When our Pregnant Bodies Fail Us

My sister phoned me a few weeks ago: she was almost 40 weeks pregnant and her cervix was not doing what it is supposed to do in terms of inducing labour. Her amniotic fluid levels were dangerously low and her placenta was calcifying – this baby needed to be welcomed into the world. R felt guilty and she was stressed – why was her body not doing what it was supposed to do? Why was it failing? She felt as though her only job at this point in her journey through motherhood was to safely deliver her unborn baby and she was unable to do so.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I, at 29 weeks pregnant, am sitting across from my gynaecologist, telling her about the period-like cramps and low lying pelvic pressure I have been feeling. I am worried, as during my previous pregnancy I was admitted to hospital at 34 weeks for threatening pre-term labour. The Dr checks my cervix and it is thinning – my body does not seem to want to carry babies full term and I feel as though I am failing my unborn son. In a panic, I immediately think of Bean – he is nowhere near ready to have me ‘missing’ from his life for the next couple of weeks and how will my husband manage him, the household and work the hours he does? I am put on medication, get administered steroid injections for the baby and have to be admitted to hospital for a few days. Needless to say, I am ordered bed rest (which is not so easy with a 2-year-old).

I now need to heed my own advice so easily given over the phone to my sister: do not feel guilty (there is nothing you can do about it), do not panic and, most importantly, trust. Trust the doctors as they know what they are doing, trust your family to be there for you and trust that everything will be OK.

Isn’t that what life is all about? It throws curve balls when you least expect it and you need to simply put those big girl panties on and deal with it. No amount of worry, or complaining, or crying is going to make it better. Parenting is hard and sometimes it’s hard even before the baby is born, but all we can do about it is to put up our hair, have that cup of decaf coffee, get on with it and hope for the best. No amount of guilt is going to make anything better.

Yes, I am overwhelmed and scared and yes, I am worried: for my sensitive and gentle Bean and how he will deal with my absence and for my little baby who is still way too small to be thrust into this world. But, I have faith and I realise that life would not throw something at me I cannot handle. We, as mothers, as parents, are stronger than we realise.

I will not let this failing body of mine define me or my journey through parenthood.

Overcoming Separation Anxiety on the First Day of School

I am sitting in my car outside Bean’s Kindergarten and I am crying. Ugly crying: my eyes are swollen shut and red; my body is convulsing in sobs and I am wailing. It’s not a pretty sight and far from the happy vision I had about my Bean’s first day of nursery school. I have just dropped him off and he cried, a lot, clinging onto me for dear life; clinging on so tight that the teacher had to wrench him away from me so that I could leave. My heart is now in a million little pieces, heavy with guilt and worry.

The next couple of hours drag and I cannot wait to head back to the school to see whether he is ok (in fact, the thought does cross my mind to find a spot outside the school where I can sit and watch him, undetected, lurking in the shadows). Once back home I am met with an empty shell – the echo of Bean’s happy chatter replaced with silence. I wander through the empty rooms, packing away his unused toys, wondering where the time has gone – it seems like I blinked and now he is 2 and ready for school. I worry: is he ok? Did I send him to school too soon? Maybe he was not bored at home after all?  I feel out of control, not knowing what he is doing every second of the day, not knowing whether he needs me; whether he is smiling or crying.

The reality is that he is growing up (his very last molar is even growing) and young as he is, he is starting to find his own path in life. He is recognising like-minded kids to be friends with, he knows which activities he likes and dislikes and although he still very much needs me, he is trying to figure out how the world works on his own.

I realise that I am suffering from as much separation anxiety as he is and that I need to find a way back to myself (as a person, not just a mom), as much as he needs to find his feet in the world. Later, when I finally get to fetch Bean, I find him happily playing in the sandpit with the other kids. He is excited to see me, and he is ok. In fact, he is having fun.

