To those who have found themselves standing in similar shoes as to my own, I’m going to go ahead and state the most obvious thing in the room and that being the big, grey elephant in the corner. The elephant I’m talking about is a rather strenuous, mentally fatiguing and interesting adjustment a woman has to undertake when adjusting to life as a mama.
Firstly, we experience this gigantic shift within ourselves as our now-born child is placed upon our chests for the first time and we find ourselves staring down into their eyes. The first look into parenthood is often of pure confusion, immense relief and joy because the pain we were just experiencing is all but a distant memory; before, those negative and doubting thoughts of silent judgment come creeping in when we least expect it. Whether its a passing comment here or there from a doctor/midwife, family member or even the grocer at the corner store, us mama’s find ourselves preparing to have a battle against those who don’t agree or seem to think they can have an opinion on our parenting preferences, styles and how we choose to raise our children.
Whether we come from a background of being CEO of our own business/company to someone who is between jobs and aspirations because we simply haven’t found that ‘spark’, we all experience this shift. It is to be honest, one of the most stressful things we will ever experience as a parent, caregiver and woman and sadly, we often experience this feeling or emotion of ‘what the eff am I doing?’ on a daily basis. This in turn, has had an impact on how I used to perceive parenting and the challenges faced by all parents in a 24 hour time period and with that, let’s start at the beginning shall we?
My ideal vision of motherhood prior to having children was realistic. However at the same time, held a rather sweet, innocent and naïve note as well.
Although, I’ve heard stories of my Mum raising her niece and my cousin from the tender age of 19 before becoming sole custodian of my cousin when she turned 13. Therefore, my Mum became the carer for not only my siblings, myself but also my cousin as my Dad worked long hours as a qualified butcher to support the family. My childhood memories are often images of travelling vast distances in a burgundy and cream car, staring out into a paddock containing a bull and cow before climbing a hill on my Aunt and Uncle’s property as I played with my cousins before snap images of playing barbie on a carpeted staircase in a townhouse and getting ice cream from the local ice-cream man was a highlight of the day.
Growing up, relocating to another state and having to develop all new friendships, I experienced the other side of parenting and motherhood from the background. It almost seemed as if our house was crowded with friends and their family members as well as our back door being on a constant rotation for my siblings/I’s friends to stay the weekend. At the time of being a young teenager and feeling as if the world was against me, it was nice knowing I had the availability of friends when I needed them. As I would listen to the words being uttered of, “you are so lucky to have your family and siblings” or, “I wish my family was like yours. The perfect image of what a true family is”.
Comments like these were often flung into the air like confetti and we would discuss them at the dining table, the few nights we didn’t have anyone staying with us. There were never dull moments in my youth when Lois would get a call from a friend who would ask my Mother to pick her children up, look after them for a few days/weeks as she had gone on a self-discovery trip to the middle of no where and if her partner called, “tell him you have the children and I’ll be back whenever”. At one stage, it felt the norm to receive a note from the receptionist at our school telling me that we would need to gather the others who were coming home for a few days or weeks.
It would be during this time of one’s extended self-discovery that Lois, my Mum, would often be described as the ideal perfection of a housewife, mother and cook and that she was the “glue” that bound everyone in our social community. As a result, many who were invited to our parties would often present empty handed (which is a big no-no in the Maori/Italian culture and The O’Chunky household). Before ever so casually throwing out, “we didn’t bring anything as it would never match up to your standards or cooking expertise, Lois”.
Not to mention, them asking how Lois had managed to fit in a 5 course dinner, the house remaining immaculate at all times, well presented and articulate children and a husband who simply toed the line. For that, I will never reveal the answer to Lois’ wrath of power and persuasion.
As a result, I grew up with an ever expanding and shrinking family dynamic. Before ultimately, we decided as collective, that we had had enough and it would only be us 6 and no one else when relocating far away from those who had filled, destroyed and re-created a void.
This philosophy, need of quietness and desire for self-perseveration and recouping from our significant losses would last for over a decade. It wouldn’t be until my siblings and I slowly started branching out into our various fields of interests, developing new and some old friendships and dating those who we saw as boyfriend/girlfriends purely with no long term goal; our focuses changed. When it came time to bringing home those that we knew within our souls they were the one and would blend nicely into our slightly neurotic and crazily unique family, it was a little satisfying knowing our times were changing for the good.
In my case, after wining and dining Mr. Darcy with my ever famous blue string soup and orange marmalade before bringing him to meet the parents, siblings and to be interrogated under a bare lightbulb, I soon discovered our little family of three was about to broaden with the impending arrival of ten little toes and a heart to love.
