Posted on June 22, 2015
This guest post is by my dear friend Gem Wilder. Gem is a total badass, a beautiful writer, a babe of epic proportions, and a really great mum. I love what she’s written here about her experiences parenting her awesome daughter. I reckon you’ll love it too. Truth above all. Thank you Gem ❤️
The Word I Wish I Could Take Back
Motherhood comes with its own language. As soon as you find out you are pregnant you acquire a whole new vocabulary: Ante-natal, post-partum, meconium, placenta, nuchal fold, lactation, and so on and so forth forever and ever amen. Some of these new words can inspire a plethora of emotions and memories. Words like ‘latch’ can bring on a cold sweat. My sympathies to you if you gave birth in a New Zealand election year, when every utterance of the word ‘labour’ can reduce you to a sobbing mess rocking on the floor, nothing but a bundle of PTSD and hormones.
There are words that come freely with motherhood that are suddenly easier to say than ever before. Words like “I love you,” and more than that, “I love you so so SO much, you make me so happy, come here so mama can snuggle you to pieces”. Yep, you’ll say these things, and you won’t even gag when you do. You’ll say them in public without an ounce of shame. You’ll say them even as you are wiping your kid’s snotty nose with your bare hands because you don’t have any tissues, and you’ll mean them sincerely.
You will understand a language that makes no sense outside of your small family unit. My family know that ‘Bawnmolly’ was my nephew’s word for lawnmower when he was a toddler. That ‘donner’ was the cord on the side of his sleep sack that he would wrap around his hand as he sucked his thumb. We know that when his younger brother asked for a ‘cuggle’ he wanted to suck on the side of his mothers thumb, her skin tough and dry from many a night spent soothing her boy. We know that when my daughter talks about ‘pippit’ she means cricket, and we laugh when she talks about how pippit players wear iPads. When my daughter pipes up from the back seat of the car, excited about having seen a ‘pane,’ I have to decipher whether she means plane, train or crane.
There are the words that people get wrong, like my daughter’s name. People that have known her since she was born, who hear us pronounce Kōwhai with a long o, like core, then call her Kowhai, co, as if it doesn’t matter how they say it. As if it is still her name if they pronounce it an entirely different way. I knew this would happen. I have no regrets when it comes to my daughter’s name. She will tire of correcting people, or not. Maybe she won’t care. Maybe her presence in the world will inspire a few more people to learn the correct pronunciation of the beautiful native tree she was named for.
There are the words we use as terms of affection for our children, the nicknames that they endure. My bunny baby, kokomo, koko pops, my only sunshine. And the words she uses to define us, her parents. Mama. Papa. Titles we earned and owned the second she took her first breath.
My daughter is three and a half now, a chatterbox with a growing vocabulary. I hear her mimicking me often. I hear her testing out new words to see how they feel on her tongue. A few weeks ago she was describing an incident that had happened to her at daycare. “I was feeling…” and she paused, thinking of the right word to describe her emotion, “…frustrated” she finished, confident that she’d used this new word correctly.
All of these words I treasure. I wouldn’t take back a single one of them. Except….there is one word that I have overused during my time as a mama, and that word is ‘careful.’ I utter it numerous times a day. When my daughter is climbing along the top of the couch, when she is carrying a glass of water, when we’re out walking, when she’s playing rough and tumble with her cousins, when she’s curiously stroking a baby, when she’s climbing out of the bath. I say it, and then I see it. I see my daughter being careful. I see her playing at a playground and avoiding ladders she thinks she cannot climb. I see her wary of the touch pool at the aquarium, standing in such a way that she can look at the starfish below with no risk of getting her hands wet. I see her being careful, being cautious, being wary.
Careful is the word I have used the most since becoming a mother, and I hate it. I don’t want it to be the word that defines my motherhood. If I could start over I would tell my daughter to have fun. I would let her learn for herself what she is capable of, before planting the seed of danger or failure before she’s even tried something. When I told her to be careful I did so out of love, but also out of fear. I’ve learnt my lesson though and these days I sound like a cheerleader, or a motivational poster. “You can do it!” I call from the sidelines. “Just try it!” I plead. And hopefully, if I keep this up, before too long she will start to believe me. If I say it out loud enough times, maybe that’s what she’ll start hearing inside her own head.
Posted on June 18, 2015
I managed to get both kids to sleep at the same time today. It’s difficult to describe just how great I felt at this momentous achievement. I am guessing (obviously, I mean look at me) that it feels exactly the same when you reach the summit of Mount Everest. Euphoric. Slightly out of breath. Sweaty.
I was so smug about it I felt like I deserved a glass of wine – but I didn’t have one since it was only 1pm and even though it has been a hard week I can’t quite justify 1pm wine. Maybe tomorrow.
So instead of wine I went on Facebook which is nowhere near as satisfying as wine. I was scrolling through and I saw this:
God give me strength. As if any child playing outside looks like that. And the actual message here – Just eff off mate. You don’t have to be making memories every fucking second of every fucking day. So you don’t have TV, awesome. I didn’t have TV for the first 10 months. Then I got it and I can’t even put into words how much better my life is. Sometimes I see articles about people who marry appliances and for a second I look at my TV and think…well…
I digress (really, I’m sorry if you got a mental image then).
Look, you’re clearly a better mother than I. You win. I’m not even interested in playing because I would lose my damn mind if I didn’t have television to entertain my toddler for half an hour while I do eight loads of washing and feed my baby. Yes, there are other ways I could keep him occupied, but TV works best. So that’s what I do.
Just going to keep scrolling and…are..you…serious…right…now?
Well I definitely remember being drunk as all Hell playing Crash Bandicoot when I was 17 so I just don’t agree with that at all.
