Imposter Syndrome

I have recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’, where she explains Imposter Syndrome in terms of professional women not feeling that they are actually qualified for their role and being worried that someone will find out.Lean In

I could certainly relate this to motherhood, too. There’s a lot of pressure to put on a brave face, or to show how much effort you’re putting in to raising your own kids. So what if someone finds out that you’re not doing what you think you should be capable of? That your house is a complete mess and you don’t actually care. That the kids have sat in front of the telly most of the day because you can’t face getting out more arts and crafts that they only spend 5 minutes using. Or that you had your own temper tantrum because you couldn’t find the freaking nappy wipes, a pair of matching socks, the kids don’t know where their expensive new sandals are, and you just needed to get out of the house on time today.

I try to be honest about my struggle with motherhood – I’m open about my PND, sleep-deprivation and not being able to find a balance with work and family. Yet, I still have friends who are surprised when I am able to empathise with their own struggles – as if they thought I was impervious to self-doubt, guilt, and emotional breakdowns. They think I cope well, manage beautifully-behaved children (ha!) and have life well and truly under control.

And that’s without even trying to put on a brave face!

Tired mum

← Actually, this is more like my brave face.

I guess what I’m saying is that we should probably worry less about how we seem to be coping compared to others,  and whether we’re doing a good enough job compared to everyone else, and more about reassuring each other that it’s okay to feel shitty about being a mum occasionally. Don’t let the inflammatory headlines tell you you’re doing something bad by misquoting some pseudo-scientific “research” on the latest parenting technique. 

As long as we care about what we’re doing as parents, we’re not imposters. Unconditionally loving our kids automatically qualifies us for the role.

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Siberia

I’ve been warned yet again, by a good friend, about posting links to articles on my facebook page which might cause offence to some people.

polarbear_feeding_cubsI’m not talking about articles that are sexist, racist, or revolting. I tend to post articles that explore, and usually compare, different parenting choices and philosophies, like this, and this, or this . I link to them, because I find them interesting, and they usually reflect something about my own experiences.

So, why do they cause problems? Because people think I’m judging their own choices.

Yet I really don’t think I am. I completely understand that each individual – and I’m talking about every individual in each individual family unit – has their own experiences, knowledge and needs that shape the ‘choices’ they take in parenthood. I use ‘choices’ because I also understand that sometimes they’re not exactly first choices, and sometimes we have them foisted on us by outside forces (i.e. being unable to breastfeed for medical reasons).

It’s just that you don’t seem to be able to state your personal opinions without causing offence. Since when has offence been the first reaction, though? Why can’t we feel free to debate? Are we too scared of being wrong? Every opinion should be available for debate – how else do we actually discuss ideas? An opinion is just that – not a fact, an opinion. Something to be discussed. Mums, especially, seem to be very defensive about choices – when we should feel the right to be matter-of-fact about them. I occasionally tell people that my 4yo still requests boobfeeds. I don’t tell them that to judge what they’re doing. I tell them that because that’s part of my life and I’m finding it challenging at the moment.

On another note, Clever Mama had a guest post about the importance of women supporting each other through life. Now, I’m one of those people who always thinks they get along better with the blokes – I understand their humour, and I like their honesty (to throw in a couple of generalisations) – but the article got me thinking. When I had kids, I knew that I needed to reach out to find other mums to connect to, because it can be lonely. As a shy person, this was (and still is) agonisingly difficult or me to do. But I attended local playgroups, went to ABA meetings, and even organised some get-togethers with other mums who I went to uni with.

It was a rewarding experience, and I loved talking to other mums- especially the ones who I shared a bit of humour, philosophy, history or sleep-deprivation with. But I have always been shy. And I have always doubted that others like me. I realise now that’s connected to the anxiety, but that’s my problem, and something I’m going to have to learn to overcome.

What I’d like others to overcome (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) is the notion that by sharing ideas, opinions and parts of me – who I am – that I’m judging, being spiteful or trying to hurt. That’s just not me.

siberia

So….I’ve gone into exile in terms of facebook. I check it a couple of times a week for messages.

I’ve also gone into exile from life a bit. I’m burying myself in work – which I enjoy, but creates a lot of pressure for the few hours I work – and we don’t seem to visit people anymore. My 4yo asks if we can visit this person or that, and I keep making excuses because I can’t remember if I’ve possibly offended them, so best to stay clear.

I’ll get over it. And myself. But I just need a bit of clear thinking space where I can do a bit of soul-searching.

