Postpartum challenges helped me be who I am today

I wrote this about 6 months ago and left it to marinate. I am ready to share, now.

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I got pregnant within months of moving to the US. I had really hardly arrived. And then I had a baby. I had no experience whatsoever with little ones, no old friends to cheer me on and no new friends with babies to advise me (yet). Most of our two families are in Europe. I do have an uncle and aunt here and they are lovely but I do not see them all that often. So, there I was holding a baby, on my own. My partner is super supportive and hands-on but within a couple of weeks of me giving birth (the cesarean way) he had to go back to work. Now, I was home alone with a baby –  a baby who cried a lot. My daughter was ‘colicky’ (or actually I think she was processing emotional trauma – but that is another story). I was home alone with a crying baby, with no clue what to do and little to no day-time support. On top of that I had a very hard time adjusting to my new life. I am not a natural housewife, I have always been more focussed on my ‘intellectual’, creative and social life – at school or work. Suddenly time for any of that was gone – there was only baby.

It was hard. I’d go so far as to say it was one of the most challenging times in my life. I was battling Postpartum Anxiety and felt under siege to my own thoughts. I was lonely and bored while not having a single moment to myself (well, I am sure you all have experienced that last bit, at least).

Today, I was looking back on it all and wondering how different my experience of being a new mum with a tiny baby in arms would have been , had I had her in England or Portugal close to our family and dear friends. Would it have been all bliss and walking on air? Would it at least have been much easier for all of us, for me…? Would it have been ‘better’? And this is where I stopped myself.

I am who I am today in part because of the emotional hardship I faced during those first few months. Hey, I know I had it easy compared to many moms who go through much worse but this time was difficult for me, personally. I can’t tell you exactly what I learnt from going through those particular tests but I do think it has brought me humility and empathy for mothers going through all kinds of struggles. Even if their stories are vastly different, a part of me nods in recognition of how hard it can be. And all the challenges since then, from toddler negativism to pre-schooler limit-testing, anything that comes up to try me in parenting, I still compare it to those early months and most of the time I come up saying, nope this is still easy compared to that.

I often joke that if I had had the perfect homebirth (as I had planned), surrounded by angels and dolphins and unicorns shooting rainbows out of their butts, as they say… I would have been basically unbearable and smug and so gung ho and militant about how if I can do it everyone can do it, I imagine. This slowed me down. I am hoping my challenges made me more ‘real’ in a way, more relatable, more able to listen and really understand what others are going through, without judging or comparing.

So, I know everyone is different and I am not telling others to ’embrace their stories’ but I notice, looking back now, three and a half years later, that I would not change mine. I am not sure another way would have been better or would have taught me more. It might have been easier but not necessarily better or  it would not necessarily have made me a better person…

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On trial: mothers

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," a...

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I find so much judgment in the parenting community. Okay, most of the people I hang out with are awesome (yep, there is that word again!). And the mommy-and-me group I go to is facilitated by an amazing woman who creates a truly welcoming, non-judgmental, inclusive space in which, I observe, real listening happens, healing listening. She is an inspiration. But outside that room a lot of judgment still appears to happen.

It goes something like this:
– if you let your child ‘cry it out’ you are heartless and setting the kid up to be anxious, unable to form deep and lasting relationships and generally f*cked up
– if you co-sleep you are molly-codling your kid, doing it for yourself and will turn out a kid who is dependent and weak
– if you baby proof the house you are lazy, selfish and putting your own needs above those of the kid (i.e. you should be there with them, watching them and entertaining them all the time)
– if you don’t baby proof you are irresponsible and putting your child in danger
– if you vaccinate you are blindly being led by the pharmaceutical companies and putting your kid in danger of Autism, allergic reactions, catching the live disease itself, etc.
– if you don’t vaccinate you are neglectful of your child and compromising the ‘heard immunity’

Basically my point is this, whatever you do there will be someone out there ready to waggle their finger at you and make you feel small and wrong. Likewise with everything you do you will find a group of people making similar choices, applauding you and welcoming you to their side.

And it is good to step back every now and again and see the big picture, see how it is all relative, how each path has advantages, challenges and risks… and ultimately nobody knows what will be best for you and your child, what particular set of nurturing behaviours will bring out the best of your son or daughter’s individual and unique nature. We don’t know. Different things work best for different people. So if I have to trust a guess, I’d rather follow the mother’s guess, mother’s intuition. Let the researchers argue, let the nay-sayers, judge… Do what feels good. Follow your heart – your mother’s heart. I will follow mine.