Yet another challenge

I’m beginning to think that life is just a series of ridiculous challenges. Trying to do something but in order to do it you first need to do something else. This means you have to do a bunch of other things too, things you never though you’d do. I never thought I’d put my kids in care. No matter the cost, I’d manage to keep my kids with me until they started school. I didn’t do too badly in that the Dude was never in care. Thumper got her first year with me.

Coming to Canberra, we knew we could earn solid pay. We didn’t think much about the cost of daycare. But we should have. Getting our jobs was one thing, and happened so fast, as I wrote about before, so we needed fast daycare as well. We were fortunate enough to find someone who could do the week for both kids in family daycare. It wasn’t the perfect situation, but it may just work and at least it was there. So we signed up and agreed to start them on Wed. Little did we think that the cost would be far beyond what we could possibly afford.

To top it off, neither of the kids wanted to go. The daycare lady had a rather old, dark, cold house and lots of outdated toys. She didn’t speak great English which was a challenge but not the end of the world. I think the kids just didn’t gel with her. The Dude has been getting progressively more and more bored since finishing school over three months ago and although initially excited about going to daycare, he was disappointed after the first day. He was asked to lie down and have quiet time while the little ones napped which he didn’t like, that was his main gripe. Thumper, who never used to want to leave daycare in Canada, suddenly developed separation anxiety and screamed from the moment she realised I was leaving her. Overall, it was a bit of a disaster.

Once we realised the exorbitant costs, we immediately pulled the kids out. It was a tough call because the lady had been so accommodating at the last minute. I felt sick at the prospect of having to tell her. I desperately posted on a local Facebook page and among the replies asking confused and repetitive questions about why we don’t get rebates for daycare (we definitely don’t), I had a few people telling me to message them about solutions. One of them, a young mum, turned out to be a real godsend. She agreed to look after the kids three days a week at our place for a reduced rate and another lady is going to look after them the other two at hers, subject to meeting her this weekend. It began to seem like it might just work.

But today when we got home after the first full day leaving them with this lovely mum, we began to doubt that it was going to work. The kids were a nightmare. They didn’t listen, they had meltdown after meltdown, they were rude, disrespectful, aggressive. Thumper refused to nap. Dude refused to turn off the tv. Another disaster ensued. The mum was, frankly, a saint. She pulled out every trick in the book but ultimately the kids were just behaving terribly. She has bravely agreed to continue, but to be honest I can’t see it lasting, unless something changes significantly.

For my part, none of this feels right. I want to be back in Canada and I know we need money to do that, but being with my children feels more important somehow. Gosh it’s hard. I don’t know how we’ve ended up in this situation but I’m going to do everything within my power to fix it.

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The moment my life changed forever

I totally hate how I look in this picture.

May 2011. In labour. No idea.
May 2011. In labour. No idea.

But it’s one of the most significant photos of my whole life. This was taken on Mother’s Day 2011 sitting on a bench on the coastal clifftop walk in Vaucluse, just up the road from the famous Gap. I look like shit because I am just not photogenic, but also because I am in labour with my son, my first child. I was 32 and had been having six minute apart contractions since 6am that morning. This was taken, well, sometime towards dusk, which is probably about 5:30pm at that time of year in Sydney. My son was born the following evening around 8pm. My life changed forever.

Now, people always say, oh yes, children are a big commitment but also a joy, your life changes forever, bla bla bla. You can’t conceptualise it and you just nod and smile and agree and maybe roll your eyes when they’re not looking. You KNOW your life is going to change. And even after it does, you think you KNOW just what you’re in for. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t. You have no IDEA.

I’m writing this nearly three and a half years later. My second child, a girl, is ten weeks old. I have no IDEA how I got through this morning. It’s freaking hard. It just is, and I make no apologies or excuses. Older, more experienced people have told me how straightforward it was for them, how they just swaddled their perfect little baby and laid it down in its old-fashioned cot with the sides up in a bedroom containing nothing else and it went to sleep for two hours during which they did all the housework and cooked meals for the next year and had a cup of tea and planned out the week. Yeah, great, nice work, good for you. That’s not how it is for mothers today. Well that’s not how it is for me, anyway.

