The Vulnerability of Motherhood

The Vulnerability of Motherhood

I saw her. I could see her heart thumping without seeing her heart at all. Living off adrenaline. Survival mode. Her baby, not quite 6 months old, sitting quietly on her lap with oxygen tubes attached to his face.

A hospital sleep specialist walks by to make himself a coffee. Courageously he asks, “how are you, and how is he going?”.

You could pressume that he was assigned to the baby as his specialist by the way the woman responded, you’d be wrong.

“Exhausted. I’m utterly exhausted.”, the mother replied. “This is so tiring.”

The staff members eyes widen as if to suggest he received more than he’d bargain for, and regretted asking anything in the first place. He walks away – politely but awkwardly smiling.

The room is quiet. After reading a brochure, I look up. She sits there jiggling her leg to bounce her baby. Jittering, fidgeting. This mother has not slept properly for some time.

Her inner engine is at full revs trying to get through the day. A symptom of stress all too familiar.

I blurt out, “Is he in here for sleep testing?”. Fully aware it’s likely to be for something else.

“Oh, he’s on a CPAP. We’ve just had an overnight sleep study a week ago. It was the best sleep I’ve had in ages. Because I didn’t have to worry and fuss, I knew someone was going to be there to watch him too. It wouldn’t just be me. ”

The flood gates open.

I can’t help but empathise and ask, has she got any help at home. “No. Not if you count a husband who argues with me in the middle of the night about the baby.”

She was alone. She is alone. And vulnerable. Maybe craving for someone to hear her out. And to validate that her emotions are accepted by someone. Her own opinion is not enough.

I sigh for her and share in her disappointment in the lack of support. Then spend the next 5 minutes listening to her story. The story of her baby having a “floppy airway” otherwise known as laryngomalacia. It creates an obstruction which stops him from breathing. She can’t sleep knowing this. Who could? The respiratory team and ENT battle over how to manage it, constantly.

They decided to perform a bronchoscopy recently to get a visual of it. Her son needed to be resuscitated twice in recovery. Putting on hold any surgical solution for the condition. I am overwhelmed with emotion for her.

She counted, almost 50 times she woke up to adjust his machine the previous night. She said her son had always sounded congested from birth but for some time nobody wanted to listen to her concerns. His condition is serious.

We were interrupted by each of our specialist nurses and doctors and went our separate ways.

If she were ever to read this, I would want her to know that I was privileged to hear her story. A stranger she may be, but a fellow comrade she is.

People often steer away from those who are full to the brim with the challenges in their lives, what if we were all eager to engage with them and connect with them? To hear their story, acknowledge their vulnerability and validate their feelings. How different the world could be.

This mother was at the end of her tether. Maybe she needed just one nice thing to show her that all is not dark and grim. That there is more to this life than scary things out of her control that send you pleading on your knees for mercy. To be heard, to have openness and understanding is worth more than any physical gift you can give someone.

Sending out love to all of you in my tribe who did this very thing for me recently. Your kindness makes the day shine a little brighter.

Sha x

**Illustration by Jamina Bone of @mommingwithtruth

What to do when Gratitute journaling isn’t your jam?

Something didn’t feel quite right about Gratitude journaling for me. I thought it was the format, so I bought a new journal. I suspected it was the method of writing, so I downloaded an app. Then I stopped gratitude journaling altogether. It felt vague, or unfulfilling. The words began to recycle themselves and become devoid of any emotion. And the term “gratitude” became lifeless to me.

Sure, I am grateful for a house, who fucking isn’t. Yeah, I am grateful for good health, a beautiful family, a car, my husband, but repeating these things every day never really affected change on my negative mindset. I’ve even recommended to you all to take up gratitude journaling yourselves, that was before I knew it didn’t work for me.

Knowing that it may not be for me, and feeling like a dickhead and that maybe I am a broken human, feeling guilty I can’t find more things to be grateful for, I stopped that form of journaling and slid back into my comfy home of listening to podcasts.

Maybe it has taken an Aussie bloke to say it in an Aussie accent. In my comfy home of podcasting whilst I fold washing, I found Hugh Van Cuylenburg (who I unashamedly have stalked since hearing about his Resilience Project work some time ago) speaking about this very topic and resilience on A Life of Greatness by Sarah Grynberg.

