Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Now



I cannot fully remember our yesterday.  Already its edges are blurry and its colours have faded.  With its quieting sounds and blended moments, yesterday has gone.

I do not know tomorrow.  I may hope, dream and expect, or I may fear, avoid and dread.  Either way, tomorrow is nothing more than a question mark; a question mark wrapped in blind faith.

Blind faith in The Now.

Because all we really have within our grasp and at our fingertips, is The Now.  But my, sometimes The Now can be very hard to keep hold of.

Little bean’s eyes, filling with tears, searched my face.  This Now was hard.  We were sick, sky-high-fever-sick, and I was almost all out of giving.

Almost.

I wanted to bury my head in my hands and sob.  I wanted to curl up beneath a blanket with a hot mug of soup.  I wanted to sleep.

But in this Now moment, I breathed in and out.  I locked eyes with my daughter and whispered softly; “mama’s here".  Scooping her up into tired arms and cradling her against weary breasts, I rocked my little girl to sleep.  And as she breathed in and out, in and out, I closed my eyes and placed my faith into The Now.

I believed that The Now would see us through.

Because motherhood is all about The Now; it’s about the cherished, heart-melting seconds between minutes.  The difficult, the easy, the funny and the serious.  Every smile, every tear-drop; every second of Now.  And this Now was helping to shape little bean’s landscape, just as all of our Now moments do...

This Now told her that we have strength when we least expect it; even in the depths of soaring fevers and sleepless nights, we can comfort and love one another.

This Now told her that it’s ok to feel weak; that it's ok to sit down, to rest and to allow ourselves to heal.

This Now told her something that is so easy to ignore; that mama is human.

As I sat rocking little bean, the fog in my brain started to diffuse and I allowed myself to take hold of The Now.  This Now, which smelt of lavender and felt like sheer exhaustion, was at my fingertips once more.  And with deep breaths and new acceptance, I have blind faith that The Now will see us through.


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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Here


“Mama’s here.”

I feel my daughter’s racing heartbeat slow down as she takes a big deep breath.  In.  Out.

“Mama’s here.”

I feel her silky-soft cheek bury itself into my neck.

“Mama’s here.”

Time stands still and all is quiet, except for the raindrops dancing against the windowpane.

“Mama’s here.”

Two words.  Two simple words that can dissolve panic, extinguish fear and soak up tears.

Yet as simple as they sound, their meaning runs deep.

They do not dismiss feelings, because little bean’s feelings are hers and hers alone.  They do not brush aside stinging tears, instead they catch them.  They do not hide my daughter’s pain, instead they wrap themselves around her so that she has the strength to face her distress, and the support to heal.  Two magically simple words.

“Mama’s here.”

Two words that do not look to blame or seek revenge.  They do not hunt retaliation.  Because cause can be addressed when hearts have stopped racing.

“Mama’s here.”

The calm after the storm.  A soothing and melodic mantra to ease worries and alleviate fears.

“Mama’s here.”

Because being here is what counts.  Being tuned in and emotionally available when life gets hard.  Because as much as it pains me to admit this, life will inevitably get hard for my little girl; at some point and for one reason or another.

Little bean, I promise you this; mama’s here.  Just as I have always been, I will be here with you forever.  Long after my time has come and gone, I will be here; our love story will continue.  I will be the light in your eye; the strength in your heart.

I will be here to share your laughter.  I will be here to dance with you and jump for joy.  I will be here when you are filled with rage and just want to scream.   I will be here when your heart is breaking and your soul feels crushed.  I will be here no matter what; connected and in tune.

Because mama’s here, baby girl, mama’s here.


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Sunday, 9 March 2014

Pause. Breathe. Speak.

Today I am beaten.

Self-doubt has edged its way into my head and isn't in a hurry to leave.  If you're a parent, you'll likely have had this unwelcome and overwhelming visitor at one point or another...what if the choices I am making today are not right for my child?  What if the choices that I make tomorrow close doors instead of open them, or inadvertently discourage as opposed to encourage?  What if I'm not enough?  Yes, today I am beaten and self-doubt is the victor.