A few minutes? That’s all I need to give them? Why didn’t someone tell me sooner. I have been spending all day with the little *ahem* angels. I’ve been *grits teeth* respectfully parenting for every single second, of every minute, or every hour, of every day. And trust me, I’ve felt every minute.
Deep breath. Keep scrolling.
I’ve got to be grateful for stretch marks now?
Where does it end?
What is the purpose of these damn trolling Pinterest meme things? If they’re not to make you feel like shit or feel sanctimonious then they’re failing. Because that’s literally the only two reactions you can have to these things.
Like if you see that one and say ‘Yeah! Tiger Stripes! I earned these! I’m grateful every second of every day and I’m a good person!’ cool. You do you. More power to you.
And also, I seriously believe loving your body can be a revolutionary act. That’s not my point here.
When I read it I’m like – you know what? I’m a feminist. I am all about body positivity. I rocked a bikini when I was preggo. And some days I hate my body. I loathe it. I try really, really hard to feel good about how I look after two kids. But it’s really hard. Some days I really hate my body. And you know what – I sometimes resent my kids because my body feels and looks so ruined some days. There, I said it. I’m clearly a monster. I should take my children to the firehouse and drop them off so someone with higher self esteem than me can take them. That’ll teach me.
I can’t even. I tried to even. And I couldn’t even even.
Can we please inject some reality into these? Good god. You can be you. You can be an imperfect parent. You don’t have to be a Pinterest mum who does everything right all of the time. I lose my shit sometimes (often) and yell at my husband. I say sorry. Our marriage is fine.
I get so damn frustrated with my son when he absolutely refuses to change out of a pair of shorts when it’s two degrees outside and we miss the bus and the whole day feels ruined. It’s OK to get frustrated sometimes! My son is seeing that mama is a real person who gets tired and frustrated some times. He also sees that mama still loves him because this is just life – people get upset. It doesn’t mean they don’t care!
It’s OK to call your baby a little asshole under your breath when it’s 3am and they’ve woken up for the fifteenth time and you are totally exhausted. You’re still getting up and cuddling them, feeding them, loving them. You’re allowed to be shitty about not getting sleep. You’re not allowed to put the Moses basket outside and let neighbourhood cats raise your child.
It’s alright to throw your kids at your partner as soon as they walk through the door after a day of work. You’re allowed to have bad days. People have bad days at work, you’re allowed to have bad days because you’re working too. It’s just that your employers are tiny tyrants who won’t eat fruit.
You’re not a bad parent because you put on TV or let your kid play on the iPad or the computer or the playstation or if you don’t make it outside for four days because the weather is shit and YOU ARE JUST TIRED. Being tired doesn’t make you a bad parent. A bit of “screen time” *vom* won’t kill your kid. You’re a grown ass adult – you know what moderation is.
I’m not a great parent every minute of every day. Sometimes I’m only an adequate parent for an entire day. A week. Other times I ace that shit and when both kids are asleep at the end of the day I think ‘damn, I’m good at this!’ But you know what the truth is – kids don’t need perfect parents. They just need people who love them to look after them and help them grow. Having a TV, hating your stretchmarks sometimes, being exhausted – that’s OK. These are not inherently bad things. They definitely don’t make you a bad parent.
I just want permission to be the parent I am. Tired but trying. Desperately in love with my kids. Failing often but never intentionally. I am teaching my children, but they’re also teaching me. We’re a work in progress and that’s OK.
Posted on June 17, 2015
So if you follow me on Twitter (or you actually know my Eddie) you will know that he is absolutely obsessed with princesses. At the moment his obsession is putting a towel over his head and declaring himself a princess. I’m unsure how a towel says princess but I try not to interfere with his elaborate imaginary world.
So I am extremely excited to be able to host a giveaway for Disney On Ice’s new show Dare to Dream which I’m told is absolutely magical. I actually cannot WAIT to tell Eddie that he’s going. I’m also excited to see what he will choose to wear for it since his princess style is pretty on point – he has a crown he made and decorated himself and yesterday he declared himself a princess dinosaur hybrid.
Anyway, enough about toddler princesses….Here’s the deal:
Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream opens in New Zealand next month and will take audiences on a spectacular journey featuring all of your favourite Disney characters. Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream will open at Vector Arena in Auckland on July 24th, and then travel to Wellington and Christchurch.
- Friday 24 July to Sunday 26 July at Vector Arena, Auckland
- Wednesday 29 July to Sunday 2 August at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
- Friday 7 August to Sunday 9 August at Horncastle Arena, Christchurch
I have a double pass to give away to a show in each city! To enter just head over to my Facebook page and like Mama Said then comment on the giveaway with the city you would like to attend the show in. Share this post with anyone who has princess-obsessed kids so they don’t miss out! Competition closes July 1. For more information about the show visit their website.
Posted on June 13, 2015
This post is about wanting to be a mother but not being one – yet – and all of the internal dialogue that comes with that particular pain. Thank you so much to the author for opening up and sharing with us here – that’s tough to do. There’s nothing more powerful than speaking your truth. We can connect with people all around the world so simply by sharing our experiences and our thoughts and feelings. Empathy and honesty binds us. I am so grateful to the women who share their stories here. I feel very privileged to be able to host these stories and I take that honour very seriously, so guest posts are moderated. I am always keen to feature posts about different experiences in parenting so please email me if you’d like to write something for the site.
Trigger warning: Infertility.
I didn’t really want to see Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’d seen spoilers for it. Not about major plot points or if any of the main cast die or anything like that, but the fact that a big deal was made about Black Widow being infertile.
My friends would probably assume I didn’t want to see it because I really don’t need more terribly-handled Joss Whedon casual-sexism-disguised-as-Strong-Female-Character-development in my pop culture.
A few years ago, that would have been true. Despite much urging, I still haven’t watched Dollhouse precisely because I’m so over Whedon’s obsession with using sexual violation and psychological abuse to progress his Strong Women Characters’ storylines.