Ah, the serenity…

mucking in the mother guilt

Becoming a mother leaves you open to all sorts of criticism and unwanted advice – some good, most not. Whether it be what age you introduce solids, how long you should breastfeed, how you discipline your child (or don’t), or what you should do to get your baby to sleep through the night.

There’s a lot of pressure on mamas to make the right choices. Having people constantly asking you whether your baby sleeps through the night is one of these pressures.

Sleeping like a baby?

My little girl was a cat-napper, woke numerous times (at one stage hourly) through the night which she could only be coaxed back to nod by a breastfeed, and didn’t respond to any of the gentle sleep cues we worked so long and hard at. At nine months of age, in desperation due to undiagnosed post-natal depression and in response to much prodding from family & friends, we tried Sleep School. It didn’t work for us.

Then something wonderful happened. I talked to a couple of mums with older kids, who had exactly the same trouble as me, and guess what? Their children now slept through the night. There was an end in sight.  Instead of cursing her for disturbing my sleep – I took on the role of soothing her back to sleep. Acceptance, and knowing that others had been there before, helped me.

The reason I’m writing this is because I often post articles on my personal facebook page about gentle sleep techniques, as opposed to controlled crying, to help a few other mums who I know are going through the same thing, and let them know it’s alright. There have been numerous articles recently about controlled crying, like this, this and this.

Unfortunately, I’ve inadvertently ostracised a few mums who have had to go down the cc route – especially one wonderful mum who has been such a great support for me the last couple of years. I really didn’t mean to do that – after all, I tried the Sleep School, too. I know it works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everybody.

The headlines (‘baby torture’, ‘could damage brain development’) are not helpful to the people that actually need that information. Even though I was trying to provide support and information to some mamas, I was actually adding to the mummy-war arsenal, albeit unintentionally: there is so much guilt and negativity in the headlines alone.

So what do I do? Do I remove the articles, or do I add some sort of disclosure/warning? The content in the articles is still valid, but I don’t want to make other mamas feel guilty because they’ve taken a different route in this crazy car called Parenthood.

I hope my friend will forgive me – I will try and work up the courage to call her, but I’m still having a rough time with anxiety at the moment, and the thought of an unanswered call makes me jittery.

My philosophy is that we all do things differently. Each kid is different, and each parent is, too. We should do what we feel is right for our own families. We get defensive about our choices as parents, when, really, we should just accept them as done and move on. Easier said than done, when everybody wants to put their own two cents in, but then again, isn’t it wonderful that we have so many choices to make as parents, that we can all do things differently? I don’t think there is a right or wrong choice. There’s just life, and you do what you do to get on with it.

 

Post Natal Mind F#$k

My little 3 year old gets eczema on her cheek, and I think I’ve finally worked out what causes it. It’s not food allergies or hayfever or soap. It’s me.

I’m struggling at the moment.

I’m working more and the housework is  piling up. I’m still not getting a decent sleep at night because my 13mo is a wakeful little blighter. My ‘freakouts’ have been occurring a little too often and I feel anxious a lot. So the doctor upped my yippee pills, although it’s still a very low dose.

My little girl gets so stressed seeing me freak, that it seems to manifest in this intense rash on her face. It acts as a bit of a reminder for me, too, that my actions have a direct effect on her, that I need to stop, and make sure she understands that it isn’t her fault and that I still love her and her brother ever so much.  Kids take in and on everything.

I think the new dose kicked in properly today. Things are just starting to feel a bit more balanced. There seems to be  cross-over period where everything gets a bit chaotic for a couple of days: it happened when I first went on the medication, too. I had more freakouts, and was absolutely dog-tired.

The nature of the freak-outs has changed: before I started medication they would sneak up on me, wild, manic, almost primitive. Now they are more repressed, angry, but I am quicker to gain control and calm myself and I get a lot more warning, so I can try to step away from the kids so they don’t see me being scary. I do scare them. I know I can be very scary. And that makes me feel horrid.

I think I expected that the PND would clear up when my son turned one. Not sure why, or what the logic was. Probably because that was when I started to feel better the first time around, with my daughter – she turned one, I was finally getting sleep and things were much easier for me. You can’t rush these things, though.

I only hope I’m not f#$king up my kids too much.

Not just lucky, I worked for it

Yeah, yeah, this is a bit of a rant.

Eventually, in all mothers groups, playgroups or vague group of mums, the conversation turns to birth stories. For some reason, the aim of this ritual is to be the mum who suffered the most – well, that’s how it seems sometimes.