“What is it, mama?”

I know now that I need to pause before answering this question.  I know now that crumpling into a heap and burying my face into my hands will only be mirrored back to me by my ever-learning little bean.

So I pause.

Little bean searches my face for an answer, but I am not yet ready.

I know now that I need to be true.  I know now that changing the subject or evading the question will only result in my daughter being ill-equipped to deal with her own dramas when they decide to surface; with her own pain when it inevitably strikes.

So I pause.  I breathe.

Little bean inches closer to me and rests her hand on my leg, but I am not yet ready.

Because I know now that I need to answer this question out loud.  I know now that I need to hear the problem myself, in the cold light of day.  I know that finding the words, no matter how difficult, is actually the easier answer than my legacy go-to phrase of I’ll be fine.

So I pause.  I breathe.  I speak.

“Mama feels overwhelmed.”

Little bean stares me straight in the eyes and I know that my daughter understands.  In fact, she understands far better than I do.  She understands that it is ok to feel overwhelmed...that it is ok to be vulnerable...that it is ok seek help and reassurance.

Because in this journey of motherhood, there is a never-ending list of things we can potentially feel overwhelmed by.  This role of Mother is one in which every gesture, every word, Every. Single. Moment. can literally shape another human being...this is a role with gravitas; it’s a role with responsibility.

I know that I am the centre of little bean's world; the greatest honour I could imagine.  But I am human, and hell, I am tired...my child is an Unsleeper; a gloriously energetic, intelligent and inquisitive Unsleeper.  Which by default, makes me an Unsleeper too; a constantly racing, fuzzy-round-the-edges, always-answering Unsleeper.  So with each new day and each new night, there are new opportunities to grow, to learn, to love...but also new chances to freeze, to doubt, to fear…what if...what if I’m not enough?

She shuffles closer and wipes away a tear from my cheek.

“Your cheek wet, mama.  I get you a tissue so you can cry away your sadness.”

I pause...Her words stop me in my tracks.

She doesn’t see tears as weak or shameful.  She sees them as part of a process...as carriers of real and acceptable emotion.  Tears that are representative of a transient state; of a state to recognise and move through, instead of ignore and become trapped within.

A magnetic mix of innocence and empathy pours from her and with it, a wash of new emotion overtakes me...hope.

Little bean gently leans against me and carefully wipes my eyes.

I breathe...I breathe in her kindness, her softness, her calmness.  And with new breath, another wave of emotion hits...relief.

Perhaps in the depths of the time we once termed Night, my blurry eyes really did see through the darkness clearly enough to notice little bean’s cues; my body, my words, my Self meeting her needs even through the tiredness.  Perhaps my vulnerable moments have actually complimented my stronger moments and created a more balanced picture of life for my daughter.  Perhaps I really have met her needs with empathy, shown in the way that she stands beside me, tissue-in-hand and eyes full of concern.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I truly am enough.

“All better now, mama?”

And finally, I speak...victor at last: “Yes thank you, little one."

All better now.

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Saturday, 1 March 2014

Parts

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  (Aristotle.)

I am whole; a balanced and more rounded version of my younger self...in more ways than one.

I remember a lecturer telling me, once upon a time, that to talk about women in terms of parts was the crudest version of sexism imaginable.  He ranted about how degrading it was to separate a woman’s body into parts...breasts, belly, legs...I am hoping that he hasn’t found my blog...

You see, whilst I agree in principle with his claims, I think he is missing the bigger picture...The picture that is blurred at the edges and covered in jammy fingerprints.  The picture that is hung on nothing but a whisper, yet will forever be imprinted in the minds and hearts of these little ones we call our own...The picture of motherhood.