Now it’s different. Now, I just don’t want to see yet another movie or TV show which uses a woman’s infertility to make the audience feel sad.
A coworker once told me, “when you’re pregnant you suddenly see pregnant women EVERYWHERE.” It’s like when you’re waiting to get picked up by someone who drives a red car, and all you can see is red cars going past.
Well, you don’t just suddenly see pregnant women everywhere when you’re pregnant. You see them everywhere when you desperately, desperately wish you WERE pregnant. And you’re not. And your chances of getting pregnant “naturally” are pretty nonexistent. And there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it but pray and daydream about tens of thousands of dollars falling into your lap.
And you feel like the worst fucking feminist in the world. You’ve spent your entire politically-conscious life railing against the patriarchy, against the social pressures which say as a woman (ignoring/erasing trans women, of course) you must want kids. It’s natural, it’s ingrained, and you downright deserve to get paid less and overlooked for jobs and treated like a man’s property for it. All the institutional sexism stops being oppressive once you look into your baby’s eyes, right?
It’s bullshit. You know that. It’s a trap which set by The Man to stifle your options and perpetuate capitalism. You don’t need kids to be fulfilled. You can totally live your life and have your relationship and build your amazing career and be a whole, healthy, satisfied person.
Except I’m not. Despite ticking so many of the boxes, despite being in a comfortable place with nothing but good options in front of me, I just want to be pregnant. I just want to have a baby. It’s not rational, it’s not conscious, it’s just a deep, driving urge which no amount of sense can talk down.
But it might never happen. That’s life. Sometimes shit doesn’t work out the way you assumed it would when you were planning everything out at the age of 13.
So I try to go through life looking at the great things I have – a job I enjoy, a partner I love, a warm dry house – and hey, if it happens, it happens. Maybe by random biological chance. Maybe by a sudden financial windfall making IVF an option. I find myself humming “Let it Go” a lot to try to stop stressing myself out about it.
But at the same time, every single show and movie – not just the ones peppered with Joss Whedon’s trademarked short-and-snappy dialogue – seems to be part of a grand scheme to remind me that my situation is literally the worst thing that can happen to a woman.
In Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen is hung up on never being able to have children of her own. Revenge’s Emily Thorne can’t get pregnant because Daniel Grayson shot her. Masters of Sex was unsurprisingly full of reproductive themes but specifically used Libby’s desire to have a child to emphasise what a villain she was against the happy, randy, fecund Virginia. Boardwalk Empire – Nucky’s first wife had a mental snap after their child was stillborn (again – the infertile woman = villain compared to child-bearing Margaret’s virtue). Mad Men’s Trudy Campbell got depressed about not being able to conceive and seeing women with children everywhere.
Spartacus’ Lucretia is obsessed with having a baby. The titular second half of Julie and Julia cries on hearing about her sister’s pregnancy. I’ve been there. How many episodes of any procedural crime drama – or supernatural drama – revolve around adopted children, crooked fertility doctors, women so desperate to conceive they do extreme things? How many science fiction shows depict species which can’t reproduce taking drastic action to preserve their societies?
My favourite show is Orphan Black – wall-to-wall motherhood issues.
Don’t even start me on the opening montage of Up.
I try to be reasonable. Relationships and procreation are common human experiences, so of course that’s reflected in our media. I tell myself I should take comfort from the fact my situation isn’t unique. Other people get what I’m going through.
But every day while I try to hold things together, chill out, let life unfold the way it can … fuck, it’s difficult. And I just wish I could sit down and watch a goddamned silly superhero movie without being reminded yet again of the assumption, the thing I know deep in my soul, the thing I deny and deny but can’t escape: that my whole life is a complete fucking failure if I can never have babies.
I went to see Age of Ultron in the end. I figured I was forewarned, at least. If I cut out every bit of media from my life which used women’s fertility as a plot device I wouldn’t be able to watch anything at all. Just got to keep trucking on, and hoping.
Posted on June 10, 2015
I’ve sat on this blog post for a while now. One thing I don’t ever, ever, EVER want to do here is make anyone feel judged or shitty. We all have different experiences in parenting, and I know that sometimes when I’ve been exhausted and feeling overwhelmed I’ve read things online that have made me cry and feel like the shittiest mother ever. Sometimes I think it’s intentional – people post without caring about how it will hurt, or they post horrible things for clicks, or they’re like actually mean jerks. But often I think it’s unintentional, just badly worded, or the person hasn’t quite said what they meant to say – or maybe I didn’t get it because I read it with all of my hurt and sadness and feelings and experiences sitting on my heavy, tired shoulders. And that’s ok and not my fault or their fault or anyone’s fault. So I don’t know where I’m going with this – I guess I’m saying that after re-reading and editing and reading and editing I’ve decided to post this. I do not want to minimise anyone’s experiences – this is just my truth and I want to say it. I think the most important thing (the TL:DR version) is that we must feel supported in the choices we make about how we feed our children. It’s important. Really, truly important. Thank you for reading.
Breastfeeding Nazis. Nipple Nazis. Breastapo. Breast feeding police. Psychos. Smug earth mother bitches. Sanctimummys. Bullies. Anti-Formula fanatics. Did you hear the one about that mother whose baby died because she’d been BRAINWASHED by lactation consultants? They’re mum bashing do-gooders. They hate formula. They hate women. They should get rid of Le Leche League. They’re a bunch of dangerous hippies.
That’s just a sample of what people say about lactation consultants on your average article about breast feeding in New Zealand.
Well, here’s what I have to say about them – they listened to me. They heard me. When I felt desperately alone – they were there for me. They empowered me. They made me feel strong. They wiped away my tears. They made me feel like I’m a good mother and I should be proud of myself. They made me feel like I mattered too. That I could trust myself as a mother. They were there when I felt like nobody else was there.
