Raising my Wildings
Disclaimer: This is the short version, even though it isn't that short. I could write a book or two on this topic, between feeding, weaning, carrying, birth, pregnancy, parenting techniques, emerging personalities, neurodivergences, my mental health and self discovery. This just touches on the path I have trodden.
I always knew I would be a mother. It was a strange thing actually because I have never really identified as a "girl". I have struggled with gender identity semi-quietly for as long as I can remember and still the terms woman, girl, wife, girlfriend Miss, Mrs make me cringe and I definitely do not feel they represent me. However, mum is somehow different. I do use the term parent a lot but I have no issue with being a mama. This is where I can accept my femininity, maybe because this is where I see so much power in it.
I think I always felt good around children, the smaller the better, because there is a serious lack of bullshit there. I understood children and I never treated them like they were "less than", so I did pretty well at spending time with them. I also grew up young and quickly and so I was still young when I wanted to have a baby and become a mother. It was an inevitable thing to me, and if it was to happen, why wait?
In the beginning
as so excited to get pregnant. We conceived within two weeks. I wasn't expecting that. Before I could even test, I was sick. Oh so sick. I remember the excitement (and the sickness) with such clarity it feels like yesterday.
My pregnancy was complicated and worrying from day one and it did not improve. It ended with a complicated and somewhat traumatic induction, one month before my due date, to save my daughter's life. Luckily, she was pretty healthy when she arrived, though somewhat tiny and bird looking..
eeding was super hard at first but I was determined (bloody minded). I did everything I could to breastfeed and succeeded in those early days despite the odds. We doted on our tiny baby. Sleep was impossible but we coped. She, our tiny human Bean, was everything and more. We listened to the experts, we followed the advice to ensure we were the best possible parents. Sure we had our own style but we did it by the book. I was trained in childcare, we had cared for younger siblings and nieces, we thought we had it down.
We put her in her own room at 6 months. We weaned with a spoon and puree at 16 weeks, switching to formula at the same time. We used a Baby Bjorn carrier from early on facing forwards until we switched to a backpack carrier. We decided smacking was not for us and employed a strong praise based approach with the naughty step as our defensive technique. We were strict, to ensure a respectful child, and loving. We struggled with our tempers and to get our child to be organised and tidy. We moved from naughty steps to reward charts after a while for a more positive approach.
One thing we always knew was that our Bean was an oddball. She was, and is, a seriously and beautifully unique little thing. Extra sensitive, and sometimes not present on the same planet as everyone else, she struggled with some basic things. We just loved her harder and stronger and hoped she would learn to love herself. She is getting there.
The surprise chapter
We knew we wanted more. There was no question. It's just that I was striving, through some difficulty, to get my degree for our future. So when pregnancy happened the timing was not perfect. Bizzy was determined from the start to exist on her own terms. This would continue.
Half way through the pregnancy, when I finished my final exams, I utterly panicked in the realisation that I would indeed have to give birth again. I wanted to run but even I knew that would not help. So I did the only other thing I could.
My Biz got the worst deal at the start. I had to work (due to our financial circumstances) from when she was 8 weeks old. We made sure she had great childcare, and I pumped in all my breaks, managing to feed her breastmilk exclusively for 12 months. To be honest, I kind of had to because Bizzle knows just what she wants and gets it. She refused formula at every turn when offered it to top up my milk, and she screamed blue murder with any child carer she disliked. She has always known her mind.
We rushed through her life a lot, we had little choice. When she was three, and I was pregnant for the third time, she developed an infection due to severe eczema complications and ended up in hospital. Obi and I spent 3 days in the hospital with her, and I realised I was missing too much. Right then I changed as a mother. Right there in that hospital.
PLanned, calm and free
Our third pregnancy was well planned and we even had to wait a few months before it happened. I am not a patient person. We were both employed in the NHS. I got 12 months maternity leave and we knew just what we were doing. I finally felt mature enough to do this "right".
