Motherlife Interview #1
All mothers in this interview series are anonymous and so have been given nature names as their super heroine pseudonym. The nature names have been chosen from the list of nature words that have recently been deleted from a well known children’s dictionary.
‘Acorn’ works in the not-for-profit sector in operations and communications management roles. Since having children she has returned to work part time.
Her eldest is three years old and youngest is 16 months.
So that’s three years now of consistent broken sleep.
What have been the biggest challenges in becoming a mum?
Having so many things to juggle is difficult from a practical point of view. Certainly having two children is more of a juggle than one. Having people to look after all the time. Having anxiety over this little person who is completely dependent on you. Constantly thinking about them. My youngest has had health issues which have been very concerning. I’m constantly thinking about him and worrying about him and taking him to the doctor and this has used up all my mental energy and has meant that I haven’t been able to think about anything for me. There’s been no down time for me. That’s been challenging with my second child.
When you have children it’s such an immense responsibility. I wonder do other parents worry about their children as much as I worry about mine?
You read how the first three years are so important for development and character shaping. Is what I’m doing the right thing to help guide them into becoming a good person?
When I share my concerns about my youngest – other parents say ‘oh my child had speech pathology for years’ or ‘my child’s got this issue or that issue’ and I think as parents we don’t often talk about all that. So sometimes I’ve felt quite alone in my worry. But actually when you talk to other parents it turns out, well every child’s got something.
Why do you think parents don’t talk about these things?
I think part of it is time. You don’t often have time to have deep and meaningful discussions with friends. Or maybe it’s partly keeping up appearances, or maybe not wanting to stigmatise the child as being something or other.
How do you nurture yourself?
Having a cup of tea. And work, I find my work quite nurturing. That’s the time when I get to have some peace.
Why do you find work quite nurturing?
I’ve got a very supportive work team. I get to chat to colleagues. I get to work on a task and sometimes even finish it. It’s just peaceful. Its nice. Its eight hours that’s not constantly physically demanding. Being a parent at home is physically demanding. I just get to buy a coffee and sit down at my desk for most of the day and that’s (comparatively!) really relaxing.
I’m really interested that you said that being a parent at home is physically demanding – can you elaborate?
I’ve found that with two children one of the hardest things is trying to manage their relationship. They’re close in age and my eldest can be quite physical and understandably gets jealous of his younger brother so I’m having to lift the baby all the time or separate them from each other, and this can get physically and mentally tiring.
My youngest weighs 8.3kg and eldest weighs 15.5kgs.
I still carry them around quite a lot and I find sometimes when I’m with one then the other will be ‘no mummy mummy mummy I want you’. Particularly when I’ve been at work all day they both want me and it’s kind of like…
It’s funny isn’t it that being wanted?
It’s beautiful, I love it. But you do also want some space. Certainly when I first started work, I’d leave work, drive to pick them up from childcare, come home then it would be full on crazy dinner time. Both boys would want me and I would really struggle with that and get grumpy.
I used to find it really hard to not have that personal space when I got home from work. But now I’m more used to it.
So time to yourself is a big thing. What would you do if you suddenly got a bunch of time to yourself?
Just sleep. Sleep. I have fantasies about just reading in bed all morning. With a cup of tea. And just being alone in the house. I think that would be my priority of things to do. And then I might venture out and go for a walk or something.
In terms or your physicality after having children, how do you feel in your body?
I feel pretty good in my body. After my first baby which was an emergency cesarean after labour and a long period of pushing, I did feel really disconnected from my body for about six months. I didn’t feel like my body was my own, I think because at the end of the birth it was so taken over by the medical process. I just didn’t have any control over what was happening and I had to kind of completely surrender my body to whatever outcome was gonna happen, I was just like, do whatever you can. That’s a peculiar scenario.
Don’t you think it’s very peculiar in our culture and lives generally but very common for a lot of women in birth situations?
