These past few months at home with our baby Jones have been a huge blessing.
And it might take me a little while to tell you why…
In short – matresence. A word that I’ve only recently stumbled across but that epitomises my journey over the last few years.
I didn’t come into this thing called motherhood with arms wide open.
I knew even as a child I knew that I’d someday like to have children of my own. But I definitely wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed of being a mum. I only remember having one doll my whole childhood which didn’t interest me all that much except that you could make colours appear on her face when you rubbed it with a wet cloth. Climbing trees and building cubby houses and sandcastles were my thing. Dolls, babies, and playing mums and dads didn’t really interest me. That was true for most of my teens and twenties too. (Not the playing part, the whole concept. You know what I mean).
When I fell pregnant with Archer I felt excited, but also a little awkward about it. Although at the time Reece and I talked often and hopefully about having kids in the near future, this pregnancy came as a surprise. I felt like I was a passenger, willingly and curiously going along for the ride.
I’m not sure how to write that without sounding ungrateful. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be that way, and it’s only looking back that can I see that that was how I felt.
And let’s get really honest now. Even when Archer was born, I felt more traumatised and relieved than in love. That used to make me think that there was something wrong with me, because at the time, the only other birth stories I’d heard ended with words like “and then I saw his/her face and I was instantly in love.” My story didn’t sound like that.
Although everything generally went well with his delivery, I still felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Breastfeeding was incredibly painful and invoked fear and cringing in me 8-10 times a day. For me it was a journey that started with bleeding and an overabundance of conflicting advice and ended with round the clock expressing, bottle feeding, washing and sterilising. And of course there was the rude shock of sleep deprivation.
I absolutely did not feel like myself- like my body had been taken over again but with far more intensity than during pregnancy. I remember crying to my mum a week or two after Arch was born, “Is it ok if I feel like he isn’t worth it?” To which she graciously and confidently replied “yes”, reassuring me that it would come with time.
As the weeks months went on I fell completely in love with this beautiful boy. I loved going back to sleep with him in the mornings after Reece left for work. I loved walking him in his pram around our neighbourhood and taking him to parks and swimming lessons as his tiny body grew bigger and stronger. I loved sharing the joy of his smile with our families via Facetime and when we came back to Australia for visits. I loved seeing this big wide world with with such wonder again because I was so excited to share it with him “Look Arch, there’s a duck!”, “Do you hear the birdies?”, “Wow, look at the moon tonight!”. Those moments became the highlights of my days. I just about exploded when I got to see him experience snow for the first time.
But it still took me a long time to feel like myself.
I started working part time again as a photographer when he was 5 months old. Most of my work was based at home, so then began the wrestle between getting stuff done and feeling like I was being a decent mum. Actually it probably started way earlier, but with cooking and laundry loads rather than with editing and emails.
We were also in the midst of a major, sheets-for-walls, replace-the-roof-and-90%-of-the-weatherboards renovation. Basically the entire shoddily built house was gutted piece by piece while Reece and my brilliant builder brother, Jordy had to figure out how to put it back together again. My jobs were figuring out how to make it look aesthetically pleasing and keeping everyone fed. This project took up a lot of headspace for us both, and created a lot of tension. And dust.
Another thing I had not yet realised about myself was that I got a lot of satisfaction and value out of ticking things off my to-do list. And a baby got in the way of that. A lot.
I wanted to feel like I was succeeding at something in life, and motherhood still felt like my side-hustle. I loved Arch with all of my heart, but most of the time it just felt like he was my best little buddy rather than my son. It made me sad and a little jealous that being a mum didn’t come as naturally to me as it seemed to for others. Me and motherhood were at odds and I didn’t even realise it. I felt a wrestle and a conflict within me but I didn’t understand why.
The beginning of my undoing was Shauna Niequist’s “Present Over Perfect.” I saw the book cover on social media and knew straight away that I needed to read it before really even knowing what it was about. I was able to borrow it from our little library down the road which Arch and I frequented every week for new picture books. From the very first page I cried. And I cried in every single chapter thereafter. If anything in this post resonates with you, I’d absolutely recommend reading it. It has changed and continues to change me. I won’t go into the details of the book except to leave you with its’ tagline- “Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living.”
From that point on, there has been a slow, steady unravelling in me. A quiet surrender of all that I thought I wanted for all that I now know I’m meant to be. A letting go of finding worth in achievements and success, and a shift towards uncovering life’s real gold. Found in the purest and simplest things. Found in this great privilege of being everything to another and being chosen to shape who they will become.
