My yoga teacher, like most yoga teachers, is always going on about how five minutes of savasana is equal to three hours of sleep. How they do that calculation I have no idea but this morning I could really do with an extra three hours of sleep. It’s been one of those weeks.
So I decided, screw it. Instead of spending another five minutes staring blankly at my screen trying to remember what I was working on, folding washing or throwing something in the slow cooker, I’m going to try it.
I opened my meditation app (which apparently needs to be updated because I haven’t used it in I hate to think how long) and set a timer for five minutes. I lay down on the ground, in the corpse position. It was quite easy, really – I kind of feel like a corpse most of the time anyway. I brought my attention to the tingling sensations of my muscles relaxing, the supportive feeling of the carpet beneath me. I made my mind body-shaped.
And each time my mind started to wander, I remembered the subtle threat in my yoga teacher’s tone when she explained how the magic five-minutes-for-three-hours-time-swap works – you have to really do savasana. Not just lay there thinking about whether or not the baby’s about to wake up, or if she’ll take a bottle later today, or the blog post you’re gonna write in a few minutes. So I took heed and let it all go, melting into the ground, bringing myself back to the present moment time and time again.
By the time the gong went off I was actually totally relaxed, tingly and floating. I slowly stretched my neck, turning my head from side to side and took a deep breath. Left was the baby’s change mat, so I probably rubbed my face on poo. Right was a distinct aroma of urine, and I was reminded that my toddler had an accident in that very spot a few weeks ago. Oops. Back to reality.
Do I feel like I had three hour’s sleep? Who knows. I can’t really remember what that feels like to be honest. But I do like to think my eyes are stinging a tiny bit less than they were earlier, and I might just lay on the floor and pretend to be dead for a few minutes tomorrow, too.
A few weeks ago a dear friend asked me, “So, what’s she like?”
I loved the question. I loved that she wasn’t asking me what the nights were like, with all the loaded expectation that the question brings, or if she likes her bath, or what the weird rash on her face was from. I love that she was asking about my new daughter as a person.
But I didn’t know how to answer.
Or rather, I didn’t like my answer.
She seemed exactly like GG. She looked like him, sounded like him and moved like him. The way she stretched as she woke and squished her lips together after a feed brought back strong memories of the last time round. She was transfixed by anything with stripes, just like he used to be. She wore his clothes, and she felt like him in my arms.
I felt like such a phony.
I’m constantly ranting about how all babies are individuals, how they are whole people from birth, and yet I couldn’t even tell the difference between my own two babies. I’m embarrassed to say I even had a hard time remembering that she was a girl from time to time, and I constantly called her the wrong name.
And by comparison, GG with all his rambunctious toddler energy, babbling away in two languages, running and jumping and joking and yelling, he felt like so much more of a whole person to me. The little one felt like just an outline, whereas GG is full, vibrant color.
Things are shifting now, but slowly.
A few weeks on and it’s clear, this is a different child. This one likes to sleep, swaddled up and cozy in her bed. She knows exactly what she wants, and as long as she gets it she’s content and predictable. She loves to nurse but only when she wants to – there’s no shoving a boob in her mouth when it might be convenient for me. She picks the pace. She’s calm and clear, as articulate as a newborn can be. And she’s beautiful, naturally.
But still, I can’t believe how hard it is to write this without making a comparison to GG. To write a preliminary sketch of my little girl’s emerging character without referencing her brother. Even though they’re so different and I’m supposedly so observant and perceptive. As bad as I feel saying it, he’s my only benchmark.
She’s almost two months old now, and we’ve got the basics down pat – eating, sleeping, and diapering. Apart from that, all I really know is that when she smiles at me I melt, and when we gaze into each other’s eyes it feels like I’ve known her forever. I guess it’s just a matter of time, as she reveals more of herself to me, and we build a relationship that’s ours and ours alone.
For now, though we’re still physically linked as a little ecosystem, as individuals – as mother and daughter – we’re still getting to know each other.
