family

Easter Eggs Are Hollow

Angel of Chillon

I wrote this post a while ago but didn’t publish it. What do they say about not discussing religion or politics? The same probably goes for parenting too, but what the hey.

I recently had a experience where one of the parents at my son’s Krippe (nursery/daycare) spoke to me. In English. This is enough of a rare occurrence that I was perhaps overly receptive, or perhaps not. Anyway, the conversation rapidly devolved into her asking me about which religion I followed and when I said none, she persisted in pushing the “But how can you not believe in god?” thing, which made me rather uncomfortable. As you will see from the below, my beliefs are “in progress” and so far rather hazy. It’s not something I think about all that much, to be honest. Although, a few times recently I have found myself craving a bit more spirituality and wondering about how to introduce some sort of religious-type structure or ceremony to my life. Whether this stems from having children or getting older or whatever, who knows? Anyway, here goes.

This year we celebrated Easter with a short hop to the French part of Switzerland (who needs passports when you can drive three hours and be in a different-language region?!) It was great. An ideal little holiday with mountain scenery, Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva) and a day spent wandering around the medieval Chateau de Chillon.

However, when I say “celebrate” Easter, what’s to celebrate? As we were driving home, I started feeling a bit spiritually hollow as I pondered how or indeed why, without being religious and with no family around, do we “celebrate” Easter? If I don’t believe in god or the Easter bunny, what is there to differentiate this holiday from any others? Are we celebrating time off work? I’m not even employed! There’s no break from motherhood, of course, especially without family around to help out. In our affluent lifestyle there’s no need for feasting and non-religious fasting seems a little pointless. We can, and do, eat chocolate all the time. We can, and do, have “special meals” all the time. What is the point of it all?

Essentially, I like the idea of tradition and history. Sort of. Hey, I just spent a day wandering around a medieval castle! But without an underlying spiritual faith and, in fact, with more of a leftwing attitude that religion seems to be involved with more evil than good in the world, it seems a bit, well, silly to try to incorporate somewhat gristly stories of a man dying and being reborn into my children’s lives or my own. Plenty of time for them to hear about it in school (I guess?) I feel like I know the stories pretty well. I actually did a lot of Sunday Scholarship in my time. Would it be too weird if my children grew up not really hearing The Easter Story or other religious tales?

Of course, there’s Spring and the other seasons. And after all, Easter is essentially a pagan springtime ritual dressed up in Christ’s clothing. But all that pagan stuff – well, I like it but I I feel a bit too… uncomfortable? unsure? ignorant? embarrassed? to become especially worked up about it. And without the full commitment, is it worth it?

My modern malaise means I’m also lazy when it comes to spiritual matters. I don’t really want to study just to become spiritual. Although, saying that, I suppose contemplation and bettering yourself, trying to attain a higher sense of being IS a big tenet of most spiritual belief systems.

I want to say it doesn’t feel like I should have to work at it, but hard work and experiencing discomfort is kind of the essence of much religion. It’s not meant to be easy is it? It’s something you are supposed to put time and effort in to. It could even be argued that religions were invented to give reason (and/or reward) for people enduring crap stuff. But our society is all so easy-street and secular. It seems crazy to put up with hardship for the sake of a system of beliefs you haven’t chosen. In the first world, where there’s not grinding poverty or backbreaking work and the food and chocolate flows easily, it’s no wonder religiousness is dying out.

But I was left feeling as though I’d like to do something. I mean, without some sort of framework for the years and the holidays and my life, it’s all bit desolate. Can I put an ad in the Classifieds? Wanted: Non-Religious, non-ridiculous form of spirituality to practise with my husband and kids. Must not require too much serious effort or devotion, however some ceremony appreciated, as is dressing up. Suggestions on the back of an envelope…

Oh, and as for the English-speaking god-botherer mum – I did come up with the perfect answer, about three hours later: Your lack of tolerance for my lack of religion is precisely what puts me off being part of one.

I also like this quote:

For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
― Charles Bukowski

 

 

The Great Divide

grandcanyon

Ok I’ve enjoyed the first two months of new-motherhood but now I’m ready for some time off. Maybe a week’s holiday? Or a two? Perhaps I’ll tackle a fresh project now, or return to an old one – get back to my German lessons maybe… What’s that? I can’t? No leave can be granted? Well maybe I could just chuck a sickie? Nope, not that either. What… not even one day to myself?

Sigh – just one of the many laments of early motherhood – it’s relentless and there’s no holidays in sight. Especially at this stage. Feed, sleep, poo, repeat. And the baby doesn’t do much more than that either.

It’s got me thinking about the roles of mum and dad (in general) again. I say “again” because the last time I properly contemplated this was the first time Himself and I became mum and dad (specific). And let me tell you, nothing highlights the Great Divide between the genders* much more than having a new baby. This huge change in the status quo of your relationship is something I’m yet to see listed in all those “Why I’m never having children” articles, but it should be right up there. Alongside the zero-holidays policy.

