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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Being honest about our journey as a parent – how one mom is bearing it all

Ewa Partum, Exercises, 1972

Image via Wikipedia

Being honest about your journey as a parent can be healing for you and inspiring for others. I just read this post about one woman’s journey to Attachment Parenting, the hard way. This is a powerful, moving and beautiful piece. It is truth.

Some may see me as the first kind of AP parent she describes, the kind that always knew AP style practices were for her (even if she didn’t know there was a name for it). I knew I wanted to breastfeed and babywear before Baby came… but I didn’t want to co-sleep and had to because that is the only way she (or any of us, in the end) could sleep.

I also think, sadly, that Eileen’s story is not unique in the sense that many AP parents I know passed through Post-Partum Depression or Post-Partum Anxiety (including me) on their journey to finding out who they are as a parent. We are a bunch of sensitive souls, the ones that in the end put bonding and relationship first. Among bloggers in particular (I’d love to gather real stats) I suspect the number of moms who had post-partum issues is stageringly high. I think many of us blog because we are driven to seek out community, because we need to talk and we need to not feel alone.

Conversely, I will also say that I have met parents who have travelled the opposite journey. They started off with a whole host of hippy/AP intentions and just couldn’t make them work in real life – either the kid’s temperament just didn’t respond to the classic Bs (bedsharing, babywearing, etc) and/or they cracked. They didn’t have the support of a village, they didn’t have information or experience and they just couldn’t do it anymore (all that co-sleeping induced night wakings and endlessly handing over your body – uh, boobs – to another being). The story can run both ways. All are true, all are real, all are equally valid and even can be ‘right’ for different families.

I am touched but also kind of invigorated by this post. I urge you to go check it out. See what reflections on your own journey it brings up. A mirror as clear and honest as this, always helps us see ourselves a little more clearly, too.

1 Award, 7 Secrets I Have Been Keeping and 15 Mommy and Photography Blogs

I have been nominated for a Stylish Blog Award by the lovely Rachel of Racheous, bless her. It seems like this ‘award’ is one of those happy-viruses that gets you to play a game (which in this case involves answering some questions) and then tag other people, whose work you admire, to do the same. Here is the scoop on this one, to accept the award I must:

  • Thank and link back to the person who gave me this award.
  • Share 7 things about myself.
  • Pay it forward to 15 recently discovered great bloggers.
  • Contact those bloggers and tell them about the award.

So, first and foremost: thank you Rachel you are gracious as well as Racheous and I think everybody should go over and give you some blogging love. You deserve it truly.

7 secrets revealed:

  1. I suffer(ed) from postpartum anxiety. The symptoms are much eased now and, though they were scary to me, never interfered with the practical skills of mothering or indeed with my bond with my beautiful daughter, they just somehow cast a shadow of self-doubt over my inner being. More on this to come, no doubt, as I  have been meaning to blog about it forever but finding the words just didn’t come.
  2. We have not vaccinated Anya. We may or may not do so in the future. I was not vaccinated myself except for immunizations I had to have for school in Portugal (Tetanus) and some for travelling to exotic destinations. So far, at least, I chose to treat Anya naturally, only. For me this is a decision based in love. I know this is super controversial which is partly why I have not blogged about it yet, either. Again, consider this a teaser of posts to come.
  3. I hate sleep training.  Many people I know have done it and this is no judgment of them – you did what you had to do for your family. I can understand mammas that sleep train their babies as a last resort, because they have to, for themselves, for their sanity. I really get it. Honestly, nothing has brought so much empathy and understanding to me as motherhood. However, I don’t get it when it is defended as a good thing for babies or as a given for all families. I mean, I understand that it might be necessary for families to function, for mother’s (especially working mothers) to finally sleep. I don’t at all buy into the whole ‘getting babies to sleep on their own early helps them become more independent and better sleepers in the long run’ or the converse argument that ‘co-sleeping leads to soft, spoilt, dependent babies’. For one it doesn’t make sense that doing what at least 80% of the world does in bringing up kids leads to dependency and adults who can’t sleep properly. Clearly they can. And, for two, I was brought up like this myself and am perfectly good at ‘self-soothing’, thank you very much. In fact I have always been a great sleeper. My mum just trusted that when I was ready to sleep alone I would and guess what, it worked. I feel the same and am inspired to trust nature, biology and my baby’s own sense of inner timing in finding when she is ready to sleep on her own. [I wasn’t going to quote science ‘cos I think you can always distort or pick at research to make the point you want, but then topically the Times just published this: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1083020.ece with some of the arguments from neuroscience as to why co-sleeping is best for babies. So, there it is, one reading of the science on this.]
  4. I am drawn to unschooling. Alas, I am not sure it is for me, the whole home-schooling thing. I mean I think it is awesome and yet my feeling is that for it to work the parent doing the homeschooling has to have a real passion for it. After all, that is the point you are trying to impart to your kid. Unschooling is all about letting your kid follow their interests and trusting that they will be thus driven to learn what they need to, not only to further their hobbies but to get on in life. Now, surely, the best and highest way to ‘teach’ this is by example, no? So while I heartily embrace the principles of unschooling and totally want to encourage my kid to freely follow her passions, I need to follow mine too and see where they lead, and being a home-teaching (un-teaching?) mum may or may not be it. But then I still have time to see how that develops within me. In the meantime, I would say that my every interaction with my daughter has been in the spirit of unschooling or child-led learning and we are both the richer for it. I don’t force learning on her but I do watch closely and support her need to explore whatever is catching her interest at that time. Again, this may turn into a post in its own right. Watch this space.
  5. I have a guru. Yep, I am sure that sounds bizarre or unusual to many of you. I usually substitute it for the word ‘spiritual teacher’ which seems a bit more palatable, nowadays. Guru, in the original hindu, means ‘remover of darkness’. This points to the fact that a guru does not teach, they only remind you of your original essence by ‘removing’ what is not you, whatever doubt or insecurity is clouding  your vision. It is very sad to me that the word ‘guru’ has become synonymous with all kinds of crazy things, especially in the US. It is unfortunate, too, that most people automatically assume that those who have a guru are weak and dependent or something like that. For me having a spiritual teacher or guide is freeing – it is somebody who a) provides a living example of effortlessly being in the Now, not of human perfection – a contradiction in itself – but of living comfortably, harmoniously and effortlessly with imperfection, if that makes sense; and b) somebody who knows ‘me’ well and can catch my ego-mind at its tricks. Many very spiritual people don’t have a teacher. They say they don’t need one. That always sounds a bit like a paradox to me. If they think they are above teaching is that not a likely sign that their ego is in charge? Some people are at ease and done with ‘searching’ – that is another matter. But if they are in some sense still seeking some kind of relief or self-development and convinced they are better than those who turn to a guide… uh-oh: alarm bells. Only the ego would think it is above teaching and guidance, no? I do think we are in a new era where the role of the guru is much changed from the traditional role it had, mostly in India. Many people are waking up, becoming self-realised or enlightened through their own life-trials with no guru to guide their way… then again many people are not. But when the student is ready the teacher will come. No need to force it. I, too, used to think I didn’t need a teacher, now I am very grateful for the presence of Mooji in my life. The inner-guru still reigns supreme, of course, always. Your ultimate guide is God… or some may call it their inner voice or intuition but sometimes an outer voice of reason, that keeps us grounded and catches us out – especially when we think we have got ‘it’ – can be super useful.
  6. I like reality TV. I know, from the sublime to the ridiculous, ei? Well, there it is, I do. I have always been a people watcher and I consider my love of reality TV (things like Wife-Swap or The Apprentice) as a kind of extension of that. Many of my friends are surprised by this. Many of my friends don’t even own a TV and when they do watch a screen it is a documentary or a French film. I obviously attract that kind of intellectual friend… and yet as soon as they find out my own viewing habits, well… but it is all good fun to me and all about balance.
  7. I love my husband and my daughter dearly. I guess you already knew that, if you have been following this blog, but I just wanted to throw that in again, for good measure, ’cause you can never say that too much!

