Post-Partum, “Femachoism” and the Need for Mom Buddies

A buddy and I were chatting tonight about motherhood and vulnerability, and how tough it is to get some some women to open up about how they’re really doing, for example after having a new baby. There seems to be, especially among women who are hoping to have multiple children, a feeling that they need to pretend it’s easy…like “Of course it’s great! Otherwise why would I do this again? I don’t look crazy…do I?” And these kind of sentiments shove any post-partum struggles way down out of sight.

Sometimes, in hopes of attracting others to motherhood, moms will put on a brave face and only present the good. But this is a bit like trying to recruit future Olympic athletes by pretending that it’s a cake walk. Not effective because it’s not authentic. It is better to admit the difficulty and affirm that it’s worth it. As G.K. Chesterton insisted, a mother’s task is challenging not because it is minute or unimportant, but because it is gigantic.

Where does the pressure to pretend that one of the most physically and emotionally challenging life experiences– new parenthood– is a smooth ride, come from? It’s part of what I like to call ‘femachosim’–the tendency to be competitive about motherhood, and to shy away from admitting any vulnerability or suffering which would seem to indicate weakness. There is an underlying insecurity in this attitude…a fear of being told their suffering is their fault, and that they shouldn’t have wasted their time having kids. These kinds of things do get said.

In an essay in the anthology “Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood,” I discuss this devaluation of motherhood and femininity in general. I question the validity of a feminism which looks down on the intrinsically feminine power of bearing and nurturing children, and only values professions that have typically been done by men.

A friend of mine who recently returned from maternity leave has heard comments at her workplace like, “being a stay-at-home mom is for lazy, lost losers.” This attitude can make new moms feel parenting should at least be an easy ride and not a challenge. “How hard can it be? It’s just changing diapers…right?” So they hide their struggles.

The fact is that motherhood is extremely hard, besides being beautiful and rewarding, but that we moms choose it anyway. We choose the sleepless nights, the intensity of labour, the vulnerability of having our hearts walk around outside of ourselves in tiny little bodies we are totally responsible for. It’s overwhelming and exhausting and challenges every fibre of our being. And we choose it anyway. We choose to love. We choose to give of ourselves constantly. We choose to have enough hope in our world to believe that life is worth living and worth sharing. We don’t choose it because it’s comfortable. We choose it because it’s transformative. If that’s lazy I need a new dictionary, because I can’t imagine how those things are at all connected.

So you new moms out there, if you’re struggling, reach out. Don’t suffer alone and isolate yourself, for fear of not being a super mom. I saw a great t-shirt tonight that said, “World’s Okayest Mom.” It made me laugh so hard! None of us are perfect. But we’re in this together, and it’s a lot more fun that way. Spend time with other moms. “Waste” time visiting over coffee. The laughter and conversation you have there can save you hundreds at a therapist later!

Many people suffer from post-partum depression for a time after birthing, and there is help. A good place to start is postpartum.org, which also has great materials for your spouse to read. Your hormones are raging and sleep is a distant dream…so don’t beat yourself up if that takes a toll. Reach out. Talk to your doctor. Talk to friends who are supportive. Take steps to get help. And don’t be afraid to ask for it. Lean on others, so they can one day lean on you. That’s what friendship is. It enriches life so deeply.

With a support network of mom buddies, your life with kids is really awesome, despite the difficulties…there are so much opportunites to share, grow and love together. So next time someone asks how you are, think twice before you pop out “Fine.” Your honesty might open the gate for the other women around to share their struggles and find the support they really need as well. How rewarding is that?

Nesting, nesting, 1, 2, 3…

 
It’s nesting time in the Eastland household, with less than a week to go until baby! I’m really happy to report that I’ve been able to do some of the normal things to prepare for baby…and that I’m actually feeling generally ok. After losing little Josephine in labour last time, I haven’t been able to even let myself imagine this baby too much…but I’m starting to! I think the prayers of loved ones have lifted some weight from my shoulders, and I’ve managed to do a bunch of things on my baby preparation list:

1. Stock up the house with groceries. My dear friend Cheryl watched the kids for me (and cleaned the kitchen!) while her husband took me grocery shopping. He kindly put up with my crazy preganancy shop and helped me fill two enormous carts of groceries, and bring them all home after. They just had their own rainbow baby a few months ago, and wanted to do something concrete to help support me as I prepare for mine. Doing this normal pre-baby thing made me feel more calm and optimistic.