By the time the big day finally rocked around, I was so done. Done with the anxieties of a pregnancy after two consecutive losses, with being huge and uncomfortable, with mounting pressure to induce. Done with well-meaning but really fucking annoying text messages ranging from thinly veiled “how are you”s to flat-out “any baby yet?”s. Done with agonizing about where GG would be when I finally went into labor, whether we’d have time to get to the hospital where I wanted to give birth, how to plan getting there in enough time to be safe but not too early. Done with the constant and irrational fears that kept arising that there was something wrong with the baby that hadn’t been spotted on the scans.
I was so done.
And after a day-and-a-half of mild but regular contractions at 10 minutes apart I was battling to keep my shit together. I was winning, don’t get me wrong, but it was a struggle. So at 41+1 weeks pregnant, when we went to the hospital for my third round of overdue monitoring, I was extra done. And when the attending doctor recommended I have a c-section because of the baby’s considerable weight and stomach circumference (according to ultrasound assessment), I was almost done enough to just say yes. Almost, but not quite.
My husband and I talked it through and consulted with a doctor friend who I trust, along with my doula, and decided we had more questions. We happened upon a more senior doctor at the hospital who told us that while her official recommendation – according to the numbers – was a c-section, she was pretty sure that this baby wasn’t bigger than 4kg, and that I could successfully birth her naturally. GG was born just under 3.8kg, after all. We left the hospital confident that this was the best choice for us but still nervous – as much as I trust my body and the process of birth, I also trust the staff at this hospital and medical research in general. And after recent experiences… I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
In any case, through all of these phone calls and conversations, an energy was starting to build in my body. The best way I can describe it is by drawing on my memories of party drugs back in the day – it was like a pill slowly coming on, a kind of low buzz with the promise of peaks to come. The contractions were also starting to take on a different quality, and getting closer together. I guess the threat of major abdominal surgery was just the push I needed to finally let go and bring this baby into the world.
By this point lunchtime had been and gone and we’d hardly eaten, so we headed off for a nice brunch. But by the time we parked at the cafe I didn’t feel like I could sit still, so we hung out in the car and timed contractions – 5-6 minutes apart! We bought some sandwiches and fruit had a little picnic in nearby park instead. I consulted with my doula again and we decided to slowly start heading back to the hospital. If we were at home we probably would have hung out a little longer, but since we were in the area we figured why not get checked again, and avoid getting stuck in traffic driving home and back. A long drive and strong contractions didn’t sound fun at all.
At some point during all this I was struck with pure excitement, and stopped for a moment to breathe it in and give Uri a big hug. More flashbacks to partying back in the day. But this time the joy was real and unadulterated. The day had finally arrived – we were going to meet our little girl. I burst into tears and let that sink in a bit, and from then on I was calm – I knew she was coming. I didn’t feel rushed or stressed. My body was starting to do its thing and my baby knew what to do.
We ended up at the hospital earlier in the labor than I probably would have planned – I was 4cm dilated by the time I got through the 2 hour ordeal of getting monitored and seeing the doctor – but in hindsight it was perfect. Instead of answering lists of questions and getting poked and prodded while in the throes of intense contractions, I was able to get that bureaucratic part out-of-the-way while still in the latent stage of labor. It felt like I was in some sort of very convenient labor holding pattern – definitely on the way to giving birth but clear-headed and comfortable for the time being. By a stroke of luck the natural birthing suite was available, and after another wait we were in there getting comfortable by about 5pm.
Around that time my midwife and doula both suggested we try a couple of tricks to get things moving. To be honest I was hesitant – I felt like I’d pushed hard to let my body lead the way and I didn’t want to start interfering, even by natural means. And yet on the other hand, I really wanted to meet our baby already. So I took deep breath along with both of their suggestions – my doula rubbed some clary sage oil on my lower back, and the midwife sent us off to walk up and down a nearby flight of stairs.
Something must have worked. I made it up about half a flight of stairs before I was hanging off the railings and moaning like, well, like a woman giving birth. From that moment on everything changed.
