Maiden, Mother, Crone

As I approach that big 4-0 milestone, I find myself more and more drawn to older women as mentors and role models. Over the past few years, I’ve been spending time with women in their 60’s and 70’s and have loved learning at their feet as it were. Our culture glorifies youth and beauty but working in the world of birth, it has become clear to me that there is so much to learn from those who are older and wiser. It might take just four or five years to scale the corporate ladder and become a “manager”, but a good midwife or doula is literally in training her entire life as she learns from colleagues, clients and the babies in her care.

I was thinking about the transition from maiden to mother to crone/wise woman and I realised that all of the older women that I admire, while very different, have some interesting things in common:

They are all physically active and present in their bodies

My yoga teacher is almost 80, and has such an incredible body. Some of my mentors swim, some hike, some dance, but all of them honour their bodies with movement.

They laugh – often

Let’s face it, getting older can bring with it a fair share of aches and pains, and other less physical issues such as loneliness, but these wonderful women never harp on and on about their blood pressure or medication. They joke and moan, and move on.

They have suffered

Once, I went to see a perky counselor, fresh out of university. I took one look at her perfect skin and bouncing ponytail and knew that we were done. It is very difficult to have much empathy and wisdom to share when you yourself have no life experience. Life scars us all, and when I hear the stories that older women tell, I value the knowledge that it is possible to suffer, and to survive; to weep, and then one day, to laugh again.

They help others 

Each of my role models is, in their own way, a healer and a helper. I know for sure that this is where I want to be at their age. Helping others, touching lives, being kind.

They enjoy life

Passion is so beautiful in someone of any age, but especially in older people. There is nothing sadder than a retiree whose whole life was dedicated to their company, to the exclusion of any other hobbies or interests. My mentors are all passionate about something – their gardens, their horses, their art. Oh, and all of them enjoy their food. They eat beautifully but certainly enjoy their red wine, chocolate and coffee from time to time.

I am still finding my way (aren’t we all) but I so value my circle of wise women who have shown me that life can still be full and rich, beyond this busy season of intense motherhood.

If you’re interested in the archetypes I’ve mentioned, there is a lot more information on the internet. There is a third female archetype – wild woman/enchantress – which is also fascinating to read about.

Sacred

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Do you feel it? The mother feels it, for sure, her gaze on mine holds a wisdom beyond her years. The baby senses it too – they always do. Caught between two worlds, cradled in the capable hands of the doctor, he is silent. Not yet crying, but alert, eyes open in wonder. The father – he’s busy fiddling with his phone, something’s wrong with the camera; I don’t think he felt it. The theatre staff are chatting amongst themselves. They’re oblivious. But I feel it in every muscle and in every pore; this time, this place, right here; it’s sacred. Just for a second, god is near, and the veil between the seen and the unseen is very thin.

As a childbirth educator, I sometimes feel that everything we teach, and nothing we teach, matters. The rational, degreed, researcher in me loves facts and evidence and science. And the facts are clear – natural, vaginal birth at full term, without interventions, is best in almost every case for mother and baby. Delayed cord clamping, skin to skin contact, and full term breastfeeding results in the best outcomes for the baby. And the effects are not short-term, they last for life.

But that, that is the physical world. There is something else, something that seems to transcend the type or place of birth, that is even more important. Birth is a spiritual and emotional event; it carries cosmic energy that is hard to explain unless you’ve felt it yourself. And so it saddens me when mothers and birthkeepers treat birth as a list to be ticked: unmedicated, tick; waterbirth, tick; no forced pushing, tick; optimal cord clamping, tick! And yet, that mother, the one who ticked all the boxes, comes to me with feelings of loss and grief over her birth. Because the physical is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m still learning from birthworkers much more experienced and wise than myself, observing, and refining my own birth values and philosophies but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that those who do not see the sacredness of birth, see nothing at all.

Photo Credit: The Photo Forest

The things we say

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The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic. But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. One edge is the misuse of the word, which creates a living hell…Your word is pure magic, and misuse of your word is black magic.

The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

– Gosh, you’re huge, are you carrying triplets??

– All the girls in our family have difficult labours, I honestly don’t know why you’re even going for a natural birth.

– Hmm, you’re only 2cm, you’ve got a very long way to go, Mommy!

– There’s no need to be a hero you know, why don’t I call the anesthetist and get you set up with an epidural?

– I don’t like my moms to be in labour for more than 12 hours I’m afraid, so I’m calling a c-section.

– Look at this hungry baby, it’s a pity but some moms just don’t have enough milk. 