Because the second that motherhood took hold of me, I started to notice and celebrate parts of myself that I’d previously taken for granted; piece by piece, bit by bit...

It started with my heart, which has swelled in a way that I had never dreamed possible, as my eyes have been opened to new truths, new reality and new life.

My arms are ever stronger, as little bean is ever bigger and my hands have become best friends with two miniature versions of themselves...holding on in times of fear, excitement and happiness. 

Even my brain is divided, since all things non-baby-related turned to mush at some point between the morning sickness and cravings, whilst all things ‘baby’ became clear and bright.

My mouth has smiled more in the last couple of years than I knew possible, in between kissing away tears and frustration, and my ears have witnessed the sweetest sounds I could have wished for; in every song and blissful “mama!”

My belly, That Belly, once toned and strong, is now stretched and softened.  It resembles a different kind of strength; not one that can be measured or weighed, but one that pulses through me long after the pulsating cord which connected baby bean and I was cut.  Because in truth, our connection will always remain intact.

My breasts, where do I even begin?  They have nurtured little bean for nearly three years...they are comfort, nutrition, safety.  They have been the root of pain, frustration and tears.  But also of joy, connection and laughter.  They have been through battle, my goodness they bear the marks.  The marks of pregnancy.  The marks of breastfeeding.  The marks of oversupply, of undersupply, of teeth, of fingernails, of gravity and love.  Not the Up-Breasts that they once were, but so very much more.

But in truth, the most important part of me of all is the part that I call bean.  Because the second that we become mothers, the missing piece of our puzzle is found.  It is found in that silky hair, those endless eyes and those clasping fingers.  It is found in our children.

So whilst I understand that in certain circumstances, focussing on a woman’s breasts, or belly, or eyes can be shallow and disrespectful, I cannot help but celebrate these various parts for what they mean to me now.  Now that I have joined the band of women who call themselves mothers; the band that stretches back to the beginnings of time...Now I want to salute each and every amazing part.

And yet our children don’t see the parts; they see through the blurry edges and jammy fingerprints.  They see the kindness, the gentleness and strength; they see the whole.  They see the mother.

It seems that Aristotle was right; the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.


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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Night

There is no night and day.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was awake throughout the day and I slept during the night.  I moved throughout the day and was still during the night.  The two were totally separate; as stark a contrast as light and dark.

And then baby bean was born, and all at once, light was thrown into my world in more ways than one...the edges of day and night started to merge together into a blurry grey smudge.  You see, I had birthed The Great Unsleeper.

I knew nothing of tiredness before motherhood.  The kind of tiredness that saps your body of strength; that throws its arms around you and just keeps squeezing...where you feel like the air is running out of oxygen and you forget which way is up.  The kind of tiredness which almost makes you loose yourself.

Almost.

Almost, because you find yourself with every touch of baby’s soft skin; cheek to cheek.  Almost, because you find yourself with every gaze held in those deep, pool-like eyes.  You find yourself with every smile, every gurgle, every clap of the hands and sweet “mama!”

You find yourself when you need it most; you find yourself during darkness.

Because our darkest hours are actually scattered with stars; with gems of pure love.  In this time that I once termed 'night', quietness rules.  There is no sound in the world besides baby bean’s soft breath and my own steady heartbeat.

In honesty, there have been moments in which I felt isolated, scared and incapable during these dark hours.  But these have been momentary flashes of doubt amid the darkness.

Because when I stop and look at my beautiful girl’s profile against the shadow-like beams of light lingering in our bedroom, I understand that I have all that she needs; that I am all that she needs.  I understand that I am enough.

Nestled safely in my arms, she does not need light or direction to nurse.  Resting her head on my shoulder as we sway forwards and backwards in our rocking chair, she does not need daylight to feel safe and content.  Little bean and I do not race through this notion of 'night', because for us, there is just light and dark, and there is beauty and connection in each.

