I still remember the nights at 2am. Crying in front of the bathroom mirror, my eyes grey and dark from exhaustion, red rimmed from sobbing.
In the morning, when night broke and left, when light streamed through the windows, when yet another day started, I would search for answers. I had tomes of bibles. All the ways I should be parenting. All the hard, hard lessons I needed to know. There is no test greater than this.
How does one ever prepare for the momentous task of becoming a mother? The answer? One cannot. You only go there. And then you sink and swim, sink and swim. But oh, those tomes. Those bibles. I thought it would be easy. Easy if I did it this way.
Baby would sleep peacefully all day in a sling, and I could continue on with normal life. I could keep creating and sitting and living my magical dream job life. And she’d sleep beside us of course – and that way I wouldn’t have to get up all night. I’d barely wake up a bit, you see. And baby and mama would never ever be unhappy, you know… because we’d always be together. Seamless. Unbroken. One organism.
Oh dear, darling me. I look back at my ideas, and I sigh, and I want to hold my young pre-mama self in my arms. I want to tell her it will be different from that. But that it will be okay. We will get through this.
The truth of it is that my little newborn didn’t like slings. It was only once she was over 2 months old that it worked for us – before then, she was just too little and squishable. Nor did she like to sleep during the day. And no-way-sies does she then – or now – enjoy sitting. (Consequently, I’m 15kg lighter than I was when I got pregnant. I call it the “Always Moving” workout. And the thing about co-sleeping? For us, I still needed to wake up fully and sit up for an hour every time she wanted to feed every 2 hours. She needed burping and positioning and my pump-action squirtable boobies. It took until she was 3 or 4 months before her little nose didn’t get squashed by the Giant Rock Hard Boob as we fed laying down.
Oh and breastfeeding? Yay breastfeeding! But oh the time! Up to 15 hours a day! I remember the days of driving 25 minutes and stopping twice during that time for feeds. And it took until she was six or seven months old until I realised that this mama? This particular constellation of cells? She needs time each day to herself. To sit and create and muse and write and realign her energies. Otherwise she dries up and becomes a parched droughtland of soul. And oh, how she needs to not just survive – she needs to thrive too. This is her holy sacrament – and the lesson that she learned hardest of all.
So here I am. Turning up to you, dearest sister. And being honest. Utterly honest. I want to tell you the good and the bad and everything interwoven. I want to tell you those hard-bound soul truths I have learned along the way. I want to not sugar-coat anything. I want to show you the handful of earth I’ve scooped up. Together we will see the grit and the glint of gold.
I think back often to those tomes of bibles. The ones which gave me such deep, rich ideas of How It Would Be. They were expectations that I could not live up to. A good book cannot convey all the life that will get in the way.
I used to be fixated on The Mother I Would Become.
Now I’m choosing to cherish on The Mother I Am.
More and more, I am becoming less and less interested in attachment parenting. In continuum concept. In seeking my identity and validation as a mother by medication-free birth, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, bamboo diapering.
I read all the books while I was pregnant. Before I was pregnant too. I wrapped myself in a haze of:
if I only do this perfectly and differently from how I was raised,
then my baby will be perfect
and she will never suffer
and will never ever go through any pain or discomfort
and all will be right in her world.
(I think that’s what all parents hope and want and are afraid of not giving.)
I thought if I securely pushed myself into one tribe, one dichotomy of parenting, then I Would Be Right. That I’d score myself the A+ in the parenting scorecard. I read somewhere that everyone is the perfect parent before they have a baby. And it made me howl with laughter. How true it was for me.
Because I judged. Oh god, how I judged.
I judged the slightest hint of wavering, of humanity in a mother. I judged any attempt by a mother to make it easy on herself. I judged prams like they were little baskets of disconnection.
(And we break for a baby break, as she crawls up to me. I commence singing songs, putting a tshirt on a head like a turban, meandering out with her to talk to her daddy, watching as Ostara is now happy sitting on one of my paintings, pulling collaged bits off it. I’m happy to sacrifice my painting to the Gods of Babysitting. I take this to be a perfectly excellent distraction for her, run back into my bedroom to continue writing this. This is what it is like to be a mama writer.)
So where were we? Oh yes! The judgement.
Oh my darling, how I judged.
I judged until my insides were pretzalled. I clamoured for safety in my judgements. I judged because I thought it made my world safer and more easy to understand. I judged because then I could know the right answer. I judged because then I could say “If only they ______, their baby would be okay.” As though my judgements would save me, and would save my baby.
Then mamahood came at me like a freight train.
I became a mama, and I tussled and struggled with perfection, with who I was supposed to be and how parenthood was supposed to look.
When babywearing did not work for my infant daughter, I swallowed a large lump of judgement, and brought a pram. And I would walk around with it, wrapped in a cloak of shame and anxiety. I judged myself for every moment she slept in there quite happily, oblivious to the fact that her mama was pushing not only the pram but a train load of guilt too.
I thought if I could just do it perfectly, everything would be right in this world. She would be happy, and wouldn’t awake crying. I wouldn’t suffer post-natal depression. I would glide into motherhood as easily as a swan takes to water. I would instantly find ease in my long list of attachment parenting and continuum concept requirements.