My grandmother on my mother’s side had ten children. Her third child, a boy, died in infancy during the war. I’m not sure why or how. But let’s examine my maternal grandmother’s situation for a moment: she was either pregnant or breastfeeding for 20 years. She was a migrant, with half her children being born in Serbia and Germany and the other five here in Australia. She was poor. She grew most of the family’s food because of this. She had her babies in hospitals but could only stay a night after a birth because her other children needed her at home. My grandfather got up for work at 4am six days a week and was home after the children were in bed. No one but my grandmother cooked and cleaned, she did it all. Her name was Elisabeth and she was a Capricorn who never wanted children and didn’t marry until she was 23, virtually an old maid in 1937.

How did she do it? I have no idea. But I will offer one theory: life was entirely different. There were no computers, they never had a tv or other technology invading their lives. They didn’t even have a washing machine or fridge in the beginning. They ate from their farm and there was a purity of existence that has to be created with much effort these days. Somehow, I don’t know how, this lifestyle made for a gentler, more harmonious life. And babies who didn’t demand feeding 24/7, who wouldn’t sleep for more than a few minutes without being held.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am very much of an attachment parenting mindset and I believe that it’s completely normal for young babies and children to resist sleeping for long periods away from their mothers or carers. It’s basic physiology, part of being human. However. I’m not completely convinced that the reason babies don’t settle, the reason they cry, is due to the lack of attachment. I think there is too much stimulation in life today. Not only does all this distraction take up the time and space a parent might otherwise have had free, it changes the way we relate to each other, and to our children.

I don’t think there’s a solution to this, I think I’ve made a conscious choice to live in this way, and knowing my lifestyle impacts my babies in this way doesn’t make me want to change. I am however willing to continue on a “natural” parenting path as although it is a lot of work, I couldn’t do it any other way. I won’t be doing any kind of sleep training or controlled crying. I won’t be arbitrarily stopping breastfeeding and introducing formula. I won’t be forcing my kids to sleep in their own rooms if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. I won’t be pureeing meals and spoon feeding at some random age determined by some doctor.

I lie here in the dark at 9:30pm trying to slip my nipple out of my baby’s mouth without waking her so I can go back downstairs and watch Breaking Bad and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s just what mothering is for me. And it’ll all be over in the blink of an eye.

The Dude’s birth: post script

Our little Mr I, aka The Dude, was born on Monday 9 May 2011 at 7:57pm in the pool at home.  The birth was transforming, as expected, but beyond anything I could have imagined.

There are a few key lessons I learnt from this birth.

First, my relationship with my mum completely transformed.  During the pregnancy I was able to identify the fact that I’ve not relied on anyone for a very long time, since I was a very young child in fact.  I’ve always been independent and headstrong, and I had some kind of complex about relying on others, probably because I couldn’t be sure they were reliable.  No one had shown much in terms of reliability.  It wasn’t so much anyone’s fault, it was the situation, the circumstance.  My mum, through no real fault of her own, let me down somewhat because she didn’t stand firm with me.  It was hard, I was clever and angry and strong and lacked empathy; I’d be so adamant about what I wanted and she found it impossible to stand firm against that, she actually needed to protect herself.  So when, during the birth, I lost control, lost faith, lost hope, and was running from the very thing that would bring the baby down and out, my mum did something heroic and unlike anything she’d done before.  She stepped up.  She didn’t let me escape.  She wasn’t mean, she just supported me and she didn’t let me down.  She was there, no matter how long it took, and she was prepared to go through it with me and be my rock.  And I needed her, I really did.

Second, I couldn’t take shortcuts.  All my life I’ve been really good at most things without exerting as much effort as most people.  I was always healthy and strong, tall and flexible, clever and funny, and I managed to cruise through most things others would consider a challenge without much effort.  When I had to put effort in, it would be half-hearted, and if I wasn’t great at something firs time, forget it, give it away, not worth doing anyway.  I didn’t take direction well and would ignore teachers at every interval, from the ice-skating teacher I had at age 8, to the maths tutor I had at age 14, to the flute teacher at age 16, I wrote them all off, did whatever I wanted, scraped through and escaped the challenge.  My mum always said, ‘you’re living small’ and that made me angry.  I know my dad could see it too, as he does the same thing.  But this labour, this was by far the biggest challenge of my life, and I couldn’t escape it!  There was a way out; hospital, intervention, drugs, disappointment.  I couldn’t do that.  I knew that was wrong for me and for baby.  So I did it, I rose to the challenge, I pushed through pain a hundred times beyond anything I could even imagine feeling, and I achieved a huge goal.  I overcame this without any shortcuts.  I don’t ever want that feeling to go away; I want to always remember how it was to beat myself and overcome this, so that I can achieve really great things in life and not wimp out or make excuses like I have in the past.