2. Clean the house. I know it sounds like a funny thing to do so far ahead, when my house is a constantly evolving circus of art projects, blanket forts, and imaginary castles, but what I mean is that I stayed home from mom’s group to help my paid cleaners do a little extra…pull out the beds to vacuum and mop underneath, replace light bulbs, dust the window ledges and lamps etc. Many dust bunnies and long lost objects were found!

3. Pack the hospital bag. This was a big one. It meant acknowledging that this baby is coming for real. And soon. That it’s not all a dream, and that I’m actually going to need his little outfits to come home in this time. That I will get to use my nursing cover this time…that there will be a baby who suckles and cries instead of being silent. The fact that I could prepare the hospital bag without getting upset was for me a surprise and a tiny miracle. 

4. Get out the newborn clothes and diapers. This was also a biggie. I’m really happy that I actually enjoyed sorting through the little boy clothes, and filling the drawer with cute things for 0-3 months. “Why did you do it, Mum?” my 9 year old asked me, “We might not need the newborn diapers. We might get two saints.” “I know honey, that’s true, but I’m hoping for the best. And didn’t open the package of diapers, so we could always give them away if we had to.”  Gotta love the brutal honesty of children. My 5 year old told me cheerfully, “After the baby comes, we will have a party at Holy Family, right? Either a baptism or a funeral?”  “Yes.” My four year old was sweet at bedtime prayers…”I pray baby brother will come out and snuggle us and suck on my finger.” She knows what babies like!

5. Order new homeschool supplies. I thought it would be a good idea to order some new books now, so that a few weeks after that baby comes, fun parcels will arrive in the mail, and the kids will be excited to read new books and work on new workbooks…even if Mummy is still generally horizontal with baby!

But the icing on this layer cake of baby nesting activities was certainly a special pre-baby party my awesome friend Kate organized for me last Saturday, called a blessingway. Rather than a big early birthday party with tons of baby gifts and funny games, this was a beautiful evening of good company, nice food, emotional support and special prayers for baby’s safe arrival.

I got spoiled with beautiful flowers, as Kate had the idea everyone should bring some at reminded them of me. Most were gorgeous coppery red ones, rather like my hair and glasses…cheerful gerberas and  feathery tulips, but also a poignant white rose from my friend and midwife Terry-Lyn, and a white and greenish bouquet from Kate…with cabbages in it for her veggie friend!  

Fancy chocolate, nice coffee, cosy slippers, homemade lavender bath salts, a cosy homemade crocheted blanket for baby, and generous gift cards also arrived with sweet cards full of encouraging words. This beautiful quote was in Terry-Lyn’s card: 

It’s not just the making of babies, but the making of mothers that midwives see as the miracle of birth.

Barbara Kate Rothman

Can you see why I love my midwives so much? I even wrote a piece for the anthology Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood about midwives and the mystery of motherhood.

There was also a special appearance by my dear old friend Fr. McDonnell, whom I’ve known for nearly 15 years. We used to go to Tim Hortons and Boston pizza together to chat with friends after Mass and compline evening prayers when he was still ‘just’ Brian. It’s so lovely to have him back in town again as one of our parish priests. He made everyone laugh by showing them old pictures of nearly teenage me on his phone. “She never changes,” he said sweetly. 

Fr. McDonnell came to give me the beautiful blessing for a safe labour, and to bless the candles and holy cards of St. Gerard that everyone would take home to light and pray for me these coming days. It is a comforting thing to have special traditions for expectant mothers, and to even have a patron saint for them.   