I remember one day shortly after we moved back to Australia, with my head and my knees pressed against my parents’ timber floorboards, letting tears flow and letting go. Giving up the fight I hadn’t realised I’d been fighting. Melting into motherhood.
I’ve still fought against it many times since – this ever changing territory still often feeling uncomfortable and painful (ESPECIALLY with a threenager). But it no longer feels unnatural or foreign to me. It’s a part of who I am.
It wasn’t until Arch was well over 2 years old that Reece and I were ready to think about getting pregnant again. The adjustment to parenthood took as much a toll on him as it did on me. Not to mention the renovation, selling our house, moving countries and starting a new business. But we finally collectively felt up to the challenge at the start of 2018.
This time around, I was more sure of myself when I got the positive test result, more comfortable in my pregnant skin, and more excited and optimistic about sharing my life with another little person.
As my belly grew rounder and the due date got nearer, there was still a small, flickering fear in me. Fear that having a baby would take me all the way back to that place and to the person I was 3 and a half years earlier – uncomfortable in my own skin, resistant to change and awkward in my most important role.
I wasn’t so much scared about labour, but of the days that would follow. The recovery, the endless breastfeeding, the lack of sleep, the feeling of losing yourself to sustain another.
But let me tell you with tears in my eyes and all the thankfulness in my heart that that has not been my story, in fact, it has been quite the opposite.
If you read my last post, you’ll probably know that giving birth still isn’t something I’ve grown to love – as beautiful as it may be for some. And it still wasn’t love at first sight for Jones and I. That came in the days that followed. But walking out of that hospital, not 4 hours after he was born, I felt like myself and I felt ready to go home and be the best mama I could be to these two precious sons of mine.
Although the general assumption has been that I’d really be feeling the stretch of adjusting to having another child, I strangely feel more at ease now as a mum of two. I feel like after 3 and a half years of motherhood, I am finally finding my feet. It has flooded my life in the best way and I’m all in, surrendered to the wild ride, wherever it may take us.
I’ve come to a joy-filled and grateful resolution that being a mum and a wife is absolutely the most important thing I’ll ever do. Probably the most challenging too, but utterly worthwhile and deserving of the best of me. I’ve also had the huge revelation that mums, for the most part, are the ones who get to have the biggest influence on shaping humanity. What a beautiful and weighty privilege.
My Jones has been the sweetest baby, right from the very beginning. He first followed my voice and then my face every chance he got, and now endlessly bursts into excited grins when he sees me. His face lights up even when I pick him up for those middle of the night feeds. It’s pretty lovely.
I gave breastfeeding another try and although it hasn’t been totally smooth sailing, it has come far more easily this time. It’s a huge weight off not having to worry about pumping, packing and reheating milk every time we leave the house. Instead of seeing feeding as a burden, I’m now so thankful for my portable milk supply.
My postpartum recovery has been a blessing that I didn’t see coming. I exercised regularly during this pregnancy and I’ve been amazed at how much it has helped my body heal and regain strength. I mostly did hill walking for exercise when I was pregnant with Arch and although that was great for my fitness, it did not do the wonders that all sorts of squats, lunges, and leg raises did in helping keep me strong this time around.
These are just little details that are totally dependent on the season and the baby, but details nonetheless, that have been like balm to my once worried soul. The biggest gift is that I’m loving being in this season more than I thought I ever could.
It has crossed my mind, that when I put this story of mine into words, it might sound like Archer got the raw end of the deal – being born to this rookie, rigid mum, while Jones arrived to one who is far more embracing and at home in her mum shoes. But then I realise that it’s been this journey with my firstborn, with my wonderfully curious and confident, blue-eyed Arch, that has shaped my heart and made me into a mother. And I feel so lucky to have grown into this role with and because of him. Both these boys have my heart and I’ll forever be grateful that I was hand picked to be theirs.
Matresence. (Noun) The process of becoming a mother.
“Don’t forget, you are new here too sweet mama.
As you ease into your postpartum body, the achey womb and leaky breasts and that soft tummy skin, remember that you are home, in yourself, even if it feels foreign for now…
As you stretch into the role of mama- or mama to many- remember, you too have just been born.
– Catie Atkinson
Final two images by the wonderful Bec Zacher- beczacher.com