A Mother Was Born…

For every woman who’s ever experienced childbirth, there’s a birth story which she holds dear to her heart. No matter the years that have passed or the subsequent children that have followed, those memories remain steadfast in the minds of those who bear witness to them. Ask a mother how she felt the day she gave birth & she’ll recall the anticipation, fear, exhilaration & raw emotion of her story in vivid detail, as though it happened yesterday. Some will smile when they recount the little moments, or detail how they cried along with their partner the first time they laid eyes on their eagerly awaited baby & some will wear their story like a badge of honour. Every woman is different, every baby is different & every birth story should be celebrated.
But if I had a dollar for every time I heard a woman say ‘this is not the way I was supposed to give birth’ I’d be rich. Like, Oprah rich. I’d be driving around in my diamond-encrusted convertible Audi, perfectly coiffed hair blowing about in the wind, smiling, waving & blowing kisses to all the plebs as I pass by. Just kidding, I’ll have so much Botox & fillers in that face I wouldn’t be able to raise an eyebrow. But before I get carried away with my wind-swept pipe-dreams, the point I want to make is that there are women out there who believe there’s a right & wrong way to give birth. That anything less than a drug-free, pain-free, meditative, ‘natural’ birth amongst a field full of dandelions and posies is too medical, interventional, cold & wrong. Find me a mother’s group anywhere that doesn’t claim to have a dangerous undercurrent of hierarchy & superiority based on birthing interventions & I’ll find you a liar. From conception to birth & beyond, motherhood at the best of times can seem competitive & acrimonious. And motherhood is a tough enough gig without feeling like you’re on the wrong foot from the very beginning.
In my life I’ve seen the best of both worlds. I’ve given birth to my two children vaginally (I hate the word ‘naturally’ as it assumes the other alternatives to giving birth are ‘unnatural.’) But let’s all be honest here, what’s natural about pushing a 4.5kg watermelon out through a straw?? Not much but thanks again, Mother Nature. I’m also in a profession where I am absolutely privileged to witness & work with women who give birth via c-section. In most cases the c-sections are elective whilst others are emergency cases. Irrespective of how they come about, it breaks my heart to hear a woman about to experience one of the most monumental moments of her life to feel as though she’s failed. I’m not sure where this sense of failure stems from- is it the media? Society? Other mothers? Friends and family? I think anyone who does have an opinion or superiority complex over the way another woman gives birth is either 1) cray-cray 2) lying 3) male. I’m yet to meet another person who has an opinion on my birthing & child-rearing choices but I welcome them to come take on a chronically tired & emotionally unstable fire-breathing dragon at their own peril & in return I’ll hand them back a set of crushed nuts. Regardless, shaming of women for their choices & at times, the medical interventions that are outside of their control needs to stop.
I’m the first to admit my birth plan consisted only of two things: 1) adequate pain relief & 2) let’s all get out of here alive. Yep, I was ‘that woman’- the one you could hear down the corridor screaming ‘GIVE ME ALL THE DRUGS,’ the one kicking back on a bit of nitrous & the one eagerly welcoming the biggest needle you’ve ever laid eyes on, into my spinal cord with the sweet relief that only an epidural can bring. The second part of my birthing plan consisted of ‘get this kid OUT OF ME’ by any means or intervention necessary. Do I think I’m a failure for accepting help? Absolutely not. I created this beautiful life inside of me; nurtured it and nourished it for 9 long months & then gave birth to it with all the medical resources made available to me. If that strength, courage & power doesn’t make me an absolute goddess then I don’t know what does. Ladies, it doesn’t matter whether you’re ‘taking a match & burning down your hubby’s favourite pub’ (vaginal birth) or swinging that kid up through the sunroof (c-section), ain’t no-one getting out of birth easily. One is not easier than the other. There is no right or wrong way to do things. In birth there are no winners or losers. Only mothers doing what is right for them & their circumstances with the cards they’ve been dealt.
I wonder what a journey through motherhood without judgement or criticism would look like. If decisions & actions were celebrated rather than vilified or condemned. If the bigger picture were acknowledged (a happy baby & healthy mother) rather than the means of getting there (delivery method). How much stronger would we be if we didn’t concentrate on the small details but instead celebrated & empowered each other for the real reason we find ourselves in the delivery suite…. That very moment where your pregnancy ends and a baby enters the world. Where your old life ends & another life begins. When the midwife hands you the most precious gift you’ve waited 9 months & an entire lifetime for. Ten tiny fingers & ten tiny toes. That moment where you nuzzle each other & breathe in that intoxicating newborn smell for the very first time. The instant calm of placing baby on your chest where your heartbeat slows & you relax into one another. The final piece of the puzzle you’ve waited all your life for & now here she is, in your arms & in your heart. You lock eyes with that perfect little being & wonder how you would ever love another person like the one you fell in love with today. You kiss her little forehead as you wipe away your tears. And those new, precious little eyes stare back at you in awe & wonder… These moments are truly what motherhood is about.
The day a warrior was born…
The day a mother was born.
Helenka – The Unlikely Mummy.