Thank you to everyone who has helped me prepare for baby so far, and who is holding me close in prayer as the big day approaches. Because of my usual late pregnancy liver condition, colistasis,  we plan to deliver three weeks early, on November 2nd. This is safer for the baby, as this condition has a slight correlation with stillbirth which increases as time goes on. Happily in an ultrasound a few weeks ago, the cord was no where near the baby’s neck like last time, so that is at least a huge relief.    Starting this Friday, the midwives will do stuff to get things going, like a stretch and sweep, and on Monday morning I’ll be downing a charming labour cocktail of protein smoothie with castor oil, and which has always worked in the past to get babies out. Then another sweep. If baby needs more coaxing to come out, my OB goes on call Monday night so she will do the rest. 

Sorry for the rather long update…but I finally found some quiet moments, deep in the night, with only my iPad and heartburn for company, so I thought I’d seize the chance to write before there is a little nocturnal creature wiggling in my arms! Less than a week to go!

Monique Les, “The Hard of Hearing Mommy” creates a community of understanding through writing.

  

Here is an interview with fellow Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood author Monique Les. Monique shares with joyful candour her journey of becoming a mom, and overcoming her insecurities about parenting as a person with hearing loss. I am so happy to share this with you today, and to have had the chance to get to know her better.

Please tell us a bit about yourself…

I’ll start by saying that I am the type of person that values spending time with people, learning new things, new ideas, and drawing inspiration from the simple things in life. My parents -immigrants from Hong Kong, brought me up to be Catholic, but it wasn’t until my University years when I became involved with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) that I really started to fall in love with the Catholic Faith. Since then, I’ve never looked back

In addition, I have a profound hearing loss and affectionately call myself a HoH (Hard of Hearing)! Combined with a good sense of humour, a passion for travel and a positive attitude, I can say that I truly have an awesome life.

Why do you love to write? How does it help you be more yourself?

Shortly after becoming a mom, I felt trapped in the four walls of my house. It was a particularly alienating experience for me, given that I like to socialize quite a bit! Prior to becoming a mom, I worked on high level research and writing projects, and when that phase of my life was over, boredom set in. With that boredom, came a sense of loss of personhood (in my case anyway!). Writing has become a cathartic exercise for me to channel all the frustrations, joys, challenges and whatever comes to mind. I chose to share all these stories with the public because there is always someone who might be going through the same experiences – whether it’s being a mom, hard of hearing, or both. In truth, my goal was to create a community of understanding, support and a diary of sorts for my daughter (and future children) to read when she’s older.

 What made you want to be part of this project? Why do you think it’s important? 

I’ll be honest with you, being the last person to be invited to this project – I felt overwhelmed! Initially, I took it as another awesome opportunity to get into writing again, as my blog started only a few months prior. During my time in developing articles and reading the other articles, I realized that motherhood itself is a community that needs to be nurtured, supported, and encouraged. In all the jobs that I’ve held, motherhood has to be the most challenging one – and to be a part of a book that goes against conventional society’s idea of motherhood fit with my Catholic values. So… in a nutshell, moms rock this world and this book affirms it!

  
 What benefits do you think people will gain from this book? Could it be used in a mom’s discussion group or book club?

I can’t speak for other people, but I have gained so much from this book already! As a first-time mom, I felt a sense of camaraderie from other moms – even though I’m only reading their stories. That kinship gave me the assurance that I was doing everything “right”, and that my heart was in the right place where frustrations are concerned. To be honest, I feel my pieces are mediocre compared to the other stories provided! Being a hard of hearing mom meant that I had to overlook some of my personal shortcomings (i.e. feeling guilty for not being able to hear my baby), and that could be a good topic for moms or book clubs to discuss how their shortcomings aren’t actually shortcomings at all. They’re just little puddles to muck through. To date, I’ve learned that focusing on my faith and positivity makes me a stronger mom.

 Why is friendship with other moms so important? Is there a friend who has made a big difference in your journey as a mom?

