Motherlife interview #2
All mothers in this interview series are anonymous and so have been given nature names as their super heroine pseudonym. The names have been chosen from the list of nature words that have recently been deleted from a well known children’s dictionary.
Mamma Ash 13/3/19
One baby boy, eight months old.
Before becoming a mother, what sort of work did you do?
I was full time in sales, which involved a lot of driving and also teaching pilates on the side about an extra six hours a week.
Is there anything significant that comes immediately to mind about your experience of becoming a mother?
The thing that surprised me was the overwhelming feeling of love I felt once my baby was born and how that’s grown each day.
How was your pregnancy?
Pregnancy was fantastic, I loved being pregnant. I see pregnant women now and I just feel so happy for them, I think it’s such a beautiful time. Holding my hands on the belly was such a beautiful feeling. I had a little hip (sacroiliac joint) problem at around the six month stage but that was only for a few weeks. But otherwise the pregnancy was an enjoyable time in my life.
And how was the birth?
The birth was not what I was expecting. I went into natural labour at 37 weeks, although I was never really sure about my dates. I always had a feeling I was going to go earlier than what they had said I was going to go. I went into spontaneous labour at about 10 pm and went through the night at home just walking around, on all fours in the shower and rolling over the fit ball.
I went to hospital at midday the next day. I felt like it was getting close to me having to push. When we arrived at the hospital I was 8 cm dilated. I hopped in the bath for the last period thinking I was going to push there and he’ll come out. I progressed to 10 cm but after about three hours later I was still trying to push. At this stage the obstetrician was called in to check on me.
After the obstetrician did an internal, she informed me that baby was quite wedged into my pelvis and that wanted to take me into theatre and try to rotate the baby using forceps. If that didn’t work then it’d be a cesarean. I had a brief moment to discuss this with my partner and midwives. A part of me felt like I was giving up but then the other part knew I was being advised by an obstetrician who knew best for me and baby. I felt like I was in good hands and I’d done what I needed to do.
Once in theatre the obstetrician did another internal examination and decided straight away that forceps wouldn’t do the job and that a cesarean was needed. Moments later we were setting up for a cesarean. Literally moments later! Within about half an hour he came out. So it was an emergency cesarean but the whole time I felt quite calm and was just looking forward to meeting him. So it wasn’t what I’d expected, especially after going to the hospital at midday almost fully dilated and thinking it’ll be moments, or perhaps an hour or two before I push him out. He was born at 7.30pm.
How do you feel about the birth?
For about three weeks after the birth I was very tough on myself. I kept asking myself if I could have done something different to avoid him being posterior. I thought it was quite unusual having a cesarean, most of my friends who I spoke to about birth had been through natural births. As I was exposed to more birth stories, both at my mums group and through other friends, I realised it was quite common. I feel like that whole time, despite it being an emergency cesarean it was very controlled. His heart rate didn’t drop at any stage. I felt ok. I lost about a litre of blood after he was born. But besides that it all felt very safe and controlled.
And so how long did you spend in hospital before you came home?
Three nights, I was in the public system.
And had your milk come in before you came home?
Not fully. I didn’t read much about breastfeeding and didn’t really understand that it can take time for the milk to be established. I was producing colostrum and feeding that to baby through a syringe as he wasn’t latching very well. It took a few weeks to come in full supply. I ended up going on medication called Domperidone to assist with milk supply.
And you found that helped to establish your milk supply?
It did. It really helped. After a couple of weeks of taking it my milk supply was established and he was putting on weight.
Now I realise how much milk he needed and what actual flow looks like. At the time of leaving hospital I remember my mother in law asking ‘has your milk come in?’ and I said oh yes, it’s in. I really thought that was it. It’s hard to know what’s right when it’s your first time.
So did you get engorged when your milk came in?
No. I was using a pump to help but it wasn’t flowing a lot so he mustn’t have been getting a great deal of milk and he wasn’t latching, that took a while.
Did you see a lactation consultant?
Yes. Once in the hospital and then we went back about three times to the hospital. I was pretty lucky to see the same person each time. I think in the public system I could have seen someone different and been given different advice every time.
So how do you feel your expectations of being a mother have compared to the reality of it?
I think the overwhelming feeling of love and pure joy from looking at him every day. I never thought it would be so big. That has just blown me away. There are the days when you can feel so down and then you look at him and it changes everything for the better.
I think I’ve found it quite difficult to go from working full time and having another job on the side to then realising ‘I’m at home now and this is my job, looking after a baby 24/7’. That’s been quite challenging just getting my head around it. It’s monotonous and you’re doing the same thing a lot of the time and not getting paid for it. It’s rewarding in a different way. That’s taken me a little bit to get my head around.
Not getting the money?