Emotionally I did a full 180 – I felt much more serious, totally lost the urge to chat or even to speak at all more than what was necessary. Even giving simple instructions like telling my husband where to massage my back seemed incredibly difficult. And physically – well, pain just messes with everything, right? The hippy hypnobirther in me wants to describe it all as pressure and surges and visuals of flowers opening and whatnot but no – every contraction just fucking hurt. Yes I was picturing each one bringing my baby closer to me, and it did feel like productive pain, but still. Each contraction hurt more than the one before it, and they quickly got so close together that I felt like I was getting no rest in between at all. I became obsessed with finding the perfect position and panicked if a contraction was starting and I wasn’t on all fours or leaning forward, preferably with Uri behind me squeezing my hips. I couldn’t get comfortable in the birthing pool. I was freezing when I got out. Sitting was impossible. I cried that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard. I fantasized about being one of the ‘normal’ women in the rooms down the hall – hooked up to an epidural and resting through my dilation.
And then suddenly, finally, my waters broke. I was squatting on a stool in the shower at the time, and I felt that pop and everything gushed out. The midwife brought over the wireless monitor – one of the main advantages of the natural birthing room – and checked the baby’s heartbeat as I stood in the shower. She also checked my dilation – 8cm! For the first time in hours I felt encouraged, like I was actually progressing. And then a few minutes later I was already feeling the urge to push. I was so excited – in GG’s birth I never felt that urge, and I think that’s how I managed to do so much damage to my body, by pushing before I was ready.
We moved over to the bed – a nice, comfy double bed with an adjustable head – and I got on all fours. Again, my whole mood shifted – finally there was something I could do! I knew the end was near, and I also felt like I was getting some rest in between contractions. In reality it was only a minute or so but I honestly felt like 20. And with those few rejuvenating breaths my presence of mind returned. I was once again aware that I wanted to push gently to avoid more damage to my pelvic floor. To use the pressure of the contractions to move the baby down the birth canal. That our baby girl was almost here.
The midwife told me to use low humming sounds as I exhaled. On the first push I felt her head come all the way down, and then pull back up a bit. Uri got a glimpse of her full head of hair. On the next push her head was out. And the push after that, her whole body came sliding into the world – all 3.98kg of it. She cried a split second later, and my heart exhaled and I was flooded with relief.
Relief that the pain was over. That the pregnancy was over. That the birth was over. Relief that she was finally here. Our rainbow. Arya.
The minutes and hours that followed brought more of the same. Within a few minutes she latched on and nursed for well over an hour. After that I got up and had a shower. Of course no birth is the same but this was a difference of night and day from my previous birth, after which GG needed to have his stomach pumped and I lost a lot of blood.
This was a totally different experience for all three of us. Uri took the baby to get some routine tests while I cleaned up, joked around with the midwife and tidied up our stuff. I got a few stitches – but again, nothing like the first time round. And then we rested, with big smiles. Albeit in a packed room in a packed ward of a public hospital, but we had our baby and it was magic nonetheless.
This beautiful birth reminded me of the strength in flexibility – the flow that comes with being open to any outcome, any deviation from my plans and preferences. It reminded me that my man and I can support each other through anything. And it taught me that it’s okay to pick and choose tools from different schools of thought, that I don’t have to be any one thing. That my strength lies in being able to deal with whatever life throws at us – rather than being able to control or predict it in any way.
Our 2-year-old has been having a tough week. He’s happy one minute and irritable the next. Picky with food. Super opinionated about everything. And of course his sleep is suffering too – which in our house translates to extreme bedtime resistance and hours of screaming between the highly questionable hours of midnight and 4am.
Lots of fun for the parents.
Luckily, both of us are certified google doctors so we’ve gone through everything. Could he have an ear infection? Or worms? Maybe he’s teething again? But apart from disturbed sleep, none of the symptoms fit.
Yesterday during an intense medical research session (read: Google search) I found a couple of articles on the “2 year sleep regression.” These made more sense: basically new separation anxiety, nighttime fears and lengthened wake-times all join together to screw up toddlers’ sleep for a little while. Satisfied with my diagnosis, I sent the links over to my husband.
“So?” he asked later, ever the Mr. Fix-it, “How do we fix it? What do we do?”
“Nothing,” I replied. “We just keep doing what we’ve always done, we stay consistent, and it’ll pass.”
