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Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Happy Days of Our Lives

30 Days of Happiness - Day 1

Happiness is my little Beanie - a little girl with a big appetite for life. I love her so much I think my heart will burst.

Today I have been utterly inspired by this wonderful blog and as the theme of '30 days' seems to be running through my life at the moment (see previous post on Meditation), I wanted to take inspiration from this mother's journey and do a 30 Days of Happiness blog for the exact same reasons that she chose to.

Motherhood is a wonderful, challenging, difficult journey resulting in complete metamorphosis. I have only begun to realise how much I have resisted the process in recent months and have started to soften into its unfamiliar embrace. I never really pictured myself becoming a mother. Indeed, I waited until I was 36 before taking the leap and consequently had probably become (selfishly) attached to a life of autonomy and creative and personal freedom. To go through 40 hours of labour only to have my baby girl plucked out of me with what look like salad servers was only the beginning of the unravelling of Kat.

I recently wrote an article on Grief, Anger and Motherhood entitled 'The Dark Mother'. In it I talk about how modern women seem to go through a period of grieving for the loss of their old selves akin to the process of grieving that accompanies a death - which is, in effect, what becoming a mother entails. I have copied some of the article below because I think its worth looking at. It's also important to know that 'this too shall pass'.

"Most women don’t really anticipate the extent to which their lives will change when they become a mother. Most women don’t accept that there will inevitably be a loss of self as the person we were dies in order for us to embody fully the mother we are to become. Sometimes it happens even if we do. Anger is a natural response to this kind of extreme change. In many ways I think women go through a grieving process similar to the one we go through when someone we love dies. In this case that someone is our old selves. We grieve for our old lives and for all that we once were and will never be again.

Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the Swiss-born Psychiatrist and author of such books as On Death & Dying and Death, The Final Stage of Growth identified the five stages of grief. It is interesting to see how closely they mirror the stages of early motherhood:
1. Denial and Isolation.
At first, we tend to deny the loss of our old life has taken place, and we may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer. ‘Having a child will not change my life’.
2. Anger.
We may be angry with ourselves for letting the pregnancy take place, even if we may have really, really wanted it to happen. We may also feel anger at the level of self-sacrifice required of us.
3. Bargaining.
We make bargains with God, asking, "If I do (insert bargain here), will you make - her sleep longer/spew less/mothering easier/less overwhelming?"
4. Depression.
We feel numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath. Postnatal depression may have taken hold but few people admit to it and some may not even be aware of it at all.
5. Acceptance.
This is when the anger, sadness and mourning for our loss of freedom/autonomy/personal space/self have tapered off. We simply accept the reality of the loss.

I know that I have travelled through all stages of this process in order to arrive at where I am now. I can also see these processes at work in the lives of other mothers. It is completely normal to have this wide range of emotions especially during the tough first year. I am not proud of my anger; I am simply aware of it in a way that I was not aware of it before.

I can see now how thoroughly I have resisted the process of change because motherhood letting go means relinquishing control, and being ‘in control’ is supposedly the mark of the sane person. And once we have let go then what? What do we become? My experiences have made me more aware than ever of the conspiracy of silence around a mother’s anger and how not being allowed to feel it, understand it and let it go can really cause problems between the mother and child and partner."

My journey is not unusual. In fact, I know of more people who have been burned by the fires of motherhood than have not. This is not as depressing as it sounds, it is merely an result of the societal conditioning we are subjected to, the beliefs about motherhood that we each hold (and that are handed to us from our own families) and the isolationist culture we are a part of. We no longer take refuge in and gain sanity from living in communities. There isn't much of a community to take refuge in these days for most of us. This leaves women feeling isolated and overwhelmed with the difficulties of adjusting to motherhood and the realities of having a brand new being to take care of. It's a heavy yoke placed around our necks and despite the increasing awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and a more 'tribal' approach to mothering (co-sleeping, baby wearing etc), many women feel overwhelmed with the intensity of the first year because they feel wary of asking for help. It is assumed that to ask for help, or to admit that you need it, is a sign that they are unfit to be a mother. This is when they get a visit from the PND fairy and things get ugly.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that there is little real, honest, 'I'm not coping well either - you are not alone' type of help for new mothers. We don't seem to know how to reach out to other women in honesty and openess. There is often a level of competition present in mother's groups that can make them damaging places for a vulnerable women to be. I know that my mother's group felt like an alien entity to me and I could not for the life of me imagine talking to any one of the women there about my real struggles. I believe in attachment parenting - one of my closest friends does not - I often wonder which of us is the better mother given my anger and extreme sleep deprivation and her seeming ability to sail through motherhood like a yacht on a calm sea. I never admitted to even her how much I struggled with motherhood because I was afraid that if anyone ever realised how hard I found it, how much anger seemed to squat inside me like an evil entity, they would have my child taken away from me. That damn perfectionist inside of me, aspiring to be the perfect mother/nurturer, worked it's dark magic on me sending me into a deep shame spiral I am only just beginning to come out of. Anyway, as sad as this all sounds, there is a silver lining. I emerged from the long dark tunnel, blinking and pale, to find myself a changed woman. I am unravelled and at ease with this finally.

So - in honour of the unique change, in honour of the mother I may yet become (with a great deal more surrender and awareness) and in honour of other mothers everywhere, I am committing to 30-days of seeking happiness in my every day life. I am opening myself up to the beauty I see around me, to my life as I live it every day, to the joy possible in the moment and I'm inviting you to join me.

Yes, Luke - I am your Father.


docwitch said...

Great post! I'm loving the 30 days of happiness - it's such a brilliant idea.
Beanie looks soooo much like you in that photo...amazing.

Of course, I am referring to the top pic, with her on the trampoline, not the basket on the head one. That looks more like me at the end of a particularly difficult day at BDU. Short legs included.

It's a massive seismic upheaval this moving through and into motherhood. I too didn't relate to my mother's group, who expressed their natural lack of confidence and insecurity as mega-competitiveness, rather than as vulnerability or empathy. It can really magnify those feelings of isolation and self-doubt.

I was fortunate to find 2 women within that group, who became good friends, and who were as perturbed as I was with it all.

Also, I certainly have known the anger you talk about. That was a huge surprise for me. More than anything else in fact.

Very good to know that you feel you are emerging from that darkness.

Anonymous said...

Hello sweetheart,
Wow! I am loving your blog, which is indeed perty, and so raw, mesmirising and always courageous. I am rapt that you are nourishing your creative gifts and hunger, and continuing to face whatever the darkness throws at you.

Beanie is so adorable that I am at risk of ditching the whole travel deal and heading home asap! Make her stop!

Hugs to your beloved. Thanks for letting me into your world. There are days when I really need you.

Love and blessings,