HEATHER – MOTHER OF 6 CHILDREN, 3 HERE, 3 REMEMBERED AFTER LOSS
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF MOTHERHOOD ADVICE YOU HAVE RECEIVED?
Before I had children, I worked in a very different field of work to what I do now. But a client in that field of work once told me that I should pay very close attention to the types of issues I have with each of my children during their toddler years. Because those very same issues will do a repeat in their lives as teenagers, just in a different form. I don’t have any of my children in their teen years yet, but when I heard that advice, I just felt it sink right in as a truthful, authentic and important piece of parenting information that I was going to need to remember for the many years to follow.
WHAT SPECIAL MOMENT WITH YOUR CHILDREN DO YOU CHERISH?
Each of their births and early postpartum periods (like the first 1 to 3 months). I don’t say this because I had a particularly easy postpartum experience with all my children. In fact, after I had my 2nd child, who was also a 2nd daughter, I fell into a severe postpartum mood disorder that was diagnosed as Postpartum PTSD (yes, that’s totally a thing, and it’s on the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders in case you didn’t know that was possible). Breastfeeding was great for the first 2 or 3 months, but by month 4 with each of my kids, walls shot up and issues arose that I had no solution for until I went through it with my 3rd babe. So, it was really emotional, it was so tough at some points, and it was downright scary as hell at other points too.
But what I cherish the most is the labour and delivery parts of each of my children’s births. Each time, although very painful, I never felt I suffered. I felt so safe, nurtured and cheered on by my entire birth team, that I was able to let my mind go fully inward and be present, reflective and deeply connected to feeling each baby be born from my body and into my arms. I was blessed to have each baby caught straight from my womb and put right up onto my waiting chest, and there is absolutely NOTHING in this entire world that could ever, ever touch that incredible moment each time. We weren’t disturbed or poked or prodded for a few hours after birth, and I got to enjoy the following couple of months just bathing in the oxytocin filled feeding, bathing and skin-to-skin days that would pass by. And each night I would groggily sit up with my newborn and put them to my breast, I would take a moment and reflect purposefully on the fact that that would be one less time that they would need me to feed them and hold them in their lives. It wouldn’t make me sad, it would make me grateful. It would thrust me into a calm state of mind of reverence so that I could really take in and enjoy the blessing that this tiny baby was in my life, and in our family’s life.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO MOTHERS WHO EXPERIENCE LOSS ON THEIR MOTHERHOOD JOURNEY? HOW DID YOU COPE WITH THE LOSS ON YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING A MOTHER?
To know loss is to know grief. And to know grief is to know God, in my humble opinion. Because grief is such an unpredictable process to navigate and having suffered multiple losses on my own journey to motherhood, I know the depths of despair that one feels when you feel literally empty inside. I know how it feels to long for the knowledge of what that baby looks like, or what they would be doing at that very moment in front of you, if they hadn’t left this life so early. I know the relief that comes from a safe miscarriage. That must sound completely bizarre to some, but to those who have navigated heavy blood loss, even life-threatening complications due to a pregnancy loss that’s going wrong, that is something one will know exactly what I mean. The waiting for it to be over so you can find a way to just move on. But then, never really ever getting to move on completely, because a part of you is missing.
What I would say to other mothers who either are experiencing loss right now, or have in the past, is allow yourself the grace and permission to be that baby’s mother for the rest of your life. It is not your fault. I repeat. It.is.not.your.fault! If you haven’t already, especially in the early pregnancy losses where a distinguishable fetus may not be able to be seen after the loss, give that baby a name. Solidify and find a way to commemorate, and celebrate them in your own authentic, special way. Forgive yourself if you forget when they died. You will remember again, I promise you. And beyond everything else, don’t ever allow your navigation of your grief to follow a timeline or an expectation. Ever! Because grief doesn’t do that. It will never get that memo from your friend or co-worker who thinks you should just move on and forget about a baby that never really existed. And above ALL else, reach out for help. Talking to a professional who specializes in loss during motherhood is so incredibly invaluable. It is NOT a sign of weakness or inability to deal with your life/grief. It is a sign of strength and determination that you are the person who will be able to guide and nurture your own healing in a way that is the most meaningful and efficient to YOU! Your baby will never, ever be forgotten. And I’m so, so sorry you went through losing them in the first place.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES / REWARDS OF RAISING YOUR CHILDREN?