I think it was the loss of control over what was going to happen, I had no idea. And I did feel a sense of peace in that, because I just thought well there’s actually nothing I can do here so what will be will be. I felt quite at peace with that. Whereas in the second birth (a VBAC) I felt much more in control of what was happening and much more empowered. I felt very different afterwards, not at all disconnected, but completely myself. Empowered and strong and amazing really.
Do you think that was specifically the cesarean as opposed to the vaginal birth?
I don’t feel like it was related to the baby as such. I think it was more the type and process of birth.
So when you felt disconnected can you describe the feeling?
I felt very sore for a long time at the scar. I was taking a lot of pain medications, I was in a lot of pain afterwards and I couldn’t walk properly. For two or three weeks I was having to walk really gently.
Was that what you expected after giving birth?
I never really contemplated that I might have an emergency cesarean, so I never thought about what might happen when you get surgery. I didn’t really know. I think I was quite naive about what happens after you have a baby. I had no idea that you would bleed for weeks. That was a complete shock. I thought there was something wrong with me and I was bleeding after the operation. But the nurse said no, that’s completely normal. But no one had ever told me that’s what happens!
Is there some way you could have been better prepared or informed? Is that what you would have wanted?
I had asked my friend who had also had an emergency caesar a few weeks before me if she had any tips for birth and she said, ‘expect the unexpected’. That was the one thing. The one comforting thing I was thinking of as I was in surgery.
I think women are not prepared at all. It would have been good if I’d had a doula for my first baby then we would have created a birthing plan for an emergency cesarean probably. But for the first birth I had a number of obstetricians. I had gestational diabetes and in the public system you just get whatever obstetrician is on duty. That’s where continuity of care is so important i think. Because you get to talk about those scenarios.
Where would you expect to learn about the unexpected in birth, as in you may not be able to walk for a couple of weeks? I’m really interested in this point of preparing women and their bodies and expectations for birth and afterwards.
All the Spinning Babies stuff I did to prepare for my second baby could have made the world of difference with with my first birth because the baby got stuck in my pelvis as I was trying to push him out, and I don’t think that would have happened if I’d done positioning exercises during pregnancy.
Have you done any post natal rehab for your body?
After the caesar I really had no idea what I was meant to do. There was very little information from the hospital about recovering from surgery and caring for a caesar scar. It was only through chatting with a massage therapist who asked about my scar and whether I’d thought about massaging it. Then I did some research and discovered this whole body of evidence about how important it is to massage scar tissue. But no one had ever mentioned that.
It’s funny, you have major abdominal surgery, stitches, and then are given some painkillers and here’s your baby, off you go.
Really? No, ‘this is how to care for it, how to protect the wound or how to care for the scar’?
Nothing like that.
What things did you find useful?
Just taking it easy, I remember saying to you, ‘oh it’s been six weeks since the birth and I feel I can’t go for a run yet’ and you said I should wait at least six months. I struggled with the feeling that I should be doing more. I didn’t feel like that after my second baby. And I’ve not really done any exercise since. Certainly after my first I felt like I had to get back into shape and back into my usual routine.
Before having kids I did swimming and running and pilates.
Did you feel like you did them because they gave you a sense of wellbeing or physicality or was it more to do with your head?
It helps with my energy levels and my mood. When I was pregnant the first time I did a lot of exercise because I felt like I needed to build up my strength for the birth. I felt like I needed to be physically fit. But now I think it’s not about being physically fit, it’s more about being mentally prepared and just feeling healthy. That probably came from cultural influences – the idea that you need to be fit because ‘birth is a marathon’.
What would you believe now?
It’s all about feeling mentally and emotionally prepared. Having a doula and talking through a birth plan. Understanding that all the testing during pregnancy is optional. Understanding that you have the right to make choices about your healthcare.
You are educated and capable in your career, where does this autonomy go when you are pregnant?
You are buffeted through the medical system and there’s this feeling that if you don’t do certain things like the testing and the scans then you might harm the baby. It’s just what you’re meant to do. The doctors do the whole, ‘you don’t want to put your baby at risk’ so you get guilted or panicked into doing things.