When you’re the one parenting a new baby at home while your partner is back at work, there’s no getting around the fact that in these early months, you are doing the motherload of childcare (pun intended) and dad is, well, working. In other words, you’ve suddenly taken on very traditional gender roles. And it makes your day-to-day lives very different indeed. Granted, this was more of a shock to the system the first time around when we went from the relatively equal footing of both being full time working “people” to a Mum-at-home-with-baby and a full-time-working-Dad (as opposed to just full-time-working person).

But in a funny way, the gender gap is gaping even wider now. Because I’m also a “trailing spouse”, I currently exist in a weirdly segregated world. The only new people I meet are other women, mostly mothers and other expats who are also usually trailing spouses. The facebook groups I join are generally populated by females and are parenting-focused. I never come across males in a social capacity, unless they’re the partners of mums I’ve met. It kinda sucks.

On the flipside, I chose this.  And I’m lucky to be able to spend this time caring for my kids and not having to work for money outside the home. Himself would love to be home with them more often. If money were no object, I’m sure he’d quit work in a nanosecond (although how long it would take him to reach the boredom/resentment/need-a-break threshold I’ve just bumped into is hard to say… and I guess we’ll never know). If only it were easily possible for me to go out and find employment in this foreign country that pays as well as a male salary…

Not that I even want to work full time. Do I? I’d be lying if I said part of the appeal of this move to Switzerland wasn’t the sweet notion of being able to QUIT formal work indefinitely. Of course nothing is ever quite as good as it seems. And this is an almost entirely female problem. Not many men even get the choice of whether to quit or take a break from work to stay home and look after their babies, although it would be great if they had real options for this**.

As the kids get older, stay-at-home Dads become slightly more common. Slightly. [ASIDE: You don’t hear the male voice in parenting very often so I found it really interesting what Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard writes in his semi-autobiographical book A Man In Love about the mind-numbing mundanity of life as a primary parent. It’s basically several chapters of Toddler Time but more brutal! I can’t imagine many mums admitting the “job” bores them so starkly although it certainly struck a chord with me.]

Then there’s the money and value factors. Of course, rationally, we’re equal partners who are both contributing valuable work so we can afford to live and raise a family. But in reality, it can be hard to see it as entirely “our” money or perhaps more importantly, half “mine”, especially when it comes to the more frivolous purchases I might want to make. And in terms of valuable work, sure I’m doing a very important job but, well, no one’s flying me business class to Boston to be a Mum for 8 hours then back again.

So it’s an odd conundrum. A paradox of feminism? We have the choice but we have no choice. And things aren’t equal, but how can they be? Parenting, at least in the first year or so, is not really an equal opportunity playing field.

In some ways I can see it’s actually worse for the dads – slogging away at a crappy job (all jobs are a bit crappy right?) and missing out on time with the babies that goes so quickly. Plus, he has to do a big chunk of childcare and housework too – particularly putting in the hours with our first child in this second-baby situation. And yet, and yet… he also gets to go out of the house every week day, he gets to talk to people who aren’t obviously involved in their own childcare battles about things that aren’t to do with kids, he gets validation for skills that have nothing to do with parenthood. And he gets the chance for 7-8 hours unbroken sleep per night. It’s not a competition, but if there were a ledger of achievements and sacrifices, I’d say sleep is a biggie.

Likewise, I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding and feminism. Is breastfeeding a feminist issue? Feminism is about choice and equal opportunities. So Bfing is another paradox. Sure you have a choice, but there’s also no choice, as in, no one else can do it for you (with rare exceptions), well, your partner can’t anyway. And, like giving birth, it’s in no way an equal opportunity situation between the sexes. So I’m stuck. But I chose this. But, only by dint of being a woman was that choice possible. And, based on where we are at as modern, first-world people and parents, it was in many ways the only option. So therefore I had no choice. But still… I chose this. Argh.

I’d really like a day off.

 

 

*I suppose this is true for same-sex couples (assumptions, assumptions!) if you substitute “mum” for “primary carer” and “dad” for “the one who continues to go to work”.

** I’m a total advocate of The Wife Drought theory articulated so well in Annabel Crabb’s book – for society to move on, men need a life and women need a wife.

Sweet Surrender

My new little Australian

“You’ve surrendered,” someone observed of me recently. And it was true. I felt a lot better over the Xmas / New Year period than a month or so back and a big part of it was accepting the inevitable: The new baby is coming. Soon.

The concept of surrender is a good one to practise when you’re about to give birth because, without getting into too many gory details, the whole process of delivering a baby tends to involve giving yourself up to the physical and letting it happen. Of course it doesn’t always go smoothly. But that’s the ideal.