The challenges, I feel like, we all know to some extent as a society. Raising children, especially in this helicopter parenting, social media policing, over anxious, mandating social climate we currently live in, is the single hardest job anyone will ever have. I think even those who don’t have children are on some level very aware of this fact. Combine that with the fact that no one, and I do mean no one, gets routinely judged and crapped all over in society by literally most everyone around them, more than a new mother/father does. It’s INSANE! Starting all the way from pregnancy, we have our medical care model setup to constantly be feeding pregnant parents with the idea that they don’t know nearly as much about what’s good for them as the doctors do. Continuing into birth, when we herd birthing folks into one box of a birth process and anyone who doesn’t fit into that box of a process, we label them incapable and start introducing all these small interventions that then all add up on top of each other to create this perfect storm of an issue when there never really may have been an issue to have over managed to begin with. And then when baby or mom or both goes into medical distress, they get caesarean sectioned and the doctor gets championed for saving their lives. At the end of it all, there is a woman with her brand-new baby at the very start of their baby’s lives, feeling deeply and inherently that she could not have possibly birthed her baby on her own, or made her own decisions about her birth process along the way. How does that affect motherhood going forward? Well, we as a society are all too happy to carry that judgment forward into their postpartum periods, where we judge them for exclusively breastfeeding, or formula feeding, or both, we judge them for whether they choose a pediatrician or a family doctor for their care, we judge them for whether they choose to circumcise their baby boys or not, we judge them for whether they choose to vaccinate their children or not, we judge them for whether they choose to sleep train their baby or not, or feed them solid foods too early, and the list (as you can see) goes on and on and on and on.
I can’t help but wonder what the landscape of parenting and children’s overall mental/physical health would be like if we approached parenting and motherhood assuming that parents are not stupid, and they know what’s best for themselves and their children. If we all approached parenting like this, I often wonder how the huge responsibility of parenting would shift in everyone’s eyes. I guess we may never know what that landscape will look like, but I do admit I hold out hope that one day we will know.
WHAT DOES BALANCE IN MOTHERHOOD LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
I have no idea. I’m the type of person who believes in going for it, regardless of how many people try to tell you that you might not be successful at it. And the same goes for motherhood. My husband and I both have felt deeply called to be parents to more than just the typical 2 or 3 children. We have always known and planned for the fact that we would want to be a larger family with about 5 or 6 children. We’re already at 3 and I gotta say, any hope of “balance” in motherhood went straight out the window the moment that 3rd babe showed up in our lives. Hahaha! But I think maybe my version of “balance” would be carving out time for oneself on a regular basis for self-care. And self-care should not be what you can’t afford to do. If you are a mother who is low-income who can’t get out to get her nails done every week, or her hair styled/cut, or a facial/massage every week, that should not be how you measure self-care for yourself. Planning to have a friend or babysitter or family member watch the kids for you while you go for a long walk is self-care. Planning a hot bath with candles and soft music is self-care. Or just curling up in your favorite nook in your house and reading a book you’ve been meaning to get to is also self-care. The important thing is that for me, I take the needed time to sit down and consider what activities actually make me truly happy inside and replenish my brain and soul. For me, one of those things is daily morning meditation. I set my alarm to get up about an hour or two earlier than any of the kids do, and I use that time to relax. I use that time to meditate with a guided meditation app that I use, and some mornings, I get the chance to share a little tea/coffee date with my hubby who will sometimes get up that early along with me to just be able to have quiet, connection time together.