Instead of this “recycling” habit and feeling, to be honest, shit about ourselves because we cannot find anything more to be grateful for, we can try writing the following.

3 things that went well for you today.

Pshhhtt. Mind blown. Totally achievable. A child could do this. Each day is different, so each thing that went well could potentially be different. It can be simple. Or complex. And it doesn’t feel anxiety inducing as if there is a “wrong answer” like gratitude journaling can.

Hugh suggests that within 21 days you can rewire your thought patterns. Rewiring your brain. Challenge accepted.

With this tip, I resume some form of recognising what I am grateful for, in my downtrodden $4 Kmart journal. I shall report back with my findings after 21 days.

Happy Journaling!

*HIGHLY recommended that you follow Hugh on socials @theresilienceproject and check out his webpage. How refreshing it is to have an Aussie guy broaching this subject and making a difference in education.

*Also HIGHLY recommend subscribing to the A Life of Greatness podcast. Sarah is a fantastic interviewer. She really lets people deep dive and find their public speaking groove. Plus, she also interviews one of my favourite happiness author’s, Gretchen Rubin.

Like anything, take self-help advice with a grain of salt. Not every author, speaker, personality is right for your approach to life. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that either.

Dear Men, I Hear You

Dear Men, I Hear You

Time to talk about the opposite sex, and to make a confession.

I grew up ignorant to the extent of mental health problems that men face. I grew up with “strong” men around me who went to work 6 or 7 days a week, never complained and if I am honest, hardly spoke of their feelings. If they were sad, I wouldn’t know it. They would withdraw and the little communication that was visible, would not be so visible anymore. It deeply saddens me to know that for so many men, this is the only option they feel is viable.

What saddens me further is that this response seems ingrained in them. That over time it seems to have been constructed from the pressure to generate and deliver the most money to the household, at any personal cost. At any amount of physical sacrifice, and at any mental sacrifice.

This I now know, because I have watched my husband battle with the societal expectation of what a man of the house, and a father, is expected to contribute to a family. To the detriment of his mental wellbeing. Desperately wanting to be present for our children and being limited to, if lucky, a 10-minute timeframe per day to spend with them. Sacrificing time to be the main breadwinner of our house so that I need not work full time and can be there for our boys. Then at least one of us can watch them grow up.

Eventually it has taken its toll.

Work. And work harder. Be tougher. Don’t complain. Have a drink if you feel shit about something. If you still feel shit, have another. It is a cycle that I can say I have watched through many generations of men around me.

As a “mum blogger”, as a wife, a mother of boys, and as a woman who is surrounded by amazing men that stay quiet when there is so much to be said (yet maybe they just don’t know how to), I feel that voicing depression and anxiety in men is just as important as voicing women’s. Because my family and friends are a team. And when one player is on the bench, we don’t simply delist them without a second thought. We guide them on the path to recovery. We want to face the next game with our strongest side.

The rate of male suicide shocks me. The statistic really is jaw-dropping.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2017 about 75% of people who died by suicide were males. In a perfect world there would be 0% for both sexes, of course. But this information is telling us something.

As hard as parents try to educate their sons about the range of emotions and developing tools in their tool box to cope with them, maybe it just takes time and perseverance of this to undo what evolution has itself done. Maybe it takes society speaking more of the challenges that men face. That fathers face. Where they are to accept that for many years their gender was required to work while women raised their children and if they felt the urge to be with them then they need to stow it away. Just suck it up because nothing will change.

After writing blogs about mental health, particularly post-natal depression and anxiety, and seeing how many women can voice their issues (not all women, we each have our own cross to bear) I exist online in a space where men’s mental health is not discussed as much.

I simply wanted to give some air time to acknowledge the men in my life that are feeling deflated, feeling lonely, or that something is missing in their life but they can’t quite pinpoint it, feeling as though they aren’t enough for their family or feeling guilty for the lack of time they may spend with their babies and other halves. Feeling full of emotion and feeling it is unacceptable for them to express it.