He will go on to cry when I drop him off every day (not because he does not like the school, but because I am not there with him, which makes him feel vulnerable) and that is normal. His whole world (his daily routine and his caregiver) has changed, after all. To combat this, I tell him about all the exciting things he will do at school,  I try not to linger when I drop him off and I always tell him exactly when I will be back to fetch him.

And as for me, I try to be brave and I try not to let my fears and separation anxiety spill over onto him. I am also starting to really enjoy the free time, to do things like go to the hairdresser or having coffee in a non-child-friendly coffee shop (I had forgotten these places even existed). This new-found freedom is actually quite exciting.

A Second Pregnancy: The Good and The Bad

The pregnancy test is sitting on our bathroom counter and although I try to ignore it while it is ‘thinking’, I cannot help but stare at the screen in anticipation. Finally, the result is in and instead of the expected ‘Not Pregnant’ sign, the result is positive. Elation, joy and gratitude all wash over me as I call for my husband to come to the bathroom QUICKLY! Then, as he walks in with our almost two-year-old in tow, I feel a surge of panic and guilt.

Unlike my first pregnancy, which was mostly characterised by an almost naive joyful anticipation, I am overwhelmed by feelings of guilt toward our first born (how could I share my love and devotion toward him with any other being?), guilt toward this unborn little miracle growing in my belly and the utter fear of having another baby, another newborn to contend with. Although most people say you forget how hard those first couple of months with a new baby can be, I remember them all too clearly.

It is as if this second pregnancy is simply less important, less of a milestone than the first. People seem less enthusiastic, less eager to find out how I am (it’s not like I haven’t been through this before, right?) and, at the same time, I am a lot less fussed, often forgetting exactly how far along I am, not obsessively checking how big the baby is every waking moment of every day and simply moving on with life (I still have a two-year-old who needs my full attention after all).

It makes me feel like I am somehow depriving both my kids of the complete attention and total love which they deserve because I now will have to be shared.

And yet, at the same time, I often catch myself lovingly stroking my growing belly, waiting in excited awe for another small little kick as I sit and play with Bean. I might not be as rough and tumble as I once was with him but I do still shower him with admiration, love, discipline and devotion. Things are changing, but change is not always a bad thing – soon Bean will have a little brother who hopefully will become his lifelong friend and ally. Our family will grow and instead of sharing the love we already have; our love and hearts will grow and expand to include this new life.

When the fear of another (unknown) newborn phase grips my heart, I try to focus on the good: that unmistakable baby smell, that first smile, the tiny little hands and feet, those special baby cuddles, and I get gleefully excited. I envision how gentle and loving my big-hearted and kind Bean will be toward his new brother, how our new little fire will grow up with love and admiration in his eyes as he follows his older brother around the room. I smile as I think of sibling fights, followed by love and laughter and I want to literally jump for joy when I think of our chaotic and busy family life, those busy little toddler and baby legs keeping my husband and me on our toes.

Of course, there will be hard times, added financial stresses, there will too many things to do at once and we will be tired, but as any parent knows, the good will definitely outweigh the bad. It will be ok. It might actually be wonderful.

The Power of Words

One of the best things about being a parent is that there simply is no time to worry about your own insecurities and how the world perceives you. You just have to envision that almost cliché image of a young mother, toddler in hand and a baby on the hip, with spit up on her shirt, her messy hair in a bun and those tell-tale dark circles under her eyes, getting into her car to go to the shops or to do the morning school run, to realise that she is simply past caring what people think about her. And that is amazing!

It is amazing because at some stage we all need to grow up and we all need to face our inner demons and simply move on and the best time to do this is when you become a parent. Although parents do of course still battle with issues of insecurity, it no longer haunts their every action as they now have bigger issues to deal with (how to prevent your child from living with said insecurities for example). I mean, who wants to project all these issues onto their children, right? So, instead of focusing on how the world perceives us, we, as parents, rather spend the little bit of spare energy we have, to focus on how we can better ourselves for our children so that we can become the best example to them.