Birth story: part 2

Continued from part 1

Then it was just me and my mum.  Until then I hadn’t been that aware of her presence, or at least only alongside that of my friends.  Everyone was doing their own thing to help, pouring hot water into the bath, getting my water, making each other teas and food and going out to the shops when needed, and I could hear all this going on in the background, but at this point everything seemed down and at a standstill.  I think it also felt empty because Mr Chewbacca was off on his walk, probably feeling exasperated and finding it hard to watch me and listen to me in so much pain.  I got the sense that my moaning was getting repetitive, it was not only tiring me out but it was draining on everyone else too.  Emotions were feeling stretched and everyone needed a break.

My mum was somehow next to me.  I don’t remember her coming there, she just was there.  At first it was a little annoying.  She has a very light touch and it can be a bit irritating, rather than Mr C’s firm, strong, confident touch which is reassuring.  And I’m oddly touch-sensitive too.  But then she did something I don’t think she’s ever done.  She began to tell me I could do it, and with each contraction she told me it was ‘a good one’.  She repeated the same things over and over, and in my head it was a bit annoying but I began to believe it after a while.  She made the noises with me, in a really steady way, and it was just the two of us, breathing and making noises and getting through it.  She was the only one still sticking by me, and she wasn’t going to let me get out of this and give up, she was going to see me through no matter what.  She’s never done this; she’s always let me get off scot free, give up halfway through, take the easy way out.

Mr Chewbacca came back from his walk and things had changed.  Everyone began to migrate back into the room, hanging around the edges watching and noticing the atmosphere changing.  I was only vaguely aware of this at the time, but everyone commented on it later and it made sense.

At a couple of points, I vomited pretty violently.  Most of it went on Mr C!  If it were me, I’d have been sick in response, but he took it all in his stride, didn’t even change his shirt apparently, just stayed with me.  A bit of vomit went in the pool, which I hated, but was too out of it to deal with.  And it wasn’t like there was a lot to throw up, mainly just water and some orange bits.  R of course was excited by this, recognising it as a sign of transition.  I’m not sure that it was, but things did change when it happened.

R wanted me to get out of the bath.  Things were happening, but not enough, it had been going on for way too long, even I knew this.  I wasn’t getting a break between contractions because, even though they were at least three minutes apart, I had this intense pain in the front of my pelvis.  R suggested this might be the last bit of cervical dilation happening while the baby’s head pushed against it.  Whatever it was, it was debilitating and never-ending.  The only thing that made it go away was a contraction, even more pain.  I remember being given different homeopathics and having peppermint oil waved under my nose to help stave off the vomiting. Or was it orange oil?

Apparently it was around 3pm that R finally got me out of the pool.  It felt like the most difficult thing I had ever done, working up the strength to move.  I’d talk myself out of it between contractions, then a contraction would hit and it’d be like, oh well, can’t move during a contraction.  Eventually I got out, and went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet.  There were a few contractions there, not pleasant, and I just felt like I was more uncomfortable, didn’t feel like the contractions were stronger as such.  But R was pleased with this, and when we came back to the pool she firmly said I should lie on the couch a bit first, which I was really unhappy about.  I stayed there for maybe two or three contractions but they were just unbearable, I remember saying I need to move now because I don’t think I can make it through another one here.  I don’t know what not making it through actually means, but I was adamant.  So I got up, but R still insisted I stay out of the pool, so I stood for a while, leaning on poor Mr C whose back was completely screwed by now.  But of course he gave me everything and let me do what I needed, continued to hold me up despite being in pain himself.  What a man!  I knew he’d be amazing, but it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of him and how committed he is to me, especially during the birth of our baby, just extraordinary.

I stood for longer than I thought I could, leaning on Mr C, and R said, ‘just stay there for two contractions, then you can get back in the pool’.  More than two passed, and I knew it, but I couldn’t summon the strength to say, hey, you’re trying to trick me!  Eventually when she said again, ‘just one more now,’ I said, ‘you already said that two contractions ago!’  So I went back in the pool which provided some relief.

