An Ode and a Farewell To This Baby Body

bumpcollageIs that a lot of polka dot, or is it just me…?

Although it may, at times, feel like I’ve been pregnant forever, with a gestational period that could rival an elephant (22-24 MONTHS!!!?!??!), I really have loved *almost every minute of it. I was determined to approach the constantly changing body of mine with a positivity that can only come with a complete surrender to what you’re about to go through. Yes, your stomach is going to get real big. Yes, things will stretch and bloat and swell and no longer resemble their original namesake (I’m looking at you ankles). And yes, nothing will fit.

But the human body is this truly beautiful thing and until you see it changing and perhaps take a second each month to capture this change, I don’t know if you are really aren’t able to enjoy the full experience of pregnancy. Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that every woman will have a fabulous 9 months, particularly with the random influx of symptoms that invariably accompanies “being with child”. You can pretty much type any symptom into Google and it will auto-fill the rest of your query with “…during pregnancy.”

  • “Sore calf muscle… during pregnancy”
  • “Twitching eye…during pregnancy”
  • “Carpel Tunnel… during pregnancy”
  • “A random ache in the left-hand lower part of your back, that only appears after eating fruit… during pregnancy”

What I am suggesting however, is that pregnant women are pretty darn amazing, and I have loved watching friends of mine grow and bloom alongside me (even if they have popped before me…not bitter at all), and seeing their partners find wonder and joy in their new and really, quite fleeting, rounder bodies.

I’ve never felt quite as beautiful as when I was able to crack out a bikini and display a really, truly pregnant belly at the beach. I felt proud of this body and what it was carrying, and gosh darn it, it should be out for all to see. I don’t care about the waddle or the general swollen nature of of my limbs now that I’ve hit the over-ripe stage. I’m quite busy creating and maintaining a life in this belly, and that’s no mean feat. So let’s all have a good look at it.

I’m also so thankful for the opportunity to objectively reflect on my previous body image, and the serious body dysmorphia that I was dealing with for years. Until you have lost all semblance of a waist and have increased your breast size at least a couple of sizes, you can’t appreciate the shock with which you look at relatively recent pictures and think “Holy crap, I looked pretty alright.” It’s helped me see clearly how differently and negatively I viewed my shape, and really, what a waste of time that is.

I know that after this baby has finally made its grand entrance, my body wont simply snap back to its former glory (this is made easier by it never having been particularly snappy in the past). I will probably have days where I look at it and don’t recognise or appreciate the new flabby parts, or the parts that show the war scars of having fought the good fight against the spread and lost. But I know that this body gave life, adapted amazingly well to what was going on inside and out, and produced a new human being. And that means I can only love it more.

So here’s to you body. You did a bit of alright.

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*Except those two times that I was in a church for more than 2 hours in over 40 degree heat without air-conditioning. Pregnant Caroline + church + heat = all kinds of sin that result in feet the size of shoe boxes. I was suitably smote.

FFS Friday: Hilarious Hazel

HERO

As with all new blogs, we needed to come up with a bit of a structure on how we want to express ourselves and engage with you as readers. We decided that one of the GREAT things about parenting is how much humour and perspective can be found in watching your kids be… well, kids.

Sometimes they do really beautiful stuff. We dress them in beautiful clothes and they look beautiful and it’s a beautiful day and we’re feeling all beautiful so we take a bunch of beautiful photos and put them on Facebook/Instagram/Whatever and that becomes what people assume our life looks like ALL THE TIME. But one of the things that I personally love about being a parent are the FFS moments. Granted, I probably only love them in retrospect, but I tend to reach retrospect fairly quickly; certainly quickly enough to grab my iPhone and capture the ridiculousness that faces me.

A far cry from the overly-styled vision of parenting that bloggers and magazines like to make of childhood, these are the times when the shizzle gets realz or your kids just do really weird stuff. Like tipping their soup into a baking dish and putting Elmo in for a bath. It’s reached a point where I post less photos of Hazel looking beautiful and more photos of Hazel being ridiculous that most people assume that’s actually what my life looks like ALL THE TIME. I tell ya, it’s much closer to the truth than the beautiful bit.

In the coming weeks, we’ll dedicate an Instagram hashtag to the same thing and we’d love you to join in with your own FFS moments. For now, we’re just working it out but stay tuned.

A little note: these posts will usually feature FFS moments from both of us, but as Caroline is currently 10,000 months pregnant with her firstborn (and I am 9,500 months pregnant with my second), she obviously can’t include her own kid in this little activity YET. But Hazel is no stranger to being used as schtick fodder and I’m sure she can do it for a little while longer.

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Motherhood vs Parenthood

MOTHERHOOD PARENTHOOD

I didn’t go to a local Mothers’ Group.