In the beginning, when my daughter was first born I went through periods of mummy tummy. I didn’t know if I was doing anything right or wrong, or both! Having friendships with other moms helps to reassure me that I’m not about to ‘mess’ up my child. In fact, they’ve told me that as long as my daughter is happy, then I’m doing something right. Simple, and yet much needed advice to hear in the early days! My mom is the one friend who has made a difference in my journey. She’s supported me through the thick and thin, the times when I was absolutely sleep deprived, or when I didn’t know what to do. I no longer think of my mom as just “mom”, but someone that I can go to for counsel. She was there when I had my meltdowns, the moments when I had sheer awe that I had a baby, and even the mundane times.

 Tell is a bit about your pieces in the book…what is your main message, or best piece of advice for moms?

Never give up hope. My message is that obstacles can be overcome, no matter how insignificant they may seem to others (or to yourself) or how big they are. I had to get over the obstacle of insecurity. Having a hearing loss tends to test my self esteem often, and that was a hurdle I had to get over in order to be the best mom for my daughter. The best piece of advice I can give at this point is to have a great sense of humour! Poop happens, and if we take it seriously all the time, then life becomes less fulfilling.

 Who was your favourite author growing up? Was there someone in literature who modelled for you how to be a woman or mother?

That’s a loaded question ha! Wow. I seriously don’t know where to start. The most obvious answer would be Our Lady and my mom! I would also say that Kimberly Hahn is a great example. I’m currently reading her book, Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker’s Heart; she has helped me embrace the extraordinary within the ordinary confines of daily life. I no longer see my chores as ‘chores’, but rather a gift of self-service through God’s calling. This is all very recent, mind you!

 Can you tell us a little about your blog?

Oh, it has a bit of everything! From parenting, to humorous stories about what it’s like to be a hard of hearing mommy, to my plain frustrations laid out for the rest of the world to read. I do focus on the hard of hearing things, because that’s the stuff that makes the blog unique. There are moments when I wonder if parents with hard of hearing children wonder if their children will ever grow up to have families of their own, or if hard of hearing people wonder what it’s like to be a parent. It covers hearing loss from a social perspective. Our world is so social, and hearing loss really cuts off that experience. My husband knows this all too well, and our daughter is (thankfully) not going to have to experience that same isolation. I get emails from friends of friends who have recently found out that their children have been diagnosed with a hearing loss, and it’s a devastating time for them. Through faith and support, the blog gives them some encouragement that it’s not the end of the world!

  

A big thank you to Monique for sharing her experience with us all!  Visit Monique and read more of her humorous and encouraging posts at:

The Hard of Hearing Mommy

Interview with Bonnie Way of The Koala Mom

Here is an interview with my friend and fellow Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood author Bonnie Way. I’m excited to be starting as a guest writer a few times a month on her blog, The Koala Mom, and was interviewed on it last Monday. I so love having a blogging buddy to talk about writing with! Hope you enjoy meeting her, too! 

 

Bonnie Way                          The Koala Mom

Please tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m a SAHM with three girls (ages 7, 5 and 2) and another baby on the way in November. My husband and I both grew up in Alberta. We met at university and got married when we graduated, then moved around a lot before deciding to go back to university in Victoria. Now we’re settled in Vancouver, where I’m homeschooling our oldest two. We enjoy going swimming and hiking together, watching movies, and playing board games with friends.

Why do you love to write? How does it help you be more yourself?

I’ve always been a writer. I started my first diary when I was ten and printed my first novel when I was fourteen. In my teens, I wrote several fantasy novels and started various other novels, which still sit on my computer. Then I did an English degree and worked as an editor for a year before going on maternity leave. I started my blog just before getting married and it has slowly evolved to be my biggest writing outlet. It took me a few years as a mom to realize that I needed the support of other moms; my blog has been one way to connect with other moms and to share this journey of motherhood. Writing is kind of my way of processing what I’m thinking and going through, and blogging allows me to combine my passions for writing and mothering.

What made you want to be part of this project? Why do you think it’s important? 

