Motherlife interview #4. Part Three.
All mothers in this motherlife 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.
This is part two of the three part ‘Motherlife interview #4’. You can read ‘part one, a home birth story’, here. and ‘part two’, here.
Bluebell, mama to one little boy, 2.5 years old.
Sophie: So how was you experience of early mothering with a newborn?
Bluebell: I had a crazy adrenaline overdrive which didn’t make it easy.
Did you? That kicked in even though you had this peaceful birth? (Read Bluebell’s birth story here.)
That’s interesting. When did you realise that’d happened? Did you know straight away?
Maybe a week or two in.
And how did you identify it?
I just couldn’t sleep even when I should have been able to sleep. There was a beautiful network of women where I lived who all helped new mums. There was this beautiful woman who came to my house with her massage table and she was like a doula as well and she did homeopathy and got me this kit and gave me all these things to help me try and calm down and gave me a massage too. I was pretty sore in my back. I have scoliosis and my son was massive and I had pelvic instability.
You had that (pelvic instability) come on after the birth or during the pregnancy?
I don’t exactly know what happened but I think it was something to do with the relaxin that kicks in. It was great because straight away after the birth I didn’t feel sick any more. Everything tasted great I could eat greens again! I felt like I was on acid and ecstasy all at the same time, super hormones! But the relaxin meant that because I wasn’t strong from nine months of immobility, everything just kind of collapsed.
Ok so you weren’t doing any exercise at all through the pregnancy?
I tried, I had a personal trainer, and I’d go and throw up and so after two or three times of cancelling and paying I gave up, I couldn’t do anything. I was just too sick. So I had a sequence of events that made it all very hard, or harder. And hence why I’m still in a bit of physical strife now.
So after you gave birth you developed pelvic pain?
Maybe I had it during the pregnancy too. I was seeing an osteo once a week. He was great but I don’t remember what we called it at the time.
But it was pain in your pelvis?
Lower back. I started swaying in my lower back really badly and that curve is definitely still worse than it used to be. And the pelvic instability, I only knew the name of that more recently seeing the oseto here. But I don’t know when that started.
So you were in pain in the early mothering period.
Not really bad, it’s hard to remember now, but I remember just wanting help to ease it, which is why I was getting the massage and she was giving me lots of homeopathics to try calming me down because I was just so buzzed up.
So we had one week and then my mum came for three weeks which was lovely and then she left and my husband went back to work after six weeks. And then it was a bit hard because I just didn’t really feel safe. I think it was a bit of a freaky time because we knew my mother in law was sick and we had to get over to Australia which brought up a whole lot of stuff for my partner, which made it hard for us. His mum was sick and then he learned all this stuff about his dad and his dad was being difficult.
Ok and this all happened around that time?
Ahh. So with the principles of postpartum care one of the things we talk about is retreat. Retreat as in physically and also mentally so if you’re not protected from external chaos, mental chaos or other peoples dramas, then that can have quite a profound impact on a mother. And people don’t seem to realise that new mothers are very vulnerable at that time to exposure to mental drama. I’m so sorry to bring it up.
No it’s ok, I’m just remembering it. It was a really, really tough time. I remember even a couple of months after he was born I’d arranged to go and see a really good friend of mine. We’d gone through a couple of miscarriages together, but she’d been trying to get pregnant for longer. And had had eight miscarriages.
Oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you’d had miscarriages.
Yes I had two, I was lucky in the end, but she hadn’t been. And she couldn’t be my friend because of that.
Because she hadn’t had a baby?
Yeah, and she couldn’t handle that I was pregnant. So there was all this other stuff going on. And I remember one time they asked us over for dinner. And we walked out the door and it was London and it was raining and it was dark, and I was like ‘we cant take him out’. We didn’t have a car, because you don’t need one in London. I just felt like we couldn’t take him on public transport, he was just this tiny little thing! So I said ‘we can’t go’, I hadn’t even realised. And everybody afterwards was saying ‘oh gosh yes, sorry, we should be coming to you!’. But they also didn’t think about it and I think she also didn’t want to. She was sort of testing how it was going to work next. And the whole friendship sort of just collapsed in the end. After 10 years too. So there’s a fair bit of trauma there as you can see.
