Parenthood - Riding the rapids.
This blog post is about parenthood in all its patchwork technicolour glory.
I started the Hypnobirthing Place because I believe a positive birth is the best way to start life as a mum. Having a baby is an extraordinary change in an individual's life. The transition to motherhood, to parenthood, is a big one - as big as it gets.
I believe mums need more support (dads too, but my focus is on mums right now). I want to open an honest space for discussion about parenthood so that mums-to-be and new mums can find ways to navigate through it as best they can. I wish I'd known more about the universal nature of the ups and downs of parenthood when I was pregnant, because then at least I'd have known they were perfectly normal.
In the end, the catalyst for this post came from a time recently when I was feeling overwhelmed by trying to balance parenthood with work, housework, keeping up with friends and trying to make time for my relationship with my husband so that we don't just feel like two colleagues sharing a home! My mum said something that rang true for me. She said:
I kept thinking of that. "I am in the rapids of life"… it’s the perfect analogy. It captures the excitement and wonder of it all - parenthood is an adventure. It also captures that feeling of trying to keep up, rushing around and going from one unexpected whirlpool to another! Trying to do a million things at once when you find yourself with a spare 10 mins whilst your little one naps. It can be full of the unexpected. Exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.
There's another reason I like the analogy though, and it's something I've only really learnt with our second child, Iris. Just as rivers aren't just made up of rapids (they are a mix of fast and slow), so parenthood is made up of phases; of blissful times and challenging times. I didn't believe this with our first child Joseph, even though countless people would say 'oh it's just a phase'... I would be struggling with his sleep and be convinced it would last forever and I would never sleep properly again. Now I have a sort of video reel in my head of all those times with Joe, which acts as a very helpful reference point for life with Iris. I now know that every 'thing', every fresh rapid, is just a phase.
And then my mum sent me an email, which I found useful, and I wanted to share her words.
“I do think the reality of bringing up children with all the hard graft, emotional rollercoaster, mess, goo and fatigue it entails, must be getting harder to take – perhaps its a bit like the move from agriculture to factory jobs - will childrearing die out as people opt away from the hard graft of it all?
It worries me that the contribution mothers make is so discounted, especially now and with costs so high for housing and childcare. Parents need to get far more support in terms of nursery care and other support to make life a little easier and to make parenting more appealing to future generations.
On the other hand, like farming or making a garden, the rewards are great too – the spirit of youthfulness, of creativity – a person who grows, thrives, contributes to making up a family and who contributes to the world, as well as being someone who leads a fulfilling life for themselves.
Having children teaches us so much: it slows us down, sometimes maddeningly, but also to a point of enjoying the minutiae of this world – leaves, twigs, bumble bees on the lavender etc. Stuff we’d otherwise rush past in our haste to the eternal next thing. Children teach us humility and respect for other people doing their best and from children we often find a passion.
And then, just as nobody tells you how damn hard it can be to care for a baby, nor is it really possible to know the intense feeling of loving bond, when it comes.... "
I love this. We all have different experiences of parenthood, perhaps that's the most important thing to recognise. Speaking for myself alone, I often find it hard to assimilate an image in my head of life as a successful, happy, independent woman, with putting away the washing and the drudgery of cleaning up food from the floor that will be spilled again within an hour or two.
My mum’s email reminded me that despite all of that, moments of bliss are there to be had and that they make it all worthwhile. Iris running up shouting 'mummy' and giving me an enormous hug when I've been back. Joseph working out how to ride a bike and grinning his face off.
I'm learning that the best thing of all is to go with the flow, whilst paddling in the direction that's right for us. Just as with birth, this is as much about letting go of control as it is discovering what is within our power to influence. I'm trying to lean into the difficult times rather than resist them and being honest about how it's going.
As Pema Chodron says in her book, ‘When things fall apart’ (far more uplifting than the title suggests!):
“Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-centre, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit”.
The mistakes I, you, we all make are lessons. On this, Brene Brown’s research on 'The Power of Vulnerability' is important. Because she talks about how our courage is borne out of vulnerability, not strength. It takes courage to be imperfect. She tells us that parenting is a 'shame' and 'judgment' minefield, because most of us are wading through uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to raising our children. In her words: “Shame drives two primary tapes: not good enough, and who do you think you are?... it’s a very formidable emotion. Its survival is based on us not talking about it, so it’s done everything it can do to make it unspeakable.” So, if we talk more about the things that we worry make us ‘not good enough' as parents, we’ll realise we are in fact, good enough?! I do hope so. Here's her Ted Talk and you can download her Parenting Manifesto here - I have this up by my bed and here is an excerpt;
Here are some moments from others illustrating how universal those messy, chaotic in-between moments are.
So what I'd like to say, and I'm sorry if this sounds cheesy but there we are... is may we all hug each other more, support each other whenever we can and talk openly about the things we think might make us look or sound vulnerable, foolish or 'not good enough.' This honesty will stand us all in good stead, not least because it might just unlock ways to make things better. Because there are always ways to make things better, whether it's your baby's sleep, feeling more resourceful or just slowing down the rapids so you can take a moment to relish your small ones. On that note, I thought I'd finish with this:
Things that help.
I give my clients a very practical note for life with a newborn, which has been added to by the lovely mums I've taught who want to pass on what they've learnt along the way. They tell me this is helpful!
I run Mothers Wellness Evenings with my friend and Pilates guru Anya Hayes, spaces to be honest about how its all going and to give us all a dose of self care. The next one is on the 16th March in Peckham.
Blogs like the unmumsy mum and the consciously unconscious camel , music (by Tina Turner and Beyonce in particular), a well fitted bra, going into 'wind down mode' 90 minutes before you want to be asleep (i.e. a bath/book/candles as opposed to TV/phone scrolling), prioritising getting your creative flow going (e.g. writing, drawing, yoga, it doesn't have to be done well and we all have our own) and of course, slowing down with your kids to watch the bumblebees on the lavender.
I've had to finish this off with Iris on me, pinning down one arm, having woken too early from her nap. It seems befitting!