I love supporting other moms and writers, so the idea of contributing to an anthology was a lot of fun. Moms and families are also very much under attack in today’s society, so I believe it’s important that we as moms encourage each other. I’ve often felt looked down upon for being “just a mom” or wanting lots of kids. Society seems to see kids as a burden, an expense, a stage in life to “survive” until they are more interesting. So I wanted to share that kids are a joy at any stage – even through those night wakings of the first year or two and that it’s okay to want nothing more than to be a mom. Reading Anna’s essay on being a love rebel is what really encouraged me to share my whole struggle with wanting to be a mom in a culture that looks down on a mom, and how finally, after nearly seven years of being a mom, I feel like I really have embraced that role and stopped looking down on myself. I hope that will encourage other moms too, to stand up to our society and be love rebels.

  

What benefits do you think people will gain from this book? Could it be used in a mom’s discussion group or book club?

Yes, this would be a great book for a mom’s discussion group or book club. I think each of us contributors provides a unique perspective on motherhood. Any of the essays could inspire a good discussion. 
I also picture this book inspiring the mom who doesn’t have a mom’s group, who is busy all day with her toddlers or babies and snatches a few minutes here and there to read. Many of the chapters are short (well, except for my long essay!) and easy to read in a few minutes (put it in the bathroom if you have to! I used to read a lot of magazines there!). As moms, it can be easy to get bogged down in the tantrums and the messes, the daily chores, and to lose the big picture of motherhood, so I hope this little book can inspire moms everywhere to look beyond the sleepless nights and the other trials of motherhood to the joys and the long-term goals of raising kids.

Why is friendship with other moms so important? Is there a friend who has made a big difference in your journey as a mom?

I was among the first of my friends to get married and the very first to have a baby. That created a bit of a gap in my friendships, as all my friends were focused on their careers and I was at home changing diapers and doing laundry. Then we moved several times and went back to school, and I finally found a mom’s group at a local church. That group of ladies was like a breath of fresh air. It was so amazing just to show up every week and talk about everything, from who was up all night with a grumpy baby to how to help a kid transition into Kindergarten. We’ve moved again since then, but I still keep in touch with the moms from that group and miss them so much. They were the ones who taught me how much moms need other moms – whether they can answer the question I’m struggling with, pray for me, or just offer a shoulder to cry on until a certain parenting phase passes.

Tell us a bit about your pieces in the book…what is your main message, or best piece of advice for moms?

I have a couple little poems in the book, a short essay I wrote about my oldest daughter’s first pair of shoes, and then a longer essay about my journey into motherhood. I think the first three pieces each focus on little moments of motherhood – things we could overlook, but might look back on later with a smile. I want those pieces to encourage moms to treasure the little moments before they are gone. My longer essay is about my desire to be a mom in a society that says women should be more than moms. I hope that essay can encourage other moms who also struggle with that to stand up for their desire to have kids and be mothers. Even if we wear other titles as well, “mom” is an important and worthy job and we shouldn’t let society look down on us because this is what we chose to do with our lives.

  

Who was your favourite author growing up? Was there someone in literature who modeled for you how to be a woman or mother?
Just one favourite author? LOL. On the topic of motherhood, I’d mention Little Women and Louisa May Alcott’s other books. Marmee is a constant, loving presence through that novel and we also see Meg and Jo growing into their roles as moms—Meg as the mom of her own twins and Jo as the adopted mother of a whole school of boys. Another favourite author is L. M. Montgomery and her Anne books. I love the way the relationship between Anne and Marilla develops through that novel, and then again, seeing Anne become a mother in the later books is also inspiring. And I should mention Cheaper by the Dozen, a hilarious book about a family with twelve kids that kind of started my own joke that I want twelve. All of those books talk about motherhood, adoption, and large families, and had an impact on me as a young reader. 

Can you tell us a little about your blog?

Well, I write a mom blog so it covers a little bit of everything. Right now, I blog five days a week and have a rough schedule of blogging about motherhood on Mondays, travel (around Vancouver) on Tuesdays, marriage or other things on Wednesdays, homeschooling on Thursdays, and book reviews on Fridays. I’ve been blogging for nine years this summer and do product reviews as well as sponsored posts. I call my blog my work-at-home part-time job and I love the fact that I can do something I enjoy, make a bit of extra money for our family, and still be at home with my girls. Plus, I’ve met so many other cool women through my blog so I love the way that social media and the blogosphere can connect us as moms.

