Grateful for: Pinky McKay

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.

Pinky YDGB praise

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.

 

Inspiration for our illustrations

Jeff needed quite a bit of persuasion before he was willing to draw the pictures for our book. I like to call him “the reluctant illustrator”. It sounds all elusive and brooding – which if you’ve ever met Jeff is totally not how he is.

I love Jeff’s illustrations so much, and it was incredible to watch his drawings get better and better as he practiced. I’m going to do a post about the evolution of the artworks soon.

While we were still coming up with the story, we toyed around with the idea of having illustrations of lots of different parents and babies (a la favourites The Baby’s Catalogue or Look At You! A Baby Body Book). But in the end we decided that the best way to tell the story was to depict one parent (a Mum – the most common primary care-giver) and baby.

A lot of the illustrations you see in the book were inspired by experiences we had had and photos from Leo and Clem’s early life. Here are some examples:

On the rug with Dad

Illo inspiration 3
Both boys loved this hold when they were feeling over it in the evenings.

I will spare you the photo of me going to the toilet with a baby on my lap. Although variations on that scenario happen almost daily, we had to stage it because funnily enough that wasn’t part of our family album.

Continue reading Inspiration for our illustrations

Our story so far

I want to share some snippets of our story to show why we wanted to write You’re Doing Great Baby.

When I was a new mum I read A LOT of blogs and articles about things that I was going through and wanting to learn more about, and I found it really helpful and normalising to read unvarnished tales of motherhood. I hope that in turn it is helpful for people to read about our story.

The main challenges I faced when I first became a mother were:

It’s not all challenges though. There have been many, many joys. Especially once the mental health and breastfeeding issues had settled down. I have also written about the good times:

Unhelpful things said to new parents

I had some unhelpful things said to me when I was a new Mum that have rung in my ears for five and a half years.

I may never forget them, but with time they are losing their power. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.

The power dynamic between people makes a big difference to how a comment is taken. Comments from people in positions of power, such as health professionals and elder family members, can be particularly hurtful.

The two comments that have haunted me the most are to do with breastfeeding, and they were both said to me by people in a position of power.

You'll only ever make enough milk to

Formula lucky

I felt deep shame about not being able to breastfeed Leo exclusively due to what was eventually diagnosed as Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). My condition made me feel like I wasn’t a proper woman and had no right to be a mother, so those comments cut me to the bone.

Often the comments that hurt the most are the ones that connect with an insecurity you already had. It’s like they agree with the critic you carry on your shoulder that tells you you’re a crappy Mum/Dad/person.

Hey peeps

Passing comments from well meaning family, friends or strangers along the lines of ‘enjoy every second’ can make you feel like an ungrateful bitch if you are not having a great time.

Often if you talk to the person telling you to enjoy every moment, they will be only to happy to talk about the times they themselves didn’t enjoy every moment. It is so easy to forget the power of that early time and everything going on for new parents. I am guilty of this myself – babies and little kids look so cute that you forget how intense life with them can be and how they can push any parent to their limits.

Sometimes innocent questions like “have you tried leaving them to cry/giving them a dummy/hanging their cot from the ceiling from an elephant’s tail” can drive a new parent INSANE! Too. Many. People. Telling. Me. What. I. Should. Do.

What I am learning over and over again is that comments like those above – that are either designed to hurt, or not designed to hurt but they do – often say more about the person saying them and their preoccupations and issues, than about the person it was said to. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Some comments people made to me about how much their baby slept or fed or ate or pooed or cooed induced pangs of guilt or fear in me. Once again, they were unhelpful without meaning to be. Those comments rang in my ears too, but not as much as comments levelled directly at how I was doing as a mum or how my baby was doing.

Comparison of yourself to others is probably worthy of a whole post of its own. By the way, please let me know if you want to write something about comparison (or anything) for the blog! Would love to have some guest posts. :)

Did you have something really unhelpful said to you when your baby was small (or at any stage in parenthood) that you’d like to get out of your mind?

People say great stuff too! I’ve also written about the helpful things people say to new parents.

One thing we were sure of when writing You’re Doing Great, Baby was that we didn’t want to be giving advice on how to feed, settle or take care of your baby. We hope this gives people room to see themselves in the characters and that no-one is made to feel guilty by our book.