By showing there are some guys out there able to get in touch with emotions, becoming aware of how to process them and how to use words in order to manage and express them, you are showing future generations of boys that they can do it too.

While times are slowly changing with a broader range of diversity in household roles, from where I sit men are still pigeonholed as less sensitive and that they can “deal” with working away from family. Men are still generalised as being tougher emotionally because the culture of acceptance is still shifting.

I can only hope that with continual education of this in our schools and through openness with family and friends, that our children will be raised in a different world. I hope that as a result the rate of stress, anxiety and depression in men reduces dramatically.

***Special mention to my husband who has been so brave and allowed me to write about his experiences. Love you babe.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here is where you can get some more info and support:

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/men

https://au.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mens-mental-health

Hey First Time Parents…

Are you doing enough? I mean – really – are you helping your child develop their fine and gross motor skills enough? Do you feed them enough vitamin and nutrient dense foods that make up the colour of the rainbow? Are you hugging your baby enough, because if you don’t you will definitely traumatise them, right?

The best kind of parents read all of the articles, researching and exhausting avenues of all topics. You earn expert parenting level Google-ing skills. And read the parenting books to be sure you are ticking those boxes to give your child the perfect upbringing. Perfection is possible if you know all of the tricks of the trade, right?

I’m coming to you from the other side, the side of worrying about all of the above and obsessing over getting this parenting thing right. Acting out of fear, rather than confidence in my abilities or confidence that the love I have for my children is enough for them, and myself.

With the internet and social media we can often have unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and our babies/older children. Comparing our parenting style and coping abilities to that which is merely a highlight of somebody elses day, because who wants to show images of themselves ugly crying in the car after a stressful morning of daycare/school drop offs. At the end of which we can be left with unhelpful thoughts. Or dwelling on our child’s behaviours and beginning our overly-analytic process once again.

Maggie Dent recently wrote an article on the challenges of mothering in the 21st century,Others [mothers] tell me they lay awake reviewing every decision they’ve made around the children, striving to want to do it better — to be a better mum.” As a new Mum, this happened personally more times than I could count. Because the entire experience is brand new, there is no path yet travelled to guide you on what not to do. If you already hold high expectations for yourself, becoming a new parent can cause some anxiety because parenting, as much as it can be researched, really is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and personal experience. Which is totally FINE.

Just like your fingerprints, no two lots of parenting experiences are the same. And when you are running off 3 hours of sleep over 2 days you are at your most vulnerable. The rationable side of your brain is in overdrive with new responsibilities and we question if we can really do this parenting thing. We question if admitting out loud that we are having a hard time will damage our baby. Then factor in opinions of those around you – wow – are we vulnerable as new parents.

Can you hear me out for a moment, you will hear this and maybe not really HEAR it, but…you know your baby the best. Better than the rest (rhyming will help it stick). Not the baby expert you follow on IG, not your Aunty Mable, but you. Imagine the days before the internet and parenting books coming out your earholes. We would observe more intently our child’s behaviour and trust our instincts because the overwhelming realm of influence didn’t exist.

Now that I have a school aged child and also a second child, the pressures I subjected myself to weren’t necessary. We started swimming lessons as soon as possible with the first, did Gymbaroo, went to every event possible to give him experiences and while that was all great, it wasn’t totally necessary to rush around from one activity to the next when realistically he and I were too tired and not enjoying it.

This is a message to the first time parents questioning their credibility and worthiness as parents. If you’re reading this, and you give your child food, clean clothes, a safe place to sleep, and cuddles then you are already doing a fucking awesome job. And truth be told, we have all sat there with our baby who is not wanting to sleep, listening to them cry for hours on end and wondered what the hell we are doing but eventually small moments of clarity appear when you think, I must be doing okay.

Those moments appear when we are fully present and focused on our family. They appear when we begin to trust ourselves and understand perfection is unattainable and the unpredictable quirks of human life are what build resilience and wisdom.

Raising our first baby is a chaotic and beautiful experience. Full of teachable moments for ourselves that often can only be seen once our babies become independant.

Please don’t be too harsh on yourselves. You’re doing the best that you can.

