Motherhood expectations: career

I’m interested in writing essays on expectations but I am conscious of how the topic has been covered by so many writers. I read ‘The Year of Yes’ by Shona Rhimes recently and found her refreshing viewpoint resonated with my changing views about motherhood. My aunt gave me a copy of a book called ‘The Stay at Home Martyr’ which initially bristled my feathers but upon reflection, I recognised her good intentions. I don’t feel like a martyr but then again, I could identify with a lot of the points of the author.

My generation (borderline X and Y) were brought up to believe that you can have it all as a woman. You can have the career and the baby, travel and be successful, have money and volunteer to help the needy. The reality is so far from the truth.

As a couple we have found our way financially in terms of home ownership and have a good start on a lot of people our age – but our house is filled with second-hand furniture, mostly things I’ve picked up on eBay for just a few dollars. Our clothes, kitchenware and artworks are almost exclusively from op-shops. There is nothing wrong with this, and of course there is a certain creativity to it, but sometimes I visit a friends house and see a beautiful Marimekko wall hanging and I start to dream…

wall-hangings-13

But of course, most things are like demand and supply, yin and yang; you can’t have one without the other. Because I don’t have beautiful and expensive things, I have less debt. But it is hard, I’d really like to buy a caravan or go on more holidays but we just can’t afford it. But luckily, I can afford to work very little and rely on Centrelink at this stage of my life – when working with a child who is so up and down, and in and out of childcare, so that is a wonderful situation to be in.

But at the end of the day, while Ben excels in his university course, I am playing the role of mother, stay at home parent, homemaker. Not a role I see myself playing permanently. One way of balancing my need to use my brain is through my blog and I also do a bit of volunteer work for the reflux association we are a part of – http://www.reflux.org.au.

Longer term I do see myself working again amongst co-workers, talking and laughing and setting plans and having deadlines. The endless days as a mother blend into one and provide a feeling of never accomplishing anything. It is that exact feeling that is so dangerous. As a mother, you are accomplishing something every second, of every day. You are keeping someone else, or multiple someone elses alive. Little, tiny or not so little and tiny, humans that need your love, support, to be fed, clothed and cuddled, holding hands and singing songs, walking to ease them into slumber or cuddling and feeding at 2am.

But for the generation who were raised to have endless choices of career, to be encourage to attend university, to work in corporate offices that are so focused on sales targets and promotions, to slow down to the snail pace of a baby or toddler is so jarring.

Women of my generation now have the choice of what type of mother to be; a stay at home, crafty and domestic goddess (which is essentially impossible anyway, especially with a refluxer), to work from home (another difficult choice), or a blend of everything. If you have the funds, hiring a cleaner can provide more time for other things; such as playing with your child, or pursuing a hobby while they nap (if they nap!).

But it’s not at all a bad thing to admit that you are not fulfilled 100% by being a mother. Some say that motherhood is a full-time job, others don’t want to define it as a job. Shona Rhimes says being a mother is “who she is”. She doesn’t see it as a job – she writes hit television shows for a job. But others see motherhood as the only job that matters. I’m not sure what I think; I just know that for me to be happy, I want a balance of brain usage and time with my son. Back to playing for now…

Expectations

If you are following along from home you are probably seeing a trend to my thoughts and rambling. Thanks for reading by the way…

For reasons that are vast, personal and difficult sometimes to discuss, I am as an adult very tied to the concept of expectations. Sometimes expectations are helpful, but a lot of the time, they are not.

From the moment a woman reaches an accepted age to have children, society places an inordinate number of expecations upon them.

  • You must want to have children
  • You will feel joy when you have children
  • Children complete your world
  • A family is made of husband / partner and children

We know from the way society has changed in just the past 60 years that the dynamics of families vary greatly.

With these expecations and societal pressures has come for some women a set of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ in themselves which usually results in a strong sense of guilt or anxiety. It’s very easy to see that a lot of mothers feel they are not “doing” motherhood well enough. I use the verb “doing” because it’s not enough to just ‘be’ a mother, you have to also ‘do’ all the right things.