Blog 300x300 kickstarter2

Helpful things said to new parents

tiny handIf 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!

YDGB PR square blog3

Things I see differently post-kid

We are loving this project a lot. It is like our third child. Both Jeff and I have been working on it full-time (with many, many breaks to look after our actual children and Jeff doing paid work) for five months and counting.

If this book is successful I dream of also doing You’re Doing Great, Kid and You’re Doing Great, Toddler.  Jeff wisely tells me to take one thing at a time.

But just say that I was thinking a little bit about You’re Doing Great, Kid. I might think of a list of things I see differently after having a kid, for example…

  1. Hiding vegetables – gives a great sense of satisfaction
  2. Bribery – happens. Also called ‘negotiations’
  3. Hummus – makes vegies palatable
  4. Buying in bulk – it’s like I am permanently getting ready for the apocalypse
  5. Kids eating in the car – I used to think ‘why would you do that?!’
  6. Messy, gross cars – see above
  7. Mini vacs – self explanatory
  8. Toys I didn’t play with as a kid because they were ‘boys’ toys’: Lego, paper planes, trains, cars – are actually super fun
  9. Sushi train – food as soon as you walk in the door and it’s like an outing (bonus!)
  10. Community
  11. My parents – I used to love them and now I love them even more
  12. Having a bath before bed – is actually really nice. I used to be a shower in the morning gal
  13. Choc chips, sprinkles, smarties and hundreds and thousands – add to snacks so kid will eat them
  14. Bubble bath – makes reluctant kid want to bathe
  15. Going to bed early – ROCKS!
  16. Absolutely scoffing your food – Jeff and I call it the ‘parental inhale’
  17. Chest freezers and big-batch cooking
  18. Ordering EVERYTHING online
  19. Drive thrus – don’t need to get out of car
  20. Young men – I used to be a bit scared of young men and now I look at them fondly because I imagine Leo and Clem being that age
  21. Paying a cleaner.

What didn’t you understand until after having a kid? Leave a comment below.

Awkward photos

I’ve been looking through photos of when Leo was tiny, trying to find photos I can use for the blog, and I have uncovered a goldmine of awkward photos.

These are the kind of photos that would never end up in a frame. Jeff and I look tired and dishevelled and Leo is either pulling crazy newborn faces or asleep. You can see my feeding bra and I am wearing a series of the ugliest, most unflattering singlets. I am flabby and I don’t think I’d had a shower in a while.

Bless our hearts – we were doing great.

In the interests of normalising and celebrating new baby photos where everyone looks a little rough around the edges, here are a few choice selections from our family album. At the time I wouldn’t have shared these photos, but now I am so glad that they exist.

… and here are some photos from after Clem was born. Leo and I were permanently in our pyjamas and my teeth were all stained from the breastfeeding herbs I was taking. Clem had lots of pimples and a little-old-man receding hairline. Look at our smiles though, and all that tenderness.

Here are two photos that are super-special to me. One from when Leo was a week old and one when Clem was a week old. In both of them I’m tired and overwhelmed and vulnerable … and full-to-bursting with love.

You can read more about our book, with its message of compassion for tired parents and overwhelmed babies, here.

Ten questions for Mums and Dads

  1. Favourite children’s song
  2. What does it look/feel like to be “doing great” as a parent?
  3. Best parenting hack you’ve discovered
  4. What do you miss about pre-baby life?
  5. Parenting win of the week
  6. Parenting fail of the week
  7. Winning meal of the moment
  8. Craziest thing you’ve ever done to get your baby/kid to sleep or stay asleep
  9. Three words to describe your child/children
  10. What have you learnt from becoming a parent?

My Dad is a statistician, so I love filling out surveys. :)

My answers:

  1. ‘Hush Little Baby’ gets Clem to sleep
  2. House a bit chaotic but I make time to do yoga
  3. Start making dinner in the morning (or the night before)
  4. Time alone to faff around
  5. Making time to wrestle with Leo before bed
  6. Raising my voice
  7. At home: dahl and rice. Out: sushi train
  8. Drove to Bundeena and back just so Leo would have a sleep in the car. Did a pee in the shower because I was wearing Clem in the baby carrier and I didn’t want to wake him up.
  9. Leo: enthusiastic, kind, chatty. Clem: determined, musical, joyful.
  10. Managing on less and broken sleep, multitasking up the whazoo, less procrastination.

