Recently I spoke at an event run by the wonderful team Maria and Teri from MOMM - Mindovermattermums.com so I thought I'd share what I said. I'll break it down into three instalments because it's quite lengthy. And I kind of adlibbed and went off tangent so didn't get to cover all of what I had planned! So here you go...
Hi, I’m Fliss. I’m a SAHM, or a ‘SAHAM’ as Barb from the Letdown would call it. I do a bit of blogging on the side and sell things that we like to use in our own home on my website the healthy hippy. I like to share what works for us. As the website name suggests, I’m a bit of a health nerd and am usually on some bandwagon, most recently I’m on the medical medium buzz #teamcelery.
I have three boys – aged 6 ½, 4 ½ and 2 ¼. They were all c sections. These weren’t the births I wanted but there are much more important things than how ones’s baby is born at the end of the day. I remember my midwife telling me birth is like your Mt Everest, it seems like the biggest thing but really the view once you’ve done it is much different. I did need to address and grieve for the birth I wanted first time around though, and I think it’s important to make peace with it. I had my first baby at 28, my only friends with kids lived out of town so it was completely unchartered territory, a total baptism by fire I guess you could say. But isn’t that just motherhood anyway?
All my boys are very different. My first was, and still is very full on. Because of this we found out the sex of number two so we could mentally prepare if it was going to be another boy. It’s strange that you think at the time that they’ll be just like that baby you have, when in reality no two kids are the same and these two are chalk and cheese. So when it came to finding out the sex of number three, which we were convinced was a girl for a few reasons, there really was no worries about having yet another boy and we were excited to find out what he would be like. And no surprises but he is different and his own little dude in his own right.
I wanted to talk about a few things; the day to day overwhelm of mumlife, the relentlessness at different stages, the village – how it’s changed and how we can build one around ourselves, and self care – the basics and how it’s not all about ‘treat yo’self’.
But firstly – in Traditional Chinese medicine it’s believed that it takes two years to recover from having a baby from a physical, emotional and hormonal point of view. I would have to agree. Two times I’ve had two year olds and I’ve given birth to my next sons, so this is the first time I’ve had a two year old without being pregnant and I feel like it’s pretty accurate!
Let’s talk about the newborn phase. Pretty much everything is overwhelming at this stage. I’m not even sure overwhelm is the right word. It’s engulfing, it’s overpowering, you’re inundated with advice from every nook and cranny and crevice possible and you’re also feeling all the feels so the submersion I suppose you could say comes in all different shapes and sizes.
The feeding, the burping, the sleeping, or lack there of (the sleeeeeep) even trying to sleep when you know you have a three hour window and feel like a milking shed. Deep breathing exercises anyone? Wondering if anyone else doesn’t get time to shower and wondering what you thought mothers with babies did before you had one (isn’t it all lunches and lattes?). Then there’s the physical recovery! You’re squishy in places and look still pregnant for ages. Thank goodness for the like of Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge showing the world that yes you do still look pregnant after you give birth. There are so many of ‘why didn’t anyone tell me that!’ type moments, and some are more gross than others (hello massive maternity pads & bleeding even after a caesarean).
We went to ante-natal in our local area which was great for getting to know people in our surrounding ‘burbs. But to be honest the classes were kind of awkward and no-one really wanted to chat. I’m sure we all looked around at each other and thought are we really going to be hanging out weekly once our babies arrive? But the thing is, once our babies came we had, and still have, this bond that we couldn’t possibly have imagined before. But coffee group can be hard! It’s easy to fall into the comparison conundrum especially when you see other mums take to it like a duck to water and you feel like a failure because your kid isn’t sleeping and theirs is doing 12 hour nights. Take note – this is all in our own heads. Probably brought on by sleep dep. No one is sitting there telling you you’re doing it wrong. But I’ve also met Mum’s who’s babies did sleep well, and felt they couldn’t participate because no-one wanted to hear it when in reality, they had other issues that they wanted to chat about too. I found though overall coffee group was great for figuring out that someone is always going to have it better, and someone is always going to have it worse. If it’s not one thing it’s another and we’re all just trying to do our best navigating through these unchartered seas with our new little loves of our lives.
A few things from the newborn days:
Some days just having a shower was an achievement
Going to the supermarket was a terrifying ordeal, okay well maybe a stretch but it was definitely needing to be well timed to avoid any potential meltdowns
You wonder things like are people going to want to touch my baby like they wanted to touch my belly?
Going to the supermarket alone was a luxury. And enjoyable.
On one occasion I had a catch up with a friend but it ended up being later than initially planned. My mother in law was over to watch the baby so I could go and I had to cut my catch up short. I always felt bad about it and it was years before she had her own baby. I’m sure she understands now how that was a big deal to coordinate!
SLEEP DEP. Actual torture. Total reason why it’s used as a form of torture!
Emotions were overwhelming – things on the news…..like when my first son was born there was a news story about a newborn baby found in a stream in a plastic bag. COULD. NOT. DEAL. Stopped watching the news for a very long time.