All of this frantic searching for something wrong, something to fix, something to do had made me miss the point. With the exception of when there’s something really wrong – in which case we usually know right away – our job is to show our kids that everything’s okay. That even if they’re having a hard time, acting out, testing boundaries – we’re still here. We’ve got it. They can lose their shit and throw everything on the floor we’ll still be grounded, calm and in charge. We’ll know what to do.
With this renewed strength I had a chat with GG before bedtime. Summarized the tough week we’ve had. Explained the routine anew. Prepared him for every step. And what do you know – bedtime was a breeze and he slept for 11 hours straight.
So much of this game is about how we handle it – rather than the details. When we stop letting the little things ruffle us, the big things are so much easier.
Our 18-month old has finally got the message that the boob restaurant is closed overnight (yay!), but now he has a new demand – “BOOK”! Yep, he wakes up at midnight, 2am, 4am, whatever and calls out “BOOOOOK” (along with “mum,” “dad,” and “water,” just to mix it up). And of course, he’ll scream bloody murder if his demands are not met. So fine, if he needs to hear a story to fall back to sleep, it’s not the worst thing in the world. And I’ve read all of his books enough times to know them off by heart so no need to turn on the light…. or have I? To my surprise, I recently found out that I don’t know his books off by heart. What’s going on?
I decided the issue needed some mindful exploration. So the next time we were reading, I brought my full attention to the activity. And what do you know – for the first few words, I was there, fully, reading with him… and then I was off. My eyes and my mouth kept reading but my mind? Outta there.
And so my reading meditation was born. Now, whenever I read to him, I pay keen attention to the moment when my mind starts to wander, and I bring it right back to the task at hand. To that sweet, fleeting moment when he’s snuggled up in my lap, totally absorbed in the story – even if it’s the seventh time he’s heard it today. To his anticipation of each word, his exploration of the pictures, his delight at repeating a new phrase. I take care to really read each word, with my eyes and my mind, to speak those rhyming verses with my entire being. To anchor myself to the present, just me, the book, and my little guru.
Last night, just when I thought he was asleep, he sat bolt upright and yelled “BOOK!” And what do you know – I can now recite “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” from start to finish, without blinking an eye. Or touching the book.
The thing is – I haven’t slept that much since having a baby almost a year ago. And sometimes mindfulness is just too much for my poor, exhausted brain. There are moments that I’m so damn sleep deprived that I’m decidedly unmindful – or should it be mindless? Two examples from the past week:
Unmindful Episode #1: I took the car to work last week, as it was raining and I was picking up Gadi from daycare. I left the office, got into the elevator, pressed the button for the parking lot downstairs, and played with my phone while waiting for the lift to descend to the car park. It didn’t. Instead, the lights went off, and I was left alone in a pitch black metal box. I started to panic. My heart rate rose, I started to think about how long I might be stuck there, who I should call, whether I had cell phone reception. I reached my hand out in the dark towards the buttons, and suddenly the lights came back on. And it was then that I realized. I had pushed 1, the level of my office, rather than -1, the parking. Duh. What actually happened: I stood in a stationary lift so long the lights turned off.
Unmindful Episode #2: While the baby and the husband napped this afternoon, I made two batches of Anzac buscuits. Super pleased with myself, I decided to have a coffee and sample the goods. I got a mug, put a pod in the machine, pressed the button, and heard the coffee start to pour as I put a couple of cookies on a little plate, all the while commending myself for being so brilliantly domestic. I took my mug and my cookies to the couch… only to find the mug completely empty. Where was my coffee? Steaming away in the drip tray of the coffee machine, of course. I forgot to put the mug under the spout.
Guess I should have taken a nap with the boys, huh?
Which brings us to my point – I am not getting enough sleep. Over six months ago I wrote a smug post about how Gadi started sleeping through the night – a rookie mistake. He hasn’t slept more than five hours straight since. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it yet either, who knows, but now we’re ready for a change. I can’t just sit around waiting for the next elevator terror or empty coffee mug shock. Tonight we’re starting with Dr. Jay Gordon’s super gentle night weaning plan. I told Gadi all about it before he went to sleep tonight, and I’m convinced it’s the right time. The plan is for Gadi to be getting (at least) 7 hours straight sleep – and a more mindful mama – in time for his first birthday next week.