Blogs that I love:

On birthing and mothering:

  1. There’s a baby out there, that’s the reality – makes me laugh
  2. Uninteresting::Amo-isms – real, insightful, personal account of a journey through mommyhood
  3. Freechildhood –  opens my mind to birthing and mothering alternatives (but no activity on there of late… has she moved?)
  4. I’m unschooled. Yes I can write. –  lovely to learn about unschooling from the perspective of the (grown) kids
  5. Attachment Parenting – the title got me first but I keep reading for a ‘daddy’s perspective’
  6. Natural Mama –  kindred spirits, producing a blog full of insight and practical tips
  7. Erin Ellis Homebirth Midwife – strong on the politics of homebirth
  8. My Funny Bunny – cute, funny and linked to an ethical store
  9. Classic Mommy – down to Earth, human and easy to relate to
  10. Women in Charge – beautiful, healing and inspirational birth stories
  11. Journal of a Mom – touching, honest and with great, original photos, too
  12. Raising Kvell by Mayim Bianik (aka ‘Blossom’) a clear, passionate and articulate advocate for attachment parenting

For photographic inspiration:

  1. Beth Armsheimer – wowee! I love her tones and textures, they really capture a mood
  2. Becoming Mom – a mommy blog with GREAT photography
  3. Robyn Russell – OMG you have got to check out her newborn photos!!

And for good measure, one bonus slightly off-topic blog:

  1. Food Politics – interesting and informed commentary on, well, the politics of food :)

I would snuggle up with Anne Lamott any day

I finished reading Anne Lamott’s ‘Operating Instructions’ (and actually have read another two books since – see original post here: https://blessingtree.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/anne-lamott-woke-my-baby/). I think the book is brilliant and should be compulsory reading for all new mums – not expecting mums, mind you, it might put them off from having a baby, completely. Not only is it funny, extremely touching and even informative but, as we accompany the first year of her son’s life, as an only parent, recovering alcoholic and confirmed cynic (with an unexpected, almost paradoxical love of God) she sheds much light on the day-to-day of mothering in a busy, urban society.

This book is a must for anyone struggling with some of the unexpected, less glamorous or downright difficult aspects of being a mother for the first time in a culture where we so often live away from family and friends (or in Anne’s case, a partner); where we commonly have had little to no experience with babies and have dedicated our lives to external, professional pursuits totally removed from home and family. It can be an adjustment, a real adjustment. We know that. I have learned that the slow and painful way and really found much of my story echoed in Anne’s words – although I have a great partner but am far from my close friends and family and her situation is quite the reverse. She is extremely honest, wry and generous with her sharing of what is going on in her life, in her world and in her oh-so-f*cked-up head. Loved it!