Being a blogger, my world is made up of words. I love words and beautiful phrases and when I experience a strong emotion (whether good or bad) or a fun and exciting adventure, words float around in my head, waiting to be written down. I am therefore extremely sensitive to, and aware of, the power of words and how they can influence those around us.

The one way (and there are many) in which I am trying to better myself is to try and use a vocabulary made up of only positive words. I am not talking about sugar coating or manipulating a difficult situation or a hard truth (these need to be dealt with as directly and truthfully as possible), I am talking about substituting those negative words and phrases which we all use in our daily lives, such as ‘stupid mistake’, ‘dumb’, ‘you better love me or else…’ with positive words and phrases like ‘you are so clever, this was just a silly mistake’ or ‘I love you because of …’.

Think back to a time when someone close to you asked you in anger ‘why do you ask such dumb questions?’ and think about how that made you feel. Think about that time when someone said, ‘if you act like that, no-one will love you’ and remember the hurt that these words imparted on you. Now imagine being the one to cause that hurt in your loved ones, or your children (who will have these words thundering in their heads until they grow up when they will hopefully learn to move on and let go of the insecurities we helped create).

If there is one thing I wish we could change in our world, it would be to just forget that words like ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ (to name just a few) even existed – that everybody’s vocabulary consisted solely of beautiful, kind and strong words, such as ‘brave’, ‘intelligent’, ‘compassionate’, ‘wonder’ and ‘peace’, words which lighten the soul and brighten a heart.

My little Bean just turned two, and he is talking a mile a minute, soaking up every single word and phrase he hears and although we have made some parrot-toddler mistakes (read ‘Oh Shit!’) I am trying my best to feed his thirst for words with a positive vocabulary – because his happy, positive chatter is like food to my soul.

Dear reader, I challenge you to do the same. Think about the words and phrases you use on a daily basis and consider their connotations and how they might influence others. Let’s make our world, our perception of ourselves and our influence on others better, positive and simply wonderful.

 

The Day My Life Stood Still

Written by: Guest Writer

“Wake up Pascalle! Wake up!” That is all I remember in that moment – those seconds which felt like hours. I felt like I was in a movie – you know the part when the actress gets world crushing news and the camera zooms in on her face and the background blurs, as if the life around her is collapsing? That is how I felt as I sat on the toilet, staring down at the blood soaked toilet paper I was clutching in my hand. Just staring at it – and mentally yelling at myself to wake up.

I was 7 weeks pregnant.

In that moment, I knew. This is the beginning of the end.

Getting myself to my gynae is a blur, but I remember scrutinising my gynae’s face as she did the scan whilst I bled on her bed. I remember jumping from her face to the screen – trying to figure out what was happening, even though I knew in my gut. “We need to do blood tests to check your HcG levels – you may be too early to show a heartbeat.” I knew that too was a cover – I was over 7 weeks. Heart beats can be seen as early as 5, and there was nothing on the screen. I was laying in the hospital bed when she came to see me. “I am afraid it isn’t good news”, she said. My levels had dropped by over 10 000 in less than 2 weeks and a DNC was necessary given that I had started to miscarry.

1 in 4. That’s what all the articles say. Well – I am the 1 in 4. The 1. Why couldn’t I be the other 3? What have I done that is so bad in my life to be the 1? Why would God give me this child for 7 weeks – and then snatch it away? Had I done something wrong, eaten something? Drunk something? Maybe I shouldn’t have cleaned the kitchen cupboard the night before. What does this mean for me now – what would people think? Was it a boy or a girl? Would I now need to endure the torment of sympathy from others who had no idea what was happening to me? Would my husband look at me and see me as a broken woman who couldn’t carry a child?

People would say “Everything happens for a reason.” “Rather it happen now than later on.” “God does these things to test us.” “Don’t worry – you will have another one.” “Don’t let this define you.” “You need to carry on – life has to go on.”

It was and still is relentless. All I wanted to do was punch them in the face and tell them to piss off and leave me alone. Because the thing is, those who have never lost a child don’t know. No matter how old. No matter born or unborn. No matter 7 weeks or stillborn. It was my child. My baby. And I was its mother – and I couldn’t protect it from what was happening. It was out of my control.