Coming to terms with the new priorities in my life over the first year of parenting has been and continues to be a huge challenge for me. I’m finding it hard to accept that if I’m going to be the type of mother I want to be – mindful, present and intentional – other things need to give.
In practice, it’s all been pretty natural – my family is number one, health is up there – exercise, sleep, meditation and food alike – and though it’s at a slower pace than before my career is definitely still a factor.
So what does that look like in practice? Let’s start from the morning – though sometimes I still feel like there’s no real night and day, just the constant flow that I first met almost one year ago when Gadi was born. We wake around 6am and spend an hour or so together as a family. We eat, get ready, chat, cuddle, sometimes dance. This time is precious – crucial to anchor us all together in preparation for our days apart. We head off to daycare and our respective workplaces, where the baby has a ball and my husband and I do our best to do our little bit of good in the world (read: try not to fall asleep at our desks). On the three days a week that I pick Gadi up, we have about two hours together before bath and bed time.
That two hours feels like nothing. Not nearly enough time to properly reconnect, to ask and tell each other about our days – without words for now. To cuddle and play and eat and wind down. So I put my phone aside, I try to forget about work, and about all the things I want to get done once he goes to sleep. All the phone calls I want to return, blog posts I want to write, work calls I have scheduled for the evening. I want my attention on him 100%, and I want him to see that. Even if I’m just watching him play. I want to teach him about doing one thing at a time, about being where you are – and I think the best way to teach is by example.
Then we start the bedtime routine – which is sometimes easy and sometimes a bit more challenging and pretty much always exhausting. He’s asleep by 7pm. And to be honest, half the time I fantasize about snuggling up in his cot with him. I’ve been meaning to work out how much weight that thing can support for months now.
Evenings are important, too. Because when I say that family is a priority – I don’t just mean Gadi. The time that Uri and I spend together at the end of the day is a huge part of what keeps me sane and grounded. What keeps us together. What has made this past year the most amazing one of my life. Often all we manage is eating dinner and chatting on the couch before we both start to fade, but those moments are precious, too. Same goes for an episode of The Big Bang Theory or whatever we can manage to keep our eyes open long enough to watch. We collapse into bed together every night, exhausted but happy, and wake up – once if we’re lucky and three times if we’re not – through the wee hours to feed Gadi and help him get back to sleep.
One or two nights a week I might “make it” out of the house to meet a friend for dinner or a walk. I keep scheduling yoga classes in my diary for 8pm but I haven’t made it yet – once I’ve got the baby to bed it’s just so hard to get out of the house. I know my body would probably thank me for it but… I just don’t seem to manage it. Maybe once we’re sleeping through the night – if that ever happens. At this point I make it to one afternoon class and one weekend class – and that will have to be enough for now. My semi-regular meditation practice could do with some work too and ditto for running… but c’est la vie.
And weekends? My priorities don’t change. We love our time just the three of us. Sometimes at home, sometimes out and about, often eating. Most things in our household revolve around food and cuddles – and Gadi’s sleep. We enjoy time with friends and family, too – but nowhere near as much as I used to.
But my point was neither to share our routine nor to complain about it – I love every moment I just described. That is, unless I slip out of the moment and start thinking about the opportunity cost. About the phone calls I haven’t returned and the parties I don’t attend and the type of friend I used to be. Hour upon hour of phone calls helping my friends and family sort out their issues and mine. Minor and major alike. Bottles of wine. I loved those hours, and I miss them dearly – but I just don’t have them at the moment. Instead I’m choosing to spend them on real, present time with my family, on sleep, and on my own mental health.
It’s not my new priorities that I struggle with per say – it’s what I’ve had to let go of to put them into place. And I guess in some way I’m still coming to terms with the opportunity cost. I know that this is the way to be the type of mother and wife that I want to be – but at the same time, I miss the me of one or two short years ago.
When I do finally catch up with the dear people that I used to have so much more time for, I feel pressure to complain. To complain about being tired, and about how hard it is to be a mother, and about the laundry. But honestly, that’s not it for me. My challenge is learning to accept where I am right now, to respect it and embrace it.
Otherwise, how can I expect anyone else to understand?