As we sit rocking, cuddling, nursing, I imagine the hundreds of hours that we must have spent in this peaceful state.  I imagine us rocking across great distances, to other countries and cultures.  I imagine us meeting versions of ourselves at each destination, all these miles from home.  A mother.  A baby.  Connected in darkness.

I imagine us rocking through time, backwards and forwards.  I imagine us glimpsing versions of ourselves wherever we land, be it hundreds or even thousands of years away from here.  A mother.  A baby.  Connected in darkness.

You see, in truth, little bean and I are not alone once the moon rises; we are part of a bigger picture, a louder heartbeat, a stronger pulse.  Mothers.  Babies.  Connected in darkness.

Because for us, there is no night.


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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Exhibitionist

Exhibitionist: someone who deliberately behaves in such a way as to attract attention.

It would seem that I am an exhibitionist.   Throughout my life, there have been instances where I have gone above and beyond to flaunt whatever I may or may not have had at the time.  Yet for all of my flaunting, I was never labelled an exhibitionist.  Until I became a mother.

You see, the moment that I dared to bare that sacred inch of breast immediately pre-latch, the judgement started rolling in.  Yet I cannot help but feel slightly bemused by this concept of exhibitionist breastfeeding.  Because in truth, my past exhibitionism has had absolutely nothing to do with babies or milk…

I remember being set an assignment at school when I was 16; to design and create a piece of ‘fashion’ out of household products.  I watched as my classmates worked diligently with their egg-boxes; plaiting string to create a handle for the soon-to-be handbag they had designed.  I sneaked a peak at the sponge hats being carefully crafted and intricately painted.  Did I follow suit?  No; I simply took out my three magic ingredients:
  1. Scissors.
  2. Sticky tape.
  3. A roll of bin bags.
I took off my t-shirt, stepped out of my skirt and wrapped bin bag after bin bag around my body...think cheap and shiny tube dress and you’re somewhere close to the look that I concocted...I remember looking up as my teenage peers stood watching, silently aghast at the scene before their eyes.  I remember glancing across at my nervous teacher, as he deliberated whether to turn and run.  I flashed a quick smile, taped myself together and proudly pronounced my creation complete.

Did anybody call me an exhibitionist in this instance?  No.  I was praised for my creativity and confidence.

Roll forwards a couple of years and you’ll find me dancing on a table-top, beer-in-hand, at a student party.  This particular instance is memorable because it was the first time that papa bean set eyes on me...and when he reminisced about our less-than-fairytale introduction in front of our friends and family during his groom’s speech, it was met with knowing smiles and quiet chuckles; not once did an elderly relative stand up and pronounce the bride a brazen exhibitionist.

It seems strange then, that I somehow avoided the label of exhibitionist for so long.  And I’m sure that you’ll understand my confusion as to why it is only since baby bean came into the world, that strangers feel the need to point the finger and hurl the label towards me...or rather, towards my boobs.

Ah yes, introducing exhibits one and two: my breasts.

Because when little bean and I sit down quietly to nurse, I must admit that at least one breast is air-bound.  And as we share our treasured moment, it's true that a nipple will undoubtedly meet fresh-air.  But let's be clear; when I lift up my t-shirt, I am not doing so to cause a scene or make a statement.  I am lifting up my shirt so that my daughter can eat, can heal, or can chatter away to my breast in between sips, as she so pleases.

You see, I am not an exhibitionist because I breastfeed my daughter.  I am simply a mother.  A mother feeding her child.

In fairness,  I am the woman who has charted the loss of 14lb of boob for thousands to read.  It seems that my exhibitionism has simply matured and taken a different form...much like the rest of me, it has changed shape with motherhood.

Now though, my reasons for putting myself out there are slightly different...now I actually have reasons.  There is a reason why I bare my soul in every post that I dare to write.  There is a reason why I lay myself vulnerable with every word…I suppose, in a way, I am writing to my past-self.

