I am a Mum. That still feels weird to say. Did I ever see myself as a mother? Not really. I’m still figuring out who this new me is. What I’ve discovered so far is that I still struggle to be home, just living. Needless to say, the baby and I go on lots of walks and we find little tasks to do, because ticking those boxes helps.
However, hello, personal evolution – sometimes with a baby you can’t get anything done (all parents cast a knowing look). Very quickly, I have had to learn that days can be completely unproductive and that’s okay.
I read something poetic the other day that the cellular life of our baby girls begins in our mother’s womb – a grandmother carrying the cells that will eventually become her granddaughter. Poetry aside, becoming a mother is going to be a slow evolution. Deciding what kind of mother I want to be, a new path to explore.
I won’t lie. I do have a sense of feeling like I’ve ‘done my duty’ and ‘done it all’. A feeling that I am railing against. What I mean by that is; I had a baby, and I have a successful career. I’ve ticked the feminist and capitalist boxes whilst maintaining the patriarchy! Vomit. I’m pushing hard against this sense that I’ve completed life, because I honestly don’t believe that any of these decisions make you a better or more worthy person. They are just choices. Extending your family is just a choice. I want my child to be defined by her attributes – being kind, smart, brave, and a strong individual who knows her own values. I don’t want her defined by box ticking. Likewise I don’t want to be defined by titles such as ‘working mum’. The things I’ve achieved don’t define who I am as a person.
I’ve always despised the idea that kids bring meaning to your life. You can have a meaningful life without kids! Having a baby wasn’t part of feeling ‘complete’ for me. I felt like a complete adult human beforehand. I wanted to have kids once I knew who I was as a person and what values I wanted to set for my world. I get to be a parent in a respectful partnership with my husband who shares my values. The recognition in myself that I was finally in the right place in my life to have a child made me excited to have a kid for the first time. Now, I just want to give her the world.
I’ve already spoken about how I felt there was a considerable ‘deadline’ applied to women. I really felt that pressure. I felt like I was too old to have kids and I was putting my baby and myself at risk, because that’s what they tell you once you’re 35. Side note – that works for the patriarchy, right? Having women step out to have a baby right in that sweet spot between graduation and that first step up to management. Retention is so bad because so many women step away at critical career moments, because they are either too scared to leave babies too late, or that don’t want to be perceived as an ‘old Mum’. Or they themselves consider being an older Mum distasteful, because you are meant to be young and fun as a Mum (or at least that’s what social media tells us).
The only actual reality is that our eggs are a finite resource. The longer we leave having kids, the more action we need to take to protect that resource. And honestly, this is something that is completely under-recognised by society, businesses and our discourse on retention. Let’s widen a family’s fertility options. Support women to widen their options and maybe more women will actually have a chance at making it to senior management. Let’s talk to women and set up the right policies and support systems to give them the flexibility to plan a family without impacting their career and finances.
Falling pregnant whilst working in a construction company is a very interesting experience. Our industry’s social culture is predicated on a drinking culture that is both brilliantly fun and woefully terrible for inclusivity. I think it’s great that we go out and enjoy ourselves, which is really important, but there is always this inherent danger that we lose the ability to create safe and inclusive spaces. Our culture is particularly exclusionary if you don’t want to drink or you don’t like drinking a lot. Or you are pregnant, or trying! We are putting our head in the sand if we don’t understand that the drinking culture makes women particularly vulnerable – both in terms of safety and inclusivity. It’s a really tough game to play.
The feminist in me found pregnancy pretty frustrating. An announcement of pregnancy comes with an immediate and often unconscious judgment, bias, and sadly also criticism. Our identity instantly shifts, because ‘mother’ has a very fixed perception in people’s minds. Suddenly, people feel free, based on their own judgment and biases, to give you their unfiltered opinion and advice on what you should and shouldn’t do. It is bizarre.
Judgment is often weaponised to force us to make decisions which may not necessarily be the best for us. Take breastfeeding; we should breastfeed because it’s better for the child’s health, but don’t breastfeed in public because breasts are shameful and for men’s sexual pleasure only. Then there is weight-gain; you need to consume a certain amount of extra calories in each trimester. But don’t put on too much weight because that’s also bad for the baby’s health and will impact how fast you can ‘bounce back’. Ladies! Didn’t you know that you should look like a supermodel six weeks postpartum? Average Jane (without a celebrity bank account) is expected to somehow work out 5 times a week to get her figure back. Forget about genes and how they impact your pregnancy and size, you need to fit into your jeans asap!
The second trimester, everyone tells you this is where you feel amazing. I was so disappointed to find that I felt rubbish. I stopped doing a full ballet class. My pelvis was in so much pain and my iron levels fell off a cliff. I started to really get a bump. I just felt shit all the time and working twelve hour days six or seven days a week was beyond incapacitating.
I traveled for work in Europe at 26 weeks pregnant. Traveling for work is always a wonderful whirlwind of fatigue and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Walking around sites in London made me feel really fortunate that I was based at head office for the last part of my pregnancy, because my body did not cope with the step count of a day on site. I did not expect how much my body would change. So used to being so capable – reduced to this somewhat waddling mess that could barely walk up the street. Pregnancy makes you realize how much you’ve got to take care of your body and actually slow down. I was ginormous by the end of my second trimester.
I thought the third trimester would go really quickly but I was wrong. January was extremely long and boring. My body drastically changed. Until 39 weeks I was able to do a ballet barre. By 40 weeks, I was limping on my short daily walks.