  

Visit Bonnie at 🐨 The Koala Mom 🐨

“Love Rebel” up and rolling!

I’m excited to see our book “Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood” on Amazon!

We have been blessed with some really beautiful reviews. It’s so great to see women responding with warmth and joy to our collection of essays, poems, and experiences of motherhood. This is anything but a ‘know it all how-to’ book…it’s more like a bunch of good heart-to hearts with girlfriends over coffee…sharing laughter and tears, and feeling encouraged to not be alone in the bumpy adventure that is motherhood. 

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor Glynis Belec said in part of her wonderful review:

As I was reading, I started jotting down notes – joy phrases; sage advice; brilliant quotes. I was barely halfway through before I realized I had almost two full pages. Something rings true as each author ushers me into her life. Perhaps it is the vulnerability and the frankness of the authors. The stories are all different yet share a common thread -mothers are vessels for the miracle of life. A good reminder to our society where motherhood is too often considered secondary or not as important as career and climbing the corporate ladder.

I think Bonnie Way said it best in her story – “As I gave myself permission to just be a mom, all the little daily tasks of motherhood became a joy, instead of a chore.”

My sweet mother-in-law, one of my chief cheerleaders, noticed that you can now see inside on Amazon! This nice feature means you can read our editor Roberta’s intro to the book, see the table of contents, and also read the other reviews inside it. This all gives you just a little more of a taste of the book before you decide if it’s somthing you’d like to have next to your bed, on your coffee table, or at your mom’s group or book club. Happily the $10 price for a print book makes it quite accessible. Buying it as a Kindle e-book is another option, and is $2.97 American or $3.78 Canadian. 

Brenda J. Wood wrote this about reading “Love Rebel”:

What a charming book. I cried, and laughed (sometimes both at the same time!) The authors wrote their hearts on these pages and speak of loss and stress and every crazy emotion that occurs when you are a mother. They speak up for a dying art, the art of motherhood and the difference it makes to a child when it’s done right. It is ‘technically’ a Catholic book but don’t let that put you off. Highly recommended because it is heartwarming indeed.

A warm thank you to all the women who have reviewed our book and taken the time to give our stories a place in their hearts. Cheers to all my fellow moms! May we always support and encourage one another, and never fall prey to the danger of comparing ourselves to others and feeling we should try to be anyone else but the best version of ourselves. 

  

Check it out Amazon!

Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood

  
I am so excited to announce that my first book, with four other awesome women writers, is about to be published!

This beautiful labour of love (sorry for the birthing pun!) started with a spark of friendship that caught fire a few summers ago, when my friend Laura’s cousin Roberta Cottam, now a close friend of mine, first came to my mom’s group. We were discussing the importance of spending time on our artistic pursuits, even as busy moms…how spending time on things that make your soul happy and stimulate your mind is actually good for your whole family. A happy fulfilled woman is a happy fulfilled wife and mother. 

This was a huge point of connection for Roberta (artist, writer, designer) and me (writer and photographer) and began a series of great conversations about the topic. We both felt that our spiritual lives and our artistic output were very connected, and encouraged each other to deepen both. This book is one of the fruits!

It also came about because of another very good friend, Monique Leblanc, who had inspired me to start blogging about a year earlier. I found her blog so genuine, funny and refreshing that I decided to start blogging myself. I liked that her writing was so real…you felt like you were having tea with a dear friend…rather than remaining an aquaintence who is only shown all the pretty bits…it was the opposite of contrived. I connected with joyful Melanie Jean Juneau and fun-loving Bonnie Way online through blogging and mutual friends, and when we began the book project, Bonnie invited her good friend Monique Les to join in as well. 

So five moms, five bloggers, five friends, brought together through the passionate work of Roberta Cottam and designer Laura Wrubleski (http://www.visualaura.net/), have resulted in an anthology which I hope will encourage and inspire many mothers in the beautiful and worthwhile vocation of raising the future citizens of the world (yup, I mean being a mom!). Look for it soon on Amazon in print or as an e-book!