The Baby Bubble

My first born turned five years old last week. Naturally, I spent the night before her birthday bawling as I scrolled through all the baby photos taken in those first few weeks. I get so excited watching my brilliant little girl grow up, but would also like time to just slow down a bit please and thank you. (Motherhood is complicated!)

Among the very first photos after my daughter’s arrival, is a selfie taken about 12 hours into motherhood. I’m cradling my squishy new baby (and her impressive head of hair) as she sleeps peacefully. I look so content. I was so content. But it didn’t last for long enough.

There we were, my daughter and I, safe and snug in the bubble. Before the visitors arrived, and the advice (often unsolicited) was given. Before opinions were heard and pressure was imposed. Before the frustration and confusion, followed by guilt and tears, mixed with sleep deprivation. Before the bubble burst so abruptly.

I truly believe that led me to a tough beginning in parenthood. Tougher than it needed to be. At times, I wish I could go back and do it again. Bottle that baby smell and hold my daughter without interruption for hours on end. Not succumb to pressure – from myself and others. Go back and give myself (and my baby) a break. Lower the expectations and just surrender. Slow down. Tell myself to listen to no-one but myself (and my baby). Reassure that everything is as it should be. It’s all going to be OK. Listen to myself, my baby, my intuition. And have the confidence to do all that. I wish I knew then what I know now. Hindsight, eh.

My experience, however, has helped me. When my second child was born two-and-a-half years later, I stayed in the bubble much longer. Visits were declined, notifications turned off, chores left, stuff delegated, standards dropped, expectations lowered, breaths lengthened and slowed, the words “baby bubble” repeated to myself and others. I was determined to keep that bubble from bursting as quickly as it did the first time. And it made a big difference.

My first year of motherhood taught me to do that. It helped me get to that point, this point and beyond. So I’m making peace (or learning to) with that time and remembering all the good – of which there is a ton. I am grateful for the experiences that have brought me to where I am now in life and parenthood – with the two best kids in the world (definitely not biased).

So biggest thanks to my kiddos, my greatest teachers. Their not-so-subtle nudging is helping shape me into the kind of person I want to be and am meant to be. Into more me and less who I used to think I should be. And Happy 5th Birthday to The Best Girl. (No, YOU’RE crying.)

 

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Nighttime musings

Lying in my bed and my head is such a mess.

I would like to be asleep but my baby is a thief.

She’s robbed me of my nights, and my days are too a fright.

But I’m feeling hashtag blessed c’os I know it could be worse.

To be honest, I feel shit, even though I love this kid.

My eyes can barely see, I forget to brush my teeth.

And my hair is falling out, I’m a mess without a doubt.

Suddenly I hear a snore, it’s from him the guy next door.

He is stretched out in the bed, taking space I never get.

If I could I’d kick him out but my baby would then shout.

I can barely take a breath, never mind sort out this mess.

So I’m staring at the wall, thinking whom I’d like to call.

I’m aware it’s 3am but it’s hypothetical.

Then I realise there’s no one that I could now dial home to.

I’m not sure when this occurred because my world is slightly blurred.

Motherhood has changed my life, it’s changed my body and my mind.

I’m told there’s light when darkness ends but that is easy to forget.

So for now I’ll keep on keeping, keep on knowing, keep on thinking.

About being in the now, even if it’s not all ‘WOW’.

With a thought on times ahead and maybe a bigger bed?!

Body scan

Sitting on the edge of the bed, not quite at ease.

Sharp ears confirm all is quiet across the landing.

A sigh releases. Relief. Satisfaction.

Weary body slowly lowers. Taking care not to disturb the peace.

Full weight now supported by the mattress underneath. Contact points pressing firmly.

Head sinks deliciously into the pillow.

Exhale.

Body curled in the foetal position. Knees drawn up.

Heavy eyes close with ease.

Body so tired but not willing to fully surrender.

Active mind whirls with concerns magnified at night.

Permission granted for rest and relaxation.

Tuning into the body and connecting with its full length – from the top of the head to the tips of the toes.

Focus on feet.

Feet that carry so much throughout the day. At home; out and about; upstairs, downstairs, room to room and back again a thousand times.

The realisation that today has been without a seat. Again.

Focus jumps to lists not ticked.

Mind gently encouraged to return to aching arches.

Breathing in to soothe the souls.

Deep long inhale.

Slow exhale.

Tension begins to start melting. Slowly but surely.

Safe in the knowledge that everything else can wait. Truly, it can.

Sinking deeper.

Drifting into relaxation

Pressure easing.

Rolling on to back.

Body straight and still, so still. Arms resting by sides.

Breathing into restless ankles, tight calves and weary knees.

The breath becomes deeper.

Attention turns to upper legs and thighs – a hardworking muscle group.