I tried to seek solace in blogs by other moms – but there was something “off”. The hidden raw truth. The things that no one wants to say. The reality of it all. So here goes my version. This is what I know.

1. Cry

Cry, by God just cry. Who do you need to hold it together for? You have just lost your child. A child you never knew and never got see grow up. A child that held a future and was taken too soon. Cry. Cry when people are looking and when they are not. Just cry. I read a quote that resonated with me. It goes: “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give by cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

2. Write

People said journal. So I did and it helped a bit. But what helped more was writing to my baby. I wrote letters within days filled with tears and apologies and love. Letters telling my Peanut to ask God to tell him/her all about me and Daddy. And to ask Papa to show him/her how to make his coconut ice. When I told people this they looked at me like it was unhealthy – and this brings me to my next point.

3. Screw other people

This is your process. Your time. Your loss. People will try to get you to grieve and move on at a pace that makes them feel comfortable – but it will not work. Do things your way. Grieve your way. And stop trying to be strong for other people so that they don’t feel uncomfortable around you. This is happening and it is a real thing, and if people can’t handle witnessing it – then they need to buzz off until they can.

4. Remember your husband

This was shocking to me. As a mother, people hug you. Ask you if you are okay. Buy you flowers. Sit at your bedside. Wipe your tears. And all the while, there he stands quietly in the corner. Looking at you and you see it in his eyes. He is broken too. His world is shattered too. He has also lost his child. Remember your husband. You need to allow him his turn to grieve – you need to make sure everyone knows that he too is devastated. He deserves just as much attention and sympathy as you do. And this will no doubt be one of the bad times you spoke to in your vows. This will test your marriage. Just make sure you remember him too – two is better than one when facing a life-altering trauma.

5. Make peace with God

I was mad. And when I say mad – I was swearing at God. Telling Him that this was IT. I was done with Him and His way and His Truth. “Put your faith in God.” That was the most important thing I learnt growing up as a Catholic. And I did and NOW look! I hated Him and in those dark days after – I swore to never pray or go to church again. And then, a few days later I was writing to the Peanut and was so worried about where he/she was and I had this overwhelming sense of peace. Like as if He was saying: “The Peanut is with me.” And that’s the thing – faith. It’s a wonderful and treacherous thing at the same time. You just have to have faith that God has a bigger plan – and He gave you this because He knows your soul, and He knows that you can and will endure. Then being the 1 in 4 seemed like an opportunity. As if He had given me this path for a reason and He knew I could handle being the 1. I have made peace with God – and whatever it takes, you need to do this too – in your own way. And sometimes it is hard – I still question Him on bad days, but life is hard enough without having to hate the one Supreme Being.

Maybe I will have a baby one day. Maybe I will be blessed enough to hold my child and look into bright healthy eyes. Count the ten fingers and ten toes. Peer over a cot with worry to make sure my baby is still drawing breath. Panic when they bump their head or when their temperature sky rockets.

I guess that’s the message. Life. We take it for granted. We assume it won’t happen to us. We assume our baby will be fine. We assume we have one more chance. We assume we will see our loved ones again. We assume all the time.

To the other moms who have never experienced this (and I pray you never will) do the rest of us a favour? Kiss your child one extra time tonight. Hold them a little longer when you give them that hug. Appreciate the tantrums and screaming and cheekiness that boils your blood. Count the ten fingers and toes. Breathe and remember you are lucky to be the 3 in 4. Do this for the rest of us, until we can do it ourselves.

My Special ‘The Usual’ Mother’s Day

If there is one word which sums up life with a toddler, it is the word ‘repetition’: the continuous words of admonishment (‘don’t touch that’, ‘it’s hot’, ‘get down from there’), the almost constant wiping up of spills and cleaning up of messes and the ever-repetitive cycle of ‘silence-crying-consoling’ because the said words of admonishment have once again fallen on deaf ears (‘what does mom know anyway, right? I mean, how hot can that heater really be?’).