No just more that I’m at home with him and that’s my job. I’m not getting on public transport to go to work to be around other adults. And it’s only in the last few months that I’ve realised this is what I’m meant to be doing right now. It’s really important, it’s not just a temporary thing for a few months.
That’s a massive realisation isn’t it?
Yeah and my partner and I have lots of chats about it because it has taken me a bit of time to realise this is hard work and it is a job. Other people are paying to have their babies in child care or cared for but I’m at home doing this.
And you don’t get paid for it.
I get rewarded by spending time with my son that I love. And all the feelings of joy that you get. I feel bad my partner has to go to work and he doesn’t get to spend 24/7 with him. But it’s just the way that it is.
So can you explain what you mean by the difficult aspects?
I don’t think that the parenting part has been hard, but understanding that this is a job and it’s ok to say that I stay at home as a mum. Just understanding that’s the job that I do.
Why do you think it’s hard to say that this is the job you do?
It’s the way society looks at being a stay at home mum. For some it’s perceived to be all coffee catch ups, play dates and not a ‘real’ job. It’s assumed the role is just temporary and you’re taking time off ‘work’. I think before you have children you don’t realise that it’s 24/7 with them. You don’t have time off. You don’t get sick pay or holidays. I think that was a realisation after he was born.
Do you anticipate going back to paid work?
Not in a full time capacity.
But you’re back teaching pilates again?
I am. And that was always my plan. I knew that I wasn’t going to go back to full time work unless absolutely necessary. And thankfully it’s not necessary. In the past few weeks I’ve been in contact with my full time employer to let them that I won’t be going back. And it’s strange as I knew I wasn’t going to return, but saying it out loud and deciding that I’m not going back has been quite a hurdle to get over.
Yeah and it’s funny because I love doing this (mothering) but knowing that I’m not going to earn income and will be at home doing this has been quite something to get my head around. Talking with my partner has been really helpful, realising that it’s so important to be here with our baby. The thought of dropping him at daycare makes me feel a little bit sick. I don’t think I could do it right now.
So how did it feel to resign?
I haven’t done it yet I’m going to tell them this week.
So, soon you’ll be a fully fledged stay at home mum, completely reliant on your partners income. How does that feel?
I’m a very independent person. I’ve been working since I was sixteen when I had my very first part time job. It feels like I’m losing something. It feels like I’m losing my independence. Because then I’m reliant on my partner. He reminds me frequently that I’m doing the most important job with our son and that’s why we’re a family because as a family that’s his job to go to work.
It’s such a massive transition isn’t it? It sounds like you were brought up to be independent and earn your own money and have a career and suddenly you have a baby and all of that goes away. And you’re now a stay at home mum and you spend 24 hrs a day with a baby and you don’t earn any money and you’re completely attached to a small baby who of course you love but there goes your independence and your career.
Absolutely. And it’s not like I was a career woman. I didn’t love my job. But being hard working has always been such a strong value to me, it’s something that I really admire in people. And the thought that this isn’t hard working? What am I thinking? It is! But people have this idea that you’re out for lattes or you’re at home and just sitting on the couch watching netflix. No! I think I’ve done that once in 8 months!
So what constitutes hard work then? In your pre children life what did you think hard work looked like?
A full time job. Even a second job on top of that. You were rewarded by having a paycheck at the end of the week. Someone recognised that I’d worked hard. With mothering, where do we see it? You can see it in your baby and the way they’re developing because you’re there doing it as they can’t survive on their own.
So, hard work with a baby looks different. Can you describe it?
Well, Number one, sleep deprivation, that gets to you and then there is just the fact that it’s constant, they’re always there. You can’t take a sick day and say ‘sorry baby I’m not coming into work today, you can just do whatever you want’. You can’t do that. Sure he gets frustrated and we don’t know what he’s frustrated about, I don’t see that as really difficult. But just that constantness, you don’t get time to switch off.
Do you have much support around you? Your partner works full time does he?
He does yes, and the travel time on top of that. He leaves at 7.30 am, so he’ll see baby briefly and then he’ll get home maybe about 6.30 pm.
So you’re all by yourself with baby all day?
Yeah. I have support in that my in laws are close by. My family are two hours away if I ever need anything desperately. But if I wake up and think I just wish mum would come around and watch him while I have a shower and just do something for myself, I can’t just ring up on the day and say “hey come down!”.
Do your inlaws help you out?
They would. But I wouldn’t ring up. I set times with them and they look after him. But at the drop of the hat they would come around if I ever need it.
But you don’t feel like you want to, or you can’t ask them?
I think it’s just different. But they would jump at the chance if ever I did. It’s more how I feel about calling.
You feel uncomfortable asking?