While I like to claim the nine months of pregnancy were spent in utter bliss, dancing around in circles with my arms up in the arm and becoming the ultimate sickly version of a pregnant woman cupping her stomach at any given moment…. my pregnancy was the complete opposite.
Instead, I spent those nine months in a cloud of serious doubt, painstaking fear at the thought of miscarriage being on the horizon because I had been told from a young age that I would never have nor conceive children so probably should give up all hope (doctor’s really know how to emphasise you being a shit person, huh?) and coming to terms with severe antenatal anxiety and depression. These feelings of impending loss, wonder, self-judgement and hysteria led me to spending countless hours researching and asking nearly every question relating to all types of births and what happened afterwards.
I wrote, deleted and wrote several birth plans after discussing with those who were going to be my birth advocators. I wrote and had lengthy discussions on what it was I wanted to happen, what I certainly did not want ever to happen and how I envisioned my first few moments of motherhood. My ideal sense of security when being a parent and advocator for someone so tiny was an affirmation of having a natural birth (with pain relief because I’m realistic to how severe the pain is going to be) and when my ‘ideal’ visioning didn’t go to plan….. I learnt to embrace the ‘what happened’ and for once, not the ‘what if’ moments.
For someone who faced the last 4 weeks of her pregnancy in a constant daze because my waters had ruptured prematurely leading to being diagnosed with PPROM (premature rupture of the membranes) at 34 weeks, after having only recently being discharged from hospital due to low foetal movement and not being able to locate a heartbeat for what felt like an eternity and a half. Only then, a few days before my 29th birthday being asked by the midwife what day I wished to be booked in for an induction and said induction lead to me being in labour for 24+ hours. Once again, being told the induction was a fail prior to being wheeled down to theatre for an emergency caesarean with several boluses of epidural medication having been administered, that saw the left side of my body go absolutely numb for several days.
It was in the moment of looking back on my son’s birth story and my somewhat followed birth plan, that the wonderful midwives had made sure to follow and read at the commencing of their shifts and never having once doubted their expertise; I found myself thinking the same sentence over and over again.
Was it worth it all?
When looking at this photo of myself and my Dad, Red, cuddling a teeny little Blake, I don’t see the fatigue lining my eyes or the ‘I’m so f*cking exhausted’ expression on my face from having little to no sleep for over 72 hours. All I see is the amazing strength and warrior-like fierceness I possess as a woman and now, mother, who had endured so much privately and publicly.
Especially when it comes to conceiving and having birthed a child (in any form) from her body. So each time I asked myself, ‘was it worth it all?’ there was never a moment of doubt as it was always followed up with, ‘YES, times a million!’
I continuously asked that question for the next three months. As those next three months were spent juggling endless feeds, the indescribable sensation of my nipples wanting to fall off at any given moment from breastfeeding and pumping in hopes of relieving the pounding in my breasts. To staring at my husband, who lay besides me peacefully unaware of how close he was to death. All before asking out loud to no one in particular, “how many years do you think I’ll get behind bars for manslaughter and pleading insanity?”
Although I was tempted several times to suffocate him with a pillow especially after being peed on for the millionth time while overcoming the immense hatred I had towards my husband because I knew he had work in the morning, I felt a large amount of guilt at the thought of waking him up to help me strip the sheets off the bed and the thought I had to do it all. For I was Wonder Woman!
Not forgetting those minutes and hours spent staring into the darkness as I once again expressed my nips off, discovering no amount of nipple balm was going to save the hostages and when it came time to unplugging my hands from having clasped the flanges in a death grip, I realise I now had to move a sleeping babe in his basinet, walking what felt like a 800 kilometre distance from my side of the bed to the kitchen as my uterus contracted like a bitch and struggling to deal with the pain as the sutures holding my caesarean section together twisted and moved with each step. Only to burst into tears because I am now literally crying over split milk as the milk I’ve just expressed has now ended up all over me or is now trickling off the counter top because I had a micro-nap while standing at the bench.
While the reality of producing more milk could be easily done by my body as quickly as snapping my fingers, it was the continuous negative thoughts of ‘you shouldn’t be breastfeeding’, ‘breast is best!’ and ‘you aren’t fit to be a mother’ played like a broken record in my head. It was in this moment of bracing my tired, weary and brow-beaten self against the kitchen counter and letting out the accumulating months spent trying to keep it altogether while struggling with my identity change.
