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…


Mamatography/week 10: surprise visit to grammy, in Portugal

Sooooooo, here at last is last weeks installment of our 366 adventure, now in Portugal. (Sorry it is so late, but you know/can imagine how it is with flying across an ocean with a two year old… on my own!) These are the photos of our first week here. If you remember, I flew to Lisbon to surprise my mother for her birthday. She loved her ‘present’ as we knocked on her door and waved a birthday card at her, saying ‘you just can’t trust the post these days, so we thought we’d deliver it ourselves!’ Alas, I failed to take the crucial ‘surprise face’ photo but I can reveal it looked much like this :O !!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, here’s what we got up to that week from packing to enjoying time with grandma and grandpa:

day 60

the day before our big adventure… here pictured chillin’ out and reading a good book, trying to create an oasis of calm energy in the midst of a sand-storm of activity and preparations for an 18 hour trip:

day 61

in the airport, with daddy (who drove us there and stayed to say bye-bye). We’ll miss you. See you in three weeks, daddy!!

riding the suitcases:

in the airplane, watching ‘toons (an exciting treat):

day 62

connecting with Grammy after the big surprise arrival!

[you can see I have been enjoying that (lazy) iPhone ap :p  ]

day 63

horrible self-portrait. hate it… but it is the best photo of a bad batch and I was having too much fun, catching up with my parents to slow down and think about photos. This was taken at a seafood restaurant we went to. Yumm!

 day 64

still getting over our jet lag and settling in, this was taken when we went shopping for some basic goods at the local ‘mall’. I think this is pipoca’s first ever coin-operated ride  :)

day 65

my little diva, singing her heart out at the breakfast table.

and later that day…

at a dinner party in celebration of grammy’s birthday!! (guess who ate the first bit – scooped right off with the fingers)

day 66

a day with old friends (who asked not to be shown :) but first, a tram ride (she loves it and enthusiastically calls it the ‘leletico’, instead of ‘electrico’ – sweet)

day 67

start the day with visit to cafe with grammy and friend (not shown)

then afternoon with vo-vo on the beach:

(yes, I am working a ‘theme’ with this one)

Mamatography/week 6: ‘going splash on daddy!’

Week 6 of our Mamatography challenge – photo a day for a year! We are not more than a tenth of the way in. Still a long way to go, obviously, but I feel like I am getting into a rhythm with it. However, what I am finding is that this (labour of love) is taking so much time and energy that it is kind of sucking the life out of my writing for the blog. Uh… ooops. So, I need to re-balance so that I am keeping up this amazing, challenging project which I LOVE and still have time to blog, too. Hey, peoples, I have stuff to say and it wants out. Just need to give it time to breathe its way onto paper!!

Without further ado, here is our week in photos:

day 33

Ta- daaa! On her third time out on her bike (previous two documented) she has got it. She is now off and running (almost literally) on her balance bike.

Because I don’t think I mentioned it last time the idea behind a balance bike is that learning how to pedal is the easy bit. A kid, given the motor skills, can learn how to do that very quickly. The hard bit (the bit we all remember struggling with) is balance, learning how to stay up-right while moving forward without training wheels or our feet on the ground. So… this bike essentially lets kids learn the hard part first – and over plenty of time. Then when they are confident finding their own balance (going ‘wheeee’ and coasting with feet off the floor) you can introduce them to a pedal bike and the transition is easy-as-pie, or so I am told. Kids I have known that have learned how to cycle on a balance bike did indeed learn how to use a pedal bike ridiculously early (3 years old) without ever having training wheels! So here we are, giving it a try and seeing how it works for us, too.

day 34

my toddler loves to scatter stuff as widely as possible.  Today: leaflets! She was even upset when I tried to tidy them, later. Does/did your kid like to scatter, at this age??

day 35

Saturday was daddy and daughter play day!!

day 36

one of Pipoca’s cute new toys that she really enjoys…

and then later that night:

our first puppet show! It was great fun. We all had a go.

day 37

day 38

paint-and-play-date with A’s best buddy E (regular guest star on this blog).