After I wrote about feeling so down with Antenatal Depression and being afraid to give birth, I did some good things. I asked for help from various sources and I received it, for which I am very grateful. One extremely useful thing I did was “reach out” to some of my amazing mum friends, all of whom have given birth more recently and more often than me. I found their advice so useful in pulling myself together and writing up a birth plan that I’d like to share some of their wisdom here. I hope they won’t mind me so.

EMBRACE IT

  • Worry surfacing in late pregnancy is natural and obviously not feeling comfortable (in a foreign country) is going to elevate that.
  • Listen to yourself: your fears first, which lets you get to your strengths.
  • Every birth is different but the principle of surrender and embrace really helped me… I realised that with my [first] birth it was more painful when I was (not always consciously) holding on or fighting the pain but I had a fast transition when I started to give in to it. So with [my second baby’s] birth I did this from the beginning. When I had contractions I stood and circled a bit and said yes yes yes to try and embrace them. Don’t get me wrong there was yes yes NO yes times but I think this made it happen faster and in the end a lot easier than I imagined.
  • It is painful but focus that between contractions you’re not in pain. I was laughing joking apologising for yelling. For me an ipod of music got me through in my own world.
SECOND BIRTHS
  • It is a good idea to get a birth plan together but the whole thing will almost certainly be better second time round.
  • I was DREADING contractions as they were so awful when I was induced with [my first] but I found it much more manageable with [my second] as it built up slowly and only had about 2 puffs of gas and air during the whole thing – mainly cos it all happened so fast!
  •  In the end [my second birth] was very quick and I ended up on the birthing unit with [my husband] and a student midwife. It was intense but gas and air really helped me and I was totally up for considering other pain relief (and had asked for some) but [the baby] was just too fast and arrived after about a minute of pushing.
  • I had a terrible time with [my first] and ended up in theatre in a blind panic and having forceps and an epidural. This time my plan was very simple… try and if it feels awful, have an epidural. And that’s what I did. [My second] was born quickly and I felt enough to know when to push but no pain.

DRUGS

  • If planning pain relief gets you through the worry now then you should plan for that or at least acknowledge it as a possibility that is totally fine and acceptable.
  • A natural birth doesn’t have to mean totally drug free.  I’m totally for it but it’s not about being a bloody hero or a martyr.
  • I wouldn’t rule out anything, you’ve got to do what feels right for you. I hate all this stuff about giving birth a particular way – I think it’s just designed to make women feel rubbish at time when you are particularly vulnerable.
  • “[For my second] I decided that I wanted to go for the same again (water birth) but I was definitely much more open to the idea of drugs both when I was thinking about labour beforehand and during labour itself!
  • I asked for an epidural and no-one was shocked or judgmental (as I had feared). It was incredible. I felt calm and happy because the pain had been taken away and I had mental clarity because it doesn’t affect your head. I chatted to the midwives and [my husband] and he kept asking me when the drama would happen…and it didn’t.
  • In my case the natural birth choice was (imagined) pressure and once I’d realised it wasn’t really the decision for me I felt really liberated to have the epidural if I wanted it. Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect a natural birth, but it wasn’t for me. Who remembers in the long run anyway?
  • The good side of being in Zurich is not only quality chocolate and alpine air – you will also get the best healthcare. No short supply of drugs and no shame in administrating or using them.
  • You know however you decide to do this, I’ve totally got your back.

IT’S AMAZING

  • It sounds mad but I would do it all again (both of my different labours) in a heartbeat, even with the pain – it is so wonderful to hold your new baby in your arms that I would love to go back in time to hold them again when they were so new.
  • [My third] birth was painful but I knew I could do it and in the end I’m so glad I did. Over 4kg with no intervention no stitches… Good for both of us.
  • My birth second time around was brilliant. It was such a happier experience than with [my first] and it some ways it felt quite cathartic to have a good birth.
  • My two goes at giving birth are two of my proudest moments. I love thinking back on them.

 AFTERWARDS

  • It’s brilliant how quickly you can change a nappy from day one, not panic about them crying, know the signs of wind, overtiredness  etc. You haven’t got the chance to obsess over pointless things like the colour of his/her nappy because you have a lovely toddler to hang out with. Your life doesn’t really change because you’re already in a kid routine and they just tag along.
  • I was very anxious throughout my [second] pregnancy. Once [the baby] arrived though I felt loads better, and actually enjoyed it more this time round.

My new baby S arrived a week ago after a relatively quick labour with a natural birth. We are both doing well 🙂

This sux, baby

Grumpy mum/to-be

After my recent moan about motherhood, I thought I may as well have a pop at pregnancy too – go for broke.

