I haven’t posted this week, haven’t read blogs, haven’t read a book (head too full for more words). I have tuned out of blog land. I’ve been knitting, though.
We are in that place just short of a “viable” gumby. What a horrible expression. A gumby that would have a chance of living outside of my body, let’s say. And viability, anyway, is a spectrum, a place that tips, at 24 weeks from low odds and big disabilities and delayed developmental milestones, to 30 something weeks with great chances and lots of treatment options.
It feels like balancing on top of a see saw. Or living in a trench in the middle of no man’s land in an old school war. I’ve left the bunkers of miscarriage behind , we don’t live there now, we are interacting with our baby, our real baby, several times a day (he just booted me one as I typed that… Oh and again!). We talk to him, we sing to him, he suffers through bad television, has been to an arthouse film ( the brilliant ‘This Must be the Place’, with a gothic Sean Penn and a David Byrne soundtrack) and listens to music and conversation. But we haven’t yet arrived at the side of reliable parenthood. I feel I have to hunker down and wait, to distract myself endlessly, to wait, without thinking, for time to pass.
I was conscious, this week, of reaching Mo’s milestone , the point at which she and her husband lost their son, Nadav, at 22 weeks and 5 days . On our timeline this was yesterday or today, depending on which due date you listen to. I also saw the effects of Sully’s short life at full term, through my friend’s eyes, last year. It makes the possibility of loss very real.
If I tip the see saw one way, I am thinking again about a real baby in this house, about the experience of cesarean , and still trying to get my head around our gumby arriving in this way. About being a mum. About welcoming a new little person between these walls. About a new reality. If I tip the see saw in my head the other way, ah, it doesn’t bear thinking about. There’s no words for it.
Mostly I’m good at distractions. Sometimes, with a twinge of pain in my side, or just going to the loo, my mind is already racing ahead to the start of disaster. It is an interesting way to be approaching our parenthood of this little guy. Some would say “just think positive”… But I find that doesn’t help me. If I bury those very real feelings, they just sit and fester. They come back with more power, more presence. So many days I let the darker scenarios sit on the couch beside me and gumby, and I look at their horrible unfaceable emotional content, and then I look back to gumby and our life as a new family. I try to hold both in my head. I’d like to think that at 24 weeks, next weekend, I could move their dark faces to an uncomfortable seat in the corner, that by 27 weeks they could perhaps wait in the stairwell outside, and by 30 weeks they could just be a shadow we only see in certain light, robbed of a physical presence, without power.
But the fact is, for now, these other darker scenarios live here, just as gumby does, just as hub-in-boots does. This is just our reality, alongside our laughter and joy at the power and personality of our growing and now very real little boy. I don’t think their presence makes me acutely anxious, just not quite able to breathe out, just yet. It isn’t hard, exactly, but it does take a steely determination, a stubborn resolve, a certain amount of energy.
The PAIL ( parenting after infertility and loss) blogs have a topic on parenting styles this month. Some days I know how I feel about this. Other days it seems too remote to ponder. I believe in parenting to the individual, that each child in this world needs different things and different routines, and as a parent you are there to strengthen personal strengths and encourage developments where there are gaps or weaknesses. To allow the child to become the best possible version of them self. I do not believe a child’s needs should dominate a household , that everything should be led by them and their wants, because eventually , they will need to function without your help in a world of others’ rules. There are times when parents come first, where kiddie fits into the adult world, and times where you drop everything just to get by or muddle through. I think kids need boundaries, but they shouldn’t be built out of concrete. I think there’s a risk of following a particular labelled ‘parenting style’… because the rigid constructs may distract you from individual needs. No style manual can anticipate everything . You’re not out to get a trophy in ‘attachment parenting’ or ‘the x method’, that’s about your own ego and a need to control the uncontrollable. You are there to parent, and to try and also be a person. Full stop. And you’ll need lots of different tools to do that well. Call it just- in- time parenting, if you like. Learning on the job.
