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Archive for the ‘the first year of motherhood’ Category

Remember that whole ridiculousness when Meghann Foye said she wanted maternity leave ‘perks’ for those who don’t have children? And I wondered at the time would Foye feel at all comfortable trivialising bereavement leave or sick leave in the same way?

Anyway, here’s a lovely reply to that sentiment… all this grim loveliness.

Andrea maternity leave

This is maternity and paternity leave: a time of terror, joy, fear, wonder, pain, blood, and tears. A time of leaking breastmilk and sleeping for no more than two hours at a stretch. A time of your partner having to lift you out of bed.

In an era of highly curated selfies, it isn’t easy to show the world what we look like at our most raw. But we want the world to see us, and know us, like this. No, we wouldn’t trade a moment of it, and no, we’re not complaining. We are simply showing the emotional, painful, joyful, unreal realities of new parenthood. We’re doing the work of humanity, and we’re asking you to see and value that work for the beautiful mess that it is.

From “8 Honest, Raw Photos of What Maternity Leave Really Looks Like” by Jessica Shortall in Elle. 

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My son Zain was born with the kind of reflux and colic that no doctor seemed able to cure. He screamed for up to eight or nine hours a day for the first twelve months of his life. There was nothing I could do but push him up and down the streets of my neighbourhood at all hours of the night and day. So much of those long hours of walking are in my next book, which doesn’t really focus on motherhood at all but rather, on a close and intimate portrayal of all those people and places I observed while walking. It wasn’t just that it was the first time in my life in which I had given myself permission to sit on a bench on the river or to hang out in a park all day and really look at those everyday things I had never taken the time to notice before, it was also that everything had so much more emotional intensity and significance than it had previously had. It doesn’t last forever but there is this crazed state you exist in, in those early months, that is something right out The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I remember, distinctly, standing on the Parramatta River, looking at Jamie Eastwood’s mural on the footpath which depicts the local Indigenous population trying to fight off the boats in that same place where the ferries were now coming in to dock at Parramatta Pier. The whole place seemed so heart-breakingly gorgeous and tragic in a way that I think I could never understand if I wasn’t in such a heightened emotional state. That space is now the central image that my next book revolves around. It was feeling that space in such a different way that made me realise I needed to write a book about it.  I wrote a lot during that first year of being a mother. It wasn’t the kind of long concentrated writing I had done before but I came out of it with a lot of lines scrawled on bits of paper that turned into great things some time later.

From “Who gives a shit? On motherhood and the arts” by Felicity Castagna in the Southerly Journal. 

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My latest article is here:

So, when I found out about mothers’ groups I came to them with some desperation. There I discovered other women like me — sleep-deprived and confused by our new lives – we were as fragile as our babies. During such times in life you either make the best of friends or the most peculiar and transient of acquaintances. You are open and lost offering something between possibility and flight to those you encounter.

We had big new identities, these women and I, we were mothers now. But we didn’t yet inhabit those identities. We simply sloshed around in them like liquid insufficient to fill a bucket. Our lack of structure and integrity made us terribly vulnerable. If someone was blunt or even mildly critical about our parenting we were devastated. We were so recently arrived and incompetent that we became disorientated by anyone with a strong position or a new theory. It wasn’t just the blind leading the blind, it was the blind and opinionated leading the blind.

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This response from Eliza at tea plus oranges is such a considered response that it’s hard to imagine it was written with a sleeping baby on her chest… and reading it was a lovely opportunity to revisit those first early months of motherhood. All my love to new parents.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

I’m interested to see how this will pan out. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot at various stages of our relationship, mainly in relation to balancing two careers. We met at uni as two ambitious law student types, and he fully supports the idea that I should be able to go forth professionally and do interesting, meaningful things in paid work, as well as being an available and attentive parent. However, there is an inevitable tension in trying to carve out an equal relationship in a non-equal society. “Lean in” feminism emphasises the need for a supportive partner; but the limits of individual action in working around structural problems also apply to the concerted actions of a couple. He wants to support my career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice his. That’s fair enough. Why should either of us have to? Why can’t employment conditions accommodate family life for both partners? Yet, they don’t. So we intend to find some way of realigning the division of labour once we’re through the early years of parenthood (in which I want to be at home with my babies). Watch this space.