And yet, in between this draining repetition, there are moments of pure ingenuity. Moments of surprise in which I stare at our son with wonder and laughter. The moment when Bean decided that it was a good idea to unpack all of, and I mean ALL of, my unused plastic packets in order to create a blanket, for example, or the moment he decided to take my basting brush, dip it into the water lying in one of our vases and to then clean the table, or the moment when he grabbed a ‘poon’ (spoon) from the drawer to fix his toys (‘I fitsin, mom!’).

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Bean and his plastic-packet-blanket

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His workshop is ready, now all we need is his ‘screwdriver-spoon’

Last year marked my first ever Mother’s Day and I had high (ok, very high), expectations of this day. I imagined that it would be nothing short of fireworks, rosy cheeks and laughter. The reality was, of course, a little different: although I did get the gift and the cup of coffee in bed, it was just another day. Because nappies still need to be changed, kids can be difficult and yes, I am not the only mother in the world deserving special attention (shocker!).

So, this year, I decided to focus on the moments of ingenuity, magic and wonder, to embrace the usual, to relish in the every-day things of being a mom. Because, that’s what I am: a mom to an energetic, challenging and kind little bundle of toddler-love. Today, I am thankful to be called ‘mom’, I will change those nappies with joy and I will repeat words of love as often as I repeat everything else.

Yes, today is just another day, and it is wonderful.

Happy Mother’s Day!

3 Daily Must-Have Conversations with your Child

‘The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice’ is a powerful quote which has been popping up on my newsfeed a lot lately. It is so powerful (and so popular) because it is, of course, true. I briefly touched on this subject in one of my previous posts on discipline (read it here) when I mentioned what I had been told by an educator during one of the moms and baby classes I had attended. Namely, that children under the age of five cannot form an opinion about themselves and instead internalise their caregivers’ opinions. Once they have the ability to form an opinion of themselves, they use these internalised views as their main reference point.

It is because of this that I have started having three daily conversations with my Bean, based on principles I would like him to internalise. These are values which I believe will help him to face life’s countless challenges, to become successful and to be a good person.

Although our conversations at the moment are fairly one-sided and usually consist of me talking and explaining while Bean throws in the odd word (or the occasional ‘hmmmmm’), I am laying the groundwork for future conversations to come.  Instead of simply telling him, ‘you are thoughtful’, for example, I try and find examples in our everyday lives which showed him acting thoughtful, and I have a conversation about that moment and why it is so important.

  1. You are Intelligent

I have met countless people who act unintelligent when in fact they are not. Whether they do this because they really believe that they are not smart or whether they feel insecure in the presence of other intelligent people, I do not know. I, however, want Bean to be secure in the knowledge that he is intelligent, that he is strong and that he can achieve whatever he sets his mind to. He must be confident in his own ability and not self-sabotage his achievements because of self-doubt.

  1. You are Brave

Whether it is climbing onto a new jungle gym as a child or investing his time and money into a new business venture as an adult, I want him to be brave. Yes, life is risky and life can be scary, but no one gets anywhere without taking a risk or making that difficult decision to change something in one’s life, to explore and grow, to learn a new skill.  I want Bean to know that it is ok to be scared, but that he must trust in his ability and that he must be brave.

  1. You are Kind

The world would be a better place if we were all just a little bit kinder. I want to teach Bean to have an open heart and an open mind, I want him to believe in the goodness of others (without being gullible) and I want him to treat others with compassion.

Life can be hard and sometimes we need to be hard because of it, but this does not mean we have to be mean or judgemental. A little bit of kindness goes a long way. The German word for ‘kindness’ is ‘liebenswürdig’ and directly translated it means ‘worthy of love’. When we are kind, we are giving love and, in turn, are becoming worthy of it.

As parents, we need to take care of our children’s emotional needs as much as their physical needs, and that includes giving them the confidence, together with a sound value-driven reference system,  to face and deal with the difficulties which are inevitably going to cross their paths.