Observing present sensations. Tingles, buzzing, aches and pains.

Inhale. Exhale.

Relax.

Allowing nerves and bones to feel limp.

Completely tuned in now. Awareness circles the body.

Hips, glutes, pelvis.

Abdominals draw in. Pelvic floor switches on for the first time in a long time.

Mind starts to wander.

Gentle nudge back to breath.

Letting go. Rest is necessary.

Savouring the moment. The stillness.

Hands move to belly, feeling the rise and fall.

Deep inhale, expanding like a balloon

Next is chest and diaphragm.

Ribs rise as the lungs draw in air.

Ribs sore from the closeness of co sleeping.

Heart beats awareness. Offering life and holding emotion. Its passion knows no bounds.

Gratitude and love beam outwards like a bright light.

Warmth. Contentment. Calm. Ease.

Hands briefly hold heart then rest at sides.

Both arms down and straight. Unplugged from holding, hugging, wrangling. Always open, ready to embrace.

Hands so dry and often cold. Must keep warm and soft.

Focus gently shifted without judgement.

Mind moves to back. Lower aches, upper stretches.

Shoulders rotate to shrug off weight. The feeling of being without is long forgotten.

Pillow fully supporting neck, freeing it from the weight of the head.

A head full of hopes, plans, dreams, worries, guilt and inner dialogue. A never-ending trail of thought.

Silence between thoughts stretches as the mind quietens.

Breathing in, breathing out.

Breathing in, breathing out.

Rolling over on to side, to total relaxation and deep comfort.

Eyes remain closed.

Deep inhale.

Breathing in, breathing out.

Inside, gentle thoughts whirl freely like butterflies dancing.

Outside: soft, silent, still.

Sweet spot found.

Deep breaths.

Then sleep.

Breaking point

The long coarse grass dances elegantly in the gentle wind. Above, a smattering of fluffy clouds make their way across the sky, breaking up the blue expanse as they hurry off into the distance. The sun sits so low it looks as though it might plunge into the ocean at any given moment. I imagine being blanketed in a cool darkness far more fitting than the last of the afternoon’s rays that bear down heavily.

A swishing sound tears through my thoughts, taking my gaze away from the horizon. The red and blue diamond-shaped piece of material boasts a long white tail that diligently follows its every move. Coming to a halt mid-air, the kite hovers as though pausing for thought, before swooping down and jerking right then left to continue its journey. Attempting to trace its line back to an owner, I stand on tiptoes and look ahead, but a lot of the beach is still out of view.

It’s difficult to know which path to take as the sand dunes have moved so much over the past year. Smooth golden mounds now stand where it had once been possible to view the harbour. They don’t look sturdy enough to take the weight of anything more than the blades of grass that have begun to grow out of the top of them, so I stick to the well-trodden paths below. Looking around, I am reminded of campfires and barbecues that have taken place on the floor of the dunes. So much shelter is offered here, you could almost be fooled into thinking the air is permanently still.

The wind begins to pick up and my footprints disperse as quickly as they are made. A large dark cloud looms, threatening to ruin the masquerade such glorious weather has provided all day. Relieved, I feel a spot of rain land on my nose as the weather finally begins to break.

Moving with more energy than my body has felt all day, I come to a break in the dunes. The shoreline, which had earlier been filled with the sights and sounds of children playing, lies empty in the distance. Exposed to the elements, I run my tongue around the outside of my mouth to taste the encrusted layer of salt.

There is no sign of the kite or its owner; the beach stands empty. Out to sea, the stormy air uses its energy to form a deep swell that not even the bravest of surfers can be spotted in. Rising crests of grey water transform into perfectly peeling waves that move at great speed before crashing down and breaking into foam on the shoreline. It is almost too difficult to differentiate between the grey sky and the stormy sea.

To my right, behind the first wall of the dunes, stands a line of mobile homes. A soft light glows from the front of just one, reminding me of my starting point.

On the window ledge, I can just about make out a pair of binoculars that were not there when I left. I put my hood up and pull the drawstring tight around my face, offering my mind a little shelter.

The end of the beach is close but I feel as though I could keep on walking. Leaning into the gale, I drink in the sight of the potent waves crashing on the rocks and exploding in the air. Exchanged words of fury that had rung through my ears are now replaced by the sound of the tempestuous Atlantic.

The rocks are slippy under my bare feet and hands as I scramble across to reach the edge. Raindrops mix with salty tears and seep into every pore as the heavens open and relief floods. The weight that has burdened my shoulders for so long lifts and I stand exhilarated, facing the ocean. Head up, chest open and arms wide, my muscles freeze in place. There is no turning back as I am braced to meet the black wall of water than rises up to engulf me.

