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

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

 

Life With Baby Number Two

Life With Baby Number Two

I made my husband wait at least 2 years until I was willing to try for a second baby. Being the control freak I am, I wanted to feel “ready” and stable enough to cope with the logistical aspects of life with a second baby.

The initial adjustment period of our first baby was long and traumatic. For both me and baby Zac. All the love in the world did not take the bitter edge off the horde of changes in my day to day being. Finally, once I dealt with some PND and anxiety issues, we added another delightful, demanding tiny human into our lives.

If I’m honest with you, the fear of not being able to love another child or give the second child equal attention never crossed my mind. I had watched my Mum cope well with this. She would mother us as if she was so blessed to have us both. If she ever had favourites, I never noticed.

That may be a lie, if you have read my second birth story you would know in an emotional rant on the way to hospital because I felt Zac was missing time prior to that day, and I knew his life would forever be changed when he next saw us. Poor Shane attempted to put positive spins on the situation, but I was way past that, nothing he isn’t used to every 28 days anyway. Sorry babe.

Back to my point, the parts that terrified me were making sure both children were fed, cleaned and had slept adequately and most of all; would Zac accept and get along with the new addition?

I can tell you that 6 months in (to the day as I write this), the boys are OBSESSED with each other. Their worlds are not complete without a good morning and good night hug, kiss or acknowledgement of some form. I secretly tear up over this on the daily, because I never expected such a bond between them and I know as they grow it will morph into other displays of affection that aren’t as heart-warming. Cue rough-housing and wrestling.

Apart from a few incidents where Zac gets a tad overexcited, where he jiggles Judd or tries to “help him roll over”, and a few moments where he shrieks in excitement scaring the living daylights out of the baby, we have yet to see a need to worry about him intentionally causing harm. Touch wood – and as I said, this probably won’t last forever. Overall, we’re sure Judd has caused more pain to Zac by pinching and pulling hair, being the chunky little bruiser he is.

Given our successes so far, I’d love to share what helped us to prepare our child and our home for the arrival of another baby in the house, for the parents that follow my stories and are thinking of/who have added another little peanut into their worlds:

  • Read books about getting a sibling. Our kick-ass Aunty Kate bought Zac “You’re a Big Brother”. He loves a good chuckle about the “babies being smelly” page.
  • Baby dolls with prams, bottles, nappies and dummies. Yes, even for a boy. Zac has always loved playing with dolls, but we decided to get him one specifically around the time JJ was born so that he could sit along side me copying my actions as I fed and changed the baby. This was the perfect opportunity for him to use the baby name he chose (clearly, we weren’t on board) hence we have a Baby Jake residing in the playroom.
  • Make an effort to have one-on-one time with the older sibling. This really is determined by their age, as a younger child is more dependant anyway but an older child who is independent may often get lost in the days activities and before you know it they’ve spent most of the time alone. Even small 15 minute play sessions (without technology interrupting) with just Zac and I, or Shane and him made all the difference. Yes, baby will go through phases of squawking if they aren’t being held. Chuck them in a carrier, bouncer or pram if you have to and do your best with the situation you are in. Zac had his fill of time with one of us and was content to play alone afterwards. Then he could see that Judd got his time with us, but he did too.
  • Have conversations on the way life will change when a new baby is involved. Share all the fun points such as another playmate and someone to talk to, but also be realistic in a concise way that Mum and Dad will share time between baby and them. And that they will need to share some spaces in the house with the new sibling.
  • Create a sanctuary in their bedroom that is ONLY theirs. We found this really important with Zac. We moved his bedroom to a larger one which allowed us to put baby in the room closest to us. I created a reading corner with a tent, pillow, blanket and soft toys and we moved some his favourite toy playsets in the room also. Sure, it took a while of us reinforcing that he doesn’t play all flipping night long (we do find toys have *magically* moved overnight sometimes), but that was worth the ease of adjustment for Zac. He has his OWN space which Judd is allowed in at times of Zac’s choosing, and as he grows older all the smaller toys will be moved there so that the main portion of the house is safer for a crawling baby and toddler.
  • Watch TV shows or movies where children gain siblings and are comfortable with it. Hate to say it, but Baby Jake and Ryan Toys Review were helpful in this department. Like, I really hate to admit that.
  • Now that Judd is older, he pulls and grabs and can even find skin to pinch on tightest parts of a neck or face. Judd gets told not to be rough and grab and encouraged to play softly, just the same as Zac. We feel like this helps Zac to recognise he isn’t the only one that makes mistakes or gets a bit rough and is told off, which in turn creates less resentment.
  • Hug and show affection to both children. Probably an obvious one. Judd gets hugs, Zac gets hugs. Simple, but seriously can be forgotten when baby demands so much attention. Zac is growing out of hugs anyway, so he only needs a quick one and he is good for a while.
  • Involve them in play together. We ask Zac if he can lend some toys to Judd and vice versa (not that Judd can answer, obviously) which doesn’t always work. Zac does get possessive over his toys, but it is still early days and we feel it is important to begin the habit of asking permission first.
  • Involve the older sibling in helping with certain tasks for the baby. “Zac, can you please pass me the wipes” et cetera. He thrives off feeling independent and as if he was helping his Mum and Dad.
  • Routine. We love routine. It grounds our family unit. It became looser with the new arrival but it’s existence gave Zac and us the comfort of knowing what was coming next and that we would eventually get time together when JJ was sleeping. JJ, on the other hand, was not a routine-happy baby until over 12 weeks of age. He was simply not ready and was extremely unsettled. We just let go of the concept until he had calmed down and felt comfortable. Now he is quite flexible (being dragged along to kinder drop off and pickup will do that), but also responds to routine quite well, plus I feel so confident in his cues.
  • Empower the older sibling to be independent. We figured that at some point Zac would need to discover he wasn’t the only young child in the family. Therefore, when I was pregnant we began doing less for him. In a way, we threw him in the deep end and help to guide his way to self-sufficiency. Previous teaching techniques did not work for Zac. This included him learning to dress himself, get himself snacks and drinks, pack up his toys when requested, use the toilet when asked (he was a late toilet user), washing and drying himself after a bath, me physically not carrying him around anymore (I still did this for him at 4 years old and heavily pregnant and simply could not anymore) and overall getting him used to responding to requests from us. Zac began kinder mere weeks before I popped so these habits were important regardless of Judd’s arrival.

 

My friends, forgive yourself if you can’t always “get it right”. Chances are the things that cause friction also hold potential to build resilience, within reason and with the right attitude. Guilt is imminent, and I often wish there was a way around it, but dodging negative emotions is not realistic and maintainable. It is healthy to feel pangs of guilt because your time is now in higher demand and you created made a mammoth global shift in the older child’s life. Try to accept it, and use it is a driver of change. You begin finding more pockets of free time that you never noticed before to hang out with your kids or partner.

Feel proud that you created another human being into a life where they are loved and given opportunity to thrive by parents who actually give a fuck. Which shows because here you are, reading this post about my experiences and tips on the second little squawker joining our crew.

 

Until next time,

 

Sha x