I always thought breast feeding would be easy. I had always wanted to breast feed. I tried so very hard with my first born. But I was too scared to ask for help. I’d been told by absolutely everyone that lactation consultants would yell at me. They’re anti formula I was told. They’re judgemental. I didn’t ask for help because I was afraid of them.
While my oldest son was in hospital I tried to advocate for myself and for him. I wanted to keep breast feeding I told the doctors and nurses and registrars and well-meaning family. I kept being told my milk was the problem. In my head I felt that couldn’t be right. Why couldn’t I just give him expressed breast milk in a bottle? Why did it have to be formula? Alone and utterly exhausted and emotionally ruined I gave him formula at 3am in hospital. I weaned in agony in a children’s ward on my own. Every time a child near me cried my breasts did too. I was never able to comfort him at the breast again. I remember sobbing and asking a nurse “How do I stop the milk?” she just said “we can’t give you anything” and walked off. Another said “There’s nothing wrong with formula for goodness sake!” I’d never, ever suggested that there was anything wrong with formula. I got mastitis in both breasts while trying to look after my desperately ill child.
I’m not anti-formula. I formula fed my son. I am very grateful for formula. But I will never be thankful for the way I was railroaded into giving up on breast feeding. It really hurt me. And for a long time I swallowed that hurt because when I tried to voice it people jumped down my throat – don’t you think you’ve got bigger things to worry about? There’s nothing wrong with formula. Your son gained weight. Isn’t he the priority? Shouldn’t you put your son first? Actually formula is better than breast milk because you know what’s in formula. Who cares how you feed your baby. Get a grip. You should have really started him on formula earlier. All that matters is that your son is healthy. You’re being a bit dramatic aren’t you?
I felt silenced at every turn. I didn’t dare express how I felt. I knew how I should feel – I should know that what I wanted wasn’t important. That my instincts were wrong. That wanting to breast feed was selfish if I couldn’t do it immediately without any hassles. Sick children should be given formula. Breast milk is too unreliable. It was irresponsible, even dangerous, definitely self-absorbed and narcissistic, to want to breast feed if it was difficult or if my child had health problems. I was anti-formula and judgemental of mothers who used formula if I didn’t use it when I was told to. Breast feeding was just a way to feed your child – it had no other worth. As such it didn’t matter how you fed, just feed – but with formula.
Even now, two and a half years on, I find it so hard to trust my own feelings because of the gaslighting and stress of it all.
When my second son was born I was absolutely determined that I would make the choice as to whether I breast fed or not. I wouldn’t let anyone else take that choice from me.
The first people to listen to me were my midwives. One of my midwives is training to be a lactation consultant. In tears I told her about my weaning the first time. She listened. She never called me dramatic or told me off for the feelings I had. She held my hand.
I left the hospital a few hours after my second was born and she came over to help me with my latch. She then came over again a few days later. She kept texting me and sending me online messages to trouble shoot the problems I was having. She did all of this voluntarily.
Being a midwife is an exhausting job – long hours and emotionally it requires huge resilience. I am astounded still that on her days off she took the time to visit me to help me feed.
I messaged her at 2am when my son was recently in hospital and I was again in a vulnerable position with formula being offered at every possible opportunity. She immediately responded. She sent me love and encouragement and said she would come to the hospital to help me.
What a Nazi.
When my son was two months old I went to the Newtown Breastfeeding Support Clinic. I walked in and immediately started sobbing. The volunteer there gave me a glass of water and a hug – she listened to me. Another volunteer entertained my toddler while they helped me with the pain I was having in one of my breasts. I felt completely safe in that hall. Surrounded by other mums struggling through like I was.
Every single week these women gather and sit in a hall and help mums breast feed. Voluntarily. They give up those hours with their children to help us with our children.
Those lactation consultants kept emailing me to make sure I was ok – physically and emotionally. Not once did they pressure me to breast feed or bottle feed. I was given help with the pain and told they could give me help with weaning if I chose to do that. They discussed what could be the reason I was having pain and kept in close contact with me.
Smug right? Anti-formula fanatics. Totally.
But Le Leche League are the worst aren’t they?
In agony one afternoon I called a number on the Le Leche League website. A woman answered. I could hear her children in the background. I was completely hysterical. I could barely get words out. She told me to take deep breaths and she calmed me down enough to get details from me. This volunteer, a stranger, offered to come to me if I needed immediate help. She encouraged me to contact my husband and get him to come home and take me to my GP. This might all sound melodramatic to you but if you’re surviving on no sleep, and you’re in extreme pain, and you’re overwhelmed – it’s impossible to think straight.
This woman voluntarily takes calls from sobbing mothers day in and day out and talks them off ledges.
I ended up in A&E where a doctor gave me tramadol. I was a mess on it. I was told by almost everyone to just stop breast feeding. I know why. I know it is well-meaning. I know I am stubborn. But it was so hard to hear that.
I was never told to stop or keep going by lactation consultants. I was never dismissively told “happy mum happy baby!” as if wanting to breast feed was a terrible thing to do to my child. I was never told ‘you don’t have to breast feed you know’ or ‘I don’t know why you’re bothering’ or ‘it’s not compulsory’ as if I was a complete moron who doesn’t know her own mind.
I wasn’t ever pressured by anyone to breast feed.
I wanted to.
The only time I was ever given permission to feel this way was when I was around lactation consultants.
This post is mainly just a post about my appreciation for them. I managed to get through my son’s hospital stay without stopping breast feeding. I am proud of myself for that. I trusted my gut and he gained weight on breast milk. I knew he would. I know my milk is working well for him. But it has taken me a long time to trust myself. And I trust myself because of them.
Now, I feed on one side as the other boob is some weird cosmic mess that is super painful. But I feed! I did it! I am immensely proud of myself. I feel like it’s a big achievement. Because it was so painful. So difficult. And I kept going. And I did what I thought was best for me and my son. And it worked!
