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

Whatever you do woman, do not drop the ball

Whatever you do woman, do not drop the ball

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.

Good luck my lovelies.

Sha x

 

READ (and watch)

I Don’t Know How She Does it by Kate Reddy

WATCH

Bad Moms 1 & 2

Mum Guilt: the process of letting it go

We’ve all been there at some point. You feel guilty because your baby cries and you cannot for the life of you figure out why. You get mad at them and feel so horribly guilty for it because they are so beautiful and innocent. Maybe you accidentally bumped their head on the car when putting your little one into their seat, maybe you disciplined your preschooler and they are so upset it feels like it’s tearing your heart out. You needed to go back to work because of finances or maintaining positions in your career (current feels). Or it could be ensuring both children equally get enough attention and love, and do they eat enough fruit and veg? And this one, the absolute peak of my guilt, the most I have ever experienced- “I am depriving my child because I am unable to breastfeed”.

When we look back, we usually see how trivial the guilt is, and how we were simply doing the best we could at the time. However given the fact I’m on my second baby, and I do have that foresight, I wanted to buck up and deal with it NOW so I can enjoy my baby and preschooler without the constant negativity lingering. After moping around for a couple of weeks I set out with determination and put into practice techniques I had learnt to overcome this type of situation (yet had pushed them to the back of my mind while I had my little pity party).

Us parents just want the best for our children. We’d do anything within our capabilities to secure a safe, healthy and happy future for them and instill values that ensue success. But if you are a dweller or a worrier like I am you almost create the opposite environment for them by letting all of the guilt take over from what is important. Reading this you may feel it is time to make a change, as I did. I will give some pointers but first of all, committing to putting the effort in is the guts of change.

“Do or do not. There is no ‘how’.

You are already choosing, in every moment of every day what to give a f*ck about, so change is about as simple as choosing to give a f*ck about something else”

-Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

Here are the strategies I use to redirect my thoughts into more positive ones:

    1. Get that nasty and negative word vomit out in a thought diary. Buy yourself a nice little journal, Kmart have some nice plain paged options. Just pick up a pen and let all of your thoughts flow out onto the paper. I believe there is something about physically writing with a pen on paper that can tap into your psyche more so than using a note app on your phone. This helped me to reduce the amount of negative talk to myself, and helps to stop me alienating myself from my friends and family.
    2. Go outside for a walk. The vitamin D does wonders. Just getting out of your house, which apparently contains more toxic allergens in the air than being outdoors, puts you back in touch with reality. Notice the sky, trees and birds or that freshly cut grass smell. Which brings me to…
    3. Practice mindfulness. Ever find yourself completing a task and can’t remember actually doing it? Or sometimes like me I count out the scoops of formula as I tip them into my baby’s bottle, but my mind wanders to irrelevant thoughts about things I feel guilty about and I lose count. It takes time, but as soon as you feel yourself doing it, stop and bring yourself back to earth. Remind yourself of how consuming those negative thoughts are and refocus your energies only onto the task you are undertaking at that moment. For example, now I try to count out loud when filling the bottle.
    4. Write lists. We often feel guilt when we forget something. Eliminate that by writing lists such as daily tasks. Number them in terms of urgency to ensure you prioritise. Cross out the tasks when you complete them so that you have a visual of the achievement. Buy a cheap little notepad for your shopping lists (mine is from Coles and has a magnet so I can keep it on the fridge). Make it known to the family that if they want something at the shops, it needs to be written on the list. This can also apply to goal setting. Create small goals that work toward a bigger achievement. For example, my husband and I are in week 3 of the Max and Maxine’s 12 week Challenge. I need to write shopping lists and follow a written plan to execute the goals.

      Shopping list notepads readily available from Coles
    5. Yoga. Just yoga. What a way to relax and recentre. I was the first in my family to ever try yoga and have been a fan of it for about 12 years now. If you let it, it will mentally and physically strengthen you. You learn deep breathing, how to forgive yourself and literally breathe out guilt and negativity not relative to the moment. If you have tendencies of being a control freak or a bit neurotic (like me), yoga slows you down and helps you to make that space in your mind you otherwise would not have. Try YouTube or online vids for some classes if you can’t leave the house: Yoga With Adriene
    6. Eat and drink water regularly. We would all feed our kids first of course. But you cant be your best if you don’t fuel your body appropriately. Prepare your meals and snacks for the dayahead hthe night before and ensure you nourish your body. Just commit 5 or 10 minutes to it before you relax for the night. I am way more sensitive to unhelpful self talk and lashing out if I dont eat. Hangry is a thing!
    7. Take 10 minutes a day for “you time”. Don’t mistake how important this is for mental health. It seems somewhat contradictory because you might feel guilty, like you should be doing housework constantly or “living” for your spouse and your kids but if you forfeit this time you are almost guaranteed to put yourself in a mentally weaker state of mind that lets those nasty green gremlin thought and guilt patterns back in.
    8. Experience new things with your family. It doesn’t have to be much, maybe you go for a drive to a new park or drink a coffee and babycino at a nice new cafe. If you have more time or finances then book a little family getaway. Make it fun, and if you fear it will turn sour then limit the time you do it for. Memories are worth more than any gift you ever receive and this is an effective way of redirecting thoughts and generating all the happy hormones we all love and crave.
    9. Commit to a gratitude or bullet point journal. What POSITIVE, AMAZING, FUN things did you see, hear or do today? What made you HAPPY? I have never journalled religiously every day but limiting daily writing to bullet points pulled me out of a horrible guilty rut I was in when I gave up breastfeeding. It consumed me until I decided enough was enough and I wanted to direct my energies to positive things. Be it my children, feeling grateful for having a roof over head, sunshine or a nice food I tried. Anything positive small or big is good enough to talk about and before you know it you will have retrained your brain! There are some beautiful gratitude journals out there such as “I am happy, I am here”
    10. Hugs. Hugs all day, every day. Get that oxytocin flowing.
    11. Distraction and diversion. If you fudge any of the previous things up do not waste any time and get up and aim to complete one of them asap! Some guilt about life is normal but we do not need to further pressure ourselves and dwell, creating layers of it that will taking longer to dismantle. Be proactive. You’ve got this. Start with a small happiness inducing tasks and keep up the momentum as much as you can. If it slows,start from the start. Time can only help you to get better at it.

Above all, take it easy on yourself. Failure is normal and natural. We are programmed to think it is a negative experience but it is one of the biggest drivers of motivation if you let it be! Taking any action at all is better than doing nothing. And it’s less for you to fe guilty about later. I hope these tips are useful for someone out there struggling with mum guilt, dad guilt, any type of guilt really.

✌ Sha xoxo

Resources:

“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson

“The Happiness Project” and Happier podcast by Gretchen Rubin

“I am happy, I am here” gratitude journal

“Remarkability” by Lorraine Marks