I just had the most wonderful holiday. I'm exhausted. What is that about? Well I guess that is about having an 11 month old baby girl who will not conform to a hotel's schedule, or to anyone else's for that matter! And who said holidays should be about laying horizontally and absorbing nowt but sunrays? As much as I would have loved a little bit of laying around with a good book. It was not to be. This holiday brought other things to me.
It brought the kindness and love of strangers. Watching on as all of Tunisia serenaded and fussed my daughter as though she were the Queen.
It brought me an appreciation of my life in comparison to that of the very poorest of the poor. I speak of those who hang around hotels making a 'nuisance' of themselves with the tourists. I felt heavy with sympathy and a whole lot of gratitude that I have never had to beg, never had to expose a cancerous lump in my throat to strangers in the hope they may throw me a few pennies. We may well choose our lives before we come to this planet. We may each choose our lessons to learn. But by goddess does that spiritual line of thought not matter a damn jot when confronted with suffering. I am realigned in my life and brimming with graciousness.
My holiday, too, brought me closer to my loved ones. My little girl demanded my full attention, and whilst that is fairly usual, she needed more. And so I let her have it. In essence releasing any chance of my relaxing so that she might feel happy and content and so that her little teeth would not cause her too much pain. My husband, who works long hours, reacclimatised himself to the world of Momma and Ivy and we learned to appreciate each other once again. We found our Sync again, and it feels nice.
So it seems to me that holidays are not so much about relaxing. Well not for the next 16 years for me! They are about rediscovering that which we already know. We leave our ordinary life, so that we might reacquaint ourselves with the inner us, and the souls of our beloveds. And yes, that has left me exhausted. But I would relive it a million times over before I swapped it for a sunbed and sangria!
I just experienced something utterly irksome. Something I vowed I would never allow myself to feel. That little thing otherwise known as Mother's Guilt. The most vile thing about it, is that I'm not sure if I should be feeling guilty or not. Here is what happened...
Last night I read an article about Balinese Parenting in The Mother magazine. The Mother is an alternative natural parenting mag, and I love it. I am inspired by their ways of bringing up kids and it reflects my own beliefs that love and nurture reign high over discipline, authority and making baby abide by my timetable. As such my natural parenting style is to be very hands on, to pick baby up when she cries, to nurse her for comfort, to carry her in a sling, to be with her pretty much constantly for the past five months, to co-sleep, to breastfeed etc. I hadn't questioned my ability to do any of this, and presumed I had.
But then after reading the article on Balinese parenting, and their very hands on approach I began to question whether I had been as hands on as I should have been? The reason I questioned this is because baby rarely nurses for comfort anymore. So have I somehow trained her out of this? What have I done wrong that she doesn't need this anymore?
The worst thing about it is I can't remember what I did or did not do. The past five months are a bit of a blur. I know I always allowed baby to nurse on me to sleep when she wanted to. Occasionally I'd allow Grandma to rock her to sleep in the pram, and I do this alot now. But if she wanted the breast it would still be here for her. I fought a few battles in the early days and I do remember refusing dummies, and I do remember being confident that baby could nurse on me, even if she was there all day. I remember doing my research and being sure that I would happily allow baby to nurse to sleep and take long leisurely naps in my arms. But at the moment she doesn't seem to want it. in fact this is the second time she doesn't want it. A few weeks ago she had stopped nursing for comfort. But then during some developmental changes, she started again. And now, once again, it's stopped. I miss it too. Maybe I am grieving the loss of this little dependence. When I just now put Ivy down for her first nap of the day, she happily babbled herself to sleep. Maybe I have done nothing wrong... Maybe she is just learning to sleep all on her own.
That's the most miraculous thing about babies. I have found that even if you worry about something they are or are not doing, often within a week or so, they change anyway. They grow out of things. They do this on their own, without encouragement from Momma. Given alot of love and a little space they change and alter with the winds, leaving us parents flailing in the dust wondering what went right!
Maybe that is all that has happened here. Somewhere along the lines everything went right. I know many more disciplined parents would be over the moon at such a result! Maybe she doesn't nurse for comfort because she is happy and content and able to get the sleep she needs without being on me. And maybe instead of guilt I should be feeling pleased of my confident little girl, even if that is tinged with a little sadness because I miss her nuzzling to sleep in my arms.