So I had a lot of adrenaline and it was quite hard to sort of come down from that. And then when we came here to Australia everything just got harder and harder.
So you came here to Australia when your baby was three months? And that was because your mother in law was unwell?
Yes, and then my mum got sick too, and she’s still sick. So it’s been a very full on couple of years. I have this friend who lives around the corner and she had a baby with her husband, and they’re in their house that they own and she’s just been cruising and coasting and there’s just been no drama. I think he was born through IVF so she’s had other issues, and I think she’s trying again. But we just had quite an unstable beginning which also meant that then I wasn’t able to get the sleep thing happening for quite a while so then we had chronic sleep deprivation until we finally found a sleep doctor that we liked when he was 15 months old. So now he sleeps.
And so learning some strategies to get him to sleep helped?
Yes well, I was his sleep crutch. But he just wanted to feed all night and sleep and wake up and feed because we ended up co sleeping in all the moving and stress. And I think had we been a little more stable, we’d have been able to get onto the sleep thing sooner. But instead it was like 15 months of not getting more than an hour or two’s sleep a night.
So you got very, very tired.
Yeah, I think I’m only just catching up now. In the past month or two, I’ve been starting to get really big sleeps.
So does your little one sleep through the night now?
Yeah he does 10.5 hours, sometimes 11 if we’re lucky. Which is great.
And he’s in his own bed now?
Yes his own bed.
And are you still breastfeeding?
No, I stopped at around 15 months.
And how old is he now?
Two and a half. So I think with all of the upheaval and family illness and moving it was just a massive time. And I think if perhaps we could have just been in one place and not moved countries it wouldn’t have been as hard, and I would have been able to manage the sleep crisis a bit better, and made it less hard.
But it was just a full on time. And adrenalin wise maybe I’ve calmed down now. I do have a bit of a thing for coffee though!
So was there something that you did that helped you calm yourself down, was there anything in particular or was it just sorting out the sleep?
Sleep. Yeah, sleep was hard. I remember seeing you early on (in a pilates class) and saying I haven’t had enough sleep. Because my body wasn’t working well. And I wouldn’t get the time to sleep heal. So now if I get a good night’s sleep I don’t wake up in as much pain. But if I don’t sleep well then I wake up with this clicky jaw thing and it all goes up here into my neck and shoulders.
So can you tell me about how your body has been impacted by the pregnancy, the birth and your postpartum experience?
So I have scoliosis anyway, which I used to manage by staying a little bit fit. Although I’ve never been a very athletic person, it’s definitely has gotten worse. I know my twist is worse. The pelvic instability means I’ve just got a constant niggle in that area.
And you see an osteopath for that?
Yes so long as I do osteo, and also a pilates class with you at least once a week then I can sort of pull it back and if I get enough sleep for five or six nights then I’m ok.
So sleep, osteo and pilates. So how do you find the pilates helps?
I think because it releases the fascia so everything can relax in the right way and my body can remember the way it should be working. Because everything feels as though it’s all backwards and over compensating. And I’ve got to then try and work at strengthening. So my base maintenance is one of each and if I miss any of them, then it all sort of spirals and I end up in crisis again. I’ve had a few windows where I stopped seeing the osteo for a bit. In January I was going to Pilates twice a week and I was feeling so good. And then there was sickness, we went away, and I had a breast reduction operation and so six months later, I’m still trying to get back to that point in January. But because of my mums illness I just haven’t got enough child care and it’s just really hard to prioritise it. So I think what I’d already had (the scoliosis) has just gotten a lot worse.
And I had a funny neck from this bus accident years ago and that comes in with a clicky jaw and then sometimes I’m so crooked and I struggle to prioritise fixing myself.
Yes but you say you struggle to prioritise fixing yourself but you say you don’t have enough childcare. Did I hear you say that?
Yes, and I do have some help.
So you’re the primary carer for your little boy then?
And you partner works?
He works full time. And I have a nanny two days a week and I still don’t have enough help.
So do you do paid work as well?
So during the time when your nanny’s here you do paid work?