He took four weeks’ leave when bubs was born, which was really really fantastic. I’m now passionate about the feminist importance of paternity leave. There was a revelation in that month – he “gets” household management now. Five years of living together, I’ve done more than half the domestic load, but since bubs arrived that has changed. All it took was four weeks in which I completely abdicated responsibility for everything other than breastfeeding… He’s back at work now, and while our relationship may look very traditional at the moment, in many ways it’s more equal than ever (we’re both exhausted). I’m really grateful to be able to spend a full year at home with bubs. In an ideal world, we’d have better maternity leave provisions, so that women’s ability to do this doesn’t depend on the work status of the father. In the meantime, I’m pretty glad to have a breadwinner spouse just now.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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Lauca was a really difficult baby.

Really

fucking

difficult,

like

that

first

year

of

motherhood

about

killed

me.

But fast forward on oooh, say seven years in the future.. that difficult baby turns eight years old and you are dragging your tired self home from work one evening and you ring ahead to ask if you need to stop at the shops to buy something to cook everyone for dinner:

Lauca: “No, I have already cooked dinner”.

Me: “What on earth did you cook?”

Lauca: “Pie”.

Me: “What did you put in it?”

Lauca: “Whatever I could find in the kitchen”.

When I walked in the door that evening I found her lying on my bed reading a novel while the pie finished baking. So wonderful. And then on the weekend she woke me up with breakfast in bed. She had found a recipe for Greek yoghurt pancakes in her cookbook. Finally, that evening she asked me to show her how to cook a roast. My god.

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A year later, I visited a friend who had just given birth and found her crying with joy about how much she loved her baby and her husband. As a mutual friend said, “It’s like a roller coaster. We’re all experiencing the same thing, but it makes some people laugh and whoop with joy, and it makes other people cry with fear or puke.”

How the external circumstances of new parenthood will affect your mood might be easier to predict. If you are good at just being in the moment and taking your life as it comes, there can be a Zen-like quality to your days with baby. But say you’re someone like me—someone who likes the feeling of planning out your day, both what you’re going to accomplish and when and how you’re going to relax, and then executing that plan–then you will probably find that the long, aimless weeks of waiting on and reacting to your newborn are unsatisfying, frustrating, even depressing. You may find yourself a little weepy at the end of a cold, gray day in which you accomplished nothing but half a load of laundry, now moldering in the washer since the baby’s surprisingly early awakening from her morning nap. You may find yourself unreasonably irritable when your partner calls to say that he or she is going to be home from work thirty minutes late.

I was less weepy on the days when I got more done, when I felt more competent. I draw a lot of satisfaction from the experience of mastering a task, of figuring it out and doing it well, but the task of parenting a new baby changes so rapidly that it’s nearly impossible to feel any sense of mastery in those first few months. Everyone kept telling me that, when in doubt, I should tune into my “Mother’s Instincts,” but I didn’t really feel like a Mother yet. I had Instincts, but they just seemed to be the same ones I’d always had, like the very strong Instinct to make myself a cup of tea and watch The Wonder Years. These Instincts didn’t have much to say about parenting Rosie, and they were struck especially dumb when confronted with conflicting theories about childrearing. The hard-core attachment parenting ideologues said I should hold my baby all day (actually, it was worse: They said I should want to hold my baby all day), and I was pretty sure that was crazy, but what did I know? In the absence of loud and confident Mother’s Instincts, some new mothers find it helpful just to pick an ideology and follow it. I opted for the more balanced approach of allowing them all to make me feel equally inadequate.

This is excellent. Jody Peltason with “Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood” in The Atlantic. Cry on my shoulder any time, new mothers, any time. I remember everything. One of the reasons I have a category on this blog called “the first year of motherhood”.

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My latest article is up at Daily Life and also Essential Baby:

By sharing private and difficult moments as mothers we create a more complete picture of the reality of motherhood – it ultimately frees us all. The ugly complaints, if told wisely, can be witness to the stamina of this extraordinary relationship. But the fear in us in disclosing is palpable – that we might be frauds and that our secret moments exclude us from being good mothers. For an instant, you are unsettlingly close to the truly dysfunctional mother, and you see the dangerously fragile state that she must teeter in, and how damaging she is to her children.

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