Having had a more positive birth experience with Biz, and doing it "my way", I decided I wanted to know more. During this pregnancy I read many birthing books, had a Hypnobirthing practitioner run a private course with us and I ended up online in forums where people were not only talking about birth but about making different parenting choices, using slings other than ones I knew about (from Mothercare) and about full-term breastfeeding.
I birthed him into my own hands and kept him attached to me for as long as possible. He was born calm and remained a calm baby. I fed him until he weaned himself, slept with him next to me and carried him.
I also dialled back my corporate work to part-time and began to take on learning around supporting other women with birth, with their babies and then with parenting more widely. The concept of ToddlerCalm blew my mind and our approach to raising our children was transformed. It was easier to implement "gentle" parenting techniques with him as a fresh start and it took longer to figure out how to implement this with children with whom we had started out quite differently.
As it happens, the universe conspires to give you the skills you need at particular times. Our Bear can only be parented this way. As he grew and things became trickier for him, our parenting style slipped sometimes into our well-trodden path of reward, bribe and threaten. This caused apocalypse. We felt broken. What he actually needed was a more extreme version of what I now describe as the calmer relationships concept. He needs to be treated like a completely free human, not an owned child.
Lost and broken
From the beginning we had said we would have four. It was always said but never planned out. I never thought my Bear would be my last baby and so when it was about the time when we had before decided to have another, I felt pretty lost because my mental health, which was always an issue, was a major issue. I wanted to be ready for my fourth baby but I wasn't. Obi knew it and I did too though acceptance was tricky. We just kept saying not now, and I struggled on. I had a fairly serious breakdown in 2013 which thankfully led to me making massive changes in my life and I got better, much better.
Everyone told me not to have another. They said I was fragile and they said I might break. But I knew the way I would definitely break is if we didn't complete our family. I knew it would be hard. I didn't realise how hard.
We started trying for a baby and after what felt like a really long time (probably only 6 months), I fell pregnant. I found out just a few days after agreeing to take over an organisation, a project that would be bloody hard work. 6 weeks later I miscarried. I felt lost and broken again. I felt like my fourth baby plans were gone, that I had forfeited them for my other dreams. So we dropped the idea completely and I worked and worked to save a company that could change the world for my other three babies.
Well, the universe laughs at people's plans when it has ideas of its own. I took over the business at the end of March and found out I was pregnant again in mid-May. It seemed like utter madness but I couldn't let my new project go any more than I could let go of having another baby in my life. It was not an option. So we opted for madness.
As I say the universe will laugh if you ever think you know what is coming and I was a bit smug. I had my mental health sorted, parenting sorted and I knew how to birth perfectly right? Yeah right!
I had the perfect home birth planned and on paper it looks like I got it. But it was not the positive and calm experience of my previous two births. The pregnancy had been beyond hard and I entered birth and life with my little Bat in an anxious state. Luckily I had the tools and I had the support. Running a business with a baby and trying to parent the way I do is not easy. I wouldn't recommend it, but I also would recommend believing you can do anything if you really bloody want to, especially if you are of the utterly bloody-minded temperament.
I think she knew that to compete with the life we had created, she would have to be a force of nature. She came out angry and ready to fight and she is the most determined, demanding, and fiercely loving spirit I have ever known. She does not just hold her own - she leads us all.
Meeting her needs and building my relationship with her has been and continues to be the biggest challenge and the most rewarding experience of my life. She teaches me how to be a better parent every.single.day.
We are so done having more babies. I mean I love them so much it makes my heart burst, but sometimes I want to run away and never come back. It's crushingly hard work.
But I understand so profoundly now, sixteen years into this parenting thing, that our children are there to show us the parts of ourselves that we need to figure out in order to be at peace with ourselves and live our lives. I think most people struggle through blindly but my eyes are finally wide open. In the last eighteen months alone my children have led me to re-discover the concepts of educational freedom and opened up the whole world of neurodiversity. Without them I wouldn't know who I am now and of what I am capable. So, for them, I take their lessons and I expand my knowledge and my understanding, and I reflect and raise myself to a higher level. For them, I will continue to step forward, pretending to raise them whilst I really just raise me, hoping that my example helps them see what it means to be human. What is means to raise yourself.