Balance is a state of mind, it’s not whether you have your s***t together. Does anyone really have their s***t together, ever? I highly doubt it. I truly think the key to balance is prioritizing self-care. Figure out what that looks like for you and schedule it in the same way you would schedule in your kid’s hockey playing schedule, or after school programs. You cannot continue to pour from an empty cup. So, it’s time to fill it up little by little.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE YOUR OWN MOTHER TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD?
That she wasn’t emotionally able to be the mother that I needed. And that I’ve forgiven her for that. There was massive stigmas tied to seeking professional help for mental illnesses, when I was young and growing up, that even though my family did make it more of a priority than the majority of other families may have, in my mother’s case, the healthcare system and the resources for supporting my mother’s level of mental illness, still ended up failing her miserably. And that’s not her fault. But it has also left my family in a permanent crisis situation, emotionally, leaving my husband and I to have to have made some pretty tough, unfortunate and unforeseen decisions in how we move forward with our relationship with her in relation to us and our children now. But I want her to know that I needed her and loved her from the moment I was born, and that I always felt like I was searching for her. I also want her to know that I hope and pray every single day that she finally gets the help and support that she needs for her own trauma in life. Because no one should ever have to navigate what she has been forced to navigate.
HOW ARE YOU DOING THINGS THE SAME/ DIFFERENT AS YOUR OWN MOTHER?
This is a question I think is disrespectful to my mother if I were to try and answer this. I think in each generation we all have this misguided notion that we are going to forever change the way parenting will be, so that our kids never have to deal with some specific aspect of our own childhood and our own traumas. But the truth of the matter is, we are all going to forever be imperfect human parents of imperfect human children. Our life situations may at times mirror things in our own childhood, but for the most part, our life trajectories and those of our children are not in our full control. There was a time when Dr. Spock and his parenting books were all the rage andwere being championed as being the new wave of parenting that needed to set future generations up for the true success everyone desires for their children. But if you were to ask leading “parenting experts” nowadays what their thoughts on Dr. Spock’s parenting approaches are, the vast majority of them will cite him has being woefully misguided in his approach. My whole point in saying this is, the next generation of children will naturally breed with it a brand-new style of parenting. And inevitably, they will all look back at our parenting fads and styles and more than likely laugh, point and call us all woefully misguided in our approaches, too. We are going to have different and unique ways of traumatizing our children, or the outside world will do it for us, and we won’t always be able to successfully help our children navigate these traumas. And so, back to the question of how am I doing things differently to my own mother? Well, I’m simply being a mother to my kids. I’m not my mother, and my kids are not me. So, there’s a LOT that will be different, but some that will likely be the same. I think that’s okay. And I believe we will all survive and thrive because of it. 😊 Even if I don’t choose to breathe down the neck of my kids on the playground.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PARENTING STYLE? WHY DO YOU CHOOSE THIS STYLE OF PARENTING?
My parenting style. Oh lord. I thought we just got through this topic with the last question. LOL! I don’t know that I have one specific style. Each style has its perks, and each has its severe downfalls. I don’t believe in identifying or being pegged into one style of parenting specifically. Sometimes I am a free-range parent, other times I am not. Sometimes I’m authoritarian, other times I am not. I don’t believe that timeouts are the problem, and yet I refuse to ever allow my baby to cry it out while learning to develop their sleep routines. I believe in disciplining my children and giving them concrete, natural consequences for their actions, but I don’t believe spanking is how to achieve children’s learning and growth emotionally. I believe my children deserve the human right to lead their own education from start to finish, but I also believe in teaching my children about God and the spiritual and religious beliefs that I still hold firmly for myself. I believe in marriage, and that it’s a sacred promise made between two people that should be taken a lot more seriously than it is anymore. But I believe the TRUE form of marriage in society occurs when a couple chooses to have a child together, not when they sign a piece of paper and wear fancy clothes at a party on one day. Because you can’t ever truly walk away from a child together unless one parent dies. Even if that parent chooses to not be involved in the child’s life for a certain amount of time, that doesn’t mean they will forever be uninvolved in that child’s life. Again, unless they have passed away. My father always said to me, “Heather, I am much more concerned with who you choose to have children with in life, than who it is that you choose to get married to. Marriage can be ended in divorce. Children are forever. Forging your contract in blood is going to forever bind you to that person, whether you want to be 10 years from then or not. So, choose VERY carefully who you have children with, and the rest will take care of itself.” Never has truer advice ever been given to me.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST REGRET OR PROUDEST MOMENT OF PARENTING THUS FAR?
