The sisterhood of motherhood

It begins before you even know it. You know you’re pregnant but no one else does. But then you think you catch a knowing look from a woman on the corridor at work or one of your female colleagues almost imperceptively glances at your belly mid-conversation and you wonder fleetingly, do they know? No, sure how could they?

The sisterhood of motherhood www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby blog Then when the time is right, you break the news of your impending arrival and to a chorus of hand clapping and cries of “I knew it“, you find that you have suddenly become a member of the most ancient and secret society in the world: the sisterhood of motherhood. It’s a lovely, warm, supportive, open and welcoming place, the sisterhood, but its members only grant you access once you have crossed the threshold into pregnancy. There are women I have worked with for years who completely changed our relationship once they found out I was pregnant. Conversations took on a new tone; stories were exchanged, tips offered, sympathetic ears, eyes, faces came forth and new friendships were formed purely and solely on the basis of extending and sharing experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. I was delighted actually. My working relationships improved nearly overnight, as if I had learned a secret handshake which opened up a network of membership privileges and insider knowledge.

As my pregnancy continued and my bump was obvious to everyone, I began to notice the sisterhood was not exclusive to my mothering work colleagues. In fact neighbours who I’d never exchanged a word with began to stop for a chat as they passed by the front garden and some even called to the door to ask after me and the approaching big day and to offer their help and their stories. Chance meetings with acquaintences would descend into excited, hushed whispers and the sharing of delightful, intimate tales. When Baby S arrived, this loveliness continued.

Mothers are so nice to other mothers.* It’s like an instant “knowingness” and recognition, a universal empathy that doesn’t need to be verbalised. Mothers know what it is to be a mother and regardless of different philosophies or opinions on the A-Z of childrearing, every mother knows what it feels like to be a mother, the very essence of it, at whatever stage of the journey you may be on. It’s almost cellular.

One of the beautiful things I have loved since my mothering journey began is the new friendships that I have developed. The friendships began because we became mothers at the same time but have endured and matured into strong, important relationships that have subsumed and transcended our shared mother-status. These friendships have enriched my life at a stage when I pretty much thought I had a full complement of friendships. They are unique in that we just jumped right in at the deep end, straight into the heavy stuff, no messing. I remember in some of our first meetings talking about perineal massage, incontinence, stitches, piles, cracked nipples, sex – and not a red face in the house. We talk about the profound emotional, psychological, physical and physiological changes and feelings we have experienced and are experiencing – our hopes, our fears, our worries and always the humour that follow us on this journey. It’s amazing. They have added such value to my life.

As a fully fledged member of the sisterhood of motherhood, I have found myself extending out the hand of “knowingness” and support to other women coming up behind me. I find I can’t control it actually. I see the pregnant woman and I want to reach out. I don’t mean overshare and burden with my own experience but I do feel a desire to let them know that I know. And that I’d be delighted to help with anything at all. Does that make any sense?

It’s such a wonderful secret society to be a part of. I think what would make it even better is if it wasn’t a secret society. I was blissfully unaware of it’s existence pre-pregnancy. I’m fairly sure I would have scoffed at the idea of it too and dismissed the perceived smugness of it all. Now, I can only imagine all the good it would do, if women grew up in a world where this sharing of motherhood was a wisdom we all had from birth. I think it would empower women and they could make better, more informed choices about motherhood and where it may or may not fit into their lives.

Then maybe things wouldn’t come as such a shock. And maybe women would be nicer to each other.

*You might have spotted my asterisk there. The caveat I’m including is “except online”. Sometimes some mothers can be very mean to other mothers online because they are emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet. That’s just not cool. I have no problem when people disagree with people to their face or disagree with them completely behind their backs because there’s no harm done there, but there’s no need for the cowardly anonymous attacking.

Learning parenting from my father

Learning parenting from my father - Mind The Baby
Copyright: Mind The Baby

My father died when I was twenty. I was still a child really, having had a privileged existence up until then, protected by my middle-class status, my education and my loving parents. He died suddenly and tragically. It literally turned my family upside down and changed it’s dynamic forever. He died so suddenly in fact, three of his four children were out of the country and were not by his side when it happened. I’ll never know if it was a good or bad thing that I wasn’t there. It doesn’t matter really.

My father was an incredible man. I know everyone says things like that about deceased family members, but he really was.

