When the oxygen mask drops: Why as mothers we need to sometimes put ourselves first.

My first days as a mother were challenging to say the least.  My son was unable to breastfeed, and in fact, did not attach for the first time until he was 4 weeks old.  Because of this I basically spent that entire first-month feeding,  sadly I’m not exaggerating as much as you would think.

I was advised to feed him every 2 hours so I would try to breastfeed for about half an hour, feed him milk I had previously expressed for half an hour, and then I’d express milk for his next feed, this took around half an hour as well.  Every 2-hour block, I would get around half an hour to myself, or to do non-feeding things.  I thought I was going to lose my mind.

Things did get easier, we eventually established breastfeeding, and life went on.  But I was a mother now, and everything I did reflected that; the clothes I wore, the books I read, and the people I now socialised with.  My life had changed forever and I just went with the flow, trying to do the best that I could.

No longer could I just go out on a whim, every outing needed a mammoth effort.  I had to pack a nappy bag with extras of everything ‘just in case’.  I had to make sure it wasn’t his nap time or feeding time so he was in the right mood.  Even if I planned and timed everything to perfection and was finally on my way out of the door, I would often be met with the sudden stench of poo, which typically would be the result of a poosplosion which required a bath and complete change of clothes.

Beyond the practicalities was the mental load.  Was I a good enough mother?  Should I use cloth or disposable nappies?   When should I start solids?  What foods should I give?  How should I discipline? The questions and concerns never end.

Just when I thought I had it all worked out and starting to gain in confidence I arrived at the next phase, the next challenge and it started all over again.  And when the craziness that is motherhood became my new norm I discovered I was expecting another addition, as if the chaos that has was my life wasn’t enough.  But I loved it and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Those early days were like a blur.  The days became weeks, the weeks became months, and the months became years.  Somewhere along the line, I came to a scary realisation. In my attempts to be the best mother I could be, I realised that I no longer knew who I was.  In my effort to dedicate myself to my children, I realised that I was losing myself.  I didn’t quite know what to do about it, but I did know that if something didn’t change soon I was going to burn out and that wasn’t going to be good for anybody.

So I started thinking of myself and making decisions that in my mind were selfish.  I bought myself a nice new camera and took up photography.  I toyed with the idea of starting my own business.  I took time regularly to just relax and do nothing.  I started putting myself first.

All of a sudden that pre-flight safety demonstration that had perplexed me so much as a teenager made sense. In case of an emergency, the instruction is to put an oxygen mask on yourself before tending to your children.  It took me so long to understand this.  After all, what kind of a mother would put her needs in front of the needs of her children?

A good mother. A mother who takes care of her needs first will be there for her children when they need her.  In an emergency situation, a mother who takes care of her needs first will be conscious and able to better assist her children in case of an emergency. In our day to day lives, a mother who takes care of her needs first will be happy and energised, better able to nurture her children.

So the next time you put your needs of yourself in front of those of your children, do not let the mama guilt prevail.  Remember that by taking care of your needs you are better able to take care of your children. Just make sure you put your needs first when the oxygen masks come down, maybe not so much when the food trays come out.  But sometimes, when they’re not looking, that’s ok too.

 

 

After the darkness

Earlier this year, when I had my baby, I went through what was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life. My pregnancy was high risk and my birth, a c-section under general anaesthetic, was in complete contrast to all my other births. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there, and without going into too much detail my baby ended up in ICU after breathing difficulties. It was one thing after another and I was just embracing each hurdle that came my way because, the way I saw it, I had little choice.  But when one of the doctors witnessed a suppressed cough, suspected pneumonia, and I was told that I could no longer visit my baby, I was at breaking point.

I remember laying there, the nurse trying to insert yet another cannula, my arm by this point resembling a pin cushion, tears streaming down my face. I was in hospital, I was in excruciating pain, and I could barely move. I had no recollection of giving birth, I was only with my baby for a few hours before he was whisked away, and although I would go down and visit him for his feeds the pain made it difficult to stay long. To make matters worse the painkillers were messing with my head and when away I could barely remember what he looked like.  And then the last straw – being told I could no longer see him.

It turned out that I didn’t have pneumonia after all.  The doctor panicked after hearing my cough, but I was fine and I was free to see my baby.  My baby was fine as well, all the tests came back negative, and his breathing episode was not due to an infection, probably a combination of being born by c-section, being early, and a side effect of the strong painkillers I was taken.  After jumping over a few more hurdles I was able to have him by my side again and after just under a week at the hospital, I was finally able to come home.