I now breast feed without pain. My son is pink and fat like a delicious Christmas ham.
I could not have done it without lactation consultants. They protected me. Supported me. Comforted me.
More than anything they listened to me. And here I am – finally, four months on, feeding my baby easily.
I got to heal myself and that matters.
So I guess this is one of those posts that doesn’t really have a message – except maybe this: I’m not going to buy into the narrative that lactation consultants are monsters. If you need help with breast feeding then go to them! Your feelings matter. A lot of women can’t breast feed. But a lot can if they’re given support and help and they’re listened to. And they should be listened to.
And somebody will listen. I’m so incredibly grateful that so many women block out the horrific abuse they get on every article about their profession, every thread online, in mum groups, on Twitter, on Facebook, at coffee groups – everywhere – to voluntarily listen every day to women like me who need help.
Posted on June 5, 2015
I’m in hospital with my son. We have been here all week. I have been too tired to write a coherent blog post but my brain is still a jumble of words. I have written bits and pieces over the last few days. Here are some feelings. Some things I’ve been thinking. Not particularly eloquent, but I wanted to put them out there anyway.
There are some lovely words.
Ya’aburnee is a word commonly used in Lebanon, it is Arabic, and it is difficult to translate. It is the wish that you will die before the one you love. Simply: You bury me.
Unsurprisingly, it is a sentiment that lives mostly in the hearts of mothers. I have watched my two babies fragile in their hospital beds, fighting for breath, too many times now. Each time Ya’aburnee escapes from my lips as a whisper, a fervent prayer.
It is the same every time – when my babies are at rest, their chests still straining but their eyes closed, I too close my eyes. I picture them at peace and content with loved ones, partners, children, grandchildren, friends, cuddles, kisses, travel, wine, cheese, trampolines, laughter, happy tears, celebrations. I picture them proud watching recitals, performances, gigs, shows, races – karate, swimming, guitar, ballet? I picture them at graduations, awards, writing CVs, creating art. I picture them with a faceless love by their side who brings them as much joy as their father brings me. And I imagine them saying “your Nanna used to say…” to their grown children in remembrance of me. And even though I’m gone, they’re not broken by my absence. They have their own beautiful lives now. And they look at their babies and whisper ya’aburnee.
If a woman’s work is never done a mother is never allowed to rest. I am told to rest. To sleep. To “have a cup of tea”. I hate tea. It tastes like dirt. I am fuelled by coffee.
I am anchored to my son’s cot. I am a lumbering ship. Slow. Not in the best condition really. But determined. I need things to be repeated, I don’t understand what the doctors say to me the first time around. I cry in private. It is too hard to rest. When I sleep it is through sheer force. My body drags me down into the ground and it’s dark and cool and then a cry launches me up. My body acts before my brain does. I am here, it’s ok, I am here. I will rest later.
My second boy came into the world screaming. His face was a deep purple. He was nine pounds and three ounces and he was born angry, screaming at the sky. I love that fight in him. His labour was long, far too long. He fought to be here, to be heard, and he fights to stay here. He seems so resilient even as he struggles. I did not have drugs during his labour because I did not want to be away from my Eddie overnight. It was agony. I felt like my pain could crack the sky. But it wasn’t as painful as being away from my Eddie for so many days now. My arms feel empty. I long to kiss his forehead. To push his dirty blonde hair from his face. To hear his incessant chatter. The ward even with the crying, the constant alarms, the yelling, the sound of so much marching past our door, sounds too quiet without his relentless commentary. I saw him briefly and he said to me “you ok my darling? My dear mama?” He is so compassionate. He is a born mother. A study in care and empathy.
Missing someone even when you know they’re close and not gone, can feel like physical pain. I just know I never want to be apart from my babies.
This place is misery. Surely, there is no sadder more isolated place than the children’s ward in a hospital. Mothers rock even when their babies aren’t in their arms. Fathers have red ringed eyes. Their shoulders are tense. Their footsteps are the heaviest. Nurses are patient but parents are quick to anger. There is so much crying, screeching, babies in pain – but I think the worst cry is the lonely, desperate crying in the night of parents who just want their babies to be better. Torture is not being able to fix your baby. To not be able to hold them because of tubes and monitors and chords like delicate ropes that feel like they’re strangling you. To stand with teeth clenched, nails digging into your arms, as strangers work, speaking a language you don’t understand, too busy to translate, on your precious baby – it is some specific type of Hell. But there is so much humanity here too. The doctor who gently sings a lullaby to your baby as he tries to get a line in. The nurse who gets you a hot chocolate just because you look like you need one. The texts and tweets and calls and financial support because Heaven knows nothing is more terrifying that not being able to pay your bills when you’re in here. The man at the coffee stand who remembers your order and starts making it so you don’t have to speak through tears. The other parents who nod and say “need anything?” No energy for themselves but they are machines with one setting – to care for their babies, and anyone else who needs it right now. Because we share this Hell together.
I will get to leave. My baby will be ok. But some won’t. And I weep for them. Nobody should ever have to bury their child. Every time I leave hospital I have a renewed dedication to frantic, compulsory empathy and compassion for others. The world is too mean too often. We have to be kinder. Always. Gentle. Always. Because some people never get to leave here.
Posted on May 27, 2015
I am nearing my 30th birthday and it has made me question a lot of things. At 2am, while writing blog posts in my head, and gritting my teeth through another painful feed, and gazing at my beautiful baby, I thought – what do I want most of all?
I realised I want two things in this life.
I want to be a really good mum.
I want my children to always feel loved, to always feel safe, to always know that there is nothing they can do that will change how much I love them, and that they are never responsible for my happiness. I want them to know that they don’t have to perform for my love. That they don’t have to do anything to keep their precious place as my beloved children.