For now, I was purely seen and heard as being Blake’s mama and no longer by my given christen name that I released everything I had been holding onto in the darkness of my kitchen. Although it was mentally draining but soul relieving at the same time, I had to remind myself on a daily basis that the exhaustion and mind-fog would only last for a few more weeks and months and I’d look back on that time and realise what I had overcome as a woman.
Eventually, I came out the newborn phase somewhat relatively unscathed and with very little jaded like thoughts and leaping into the fry pan known as the four month sleep regression. Oh, it was bliss for those few minutes while they lasted. Achieving other various milestones and accomplishments undertaken by Blake and yours truly as Mr. Darcy still lives to see another day, my original thought regarding motherhood and the secretively interesting life of mothers has somewhat changed in the past 2 years.
The judgmental looks I received as a first time mother who struggled with the concept of picking up her child for fear of breaking his little body, breastfeeding struggles as Blake was premature and coming to terms with my identity crisis were something I had to overcome each and every day.
There would be more times than I care to count or acknowledge where I wondered the woman who was more-than-competent and successful in her field of work could run a 99 bed Aged Care facility with several staff residing under her belt, who wore make up and red lipstick because she felt confident within herself as a woman. But also, she knew where she stood within her position and that being, world dominance and CEO of her own enterprise of taking no hostages alive. Within a split second, to being a scared shitless first time mama.
I would remind myself that although I had little to no knowledge of what it takes to a raise a child, survive the endless nights of breastfeeds, nappy changes and the battle of once again not killing your peacefully sleeping partner. I did have the knowledge and image of what type of mama and parent I wish to be and how I envisioned raising my child/ren. There were days where I deliberately chose to ignore the ever internal monologue running through my head of, ‘am I being a good parent? Am I doing enough to encourage Blake to successfully pass those milestones’ and my personal favourite, ‘why does society feel its necessary to make comments about how I feed my child?’
Before addressing the last comment on why society felt its necessary to make unwanted and undesired comments about how mama’s or parents in general, choose to feed and nurture their child/ren. In case you are wondering: I don’t think you can excessively spoil a child by cuddling, kissing and showing them a healthy lifestyle filled with optimism and normality. But, you can spoil a child with excess materialistic crap and the reality of ‘if you want it, you get it by snapping your fingers’.
As to feeding, I often think back on these moments and the many looks I received.
Some were of positive encouragement of a subtle thumbs up or a nod of the head as I openly dared to breastfeed my child in public and eyeballed anyone who stared at me before asking ‘what’s the problem?’. While others, particularly those from women of past generations, are not worth mentioning as they were only given to belittle another person or they simply couldn’t or didn’t want to update their knowledge of breastfeeding in the public since their times of giving babies milk in a glass bottle as they’d be told by the midwife to do so.
My breastfeeding experience and dare I say, journey, was something I will look back on fondly. Even though I deliberately gloss over the cracked nips era and staining of my bedsheets with breastmilk as my breast pad had moved; I think about the times where I bribed myself with unnecessary breastfeeding goals for feeding for 3 weeks before extending the deadline to 6 weeks, 3 months and than 6 months. Ultimately, my feeding experience and that nurturing moment of my son snuggling against my bosom and it purely being us two against the world for a few short minutes ended on my wedding evening when he decided he no longer needed my breast and would happily take it from a bottle.
I felt at odds with myself when he decided it was time to move on. Although a small part of me was glad I was no longer a milk cow and someone was purely dependent on me providing the source of nutrition and minerals and I could put my boobs away, permanently. There was also a part of me that grieved the loss of having someone dependent on me for life source. Once again, I struggled with my identity as a woman, mama and trying to find footing in an ever revolving door.
With the images of mama’s hitting social media with flat stomachs, perky breasts that could bounce a dollar off them and no cellulite having ever graced their physique, my ‘mama’ image was often compared to these women. While some are blessed with bodies that bounce back from pregnancy, labour and birth and are placed in society’s view as being an ethereal goddess, I struggled with looking at my naked body and the overwhelming emotions I had towards it as I didn’t possess a body that had ‘bounced back’ from anything.
Instead, 6 months after having a caesarean and having what is known as ‘the mum pouch’ from being literally sliced, medical grade instruments being placed within my body to hold back the torn pieces of flesh, muscle, ligament, body organs and than having my uterus ripped open to deliver my body and than being sutured back; I was only just able to walk for several hundred metres because the physical and mental pain was horrific.
