I'd love to welcome Kate as a guest blog contributor, I first met Kate at our Positive BIrth Movement meeting a couple of years ago. I love everything about Kate's work with pregnant, birth and postpartum mothers. I was so very fortunate to be invited to photograph Kate's family a few times including her birth of gorgeous baby Florence. I adore Kate's energy and sparkle, and also her honesty and vulnerability. Kate talks about life after the new baby bliss fades and the reality of your new looking life starts to show - highlighting the importance of finding your Mama Tribe and finding support.
She wakes to whimpers. The brain fog is heavy, just like her eyelids. So, so heavy. The whimpers escalate to demanding cries. It’s only been 2 minutes since she was so abruptly woken after only 40 minutes of blissful sleep, but it’s clear that her little one has decided she needs her as soon as possible. It feels like torture to her, this constant needing.
EVERY. HOUR. ALL. THROUGH. THE. NIGHT.
She drags her sore body - from repeatedly standing and rocking for what seems like hours on end (why won’t her daughter lie down and feed to sleep like the books say?? Why?!) – to where her baby lies. Or, more accurately, where she rolls around, pulls herself up and practices her crawl nowadays. That little body seems to never stop at the moment. She has so much practicing to do! As a mum who loves to read about her baby and learn about her development, she knows this stuff. She knows that this stage, which feels like forever, will end. Just as it did with her now 3 year old.
But right now… oh, the right now is so hard. The lack of sleep, the intense neediness, the feeling of being “over-touched”, the lack of understanding and/or support from loved ones at times. It builds and it builds and some days the darkness is all consuming.
This is my story, at this moment. But this could be the story of any of my mummy friends, my tribe. Right now, right this minute on the morning after yet another long painful night in a succession of many. It’s so familiar to so many of us, so why can it be so hard to talk about sometimes? Who would even want to hear it? Am I being a completely self-absorbed ingrate to even think like this, let alone want to get it off my chest?
When I really reflect on these questions, I think there is a lot to consider when coming up with answers. Obviously each woman has her own personality and history of experiences which impact on various factors. Like for instance, her sheer resilience to adapting to motherhood. For some, talking about the black hole that this new role has the potential to create can really open up the floodgates. This is regardless of how many children a woman has, as each new addition brings with it a whole new dynamic and set of challenges.
Sometimes, when a woman shares her own challenges, the notorious “mummy guilt” can raise it’s ugly head. Often to reassure a new mother that they are doing a good job, other women can fall into default mode, suggesting as many “quick fixes” that they can, just to alleviate their comrade’s immediate frustration and desperation.
Every now and then, a discerning piece of advice towards a mother can be just what she needs to adapt, learn or grow. But sometimes, if coming from a place that doesn’t sit well with the mother’s own value system, it can serve to exacerbate the frustration further, leaving her feeling like she’s doing something wrong even though deep down, she knows it is the best way for her and her baby. If a mum continually faces these kinds of remarks or advice; for example:
“Oh you really need to stop feeding through the night by 8 months old!” OR “there’s no harm in letting your baby have a good scream if they won’t settle without you. They’ll fall asleep eventually!” OR “I would never drink a glass of wine while breastfeeding, that is so irresponsible!” (Heard any of these gems before?!) and it goes against a mother’s instincts and/or understanding of infant needs and development, they will retreat from groups of other women to avoid facing these situations.
Women disconnecting with each other is disastrous. I firmly believe that for this to be avoided, women need to feel safe, supported and respected amongst other women. If you’ve ever been a part of a tribe of mothers who managed to create such an environment, you’ll know how incredible it is to be part of.
The texts or private messenger group, flooded with honest accounts of days/nights that went pear-shaped, and the genuine responses of “oh honey, that sounds shithouse! But my girl, tomorrow is another day, and you are doing an incredible job”. The irregular, but oh-so-precious catch ups, spent throwing back a coffee and/or afternoon cider while chasing crawling babies, cleaning up unidentifiable messes on furniture while apologizing profusely to another mum who is too tired to care anyway, pushing toddlers on swings one-handed whilst wrangling aforementioned crawling babies and trying to retrieve, YET AGAIN another dried leaf from their clamped jaws… ah, the bliss.
Ok, maybe not bliss… but absolutely and unequivocally necessary in order for a mother to experience a balanced, supported and healthy postnatal period.
In my experience, it comes down to courage.
Courage, you ask?
Yep. Being brave. Being brave enough to connect authentically with other women in a way you may never have done before. It takes courage to leave your ego at the door. It takes courage to be vulnerable in new relationships and let yourself be exposed, warts and all. It takes courage to accept and support new and different ways of doing things that may feel confronting or unusual to you.
Courage is required to explore and investigate these feelings in yourself and what they mean. Why does breastfeeding a baby past age two feel icky to you? Why are you so frightened of childbirth? Why do you immediately judge the mother feeding her baby formula without knowing her story? Exploring any such questions that trigger you personally is important. Important for your own growth and awareness as a human being; important for our babies and their wellbeing; and important for the collective motherhood as a whole.
Women can be each other’s worst enemies when they are scared. But they can raise each other up as high as mountains when they are courageous enough to truly let each other in.
In an age where statistically, women experiencing pre and postnatal anxiety and depression are at crazy levels, this is important. Many women will reach out and find professional help if they are suffering, but many won’t. Even more concerning I believe, is that many will isolate themselves from other women because of fear of judgment. This is a slippery slope.
It is our job as women and mothers to look one another in the eye and say, “I see you. I see how hard this is. I see you are doing the best with what you have. I understand and I am here”.
That act in itself is courageous, because the mama in question may reject your offer of support and friendship and no one likes being rejected. But, I think it’s worth it if you can catch someone on that slippery slope. Someone who needs a real, authentic mama tribe to remind her that she is wonderful and has all the potential in the world to be the mother she desires to be.
It is only we, the mums on the front line, battling through challenges in our private lives with our partner’s and children every day, who can BE the change we want to see in each other.
Be courageous mamas. Let each other in.
Kate Leiper is Counsellor and Psychotherapist working with women to achieve healthy and positive pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting experiences. Her private practice, Your Connected Life is on hiatus while she parents her two young daughters, but she is the mum behind new blog, ‘The PsychED Mama’, and she is excited to have just kicked off a collaborative postnatal women’s initiative, The Diamond Women Project. Follow her via https://www.facebook.com/thediamondwomenproject/#
*If you are struggling to connect with other like-minded mums and are based on the Sunshine Coast, please come along to one of The Diamond Women Project’s Postnatal Women’s Circles. It is a 5-week program incorporating deep therapeutic conversation, yoga and mindfulness. Babies under 6 months are welcome! Check out the latest event on the Facebook page!
For psychological support on the Sunshine Coast, please contact your GP for a referral.
If you believe you are in crisis, please contact lifeline on 13 11 14.