When I say that I had wonderful experiences with two natural drug-free births I’m told “well, you’re just very lucky” and then, “I don’t believe people when they say it’s not painful”*.

Two points:

  • Yes, luck certainly played a part, but I also put a helluva lot of work and preparation into giving myself the best chance at a natural birth.
  • When the hell did I say it wasn’t painful?

Me and MLM calmly being lucky.

My high hopes for natural birth were countered by a realistic view, and I prepared myself as best I could – after all, birth is one of the most unpredictable events in the world. This is probably why it spooks so many people – mums-to-be, dads, obstetricians and insurance companies…

I grew up aware that my mother had a horrific experience having me. A 24-hour labour, hospital nuns who had taken a vow of rudeness and an emergency c-section when I refused to emerge – all without the support of her husband (who wasn’t allowed in the ward) and the antagonism of her own mother (who accused her of taking the ‘easy way out’ with a c-section). I had a fear of birth from as early as I remember, and when MLM suggested we have kids I really started to freak out.

Then logic kicked in – haven’t women been giving birth for generations? How did they cope before hospitals? I began researching different views of birth – midwife-lead care, homebirthing, and reading all sorts of viewpoints and counter-arguments. I enjoyed finding out that there were alternatives  – even though I knew I wasn’t going to have a homebirth, I certainly didn’t want a legs-in-stirrups experience.

Being a petite person, I was often told (never by a health professional, funnily enough) that I would probably need a c-section because my hips were small. I researched it myself to see what the facts and statistics were. The Spinning Babies website was an awesome resource for this and I recommend it to all my preggie friends. Basically, there’s a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there about pelvis size and the obstetricians’ favourite line ‘failure to progress’.

The main problem birthing women face is fear.

Everyone drills it into us when we’re pregnant – the horror stories, the misinformation, the lack of trust we have in our bodies.

Plus, everyone’s labour is different. Some are textbook, most are not.

So, to get over my fear of birth, I hired a doula who taught Hypnobirthing. I don’t really know what I expected, but it all made so much sense to me that I went along with it and before I knew it, I was excited about the prospect of going into labour, and felt that I had the loveliest people backing me up: MLM, Rachael (doula), Ellen (sister-in-law) and the wonderful midwives at the Family Birth Centre.

We women need to find time to reclaim our birth experiences. I know that sounds airy-fairy, but it’s true. There’s a lot of pressure on women to eat the right foods, take certain supplements, and be well-behaved walking uteri. Birth is governed a lot by hospital policies, insurance requirements and textbook expectations. There are two individuals who need to be considered, though: mother and baby. Some babies are big, some are small, some are quiet, some are active. Some women have different menstrual cycles which will alter due dates, some women react badly to being induced, and all mums have different ways of coping during the birth. We are all individuals (“Yes, we are all individuals” shout the mob from Monty Python).

The women I know who have had positive birth experiences have had one thing in common: they have overcome their fears of the birth process.

Fear causes labour to stop progressing. It also takes decision-making out of our hands, if we’re panicked and not understanding what is going on. Fear causes muscle tension – which is not what you want in labour. Fear is not just psychological – we take it on in physical form – especially so in labour.

I believe birth is a feminist issue because most women seem to doubt that their bodies are capable of doing it. We’ve been told to doubt our capabilities, or lead to believe it. Yes, there are risks – that’s why hospitals are so good. Yes, there are complications – that’s why obstetricians exist. But we should be giving our bodies the benefit of the doubt before we’re made to feel that we can’t.

I understand that some women want elective c-sections, and that’s fine if they’ve been given enough information to make a truly informed decision.

I understand that c-sections can be life-saving – I’m not questioning individuals about their ‘choice’ in an emergency.

What I want is for women to be given confidence, knowledge and proper information so they can make their own birthing choices to suit their individual and family requirements:

If women want a natural birth, give them information about Calmbirth, Hypnobirthing, etc and get them to watch other births to get used to the idea of how different each birth can be. When I told a GP (not my usual one) that I was hoping to have a natural birth, he all but scoffed. He should have been letting me know where I could access further resources.

Ultimately, what I want is to hear more women telling more positive birthing stories. No matter whether it was natural, with forceps, c-section, it can still be a positive experience. We just need to get over our fears.

*  my second birth wasn’t all that painful – but it was a lot of hard, physical work. I was very proud of myself though – he was a 10 pound whopper!