It took me a while to really put my finger on why, but when pressed I used to say things like “oh, I’m too busy” or “we moved house and I never really got involved at the new Maternal Health Clinic” or “so many of my friends had babies at the same time – I have my own Mothers’ Group and they’re my actual friends!”

But that wasn’t it. Not really. I knew it wasn’t, but I found it hard to process let alone express my real feelings on the matter. But when Hazel was nearly two, the epiphany hit and I knew why I’d held back.

See, my dad was a stay-at-home dad when I was a baby. My mum took over as stay-at-home mum when my sister was born but during my infant years in the rockin’ early 80s, my dad attended a local Mothers’ Group with me. He speaks of it fondly, mainly because he became the Hero of the Mothers the day he introduced wine to the sessions and I think the ladies enjoyed the added company of a funny man in the mix. My dad is a performer (by trade and by nature) and has confidence and charisma. He kinda liked being the odd one out because, let’s face it, that’s his life.

Fast-forward 30 years when I was working from home with Hazel and enter my friend Marty*. Marty was doing some carpentry work at my place and was a stay-at-home dad to a daughter of a similar age to Hazel. His wife earned good coin so they had made the decision to swap out the traditional roles when their daughter was 6 months old – she went back to work, he stayed at home.

I am not in any way trying to demonise his wife (I know her, and she’s adorable) but part of their ‘deal’ was that she wanted Marty to participate in all the typical activities that stay-at-home-mums do, including Mothers’ Group. When I asked how he enjoyed it (quite genuinely, having no experience of my own) Marty – who couldn’t be less like my father if he tried – smiled that it was… OK. He made an appearance each week, but didn’t say much at the sessions. He only really went to take his daughter to get some regular social interaction with other kids. The women were nice to him, but he got nothing out of it himself.

And that’s when it hit me. I hate when the word Mother is used in place of Parent. And particularly, when the word Motherhood is used to define Parenthood. It puts a lot of insidious pressure on mums to do all of the ‘thinking’ in the parenthood game, while simultaneously alienating fathers to do no such thing. You could argue that fathers aren’t interested in meeting up once a week to talk about their baby’s bowel movements, but if that somehow defines fatherhood then strike me down and call me a father because neither am I. You could equally argue that women are more inclined towards nurturing and organising, that it is our ‘maternal instinct’ but I believe this is a myth that we continue to propagate, often in well-meaning memes on Facebook. For example:

Motherhood is all about patience and kindness. Putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own.

No, that’s what Parenthood is about. Fathers must also be patient and kind and put the needs of their kids ahead of their own.

Motherhood has the greatest potential influence on a human life.

Once again, no. Fathers and mothers together, even in absence, are the most powerful influence we have over our children. Referring to these things as motherhood not only alienates the father, but adopts an unnecessary single-parent mentality. Heck, being an actual single-parent is challenging enough, why place that kind of pressure on yourself when you’re fortunate enough to be in a co-parenting relationship?

You might think I’m being overly semantic, but allow me to delve further.

ADULTHOOD

ADULTHOOD, we can safely say, is a state of your life when the passage from child to adult occurs. The pillars of adulthood revolve around taking responsibility for oneself and being independent. WOMANHOOD or MANHOOD are two concepts less used, but are, in many ways, the sum of Adulthood. They explore pillars that are exclusive to becoming a woman or a man, generally physical, hormonal and emotional changes, and mark the beginning of this new stage of life.

But in this day and age, you would never claim that learning to cook a few basic meals, or being kind to others was a pillar of womanhood. You would never claim that learning to deal with office politics and balancing your budget was a pillar of manhood. They are pillars of adulthood, undertaken by both men and women when they come of age. Throughout time, the definition of womanhood and manhood has morphed into the juggernaut of adulthood so while sixty years ago you may have gotten away with claiming that ‘sewing your wild oats’ was all part of the passage of manhood while ‘accepting that you’re not allowed to be a total slut’ is all part of womanhood, today you’d be laughed out of the pub. Or beaten up by a chick.

CHILDHOOD

CHILDHOOD, we can safely say, is the state of your life when you are considered a child. There is a blurry bit in your teens where you transition physically, mentally, emotionally and socially while still being legally considered a child, but all in all we can agree that anyone up to the age of 13 is a child. The terms BOYHOOD and GIRLHOOD are unlikely to ever be heard outside an Enid Blyton novel, but would you say that running around, riding bikes and climbing trees is all part of boyhood? No, because it’s all part of childhood and labelling it such makes undue (and untrue!) exclusion in activities that all kids can take part in and enjoy. I don’t remember athletics being split into boys and girls when I was a kid. And I remember winning a lot of sprints.

And so we come to the final frontier of the passage of human life when we hit PARENTHOOD but we still can’t grasp that all that love and nurturing and patience is something that fathers are not only capable of but truly excellent at. My father’s tears at my wedding are a testament to it. My husband gently stroking my daughter’s arm until she falls asleep is, too.