From generation to generation, the accepted parenting practices that are generally adopted by families have changed. When I was a child, there was more of an emphasis on formula feeding, a lack of information around a child’s personality and a lack of parenting education.

Now, due to the Internet, there is a wealth of information at ones fingertips. While this can be helpful, and should make us all feel well informed, it’s all too common to see that many women feel completely unable to decide on a parenting style. In fact, the superhighway of information has elevated motherhood to an unattainable level of achievement.

Dr Regev, a psychologist and family therapist says:

The Myth of Motherhood is our society’s notion that a woman achieves her uttermost fulfillment as a woman by being a mother and, as such, should always be happy and strong. It places an unrealistic expectation on mothers to be fully functional and happy, to be a Super Mom, if you like, despite exhaustion, lack of support or isolation, let alone depressed mood. In fact, many people cannot understand how a mother could be depressed; after all, she has achieved her ultimate calling in life…

I’ve decided to do a series of blog posts on expectations following on from the topic of baby sleep a few days ago.

Coming up I will talk about my own experiences with expectations and how they relate to career, family, marriage, friendships and more.

Saying no

I am getting so much better at saying no. It requires a lot of effort for such a simple two letter word. I don’t want to be busy, I don’t feel any need to adhere to anyone elses expectations of how my life should be. I’m not a mirror to anyone elses life, and I don’t have to explain my life. 

I don’t want to be busy. I don’t want to attend events I’m not interested in. I don’t want to be around people who make me sad, anxious or judge or not support me. 

I do want to be around real people, people i can talk to, who cares. They know who they are. I love the idea of saying no to things. It’s not rude, it’s self preservation and we are all entitled to it. Be gone obligation.

Parenthood and expectations of sleep

Every parent wants to sleep more, there is no doubt that parenthood involves less sleep that being a freestyling pre-parent person. But for most, there is a linear progression from newborn sleep, to baby sleep to toddler sleep. Lots of parents have second children and got through it again, and possibly more times if they dare to have more than two children.

However, some of us end up going in the opposite direction, starting off with newborn sleep, and it somehow getting worse. How can my 16 month old sleep worse than a newborn? I know, it’s fairly ridiculous. One of the key symptoms of GORD, or gasto-ospheogeal reflux disease, is catnapping and disturbed nighttime sleep or extreme night waking.

What I have found through one whole year of waking on average 1-2 hourly is that the only way to make it easier is to surrender. I have and it is well acknowledged by doctors too, a high needs baby. Some babies are easy to manage and others are harder. Of course parents also affect the outcome by their own management style but in our case, with the ongoing medical issues, and Ripley’s persistent personality and extremely strong attachment to us, he is not a “good sleeper”.

The word ‘good’ to describe a child or their behaviour is plain wrong. A child is neither good or bad, a child just is. Of all my reading on parenting, what has really resonated with me is that children come into this world with their own personality and as a parent, it is my job to nurture the child, not to mould them. I don’t believe in the forceful learning of manners and alphabets.

What I do believe in is simple. Becoming a parent was a choice I made, it is a privilege especially in a wealthy country such as Australia where we have so much choice, opportunity and freedom. I believe my child should grow up to be empathetic to others, should pursue a life of their own choosing, should not necessarily follow in my footsteps but I do hope they strive for simplicity, to be kind to others, to eschew society’s expectations. While I’m still a work in progress, and will be until the day I die, my child is not an extension of me, he is himself.

By choosing to see my child in that light, I am freer to just let the lack of sleep be. While it’s difficult as sometimes I’m so tired I can’t think straight, I know that I’m choosing the right path for us. Sometimes when I see or hear friends or strangers talking about controlled crying, or complaining about their child not sleeping, and having to force them or train them, it is hard not to comment. But what I’ve learnt is that everyone’s journey in parenting is different. Not everyone chooses to take the other path, preferring the well-trodden path lit up by friends, grandparents and popular baby books.