Sha xx

Becoming a “School Mum”

I must admit, in some way, when you’ve got a baby you cannot imagine life as a mother of a school child. When you have nappies in every room of the house, in the car, in your handbag, how could you imagine a time of dropping your child off to school to be in a class of 25 kids that aren’t necessarily closely supervised for the entirety of the day. You think to yourself “over my dead body”, in terms of letting go of your baby. And you begin to conjure plans where you can disguise yourself enough to go unnoticed as you yourself supervise (stalk) your child at recess/lunchtime where your worst fears can potentially come true.  Instead, you find yourself at work or at home gazing into nothing running various scenarios in your mind. Parenting is an emotional filled journey FOR SURE.

Well my friends. This year I had to Let Go. I have not (yet) inappropriately stalked my baby as he plays with his friends. Only peaked through the window on school pickup. That is restraint right there. This evolution of parenthood I have labelled as the real beginning of their independence. At kindergarten you still received detailed information on how their day plays out. It is easy to connect with the teacher because there are more of them at the one time to do so. School is much different. You can still email and chat with the teacher but there is less time and you know they have meetings and school obligations such as yard duty to tend to. The children are moved around to specialist subjects so essentially they are supervised and taught by people you probably have never even met.

A empowering a sense of trust is forced upon you as a parent. You need to trust you’ve done enough to assist your child to listen, learn and act appropriately at school. You need to trust that the teachers are doing the best that they can. With both of my boys being in childcare since 4 or 5 months old, this has been the hardest transition yet because there is much less transparency with school as the kids are now old enough to do so many things themselves.

This has led to a series of what I like to call “sneaky tears”. You can be smiling and so proud of your child then all of a sudden you sort of half hiccup and tears come out without any warning at all. This type of behaviour develops in pregnancy and there ain’t no controlling it. We are now wired for this. Case in point, technology is so flipping great nowadays that I sat at my desk watching Zac perform a dance with his class for Harmony Day on my phone via Facebook live. The camera panned over to him emotively dancing to the moves he was taught and there I sat creepily laugh/crying like the emotional mother that I am. With customers walking past. Probably wondering what the weird sound was that came from the office.

School Mum’s adjust their routines. We make lunches and prep clothes typically at night if we can. You need to manage closely when their clothes are washed. In our case Zac has 3 uniforms including one typical, one sports and one house day uniform. And he loves using whiteboard markers on the day he wears his white shirt, of course. So we need to wash these all immediately or risk a poldka-dot patterned shirt.

A lesson learnt by us has been to make sure Zac is responsible for getting himself dressed, packing his bag, unpacking his bag and lunch boxes at home after school. We feel this applied responsibility has helped him settle more into school because it demonstrates that this is now expected from him in all areas of his life. Babies grow into grown children so fast that we are somewhat guilty of doing a little too much for Zac up until this point. It was faster, more convenient and I love to take control and have things done in my time frame so another factor of letting go has been to patiently watch and encourage him to take charge of his own mess, his own belongings and his putting his own dishes in the dishwasher. I try to encourage him and resist my controlling urges to take over as he places the plates on an awkward angle.

There appears to be no child who is devoid of the odd meltdown before or after school. That was a particular recurring experience we had to deal with head on. One morning, I spent 15 minutes trying to pry Zac from my leg, which never really happened at kinder. Now I can happily say that we worked through the morning drop-off by basically practising a fly-by approach wherein I shuffle him to the door of his classroom and make a run for it, because he always plays his emotions up for Mum. He has since improved.

I think the real key in the transition to school mum life is to ensure you feel 100% comfortable with the school your child attends. With zoning, it isn’t always an option, but we are fortunate to be on the border of 2 school zones and had the choice. Zac’s school shares many of our values, has an effective Bully Buster program with a variety of electives and for me the biggest draw card was that they practice utilising a growth mindset. Which often even adults struggle to use. This means that you believe determination, hard work and goal-setting can allow you expand your abilities and achieve at higher levels. Meaning Zac will learn to believe in himself and put the hard yards in to get where he wants to in life. He will learn from mistakes and develop failures into stepping stones to succeed. His school also has a school diary with a “gratitude journal” section for each day. I’m sure each school has their own versions of encouraging the children to try their hardest, we just felt that this method was the direction we preferred as parents.