As the weeks went by my hospital stay haunted me, and when I would think back about that time I would more often than not feel tears welling up in my eyes. Sometimes I would wonder if I was ok.  I had gone through a difficult period and I think it’s normal to feel saddened by it, but occasionally I would wonder if maybe I would need some help to get through it all.  I just decided to keep an eye on it, and it appears that time does indeed all wounds – at least to some extent.

About 6 months after his birth I was speaking to a friend about it, I told her about some of the difficulties I went through, and then I added: “in a way, I’m kind of glad it happened, it helped me to realise what people go through”.  As soon as the words left me I realised it was a bit of a strange thing to say.  I mean who is glad to face hardship?  Who reflects back at the most difficult time in their life with some satisfaction.  But I also realised that it was true, a part of me did find something positive in the experience.  It was puzzling.

Then one day, a couple of weeks later, I found the answer.  I was reading ‘The Conscious Parent’ by Shefale Tsabary, and I came across a paragraph that explained my unusual feelings.  Tsabary writes:

 

When you experience everything as a potential teacher, you embrace anything life sends your way.  You cease either being at war with life when it presents you with a challenge, or being in love with it when it treats you kindly.  Rather, you see both the dark and the light as opportunities for becoming a more conscious human being.

 

This dark time in my life was humbling.  It showed me the fragility of life, it helped me to understand what others go through at difficult times, and it allowed me to realise how blessed I truly am. Just like a butterfly struggling to squeeze through its cocoon, this dark time in my life nurtured something in me which was not there before.

So from now on, whenever life throws me a curve ball I will try to remember this experience. I will strive to remember that with every hardship there is the opportunity for growth.  Instead of wishing it away, I will endeavour to recognise that maybe an experience that I would never choose for myself is exactly what I need to teach me exactly what I need to learn.  Maybe it is only after the darkness that we can regenerate.  And maybe it is only with adversity that we can truly flourish.

 

 

Achievement During Our Struggles

During the early days after giving birth to my last baby, I was struggling a little. I don’t have lots of energy at the best of time, but my inability to do anything at this time was particularly difficult. Debilitated by a c-section and time-consuming feeding issues with my baby there was not much that I could do.  I decided to focus on what I could do and used my time to start reading some self-help books.  The plan was to get myself motivated so that when I did regain my time and health I’d make better use of them and hopefully get on top of it all.

The first book I picked up was Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins. One part, in particular, asked the reader to reflect on the past ten years of their lives.  It wasn’t really about the reflection, and it quickly went on to direct readers to plan ahead for the next decade, but nonetheless, it had an immense impact on my perception of what I have achieved. I’ve never been one to feel like a failure, but the truth is I’ve never felt particularly successful either. However, looking back on the past 10 years caused me to view things in a different light.

Without delving too far into my personal achievements the past 10 years have been busy, to say the least.  I completed a post-graduate degree, worked and had three babies.  I raised happy, healthy children while educating other people’s children, before going on to homeschooling one of my own. I breastfed and cleaned, taxied and washed, all the while juggling various roles.  Did I do them perfectly? No.  Could I have done more? Probably.  But I am human, I get tired and need rest.  And like many other mamas, I thrive on some quiet downtime after the kids are all in bed.  I put my feet up, indulge in a guilty treat, and then inevitably regret it amid my blurry-eyed mornings.

During this time I felt I was struggling, some of the time I felt like I was drowning. I always felt I wasn’t doing enough. I was neglecting so many things. My house was a mess more often than I’d like to admit, and I was ridden with guilt over all the things I thought I should have been doing but wasn’t able to, either physically or mentally – usually both. Looking back on these past ten years, and despite my regrets, it made me realise, to my amazement, that I actually did quite well. Despite my feelings of guilt, it helped me to recognise that even though my house didn’t look like a display home, that’s okay. I am not superwoman….really, what more could I expect from myself? Despite my daily struggles and thinking it was never good enough, it made me understand that over the past ten years that I have really achieved a lot.

I’m not writing this to boast, my achievements were not exceptional and pale in comparison to the accomplishments of many others.  I just wanted to share that as individuals, and especially as mothers, we all face daily struggles, feelings of self-doubt and the overwhelming belief that we are not doing enough. It’s really useful to just take a step back and think about what we have achieved over the past 5 or 10 years. And it doesn’t have to be a degree, work history, or something that society values.  Seeing our children grow into the delightful individuals that they are is more than enough. We need to stop focusing on what we are not achieving and start focusing on what we are achieving.