Like A Moth To A Mozzie-Zapper…

 I’d like to think we’ve all been there before. The rose tinted glasses, the butterflies in the stomach & the euphoric feeling of being head over heels.  Where you’re transported from walking the earth with all the other mundane plebs to a lustrous, glistening & perfect loved-up bubble that only you & your latest squeeze now share. Those grimy streets you once walked are now shiny & new. The sun shines a little brighter, the birds sing a little louder & life got just a little bit better. Nothing could pop that all-encompassing love-bubble…. Until the day he stops returning your calls & disappears quicker than Harold Holt taking an evening dip. The rose tinted glasses will be replaced with a visit from the green-eyed monster, those butterflies in your stomach will turn to anxiety-riddled kamakazi moths tearing apart your insides & your steep descent back to earth will be magnificent. Congratulations, you’ve just dated a fuck-boy.

I was 18 & he was 32. On paper he read like this: handsome, worldly, wildly successful, home owner, career driven, dog lover. Any other woman with a level head on her shoulders & a little life experience under her belt would have seen his 30-something-single-status & the very fact that he enjoyed dating naïve 18 year olds as a giant red flag & run for the hills. But oh no, not me- I gravitated towards it like a moth to a mozzie-zapper. I’m the type of girl who’s always enjoyed a challenge. And going where no woman had been before with this commitment-phobe was right up my tortured, self-inflicted-alley.

Now before I go and write myself off as a total #psycho, let me give you the back story. I met *Brad on the dance floor of the Victory Hotel in Brisbane. (*Names have been changed to protect the innocent parties. Just kidding- his name really is Brad but we can call him Captain Twat-Waffle for all intensive purposes.) Anyway, amongst all the sweaty bodies, the sticky floors & Nelly’s ‘Its Getting Hot In Here’ pumping away in the background of this classy establishment, Cpt TW & I locked eyes. It was instantaneous. Our sexual chemistry was palpable. From that moment on he was mine & I was his.

There were long lunches, lustful gazes & late nights between the sheets. We’d talk endlessly about our lives & shared our hopes & dreams for the future. But no sooner had it begun then **poof** he’d disappear faster than you can say ‘I’ve named ALL our future babies/ marriage/ joint bank account/ 50th wedding anniversary.’ There were no apologies, explanations or break-up. He’d just fallen off the face of the earth. I’d spend the week upset, ugly-crying into the bottom of an ice-cream container & scouring the obituaries for his death notice. Then weeks after I’d pulled up my big-girl panties & brushed off my bruised ego he’d miraculously reappear, with apparent amnesia of the past & rearing for round #2.

Well slap-me-silly and sign-me-up! Ring -a-ding-ding ladies! Step aside as this emotionally unstable, commitment-phobic, little boy is all mine. As I’ve said- there’s nothing I like more than a bit of a challenge. Captain Twat-Waffle had set the bar for unattainable & I quite liked to jump through his hoops. His reasons were that I was never enough… Not skinny enough, not funny enough, not educated enough, not worldly enough, not pretty enough. The Captain could have worn his issues like a giant neon sign flashing across his forehead (DANGER, giant wrinkly ball sack ahead with a penchant for dating supermodels despite not being a model himself) & I would have sat there dazzled, wide-eyed & mesmerised by the lights.