I want to be a good partner.
None of this good-wife-1950s-throwback BS, but I want my husband to know that I love him, that I appreciate him (gosh, I really hope he knows how much I appreciate him). I want him to know that every day I choose him as my partner, my friend, my teacher, my lover (well shit that’s not every day, but you know what I mean), and my trusted companion through everything. I want him to know that I really love our life together. That the last ummm more than a decade (I can never remember how long it has been) has been amazing. And that I am grateful for everything we have given each other – obviously, most of all I’m grateful we are parents together.
So clearly, I can tell my kids and my partner all of these things. And I do. It’s kind of a running joke that I’m the “I love you!!” person in our house. I try not to get all scary on them with the intensity of my love for them. I don’t want to accidentally swing into delusional, terrifying mothering – It’s a fine line between Molly Weasley and Cersei Lannister.
But it takes more than just saying it. Actions speak louder than words and bla bla bla.I need to show it.
I try, I really do, to be a good parent and partner each day. But the thing is – I’m not.
There are days I fall really short of this goal. I get all shitty that my two year old won’t eat just one bloody bite of food. Or that he keeps leaning out of the bloody buggy. Or that some days he whines and moans and whines and moans and I can’t even understand him because his voice is so high-pitched with that awful toddler moan. I get annoyed at the baby for clamping down on my nipples and yanking his head away with my nipple still in his mouth. I get shitty at him for refusing to settle. He’s tired. I’m tired. He’s fed. He’s dry. Go the fuck to sleep. I seethe at my partner when he does stuff like pouring my expressed breast milk down the sink because he thought it was old (he did this two months ago, and I still feel super emotional about it). It annoys me that he gets annoyed at me for not wiping down the bench.
There are microagressions. Many, many microaggressions.
I once got so frustrated with my son that I said ‘fine, do whatever the fuck you want, I don’t care’ and he said ‘Eddie WILL do fuck wanna wan mama’ and we laughed. A lot. And then I said “Don’t tell your dad” and I gave him a lollipop and an Easter egg for lunch. Yes, a lollipop and an Easter egg. And that’s all he ate the whole day.
And I’m starting to think that actually that’s OK.
Because parenting and partnering is like that. There are days where you suck at it. And there are days where you compromise and the compromises aren’t even good ones. And yes, I swear at my kids sometimes. And I feel really guilty.
But then, I get so into feeling guilty that I don’t realise that it’s a whole new day tomorrow. And I have a whole new day to try to do better. And I don’t want to get all hashtag blessed on you but – I don’t want to waste days feeling guilty when I’m so lucky to have these days with my family.
So when it’s 2am and I know I had moments where I was not a good parent the day before I try to tell myself that moments of not good parenting doesn’t make me a bad parent. Moments of anger, frustration, even rage at my partner doesn’t make our marriage a bad one. Our partnership isn’t flawed. We’re all tired. And we’re all doing the best that we can. My children aren’t going to grow up to be serial killers (hopefully) because I told my oldest I would leave him at the bus stop if he didn’t keep his hands in the buggy.
Because tomorrow, today – I can be better. I can respectfully explain to my son why he needs to keep his hands inside the buggy instead of snapping. I can spend more time convincing him that a kiwifruit won’t kill him, that a sandwich is good for his body. I can take a deep breath and count to 10 before yelling. I can get my husband a cold drink and remember he’s had a long day too when he gets home. I can let go the fact that he poured that milk down the drain.
Because I’m not perfect. And I want my kids to see that it’s OK to not be perfect. As long as there’s love in this home it can be an imperfect home. As long as we are trying, it’ll be OK. We will have good days and bad days. We will be good to each other and appreciate that some times we snap at each other and that’s OK – as long as we keep trying. Trying every day to do a little better.
Each day, I can work toward my goals of being a good parent and a good partner. And I will fail some days. But that’s OK. These goals aren’t just boxes to tick. They’ll be my never-ending aims. And they’re examples for my children.
And I’ve got tomorrow if today doesn’t work out.
Posted on May 23, 2015
I am very grateful to the kind, generous, lovely and brave woman who has provided this guest post. As you can see it’s an anonymous post. Please respect the anonymity of this whānau. If you know them, please do not discuss this post on social media using the real names of those involved. I think this is a lovely post about the ways we love as a families, I’m very grateful to be able to host it on my site. If for some reason this post upsets you, you may like to shout into the wind instead of commenting. I’ll only be posting comments that are respectful to the whānau involved. If you have questions, you can post them and the author may or may not choose to reply. I am always keen to feature posts about different experiences in parenting so please email me if you’d like to write something for the site. Please excuse me if I take a while to reply, I am a bit slow this week due to lack of sleep!
I’m extremely lucky – or just greedy, depending on how you look at it. I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They are married to each other and have been together for seven years.
I started off just dating my boyfriend. It took him a long time to convince me it was a good idea. I’m not “polyamorous.” They had an open marriage, which I didn’t approve of. I thought I was settling for being second best. It all sounded complicated and painful. But – I fell in love with him. I spent time with him and his daughter, Lily. She was three. I fell in love with her. And then I met his wife.
We are pretty open about our relationship. We’ve had varying reactions, particularly from our three sets of parents. They have their own opinions about us and about how we should raise Lily. We respect those opinions but we make our own parenting choices.
I don’t live with my partners right now, but it’s on the cards. I see them almost every day. We eat meals together, I help put Lily to bed, I read her stories. We say “I love you.”
One of the main criticisms we’ve had is: “What is this teaching Lily? She’s not going to have a normal family!”
We consider Lily in every single decision we make. She is always our first thought, and always will be. It makes no difference that we are three parents instead of one or two. She is our priority.