I am writing to the new mother cradling her tiny dream in her arms in between IV sites.  I am writing to the the new mother too weak to walk upstairs alone, yet strong enough to nurse her baby day after day, night after night.  I am writing to the new mother surrounded by a fog of tiredness and speculation; engulfed in a haze of sleeplessness and self-doubt.  I am writing to myself...I am writing to us all.

You see, I am writing to fuel the strength that every mother already has nestled inside her...somewhere behind our stretched-out bellies and below our milky breasts...the strength that every miniature kick and tiny hiccup has left lodged within us for always...the strength of motherhood.


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Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Toes


I didn’t count her toes.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

I didn’t count her toes, or run my finger against each perfectly smooth miniature nail.  I was about to; I was about to breath her in, to smile down at her and envelope those tiny feet in my trembling new-mama hands.

But then it all went white.

Baby bean, just a few minutes old, was taken from my arms.  Faces hovered above me and needles pierced through skin, into my veins.  I remember pain.  Hot, pulsing pain, as the man who would save my life worked to stop the bleed.

I remember turning my head, only slightly, as my oxygen mask tugged against my cheek.  I remember gloved hands repositioning it so that my view became only ceiling once more.  But I sneaked a peak.  I caught a glimpse of my little girl, held tightly in her daddy’s arms as his ashen-white face stared at the scene before him.  But nobody was looking at her.  Nobody was counting her toes.

In those moments, colour left my world and only white remained...detail and shading were redundant and sounds were muffled as time slowed down.  Sleep invited me but I clung to the white, to the brightness, because subconsciously I knew that I had some counting to do.

In my head, I must admit that I was thinking about myself.  This is a hard sentence to write.  My baby was minutes old and I was thinking about myself.  About my pain, my dizziness, my confusion, my life.  But I understand now, all of these months on, that my heart was bound to my daughter; I realise now that it was my heart holding on...my heart was holding onto the hope that I would live to count those perfect toes.  

I've admitted before, that I lost more than blood at half past six on that summer’s evening.  I lost what I assumed was my right to claim those first hours of my daughter’s life outside of the womb.  I lost what I assumed was my right to enjoy her 10-minute old self, her 11-minute old self, her 12-minute old self and so on.  What if she had rooted for milk at minute 14, as the doctors set up yet another IV drip for me across the room?  What if she had looked up in search of her mama’s face at minute 16, as the nurses told me to stay with them?  What if she was counting on me to count her toes?

It’s taken a while, but I am at peace with the questions above.  I have a steady ache that those moments were lost for us; that I didn’t get to live out my fairytale birth, but I am at peace.

Because in truth, the moments that I am talking about are just that; they are moments.  And as life thunders on and as little bean grows bigger and bigger each day, those initial moments become surrounded by other moments in our vast fabric of existence.  Never superseded, or overlaid, because a woman’s birth experience can not be brushed aside or forgotten, no matter how uplifting or crushing it may have been.  No, these ‘lost’ moments are threaded between others, interwoven between first words and knitted against happy gurglings.  

You see, these ‘lost’ moments are paid homage to every time that I crouch down next to little bean and take off her shoes; every time that I catch a wiggle of a big toe beneath grubby socks.  These ‘lost’ moments are saluted every time a little foot smacks me square in the nose during a gymnurstics session...or square in the ribs during our sleep dance.

In truth, these moments are with me at every new turn; at every junction of motherhood.  They remind me of the gift that I was given; I am still here.  I get to be mama to my wonderful little bean...and for that, I am ever thankful.  I don’t know how long it took me to actually count baby bean’s toes….in honesty, I cannot remember much through the overwhelming fog of love and fear and awe that engulfed me in those early weeks.  But it simply doesn’t matter, as there was more for us; more time, more life, more chances.  And there will be more again tomorrow.

Because it’s never too late to count toes.

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(This post was inspired by the mama who left the following comment against "A Love Story": "Thank you, you've made me realise that it's ok, there's more."  There really is more, mamas.  So very much more.)