He was thoughtful in the philosophical sense, gentle, so kind, empathetic, sensitive and a natural baby whisperer. All children were mad about him. I remember on several occasions being out and about with him and strangers’ babies would reach out to him to be picked up when he smiled or said hi.

We loved him deeply, as he loved us. He was a man ahead of his time in that he was passionate about parenting and the fundamental role of both parents in their children’s lives. He was the primary caregiver in our home. He did have a full time job and we had a childminder, but the nature of his work meant that he could be flexible in his working hours and more available to us.

He prided himself on his childrearing philosophy which in fairness would have been quite radical, comparatively speaking. It was unusual when we were growing up for mothers to work full time never mind have their fathers prepare all their meals, do all the housework and groceries and be the first port of call when your little world was rocked by whatever daily catastrophe was taking place at the time. We were rarely disciplined, never punished and I remember few rules except that 9pm was bedtime, no exceptions!

Dad died before my current life existed. My husband has never met him. I was still in college so he never met “grown up” me. And of course he’ll never be a part of my son’s life. It’s such a terrible tragedy really because if there was one person who deserved to enjoy his grandchildren, it was my father and in turn my children deserve to have this wonderful man in their lives.

I look at Baby S and I don’t see my Dad. I’m sure that sounds strange that I would look for my father in my son’s face but I have often heard people say that they see a dead parent in their new child, in an almost reincarnational sense.

He’s not there. But I’m glad. My son is his own person who deserves to live in the full brightness of his own unique light and not in the heavy, expectant spectre of someone whose loss is much lamented.

I was moved to write this post following a recent conversation with some old friends of my parents who were watching Baby S very adeptly use my iPhone. Trish started to recall how she would often scold my father for letting us watch so much television but he would laugh and say that adults were always afraid of the new rather than embracing change as we moved into the future. Just because they as children didn’t have television to watch didn’t mean it was a bad thing that should be withheld for withholding’s sake. The next generation will learn how to manage their own world and navigate it best for them. When Trish finished her story she said “and you know, he was right. It doesn’t seem to have had a bad effect on you.”

I had never heard this story before and it particularly resonated with me as a new mother. I have often felt judging eyes watching when I’ve given my phone to Baby S to play with when he looks for it. I’ve also questioned myself whether it would be bad for him especially as I make a point of not watching TV with him just yet, although my husband does. But you know what, he leaves the iPhone aside and moves on to something else when he’s bored with it. He’s going to grow up in a world where IT skills are not something for your CV but an integral part of life so maybe I’m facilitating his development, just like I do to help him talk, walk and develop social skills. Maybe my Dad is right. In fact, he probably is.

I miss him very much. I wish he was here to help me and to enrich my children’s lives. But life’s not like that unfortunately. I’m hopeful though that the great job he did raising me has influenced my own parenting style and Baby S will reap the benefits of that. I have observed that some things I have done subconsciously or have come naturally to me seem to have come directly from the Book of Dad – maybe nature and nurture are working together to do good. 🙂

Guest post: Pregnancy #2 – A different ball game altogether

So it’s you, your partner and new baby makes three.  Ah! 

Then it’s time for number two. How does that work?

The lovely Jill who writes the brilliant blog Properfud and is a mum of one little toddler, is on the cusp of welcoming her second baby into the world.  She generously shares her experience of pregnancy second-time around… Continue reading Guest post: Pregnancy #2 – A different ball game altogether

Looking back on baby: 11 things I’d do again and 15 things I’d change

Blogpost: Looking back on baby - 11 things I'd do again and 15 things I'd change www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby blog
photo credit: John Carleton via photopin cc

My last post talked about how quickly the last twelve months have flown by and how my tiny baby is now making his presence felt in the world as a little boy. It got me thinking about all of the things I’ve learned as a new mother and then I wondered, now that hindsight is so sharp and clear, what would I do differently and especially what would I do the same way, if I knew what I knew now?