We absolutely dispute the idea that our relationship is damaging to her in any way. As I said, I have been around basically since she can remember. She is used to my presence, and to the relationship dynamic. As she grows up, she has more questions for us. “Why does Hannah stay the night all the time? Where does she sleep? Can’t she sleep with meeeee?” I imagine these will get more complex as time goes on, as she realises her family is different and what that means, and she may get questions from schoolmates or other families. We always answer with the truth.
What is our relationship teaching her? As far as we’re concerned, she’s learning that there is all kind of love in the world, and that there is a lot of it. Love isn’t a finite resource. You can love lots of different people, in lots of different ways, and all just as much as the other. I hardly see how that’s a bad thing.
And the “normal family” question – I do struggle not to laugh out loud at this one. What’s a normal family? It’s hard to tell if this sort of prejudice is driven by traditional views of marriage, homophobia, or genuine concern for our child.
And she is my child. For public understanding I usually refer to her as my stepdaughter, though unfortunately that isn’t legally true. Sometimes I say she is the daughter of my boyfriend and/or my girlfriend, though that doesn’t feel like it conveys what she means to me, and it’s not the whole truth. I love her. I parent her. She’s mine.
It can be an interesting dynamic having three parents, especially when two sort-of take higher authority as the bio-parents, though they rarely contradict me, nor I them. I know their parenting style and ensure there is consistency of care. We all have very similar codes of ethics so it’s no big chore. Occasionally there are times when I discover I am more strict than they are. I figure this is because I’ve had less time to be worn down haha.
For example – dinner time. I grew up in a household where you eat everything on your plate. If you didn’t, you didn’t leave the table and you didn’t get dessert. To me, that’s a harsh but good lesson. I learned to be grateful for the food that was made for me, and the dessert I was rewarded with for good behaviour. I learned discipline. I learned that I didn’t always get what I wanted, and I didn’t always like what I got. So I make her stay at the table and finish her vegetables. And when she’s done, she gets chocolate, which is the best thing in the world.
She’s getting sneakier as she gets older. She knows if mum and dad have said no… Hannah might say yes! So she tries the same question on all three of us. And she’s adorable, so saying no is hard!
I know that some people will disagree with me, but I think she’s lucky. I know I am. I’m so incredibly lucky to be part of her life, to watch her growing up, to be part of the team that will guide her. Yesterday she told me she loves me more than cats. That’s pretty huge.
She gets three parents. She gets three pairs of arms to hug her, three voices for bedtime stories, three choices of who to ask when she wants to know about birds and bees and outer space.
Most of all, she’s loved. And that’s just what any child deserves.
Posted on May 20, 2015
The other day it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t given my 12 week old (I actually think he’s about 14 or even 15 weeks old now but I’m too tired to actually figure it out) any tummy time. Oh tummy time – you annoying must-do torture for babies. Has there ever been a baby that enjoyed tummy time?
Eddie hated tummy time. He would scream and scream and arch his head back and act like I was slowly destroying his will to live while he actually destroyed my will to live. I kept doing it because I was told to. And I do what I’m told when I don’t know what I’m actually meant to be doing. And when it comes to parenting – I never know what I’m doing.
Each day I would dutifully put Eddie on his tummy for five minutes at a time at intervals of about three hours. I was very neurotic the first time around. I basically believed if I didn’t give him tummy time he would never walk. I imagined having to carry him to dates and then awkwardly turn my head while he pashed randoms (Kiwi speak for passionate kissed random people…ahem). He would need intense therapy and I would have to carry him to therapy and future therapy is very expensive in my head. He’d never drive because he wouldn’t be able to lift his neck. When it would be time to stick me in a nursing home he’d choose the worst one and say “this is because you never gave me tummy time enough as a baby”. I would lay in my bed and he would lay on the floor in the corner unable to move just hissing at me like an angry immobile lizardperson.
With baby number two I have much less time to allow my brain to wander and imagine fresh horrors that will ruin my children’s lives as they grow. When I realised I’d not done any tummy time I just thought “Oh well, I have had him in the carrier a lot so he’ll be holding his neck up for that”.
Then, later on that evening – instead of writing which I should have been doing – I began Google image searching men with no shirts on wearing kilts. Or was it jason mamoa holding kitten. Actually I think it was the rock wearing apron nothing else. Anyway, my mind began to wander and it wandered somewhere I didn’t want it to wander to. What if my little one didn’t crawl because I’d been so slack with tummy time? And what if one day he said to me ‘Eddie can walk because you parented properly the first time and with me you were too busy Googling guys with big muscles for weirdly specific fantasies when you should have been giving me tummy time’.
What would I say to my baby? And just as I was about to really get down to feeling guilty a wonderful thing happened:
I got an email that basically said my lazy parenting was actually The Right Way to parent.
I love it when that happens. The email outlined how tummy time is actually The Wrong Way to get your child moving. Instead you should just lay them on their backs and leave them to it. Now, I’d regularly been doing this. Baby gets cuddles, boob, then he is put on a quilt on the floor where I spend a bit of time regaling him with fantastic tales from my youth and then I give him some rings and leave him to his own devices to consider what a cool mum he has while I clean and deal with the toddler. Turns out – I’m an awesome parent because this email said that’s totally what I should be doing.
So here’s my advice when it comes to feeling shit about your parenting. Look for any advice that goes with what you’re already doing. Then you won’t feel shit. Because everyone has an idea of what The Right Way is and so chances are, some expert thinks what you’re doing is Right. Just find them and you’re sorted.
Then you can get back to Googling men who look like human transformers but are definitely really gentle lovers who never leave the empty toilet roll on top of the bin because omg who does that just open the Goddamn bin.
Posted on May 12, 2015
When I meet new people I often have to explain that my son is recovering from a serious respiratory condition. I briefly cover off the fact that he’s had a bunch of surgeries and has improved a great deal. I explain that I still need people to be careful around him when it comes to things like colds and flu and getting vaccinated to protect him.
