Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking seriously about the direction of this blog. I’ve blogged mainly about bullet journalling and planning for nearly three years, and I feel as though I’ve said and shared as much as I can about the topic. It’s a hot topic at the moment – just search Instagram or Pinterest and your brain explodes with a plethora of inspirations. I’ve seen many spins and reincarnations of my bullet journalling ideas through the burgeoning community and I’ve accepted the fact that credit isn’t always given where credit is due in the world of internet ideas, so I take solace in knowing that my ideas have been documented here in the archives to be found in the annals of time.
I’ve been asked to share pregnancy planning ideas, and although I’ve done this sparingly here, I just don’t have the heart to share any more. To be honest, I don’t have a laundry list of pregnancy related things I need to do or organise. In some ways, I feel unprepared for my daughter’s arrival, but in other respects, I feel like I have everything under control even though it may seem like I haven’t done much. Not micro-managing this aspect of my life has actually been what’s controlled my anxiety, and helped me enjoy the last few months of my pregnancy. In saying that, I thought I’d post some thoughts on my impeding parenthood. This feels like a natural progression for me as an aside to my regular posts.
This is a very personal blog post, something completely different from the planning, blogging, handwriting and Etsy-related posts you normally see here. I’m sharing these thoughts with the hope that it’s met with some sensitivity, little backlash and hurtful comments, and the hope that there are others out there who may relate and who find it difficult to find a voice to share their thoughts. My goal here is not to offend anyone, these are simply some thoughts from a new mother – raw and real – whether you agree with them or not, is not the point. We’re all mature people here, and as a person baring their soul on an extremely judgmental forum with the intention of raising awareness, respect can go a long way, so please think before you comment.
Roles and responsibilities
I’ve had a few months to begin to accept that my life is about to be changed in this amazing way – we’ve made another human being, and she’s going to be changing and shaping our lives in ways that I can’t possibly dream about, but have opened our hearts to accept. We’ve wanted children for years now, and it’s only been in the last few years that our circumstances have allowed us to start trying. We’ve travelled the world, established careers, bought a house, and become financially viable to support a dependent. We’ve had conversations in passing and during many lazy morning coffees about what kinds of parents we want to be for our child. These aren’t expectations as such, but what we aspire to be as parents centred around some shared core values. What stands out is that we both want to have an active role in parenting our children.
Too many times I’ve seen family and friends where there is one parent who seems to be holding everything together and has the primary parenting role. I remember growing up I would ask Mum one thing and Dad would give me a completely different answer. I’ve had friends who’ve told me that they wouldn’t trust leaving their kids with their husband to go out on a girls’ night because they know the house will be totally chaotic when they get home, and their kids will be jumping off the walls after being given sugary treats or junk food. I’m not judging them, but I often wonder why the responsibilities have to be so different between a mother and father, and that we hold different standards for both – that somehow, being a mother makes you more equipped to be the better parent. My dearest friend, Lisa, wrote about her experiences of this on her blog that just resonated with me when I read it. On a side note, she also has some amazing recipes and mummy-related goodness on her blog =)
So what does it mean to be have an active role in parenting? To us, it means sharing and experiencing being parents together, having open lines of communication, and enjoying everything this little one has to offer! Our values as two individuals and as a couple, are values we would like to develop and support in our children, so why should the responsibility lie in just one part of family?
“This is what’s best for your child…”: the unsolicited, but inevitable advice
The moment I told those I wanted to know about my pregnancy or even strangers in public, the unsolicited, but inevitable advice started. I know that it’s by no means any scare tactic or preaching tirade on the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ of parenthood. This is how we connect with others – by shared experiences, so of course we naturally want to give advice, sometimes, by no fault of anyone, it can cause more harm than good. I’ve grown to accept this over time, as I’m sure I’ll get the judgmental faces in public of how I raise my children. Oh, come on, ‘sif you haven’t quietly judged a parent before when she/he couldn’t control their screaming child in public – we’ve all done it, maybe I’m the only one with the balls to admit it =P We live and abide by social rules and norms, that’s how we go about our days.