 

A mother’s work

I write this sitting in an empty bath because it’s the only place I won’t be disturbed. You
might think the sofa would be a more conventional and comfortable spot to lounge whilst scribing my daily notes, but it’s far too obvious. As for lying in bed, well, that would be just plain awkward if the family whose home this is found me under their duvet.
That’s right, this isn’t my home. In fact, because of the nature of my job (which I will fill you in on shortly), I’m very rarely in my own home. This means I have to get creative when it comes to practising my favourite self-care activity – writing down my thoughts, feelings and plans. (Or journaling, as it’s called these days.)
The bathroom is the perfect spot because it allows me the privacy I need to document the day. I can shut the door without anyone questioning what I’m doing. She’s probably busy
cleaning, they assume. Or, it sometimes crosses their minds, she might be answering the call of nature. Which leads me nicely to my identity. My name is Gaea and I am 4.5 billion years old. You may not believe me as I don’t look my age, but it’s true; I’m as old as the hills. I’m sometimes referred to as Mother Nature or Earth Mother, but I prefer just Gaea. It’s a little less official and, I like to think, makes me sound down to earth – which I am, of course. Working in close proximity to people who are in such a fragile state, I have to be.
Even if I did introduce myself as Mother Nature, I highly doubt my clients would believe me, which is understandable. So, I tend to keep the more official title to myself. Until now, I suppose. But that’s okay because today I am retiring. Hanging up my hat and moving back to Greece for some much needed and long overdue TLC. That’s enough about my needs for now though.
My job is all about tending to others. I guess you could say I’m a sort of Mary Poppins for
weary mothers. Dispatched to those who feel lost in the jungle of motherhood, I help women find their way. Both physically – through the mountains of washing – and emotionally.
Why me? Because nature has the power to soothe, heal, restore and connect. Health is
intrinsically linked to the environment and, it’s proven, those connected to nature have
stronger feelings of unity and belonging. Two feelings that are so often missing among those I work with.
My role, first and foremost, is to focus on a mother’s needs, bringing natural beauty and
human unity to the environment. But I’m not a mother myself. I wouldn’t be able for this line of work if I was. Most of the women I meet barely have time to inhale and exhale properly, let alone keep a watchful eye on the world’s mothers. I do have one fur baby – a Chihuahua, named Rex after my first pet who died 65 million years ago – but no human babies to call my own. Being in this job for as long as I have, however, means I understand just how hard being a mother is. Yes yes, it’s wonderful, of course (hashtag blessed, I think they say nowadays), but let’s just be honest about the situation. I’m all about being real and true.
Nobody can raise The Future entirely alone, but over the last half a century or so, more and more are attempting to, which is why I’ve been assigned an increasing number of cases. Moving away from their villages – literally – for various reasons, these women find
themselves without a support network to call their own, at a time when they need it most.
That’s where I come in. As well as helping with all the practical stuff – washing, cleaning,
batch cooking – I gently guide them towards their own self-care practice. Even if it’s just
taking five minutes a day, by tending to themselves, mothers are better equipped to look after their children. Like putting your own oxygen mask on first. (That’s been my favourite analogy since the 20th Century when passenger air travel became a thing.)Speaking of travel, my arrival at people’s homes is very rarely questioned. Usually, the mother is so relieved to have some help at hand, she welcomes me straight in, so I can get to work. On the odd occasion that my presence is under surveillance, I simply tell them I heard they were in need of a little assistance and leave it at that. It tends to be assumed that someone has sent me, which is not entirely untrue.
In reality, I am as mysterious and elusive as my creation. Magically making order out of
chaos, ensuring each mother is recharged, reset and balanced before heading on to my next case.
But today’s case marks my last. For some time now, I have been witnessing the rise of a
wonderful movement I call Motherkind. Women are building villages, finding tribes and
looking out for each other. They understand the value of treating themselves and the planet with the respect deserved, and I can hang up my hat safe in the knowledge that the word is spreading. A change has begun.
This allows me to turn my focus to the very pressing matter of the state of the earth. I have started experiencing power surges and blackouts; I need to practice what I preach. All that’s left to do this evening is finish my case notes and respond to a message that has just come through from The Boss…
There’s a new mum in dire need and she’s just down the road from where I am now. I can’t refuse. I don’t want to refuse. My retirement can wait another day. A Mother’s work really is never done.

Making mum mates

Early in my first pregnancy, my husband was offered a new job in another country.

At the time, we were living in my hometown – a spot that’s kind of perfect for raising kids and is round the corner from family and friends. But, excited by the adventure of moving to a place we didn’t know, and completely in the dark about what lay ahead as new parents, we took all of 30 seconds to decide to take the job and make the move…

Iceberg ahead.

