"The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards. It is the year of the travail - when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her. The emotional labour pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy then the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred." Joy Kusek
This picture was taken at 37 weeks pregnant. I had to convince Ben that I really wanted professional pregnancy pictures taken, and I'm so happy I did. The dress I am wearing has a crucial part in our story, I wore it when we first met (and fell in love!), when we got married, and for our pregnancy photoshoot. I absolutely loved being pregnant, and have missed it a lot at times over the past year. It was the first time in my life where I adored my body, and starred at it in the mirror at least 100 times per day! I loved every curve and marvelled at the pure magic that was happening inside of me.
One year ago today, I had just experienced the most intense 24 hours of my entire life - and the superwoman power of giving birth to another little human being. I still remember her coming out, with her big intense eyes already exploring the world around her, and all I kept saying was "Ben, she's a REAL HUMAN BEING!". It was so surreal that nothing else could come out of my mouth. I still look at her and think that sometimes. I still wonder who she really is, why she chose us to be her parents, and long to get to know her better and better each day. As much as people kept telling me that giving birth was just the beginning, I couldn't fully grasp it...
I spent the day yesterday, very consciously recalling how we spent those 24 hours. I remember telling Ben at some point around the 12 hour mark during labour "this is actually fun!". I had so many thing prepared, I was relaxing in bed, meditating, chanting, texting with friends, cuddling with Ben, eating and drinking my stashes of supplies. But in the hours that followed, things intensified significantly, and I also remember considering giving myself my own c-section!
I had an amazing pregnancy, a home birth like we had planned, laboured on our own just Ben and I from 7:30am April 3rd until the midwives arrived at 2:30am on April 4th, when I was 8cm dilated. The last bit lasted longer than expected because I was relaxing too much in the birthing pool and had to get out to get things moving along a little quicker. Pushing was WAY harder than I had imagined it would be, but ultimately I couldn't have imagined a more amazing experience. I gave birth to Olivia at 7:33 am on April 4th. It was so incredible to give birth, in my living room, and to be able to go cuddle up in bed with her and Ben directly afterwards. We decided to have no visitors until we felt ready, and following the recommendation of my midwife I spent the full first week in bed cuddling and bonding with Olivia. Ben cooked all meals and brought them to me in bed, he changed all of Olivia's diapers, and I only got up to use the toilet. I spent that week recovering from labour and birth, learning to breastfeed, resting, cuddling and bonding with our new family member.
I was so ready and prepared for pregnancy, labour, birth, and the two first weeks postpartum. As a certifying labour & birth doula I had read many books, and had watched hours and hours of natural births online, and had my freezer stocked up with piles of frozen meals. But, we realized fairly quickly that we weren't so much prepared for day 15 and beyond! In Germany, the midwives do home visits up until the 8th week postpartum - how amazing! I got a belly massage at every visit, I got to ask every possible question about myself and Olivia, and mostly I got amazingly compassionate support - without needing to get dressed or to get out of bed. My hope/mission is that we can have this available in Canada someday. It may sound luxurious, but I believe with all of my being that it is absolutely essential to treat new mothers and families with this much care and support.
The first three months were hard and Ben's health started suffering, but honestly we were riding such a high that we got through it quite well considering we were in Leipzig on our own with no family or friends around. We spent the next three months in my hometown in Canada, and had a wonderful summer! I even attended my first birth as a Doula, and Ben & I (and Olivia) hosted our first Yoga & Shamanism Retreat. But since our return to Leipzig in the Fall, it has been HARD. Actually, it has probably been the most challenging time in my life. Sleep deprivation was at it's peak, Ben's health was degenerating at a scary pace, Olivia was more active than ever, and I was on the verge of losing it! Physically I was doing alright, but mentally and emotionally I wasn't well. After an intense episode of Ben and I catching the stomach flu at the exact same time, being barely able to take care of Olivia, her subsequently catching it, Ben landing in the hospital... we decided that we NEEDED and wanted support, and we asked for help. We then made the decision to move back home to New-Brunswick to be closer to my family, friends and community. They really aren't lying when they say "It takes a village to raise a child".
Olivia decided to wake up at 5:40am this morning (she normally wakes up between 7am and 7:30am) and when I told her that it was her birthday she pumped up her little fist in the air and started "raising the roof" - ready to party! She loves to dance and has more life in her than I can handle sometimes (especially at 5:40am!) but she's such a special little girl. She is a super active, extremely curious, adventurous, strong-willed, powerful little life force! She loves to dance, absolutely loves people and making them smile, she loves to eat and is so aware of everything around her. We celebrated her birthday today with Ben's parents and grandma. It was 17 degrees and super sunny all day, we played outside, ate some cake (sweetened only with bananas and dates) and had a few dance parties. It was a wonderful day! On the weekend, we will be having a little ceremony and planting a pear tree at Ben's parents with Olivia's placenta. The last bit of closure to this past year.
My primary intention with this first blog was to reflect on what I have learned over this past year of becoming a new mom. I'll focus on the main things that come to mind, otherwise this post may turn into a novel.
