I often get a bit reflective this time of year, as it’s my oldest Daughter’s birthday and the anniversary of when I became a mum.
There aren’t many things in this world more raw and confrontingly beautiful than child birth. The fact that we grow another being inside us so normal, but the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to magic, true magic! and it was this initiation into parenthood that made me see the every day, in a whole new light.
After having my first child, I fell deeply in love with the ordinary.
When our children come flying into this world many of us share the same feelings of pure love & awe, combined with the overwhelming responsibility of having a small child to keep alive!
Stories are common of new parents driving home from the hospital at 20km an hour, with the big wide world looming before them, a world that now seems so different. I vividly remember my first trip down the street with my newborn daughter, all of a sudden my reality had become bigger, my awareness was expanded, colours were more colourful, noises louder, I could see danger everywhere, and just like chicken little, I was convinced that something was going to fall out of the sky on top of her!
The words ‘Stay In’ kept coming to me during those early days, so I wrote it on my mirror. Here I was reminded every day to stay ‘inward’, stay with her, stay with myself. When it came time for me to get back out there in the world I had a ‘one activity’ a day rule. I will often come back to this rule when things all get too much, too busy and it’s time to ‘stay inward’ again. You see I felt more sensitive since giving birth, my consciousness had been blown wide open, my mind was singing with the clarity of some hormone-induced acid trip. On day 12 I ventured out down the street with my bright green, plastic baby capsule that the kind lady at the council had dropped off to me. I remember the enormity of being out in the world carrying my child around in a plastic bucket dawning on me, and it was all a bit weird! so I turned around and scurried back home.
However as time passes and the initial novelty of the new arrival merges into the beauty of domesticity. The days of trying to get things done with a human being attached to you! the tiredness that sets in can be all consuming. People would ask me how are you? my reply would be….tired, nothing more. Part of me had gone missing, I’d given so much, there was nothing else, I existed from one breastfeed to the next. I became obsessed with sleep! calculating how much I’d had…. how little I’d had. How could I get more… how could I get a nap….how many more days did I have left of being woken up 5 times a night! my brain was running at a very low frequency with not much room for anything else. Some would say that I was depressed, and I did feel really down some days, crying allot and feeling like I had disappeared, but the word postnatal depression is thrown around allot and I think we should be careful with this term. I think the true clinical ‘Post Natal Depression’ that sets in after some women give birth is different from the dim fog many of us live in during the first months, even up to a year after a baby is born.
All peripheral things drop away when I have a baby, my world narrows, my body warps and outside activity’s and social engagements fizzle out. Simplicity and space are created for the sheer devotion to this new being. For a while we women can’t do all the things we did before to keep us sane/ distracted/ entertained/ happy ie: exercise, work, going out, shopping, travel, it’s just you and your baby. Take this freedom away from anyone and see how they’d feel. I think unless you have been diagnosed with postnatal depression ( and I want to be careful here as I know this is a very serious condition ) you need to be kind to yourself, don’t put too much pressure on yourself because you don’t feel ‘happy’, take lots of time to integrate this new way of being into your life.
I think there should be a separate term called ‘Post Natal Transformation’ because women and men can come out the other side quite different people, you are not who you were before. Trying to ‘get back’ into your ‘old life’ can be stressful and some new parents learn quickly that old ways die hard! With other slow learners figuring out the hard way ( like me ), that nights out til 4 am with a baby to look after the next day is definitely an old way to die hard.
It’s like a life reboot, you now have this wonderful opportunity to gradually add the things back into your life that you truly want. What sort of work do you really want to do?, what sort of exercise do you really enjoy? what clothes do you want to wear to reflect who you are now? & who do you want to be?
Everything does change when you become a parent, your perception of yourself, and others, the world shifts, and for me this was the most humbling experience. I saw for the first time that I was actually an animal like any other mammal and just like everyone else. I felt a new affinity for the dishevelled mum in the supermarket with her tracksuit and 4 squealing kids hanging off her. I identified with the factory worker who laboured all day to support his family. I had a whole new insight into why people do things. I felt the collective love parents have for their children all over the world! and this ran so deep, I looked around me and saw every person around me as a child, they were someone’s child, someone’s baby, and some mother out there adored them as much as I adored my baby. I had new appreciation for the love and responsibility my parents felt for me, and I know now that they saw me as the most precious creature in the world and I began to see myself this way too. I discovered a vulnerability and beauty in life that I had never seen before. I saw first hand how fragile us humans are, how a lack of food or sleep effects us greatly. I have learnt to nurture myself better whilst looking after my children- as I see myself in them. How the world can seem like it’s caving in when someone’s blood sugar crashes and they end up in tears on the floor! all to be saved by something as simple as a cup of tea and a biscuit ( and I’m not talking about the kids here!)
I have learnt that we are all so intrinsically connected, especially parents and children. Children live inside their parents bubble- Parents create the energy of the home and the children absorb it. We are all individuals, but so connected, so if you as a parent are unsettled your kids can feel it. Kids love to see their parents having fun, dancing, playing sport, going out, it’s good for them to see another side of you. Mum’s and Dad’s can have other sides to them too. I know now that I have several persona’s that need to be exercised for me to feel complete.
The journey of raising your children is a journey of raising yourself. You have to look at yourself deeply, and reflect on how you can approach things better, how might you be contributing to problems that arise?. You are the leader here, you set the tone and when you stuff up, drop the guilt immediately, mummy guilt is a silent killer of your self-esteem, and a whole separate topic in itself! Give to yourself first, fill yourself up and this will flow onto your children.