The whole concept of a ‘due date’ is so archaic and so stupid. We have all these statistics about the likelihood of a first pregnancy coming within a certain range of time and yet they just give you a singular date when they could give you a statistical likelihood of the baby coming within each week once you reach full term. It made me feel such irrational rage, through those last weeks. Waiting for this baby to come. Hanging my hope on a date. It was the worst period of the whole pregnancy. Rolling over in bed was so much pain. My body, so distended and heavy. Stretch marks appeared daily, which killed me mentally. Everything just was horrible and torturous.
SHOULD I BABY MOON?
We went on a baby moon and I highly recommend that to anyone – both as a breather and for your mental preparation. Traveling when you’re pregnant, you really can’t do what you’re used to doing, so if you are one of those adventure loving people who want to hike every day just forget about that and just think about sitting around the pool, eating lots of good food, longingly looking at the glasses of wine around you. A mocktail is a great make-believe.
I get the whole idea that childbirth is a natural thing, but birth is such a trauma, regardless of whether it goes well or not so well. A trauma to our minds that are rewired to cope with the care of a child, the trauma to our bodies as they distend and grow, then shrink and produce milk. A trauma to our partners who see us go through this crazy experience, then often feel helpless to assist with the things that only our bodies can do. I think in general we don’t talk enough about our birth stories and birth trauma. I honestly don’t think my experience is all that different to many first births, but you don’t necessarily know that until you have been inducted into the ‘club’. You see, once you are in the ‘club’ you are inundated with war stories of your fellow mothers. But beforehand – a cone of silence covers the reality of birth.
For me, always surrounding myself with the stories of women, it feels counterintuitive to not speak about our experiences around birth more openly. My impression is there is a tendency not to want to scare other women off, or not to want to martyr oneself and just keep the trauma to ourselves. My labour was far worse than I imagined, but on the bright side the sudden course change to an emergency C-section, was so much better than expected thanks to the wonderful care of the staff at The Royal Women’s Hospital. High fives for great public health!
My postpartum experience was, by chance, horrendous. No one prepared me for that. When I was in hospital for the third time after giving birth, my Mum, profound and sage, struck me with this statement; ‘…when did we stop treating childbirth like a massive trauma and start pretending it’s no big deal and that women can just pop out a baby and get on with life?’ Bang! Look at how recently in our history women would routinely die in childbirth. Birthing a child is the biggest thing your body will ever do. To treat it as anything less is to disregard and devalue the immense emotional, physical, psychological and social changes that women go through to bring children into the world.
No one really talked to me about potentially having a cesarean. I knew that was a possibility, but no one really said ‘hi, this could happen and if that’s the case you’re going to go have a c-section’. No one told me anything about secondary postpartum hemorrhaging. Maybe it was there in the reading material I was given, or on the websites that I went to, but I don’t feel like I learned anything about it in my pregnancy, and what was about to come was unexpected and I was very under prepared for it.
I ended up with four occasions of postpartum hemorrhaging, three of which landed me back in the hospital. The last one I lost half my blood volume had three blood transfusions, and surgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I was flooded with guilt – did I bring this on us for having a baby so late in life? There was a point where a hysterectomy was a real option. I just thought I was going to walk out of pregnancy and three weeks later be back to doing some exercise. It was 11 weeks out before I felt like I was really back doing some post-recovery exercise. And through it all, you’re raising a newborn. For weeks after having Maia I was so scared and anxious that I was going to wake up bleeding again that I couldn’t sleep. Ironically Maia has been a great sleeper from day one. Maybe some good karma for what I went through postpartum.
A child isn’t spoiled if you hold them all day. Conversely, a child crying doesn’t need to be immediately picked up – they can build resilience. People who give you advice on any of these parenting choices can be ignored. You will find what works for you and that is great parenting.
Now, I’m really enjoying my time with Maia every day. I am keeping a baby alive. Keeping your baby entertained and happy is bloody hard. Babies change really rapidly. You’ve just gotta go with the flow. Sometimes you can get out the door and you are able to meet someone at 9 AM for a coffee, on some days it’s a challenge to get out before midday because some problem has befallen us. Her smiles in the morning make me so happy. All these little tiny moments where she learns new skills are so exciting to watch.
THE RETURN TO WORK
Oh, and whether you should or shouldn’t return to work. What a hot topic. Forget that it is now near impossible to have a mortgage in a single income household, if I have one more person react with confusion or distaste when I say I’m not taking parental leave for a whole year, I may explode. Suddenly taking ‘a year off’ has become the default acceptable time out of the workforce to avoid mum guilt or adverse opinions about whether you are fit to be a mother. I’m over it. Parents need to find what works for the family unit and that is no one else’s business.
The thought of going back to work right now is crushing. I wish I could just stay home with my baby, (which is the opposite of what I thought I would be like). Economically there’s no way I can stay home. A small part of me however, is excited that going back to work will bring a little bit of the ‘normal’ Danielle back to mix with the new and evolving Mother Danielle. The part of me that loves working and loves my job, will fill her cup and that’s going to make me an even better mother for Maia.
I think of how hard my dad worked after close to 50 years in the construction industry and I think I need to really find the right balance for our family when I return to work. I’ve always known that we obviously need to find a better balance for everyone because how we work now is so unsustainable, but I now truly experience how hard people have it to try and balance family and work. It was easier when it was just me and my partner Kyle. And that’s the next challenge.
Until next time. D