1) Sleep. I don't even know where to start on this topic. First, I want to say that lack of sleep was definitely one of Ben and mine's biggest fears before welcoming Olivia. Ben loved to sleep in, I loved to go to bed early, and we both needed at least 9 solid hours of sleep to wake up feeling refreshed. That went to a haltering stop! The fact that one can survive on so little sleep is absolutely phenomenal, and magical-parenting-skill #1 in my opinion. There isn't a doubt in my mind anymore as to why sleep deprivation was once used as a form of torture. Oh, and if someone dares to ask the question "is your child sleeping through the night" they might just get daggers shot at them through my angry eyes. Please do all parents a favour. DON'T ASK. JUST DON'T. And just for the record, it ISN'T a parenting medal of honour (or dishonour!) if your child is (or isn't!) sleeping through the night. (Oh, how ironic is it that as I typed those words... Olivia woke up! Sigh.) And for parents like Ben & I who didn't feel aligned with any of the classic cry-it-out baby training methods, there are other baby sleep consultants out there. We were so lucky and fortunate to work with Kari from The Sleeping Child, who was incredibly compassionate and knowledgeable, and who helped guide us out of a very dark time. Compassion goes a very long way!
2) Perfectionism. After reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown years ago, I became a "recovering perfectionist and an aspiring good-enoughist". When you're a recovering perfectionist, and you're married to a perfectionist, and you have a baby... well, let's just say, it can get complicated! We've concluded that there is absolutely no room for perfectionism in parenting. And the ideas we had about how we planned on being as parents evolved greatly as a result. We needed to let go of some things, prioritize and re-prioritize what was the most important to us, and then practice letting go time and time again. It's a daily practice.
3) Confidence. This is a huge one! Somehow becoming a parent welcomes an insane amount of unsolicited advice and "opinions". Although much of is it often well intentioned, most of it is actually absolutely not helpful. I consider myself to be quite a strong woman, and confident about myself and my life choices. But somehow motherhood brings you to such a raw, vulnerable place where you realize the depth of what it means to be fully responsible for another little human being who is completely dependant on you. So even the most confident parents doubt themselves and their parenting decisions at times. Does this mean that we want your unsolicited advice? NO! It means that we need your support, your reassurance, your compassion, and to hear that we are doing a great job! If we want your advice, we'll ask.
4) Vaccines: This topic is more taboo and has more charge than religion and politics combined! My request is that we can have open, educated, calm, mature and respectful discussions on this topic. One that isn't filled with agressive insults, guilt, shaming, and judgement. There is absolutely no need for that.
5) Parenting Styles: I never imagined that our parenting decisions and parenting style could have so much impact on others. What I have realized is that some people, including family members, take the way that we chose to raise Olivia as somewhat of a personal attack on their own decisions and experiences. Let me be clear, Ben and I are very conscious on the decisions that we make and the way that we chose to raise Olivia and it has nothing to do with anyone else, except Ben, myself and Olivia. It doesn't mean that YOU are doing a bad job, or that you have done a bad job with your own children, it simply means that it is OUR decisions, what we have decided works best for US. Let's just stop comparing, and celebrate the different parenting styles and the richness and uniqueness of each parent, child and family. What if we exchanged judgments and comparisons for equal parts of compassion and support? How different would becoming a new parent be?
6) Partner/Marriage: This has also been HARD! Aside from 1.5 hours on our anniversary last September, Ben and I have literally have had no time for one another and our relationship over this past year. Of course, this takes a toll on a marriage! And, this is one of the reasons we have decided that we want to be surrounded with family and friends, because we want to create more "us-time" and work on regaining intimacy in our relationship again. Intellectually, I knew that it would be tricky but I never anticipated it would be this difficult to balance it all.
7) Depth of Emotions: As an empath and a highly sensitive person, I never thought that I could feel MORE. But being a mom means that you feel such extreme emotions, sometimes minutes or seconds apart, and sometimes also simultaneously! I remember many times being so excruciatingly exhausted that I could have screamed of rage when Olivia wouldn't fall asleep, and the second she fell sleep looking at her little peaceful face and sleeping eyes and feeling the most intense love and gratitude that I felt like my heart might explode. I just wanted to kiss her and hug her so tight, and I missed her so much that I nearly wanted to wake her up! It's a crazy emotional ride, being a mom.
8) Postpartum Mood Disorders: As a part of my postpartum doula certification, I was required to interview a mental health professional who specializes in postpartum mood disorders and I interviewed Kerri at Coverdale Counselling in Moncton, NB. This was also hugely eye opening on a personal level. We only really hear of postpartum depression, but the reality is that there are many other postpartum mood disorders such as postpartum anxiety (most frequent), postpartum obsessive-compulsive-disorder and postpartum rage. And, we tend to think that if you're ok within the first 6 weeks after the birth then everything is fine. What I learned from Kerri is that some of these mood disorders often occur anytime within the first year. And what I have concluded personally is that if women and families had the support they need (especially social and emotional support) there would be significantly less of this happening. My personal experience has been of postpartum anxiety (mostly intense fears surrounding Olivia's health and safety) and postpartum rage (especially over the last 6 months). I have not been diagnosed, it's just my observation of the emotional imbalances I have witnessed in myself.
9) Support: I've already mentioned this, but I don't think I can mention it enough! It was our decision to live in Leipzig away from family and friends, so we aren't "blaming" anyone. We've simply realized how crucially important it is to have support while raising a family, and working on our individual businesses. We are very much looking forward to moving back home to New Brunswick in less than 2 weeks!
10) Life Mission: The desire has been present for some years, but over the past year I've become so passionate about supporting women and families that I'm in the process of rebranding my business. More to come on this soon! ;)
As I write this, I realize that I am barely scratching the surface of all of what I want to share. Maybe there will be a book someday.
I want to end with an invitation to support one another as mothers, as parents and as families. Parenting is difficult enough, let's be kind and respectful to one another, shall we?