Now back in the real world, I think most women’s criteria for finding a suitable man goes a little something like this:

Good sense of humour? Check.
Tall, dark & handsome? Check.
Nice smile/ sexy eyes/ well groomed? Check.
Big D (just kidding, but we all wish & hope).

While my checklist has always been a little more like this:

Emotionally unavailable? Check.
Commitment phobic? Check.
Mummy-issues? Check. Check. Check!

We’d be blissfully together, apart, together & apart again. We’d only just recommence our relationship (for the 5th time) before Captain TW pulled another Harry Houdini-disappearing act. Except this time I wasn’t having a bar of it. This time there was no escape clause or civilised parting of ways. I was mad & boy was he going to hear about it. Cue 15 drunken messages on his answering machine at 3am sobbing ‘why won’t you just love me??’, turning up on his doorstep unannounced & standing at the foot of his bed, quietly watching him as he sleeps… (Wait, wha?? Totally joking on that last one). Because ladies, if he doesn’t love you when you’re sane & rational, then he’s certainly going to love you when you go all ‘single white female’ on his ass…

We continued this toxic somewhat-relationship for the good part of 5 years. Sometimes in the middle of relationships, outside of relationships & at any other time either of us felt lonely or had a void to fill. Until one day I woke up, sorted my life out, got an education & learnt how to stand on my own two feet. I didn’t need a white knight to ride in on his horse & save me; I could mother-fucking save myself. It well & truly ended when I grew up. When I jumped off the emotional merry-go-round of lust with its intoxicating highs & devastating lows, and learnt the importance of real love… (Shout-out to you stud-ly hubby-o).

True to form, I don’t think the Captain invested any time into self-discovery the way I did. Three months before I was set to marry I saw his name pop up in my email inbox- he too was engaged. He asked about me, tried to woo me & asked if I’d run away with him. Seems old habits die hard & running away from responsibility was what he loved most. So what would any self-assured woman with a petty score to settle do? With the blessings of my now-husband, I strung him along for a month or two, then bundled up every incriminating email & sent them directly to his fiancé. Funnily enough, she still married him & coincidentally, only a day after I was married. I guess for every commitment-phobic guy ready to throw away a relationship, there’s an equally desperate woman prepared to look the other way. I’m just glad I grew up in time to not be her. I’m also totes thrilled that when I stand above a man now, casually caressing his cheek as he sleeps I’m not in breach of a restraining order… (Jokes).

Helenka – The Unlikely Mummy.

Parent Sex.

Centuries ago some dude named Benjamin Franklin once said ‘nothing is certain except death and taxes.’ It’s clear this man never had a wife or a dozen mistresses bear his children otherwise he would have quoted ‘nothing is certain except death, taxes, and an MIA libido when child-rearing.’ Yup, there’s nothing like a newborn kid swinging from your nips 24/7, a toddler around your ankles, the monotony of household chores & chronic sleep deprivation to kick your sex life in the proverbial testicles. And while the opportunity does present itself from time to time; what was once a booty-bumping, door-thumping, Barry Manilow-pumping tryst between lovers has now been replaced with “oh for the love of God you’ve got 3 minutes until the ad break finishes & Masterchef is back on.” Ladies & Gentlemen, welcome to parent sex.

Now what felt like centuries ago, hubby & I had a cracking love life. These were the red-hot days where the champagne flowed, conversation was long & every gaze was lustful. Where laying in bed until noon was normal, our housemates thought we were permanently joined at the lips (and hips), and the karma sutra needed a ‘revised edition’ to include a thing or two from our bedroom antics. Where bumping uglies, playing ‘hide the salami’, car sex/ floor sex/ kitchen sex & doona-dancing were done at every opportunity (thank-you to urban dictionary for all 436 versions of ‘sex’). Things were once so good poor Hubby could barely keep up the pace.

So with a fire burning so hot, having two kids surely wouldn’t change a thing, right?? WRONG. After marriage, two kids, two cats, a dog & 6 long years together its only natural that sexy-time would get put on the back-burner. Even moreso with a newborn in the house. Throw in the monotony of work, bills, & everyday life & hey presto- you’ve got yourself a recipe called ‘never getting laid again.’ And for all of you singletons out there who scoff & don’t believe this could ever happen to you, lets examine the evidence together…

Hubby’s day goes a little something like this:

5am: drive to work.
9am: coffee & polite conversation with co-workers.
9:05am: poopin’ time on company dime.
9:10am – 4pm: work, long lunch break, toilet break.
4pm: drive home from work to find kids bathed, washing sorted & dinner cooked.
6pm: scratches nuts on couch in full view of wife while mouthing ‘ya want some??’
(Gee, no thanks Romeo…).
9pm: bed time.