While we try to make everything in this world fit around us, mother nature will always try to take back control, ultimately in charge of the cycle of life and thus the cycle of baby sleep.

The aftermath; grief and loss

I have to admit that before Ripley was born I didn’t truly understand grief and loss. Of course I’d experienced things in life that left me suffering with grief; the loss of a pet, breakup with a boyfriend, loss of my beautiful Nan. But these situations the grief doesn’t compound as much with memories or time. Of course, there have been many moments where I’ve wished my Nan were around to meet Ripley, or that she’d been there when I got married. But the outcome of her death was natural, it wasn’t totally the wrong time; it just was.

This article really helped me to see how important it was for the processing of grief and loss to be a part of my world right now.

But Ripley’s birth, his near-death experience and long stay in the NICU and SCN, left a permanent mark on my heart of grief and loss. I can never have my first child again, I can never have a room filled with flowers, lots of cards and visitors, share a chubby faced photo – none of those things can ever happen again for my first child. That step into motherhood is known to be a jarring experience for many, but when it doesn’t match society’s narrative then how does it feel?

This part in particular resonated deeply:

When you see a pregnant woman striding down the street, clearly weeks later in her pregnancy than you were able to carry. When you peruse Facebook announcements proudly proclaiming beautiful chubby sweet infants that were delivered without issue. When you have to opt out of a holiday party because it’s RSV season and the prospect of your baby getting sick is too much of a fear to be able to attend it without intense anxiety. When you think back to those initial moments you were able to spend time with your baby, and shudder to think that you weren’t able to hold them to your chest, or sometimes, touch them at all. The fears you once held about changing their diapers, disturbing one of the wires attached to them, or their breathing equipment. The feelings associated with having to ask permission to touch them. Having your parenting on display in a hospital unit, as opposed to being the very private experience you had imagined it would be. When you hit your estimated due date, and gaze upon your baby, who’s been on the outside for awhile, laying in their incubator at the NICU. When you start experiencing anxiety and panic, as opposed to joy, as you approach their first birthday, and the memories of what their first days and weeks were like flare up and become vivid again.

I’ve had to take a break from social media and the groups I’m a part of as recently an acquaintance had a baby whose experience mimicked ours, at first. She had to be induced, the baby was small, probably sick, etc etc. But the baby didn’t require help breathing, could room in with the mother, the mother only went home when baby was ready and despite needing a bit of help getting feeding going, they were both fine.

It’s hard not to feel that life is so incredibly unfair. What did I do to deserve a baby who was so unwell he spent 4 weeks in hospital. Why did I have to go through all that – trekking back and forth from the hospital to home for the last three weeks. Why did I have to decide how and when to tell people, manage the incessant requests of some family members. Why did I have to wake up in the middle of the night to pump when I could have just been waking up to the cry of a newborn. Why did I have to miss out on all those flowers. It’s so symbolic, the flowers, but it’s an expression of joy and happiness. And my world just didn’t include that.

Now I started to process it all, went home eventually with a healthy child, but it wasn’t long before we began to experience more issues. Most people glaze over when you tell them how tough it is, but those who have experienced GORD themselves know just how difficult it is. The sleepless nights, the screaming, the lack of food, the constant breastfeeding, the forcing of medicines in syringes. Then the consequences of medicines including food refusal, chronic constipation. Needing probiotics. Then on top of it all, the tongue and lip ties, the obstructive sleep apnoea, the croup, the colds, the bumps on the head. It all becomes too much sometimes and the processing of grief comes to a sudden halt.

But eventually the processing has to resume; no one can tell me when. Will it hit me like a freight train or will it trickle like a stream? No one knows, no one can guess. I’m alone again with my thoughts, like I was in the NICU. The beeping of machines replaced with the humming of the heater and the silence of the house while the toddler sleeps. I can only hope its a trickle because the freight train might knock me down and I might not be able to pick myself back up.