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.
**Illustration by Jamina Bone of @mommingwithtruth
Often I wondered why no other woman told me the gory details of their pregnancy and birthing experiences. Being a person that loves to research and know what situation I am walking (or waddling or pushing) myself into, I was utterly bemused as to why all of the women in my life withheld information. Oh the betrayal! After my second child I gained more perspective. They didnt want to SCARE me. Plus there is so much to tell that it sometimes is best to let a person process it alone. Not everyone wants to know what they are in for. Also being a classic oversharer, after my first baby I would tell anyone about any snippet of my experiences, whether they wanted to know or not!
Now, I present you with a choice. See, this benefits me and I get to respect the easily-queezy folks boundaries by telling you that this is where you need to exit the article if you don’t like to know all of the deets of my experiences.
Nobody told me…I’d grow insane amounts of hair when pregnant. Like, alot of hair. I had to maintain at least 4-6 weekly appointments just to trim it and thin it out. The colour may also change. You would be surprised the information an experienced hairdresser can tell you about yours (and your babies) hair when you’re knocked up. My nails also grew like they were on roids.
Nobody told me…I would get debilitating sciatica pain which felt like lasers shooting down my butt, inner thighs and hamstrings. It’s usually due to pelvic instability as result of the relaxin hormone but SHIT does it hurt. You become afraid of sitting, standing, pooping. Everything!
Nobody told me…you have trouble pooping when pregnant. And god help you if you have low iron and need to take supplements. Not only is it painful, but irregular pooping makes people cranky and short fused. It does for babies and kids, why wouldn’t it for adults. Hint: use Iron Melts if you need a supplement. Second time around I was way less backed up.
Nobody told me…hemorrhoids. Enough said.
Nobody told me…. I would get varicose veins when pregs. Everywhere. Even around my uterus. Yep. If you have ever felt the aching of the nasty buggers in your legs. Imagine that in your midsection and downtown. And there is literally nothing you can do about it. Thanks genetics.
Nobody told me…The exhaustion when pregnant is next level. Sure, when baby is here you are a mum-bie but when you are uncomfortable and unwell due to carrying a tiny human, then trying to manage other tiny humans and possibly working at the same time. Well, let’s just say we ate a lot meals courtesy of Menulog and EatNow.
Nobody told me…heartburn is an absolute pest of thing when you’re knocked up. It’s logical, there is less space for food in your tummy so it pops back out to say hello if you eat too much too quickly.
Nobody told me…you can get extraordinarily painful migraines that turn you into a sloth for days at a time.
Nobody told me…. my second pregnancy would be more uncomfortable than the first. Any symptoms I experienced the first time around were amplified ten fold. Hip and back pain being the main offender.
Nobody told me…. I may find it more difficult to lose weight the second time around. Zac was too old for a pram but wouldn’t ride a bike so I couldn’t go for walks like I did with him. Plus juggling two kids at once meant I found it tough to make meals myself.
Nobody told me…I would not necessarily know the signs of labour. Both labours were spontaneous but I mistook early labour each time for active labour. You would find me bouncing on fitness balls and walking half up and half down on gutters, having baths and showers hoping it would kick start the real deal!
Nobody told me…the buildup to the pushing sensation feels like you need to do a number two. And it makes you paranoid that you ARE pooping. I didn’t poop, well my husband and doctor never let on that I did. I’m happy to keep it that way even if the opposite is true.
Nobody told me…delivering the placenta is like going through childbirth again. It was not as painful for me but there were similarities. The OB pulls it out by the umbilical cord which I found really strange.
Nobody told me…if you tear, it doesn’t tear cleanly and in the places you thought. I had a couple of grazes and tears with Zac. One was a lightning bolt shape and went upwards, not to the side or bottom. Ouch.
Nobody told me…you need to pace how you push to avoid tears and added discomfort. In the movies you don’t see the doctor telling the women to slow down after a certain point of pushing, not often at least. I escaped my second delivery with a minor graze because I paced it out with breathing and waiting for contractions.
Nobody told me…you have a choice in how you are treated by nurses and doctors in labour and what medications you receive. Unless the baby is distressed, it is up to YOU how you labour and deliver. I was meek and lacked confidence with my first which resulted in delivering in a way I was not happy with. Speak up or get your partner to be your voice!
Nobody told me…you might burst blood vessels in your eyes and around your body from the extreme pushing. You will also feel sore afterwards as if you completed the biggest workout of your life.
Nobody told me…there will always be a little pouch where your baby belly was. Sure you can work on it and pose so it disappears slightly, but you always know it is there. I am proud of mine.