While my day goes a little like this:

Crack of dawn (5am): ‘mummy, do you want to see my barbie??’ Proceeds to push barbie & her quite-frankly-slutty-stilettos into my cornea.
5:10am: ‘mummy I want breakfast..’ Cue toddler-tyrant meltdown that her eggs are too yellow/ milk is too wet/ bowl is not pink.
5:15am: think, ‘what the fuck is that noise?’ Only to remember I have a newborn now & boy is he cranky for being made to wait 3.5 seconds for titty.
5:20am: eat the toddler’s leftover cereal & while washing it down with yesterday’s cold coffee.
6am: chase naked toddler through the living room/ kitchen/ bathroom. Tackle her to the floor & dress her while she’s thrashing around like a rabid dog.
6:20am: dress myself- trakkies that fit my widening ass, maternity bra & mum-bun. Keepin’ it classy since 2014.
6:21am: have the newborn vomit all down fresh clothes & into the base of shoe.
7am: find the longest running episode of Peppa Pig on YouTube, tell the toddler to go nuts, place the newborn down in his cot & get excited about taking a dump in peace. Cat nudges door open & sits on lap. Try to be thankful that my lap is at least warm..
8am: attempt to leave the house. Pack a gluten free/ allergy free/ peanut free lunch for the toddler, pack nappies, wipes, toys, blankies, rags, spare set of clothes for the baby. Pack the car like you’re leaving & never coming back.
8:01am: fantasize about packing up the car & never coming back (bye children!!)…

I’d go on but you get the point. Lust wears off & real life takes its place. After a pretty typical (harrowing) day Hubby normally arrives home to find the house neglected, the toddler throwing herself at his feet & a baby pushed into his arms. Not a second after his feet walk through the front door do I start bitching on about which child has pushed me to the brink that day. My trakkies are covered in newborn vomit, hair pushed into a mum-bun & titties squeezed into the mono-boob only a the most beige & saggy of maternity bras could muster. I’ve got acne from eating all the kid’s Easter Eggs on the sly, I can’t be bothered applying makeup & my hair is falling out in clumps (cheers to postpartum hair loss!). Which is ironic considering I’m going bald up top but am hairier than chewbacca down below. My legs are bushy & my ‘lady garden’ has become a ‘lady forest.’ If sunsilk were looking for ‘minge-models’ I’d happily pull out the knicker-wad & let those pubes glisten freely in the sun.

And yet despite all this i throw myself into bed, exhausted, mentally preparing myself for the long night ahead breastfeeding my son at the ‘all you can eat boobie-buffet’ & hubby gives me that look… 3.5 seconds into pyjamas & chill & he wants to ‘throw me one.’ God bless his cotton socks- against all the aesthetic obstacles, the bits that sag, the wobbly bits & my apparent fall from grace in the hygiene department, he still wants to shag me.

And for that dear hubby, I will. Welcome to parent sex. The next 3 minutes are all yours…

Helenka – The Unlikely Mummy.

Celebrating the Little Victories

I’ve never considered myself to be one of those ‘baby-wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, kale and quinoa loving’ mothers but I have known to test the waters from time to time.  I ‘wore’ my first child (The Diva) for her every waking moment only because if she wasn’t blissfully sleeping for 30 erratic minutes at a time, she was screaming like an irate banshee until she was firmly pressed against my chest, holding me captive.  Co-sleeping was the same deal.  If I wanted to indulge in any scrap of sleep it was going to be tucked up ‘hostage style’ with my 2.67kg mini-dictator.  Breastfeeding didn’t come easy either.  I’ve had my fair share of cracked & bleeding nipples, poor attachment, thrush, slow let-down, engorgement, and my personal favourite- mastitis.