– All MY babies slept through the night from six weeks old; it’s all about being relaxed, they pick up on your tension you see.

Or:

– Ah you’re just glowing. How are you doing?

– You’re strong and determined, and I can’t see any reason why you can’t have the birth you want.

– Wow, you are doing so well! I’ll leave you in peace to relax and enjoy your labour.

– I know you’re tired, but you have made such progress. You’ll have your baby in your arms soon enough.

– You are giving your baby the best possible nourishment, well done! Can I suggest some things that may help you to produce even more milk?

– I’m so sorry that you’ve been up all night – you must be so tired. What can I do to help?

Words have more power than we can imagine. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and lift you up in your days, weeks and years of motherhood, and be that person for others.

(Photo credit: The Photo Forest)

New Beginnings

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2016 started out for us with a horrible diagnosis for one of our children – not, thank God, a terminal one, but one that would require a lifetime of medication and careful monitoring. I always think that every other possible problem pales into absolute insignificance when a loved one is ill, and we found this to be so true. Things that we had worried about the previous week – finances, the house, our work – just all fell away in light of this greater fear. Luckily, this story has a happy ending. Without going into details, we researched and we sought second and third and fourth opinions, and it turned out that a parasite and a dairy sensitivity were at the heart of our little person’s symptoms; and not the condition that the doctors had initially diagnosed at all. One year on, and I am happy to report that all is well.

But really those few months put everything else that I went through this year into perspective. As for so many others, it was a year of mixed reviews. We had some really tough times (did I mention that I am now offically unemployed?) but we had so many adventures and lots of fun as well. Life with a three and seven year old is always, always eventful and there is never a day without love, laughs and lots of cuddles.

The highlight of our year was our trip to Europe to visit Oma and Opa, who live in the Netherlands. We were blessed with the most glorious weather and had a wonderful time riding our bicycles like real Dutchmen and eating lots of delicious food. We still talk about our time there, and I think we will for many years to come.

As always, Gentle Welcome has been my church, and my therapy. When I am teaching a class, or supporting a birth – just for those few hours, I am so incredibly involved and present in what I am doing, that really, it’s a form of meditation. A good birth can put me on a high for days (hello oxytocin!). This work I do is not quite a hobby, but not quite a job, and I intend to keep it this way in 2017. I want to keep my classes small and intimate, and plan to do just a few births this year, for people I really resonate with.

Yesterday, we celebrated the fourth birthday of our little boy with family and friends and now it’s time to dive into this new year. It’s the first year for a long time that is full of mystery. I really have absolutely no idea how it’s all going to turn out, and what I’ll be doing come year end. Exciting and nerve-wracking all at once. I’ve been contemplating my word of the year for a while now, and I think I’ve settled on “Joy”. As a Type A perfectionist, I’m very, very good at getting things done and ticking things off my to-do list, but sometimes (often) I forget to have fun while I’m doing it. I have not a single New Year’s resolution for 2017, but I am aiming to filter as many tasks, requests and jobs through the question of “Will this bring me joy?”. I suspect I’ll be saying “no”a lot more often than I usually do, and that’s ok! Happy New Year to you and yours, may it be a good one.

The leaky canoe

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Motherhood – she’s a real b*tch. Just when you think you have everything “under control”, she’ll throw you the curveball you never expected. It’s been a brutal couple of weeks over here. Amidst all the usual end of year madness,  I’ve had very sick children, work stress, endless house dramas (really dishwasher, really? not you too!) and a chronic condition that is begging me to get some sleep. I’m SO GRATEFUL and #blessed that I actually have a house, a husband, children, a job but you know, sometimes you just get tired. So tired.

I visited my homeopath last week; squeezed him in between meetings and school events and repairmen, and asked him “when?”. When will the stress stop so that I can feel calm and relaxed and in control again? Wise man that he is, he peered at me over his glasses, and said this: “You are paddling a leaky canoe. You are patching it as you go but you have to keep paddling. There are rapids and waterfalls ahead, you have no choice.”

A paradigm shift. All this time I’ve been waiting to reach The Land of No Stress. And sometimes we’ll have a couple of peaceful days, or weeks, or months, and I’ll think, this is it, we’re here! But at our life-stage, with multiple children, jobs, friends and family members, there will always be upheavals. There will always be broken appliances, and sick children, and bills to pay. There will be bodies that complain and nights of no sleep and nothing in the fridge. And so I press on, paddling my leaky canoe, using every tool I have but especially mindfulness. One thing at a time. The most urgent first. And then the next and the next. Breathe.