Thanks to Kaley Hawkins from the Longest Shortest Time Mamas Facebook group for the inspiration for this, and to Tabitha who came up with some of the questions.

 

They f*** you up, your Mum and Dad

My Dad used to quote the first verse of this poem to me when I was a teenager. It was his catch-all disclaimer for any parental failings I accused him of.

This Be The Verse

By PHILIP LARKIN

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had

    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern

    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Whenever I am taking parenting too seriously I think about this poem and it never fails to give me a smile. There is something charming and disarming about rhyme. I hope that our book (with its rhyme and all) contains some of the humourous spirit of Larkin’s poem.

Loneliness in early parenthood

There are many levels of loneliness. The loneliness where you’re alone and wish you weren’t. Then there’s loneliness in the presence of others – where you don’t have much in common with someone or can’t communicate with them. Finally there is a kind of loneliness of the soul. A feeling you are a stranger from yourself. I think that is the worst kind of loneliness.

00000011 - Version 2Early parenthood is ripe with potential for any or all of these types of loneliness.

I remember being shocked by how lonely I could feel in my precious baby’s company.

I have a distinct memory of sitting down and telling Leo (my first child) about myself much in the way you’d introduce yourself to a stranger in a bar. “My name is Beth and I was born in New Zealand…” I had no idea how to talk to my beautiful boy.

Of course this got better with time. I honed my non-verbal communication, and baby Leo learnt to talk with body language and later with words.

Another source of loneliness was that I wasn’t working for the first time in my adult life. You don’t realise how social work is until you’re not there anymore. No incidental chats in the hallway or catch ups at lunchtime. I found it hard to get out to socialise with friends (especially those without kids). It was easier to stay home that fitting in around sleeping and feeding times, plus I felt so exhausted I wasn’t a great conversationalist and didn’t feel like I had any news when asked what I had been up to. What on Earth did I do all day anyway?!

I met other mums out and about, but our conversations were fleeting and sometimes you didn’t have anything in common except that you both had a child. When I was a new mum I wanted desperately to meet my doppelgänger – someone who I had a lot in common with who also parented like me. I burned with the desire to mother alongside other mothers (much like we would have done in earlier human history). I think that this impulse was also to do with me feeling like I’d lost touch with who I was since becoming a Mum.

IMG_6598 - Version 2There is an opening in You’re Doing Great, Baby that shows the mum sitting on the couch holding her sleeping baby and staring out the window forlornly at passersby (I’m working on the painting in the top image). I remember doing this myself – feeling trapped inside stuck in a cycle of feed, play, sleep (repeat).

Jeff was away at work from eight in the morning until six or seven o’clock each night and I was desperate for his company and envious of his freedom.

Mothers groups and playgroups are great for meeting new people. It can also be very comforting (and make you feel less alone) to talk to mothers of similar aged babies who may be going through similar phases with their sleeping, feeding etc. I was lucky with my mothers’ group and have made some lasting friendships. It’s so cool to think that the kids have known each other from when they were tiny. We had moved to our area right before having Leo and I didn’t know anyone at first, so it was awesome to see familiar faces walking the streets. I’ve written more about this in my post on community.

I didn’t have a smart phone when Leo was little, but I remember what a revelation it was when I got an Ipod and could check my Facebook or email if I was sat holding him while he napped. This simultaneously made me feel more and less lonely.

Second time around with baby Clem I found it much easier to adjust to having a friend who used crying as his main form of communication. From the start I felt like we understood one another.

Clem’s birth coincided with a golden era of podcasts: notably the three S’s: Startup, Strangers and Serial. I credit podcasts with making me feel so much less lonely in that early time.

I’ve also become a lot happier in my own company in recent years and don’t feel the need to leave the house for lots of social input. However I was happily telling my friend Tamie this and she laughed because she pointed out that I’ve made my own company so I’m never alone – Leo is amazing company and we can happily have a day at home playing boardgames and chatting. Clem and I sing nursery rhymes (he claps along) and sit out in the garden or sort the laundry together.

What were your experiences of loneliness in parenthood? Please leave a comment below, and subscribe to our newsletter so we can keep you in the loop with the project.

We won't share your details with anyone.