What important conversations are you having with your kids?

The Moments that take my Breath Away

Last week I wrote a post about the bad days I experience as a mom (read it here), and in it I mentioned that no matter how hard a specific bad day is, the good days always outweigh the bad ones. Today I want to focus on the really good moments of being a mom: the moments which take my breath away, the moments of happiness and pride, the moments when my heart is so full I do not know what to do with all this love, the moments of pure gratitude and the moments which highlight the importance of my role as a mom.

It is these moments which lead to days when, after I put Bean down to sleep, all I want to do is wake him back up again so that I can see his smile one more time before I go to bed. Days which are filled with little achievements and simple joys which overshadow the big moments I previously thought so important. Days when I forget about all the things that need to get done and become a child again – our joint laughter filling the house with life and love.

Here is my collection of heart-warming moments:

  • When Bean grabs my hand as he falls asleep, holding it tightly against his chest.
  • When I try put him down and he wraps his little legs around my waist like a monkey, refusing to be let go.
  • When he crawls into my lap for a cuddle.
  • When he calls me simply to smile at me.
  • When I pick him up and he rests his head on my shoulder, his hands enveloping my neck.
  • When he spontaneously decides to give me a kiss.
  • When pride emanates out of his face like a ray of sunshine when he shows off a new skill
  • When he hears the garage door open and excitedly whispers, ‘Daddy?’, his eyes alive with excitement and hope.
  • When he makes up his own words like ‘meam’, a combination of ‘mess’ and ‘clean’.
  • When he runs instead of walking, a cloud of happiness and wonder surrounding his entire being.
  • When he gets down on his haunches before he runs off as if to say, ‘ready or not, I am coming!’
  • When he says, ‘bye’ with an excited little wave to whomever it is we happen to pass, without any judgement or preconceived ideas about who that person might be.
  • When he goes up to children he has never met before and gives them a big kiss.

To me these moments epitomise the beauty of childhood, of a unique character developing and the special bond between parent and child.

If you are having a bad day, dear reader, I encourage you to make a list just like mine. Not only will it make you realise how blessed you are to be a parent, it will immortalise these moments which we tend to forget all too easily.

Mom, be kinder to yourself!

Bean is sitting in his high chair staring at me with an obstinate glint is his eyes, his mouth shut, as I try to give him a spoonful of food. He swings his arm, batting the spoon away and the food goes everywhere. Before I can even think about what has happened my emotions get the better of me and I scream: ‘EAT THIS NOW!’. To Bean I must look like an angry bear in slow motion, jowls shaking, spit flying out of my mouth with balls of pure fury where my eyes normally sit. I have lost it.

Almost immediately a wave of dread washes over me. This has not been a good day.

Since becoming a mom, I have had a few of these bad days. Days where the silence at home and the lack of mental stimulation allows my mind to throw flashes of past mistakes, deeply buried away, into the forefront of my daily thoughts. Days when these memories consume my entire being with guilt and self-loathing. Days of frustration and boredom as I watch Bean build yet another tower, while I reminisce of past adventures. Days when I feel my self-worth slowly slipping away, my only real role being mom and wife.

Nobody tells you about these days. Nobody talks about their self-doubt, their heart broken into a thousand pieces when they get angry or frustrated with their children, the guilt that weighs heavily on their souls as they go on another business trip, or when they finally do something for themselves.

And we should talk about it – we all have bad days. It’s normal. We have all made mistakes in the past – without them we would not be who we are today. What really matters is how we move on from these days, how we work through the negativity and how we, as we work through these issues, become better parents and in so doing, become better versions of ourselves.

Although there are bad days, these are outweighed by good ones and I know that I am a good mom. I know that I do my best to be the best for Bean. So, for this year, my resolution is to be kinder to myself, to let go of the guilt, to let go of the negativity and self-doubt and to let go of judgement (of myself and others).

I am not a perfect parent, and that’s OK.