Expectations of parenthood

Shannon
Shannon and her daughter

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.

Swirl

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.

Continue reading Expectations of parenthood

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.

 

The challenges mothers face

After spending the last six years listening to women’s stories of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood, I have seen women dealing with all sorts of challenges.

Challenges to do with:

  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth trauma
  • Mother’s health (mental or physical)
  • Baby’s health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Sleep (baby’s or mother’s)
  • Feeding
  • Family or relationship stress
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Identity crises
  • Outside stress (death of a family member, moving house, financial stress).

There are surely exceptions, but I can’t think of a mother I know who hasn’t faced one challenge or another (or multiple challenges). It’s as if this is part of a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood.

Sometimes women face these challenges alone – not wanting to tell anyone what they are going through. Especially if their issues are hidden, such as injuries from birth or pregnancy. Other times it’s very obvious that they are being challenged to their core. At the time it’s not something you would ever hope for, but often there are amazing insights that can come out of dealing with one (or more) challenges in that early time.

I found that the challenges I faced as a new mum have given me deep compassion for other mothers’ struggles. Our book has been borne out of this compassion and everything we have learnt.

May all mothers going through struggles

Through Leo’s birth I learnt how to communicate my needs and advocate for myself and my child. I don’t feel like I can know for sure what Clem’s birth has taught me until he is a bit older, but one year on it has taught me that surrendering to, and learning from, life’s ups and downs is my life’s work.

It’s so important to honour our disappointment when things don’t go as we had hoped. I remember my despair when I couldn’t produce enough milk to sustain Leo. I needed to grieve. Gratitude would come later, once I’d honoured my sadness and my profound wish that things could be different. (I will write more about my journey with breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue in a later post.)

It’s easy for people who aren’t in a mother’s position to belittle her feelings of loss and disappointment when things don’t go as she had hoped and planned for, or dismiss them as ‘first world problems’. This is so unhelpful. Everything feels heightened with a new baby around and what the mother needs is support and empathy – not “at leasts” e.g. “at least you have a healthy baby”.

I had mild postnatal psychosis and postnatal depression after the births of both of my children. I thought that all the work I had done and the lifestyle changes I’d had would mean that I’d be fine after Clem was born, but it happened again. Mental illness is bad enough at anytime, but trying to recover while you’re also looking after and getting to know a baby with round-the-clock needs is extremely challenging. Beating myself up about getting sick again wasn’t productive, but I have had times when I felt like a failure for having it happen a second time.

Women dealing with challenges: I salute you.

It can feel so lonely to be going through whatever it is you’re going through. I know so well that feeling of just wanting your family to have a happy life free from struggle. I solemnly hope that you find some peace in whatever your sorrow is.

Related reading:

Loneliness in early parenting

Learning to go with the flow

 

Transitions and going back to work

My desk at home
This is my desk at home, including: phone, breastfeeding herbs, breakfast, dinner makings, Leo’s word wall and nappies to put together.

I am going back to my job part-time next week after 14 months of maternity leave.

It brings a chapter of my life to a close and another one is beginning. I look forward to: listening to podcasts on my commute, wearing dangly earrings, being part of a team, talking to other adults, warm tea, learning new things, yoga in the office on Fridays and eating lunch without a million interruptions. But as much as I’m looking forward to the break from total 24/7 parenting, I am also sad about missing out on time with Clem and Leo. It’s a balancing act, right?

If mothering was a paid job I would sit down with my boss each year and reflect on what I’ve achieved and identify the areas I need to work on. Instead, I’ll tell you. I have:

  • Loved and cared for little Clem.
  • Loved and cared for Leo, and helped him transition to big school.
  • Recovered from my second bout of postnatal psychosis and depression (the first was after Leo’s birth).*
  • Developed my skills as a cook/cleaner/playmate/dispute resolutions consultant/mumma bear/school mum/washerwoman.
  • Worked hard on everything to do with this book (we are going to launch our crowdfunding campaign to actually get the book printed in August – more details to come of course!).

It’s been great work – all of it. I am so grateful to have had this precious time with my family.

The areas I need to work on are: going with the flow, working exercise into my everyday routine, spending time with Jeff where we are not sitting on the couch working on our laptops, and not flying off the handle at Leo.

I find the time right before a change or transition the hardest. The waiting, the over-thinking – gets me frazzled every time.

Baby and kid land is full of transitions. It gives you the chance to really hone your ‘going with the flow’ skills. Kids are great at living in the moment, but heaven knows I need all the practice I can get!

  • Transitions are hardDropping naps
  • Toilet training
  • New beds
  • New ways of getting to sleep
  • Starting solids
  • Weaning
  • Going back to work
  • New siblings
  • New daycare/preschool/big school

I am exhausted just reading this list! But we get through it all, and afterwards I can’t see what all the fuss was about.

If I’m feeling tense and overwhelmy about a change coming up I try to remind myself that it is going to happen whether I resist it, wish it away, or just hang in there. So I may as well relax into it as much as I can and enjoy the ride.

* I am slipping this in like it’s no big deal, but this has been a big challenge for me. It’s something I will have a post devoted to soon because often people stay quiet about mental health issues and I am ready to talk about it.

– For more about ‘going with the flow’ – see my post about the book ‘Buddhism for Mothers’

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.

 

‘Sometimes you’ve got to be kind to be kind’

When Leo, (our eldest) was really little, I was obsessed with his sleep. I wanted to teach him to fall asleep and stay asleep by himself, but it seemed like the only way of doing that involved tears.

When he was ten weeks old we went to a sleep school and came home and tried to pat and shush, but it just didn’t work for us. One very memorable time all three of us ended up in tears and we knew it wasn’t working. We were sleep-school drop-outs.

During that time when all I thought I wanted was for him to learn to sleep by himself – out of our arms, out of our bed, as the books said – Jeff said something that’s always stuck in my mind.

You've got to be kind to be kind“Sometimes you’ve got to be kind to be kind”.

It totally blew my mind.

That simple truth cut through all the conflicting emotions I was feeling. My love for Leo, my desire to control him, wishing for a full night’s sleep, wanting to do the ‘right’ thing (whatever that was), wanting to hold him when he cried… All the stories I was telling myself just melted away with those simple words.

Continue reading ‘Sometimes you’ve got to be kind to be kind’