It can come as a shock, the almost immediate switch from being practically without responsibility to being completely in charge of another human being. For most women in our culture pregnancy is spent searching through websites and chat groups researching all things maternity and birth related, choosing the trendiest and cutest baby products, preparing a nursery or even moving into a bigger home to accommodate the growing family. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of time spent focusing on what will actually happen once this baby arrives. Sure, for those who have never been near a baby there are the few minutes spent on baby care at some prenatal classes- showing how to bathe or change a baby, there are the warnings from friends and family about stocking up on your sleep, and getting ready to not go out on a date in a while- but is this enough? Much of the preparation is in regards to products and the emotional side of parenting is left out. There is a also huge gap in the different mind-sets out there. There are those who believe in attachment parenting: baby wearing, co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and cloth diapering a few of the common themes surrounding this “method” of parenting. Then we have the more “traditional” (I hesitate to use that word, for lack of a better one) that believe that the way some previous generations were raised was perfect: strollers, formula for those who want to, sleep training, disposables, and less of a helicopter parenting style.There is often a lot of judgement from some who have a certain parenting style that they feel others must follow as well. I’m generalizing here, to better illustrate my point, so please don’t be offended if you choose to do some from one “category” without others or vice versa. I’m simply trying to explain that by trying to live up to or follow advice given by people who are not in our home 24/7 and who are not responsible for raising our children we just aren’t doing ourselves any service. Parenting, like in life, truly is about being authentic.
I come from a very woman centered, matriarchal family. My grandmother had 5 children; one son and four daughters, and she ruled our family for many years. She was a strong, well-spoken, extremely intelligent woman. But she was in no way soft or maternal- hell, she openly admitted to not really ever wanting to be a mother! It was just something that you did during that time. This lack of what some would call maternal instinct seems to have carried through to her daughters as well. Children in our family were very loved, of course, but we were not the center of attention. Daily lives were not altered or catered to the needs and whims of us children. I don’t wish to have had a different upbringing because I really benefited from the laissez-faire attitude my parents had. Whether it was lack of time or interest, we had very free lives (although we did grow up in a small rural town, where it was quite safe to be gone the entire day without anyone needing to know where you were). Our mothers (and now, my sister and I who are the newest generation of mothers in our family) made time for themselves, even when it seemed impossible; kept interests that didn't involve only us and did so because this is how mothering felt right for them.
I like to think of this as: Authentic Parenting or Parenting the Way that You Want To Without Giving a Damn About What Others Think.
Like most of my female relatives, I birthed my son relatively easily and naturally, and then entered into the postpartum period feeling a little, well- off. Knowing some other members of my family had encountered some issues, when the lovely haze of endorphins following my birth wore off and the weight gain circus began surrounding my 11 lb at birth son not gaining quickly enough in the week following birth- things began to get a bit hairy. There were tears, arguments, and some not-so-wonderful days as I tried to find my footing as a new mom. I hadn’t anticipated it being so difficult and it was a major shock having a newborn to care for at all times, when I’d never had anyone rely on me so much ever in my life. I quickly realised though, the more I listened to everyone else and stopped listening to my own instinct the further away I got from feeling happy and well adjusted.
I had, like most mothers, made many “plans” for the style of parenting I would take once my son arrived. I knew, for example, that I would never give a pacifier, that my son would be exclusively breastfed, he would sleep with us for as long as possible, I wouldn’t stick him in swings or baby chairs, and I would cloth diaper exclusively. What’s that saying about the best laid plans…?? Some of these have been followed through with to a T, others just didn't work out the way I had anticipated.
I realised after a few weeks that I couldn’t get more than 20 minutes of consecutive sleep with this baby in my bed. My back was cramped, my nipples were killing from bad latches at night, and I woke up every time he groaned or moved, which babies are apt to do every 3 minutes or so. At 3 weeks old my son was moved into his room in his bassinet. Mind you our rooms were about 8 feet apart and we slept with our doors open, but halleluiah! I was getting to sleep between feedings and I felt so much better about bringing him into bed with us in the early hours to finish off our nights together. This was me being authentic. Following my instincts, even if they weren’t what I had originally intended. Where I had thought myself to be a mother who could take off for a weekend at some point, the longest I've ever been away from my son so far has been while I'm attending a birth. I felt ready at 3 months to start taking a 3 hour watercolor class. Not because I loved watercolor, but because I needed somewhere quiet to go. I would leave a bottle of pumped milk with my husband and pick up a cafe au lait and a pastry and sit for 3 hours in a room of adults (!) and listen to music and paint. There were some weeks when this was a major highlight. It was my time away and I could focus on Megan as a person, instead of only Megan as a mother. I never felt guilty, I allowed myself this, because I knew it was important. I came back feeling refreshed and able to be a better mother.
I think allowing ourselves to change our minds or to alter our parenting path is a major issue for many women. We know how much pressure we place on ourselves and on each other. There is judgment surrounding every facet of pregnancy, birth, and parenting. And why? For what? We’re only doing ourselves an injustice by putting all these rules and expectations in place. It’s the same thing I tell my clients in preparation for birth- you can prepare, and know your preferences, and then from there just - let it go-! You can’t know what hand you’ll be dealt, you can only know how you’ll deal with it when the moment comes around. Go with what feels right for you. Don’t be lead by guilt or someone else’s expectations. Be flexible, and know that sometimes what comes naturally might not be what you expected.
If you have experience that you’d like to share I’d love to hear them! Was there something that surprised you about the postpartum period? In what ways do you feel you parent in an authentic way?