This week Zac was awarded Star of the Week because he decided he wanted to earn it. We discussed the steps he needed to take to get the award after reading through the schools values, we jointly wrote steps out onto poster paper and hung it on a wall, we worked with his teacher and discussed the goals with her and to her merit she upheld those in class also. And we stayed firm in our convictions when his behaviour went down a path leading away from bettering himself. Often asking him whether he believed his actions were productive, and how he could improve. And referring to the “catastrophe scale” of how bad a situation was that he was overreacting to. To our surprise, all of this worked.

You will never be truly ready to step back and allow this process of schooling to take place without meeting resistance from the maternal parts of you. We connect with our children very instinctually, like a lioness watching her cubs you want to have access to them to drag them away from danger but this is not how we gain wisdom into adolescence and adulthood. To date the hardest thing I’ve found with parenting is saying no to the part of me that wants to step in and fix Zac’s hair when he is at assembly about to receive an award (how seriously embarrassing that would be for him) and resist the temptation to ask him a thousand questions about his day (I have not yet mastered this). But I have discovered a part of me that is so proud of him and his own sense of pride that I am willing to let him make mistakes. I have seen how far he can go now that he knows to make the most of an unfavourable outcome.

Derived from https://warnervale-p.schools.nsw.gov.au/news/2015/5/howbadzzat.html

Image may contain: textHighly recommend following The Resilience Project on Facebook (image derived from there)

Why reading to your baby is important

Why reading to your baby is important

“Five Mumma. Five!” Zac said excitedly as we walked through the supermarket. He was so very young at the time (in our eyes), maybe 15 months old, I shrugged it off as random toddler babble. Until I looked up and realised, he could recognise the aisle numbers. He could remember and recall numbers and words when it felt so soon for our little man to be doing so.

This is not to say we have a child genius extraordinaire on our hands, this is proof that reading to babies helps them to interpret the world around them. It is the basis on which they will build their developmental blocks for not just academic purposes but for general life skills that assist them to read maps and signs, medical documentation,  invoices and bills, legal documents, instructions on how to assemble furniture – really the list is endless. Without the ability to read, there are so many necessary activities that a person would find difficult and they would also miss out on the fun of stories, magazines, comics, journals and blogs – like this one (ha ha)!

But why read to a very young baby? This is a question I had asked myself as a new parent. Pondering how reading books or anything can actually achieve anything with such a young mind. Here is my personal experience that proves reading to babies and young children is worth the time and effort you put into it.

Zac was a newborn when we began to read to him. Beginning with basic baby books about animals, vehicles and other objects. We would also walk around and point out signs and repeat numbers and words to him – not knowing if any of this would have an impact at all.  We had been told the language you use with babies are the blocks that build their awareness of the world around them on a verbal level yet we had no clue that these beautiful bonding moments would help Zac to be confident with reading and interpreting by the time he began school.

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The skills developed by early literacy building are basic but important:

  • Knowledge of turning a page
  • Understanding if a book is the right way up
  • Reading left to right

These are the fundamental tips we have utilised to assist our boys with reading:

  • Variety of books, not just beautiful, shelf worthy stories, let them read about insects and bugs (even if you yourself cannot bear to look at a wolf spider!)
  • Variety of mediums, including songs, reading and describing things you can see, apps like Reading Eggs
  • Emphasize sounds and break down the words
  • Converse with your baby, even if they cannot speak clearly but know what they are intending to say then try to assist them with speaking the correct word with an encouraging tone
  • Point to the words
  • Follow the sentences with your finger
  • When children are older, ask them to pick which word you have said
  • Discuss what is seen in the pictures, point out objects and repeat their names
  • Storytelling. It can feel embarrassing to start with but when you watch their little faces light up with curiosity and amazement then you can easily put aside your own feelings of hesitation
  • Repetition and consistency

I’m not superhuman, reading extensively every single night doesn’t always happen. Some nights if you looked inside my brain I’m sure there’d be scrambled eggs because I am so tired. This motherhood gig is a hard grind whether you’re a working or stay at home mum! This is when I am lucky to have an other half that picks up the dropped ball and reads with our boys too.