One of my many, many proudest moments as a mother was when my oldest daughter began reading after a couple of years of following the method of unschooling with her at home. I was constantly fraught with self-doubt, constantly being told by others that I would fail, that my daughter would fail, that I was being a lazy parent, and that there was no way she was ever going to learn the necessary life skills she needed to learn in order to be a self-sufficient, well adjusted, contributing member of society. And for a while I believed them. Until my daughter showed me that she had taught herself how to read without any of my interference, and despite all my worrying and self-doubt. There she was, reading fluently and easily, as if she had known how to read her entire life. I was floored. I was so grateful. And I was so proud of myself for sticking to something I knew in my gut was the right thing to stick to. I don’t worry as much anymore. 😉
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACE OR WOMEN FACE IN GENERAL IN REGARDS TO MOTHERHOOD?
That society and especially men, expect mothers to do it all. They expect mothers to, after carrying the baby, birthing the baby, feeding the baby for the first few months to a year or so, to also continue caring for their household, lose however much sleep they have to because of the kids, work in whatever type of gainful work that they can, to get their pre-baby body back, to be present and engaged in their marriages, to have a social life outside of Facebook and Instagram, and to do this mostly all by themselves. I read and hear every day about the adult temper tantrums that some men (NOT all men) throw when they are asked by the mothers of their children to step up and help with a few more chores around the house, or to help in picking up and dropping off kids to after school activities, or to cook a few meals a week for the family, or to pick up groceries every once in a while…..you get my point. My marriage would not have even occurred if my husband were the type of person to show signs of this being a chronic problem for us. It’s not to say that I feel 100% appreciated and seen every day of our marriage. But I have a husband who I am blessed to say actually listens to what I have to say for the most part, and he truly has the desire to be there to support me better, be my biggest champion in life, and show me by his actions that he’s willing to do that. In return, I deeply desire for him to be happy and successful and the champion of his own life and goals too. We navigate rough times well as a team, even when it’s not easy, or one or both of us is suffering in some way. We completely trust each other, and we focus on fixing things that need to be refined or done better. It’s a constant process, we are constantly growing and learning from each other. And I think every mother deserves a partner or spouse who will be that way with her through her parenting journey. It truly does take a village, and not in the way of judgement of each other and trying to tell each other what to do and how to do it. In the way of SERVING each other. Change your questions from “why are you doing it that way?” to “what do you need from me to feel more supported?”
HOW DO YOU BALANCE CAREER AND MOTHERHOOD?
Again, going back to the whole theory of balance in motherhood, for me the missing pieces are ALWAYS about self-care. If I let my self-care routines slip, it isn’t long before I start feeling completely overwhelmed by my workload. I also have amazing family and friends around us who make the whole village we have built and rebuilt a machine (albeit sometimes messy) that helps us reach our goals as a family and me as a mother. But also, it’s a village I am blessed to be a part of because I feel compelled to give back to all those in my support network in some way, shape or form.
One other thing I have decided to focus on doing is surrounding myself with those who inspire me, not those who invite or bring drama to my life. Those who drive me to want to do better, be better, think faster, be more creative, get moving. Those who get excited by a great, crazy idea, but who are willing to be completely honest with me at the same time too. Those are the people who I have learned actually have my best intentions at heart.