This was the set up at my lovely friend K’s house (and this is her photo – full credit to her):

… and on a different note:

the evolution of her puzzle making skills: remember last time it was one large rectangle but with no coherent picture inside? Well, now she is on to putting together chunks of the image (two pieces at a time): one cat in one section, a whole fish in another, that kind of thing. She is paying more attention to the actual picture, now, rather than just fitting pieces together into a rectangle :)

day 39

had to get the car fixed and then it had real issues so we left it there and took the train back home. Of course Pipoca thought it was the best day out EVER!

TRAIN is coming!!! Hoorah!

366/week 2: swings, bikes and puzzling things

Week two of this 366 photographic adventure kick-started by Luschka at diary of a first child. If you’ve got a blog, a baby and a camera you can join in, too (actually the blog is optional :)

Day 6

At the park, swinging on them swing-things:

[Technical note: I lost my lens cap to my favourite lens last week and have been having to carry my point-and-shoot around instead so, uh, yeah… maybe that shows in this batch, somewhat. But hey the love is there and the important thing is I am still going strong on the photo-a-day thing. 2 weeks down… 50 odd to go :)  ]

Day 7

‘Where’s the pedals?’ For her birthday, we gave our two-year-old a new balance bike. Her first question when she got on it: ‘where’s the pedals?’ Hahaha. So much for me buying the best thing out there for toddlers to learn to ride a bike really well and young. She set me straight. She got on the balance bike and her dad helped her keep upright to begin with and she did enjoy it… and then she saw another little girl’s pink bicycle with tassels and kittens on it and she was off. She really wanted to ride that one that had training wheels and… well… pedals.

Day 8

A lovely gift from a lovely friend:

Day 9

Still in her PJs, baby puts together a puzzle cousin Sally gave her for Xmas

A finished sample: she put all the pieces together and she knows they are supposed to form a rectangle of sorts… but clearly has no regard for how the picture comes together. Hahaha!

Day 10

A visit to the California Academy of Sciences:

Pipoca is sitting in a big ol’ tunnel with a TV at the end… duh.

‘So what that the pear is the size of my head… I am going to eat it all’

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You can also follow along on flickr, if that is your thing (if so come ‘friend’ me and like my piccies :)


Open love letter to my daughter

I was “challenged” by Mother on Mother Earth to write this post, so I thought I’d take a break from the serious business of blogging (uh?…) and do this fun, easy one instead. Here is her sweet post. I have some other posts in the pipeline but life has gotten hectic, so in the meantime…

Ten things I love about you, my baby, right now: 

  1. I admire and revel in your independence: I love it when you play on your own and talk to yourself for ages, often ‘re-living’ scenes or rehearsing words from that day.
  2. I marvel when you ‘count’: “1, 3, 5” pointing at your fingers or at the objects, each in turn. Cracks me up!
  3. I am just so impressed by how resilient you are. You seem to bounce back from most of life’s little trials (like falling off the climbing frame) so easily and get straight ‘back on that horse’. It amazes me and teaches me so much.
  4. I love how much you make me laugh. You are very serious and intense much of the time, figuring things out. You often also like to take your time getting to know new people and places, taking it all in first, but when you are in a fun, light-hearted, playful place, girl, you are hilarious – and your laughter is totally infections. And on that note…
  5. I think it is the best when we get into a ‘giggle loop’ – we just look at each other and laugh… and then keep setting each other off, for minutes at a time. We have been doing this since you were a little baby!
  6. I find your hair beautiful – it is brown but reflects auburn in the light. It is just like mine but I never appreciated it on me. On you I just think it is the most precious, wondrous stuff!
  7. I love to see your character emerge and you seem to be so fastidious and like things ‘just so’. I love how you put your shoes away when we get home (unprompted) or how you put books back on the shelf at the bookshop and library. Figuring out form-and-function definitely seems to be one of your highest joys and you appear to like to know how things work socially, too. You want to understand the ‘rules’ and then demonstrate that you totally get it, I mean, already at 18 months you love saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (and/or signing it) despite the fact that we have never pushed that, we just model it. I think you think it is ‘just what is done’ :)
  8. I am so impressed at how switched on you are and how often you continue to surprise me by how much you understand and can communicate. You language skills have been blowing me away!
  9. You have the cutest bum. I love the way you walk with a little waddle of your sweet bum-bum!
  10. I adore how imaginative you are and, for example, that you turned the basketball net into a swing for your koala. Freaking fabulous!