Was that actually said to you?
But for my second baby I researched what the tests were, weighed up the pros and cons. Decided if they were tests I wanted to do or not.
Was it hard to find answers to questions and research?
Not really. There’s quite a lot of information out there.
Did your doula help you with making decisions?
My doula gave me information and was happy to chat about things, but ultimately I needed to make the decisions. I was very fortunate to also have the same midwife throughout my second pregnancy – I was in a midwife-led program which was brilliant, and she too didn’t want to push me to much in any one direction. But if I had questions she would be able to answer them. So for the second pregnancy and birth, I felt more emotionally and mentally prepared, and did more exercises related to the positioning of the baby, rather than trying to be physically fit. And I also did more caring things for myself: I had massages, osteopathy and acupuncture for my second pregnancy.
For me with my first I felt like I shouldn’t need massages and things, that they were a luxury and I would be fine without them. When I was pregnant with my second, I also was much more proactive in taking care of myself because I realised what a big deal pregnancy and birth are.
So many women work right up until the birth. We expect women to and we expect women to just keep going after the birth too.
I think you don’t know in the first pregnancy, I think you’re much gentler on yourself the second time. I think it’s partly not being introduced to things or not knowing about complementary therapies like osteopathy or acupuncture. A lot of women for their first pregnancy are working full time and I remember being so focused on what pram to buy and what baby clothes I needed and I remember feeling like there was so much to do. All the practical stuff takes up your thinking.
Also, all the advertising is quite loud for prams and jumpsuits and things. Whereas the stuff about your physical wellbeing is quiet. Undisturbed birth is not in your face.
Some people might also dismiss it as being a bit hippy or alternative or something when it’s actually kind of mainstream now and also so important. For many women who have a private obstetrician they are unlikely to get information about acupuncture or osteopathy, unless they have quite a progressive doctor. I found the midwife-led program really holistic. My midwife suggested I get acupuncture in the later stages when I was trying to get ready for the birth. It was important for me to go into labour naturally. I had acupuncture and massage and I’m sure they had an impact on helping me go into labour and avoiding a medical induction.
After the birth of your first when you had a caesar and felt quite disconnected… was there something that happened afterwards that made you feel more connected to your body?
I think it was just time. Around six months I felt like I could touch it (the scar). It wasn’t so sensitive and it was enough time to have a bit of emotional distance from it and I then felt more physically strong. Like I could go for a brisk walk quite comfortably.
After my second I felt amazing right away. I felt really good. I think it was mostly the contrast from how I felt the first time. After giving birth I had a shower. That was inconceivable after my first. After my first I didn’t have a shower for days and even then I had to sit down and it was awful.
Is motherhood as you’d expected?
There’s so many big things about being a mum that are not really connected.
Most women would talk about the perception of motherhood and then the reality of it is quite different. In reality it’s more chaotic and messy and you’re breaking up fights or the kids are up in the night coughing and you don’t get time to do anything nice.
In your ideal world what would be your ideal solution in having time to yourself?
I’ve been reading about the importance of having rituals in your day and I’d like to incorporate those. But it’s also about having time. I do have those hours in the evening but sometimes it’s just easier to watch TV with my partner rather than do yoga or meditation. I think that once you establish routines and you get into the rhythm of it, it becomes easier. But setting up those rituals can be a bit of a challenge. In my ideal world I’d wake up early in the morning before anyone else, make myself a cup of tea, I’d do some yoga and meditation. Then walk around the neighbourhood listening to a podcast. Then we’d have a nice breakfast and everyone would be all calm. Happy. Then I’d have time to myself as part of my week as well. Go swimming.
But there’s no space.
It would be handy to have a mum who could just come once a week so you could just go do some of that stuff. But paying for a babysitter you don’t feel you can just go for a walk. You feel you should be doing something productive.
Thankyou so much Acorn for your thoughtful reflections on living within the motherlife. xx
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