I’m totally bummed this whole second baby has got off to such a horrible start. I’ve been unwell, unhappy and uncomfortable for most of the pregnancy. I had all these rosy tinted dreams about having baby no. 2. I don’t know why I assumed it would be so wonderful but I guess I felt like the first time around, while it was all new and (relatively) exciting, it was more about getting through, moving to the next stage, wondering and worrying about what would happen next. And I think I was a bit thrown by it. Maybe even slightly… embarrassed? So, this second and final time, I was keen to embrace it, and even enjoy the pregnancy.

The first fly in the ointment of this plan came with trimester one’s fairly ick morning sickness. I wasn’t spewing but just felt rotten most of the time, physically and mentally. Unfortunately this also created a perfect storm/vicious cycle of not wanting to go out much, which meant my feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of friends/support here were compounded. I did, however, have the slight comfort of assuming the baby would be a girl, purely by dint of the fact that I was so unwell. But I was wrong about that too.

The second trimester was all right. I felt a bit physically uncomfortable but I was mostly in Australia, so I was enjoying myself and managing to block out a lot of the negative feelings I’d been having. Also I had friends and family to talk through stuff with. Plus all the grandparental support made it easy to take it easy.

Since being back in Zurich, I’m pretty depressed again. It’s cold and dark and – surprise – since I’ve done nothing about it, nothing has magically changed about my life here to suddenly make it great! I’m feeling achey, tired and heavy and my 3.5-year-old son is annoying me just by being a 3.5-year-old (I read this article about how Time-Outs are damaging your child, oh how I laughed… don’t the authors realise that time-outs are so the parents can calm down and regain their composure?!)

I’ve read up a bit on antenatal depression. Unfortunately there’s not that much info – there’s more on PND (postnatal depression). I don’t know if this is because AND is less common, less talked about or purely the fact that there’s a time limit to it. So, for what it’s worth here’s what antenatal depression feels like to me:

It feels like: a big ball of regret and failure – physically and mentally.

It feels like: I can’t have this baby.

It feels like: I wish I wasn’t pregnant.

It feels like: is it too late for an abortion?

It feels like: knowing things are going to get worse before they get better – because how could this situation possibly be improved by adding a squalling, boob-sucking, sleep-deprivation machine?

It feels like: hating my body. I look disgusting.

It feels like: no one has touched me for months except my little boy. No one’s felt the baby move except me.

It feels like: drinking an extra glass or two of wine because you’re unhappy and alcohol has been your crutch for the past 20-odd years and it’s really hard to break that habit now, even though you know it’s doing untold damage to the unborn baby. (However, the stuff I’ve read on AND says it’s advisable to keep taking your anti-depressants. I am not on any SSRIs.)

It feels like: over-eating because I’m depressed. Then feeling sick and overfull – oof!

It feels like: I haven’t talked to the baby or “bonded” with it like I did with my first pregnancy. I can hardly bear thinking about this one.

It feels like: being angry a lot of the time with my beautiful, wonderful 3.5 year old because he won’t walk, or won’t come and get ready NOW, and insists on wearing a nappy even though he’s fine to use the potty.

It feels like: being terrified of PND – and not knowing how to prevent that.

It feels like: being scared of completely cracking up and/or doing something really dangerous to myself and/or others.

It feels like: being trapped. I really don’t know how to get out of this.

It feels like: there’s a sort of primal need to find a “safe” place to give birth and a part of me is frantic that I don’t have it.

It feels like: I should have stayed in Australia but I let convention and la-la-la-not-thinking-about-it guide me back here.

It feels like: I should just shut up with my #firstworldproblems because women are giving birth in refugee camps and other horrible places all the time.

It feels like: I’m afraid of the pain of giving birth. If I don’t even want the child, how can I endure labour? Should I be planning for an epidural? C-section? Would that make it worse?

It feels like: what if I don’t love the kid once he arrives? Everyone says “oh you will” but what if they’re wrong?

It feels like: not being sure if my marriage can survive this.

It feels like: smiling awkwardly when people say – you must be so excited about the baby!! Being envious but slightly appalled that other mums-to-be are thrilled to bits.

It feels like: wincing when people say: wow you’re getting big/ looking really pregnant / walking like a pregnant lady.

It feels like: No one wants to hear it. I should just get over it.

It feels like: when bad things happen to other people, it doesn’t put it all into perspective. I just feel worse, like the world is a bad place.

It feels like: I’m wasting all these amazing opportunities but I just can’t seem to find contentment, let alone happiness.

It feels like: I must just be a cold, nasty, unfeeling person.

It feels like: I’ve made a huge mistake.

It feels like: I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it.

It feels like: a life sentence (ok: bad pun). But if motherhood is not really doing it for me already, how’s it going to be in six months, 3 years, 10 years… 😦

It feels like: being really, really tired.

It feels like: being bored.

It feels like: I hate myself and baby, you suck too.