Siblings do influence each other also. We began our reading journey with Zac each night before bed and whenever he showed interest throughout the day. Some days he really was not interested at all and I was unsure if he would ever pick up the habit and get involved willingly, but now that he does, his one year old brother follows suit. Judd will pull books out and turn the pages, analysing what he sees and speaking in his baby babble. Zac comes along and finds the words Judd is looking for, taking him under his wing and teaching him the same steps we once did as a baby. Reading can bring the family together.

Much of what we have learnt about reading has come from literature from our maternal child health nurse and council mothers group host, along with the raisingchildren.net.au website (which I highly recommend) but many tips have come from my mother in law and friends who are primary school teachers. If you have contacts in education definitely pick their brain about steps you can take to help your little ones with literacy because most would suggest reading to your children as early as possible.

I will leave you all with this extremely hard-hitting video that funnily enough Zac’s primary school shared with new parents throughout parent transition sessions. Ten minutes a day is all it takes…

 

 

Resources:

https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/play-learning/literacy-reading-stories/reading-from-birth

https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/play-learning/literacy-reading-stories/reading-storytelling

https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/play-learning/literacy-reading-stories/developing-literacy

 

“I Marie Kondo-ed my wardrobe”. The KonMari method to tidying up your sh*t.

When you observe your storage spaces what do you see? Clean, beautifully flattened and folded linens and garments. Objects stored neatly in clear tubs. No unused items kept “just in case”. Minimalist. And calming.

Let me tell you what I see here at my abode. Sh*t. Unused sh*t everywhere. It’s okay. Unless I am PMS-ing I am usually pretty understanding as to why it is there. Babies, work, holidays and the Christmas break have this effect on a house. Over time you sense an aura of bad juju in the air (is juju even a word for energy?!). Outer order, inner calm says Gretchen Rubin. This is a book on my book list yet to be read. Gretchen has also discussed The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Also on my book list.

With the need to cleanse at least a incy corner of this place of clutter, I decided to start self-motivating by watching the Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. Because waiting to read the book wasn’t quick enough for my liking.

Two episodes in and I had been transformed into a Japanese tidier extraordinaire! Not quite but it did give me the jump start needed and the first thing on my mind was CLOTHES. How is it that you feel as though you have just purged your wardrobe yet you cannot find a single item you would like to wear. That, my friend, is a sign you need to Marie Kondo the heck out of it.

The KonMari Method goes a little something like this:

The Marie Kondo KonMarie Method

Please see a portion of what would resemble clothes storage space (not a dirty laundry) below, captured by way of screenshotting InstaStories. Because I am THAT organised I forgot to take a before picture. Obviously I need to read these books more than first thought.

The emptiness of my wardrobe shelving

After rolling up my sleeves, I follow the KonMari method. Pulling all of the items out from my shelving. (Confession, I did cut a corner having very recently downsized my hanging clothea so decided to leave most of this. Also. Kids. Enough said.)

Taking time to hold and feel joy or simply nothing from a garment. And thanking it for adding to my life if I chose to discard it. Which seemed strange at first but being a sentimental person it felt only right to be grateful for the use of the garment before I sent it away.

Then it was time action the Marie Kondo way of folding. In order to maximise full visibility of the clothing therefore reducing the chance of me pulling it all out then squishing it into some kind of tumbleweed ball before shoving it back again.

You can watch her demonstrate this here

The adrenaline started pumping and before you know it I was sorting through shoes, accessories and knick knacks. Being a total rebel and crossing over to the Komono catgeory. It’s still early days for this KonMarie tidier.

9 garbags later and it was as if Marie herself had visited my wardrobe! Hardly, but it felt light, airy and a deliberate storage space. A dumping ground for tumbleweed no longer.

Voila! Welcome to my functional wardrobe.

My next practical adjustment is to turn the coathanger-ed items around, then when an item is used it is hung the correct way. Revealing the items not frequently used.

So there you have it, my first adventure into a guided way of tidying a space. Let’s see how long it lasts…

Sha xx