Out of all the solicited/unsolicited advice in the last nine months, the main topic that gets raised all the time is vaccinations. Our plan at the moment, is that we only have immediate family as visitors to the hospital, with other family members and friends visiting after 6 weeks when we’ve settled at home. Even then, our immediate family have been asked to get whooping cough boosters, and if they are at all sick to please not even come in for a visit. I know this doesn’t stop strangers in the hospital from doing the same thing, but it’s about harm minimisation than close-fisted policing. We can’t (and shouldn’t have to) please everyone, so I can understand why some don’t understand where we’re coming from, but in the same respect, I hope they understand where we’re coming from.
On vaccinations, the law here in Australia is that your child care options can be affected if your child’s immunisation isn’t up to date. All child care centres ask for your child’s immunisation record, which, in my opinion, is a fantastic idea! I have heard and experienced first hand of the tragic effects of not vaccinating your child, more so than vaccinating your child. I work with clients who choose not to vaccinate their children, and I work with clients who also choose not to follow-up on my recommendations – it’s about choice, and every parent has this important decision on behalf of their children. Our view as soon-to-be parents, is that so long as we’re given the information we can make an informed choice that will benefit our child. Whatever your position on this topic, will it benefit your child based on all the information provided to you? No-one can predict the future, but again, harm minimisation may be the better option.
Body image, diet and eating
For many years, I’ve struggled with being under weight for my height and age. This might seem like an absolute cop out for those out there who are struggling with losing weight, but putting on weight has always been something that’s worried me. After several medical tests, there’s nothing pathological in my blood tests or diagnostics, I just have a really high metabolism, and because I enjoy staying fit, the weight I do have is healthy weight. I’ve had every comment in the world thrown at me – “You look anorexic!”, “You need to eat a burger!”, “You’re rake thin, how are you still living?” – these aren’t necessarily conducive to a positive self-image either. I also had a GP several years ago who told me that I would have difficulties having children if I didn’t reach a certain BMI – I was 2% below the average range!!
When we started trying for a child, I had reached the peak of my fitness. I was eating well, exercising 3-4 times a week, feeling physically strong and confident about myself. When we found out that we were expecting, I continued my fitness regime until the modifications in my training just weren’t suitable for where I was at in my pregnancy. So I sought out pregnancy-specific fitness programs, and have stuck to this up until the latter part of my third trimester. This has really helped me with decreased swelling, less pelvic pain as baby grows, and has allowed me to work for longer.
So why do people find the need to comment that I have a small belly? For the record, medical professionals that I’ve seen have stated that the size of your child will be proportional to yours and your partner’s size and weight – so if you and your partner are small, you’ll have a proportionally smaller baby, and same goes the other way. Every pregnancy is different for every woman, so why do we have to be so judgmental about each other?
Parental wellbeing (mental health)
I’ve mentioned a few times about how I’ve been a strong advocate for mental health for many years now, and pregnancy or parental wellbeing is a topic that I don’t think gets nearly enough attention. Sure there are heaps of support networks for postnatal depression, but I found it difficult to find anything on supporting soon-to-be parents. One major hurdle for me after finding out I was pregnant was the change in my identity.
I am, first and foremost, a professional – I take pride in what I do as a speech-language pathologist. This is the identity that I’m strongly attached to, because, dagnamit, I worked hard to get through university with top marks in my academic and clinical work, and I’ve made massive differences in the language and literacy outcomes of the schools I service. And I will toot my horn because I’ve been offered so many different jobs elsewhere for my services, yet I choose to stay in a lower paying government job, because I know that my professional impact is greater. This is what has allowed me to provide a stable environment for my finances and now for supporting another human being.
A secondary identity, is my creative self. This ‘creative self’ encompasses everything from my interests in sketching and handlettering, to reading books, to knitting/crocheting, to journalling, and of course being a blogger. This is the side I indulge in when I have time, and this is the side that I sometimes feel will feel the biggest impact when the baby comes. This ‘creative self’ allows me to be, well, me. With the academic and scientific off to one side, my ‘creative self’ allows me to think freely and just makes me happy.