I've been a mother five months and I'm strangely confident. Maybe it's not so strange. Perhaps I'm hard wired for it. In my extensive experience thus far I have learned how important confidence really is for a new momma. There is no shame in it. Here are my notes on why it is ok to be a confident new mom.
Everyone expects you to have a new mum meltdown. Doubtless you will. Mine was provoked by a barrage of well meaning encouragement to give baby a dummy. In retrospect it seems ridiculous, but at the time it was earth shatteringly important. It was like I was locked in a battle. A battle to defend my dummy-less stance. A battle I did not need but must fight anyway. It culminated in my husband removing the phone from me as I rather strongly informed my mum-in-law that I would not be taking her advice for the umpteenth time that day. There was to be no dummy I wailed. I didn't feel that confident, but I was. I won my imaginary battle and with it I staked my rightful place as the solo purveyor of what does and does not go in baba's mouth. Meltdowns are necessary. They show you the way. Endure them and move on stronger.
These days confidence can be backed up with numerous google searches that support / help / assist each days new parenting quandary. Though if you aren't careful this can go terribly wrong for you. You could read across the spectrum of parenting styles and come out none the wiser. I say stick to reading what suits you. Be confident about how your heart wants to raise your child. If you are keen on attachment parenting don't go reading info on Ferberising your child to sleep and vice versa. Find websites that support your momma styles and stick to them.
You don't need to explain / excuse / elaborate your choices to anyone. I have spent much time doing all three..."yeah she slept in my bed, but it was because..." Be ok with your choices. I have opted to co-sleep. But for months I was in denial about this. Always full of reasons why it had happened each night. As if it were an accident. But it's no accident. Not now. It works for us. It's nobody's business. And so when folks ask me about my nights sleep I no longer feel a need to present them with a full round up of events. Now I just say that our sleep is getting better... Because it is. And the 'whys and what's' of that don't matter.
Just because people have advice that is different from what is in your heart does not make them right. You and your baby are in a unique relationship and it is ok for you to do what you feel is right. Just because you never had a child before does not make you wrong. It's ok to intuitively know what to do. It's ok to experiment. It's ok to get it wrong sometimes. No one is judging you. Well... Actually they probably are, but don't let that quell your confidence. Let them judge and still allow yourself to know best. Allow yourself to have the final say.
Being a confident mother, is, in my extensive five month experience vital. And if you don't feel confident, fake it till you make it! It's taken me five months to recognise it's fine to be confident. I don't need to simper to anyone's opinion, advice or their experiences. This is my experience and I'd forever regret it if I did not own it. So take charge. Be confident. You are the maestro of baby's life, play on...
I recently gave birth to my first little baby. Prior to this I had written for The Huffington Post UK about the possibilities of a pain free, empowering natural birth. I questioned whether a painful birth was all in the mind. I set my stall out with full positive intention as to how my baby would come into the world. I didn't doubt for a second that it would be as I envisioned it. I foresaw a peaceful, painless, chemical free birth, proceeded by a bouncing happy little girl. I got only one of those things.
How naive of me! I was so focused on the birth of my fantasies I didn't plan or prepare for any other option. This is where me and the power of positive thinking fall apart. I am relentlessly positive, but in my experience this does not always bring about our minds desires. Sometimes the cosmos has its own plans, for it's own reasons and to which we must adjust. No matter how strongly I visualised a drug free water birth of great beauty, I was, it seems, always destined to have a whole other kind of birth. No matter how much I fought with the health services whilst I was In their care for a week, their protocols were always meant to prevail.
So what was my plan and what was the actuality? I planned to hypnobirth baby calmly and painlessly into the world. It was my intention to wait till baby was ready, even if this meant going over 42 weeks of pregnancy. It was going to be all deep breathing, aromatherapy and blissful background music. But an attendance at the local hospital for a routine check up saw this plan shot to smithereens.