(Photo credit: The Photo Forest)

Concern versus fear

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Yesterday, America chose fear, greed and evil over love, hope and faith. I’m not particularly political, but I do think a lot about the nature of fear. That’s my job as a HypnoBirthing teacher and doula. Fear is the enemy of a peaceful birth, but it is also the enemy of peaceful parenting.

How does fear feel in the body? For me, it is heavy, dark and static. Fear carries no action – it is stuck. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the difference between fear and concern. What is concern? How does is feel? Concern is paying attention; it is not positive or negative but it is awake and aware. It feels lighter than fear doesn’t it? How do things change when we are concerned, but not fearful?

We choose holistic childbirth education classes because we want to be truly informed and educated.

We take time and effort to choose the kind of medical and non-medical support team that we know supports our birth choices.

We think about how we want our babies’ first minutes, hours and days to be, and plan accordingly.

We seek like minded people to form our village of support – in real life, or virtually.

We research topics like vaccines, circumcision and weaning to ensure we make the right choices for our children.

We think about the kind of childcare that best suits our babies, and later, the kind of education that will best foster well rounded, healthy and happy little minds and bodies.

We curate our spaces and time to match our values, philosophies and goals as an individual and a family.

We let go of things, wherever possible, that feed our fear.

We live in concerning times, my friends, on a macro and a micro level. But start where you are, at the very smallest unit of society – a family – and start paying attention. Choose concern over fear.

The accidental attachment parent

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Attachment parenting (AP) is a parenting philosophy that proposes methods which aim to promote the attachment of mother and infant not only by maximal maternal empathy and responsiveness but also by continuous bodily closeness and touch. The term (was) coined by the American pediatrician Dr William Sears (Wikipedia)

I so admire the young couples who come to my HypnoBirthing classes already so well read and well prepared. Many of them have given a great deal of thought into how they plan to parent their children, and may already have read copious amounts of books, blogs and articles on the subject.

My own experience of early motherhood couldn’t have been more different. When my little girl was born seven years ago, I did not have a single colleague, friend  or close family member with small children. My pregnancy was fraught with complications, and I spent over half of it on strict bedrest. I wasn’t able to leave the house for antenatal classes, and I spent very little emotional energy on wondering how I would parent this baby. We were just so focused on keeping her alive (and we did!).

When she came home from the hospital, we had a little Moses basket next to our bed that I assumed she would sleep in. At this stage I didn’t know any of the benefits of co-sleeping or bed-sharing, but I just assumed it would be easier to have her closer to me for breastfeeding. Well, our little three day old decided that she would have none of this nonsense, and screamed blue murder as soon as she was put down into the basket. My husband and I were confused – was she ill? Abnormal in some way? Eventually in desperation, I laid down with her on my chest and, surprise surprise, she slept like an angel. There she stayed until six weeks old (at which point she moved to sleeping between my husband and I). She stayed in our bed for a couple of months and in our room for around six months. She still loves the comfort of our bed for afternoon naps, and when she is sick or has a bad dream – as you can see from the picture above.

The same thing happened with baby wearing. Baby wearing is now a very fashionable thing. You can buy wraps and carriers for thousands of rands, hand dye them and have them converted by specialists. You can become a baby wearing consultant or join a Facebook group on baby wearing. But here’s a little secret: baby wearing is nothing new. It is a practical solution to the age old need of a baby to be close to a warm body and a beating heart, and of a mother to actually get some work done, whether that was tending crops or livestock or looking after other children. Despite being warned by well meaning friends and family members “Not to spoil her!” we carried or wore our little monkey for most of her first year because that’s what she wanted. She so loved being held that we even nicknamed her Limpet for a while.

People get very edgy about attachment parenting. Dr Sears talked about the cornerstones of attachment parenting as being breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing but have a look at a Facebook moms’ group on a random Tuesday, and you will see debates about whether or not you can be considered an AP mom if you use disposable nappies, if you vaccinate, if you feed your kid sugar…it all gets rather ugly.

I believe we are so anxious nowadays to be validated by sources outside of ourselves, especially the so-called experts, that we forget to watch and learn from our biggest teachers: our children. You can be the most clueless parent on the planet, as I was, but if you desire to understand what your children need and do your best to give it to them, you will learn as you go along. You’ll make mistakes of course, none of us are perfect parents, but for the most part, you’ll do just fine – attachment parent, or not.

If you’d like to learn more about attachment parenting have a look here: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/attachment-parenting/attachment-parenting-babies