Nobody told me…. things do not always go to plan. You write a birth plan or at least think about one. Many close friends and relatives of mine had several interventions with their labours they never anticipated. And as you may know, my first labour was extremely fast while my second was 4 times the length.
Nobody told me…you may turn into a complete nutbag after birth. Not just if you get the baby blues (usually day 3 post partum but mine was worse after 4) but also for MONTHS after delivery. I am a hormonal woman at the best of times but the rages and emotional breakdowns post partum can really test relationships. I remember completely losing my shit at Shane for not mopping the floor when we first got home with Zac. Prior to which he had been travelling direct between work the hospital and briefly home and was in a car accident. Hormone monster!
Nobody told me…after birth pains can be just as painful as labour. And you might be able to put your hand in a gap between your abs. It feels like you are wearing a strangers body.
Nobody told me…you could cry at the drop of a hat. Shane told me a story about a footballer and I cried. Any news other than mundane daily things, I would cry. Happy, sad, angry, excited. All the feels.
Nobody told me…my hair would fall out post partum at alarming rates that even scared my 4 year old. The hair goes everywhere. I gagged when I pulled some out of Judd’s mouth. Sorry mate.
Nobody told me…you frow strange “baby” hairs on your sideburns that cannot be tamed by any product or treatment!
Nobody told me…breastfeeding may simply not work out for you. And the guilt lasts forever. The judged feeling you may never forget. But you will also never forget that your baby gained weight, was healthier and your post natal depression improved when you decided to formula feed. It was what worked for me and my family. And you will always look on at other women feeding their babes with an appreciation for the effort they put in regardless of how they feed. Fed is best whether boob, bottle or tube.
Nobody told me…mum brain is real. It increases with each child. They steal your memory!
Nobody told me…having a baby can bring out the most confident version of yourself! It forces you to step outside the box and speak to strangers who dote over your children, or ask strangers where the nearest parents room is. Or apologise for your child crying at an obscene pitch (even though you shouldn’t have to, you still do).
Nobody told me…. you might make amazing friends from having babies. Parents group, kids activities and sports, kinder or daycare all present more opportunities for you to meet like minded people. It is incredibly empowering finding another mum or dad to bitch about children with, and celebrate the wins of course!
There are so many more things about pregnancy and childbirth than the above but they really are unique to each womans experience. Which I am sure is why they are aren’t always shared.
Having children is a significant life event where you will be forever changed. So much emotion in such a short time. Enjoy what you can because before you know it your little ones are walking, talking and will not need your cuddles as much as before.
That’s right. Parents have been working and parenting simultaneously for years, hop to it lady. And stop your whinging because it is not as if you are the first person to experience this. I’m saying this to myself by the way.
Get up, get yourself dressed and made up for the day, make the bed, have breakfast, feed and dress the baby, play with the baby or you’re an ignorant parent, wake and make breakfast for the older child whilst being a positive and excited Mum, eventually yell at him for not eating breakfast (you have asked him to do so at least 20 times already), ask him to get dressed, again, and again, then yell at him because he cannot hear a damned thing (constant ear problems), clean up kitchen, double check all persons bags for the day are adequately packed, pack items into the car, try to appease the crying baby and clean his refluxy spit up from his freshly changed clothes, change his clothes again, get older child to brush teeth and go to the toilet and brush his hair, sit on toilet floor while said child inconveniently poops because “he needs someone to talk to”, then argue about why he needs to brush his teeth and wash his hands, put baby in car while he screams like Chewbacca getting kicked in the nuts, request older child puts his shoes on, repeat another gazillion times until you give in and do it yourself because now you are going to be late, buckle older child into car seat whilst refusing to listen to some weird Pikachu song on YouTube, awkwardly deliver spewy baby to daycare along with wandering older child who is still mad at you for moving him from this daycare to a kinder, rush back to car, zip through school traffic to kinder while dodging other flustered parents, argue again with child this time about wearing his own backpack, sign child in and quickly get shown around the latest activities (even if you are needing to leave because your feel guilty af for yelling at him all morning), rush back to car and drive to work. Look at the time, it is not even 9am yet.
This is not any different to most parent’s mornings. In fact, I am very privileged to have the life I do, and I am aware of that. Which is exactly why I am being hard on myself. Which is exactly why I work myself up into a twisted ball of stress that is so tightly knitted, I snap at the mention of anyone expecting something slight from me. I whisper to myself, “please don’t expect any more from me.”