First up they wanted to forcefully induce baby. I refused when I learned I had started to dilate. I went home and sat waiting for labour to commence. I went back to hospital the next day for another routine monitoring. I expected to be there an hour. I didn't get out for four days. There was a concern with baby's heartbeat, I was given a scary talk by a doctor and I started the process of becoming drawn into the medical world of birthing. The rights and wrongs of this are all now just a blur. I know I felt caught between my hippy desires to just let baby be, and the modern mentality of relying on what the graph says. As a diplomatic Libran I spent several days trying to balance these accounts, to no avail. In the end the establishment won out.
My natural birthing was transformed into a litany of chemical induction techniques. None of which worked. The final attempt saw me hooked up to machinery, a drip in my arm with a dial being turned up to create my contractions and force my body into pushing baby out. Nothing natural about it. I couldn't even stand, change position or move around. I was catheterised, injected, poked and prodded often. I took to all this as I do anything, cheerfully. Every event is a new adventure even if the voyage is by tank rather than by foot.
As the chemicals stormed my body I attempted to utilise my natural birthing learnings. I coped nicely for several hours on meditations and mantras, but then the chemical dial was switched up and the pain it brought was astounding. Bye bye any aspects of breathing the baby out, hello vile gas and air followed by epidural, followed much later by episiotomy and forceps delivery.
And so my natural birth was made chemical, forceful, medical and surgical. The most important question here though is... Am I bothered? Well if you'd told me in advance this was how things might go, then I would have thought I'd be devastated. But in reality I'm happy. The birth was not how I planned, but my baby came out perfect. Despite being dragged into the world with great metal spoons she was alert, happy and did not cry all day long, not even following her "traumatic" birth. Maybe she knew some thing I didn't... Maybe she was cool with it. And if she is cool with it, so am I.
Indeed I've now had a birth people can relate to, which as a writer is all I could ask for. Whilst it would have been lovely to sit and squat whilst humming mantras and envisioning my lady bits opening like a flower, it wasn't the way things went. Such a birth, as romantic as it sounds, is out of reach for the vast majority of people, and so to make the most of what we do get, is an equally powerful way of birthing.
My natural birth education had told me to be wary of the medical brigade, and I had been. I started off the week convinced I was being dragged into some kind of medical conspiracy to drug me and remove my baby by force. Now this did happen, but was it a conspiracy? Or was it simply a bunch of professionals acting to their protocols? I had not liked being subjected to procedure, but who is to say that I did not need to be? Given my babies stubbornness to launch into the world, perhaps I did. I've learned since that my mum and grandma's children were all delivered by forceps. Our families women carry well, but apparently we need a little help at the end... No shame in that.
In spite of my reservations about the medical model I learned too that it is staffed by lovely people. They are far from wishing to harm me or anyone. A medical birth challenged my jaded view and the midwives came up smelling of roses. A natural birthing in a darkened room would have missed out on their cheery smiles, helpful advice and heartfelt encouragement.
I have read many women's tales of guilt and woe at not having their picture perfect birth. Even years after birth some gals torture themselves on how it all went wrong and the apparent disservice they did their child. But the thing is, we are a medically altered peoples living in unnatural times. I could mourn the loss of my ideal birth, but then I may as well grieve the fact I am writing this on a computer as opposed to using chalk and blood on my cave wall.
Things did not go to plan but I had an amazing birth. It was gritty, drawn out, painful and emotional. It was hardwork and it tested myself and my husband far beyond what we ever expected. There was a great deal of blood and tears and everything, literally everything I planned went out the window. Yet it was perfect. It was how it should of been. I'm so happy it happened as it did and I know all i can do is respect life's greater plan. Perhaps what my soul and spirit really wanted was not the lightness of a pretty birth but the challenge of something real, something fleshy, messy and hardcore.
A perfect childbirth is all in the mind. Relinquishing control and letting life be as it inevitably will be is an act of powerful contrition. My childbirth has been a life lesson. We may think we know what we want, we can plan and wish and cosmically order it. But if it's not right for us, life intervenes. We can choose to rail against that intervention, or we can accept it, thank it and be at peace. I choose to be at peace. I have a beautiful healthy baby, and any injury to myself was well worth that outcome. A perfect birth, like a perfect anything in life... Is all in the mind.
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