Now back when I lived in 4-hourly sleep cycles the Diva would feed for two hours straight.  I’d spend 45 minutes settling her, before getting 30 minutes of shut-eye myself.  I did this torturous routine for 9 months straight before two friends staged a booby/ sleeping/ settling intervention.  After nine months of next to no sleep I’m quite surprised I wasn’t institutionalised.  Looking back I wished someone had grabbed me earlier, shaken me by the shoulders & told me that it was ok to put her on the bottle.  That I was still a good mother.  That dragging my half-dead, sleep-deprived corpse around wasn’t helping anyone.  In the midst of that heavy, sleep-deprived fog where all rational thinking goes out the window, sometimes all we need is an external source to tell us when enough is enough.

And for all my efforts- the two-hour feeding stints and sleep-deprivation that would reduce a tortured hostage to his knees; I got mastitis.  Now for every mother that’s had the misfortune of experiencing mastitis, we can all agree that its sheer agony.  A fate worse than death (or giving birth to quintuplets without an epidural).  At 16 weeks postpartum I went to bed feeling like I had a touch of the flu only to wake the next morning wide-eyed, bushy-haired and trippin’ balls.  I bounced on in to the living room, deliriously recounting the conversations I’d had with people overnight despite my phone being off, my grandiose future plans for the pets in the family, whilst feverishly wiping the dripping sweat from my forehead.  Hubby wasn’t listening to my ranting of course but was alerted to my fixed and dilated crazy eyes.  In particular, the one eye that constantly twitched when I was getting really ramped-up.  Poor Hubby didn’t know whether his normally coherent wife had finally cracked under the sleep-deprived pressure & developed post-partum psychosis, or had just revealed her true self after all.  Luckily he took me to the GP later that day & they took one look at my sad, inflamed, saggy tits & prescribed antibiotics.

So it’s no surprise that my breastfeeding journey has been one of a love/ hate relationship.  Some days I feel like a nourishing, life-giving goddess & other days I want to break the seal, palm the kid off to hubby, get in the car & drive off into the sunset.  But when my second child, my ‘cleft-cutie’ was diagnosed with a unilateral cleft lip and palate via ultrasound, I was devastated to learn breastfeeding may not be possible.  What shocked me even more was my reaction to such news.  Whilst I’ve never been a hardcore breastfeeding advocate, simply having the choice taken away from me made me want it even more.

After three weeks of an indulgent pity-party I decided I needed a plan.  I enlisted the help of the best lactation consultant money could buy.  We spoke about exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive bottle feeding, expressing, mixed-feeding, skin-to-skin, kangaroo-cuddles & everything in between.  I joined numerous online cleft groups from all over the world & asked their advice.  I spoke to members of the ABA and even organised a private education session at the Westmead Hospital Cleft Clinic in Sydney.  I bought specialist cleft bottles, sterilisers & bottle brushes.  Safe to say I had all bases covered.  I got shit sorted.

When my cleft-cutie was born my lactation consultant met me at the bedside & assisted me with proper attachment.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when he latched like a trooper & breastfed like he’d been doing it his whole life.  In fact, my cleft-cutie has turned out to be a better feeder than his sister, who’s non-cleft affected.  It hasn’t always been smooth sailing though.  I’ve had to re-learn the art of breastfeeding as feeding a cleft-kiddo is different from feeding a non-cleft kid.  I hold him in different positions on each breast to fill his cleft & create a seal.  I can’t be lazy or do it half-assed as this creates air-pockets, leading to ingested air, sore tummies and one very cranky baby.  Its taken a lot of time, learning and patience.

For all the hardships I’ve endured, the challenges & roadblocks in my way I’ve managed to push through every single one.  And for that, I couldn’t be prouder.  Some days I need to sit back and acknowledge how far I’ve come on this journey & allow myself to be proud of what I’ve accomplished.

I think there’s a lesson here for every mother.  I don’t believe it matters whether you bottle-feed, breastfeed, mix-feed or exclusively pump.  After all, a fed baby is the best baby.  Only you can decide what works for you, your baby and your unique circumstances.  Yet its the lengths we go to in order to achieve the very best for our babies which makes a good mother.  It’s the love that goes into our thought processes, our decisions & actions which really should be celebrated.  And for all the hard work, long nights, sacrifices and big decisions- WE deserve to be proud.  No matter what your feeding journey is, it’s time to celebrate the little victories…