I have asked my Mum why I find it so hard. She managed to make it through years of working 6 days a week and running a farm while caring for us, getting up way before dawn and driving an hour from remote farmland to take us to our grandmothers only to get home at 6:30-7:00 at night and do the dinner, bath, bed routine. I don’t know how she did it. She replied to my question, “Sha, the pace of life was very different then”. She is right. We have smartphones strapped to our hands and they may as well be a part of our body because they even join us in the loo. Hey, I am the first to admit I am guilty of taking it everywhere with me. We are always accessible, always switched on, always processing information, being told via several channels how to parent, or that we do it wrong, or that we don’t eat a balanced diet, or that we should eat that tasty fucking burger that Facebook & Instagram ads so rudely shows on my newsfeed at dinnertime every night. Be polite, but don’t let yourself be walked over, be strong, but be politically correct or invest in a figurative shovel to dig yourself a hole, be an attentive parent, but research how to be that kind of parent because society says you are doing it wrong. So does the old lady in line at supermarket checkout, by the way. Just. Be. More.
I can’t stand it. And I break. It feels bloody impossible to parent the way that suits your family with the enormous aforementioned pressures being thrust into your face. The expectations add up so much so that I transform into a no-shit-taking demon like woman and god help you if you ask any more of me, even if it is to know where the loo is. I cannot afford to drop the “parenting” juggling ball as result of fulfilling another expectation. My children need me. And that expectation cloud around me soils my family goals.
My husband calls me the single-married-mum. Meaning, I am considered a married woman but he is home so very little because of his job that I am the one who keeps the cogs spinning in the house, while working and trying to be there for our kids. I closely watch other parents do the same thing and never will I ever stop being amazed at how hard they all work. Whether they work full time or not, it is nothing short of inspiring. We share the one goal. To give our children healthy, plentiful lives. We live in a lucky country and have that option thankfully. But the pressure of leading a “balanced life” is real.
You know when you are at the end of your tether and on the brink of burnout. You are so tired you could vomit, sometimes you might. It feels like you are a bottle of champagne, you get filled up to the brim with bubbly expectation, get shaken up by the need to be everything to everyone then eventually the cork pops right off and you are angrily and resentfully bursting the contents out directing it at anyone who dare stand in your way. Or, you implode, you take those feelings and you trap them inside like a turtle. A very, very sad little turtle.
So, do you know what I do? I drop the juggling ball. I have dropped the ball. I will continue to DROP THE BALL. Right now I write to you from my bedroom where I can hear my cousin-in-law babysitting our children. I asked her to come over and help me out so that I don’t go completely postal on the world. Working and mum-ing is such a huge adjustment. My baby is almost 5 months old and every inch of the mother within me is unsettled by the notion I have to leave him at a child care centre 2 days a week. Prior to this, even parenting full time at home felt like a huge responsibility because you are expected to have a cleaner, more organised house than others while teaching your pre-schooler some Beethoven on the piano. I’ve done both and both are as equally tough.
Listen here, reader. It is okay to surrender to your feelings and let them out. If you don’t you are opening up a future pandora’s box of undealt-with issues and that will snowball like a motherfucker. Take a deep breath in. We ain’t perfect. In fact, let me share with you what seems like anti self-help style advice because I’m certain I’ve never heard of Tony Robins or Louise Hay suggesting this so bluntly. Maybe you’re the kind of person that needs to receive information in this bogan-esque style…
Steps on how to drop the ball:
First, you need to accept that when you have too much on your plate, something’s gotta give.
Secondly, you need to narrow down if you need “you” time, “family” time or identify another space in your life that needs more attention.
Thirdly, accept that as a result of refocusing your attention, things such as washing, thorough house cleans or yard work may suffer. It is okay, those things don’t have feelings and you can always do it later when you get more energy again, or outsource them if you’re willing and able. Heads up, people may not like your refocussed decision. Repeat this mantra in your mind: “fuck off, it is my life”. Just kidding, but pick something to the tune of that and it wouldn’t hurt to mentally repeat it until it sticks.
Fourthly (is that a word?), be courageous and DO IT. Drop the juggling charade. Hardest step guys. This is what separates you from the pack of people stuck in a loop. You can continue a façade that you can manage it all, but ultimately it is about your lifestyle preference and what you can cope with. I attempt multitasking but it simply is not my strongest forte, so I need to separate things like a dude (P.S. not sure I believe that tale, my husband is better at multitasking than me).
The reward of this is worth more than any people pleasing task you would complete. You fill the empty “self-care” cup shoved at the back of your to do list and suddenly the to do list does not scare the bejesus out of you anymore.
Trust me, I literally did this today and I feel so much more human.