So I beg you: whatever your own unique family roles, quit calling parenthood motherhood. Let’s demand that our local ‘Mothers’ Group’ become ‘Parents’ Group’ where both mum and dad are welcome to share stories and experiences, tips and support at a time of the week that both mums and dads can attend (i.e., not 11am on a Tuesday). It’s already happening in some municipalities – rock on, City of Melbourne! – and it doesn’t take away from the idea that you can meet a bunch of great people who end up becoming your lifelong friends. Let’s share the joys and the responsibility of raising our kids. After all, we’re better together.

Sore nipples and a weak pelvic floor? TOTES MOTHERHOOD.

* Name has been changed but ‘Marty’ will probably know exactly who he is and he’s a champ.

Judgement Days – The Phenomenon of the Mother-Haka

beyonce haka

Sasha Fierce! Giving as good as she gets when greeted by a traditional Haka before a concert in NZ.

Long before we had medical confirmation that there was indeed the spawn of our loins kicking around in my belly, Adam and I had discussed the pros, cons and general thoughts about having children. We knew we wanted them, we also knew we wanted to do some living, travelling, dancing on a whim, so the pretty standard plan was set that saw us agreeing to enjoy some time together as a couple before bringing another small life into our home (we already had Molly the dog/dag – and she’s way more human than a canine should be). In essence, we knew life would change.

It’s not like we announced ‘the plan’, we just assumed it was pretty stock-standard to everyone. But we did start to get a subtle vibe of the “just you wait”s from the (previously unknown to us and clearly self-proclaimed) flag bearers of the “PEOPLE WITH CHILDREN” (PWC)camp.

There were videos on Facebook of comedians who turn to their children for schtick, painting charicatures of those folks who didn’t have children walking around this earth like a bunch of lobotomized zombies without any idea of the life of the PARENT. I’ve never heard a whole audience wail with bitter laughter before, but my word, that is some scary shit. I felt that laugh deep in my waters. Like it was directed straight at me and anyone else who didn’t have children and therefore of course must assume that a life with children in the future woud be all hair-brushing and cuddles with angels. “THEY HAVE NO IDEA” they all chorused. Isn’t it FUNNY how they view life? Just. You. Wait.

Wow. Talk about intimidating.

Now, I will point out this was not all of the people we knew with children, or indeed even a majority, but you really only need a few to get your brain rolling. One starts to question ones thoughts on anything to do with kids, and how they will change/alter/ruin your life. Why were we getting so much negativity fired at us? Why do people find humour in taking the piss out of people who aren’t parents? And this is where we get to the crux of the issue – WHY do other parents (and I’ll make a pretty confident generalisation here – it’s Mothers mainly) feel the desire to scare the shit out of first time parents?

We here at DoE have called it the Mother-Haka.

The Haka (pronounced) is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand. It’s seen popularly at the start of Rugby matches, as performed by the New Zealand team towards their opponent. There is a lot of yelling, scary face pulling, tongue polking and stamping of the feet that is intended to intimidate the opposition. They let off steam, feel pretty confident about themselves, and get to be all shouty. Thus, the Mother-Haka term was coined.

These are the people who at any opportunity will tell you their terrible birth stories, how they tore, labored forever (literally forever it seems), got every negative side effect of pregnancy, had a child with colic, had a child that NEVER slept, had a crier, a nipple-biter, a fussy eater, a hitter – basically, they had something of all of these things AND YOU WILL TOO AND SO THERE. Shouty shouty, polking tongue out etc etc.

“Oh, I cannot WAIT until your child teethes and you haven’t slept in days “. Ouch. Why? Why would you wish that upon me? So I can FEEL your bitter pain? Yes. Basically, this is exactly why they do it. They’re not happy, and they may not feel heard or supported, and they were probably on the receiving end of the Mother-Haka prior to becoming a parent which has left quite the ugly taste in their mouth. Basically, it’s not you – it’s them. And you don’t have to stay for the whole dance.

I’m not suggesting that everyone planning to have children should be walking around in some dream-like state, operating under the assumption that it wont be the world’s hardest job at times. I certainly didn’t, and I absolutely resent being patronised by the PWC who assumed I had no notion of what I was “getting myself into”. I really really do, and that’s why I’m 31, and chose a partner who is up for the sharing of parental responsibilities, so I don’t lose my absolute shizzle and start painting my face and waving my arms at pregnant ladies. And do you know what, if there ARE people who have convinced themselves that parenting will be an absolute breeze and that it wont change their acitve social lives in the slightest – well, that’s for them to find out. It really doesn’t affect anyone else.It REALLY. DOESN’T.

There is a level of support that we all need to embrace that should celebrate the choice to either have or not have children, and equip anyone stepping into parenthood with a good mix of the real challenges but the complimentary wonder. The moment you see someone starting to move into a Mother-Haka stance – give them a hug and tell them they’re doing a good job. They probably need it.