Motherlife Interview #6 Part 1.
Wren part 1: Pregnancy, birth preparation, expectations of motherhood.
All mothers in this Motherlife interview series are anonymous and 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.
#6. Wren; #5. Hazel; #4. Bluebell; #3. Fern; #2. Ash; #1. Acorn.
Wren – Age 32 at time of interview
Wren was 31 when she became a mother. Before becoming a mother she worked in communications for a global sports organisation. She is now back at work full time, her baby is 11 months old.
Sophie: I have two reasons for doing these interviews. One is that when women have their babies, sometimes they feel like they disappear from the view of the world. And before I became a mother sometimes I’d see mums walking along and they’d be herding a toddler and dragging a scooter and carrying a baby and I’d just see this worn out, exhausted mama. After I had my own kids I realised that before having children, all these mums had a place in the world. They had careers, respect, an income, and after they became mothers they fell out of visibility somehow. Women fall into this ‘motherlife’ and no one seems to see what they’re doing. So I’m interested in looking at how you had a career, and you still have a career. And how this relates to your life prior to having children when you were working full time, when you were being paid and you had a sense of worth tied to your employment. I’m interested in how when you would say you’re a ‘stay at home mum’, how did that feel to you?
Wren: It’s a really interesting discussion. When I went on maternity leave, I thought what am I supposed to do?! I felt SO unanchored. And everyone else was like ‘shut up and enjoy it!’ But you finish work on a Friday and it’s goodbye. And you’re going into a completely unknown universe and all of the things that anchor you in your life are cut loose and you’re not really supported in that transition generally. I’d asked a friend who’d been on maternity leave, what do you do, how do you feel? Because you are on your own for that bit.
And I had a sense that we live in a capitalist society that values work above all else and so when that’s removed from you, it says that what you do is less valued, because we pay for what we think is valuable. And some of your social currency is removed. And I was conscious of this because of a memory I feel bad about now. I remember sitting next to a woman at a hen’s do who I didn’t know and I asked her what do you do? And she said she’s a stay at home mum of two children. Then I couldn’t think of more questions to ask her. And I feel so terrible about that but I think it’s also a symptom of what we’re told is valuable. So I think that shift for me was up rooting.
I’m very early into motherhood, but the further I got into the early months of motherhood it helped me to actually value mothering more. So the shift in my own head about the value that exists in mothering was important. And there are more conversations happening about the value of motherhood and not disappearing and I think a lot of that is to do with the role of fathers and the way workplaces are progressing. So it was a big shift and it was a challenge. And you just have to get through it and also let some things go. You just have to let some things go.
The world isn’t necessarily built for mothers. But it’s made me understand the way a lot of women find their role in motherhood and feel compelled to create an image around that. You know, the whole posting of how you’ve organised your reusable nappies, or things you’ve made. All of that mum blogging makes sense to me because I feel like for some women they’ve been given space to define themselves in a way that they might not have had that value in a workspace. So I’ve got more of an understanding now of why that’s so big and so important.
Sophie: I think that’s an interesting point actually, because social media has given mothers a voice where they are not visible in traditional, conventional mainstream media. So actually it’s really shifting the landscape by having the capacity for mums to speak their experience and connect with other mothers about that experience.
And so the other reason I’m doing these interviews is because a lot of women go into pregnancy thinking they’ll have the baby and then they’ll be back to ‘normal’. I’m talking in terms of their physicality. So I guess I’m interested in how that journey has been for you in terms of what you expected and then how that’s played out. So to start with, I’m interested to know what sort of exercise you did prenatally and then during pregnancy?
Wren: I was super fit pre-pregnancy, I did personal training a few times a week and a lot of bike riding, yoga, pilates. I carried all of that on through the pregnancy. My personal training coach was brilliant – he was a 25 yr old man – but he got a lot of advice from other people about the right way to do things and he checked in with what was comfortable for me. So I carried on doing strength training and I started doing spinning in pregnancy as well as yoga, and then pregnancy yoga.
I don’t think I necessarily had a very clear vision of what I would carry on doing after the birth. I think I had the idea of six weeks to get back to fitness. And I guess without putting too much thought into it, I thought I’d start doing things again after that. I think fitness had been so important to me in pregnancy because it was just a normal thing that I could still do. Whilst my body was doing all these incredible things it felt important to me to look after my body and to continue doing something that I was doing before and something that I really enjoyed too. I think I wanted to still be strong and still be able to do these things. I was quite stubborn and didn’t want to be a ‘pathetic pregnant woman’ who wasn’t able to do things. So whether it was proving to other people or to myself I can’t say but it was important to me to keep up that strength. And also I got quite focussed on preparing for birth because someone described it to me as running a hundred marathons. So in spin class when it was really hard, I used to tell myself that I’ve got to give birth, so if I can’t get through 45 mins on this bike, then I’m screwed!