I just feel like it’s not that desperate.If I was sick I’d definitely ring them and ask but if it was more that I just need a break today then I’d just “oh come on you can get through this!”. They’d hate that I think that. They’d want me to call them if I ever wanted help. And maybe over time I’ll eventually get there.
I think that’s a really interesting point you’ve just described there, and it’s not just you. It’s the whole thing around women not asking for help unless they’re really desperate.
Yeah. Does it have to get to the point where I’m really sick before I ask for help?
What if you ask for help before you’re sick and then you didn’t get sick because you’re not run down and exhausted. I think culturally its quite hard for mums to ask for help because we feel like we should be coping and it looks like everyone else is coping. And I don’t know, maybe they are. That’s kind of why I’m doing these interviews because there’s a big silence around what it is that mums do.
There’s a huge silence! You’ve hit the nail on the head. And nobody wants to be seen that they’re failing or don’t have it together. And I guess I’d like to be as raw as possible with people and not trying to put up a front but there’s a part of you that suddenly goes “I can’t leave the house without at least combing my hair”.
Going back to the sleep deprivation. How do you feel like sleep deprivation has impacted you?
Hugely. I think in the first few months I just went with the flow and I was so happy. I didn’t feel pressure to meet up with people or go to exercise classes or cook dinner every night. I stayed at home a lot but I’m a homebody and I loved that. I didn’t feel bad for not going out all the time.
It was kind of OK to say “oh he’s still waking a couple of times or three times in the night” and people would say that’s normal. From about 3.5 months to 6.5 months I don’t think I got more than 4 hours sleep in a row for many nights. Build that up over time and that really got to me. It affected my mood. My relationship. My physical and mental state. You just want to go to bed. I knew it was great to get outside and go for a walk but I just didn’t have the energy to do it. So that really affected me in a big way. And just my concentration levels, trying to have a conversation with someone and I just couldn’t focus on it.
Did you know it was the sleep deprivation at the time?
I knew it was definitely the sleep deprivation because a couple of times my partner came home from work and he’d ask “what’s wrong” and I burst into tears and said “I just want some sleep, I just want some sleep”.
And so what did you do, are you still feeling that way?
No not at all.
I think this is really interesting because some of the symptoms you’ve described sound so similar to postnatal depression. I think it’s really interesting that PND is such a huge issue for new mothers and so is sleep deprivation. So I wonder, what if mothers were seriously supported to get more sleep and more rest? Or at least acknowledge that sleep deprivation pull’s up those symptoms.
I kept thinking it would get better at four months or better at five months. And that went on and then we went away and that affected it. So I decided one night instead of me feeding him everytime he woke up, that my partner would get up and cuddle him and put him back in the cot. So I guess we did our own form of sleep training.
But he was being cuddled.
After that a couple of weeks later, we’d let him have a little cry and I’d time it and go and give him a cuddle if it went on. And then luckily, within a few nights he just started waking up twice and then that went on to once and so it just kind of gradually all happened and it wasn’t painful for me in that I had to lay there and hear him cry because I just couldn’t do that.
So does he sleep through the night now?!
Touch wood, last night he slept 12 hours! That’s the first time. But before that he woke one or two times. I spoke to my friend who lives in Hong Kong and they co sleep with their little girl who’s two, and she said that she probably feeds her baby five times a night, but she said she sleeps right beside her and she’s fine with that. Everyone has what they’re fine with. She doesn’t mind that she feeds her still, she said she lies there and feeds her when she’s half asleep, and she loves it. She said she can’t imagine her baby not being there in the bed with her. Everyone does it differently.
How about your body? The physicality. How did you feel in your body after the birth?
I think after the cesarean I didn’t anticipate it would take my body so long to recover and I didn’t take into account that I also went through full labour. I was in labour for a long time and pushing and it was through the night so I hadn’t had any sleep the night before and then I had major abdominal surgery. My body had been through a lot in that time. I was surprised that even after two weeks, just to walk down to collect the mail at the end of the driveway I had to take it slow. And over the month’s I still felt quite different in my body.
I haven’t pushed it at any stage to do exercise. But I think that looking after a baby in itself is so physical. Like getting the pram in and out of the car. You forget that those things can be heavy and you still have to care for your body. I think after about six months I felt my wound had healed really nicely. I feel OK carrying him now. But it’s taken a while. Probably six months I’d say to get to a point where I feel like this is the new normal for my body. I still feel like everything that’s happened inside my body in terms of being cut open, is still healing.
How long did you anticipate the healing might take before you had your baby?
Well, you hear you have this six week check up and then you’re fine to come back and do things. But at six weeks I was only just starting to get out of the house. So I guess I thought maybe three months. It definitely wasn’t three months. I think it was more like six months to start to feel OK to go for a pretty brisk walk and for a duration of an hour or so. I was still probably going for a walk but I would feel it the next day.