Personally, I think the best thing anyone can do to prepare for parenting, is to know themselves, and be able to be happy in their own person. To develop patience. Hallelujah to infertility and shitty pregnancy for teaching us both that lesson loud and clear. To be reasonable in your expectations, to be emotionally intelligent and able to separate the self from the other. To reflect on interactions and create space for this. This process can take a long time for some, and I think knowing yourself is one huge advantage of being, at 40, an older mother.
The second important step in preparing for parenthood is to be secure in your relationship with each other. Not an easy thing when your express train to mummydom became an all stops one via infertility and complication centrale. But I think we’re in a pretty good place. My counsellor has helped, how we are together facing crisis, has at times challenged the “us” but ultimately what we have faced thus far has made our relationship rock solid.
I think the third important step approaching parenthood is securing your support networks, and adjusting your expectations of life. The series of crises we’ve already been through in pregnancy have reconnected us with certain people, allowed us to learn to at times rely on others, to lean more on each other but still remember to create personal space, and to be satisfied with small , small things. In the past week, I feel I have had full, enjoyable, fulfilling days. Sometimes the highlight was going out for an hour 1km away for coffee. Sometimes I went to a single shop for an hour or two. One day I made fresh pesto and dinner, and felt like I’d swum the English channel. One day I knitted half a bootie. I live smaller, slower, cheaper, quieter. And I enjoy it. Mostly. Crises aside.
I don’t know how we will parent. I don’t know how we will deal with a screaming baby who refuses to sleep. With feeding difficulties. Or reflux. But I reckon we’ll figure it out. I think despite challenging times, sometimes we will hold a screaming gumby and laugh that we actually wanted this. And then we will think back to the days of bleeding and hoping and panicking and praying and just hanging on for dear life, and understand just exactly how lucky we are to be with him.
Perhaps parenting is a bit like teaching. I like teaching because it is not a job; it is a whole-of-person vocation. It requires everything I have, and everything I am. But I am an individual person as well as a teacher. I think parenting can have the same challenges and rewards. When something involves all of you, it can be all consuming, you can get too caught up in it, it can eat you alive. But if you tread that fine line well, it can also be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done: making a difference to another person. Hub-in-boots and I share a great love of this making a difference. I like to think this means our parenting philosophy will be a shared one.
We’re both reading Brain Rules for Baby, written by a neuroscientist about helping your child build emotional resilience and what is appropriate when. We will read other books. I’m a bit “granola” to use a term from some other parenting posts, a bit leaning towards the organic, I’d prefer cloth nappies but I’m sure I’ll cave on that, I’d prefer less baby ‘stuff’ and more quality time, I hope desperately to breast feed, I believe in routine within reason and allowing room for the child’s personality within this, in working with them not against them, I hate processed foods, but I know you balance this with convenience and time. I’ve learnt from my sister the importance of being a little bit unpredictable as a parent, able to let fly and be a bit scary in the face of a serious issue. But we don’t want a hitting house, or a shouting house. We’ll have a time out corner. We’ll read lots and lots of stories over and over again, though I might keep Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach for the teenage years. Here it is read by Samuel L Jackson here, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.
It’s a timely thing, this post, as tomorrow we go to finish off our whale music induced calm birth course with a day on “transition to parenthood”. Perhaps we’ll learn more, or gain more tools for the trip we have ahead of us. Hub-in-boots and I have talked a lot, over the years, about what we believe parenting should look like, about our philosophies, our expectations, our fears, and our hopes and dreams. Big picture stuff which perhaps won’t have a lot of meaning when there’s baby shit up the wall and a screaming Gumby on a change table and a wife that hasn’t showered for three days because Gumby wouldn’t settle. But we won’t be living on the edge of a cliff, or under the blade of a guillotine, like we are now, and I like to think the foundations we’ve built together over the past few years will help. That and the fact we’re busting to meet him. But Gumby, if you don’t mind, kick all you want (it feels like he’s building a cubby house in there), but hang off on your great escape for another 7-15 weeks. That’d be awesome.
Bump photos to follow, I promise. Still below my pre pregnancy weight, but I’m getting kind of impressive at the front end. 23 weeks tomorrow.