Now I am supposed to tag 5 mommy-bloggers to do the same (each of you is asked to list 10 things you love about your kid(s) then tag 5 mothers/bloggers to do the same). Here are my five:

I have tried to chose mammas who are comfortable with blogging about their own kids, but let me know if this ain’t for you and I’ll re-nominate :)

Yes, I defend my child’s right to say ‘no’

If  I only had one word, if I was laid up in bed or something, couldn’t talk, couldn’t sign and for some reason my brain could only put together one word and if I could chose that word, now, I would chose the word ‘No’. It is a very powerful word. If I were (God forbid) unable to communicate or move I am expecting other people would be making a lot of choices for me. They would probably be doing things unto me, over me, around me… making decisions that I wouldn’t make for myself. The word ‘no’ might be the only word I need. Whenever they are doing things that I can live with, things that are loving and aligned with who I am and what I want, I could comfortably continue saying nothing and letting them do what they do. But if a line were crossed into something I really didn’t want to have done to me, then I could use my word to confidently assert that !

If I had just one other expression, I would chose ‘Thank you’ so I could express gratitude for all the work and care these grace-filled helpers were putting into maintaining my wellbeing.

Now I wonder if being a toddler is not a little like this. So much happening to them, decisions being made for them, they are physically picked up and moved and taken (sometimes expressly against their will) to places they don’t want to go before they were ready to leave. No wonder one of their first words is ‘NO’!! No wonder it is my child and so many children’s favourite word. That word is power.

I have said already my kid is not even 18 months old yet, but what I see in her is that word is freedom. It puts her for a second on an equal pegging – ‘I get a say, too. I am not just something to be moved and plopped somewhere else. I am a person and I deserve respect and choice!’ and most often when she uses the power of this word it is not to tell me ‘no, never’ it usually just means ‘not just yet, mom’ or ‘let me think about it for a moment while I finish what I am doing, mom’ but she is not quite articulate enough to say all that yet, so I fill in the words for her by looking in her eyes, feeling into her energy as it shifts through the day, as we do our dance.

Every ‘no’ I hear, I try to listen into it. Honestly sometimes I laugh. It is still fresh enough that it is cute. In fact my daughter doesn’t actually say ‘no’ yet, she signs it. I modified the sign from ASL to be easier for her, I gave her a proper, cool finger waggle and I love when she gets that finger out. ‘No, mommy’ (waggle, waggle). ‘I don’t want to put my PJs on yet. Thank you.’ And I remember, I probably wouldn’t want to be told what to do, when to do it and how to do it all the time, either. I might still have a lot to learn about this (the ‘terrible twos’ lay still ahead of me laughing… or is that screaming and banging their fists on the floor at me?!) but for now, I let her have some ‘nos’. I let her have as many as possible.


TFI Friday!

I wrote this yesterday… but was too tired to post it.

Here’s the good news: Kai has a new job! Hooray. I am really happy for him and super proud. Here’s the not so good news: I am burned out from a week with no support.

My mom has left so it is all me, again, but before mom was here Kai was working very near by. He could leave home as late as 9am which meant he often took the morning shift with baby which let me sleep in. He occasionally came home for lunch which broke up my day really well and then he was home by 6pm at the latest most days (although he often brought work home – but at least he was here!). And, added bonus, he worked from home most Fridays. Super! So my week only extended 4 days of solitude.

Okay I am being dramatic. In those days I go out to mommy-and-me groups, I meet up other mums and sometimes I have extra baby and me classes like Music Together or Sign Language (which I am yet to start). And I always try to get out of the house at least once a day, even if it is just for a walk…

Still, this week stretched on and on. Kai now leaves home at 6.30am and doesn’t come home till 6pm. Hey I know that is pretty good compared to many dads and I also know as he gets deeper into his project he’ll be bringing work home a lot, again, but for now, after the shock of my mum leaving :p it really does feel like the day drags on. There are some amazing highs in the midst of it all, of course.  But at the end of the week I am just… exhausted!