Where would you feel it? In your cesarean wound or your scar?
In what way?
Like a heaviness feeling. Right up at the wound. I don’t get that anymore.
How was it in the early postpartum was the wound painful?
I’d say that in the early months I was very careful about it and I didn’t particularly want to spend a lot of time looking at it. And I think after I met up with you and you said to me “it’s OK to massage it, have you done that?” And I think that night I came home and looked at it a bit and started massaging it. So that was really helpful.
Was that a nice thing to do?
Yeah! And even now I still do that and it’s healed really beautifully.
Oh that’s so good! And it’s such an easy thing to do isn’t it (massage the scar)?
Yeah, but they don’t tell you that at the hospital. I didn’t get told that.
You didn’t get told how to care for the wound?
No. It was covered when I came home and then I had someone come out here and take the stitch out and that’s when they took the waterproof bandage off.
Is it just one stitch?
Yeah it was one long stitch, tied at the end.
How long was the waterproof bandage on for?
Must have been probably almost a week. But they changed it once for me.
Can you shower and bathe with it on?
Shower yes, but probably not a bath. I think they advise you not to bath.
And so you still feel like that’s healing inside? Can you describe what that feels like? You said that it looks like it’s healed well from the outside but a cesarean wound goes really deep.
Maybe I don’t feel it, but mentally I think it’s still healing. I think about people who’ve had open heart surgery. Do they after six months think “I’m fully healed?” No they don’t. I know that’s a huge comparison but they’re cutting through so many layers with a cesarean.
You said you didn’t get any advice on how to care for the wound?
No. After they came to take the stitches out I still had the steri strips over it and they just said to let them fall off in the shower and you’ll go to your six week check up with your GP. And that’s all I remember them saying.
And was the GP visit helpful?
Not really besides saying everything looks fine. She did an internal. And then a couple of months later I went and saw a women’s health physiotherapist.
Was that helpful?
Yes I went twice and she did a proper internal pelvic floor check. Because I felt like I was over clenching and not releasing.
And is that what was happening?
Do you feel like that had been happening before the birth, when you were pregnant and before you were pregnant? Or do you think it just started happening after the birth?
I think it may have been happening before but it was more noticeable after the baby. And I think it was me probably being conscious that I had to hold everything in after the cesarean and so then that impacted on me being tight (in the pelvic floor) and trying to keep everything secure but not being able to relax it (the pelvic floor) all out.
And did the women’s health physio help with that?
Yeah she did. And I encourage other new mums to go and see one. I think they need to bring it into the public system because it’s going to help further down the track. I think lots of older women have pelvic floor issues and they just think its normal.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
I usually get up at about 6 am. Baby will get up at about 7 am and have a breastfeed. We have breakfast together, some porridge and then he has a nap. And then we’ll usually go out, whether to catch up with a friend or just for a walk or run some errands. When we come home in the afternoon he’ll have another nap and I’ll get dinner ready for the evening and do any food prep for him that I need to do and catch up with any stuff for work that I’ve got to do. And then he’ll get up and usually we’ll go for another walk and then come home prep dinner, feed him, bathe him sometimes my partner will get home for the bath.
So sometimes you partner won’t even get to see him?
Sad for your partner and intense for you.
Yeah and sometimes I’m looking at the clock and trying to keep baby awake for another 10 minutes but he’s tired, and so when a baby’s tired you put them to bed. And luckily my baby goes down to sleep really well every single night. Then my partner and I have dinner together. Then we clean up and just have our time together. And I’m usually in bed by 9-9.30 and asleep by 10 pm.
Is there one thing that you feel like you’d like to tell your pre baby self that would be really lovely for her to know?
Just don’t rush. Just stop and appreciate every moment because time flies. Don’t be worried about getting to the next milestone for yourself or don’t worry about cleaning the house or catching up with people. Those things can wait. Stop and just appreciate the time with your baby.
Because before you know it, he’s going to be in someone else’s care and this time he’s with you is so short.
And, is there something you’d love for our culture to understand about early motherhood or offer to women as they become new mothers?
I’d love for our culture to understand that’s it’s okay for a new mother not to rush back to everything if she isn’t ready. Whether that be work, socialising, fitness, or whatever. There shouldn’t be praise for getting back into things so quickly, as if it’s the pinnacle of achievement for a new mum. Spending time in that newborn bubble should be encouraged. A new mother should be able to go with her instincts in returning to everyday life and not feel pressure from society.
Thankyou so much ‘Ash’ for your thoughtful reflections on living within the motherlife. xx
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, you might like to read the first motherlife interview here. And, please feel so very welcome to join my community below. There will many more of these rather lovely interviews soon.