That’s what I should be doing but generally I just do it when I can. Because it depends on deadlines. And because I’m trying to do this other project which is unpaid and that’s actually what I really want to be doing more than anything else. I’ve taken on too much. But I’ve identified something I know how to do, it needs to live, and I feel passionately interested in it. So I’m trying to do too much. And I can’t actually do that much.
My paid work basically pays for me to work by paying for the nanny and the osteo and pilates.
OK, that’s tricky isn’t it. How do you unwind all that?
I’m not sure.
So, it sounds like you’ve had a few challenges, but what do you feel has been the biggest challenge in becoming a new mum?
Trying to balance what my son needs are with my professional and personal needs. Trying to balance it all! Trying to rear a child in a healthy, safe environment, your relationship and all that brings up which is a whole other thing isn’t it? And its all just fucking complicated. And I’m always over ambitious.
And do you feel like you have support around you?
Yes, and no. I’m really glad to have found you guys at the Pilates studio. My son does two or three hours at creche, Thursday and Friday mornings. When my mums not sick she’ll help one or two afternoons.
Does she live around here?
No she’s in the country. But her immune system is still compromised from having chemo, so if he’s sick and she catches it, even a mild thing, it takes her six weeks to recover. So if he’s sick, then she can’t come anywhere near him. So if I’ve made plans then I can’t do anything, I’ve got to look after him. It’s just a juggle.
So do you care for your mum at all? Or is she able to look after your son sometimes?
She’s able to look after him when he’s not sick and she’s got enough energy. Which for six weeks has been a couple of hours here and there. And I mean it’s amazing that she still wants to and can still try to.
What sort of cancer does she have?
She had three. Ovarian, breast and something in her lymph node. Random. Or not. There’s unproven studies that it’s from taking hormone replacement therapy for a long time. To get three cancers is kind of weird.
And how long has that been going on for?
Since my son was about four or five months old.
Ok, so that must have been quite a big stress when you found that out.
Yeah. And they found one, and then another one, and then another one. So she had heaps of operations. She had a year of operations and treatment.
So that was when you son was little, you’d just moved here, no one was sleeping, your mother in law had just died.
My dad had just died the year before too when I was pregnant with my son. So I was just like FUUUUCK. And just trying to figure out how to do all this parenting stuff too. So I think the hardest thing is just trying to learn how to juggle a moving feast of needs and there’s only so much time in the day. So I sort of feel like I’m ‘on’ and then I’m exhausted. Boomf!
And I don’t know if I’m doing anything particularly well. I sometimes feel quite ineffective. And having the earning pressure too. Because Australia is so expensive.
OMG I don’t know how you’re going to edit this into something that makes any sense!?
I quite like the erraticness of it though. It illustrates that it’s not a linear journey becoming a mum. There’s such a lot that you’re juggling and that every woman is juggling and it doesn’t get talked about. You just see mums looking like they’ve got it all together at the park, and you don’t see all this other stuff. All the stuff that’s going on in your head. I guess one of the things that made me want to start talking to women like this was because before I had children I’d sometimes see mums with small children and a pram taking up the footpath and they’d be shuffling down the street because they’re so exhausted, in milk stained clothes and I’d just be so dismissive of them. And when I had my children I was suddenly like hang on, these women before they had children had jobs, careers, titles, and earning capacity, and they had a position in society. A status. And what I felt like happened for me and what I noticed, is that women once they have children, it’s like they don’t exist anymore. They’re just this shuffling, bumbling, grey, kind of haggard exhaustion. But you’re telling me all this stuff that you’re managing and spinning. And in some traditional cultures once women have babies, that’s when they come to have some sort of position or status in their culture because they’re so respected for having given birth and for becoming a mother. And here it’s the reverse.
It’s sick. But our society is profoundly sick society. It’s perverse. It’s actually terrifying when you actually look at it. It’s like my spine, its all back to front and compensating in all the wrong areas and pulling in the wrong ways. It’s all our values and the fibres are not working healthily to bring the best out of the people and the planet. We put GDP first. We tear babies out of their mothers’ tummies. Fear is the thing that wins. It’s all back to front.