The most common response I get is surprise that he has been through so much and is such a happy child. I am often told “You’d never know!” And I agree. There’s nothing about my rambunctious toddler that screams illness. You used to be able to hear every breath he took – awake or asleep. We had comments and stares wherever we went. I bloody hated elevators. After each surgery he would be temporarily better. And then the rasping, the dragging, would return.
In order to write this post I thought I’d look up to see when his last surgery was – it has been a year and I can’t believe it. I told someone the other day that it has been six months. I genuinely feel like it was yesterday.
And I can really see how people would think you’d never know he’d been so sick – He is the most resilient, strong, brave child. A complete stereotype. The Brave Sick Kid who takes everything thrown at them with a smile.
I wonder though how long I will know. Will I ever forget what we have been through as a family?
I’m often asked – when will you write about Eddie’s illness? I can understand that statement too. This is a blog about parenting after all and my first year and a half of being a parent was completely dominated by his illness. It is the elephant in the waiting room.
I’ve tried. I’ve tried to write about it. To tell his story in a start to (almost) finish kind of way. But I can’t. My brain only seems to open doors to little snap shots of memories. But then the door slams shut. I am wired for self care now. I cannot put that pain into any kind of order. I push myself out before I get in too deep.
Little snap shots.
Eddie at three months old in intensive care after surgery. I don’t know what time it is – I have turned my phone off to try to avoid calls where there is too much silence on the other end. I can’t meet the demands for updates. I’m out at sea. My husband is my lighthouse. Nobody can reach us. They are trying to get my baby to breathe on his own and when they tried to remove the tubes something happened and alarms went off and I was pushed out of the way. I thought about what would happen if I lost my baby. I thought about the buses that hurtle down the road outside the hospital. Right outside the hospital wouldn’t be ideal though. And it would not be fair on the bus driver.
On the phone to my sister. We had gone in to hospital because his breathing sounded particularly bad. They are rushing him in for surgery I tell her. Can she tell the rest of the family that he’s going in? I wonder why my arm hurts. I look at it and I have gripped it so tightly that it is now a deep, dark purple.
Is it months later? Or weeks? My husband and I are holding our little boy still. They are guiding a camera into his throat. He has had this procedure so many times. He is buckling and screaming. He goes limp. His skin is pale and clammy. Tears are streaming down my face. ‘It’s harder on the parents than the child’ someone says. I know that isn’t true.
I yawn at work. I have spent the night in hospital again. It is so noisy there that I can’t sleep. Eddie doesn’t sleep either. Someone says that the trick to getting your child to sleep through the night is to put them in another room with the door shut.
Sitting in the toilet at work sobbing. He needs more surgery. I can’t work out why I’m not getting better at handling this. I have a meeting in eight minutes. Why does it feel like it’s getting harder? I feel like I can’t breathe and I wonder if this is how he feels every day and that thought alone makes my jaw ache and my heart beat faster until I feel dizzy and cold.
I am exhausted. A woman in a café asks what’s “wrong” with my son. I say he has a respiratory condition. My body language is clear that I do not want to talk about it. “Should you have him out in this weather?” she asks. I say through gritted teeth that he’s fine. “Have you tried amber beads? My daughter swears by them for her son and he has asthma too”. I imagine pouring boiling water over her and the thought makes me smile. Another mother frowns at the rasping noises coming from the buggy she raises an eyebrow at her friend. My smile disappears.
A friend brings over their child. They have a snotty nose. It’s just allergies she says. I spend the next week sleeping no more than two or three hours a night. I am convinced he will get sick and end up in hospital again.
We are hopeful. We are daring to think he might be better after nearly three months of silent breathing. Then in the morning we hear him gasping. Overnight his breathing returns to the familiar dragging. We know that this means more surgery.
In a Facebook group a woman rants about how pamol is poison. She treats her son’s teething problems with cuddles she says. He’s never been vaccinated and that’s why he doesn’t get sick. Whooping cough is just a cough she says. No children have died of whooping cough and if they did it’s a form of natural selection. I am grateful that my husband handles all of Eddie’s medications. There is only one where he needs to be held down so we can give it to him. The rest he has gotten used to taking. I lie awake at night thinking about how I can keep him safe. I can feel his breath on my chest as he snuggles into me. I kiss his forehead and know I will do anything to protect him but how can I protect him from people like that?
I am pregnant. “Are you worried the baby will be like Eddie” somebody asks.
All of these little snapshots don’t begin to tell the story. He is getting better. He is better. Is he better?
Sometimes I feel like every little bit of this particular pain has attached to my bones. It is a weight that I carry around always and I wonder when it will be lifted. When will enough time have passed for it to pass? I feel like all of the time we fought for him to breathe – it was a war. We have returned from the front shellshocked. What is the length of time you need to be home for it to go away?
I think parents who go through this have some kind of sick kid post traumatic stress disorder. The people around you get sick kid fatigue. They have enough sympathy for the first few surgeries but your child is meant to just get better or…well…Limbo is a strange thing.
And when they do get better – you’re supposed to be free from it all too. Your child is better! That’s it. That’s the end of that story. Please begin talking about the lessons you’ve learned. Preferably have some Hallmark card quotes ready. Everyone loves a happy ending.
But it isn’t over even when it’s meant to be over. The fear is always there. Particularly when it’s a chronic illness or a condition that isn’t well understood. Remission or recovery doesn’t erase the past.
Last week he built an adventure in our lounge. You have to leap from the couch onto the pillows. Jump them like a monkey. Climb onto the recliner and leap on to the carpet which is the sea. Watch out for the shark! You’re a pirate now. Walk the plank then begin again. He does this ten times.
I hear a ragged edge to his breathing.
I feel that familiar ache in my shoulders. The dull pain in my neck. The heat on my face. My eyes prickle.
My heart jumps.
Will I always know?