The overwhelm of omg I am responsible for this child and they are reliant on me for EVERYTHING from now until they leave home – and then some. Scary shit! (this only happened with the first child because by the time the next one comes along you just think well what’s a couple more years…).
Things are meant to be shared with the other parent but it’s kinda not like that
Things that may be a big deal to you may not be a big deal to your partner or other caregivers.
I needed to express so baby daddy could feed bubs so I could get some sleep. This helped. A lot.
How to not compare oneself to others in coffee group, but rather understand that it can teach you that someone always has it worse and someone always has it easier and as long as it’s not big stuff then you’re actually fine (some kids have major major health issues and the stress that must put on a family is intense).
My first baby was a terrible sleeper. Daytime, nighttime, whenever time he was terrible. We worked through some things from a holistic health perspective (and that’s another story for another day) but he is a child with low sleep needs. Lower sleep needs than his brothers that’s for sure. This really affected my confidence as a new mum, and it also really influenced my lifestyle because of it, but not in a bad way. I really focussed on nutrition and eating for energy with wholefoods to get through. And this has been pretty transformational when I look back.
There are times, usually when it’s dark, when everything seems way worse. When your baby is waking a lot and you’re sleep deprived and exhausted and you’re sitting on the floor banging your head against the wall and crying wondering what is wrong with you and/or your baby, you wonder if the night will ever end. But it does! The sun rises again to see another day. So to all the mums going through something like this right now, please know that you will get through it. As my mum would say ‘this too shall pass’. And before you know it your child is at school talking back and presenting you with challenges of a different nature.
I envy the Mums’ that can make themselves look put together. I really do. I’ve never been great at applying make up and quite frankly I’m too lazy to make it a regular thing. So there are times, more often than not, that I am that totally frumpy mum. When I was a kid I worked in my parents bookshop. There was a lady that used to come in with a few kids. Four I think. She had scruffy hair, food on her face, stains on her clothes and generally looked a bit of a shambles. I used to think oh my gosh I’ll never be like that. Well. I’m sorry to say, to myself more than anyone I guess, that I am like that. Most of my clothes are stained and sometimes my hair is oily because I have long hair and I cbf washing it often because, well, it takes so long to dry.
Let’s talk about the GUILT. The Mum guilt. The guilt is real. I went back to work when my first son was one. I bawled my eyes out about putting him in care. I felt awful about not being there for my kid. I’d leave home just before 7 to get to work by 8, leave at 5 to get home by 6, shovel some food down his throat then put him to bed. Most nights I’d fall asleep on his bed with him as I cuddled him to sleep. Seeing my kid for one hour a day was heartbreaking. But you do what you have to do and you accept what you need to do and make peace with it, and tbh going to the toilet by yourself and getting a coffee and lunch when you want is a strangely exciting luxury when you’re transitioning from Saham life to working mom life. But then there’s the GUILT that comes with the needing to leave WORK by a certain time to get your kid, so no matter what you feel like you’re letting someone down. And as much as places made out they had ‘flexible working environment’s it really just translated to – well you best be logging on some time tonight to get that shit done.
Every phase is new when it’s your first. Illness and teething for example. The first fever and cold are a big deal because you’ve never gone through it before. But you gather tools as you go and find what works for you. You ask your mum friends, your coffee group, yo mama, you reach out and ask someone who’s been through it – there are 100 ways to skin a cat and everyone will have something different to add so gleen info widely and filter to what works for you.
Transitions – the second baby.
There’s obviously an adjustment period, where initially you’re just in survival mode caring for the newborn bub. Depending on your birth and if your older child naps, there can be little respite. Unfortunately for me my two year old had completely dropped his day naps when his brother was born…so there was no napping while the baby napped this time around. The exhaustion felt almost as bad as the first time around. The only difference I suppose was that I had the confidence that I COULD get through it and everything was going to be okay.
The adjustment for the older child is hard too. As much as you want to give lots of attention to your older child, you’re juggling the actual life demands of a newborn. There are certain elements of jealousy that come into play and these manifest differently for each child. When my second son was born my oldest was two years one month, and up until that point he was our entire world, so for this new thing to come along and take up my attention all of a sudden was a huge adjustment! So jealousy can look like many things, a very clingy child who all of a sudden loses their independence and needs you (mum) to do anything and everything for them and nothing else will do. Kicking up a teary fuss when being taken to daycare, wanting to sit on you even when you’re holding the baby. Being rough with the baby. Being nice to the baby in front of you then whacking the baby when you’re not looking (it happens). Behaviour issues like big tantrums and just anything to get your attention. It plays out in so many ways. And it’s hard because if you’ve never been through it before how do you know what to do? We’re all learning. And even if you have been through it before each child is different so it doesn’t mean they’ll respond to the same tactics.
The good news though – and I’m sure others may have different opinions – but the adjustment to three children I found easier than the adjustment to two.
Why? Well, you’re used to sleep dep. Your older child already has a buddy so is less phased, the sky isn’t falling, the world hasn’t been turned upside down so to speak.
You trust yourself more. Things like colds and fevers etc aren’t such a big deal because you’ve seen it before. You take things in your stride more easily because you’ve already been there done that. You’ve learnt by this stage to accept that it’s not always going to be perfect and all you can do is try to do better the next day. You learn to forgive yourself. And you protect your boundaries for your family.
