One of my favourite authors, Brené Brown, talks about “the need to belong” and how universal it is.
As I mentioned in my post about loneliness as a new parent, we moved into a new area right before Leo was born, so we hadn’t had a chance to build up a local support network. In fact we didn’t meet our neighbours on either side until he was several months old. Once I had made friends and some new babies were born and other families moved into the street I felt like we were ‘home’.
Summertime is always lovely for getting to know people because we are all out of doors more. The photo above is from a very happy era on our street where the kids were toddlers and they played out the front until dusk.
Having a baby/kid is a great way of meeting new people. There’s mothers’ groups and playgroups, and when they are older there’s preschools and primary schools.
Any time I spend doing something that builds community gives back ten-fold. When I think of what community means, I think of:
Stepping out your front door and having someone to say “hi” to
Your kid playing with a neighbour’s kid
Helping someone with their pram going down the stairs
Giving a nod of solidarity and compassion when you see a parent with a tantruming toddler
Starting a meal train, or dropping some food off to a family when they’ve just had a baby or are having a tough time
Using collective buying power to start a food co-op