Here’s what I’d do differently:

  1. Believe in myself more and trust that I know what’s best for my baby, for me and for my family. This probably seems so obvious but I can’t tell you how much energy I wasted doubting and questioning myself when really over time I discovered that I probably had most of the answers myself all along.
  2. I would never open even the first page of any baby training book, especially ones that refer to my parenting style as “accidental parenting” when I now know in my heart of hearts that what others call “accidental parenting” is me loving and nurturing my child.  These books made me feel like a bad mother and I’m not, I just do it differently to them.
  3. No matter what advice was given to me, delivered in the gentlest or harshest manner, I would critically analyse it to check that it was the right fit for me and my baby and only go with it if my gut said yes. I know that sounds very clinical but I do remember unquestioningly following advice from people who I trusted when it didn’t feel right and it wasn’t.
  4. I would feckin sleep when the baby slept! Seriously, I cannot believe I didn’t do this more often. What I was doing, I couldn’t tell you but I was wrecked. Every mother had shared that sage-like advice with me when I was pregnant and I nodded along and said “ho ho, sure I love my sleep, of course I’ll be sleeping when the baby sleeps” and yet I didn’t. I will never get that sleep back and let me tell you, boy do I miss it now.
  5. I would not worry about getting up and getting dressed in the morning. I would definitely spend more time just hanging out in bed with the baby napping and feeding and then starting the day at our leisure.
  6. I would have learned to breastfeed lying on my side much much earlier than I did. What a life and sleep saver that would be.
  7. I would spend seriously less time trying to get the baby to take naps during the day in his cot. So much energy and tears went into this. I should have just put him in the bed beside me, fed him to sleep and then the two of us napped together. (Is there a sleep theme here? ;))
  8. I would be much more relaxed about weaning. It took a few months for Baby S to really get into the solids and I worried terribly about him not eating enough, often enough, but to be honest I think this was mostly from external pressure from others who were letting me know they thought he should be doing more, sooner, faster…He was fine!
  9. If the public health nurse arrived unannounced at my front door when everyone was sleeping and we weren’t really prepared for visitors, I would be confident enough in myself to ask her to come again at another time rather than heading upstairs to wake the baby and brush my hair.
  10. I would cut down on the number of visitors in the first few weeks. We had great plans to do this but then the baby arrived and we were just so excited. We wanted to share him and our joy with everyone. It was too much really, I remember collapsing in floods of tears on day 10 when two different sets of family members arrived unannounced when I thought we finally had an evening to ourselves.
  11. I would ask my husband to be much firmer about family visiting. Either they should arrive, bring food and stay for a short time, maybe 40 mins, and then leave or, if they’re going to stay longer, they should do the dishes, put a wash on, fold some clothes…ANYTHING except sit on the couch for hours drinking tea and shooting the breeze while chaos ensued all around us. Another little extra to add to this one is evening visiting. I’d make sure people were gone before 8 at the latest. A couple of times I had to ask family members to leave so we could go to bed. I know they just wanted to be around the new baby and wanted to help but unfortunately I think people want to help with the wrong things, not the things you actually need.
  12. I would try mum and baby cinema. I never got around to this and I believe it’s brilliant.
  13. I would join my local La Leche League group at the start rather than at the end of my maternity leave. I would also ignore everyone who told me that they were militant and to be avoided. I now know the La Leche League probably know more about breastfeeding than everyone else put together.
  14. I would get someone to help me with the housework. It’s all well and good telling myself I should just relax about it because it wasn’t going to get done anyway but it was always there, niggling away.
  15. I would try not to worry so much. But sure listen! That’s impossible, I know. Anyway, you don’t get a do over!

Here’s what I would do the same:

  1. I would eat rings around myself.
  2. I would go to my local breastfeeding support group as soon as possible. There is nothing – and I mean nothing – like the support of other new mums with babies at exactly the same stage as you.
  3. I would do a baby massage course, especially one that has tea and chats at the end of it.
  4. I would take up all and any invitations to get out and about.
  5. I would use a co-sleeper. It was the best.
  6. I would go to a post-natal Pilates class, especially one where my baby could come too.  It was great to be able to get a bit of exercise in while he kicked along beside me.  
  7. I would take post-natal vitamins. For me, it gave me confidence that I was getting properly nourished and it was one less thing to have to worry about on top of everything else.
  8. I would continue using my gentlebirth tracks after the baby arrived. They gave me headspace and helped me relax enough to fall asleep when I really needed the rest.
  9. I would enjoy a glass of wine.
  10. I would not giving a flying f about breastfeeding my son in public.
  11. I would nurse my son to sleep at night.

It was such a special, amazing time and yet fraught with uncertainty and worry. You’re so vulnerable in those first few months, it’s hard to know if you’re doing the right thing. But wow what a life-changing pleasure!

Is there anything you’d definitely do or not do again?