You’ve mentioned fear a couple of times and you’ve mentioned adrenaline a couple of times. We so easily get into that state of fight and flight. Especially when birth involves intervention. But even though you had a very lovely homebirth, you still went into that adrenalised state. But you had a lot of stuff that happened around and after the birth.
Yes I’d put that into a lot of stuff that happened around us. There was stuff that came out with my partner that was full on. I’m still in recovery, we’re still recovering from what we’ve been through. Just.
So the other thing that I don’t see in your story and it might just be that you didn’t tell me? But I don’t see this support for the new mother? Because in traditional cultures there is the idea of support for the new mother in those first six weeks, but it’s also on going, for a year or more. Its a community cultural experience. Not just this isolation.
Totally isolating. Completely isolating. And it’s really sad. It’s really sad that this is how it is. I remember finally meeting my mothers group here, which was through a friend that was in one near here. And I just remember going. Oh my goodness! I probably came at it like a crazy lady, I was just so excited to meet other mums like me! People like me I suppose. It was a year before I found that.
It was a shitty, hard time. And I suppose it would be easier if I was somebody that was content to not ‘just’ be a mum, but to just ‘be’ a mum, but I’m not. Sometimes I see mums with lots of kids and they’re obviously a full time mum and they’re not trying to work, or they don’t have to work as well. And that seems like such a relief. But I actually get a bit bored. I love having Wednesdays, all day with my son where I can just turn everything else off and it’s just us to do whatever we want. But I can’t do it seven days a week.
Because of financial pressure or because you need that outlet yourself?
Some of the other women that I’ve interviewed have mentioned that as well. That their work, once they start going back to work is like an escape.
Yes, because I know how to do my work!
There’s something about using your brain. I actually really enjoy it. And I have been getting some lovely jobs coming in. And I get a lot of pleasure out of it. And I do remember trying to crank my brain up again, going ‘come on, come on, come back!’ Actually I started working when he was like a week old. I had him strapped around my front, I was just doing a few hours here and there. So I never really stopped. But in London I was sort of the bread winner so there was a bit of pressure there too. But I never let that go. But here it’s very different.
It’s just been really full on. Its been so fucking full on. I feel completely wiped out. I do feel like I aged five years in one.
Yeah, I feel like that as well.
And then my weight, I haven’t been able to lose as well. But I don’t know what plate to drop to be able to do the other things better. Because unfortunately I do want to do it all at once. Even though you just can’t. But I’m still trying. And I think that myth that women can have it all is just bullshit.
Do you have anything that you’d love to add in terms of advice to yourself
Just relax. Try and do less. But I can’t. I think as well because of the time we’re living in now (with the environmental crisis) and I’ve been reading about it for a long time and have an acute sense of it as many people do, some don’t. But that internal sense of going fuuuck, we’re at a serious point in the world. And I’ve always wanted to do something with that. I’m compelled. I have a compulsion to do something, to be proactive. I can’t stop and so that’s another driving pressure. Look if we were in the 70’s right now, maybe it’d be a bit easier. But shit’s bad and we don’t really have much time to fix stuff. So I do feel some sort of responsibility towards that.
Well it’s hard to rest when you have this laying over your heart. Even when you’re resting, any final words?
I spent so many years trying to just get pregnant. And had two miscarriages. And that’s pretty up and down stuff to go through. So I was focussed on just getting pregnant and then, when I was pregnant I was really sick and focused on just getting through the pregnancy, and then oh my god, there was the birth!
I had no time or energy to even think about what would happen afterwards. Yes I had a stack of books, but I never read any because I didn’t have the time and I hate reading the manual anyway! But it was just like he was born and then, ‘now what?!’ And not realising that your life is going to be forever different. That there’s the before and the after. And even just trying to acknowledge that and celebrate it, that you can have the conversation with other mums. It’s like the transformation that you go through, its metamorphic. Because there’s the before, and then the after, and it’s just so different. I mean yes the juggle’s fucking full on. I’m threadbare and overstretched and fulfilled and really grateful. But I just had no idea about that transformation of what it would be like afterwards.
Thank you so much to the very lovely ‘Bluebell’ who took the time to talk with me about her journey into the motherlife. You can read the rest of her story in Motherlife #4 part one, and in Motherlife #4 part two.