The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ was thrown my way a lot in response to the relocation, but I didn’t take much notice of the concern. As well as being desperate to prove people wrong – it was all going to be “FINE” – I couldn’t have imagined how much life was about to change. It was only after I moved away from my village and had my baby, did I really start to understand the importance of a support network to help with all that baby baggage. Hypothetical parenting was so much easier.

It took me a while to admit I needed to make some new friends as I had a lovely bunch back in England. But therein lay the problem – my tribe was in another country. During the first year of motherhood, I spent a lot of time sitting in the house or walking the local beach, with only my new baby for company. It was really hard and I was really lonely. This amazing little person was the centre of my universe, but she couldn’t stick the kettle on yet.

So, after greeting my husband from work with big, ugly, shoulder-shaking, snotty cries on a number of occasions, I set about overcoming the isolation by trying to make some new mates. As an introvert, however, putting myself out there (CRINGE!) filled me with terror and, needless to say, I haven’t found it easy. Making mum friends is hard!

Four years and two kids later, I wouldn’t say I’ve found my tribe, but I’m definitely getting better at looking. Mainly because as I get older I give less f*cks, which makes making friends a little less awkward. Just a little… Am I the only one who thinks it’s like dating?

In the process, I’ve managed to forage a few like-minded mums, even if it’s just a conversation at one of the many groups I’ve dragged myself to. This is no mean feat (as any introvert will know) and has made the world of difference to a day that has begun deep in the trenches. The power of a cuppa and a chat will never cease to amaze me.

For anyone in the same boat, I can’t guarantee success, but here are a few alternative (and not too desperate) befriending techniques that have worked for me …

  • Dressing to impress. In a sea of Breton striped tops, I try to mix things up with a slogan tee or quirky print, both of which have attracted attention from mums and infants on a few occasions. Like the time I got chatting to a lady at the local breastfeeding group after she thanked me for hypnotizing her screaming baby with my bright pink leopard print sweatshirt. (I took it as a compliment.)
  • Keeping them sweet. Carrying around snacks to entice potential new friends might feel a little creepy, but offering a sugar hit to a tired parent works a treat – tried and tested. Brownie points if the snacks are also baby / toddler friendly.
  • Lending a hand. Waiting rooms, shops, car parks and cafes are all places swarming with baggage-laden parents trying to navigate awkward spaces. Open the door, hold the lift, lend a hand and (possibly) make a friend.
  • Catching (or offering) lifts. A couple of months into motherhood, a mum in the baby massage class I was attending offered me a lift to a sling meet the following week. I declined because I didn’t see the point – why would I go to the trouble of transferring the baby seat from my own car to hers? Now I can see it was probably an attempt to make friends.
  • Poaching pals. I’ve found making friends with parents who know other parents in the area a simple and effective befriending technique. Because they can introduce you to a wider circle of potential new mates, and are usually the type to approach you in the first instance, a lot of the legwork has already been covered. A winner for anyone as socially awkward as me!

This post is also featured on The Fourth Trimester Blog and Selfish Mother’s Blogzine

And breathe

Maybe it’s the incessant tiredness that makes everyone seem so annoying. Or maybe it’s just that everyone IS so annoying.

Definitely the latter.

Since becoming a mum, I’m definitely not as tolerant of other people as I used to be. In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to bite my tongue or scream into a pillow, thanks to…

People who give unsolicited advice… People with young kids, people with older kids, people who’ve never had kids; they all want to throw in their two cents’ worth. Thanks but I don’t need the advice; I have Google.

Soppy relatives… “Hello! Remember me? The vessel that carried and grew this precious bundle for all those months.” It’s nice and all that they love the kid so much, but some acknowledgement of my presence in the room, or existence in general, would be welcomed.

Sick people… Step away. And don’t try to tell me your sniffle is probably just hayfever.

People who use parent and child parking spaces when they have no kid in tow… Usually, I’m beaten to one of these spaces by a guy in a white van (with no kid, obvs). A few days ago, it was a BMW driver who considered his hanging suit as precious cargo worthy of a wide berth bay. One day, these people will feel the wrath of this tired and hungry mother who can’t find anywhere to park. One day.

Parents who lie and tell me their baby sleeps through the night… Not just the defined five hours but THE WHOLE NIGHT. (They may not be lying but for the sake of my sanity, I’ll continue to think they are.)

People who don’t have kids and ask annoying questions… The most popular one so far being, “Does she sleep through the night yet?” Ugh.

People who tell new parents to cherish every moment... Anyone who says this is an idiot. Parents are under no obligation to cherish every single moment, and it’s important to be able to say it’s tough without judgement. Because it IS tough, and by saying we shouldn’t acknowledge this just adds to the insurmountable mum guilt we already feel. And ain’t nobody got time for that, least of all new mums.

And breathe…

In the interest of balance, and to show I am cherishing every moment, I’ll write a list of some good stuff. Just not today.