It’s strange that I can somehow accept that my professional life can be put on hold but not my ‘creative self’. I guess, I feel secure about my professional identity because I know it’ll be there when I’m ready to return to work. My ‘creative self’ is dynamic and has always been with me, so I feel a sense of responsibility to honour it as much as I can when the baby comes, and I’ve grown to accept that I can also share my ‘creative self’ with her.
Throughout my pregnancy, I’ve recorded ‘Pregnancy Highlights’ in my bullet journal. These are just three points from the week that really stood out, and it’s a point of reflection on the positives of pregnancy. I’ve also knitted a couple of cardigans and a beanie for her, and just recently I started a baby journal (as inspired by here). Throughout the day, I’ve logged different events and notes that have occurred, sort of like a logbook of rapid logging. I’ve also incorporated a ‘Ta-Da” list or ‘Things I Did Today” list (as inspired here), which brings a smile to my face every time I read back on it. I didn’t notice until recently, how much of this is actually becoming part of my new identity as parent, and as a mother willing to share her own identity with her daughter.
I was recommended this book a few months ago, and to be honest, it really hit home for me. I love the practicality of its advice and the techniques that were mentioned in it, I’m still practicing today. The book is based around ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and I’m not here to plug it, but it’s really refreshing to find something that works for me. Some of its principles are based on cognitive-behavioural therapy and some on mindfulness techniques.
Another important aspect of parental wellbeing is that of Dads – they’re also going through these changes, and there are certainly some good resources out there. M (my husband) and I talk about the changes that will happen with us on a regular basis, and the resounding feeling is that we’re both excited and so ready to meet her and build a relationship with her.
Social media and the infant
This has been a topic that regularly comes up in conversation between M and I, especially when a new photo is published on Facebook or Instagram of something baby-related. We’re not huge fans of using social media to showcase what’s going on in our lives. We didn’t even make an official announcement anywhere on social media, and my pregnancy announcement on my other blog was merely in passing – even this was met with some contention, but was justified because it related to my planning needs, and the fact that my blog and Etsy store will be affected by my venture into parenthood. Here are the reasons why we didn’t and won’t in future be publishing anything related to our children:
- How many friends do you actually talk to on a regular basis on Facebook? I can honestly tell you, besides my immediate family, I can name only three. The rest are acquaintances, friends of friends, etc., and why do they have to know about your children? I know there are privacy settings you can put in place, but this doesn’t stop friends/family posting on their walls and having strangers (to us) see pictures of our children. Call me paranoid, but this is just not cool in my books. I work with children on a daily basis, but I don’t publish pictures of the cute things they do, because under my contract, that’s a breach of privacy – why do parents not have that same tacit liberty when it comes to friends/family posting pictures of their kids on their walls?
- My child isn’t old enough, nor does she have the cognitive capacity to make the decision of having her life published on the Internet. Sure, you can argue that I can give parental consent on their behalf, but I’m not comfortable with the idea that later on down the track, she could potentially have strangers recognising her from pictures published by someone else. I don’t know what the future holds for our kids in terms of social media, but we’re limiting these potential avenues that could harm them in any way.
- It’s none of anyone’s business! I’m a digital migrant, so I knew what life was like before we were all so connected and driven entirely by how many ‘likes’ we get on social media (there, I said it, the inner cynic has finally come out!). If there was big news to be announced, we picked up the phone and called our friends. We didn’t publish it online, nor did we share embarrassing pictures of ourselves on a public forum. Good lord, I’m so glad I could burn those negatives of some of the awful inebriated nights in my early twenties, but I digress! I initially signed up to social media forums (ten years ago!) to stay in touch with friends and family whilst we were travelling overseas, and I also loved sharing pictures of food. I’ve slowly come to the realisation that it’s just not for me anymore. I enjoy blogging about bullet journalling and planning and whatnot because it serves a purpose for the community – what purpose do I have in publishing news about my life apart from people wanting to be nosy?
You can judge me all you like, call me hypocrite, etc., but when it comes to our children, I reserve the right as a parent to do whatever the fuck it takes to protect them.
As we come closer to her delivery date, we’re being asked questions about whether we’re going to announce her arrival on social media, and whether family members can publish status updates that there’s a new addition to the family. The jury is still out, but I know where I stand, it’s just difficult to please everyone, when really this is about her.