I yearned to see realistic photos, images and women speaking up about their post-caesarean bodies, the struggles they overcame and how society played a role into how they perceived themselves as being mamas and women. Unfortunately, I had to deal with society’s and a few vocal outbursts from those who perceived and viewed caesareans as being the cheats way out, an easy labour without the pain of contractions and a cop-out.
Yes, you may think caesareans/elective c-sections are the easy way out to having a baby because it’s a quick little procedure and we aren’t dealing with contractions; but what you fail to see as a person and a society member is the toll it takes upon our bodies/minds, the struggle we face mobility wise as we can barely shuffle a few steps without crying and begging for it to end or for us to be put out of our misery, the longest and slowest recovery we will ever have. So slow in fact that a snail could win an gold olympic medal and we would still be at the start, not having moved an inch and yet, we are expected to ‘carry on’ and raise a child/ren who is heavily dependent on us.
Speaking of being and identifying myself as a woman, society viewed my body as something of a science experiment having gone heinously wrong.
I was poked, prodded and viewed as someone who had clearly had the life sucked (literally) out of her breasts as they were no longer my perky 26 year old boobs that I was so proud of and no person would find me sexually attractive, in the slightest. Therefore, my sexual identity as a woman took a massive blow and I struggled with the concept of what is overly acceptable in society’s eyes as being sexy and confident.
Because, wow too much of being sexy and confident and I was perceived as being a morally-lose woman or a bad, bad mother and DOCS (Department of Child Services) should be called in and my child removed from my care. Because, NO woman after having a child or children should feel comfortable, content and sexy in their skin.
As someone who was 29 at the time and still young in years, I had to slowly learn to embrace and come to terms with loving my baby-used body. Having spent years yearning to be out-there with confidence, sex appeal and be genuinely happy with my inner and outer self and finally grasping it by the horns before falling pregnant, it truly was a massive mental f*ck for me. It was something I struggled with greatly; until waking up one morning after celebrating my son’s first birthday and analysing where the time had gone and only then, did I realise how much unnecessary pressure I had willingly applied and allowed to be dumped on my shoulders.
I came to the conclusion that while I had some mental work to do and how I needed to re-embrace and learn to reaccept my body after having had a baby and a body that would forever be unattractive to society; I also realised that society needed to harden the fuck up and deal with the ever changing and fluctuating bodies currently living in it. For I came to the realisation that no one lives in the 90’s anymore, where heroin chic is (no longer) an attractive trend to be part of and it’s okay to empahsis and embrace my Marilyn Monroe bust, waist and hip lines.
Because you know what, there are some women out there who would die to have:
- An hourglass figure
- Breasts that can feed a baby
- Stretch marks on any part of their body because it tells them/others they had birthed a baby
- A healthy and very much living baby as they’ve experienced another miscarriage, negative IVF test or they can’t have children and yet, yearn for them.
- Another foster child being sent back to their biological family
At the end of the day, we want to be seen and acknowledged as being women.
Someone who is more than competent to run a 99 bed Aged Care home, prefers CEO as her position and wants to step out into public with a backbone made from steel, titanium breasts as her balls and the knowledge she will conquer the world. Someone who is acknowledged for what information, talents and worldly personality lies beneath the exterior she presents. We, however, do not want to be seen, acknowledged or be told that because we are simply a female that we cannot aspire to be the best we can be, how our lives are going to shape out to someone else’s viewing and are going to be told, “just lie back and think of Britannia”.
Women and mama’s deserve to be acknowledged for what we represent and bring to the table. Because at the end of the day, we aren’t set in the 50’s where woman raised the children to be seen, not heard and therefore, entails us women to be seen and treated in the same manner as the children. Today in the 21st century, working women and mama’s around the world are more likely to bring home the bacon, throw it down on the table and turn to the man and tell him to cook the damn bacon for dinner.
Because, we ain’t no one’s bitch at the end of the day.
My philosophy about being a powerful woman and mama has not changed in the 2 years. Instead, I suspect it has grown in size and attitude.
So much so, when I step out into public with my 2 year-old son and we get to enjoy the delightful discovery of throwing tantrums, I ignore the looks I get. The once positive glances have swiftly changed to open stares of scorn, dismay and further judgment. For I now leave the house without the façade of having my shit together as a parent, mama and well…. any minute now, I’m going to fall short of ‘parenting success’ when my child dares to throw a tantrum in public.