I think standing up must have helped somehow, and I’m sort of hazy as to when the transition with my mum occurred, but eventually I began to feel my body push, and she was next to me when this happened.  It was overwhelming.  It reminds me of that movie Ghost, where the various spirits jump into the bodies of the living; it felt like something taking me over and my whole body convulsed.  The pushing felt so intense, but I was glad to feel it because I guessed it meant I’d reached the last part.  There was a still a fear that nothing was being achieved.  I expected to feel the baby moving down the birth canal, getting closer, but nothing, it just felt like my body was pushing against a rock that wouldn’t move.  I wondered briefly if my cervix was dilated, especially as R mentioned what the pain in my lower pelvis might be.  But I knew to trust in my body and that if it was pushing for me, it was ready, and it would do exactly what was needed.  I wondered if R could tell my body was pushing; I assumed she could actually, and was a little frustrated that she hadn’t said anything.  Reading back through the notes I can’t see any mention of it until I mentioned my body was pushing for me, which was quite a while after it began I think.

After a while of this pushing, and after I’d told R it was happening, she offered to check my dilation, just to see if I was progressing and if the cervix was actually out of the way.  She wrote in my notes that I’d declined several times but I don’t remember declining, I just remember being silent, and thinking to myself, what good is it?  Let it just happen.

Continued in part 3

The baby shower enigma

34 weeks. Finally I’m starting to feel slightly tired and heavy, even though everyone said, ‘just wait til you hit 28 weeks, you’ll be exhausted!’  I’m fine, just noticing things are a bit of an effort.  And sleeping is not as comfortable as it once was, despite my newly acquired body pillow – husband with jimmy arms which step up a level after a few beers is also not conducive to comfy sleep!

So I had a ‘baby shower blessingway thingo’ (as I’ve awkwardly dubbed it) on Sunday.  I was reluctant to have it, for a number of reasons:

1. I’m not an organiser – do I really have to do stuff?

2. I’m not a good socialiser – love people, especially people who make sense to me, but socialising really takes effort for me, being the proper anti-social introvert.

3. I don’t like being the centre of attention.

4. I don’t like clichés and silly, girly banter – I like things down to earth.

5. I’m not that keen on ‘baby stuff’, oohing and aahing over supposedly cute outfits etc.  Babies in general I don’t really know what to do with and I’m not really that interested.

6. I find the whole ‘motherhood’, fawning over babies, talking about babies constantly to be a little full on and not ‘me’, despite the fact that I’m ridiculously excited about meeting this little person currently poking his/her elbow into my right hip bone.

7. I’m not good with ‘women’ stuff – being in homebirth circles you end up inevitably connecting with women who have rituals about their periods, worship the ‘Goddess’, do women’s workshops and consider themselves feminists.  I am completely happy to be female (way better than male, der!) but I don’t feel the need to draw attention to being a woman.  It is what it is, I am who I am, meh…

So it was with some fairly harsh pre-conceived notions and scepticism that I agreed to having a get together organised.  Luckily the friend who did it is absolutely freaking awesome, so incredibly creative and clever, and has a similar sort of ‘no crap’ kind of attitude to me, so I knew she’d do something that fits me.

Because it was in Canberra, where I grew up, I found myself inviting people who I hadn’t seen in a really long time, as well as people who I see quite often.  It was bizarre seeing all those different people in the one context.  My mum was there too.

Oddly enough, it turned out to be absolutely amazing.  We didn’t hold any hippy women’s rituals, nor did we play games involving bottles and nappies.  But it was perfect.  I realised what a mix of women I know and consider important, and how each had things in common with the other, via me.  Everyone participated in their own way, for me, and the various things people said and did all resonated and meant something.  I still can’t believe all those people came along just for me.

As we drove home I suddenly realised the purpose of a baby shower or blessingway or ‘get together thingo’, whatever you want to call it… This baby is going to be born fairly soon, and this get together just helped round it all out for me.  I felt so warm and fuzzy, it was ridiculous, so content, like I’d tied up all my loose ends and could just retreat into birth world and do what I was meant to do.  What a feeling!  On a practical level, no, I haven’t tied up all the loose ends, far from it in fact; but on a spiritual level I feel so ready, it’s insane, it’s like this perfect progression from woman to mother is occurring, and I’m completely content with it.