I’ve come up with an alternative of creating baby’s own email address after she’s born so that family and friends can send her pictures and memories without having to publish it to the world. I personally think this is a wonderful alternative because it’s driven by making a personal connection with her rather than a public show. When she’s old enough, she can read through these emails and relish in the memories of how family and close friends remembered her in her younger years.
Miscarriage and loss
I’ve left this topic last, and I know it’s a heavy one, but I feel like a lot of my views and values thus far have been coloured with my experiences around miscarriage and loss.
Before this current pregnancy, I had a miscarriage, and this was after months of trying to conceive. I still remember what I was doing the exact time I knew something wasn’t right. M and I were binge watching ‘Game of Thrones’ and whilst Jon Snow was being stabbed to death (sorry to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched it =P), I was losing my child. It felt a lot like a thousand daggers were rushing through my abdomen and lower back, and later that afternoon it was confirmed at the GP appointment that I had lost the baby. What actually followed after this was far more scarring than dealing with the fact that I had lost a child.
Now before I get a vilified by anyone working in the health system, I want to state on the outset that what happened with me is only an illustration of a small minority of people. Unfortunately, in a world where we’re becoming increasingly demanding and where the smallest irrational act is magnified in a social domain, the worst or least flattering parts of humanity are what stand out the most in highly emotional situations.
I’ve worked in customer service in one way or another in the last twenty years, and no matter how fucked up your day is going, upholding professionalism is what you needed to not get fired. But it was also a means of recentering yourself and reclaiming your emotions. In my opinion, customer service isn’t just a specialised area for those working in call centres or retail, this skill extends to EVERY job, and it’s the one skill that marked great importance to me when I was recruiting potential employees. I won’t go into the philosophy of customer service, but just know that this is what can truly affect someone’s experience and interaction with another human being.
At two in the morning, following the afternoon I had my miscarriage, M rushed me to A&E (Accident and Emergency, or Emergency Room) because I was experiencing extreme abdominal pain. For whatever reason, whenever I think about this situation, there was information that I wasn’t made aware of, and processes that were unclear – basically, miscommunication, or lack thereof, because frankly, you only know what you know, and I had never had a miscarriage, nor was I fully informed of after effects, nor did I know what questions to ask. In hindsight, both parties could have done better to support communication lines rather than exercise their own power (read: knowledge) in the social exchange. As a speech-language pathologist, I specialise in communication, but as a patron of health services, I have a right to be treated with dignity, respect, and not some idiot who should know better. Again, I digress…
So here we were in A&E, and I get it, doctors and nurses have it hard, especially when you’re working crappy hours, and then you have to deal with potentially abusive and emotional patients in emergency. I’ve worked in A&E before and witnessed some brilliant hospital staff, and there were times when I was mesmerised by how calm they all were despite being spat on, or verbally abused – they were like a calm flock of swans gently descending in to save a person from danger and potential death. I was always a bystander in these situations, called in when the patients were in a calmer state, so the worst that ever happened to me was being told to “fuck off” while I tried to assess any damage to their speech, language or swallowing. In saying all of this, I had expectations of being treated with some level of respect, because I just assumed that with all the signs (on every corner, every pillar, every message board) reading that hospital staff would not tolerate any physical or verbal abuse from patients, I’d at least get the same courtesy being a patient. I wasn’t physically or verbally abused, but I left A&E after waiting for five hours to be seen by a douchebag doctor feeling like the people I trusted my health with were telling me that I wasted their time coming for symptoms that could’ve been treated with ibuprofen at home. He didn’t seem to care that it was my first miscarriage, or that it felt like my insides were being ripped apart by burning steel jaws, or that I hadn’t stopped bleeding. All he did was tell me I was “obviously having a miscarriage, you know this, so why’d you come to A&E?” (me thinking: Because, you dick, this is where the Emergency 000 advisor told me to go to get checked out), and “we don’t have obstetric services in this hospital, you should’ve gone to…” (me thinking: So you’re gonna palm me off because you don’t know how to treat me?), and “here’s some pain medication, take these when you get home”. I felt like nobody was actually listening to what I had to say, and nobody gave a shit that I had just lost a child. It took everything – literally, my soul – to not want to yell colourful profanities at this guy, not to mention my husband trying to contain himself from doing the same thing (and he’s an even keeled kind of guy). Sure this doctor must’ve been having a bad day, but mate, a little kindness would’ve gone a long way that night. Instead he sent home a 33-year-old reduced to a 4-year-old child experiencing her first bad fall, balling her eyes out, and wanting to be comforted by someone who actually gave a shit.