Not that I have to explain the dynamics of a child throwing a tantrum but it is to be expected when a child becomes overwhelmed with stimulation, their own emotions and mental thoughts and aren’t able to exactly voice their opinion like an adult would. So the first thing they’re going to most likely do is release their emotions by throwing a tantrum, which in turn leaves the mother feeling overwhelmed by everyone having stopped and staring at the scene unfolding before them, overhearing the rude and snide comments being made and the constant reminder of what a complete and utter disappointment she is as a parent.
My favourite moment in this particular scene is an outsider to this family dynamics will put the blame onto the parent/mama’s shoulders. For the mama has clearly raised her child in an environment that lacks parenting control, advocation for discipline and often, these mama’s will hear comments like “if that were my child, I’d…” or “parents these days have no idea at all….”
First of all Medussa, sit down and pop a cork into your mouth because we don’t need comments like this to be stated or repeated. Instead, the comments we want to be hearing and looks being received should not be ones of pity or scorn but rather, encouragement to carry on the rest of the day, knowing that you are doing the damn best you can with two hands. I, for one, are sick and tired of being told by outsiders that their child never threw tantrums, were always good children and it no doubt stems from my side of the family because we’re clearly a bunch of….. let’s leave it at that, shall we?
Clearly, I married God and birthed Jesus.
After two years of experiencing those comments myself and the shaking of the head because I dared to raise my voice at my child and have demonstrated good versus evil and how mama is the leader of this pack. While I understand some parents prefer the route of sing-song voices, using non-threatening tones and asking the child why they are overcome with emotions and how they feel about it; I personally are not into gentle parenting methods and probably never will be and that’s 100% okay.
However, these verbally expressed and not-so verbal statements need to stop as they have serious repercussions and are impacting upon any other mama’s physical and mental wellbeing. Even more so, when we find ourselves replaying the incidents from that day in our heads and re-analysing every little moment for the one hundredth millionth time. Before ultimately telling ourselves that we could’ve done a better job as a parent/mama, society is true because we aren’t living up to expectations and well, we shouldn’t of become parents if we can’t get anything right.
I can honestly say, we have never and probably will never take a moment of reflection and analysation to think about the moments we’ve done right by our family and extended community. It’s the moments where we stopped pee from being sprayed around the house. We thought about what was going to be served at our family table for dinner and making sure there were groceries in the household. We organised doctor visits/appointments and scheduled vaccinations to happen so our child/ren’s immunity and ours are strong and healthy. We travelled vast distances to all of the extracurricular activities our children have signed up for and sitting in the freezing cold, watching our children run around.
We found ourselves growing, defining, re-educating, repurposing and repossessing every little bit of knowledge we have so our children can go forth in life, knowing they are the best damn chance they’ll ever have. We find ourselves crawling into their cot or bed at night, snuggling up against them and whispering how much we love them, how much we are willing to go to the depths of hell and back to protect them against all odds. How much, we as woman and mama’s have changed within our own lives so we can keep fighting an exhausting battle against the odds that are stacked up against us and how we are ultimately, the ones who raise good people with good ethics and morals.
At the end of the day, my thoughts on motherhood and being a mama haven’t really changed that much since I was little. While my thoughts and perceptions on what it takes to be viewed and acknowledge as a woman and working parent have vastly changed over the past few years.
The internal struggle of overcoming guilt when returning to the workforce before my son turned one, the struggle of wanting to be a stay at home mum and the guilt that often comes with making the decision to not return to the workforce or opting if having returned, to only work certain hours/days of the week or fortnight because your family comes first before all others. The pressure of society and the workforce puts on your shoulders is insanely crazy and if you aren’t playing an integral part or up to scratch, you will be reminded of yet again, failing to perform your duties. Don’t even get me started on having a sex life with your significant other and how many times a week you are ‘putting out’ or aren’t.
It’s the internal and external struggle of not ‘bouncing back’ as a woman post birth, being purely viewed as Blake’s partial parent as I have returned to the workforce and how incredibly selfish of me for having done so and the ever-so complimenting comments of “how old will your son be when the new baby arrives? Oh, just over 2… wow, you like them close, don’t you?”
In other words: couldn’t keep your legs closed and clearly don’t believe in any form of birth control, dear?
Ultimately, the past 3 years of being acknowledged and seen as a woman who worked full-time, partied harder and had no public interest in having children to suddenly becoming pregnant, full-time mama and a partially functioning woman with only 1/4 of a brain… it has been an interesting time period for adjustment, re-development and discovery. Even more so when I find myself asking society and those negative Nancies out loud, ‘is it worth it all?’