But I think if I were to do pregnancy again, I would probably be more gentle. I saw a physio because I had some pelvic pain at 20 weeks. And she gave me some lifestyle adjustments which really helped. I think pregnancy just exacerbated some existing issues and she gave me some things to do which meant that the pain went away and I wasn’t impacted at all. When she first told me, I was so worried because she was very extreme, she said no walking, no doing this, and wear this tubi grip and and have these ice packs. So you’re pregnant with this tubi grip and an ice pack stuck down your back not able to walk. It was actually a real low point because I love being active and I love walking. So I was quite nervous and upset having all that taken away from me. But, I did what she said and it helped and I felt stronger and better and was able to continue. It was good to have that reset. To say, you are pregnant and your body is doing different things and that’s ok. So that’s why spin was great because you can do it safely.
Sophie: I think that’s a really interesting point, that you said you had that reset. Because in my experience, a lot of first time mums feel like they want to or they should, I’m not sure which it is, carry on as if they’re not pregnant. Doing all the exercise and all the activities. And I guess having had my children and worked with hundreds of pre and postnatal women, I think there’s a really interesting conversation to be had around just because you can, should you do it? And then the impacts of that on your pregnant body, your birthing body, your postpartum body, and then how that impacts the rest of your life. So you had that injury or that pain and you saw the physio who helped you reset your perspective of what to expect of yourself during that time? As opposed to some people wouldn’t have that pain and then they push through thinking they’re ‘just pregnant’ without giving their body the respect that I think is really important in terms of how a pregnant body is already pushed to its end of capacity.
Wren: I think it’s difficult because we’re told that a ‘good pregnancy’ is an easy pregnancy, where nobody knows that you’re really pregnant. You don’t look too pregnant. You don’t seem too pregnant. I think that is a really strong narrative and a really strong internalised thought that we all have.
Sophie: That’s such an interesting point to make because postnatally it’s kind of like everyone wants it to look like you didn’t just have a baby as fast as possible. We want to erase the experience and effects of pregnancy as much as possible.
Wren: It’s so true. And when I got that pain in my pelvis, I’d just flown to the UK for work and back. And when I was in the UK I just carried on as normal. I did spin classes, I was getting up in the morning and doing exercises. I was carrying my 2 year old niece around which I think is what did it to be honest. And her mum, my sister in law was also pregnant but was a bit unwell with it. So I was just like ‘I’m fine so I’ll carry this baby on my hip’. And so I broke myself!
But I think like with anything you have to experience it to learn it. And I hate being told that I can’t do something. Because what we value is strength and fitness. And of course during pregnancy your body IS doing amazing things. But because you can’t really see them it doesn’t provide the same value as the other stuff that is more visible.
Before I met you, part of the reason I liked you was the movement and bodywork that you did and were interested in. Because I understood that I’d have to be gentle on my body postpartum but I was keen to know how to do things in the right way. But my postpartum experience was so massively shaped by my conversations with you and about being gentle and kind and showing how little was possible to do. Because you weren’t like ‘right, we’re going to do squats today!’ You were like ‘right, we’re going to move your leg today.’ And to do that in the right way still took energy and effort and thought. That massively shaped the way I was able to recover.
Sophie: So was that quite a massive perspective shift for you? Were you expecting to do squats?
Wren: Maybe not squats!
Sophie: I’m really interested in this because the way I work with postnatal women is very restorative and very specific but what I think you’ve just said is what I think a lot of mums might expect which is, ‘ok at the end of six weeks, back to normal’ rather than at the end of six weeks, ‘lets rehabilitate now.’
Wren: I think when I was pregnant I had more of a sense that I’d be back on a spin bike pretty soon. But after I’d given birth I was in so much pain for the first two weeks that there was no part of me that thought sitting on a spin bike was a good idea. Honestly. I just didn’t give a shit about doing exercise. It just didn’t mean anything any more. It felt like a stupid thing to care about doing. I don’t mean that now, because it’s not a stupid thing thing to care about doing. But in those first weeks it is a stupid thing to care about doing.
Sophie: Yes, well there’s so much else going on isn’t there! So are you saying it just didn’t enter your head at the time?
Wren: Well the birth is the most humbling experience you’ll ever go through isn’t it. And also the most powerful physical act I think anybody on the planet will ever do. And so because you’ve done that, the importance of other physical achievements become less so. It’s the most badass thing that anybody can do. So who gives a shit if you can deadlift!
And you know, now I still want to deadlift 50 kg. But my theory about why men are so obsessed about spartan races is because they can’t give birth!
Sophie: Do you know I had exactly the same thought. After I gave birth to my first baby I remember thinking that’s why men do extreme sports. Because they don’t give birth! It’s seeking the equivalent in intensity, it’s just that giving birth is totally internal and within, and extreme sport is doing something out there, with the body but also outside the body in the world.
Wren: And also how many men do you know that have got into some kind of extreme sport during their partners pregnancy. We had two friends who did Iron man. My partner did a triathlon! I was like alright guys, you’ve proved yourself!