I went back to work when my youngest was 9 months old. (number 2 was 6 months when I started contract work) I was still breastfeeding him and while the idea of working part time sounded dreamy, it was more like working part time with an expectation of full time availability. Mum brain did not make it enjoyable and I felt like I was basically operating at about 65% in all areas of my life. Which obviously is not ideal. We made the decision for me to stay at home and just make do with one income even though it’s a stretch until the kids are older. It comes with it’s challenges but I think it’s worth it.
No wonder we have so much burnout in society! Everyone’s stretched in all areas and the expectations just keep coming. It’s Exhausting!
While I’m out of the baby zone now, we still definitely have challenges they’ve just changed.
For example, there’s constant fighting. I argue with little tyrants who refuse to listen. Even getting three kids fed and dressed and out the door sometimes is bloody stressful. The house is always messy because no matter how tidy it is they come behind and mess it up. Lego seems to get everywhere. We also have a dog that thinks he’s a human. Prepping dinner with kids coming and narking on the other all the time is challenging. We can be out and about and one might have a mass tanty so you’re needing to chuck one over your shoulder and carry them literally kicking and screaming (seriously who needs a gym right) . The night time bath, dinner, book & bed time needs to be run with military precision or its chaotic. Tbh it’s pretty chaotic as it is.
A mantra my friend told me she employed at night times when things are getting chaotic is to take a deep breath and repeat ‘the house will soon be peaceful’ over and over. There’s some mindfulness right there. Try it – it helps”
Then there’s the other aspect of things. Yes you’re a Mum now but you’re also still the same person as before, albeit an evolved you. Trying to find your own way and identity after having kids is hard too! Time goes so quickly but it’s a paradox and seems to go sooooooooooooooo slowly as well. Is it even linear?!
Relationships change. We tend to do a lot of things by ourselves, with little time for kid free evenings. The downside of not having a village I suppose and needing to pay someone any time we want to do something together. So to be honest we just don’t! Well, not really. It looks more like movie nights at home, or having friends over for dinner. We try to step up when one ‘soldier is down’ aka one parent is really tired, or sick, or working late – these are little things that after time spent arguing with little tyrants can reallllllllly wear you down.
What do you do then? Well, you kinda suck it up and know that you’re the only one that can deal with it. Cry if you need to. Have a bath, read a book, have a wine, do a facemask, do yoga, jump on the rebounder, do whatever you need to do that’s going to fill your tank a little. You find other ways to have fun as a couple, and enjoy the weekends. You adopt the mantra that ‘I am responsible for my own happiness’ and accept that parenting isn’t always going to be 50/50, or whatever percentage you thought it was going to be. You flip the coin and thank yourself lucky that you get to do the amount of parenting that you do, and that no matter how hard it seems at times, this is just life right now and we will all get through it. And we’re lucky to. So unbelievably lucky to.
You still have the right to say what makes you happy and talk to your partner about that, if you’re not feeling supported enough or feel they’re taking the piss with too many after work drinks or doing their own activities because we do all make sacrifices and it seems like men make far less than mothers, in my observation anyway.
Sometimes the expectations of partners on what we’re actually doing is unrealistic – it’s not all bloody lunches and lattes is it love! We don’t really have that much spare time – washing, cleaning, preparing food blah blah blah. If you break it down into time units there’s actually not a lot of wiggle room for doing many other things.
Beware the comparison conundrum – it’s hard to avoid. We all see mum’s that look like they just do everything perfectly and have things under control and doing activities with kids like the perfect parent type situation. But we can’t and mustn’t compare ourselves, everyone’s journey is different so don’t let clever photography and filtering fool you. What you see online is usually a highlight reel, remember that. I mean who wants to be the negative Nancy? Everyone has struggles. Every single person. But some might not just broadcast it. Comparison is the thief of joy. Unfollow anyone that makes you feel like that. There is no way to be the perfect parent but a million ways to be a good one.
Making peace with the way things are is also something that we need to do. Other people including family may choose not to show up in your kids (and your) life the way you wanted them to, or thought they would. With people I know it’s not that uncommon, but it’s pretty disappointing. We’ve had births in our family that have been completely ignored, not even acknowledged. We’ve had people throw away relationships to prove points. We’ve had bullying, blackmailing, all from people who are supposed to be there to support. People are strange, even when you’re not a stranger.
But no matter how cold the winter, there’s a spring time ahead (sorry to chuck in another favourite lyric there, but it’s a goodie).
That’s not to say I feel like I’m out of a winter per se, as we may have already had our spring and gone into a summer but you get the jist – which is nothing lasts forever and soon it’ll seem like a distant memory and you may well be wanting to go through it all again mad as it sounds…!
Sometimes we just need to take it one day at a time. And in the early days even one hour at a time (my oldest sister actually told me that when I had my first baby). And I think that’s pretty bloody good advice.
I can’t help wonder though – is some of the day to day stuff harder because there’s no let up and the village has changed so much? Stay tuned for the next instalment…