I would often go through the list of Dr Sear’s Seven B’s, ticking them off, trying to get each one right. If parenting was a report card, I was scoring myself according to someone else’s ideals, not my own.
Can I tell you now that it didn’t work?
That it hurt to push myself (and my family) so forcefully into someone else’s box? I thought if I sacrificed myself for my daughter every single moment, it would make her life good. It didn’t make my life good however – it made me anxious and tight and fighting for breath and sanity and any sense of myself. And that I forgot the one big lesson of my life:
To trust myself.
All my life, I’ve known that I didn’t need to adhere to one faith, one book, one way of being. That all I needed to do was trust myself – trust my intuition – and give myself what I needed. I could survey the spiritual buffet of options, and only take in those things that sang to me, that nourished me, that made me whole.
I forgot I could apply this to parenting.
My report card of parenting would look quite different now.
It would say:
- Baby happy and thriving?
- Mama happy and thriving?
- Daddy happy and thriving?
If no, let’s change it.
If yes, then YES! Carry on, dearest!
(Baby has arrived again. She plopped herself upon me, fastened herself to my boob, grown heavier & fallen asleep. I’ve nestled her into bed, grabbed my laptop, my folder, my large canvas bag that is my Mobile Office, installed my love as the Baby Watcher & walked to the library. The library that was flooded (thanks Cyclone Yasi!) and now smells vaguely of old men and unwashed laundry. But writing time! Oh the glory! My fingers fly across the keyboard as Eva Cassidy plays in my headphones. This is what it is to be a creative mama.)
More and more, I am less convinced that one style of parenting will heal all the wrongs in the world. I am less convinced that The Other styles of parenting will result in adults who are irretrievably damaged. It’s all just merging into a blur for me. All it truly means – parenting or religion or anything else in life for that matter – is LOVE.
Can I tell you that I know mamas who bottle-feed, breastfeed, co-sleep, have lovely nurseries, are slung, are prammed, have bums in disposables or cotton… and on and on the sameness, the differences, the boring details (because that is truly all they are).
And every single one of them are wonderful, perfect mamas. They have found their own groove. They love their children with all they can – and they love themselves too.
Just as I know souls who were raised in a rainbow kaleidoscope of ways… and each of them have their own joys, gladness and lessons. Every single person on this planet can be happy, healed and dancing. However their bum was wrapped. However their heart was held. Whatever parenting books their parents read (or not).
I keep remembering that one of my deepest faiths is this:
Healing miracles can happen in one instant.
Healing and joy is a choice.
And it is up to each of us.
My child will grow. I will love her. I will give her what I can. I will be the mama I am.
I will not give myself away in the battle. More importantly, I will not battle. I will make mistakes. I will feel resentful sometimes. I will open myself to the possibility that love is enough, that healing will part the way – for me, for her, for my love. That we aren’t expected to have it all together every moment.
I used to think that I shouldn’t have children before I Had It All Together. And I thought I did, when I fell pregnant. Then I became a mama. And everything I had together fell apart. And slowly, slowly, I put it back together again.
I don’t expect my parents to heal. I don’t believe I needed to have a perfect childhood in order to be who I am. Wouldn’t that be enormously disenchanting – to know that only our childhood would define the rest of our lives? When what lies within us is an enormous ability to change, learn, grow, shed and transform – all of our own volition. Our lives are not determined by our parents… and yet I thought if I clung tightly to One Style Of Parenting, then my daughter’s life would be fine and good and without its own tragedy, medicine and lessons.
But I don’t want anyone to take those things from me – I want to live my own lessons. This is mine to live.
My daughter will be who she is. And that is the most exquisite thing I could ever want for her. Any push from me to be the perfect mama is all fallow work. What if I just gave into it? What if I gave up pushing so hard, started resting more, throwing out every book, every judgment, every ideal that I clung to? Where would that leave me? With a tremendous amount of freedom, to feel the way according to my own soul.
I’m not interested in judgment anymore.
I’m longing to return home to that place inside me I have always lived from:
Follow your own intuition.
Be good to yourself.
Joy is an option.
Take from the buffet what is truly yours, and discard the rest – it does not belong to you.
Parenting is one hard bugger of a ride. So overwhelming and frightening that we think – if only I find the One Thing That Will Make It Allright, I will prescribe my life to it and not deviate from its plan. But the plan we are meant to be living is our own. The one that makes us all joyful, glad, happy and easy.
I am less interested in ideals anymore. Less interested in deciding what is right in parenting. More interested in finding my own groove, my own style, my own way of dancing this dance of mine. After all – it truly is my own dance.
I used to have this measuring stick of when to accept other people’s advice:
Are they happier than me? Does that sound good and true and right to me?
And now I need to apply it to parenting. I will no longer make decisions out of fear, out of tightness. I will make decisions out of freedom, out of lightness and gladness and joy.
So here’s my badge, dearest. The badge of how I labelled my parenting style.
I just don’t care anymore.
I love my daughter. And I love myself too.
I’m replacing it with a new one, a new badge, a new label of how I’ll be.
One that just says:
That’s all I ever needed to be.
The Mother I Already Am.
All my love,