When I reflect on this experience, I’m still haunted by the feelings of being belittled, my experiences as a first-time mother shattered by lifeless callous words from trusted professionals because of miscommunication. Miscommunication happens, in part, because of lack of information, but a skilled communicator is able to rectify this by asking the right questions – in a tactful way. There’s also usually one person in an exchange who takes this role to clarify information, so this dynamic shift should really be met with some level of understanding and empathy.
I had a second experience at A&E, but at a different public hospital system, with this current pregnancy. We followed the same process as last time and the Emergency 000 advisor told us the same thing – go to the hospital. I had fears, anxiety, and I was a hot mess in the car driving there – I was six months pregnant, I had gotten this far, I was determined through sheer might and will that nothing can go possibly wrong with my child! When we arrived, the staff were immediately different, calmer, friendlier, and more accommodating, so I was primed into this false sense of security. The wait time was only an hour, but this time I was treated by a midwife, who seemed like she was ready to retire some twenty years ago. What gave me this impression – well, she stood outside the waiting room just staring at me as if I was meant to know, by some Jedi mind trick, that she was there to escort me to my room and treat me for my symptoms. I finally asked her if she was there for me, and she said, “Well come on then!” When we got to my room, the barrage of questions began with why I had come to this hospital when I was already admitted at a private one (me thinking: again, nobody had told me what the process was, and again, first-time mother, I didn’t need to be told, AGAIN, what I was NOT doing right!), and that her job was going to be difficult because they had no records of my pregnancy and she had to fill in paperwork (me thinking: isn’t this part of your job, to get the information you need to treat EVERY patient without judgment or prejudice?). Again, M was there by my side, trying not to unleash some form of verbal abuse at her, and he could tell that I was growing more and more upset every minute this midwife was telling me what I should’ve done instead of being where I was. Under the emotional duress of the situation, I sat there like a limp trout out of water, and just took it.
I’m writing about these experiences not to place blame on anyone or illustrate a poor public health system. I’m writing about these experiences to raise awareness of the lack of empathy and compassion we all seem to have in times of stress and anxiety, and that it shouldn’t be left to one person to bare the burden of overcoming these feelings. I’m still dealing with these experiences on an emotional level as I come closer to my delivery date, and some of you might wonder why and some of you might understand. As a first-time mother, you don’t know what to expect, and this is uncharted territory for me. Give me a child who has feeding problems, and I can give you some advice. Give me a child who has speech or language problems, and I can give you advice. This is my field of expertise, so I treat my clients with respect, empathy, and provide them with as much information as I can gauge they are capable of accepting in order for them to make an informed choice about any decisions they’ll make. I’ve never delivered a child, and this is my first time carrying a child to full term – I’m going to have the ‘stupid’ questions to ask you, I’m going to worry about what’s happening, I’m going to want to know everything that could go wrong so I have a contingency plan to my contingency plan. I want to know that the health professionals, who have my best interest at heart, also actually actively listen to what I’m saying, and not just brush it off like it’s a “first-time mother” worry. I only know what I know, so I have to trust that I’ll be in safe and compassionate hands.
If you’ve come this far, I want to say thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on parenthood. Despite this being somewhat emotionally-heavy to read, I hope you understand that what I’m trying to do here is raise awareness rather than create backlash from a community. This is just one soon-to-be parent’s thoughts on parenthood, not a reflection of anyone else. I care for my child, the world that she’s going to grow up in, the experiences we’re going to go through together, and raising awareness and challenging mainstream thought is what ignites change of thinking and practices.