Monday, 24 July 2017

Ease into motherhood: Find Your Voice

Ease In to Motherhood is a sewists’ celebration of motherhood and the changes it brings to our lives. During the month of July, we invite you to share your experiences of the physical and mental changes of pregnancy, childbirth and/or any other way a child comes to your life. We invite you to share how you embrace yourself throughout motherhood, to appreciate all the physical and mental energy it takes, to accept and love the changes in your body, your mind and your life. We invite you to share how you still dedicate time to care for yourself. We invite you to share how sewing is a part of your life through the journey.

(A discussion opened and hosted by Erin, Jodi and Montserratt).

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OK so I know it's a nice little play on sewing words, but I must admit that my very first thought was: um, ease into motherhood? HAHAHAHAHAHA. CRASH, more like it!

Or was that just me?

Two pics of each - I most definitely do not have four children

The thing was, though, I loved having tiny babies. I know for some (most?) people, the early months of constant feeding, nappy-changing and interrupted sleep are a tortuous experience which improves dramatically as the child gets bigger. But I found the newborn phase relatively easy - breastfeeding went fine, the first child was a good sleeper, and while the second wasn't, I was enjoying myself so much that I breezed through his first six months fuelled on a mix of euphoria and strong coffee.  Perhaps that's why the crash, when it came, was all the harder.  I'd thought I was doing just fine. And no, I didn't much like the weaning and toddling, but this too was a phase they'd grow into and then out of. I didn't think I had anything much to worry about.

I stopped breastfeeding my son (the second of the two) quite suddenly when he was six months old. I had been enjoying pottering along on maternity leave and sort of forgot I was going back to work, and would therefore need to getting him drinking out of bottles for his time in daycare, until the week before. He took to it immediately, and the physical relief of not feeding him myself every two hours was so huge that within that week I transitioned him to being entirely bottle fed. Feeding issues for creche: sorted. Me: liberated. I hardly gave it a second thought.

I should have. Eight years later, I am now quite firmly convinced (on no scientific basis whatsoever I must add) that that sudden hormonal, physical and emotional change was what flipped the switch in my brain somewhere and kicked off my journey into depression. I've talked about that experience here, and luckily, not much has changed since then (the meds and mindfulness do their job!) What I do have now, though, that I didn't fully realise at that time, is an awareness of just how much my struggle with depression and anxiety is and has been a struggle with the fact that I am a mother.

That's a hard thing to face. I'm not even sure I could say why it is (I could offer a few theories, but they're probably best kept for the therapist). But it recurs over, and over, and over again - almost any anxiety or stress I experience, however it presents itself to begin with, only gets resolved when I trace it back to the same question: who am I? I'm a mother. And what kind of mother am I? And what else am I? And who are these children, and how do we grow together? And that's where the process of working it out, picking myself up again, starts.

Left: bought the fabric without thinking of the ironing those sodding ruffles would need.
Centre: towels + bias tape. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Worn once only.
Right: the first trousers I ever made. A rare early success!

So, motherhood and sewing. Well, I completely agree with everything Vicki wrote here about Getting Yourself A Thing. Obviously, sewing is my Thing too, and I'm very glad I found it. Also my Things are blogging, and instagramming, and twitting (less frequently these days) about sewing.  Being able to communicate with others about the Thing does me a power of good! And if I have anything to say to other parents reading this, I suppose it's on that. Find Your Thing, yes, but also:  Find Your Voice.

I had another blog before I started this one. It only lasted a few months before I shut it down, and the reason I did that wasn't because no-one read it (though they didn't) but because it wasn't my voice that was coming out.  Instead, it was the voice of someone who thought that blogging about sewing was somehow the same thing as blogging about your children, and about sewing and crafting for them and with them. You see, there were so many wonderful sewing sites and tutorials out there - Dana, Sew Mama Sew, to name just two - and I simply didn't know where the not-mummy things were. In my real voice, now, I can tell you this: I hate crafting with children. I'm SO glad mine are big enough now to do their own crafts without very much parental input. But back then, when they were small, that blog started like this...

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011
First post

This is my idea of a good time: at home pottering about and making a merry old mess. Them: toys, crayons and books. Me: pins, needle and thread.

I learned to sew with my mum and at a rather traditional girls’ school where I and 5 others took GCSE textiles. In my rose-tinted memory the class was a twice-weekly haven of calm, creativity and gossip; my mum mainly remembers the enormous practical coursework burden and desperate all-nighters trying to finish the projects.  These were clearly enough to put me off, because I hardly sewed anything for the next 15 years or so.

And then last summer I got my stitching mojo back. I rediscovered my sewing machine (a secondhand 1970s model that cost 20 pounds and weighs about the same), experimented with some easy dresses, and then threw myself into making Christmas presents for my friends. Since September I’ve spent more lunchbreaks than I care to admit on fabric porn*.

Even at its most frustrating, sewing is total occupational therapy. It’s absorbing and it's liberating, keeping my hands busy and clearing my head. I find myself actually thinking about things again (with two toddlers and a full time job, it's been a while since I did that).  So this blog is mainly about keeping a record of the things I’ve made - but it’s also about getting myself to keep sewing and thinking. Because another thing I really enjoy but don’t do any more is writing.

The idea is that making stuff and writing about it keeps me more or less sane...

* i.e., wandering around fabric shops, stroking things and trying not to drool.

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It's clearly me in that post, and I still hold to most of it. But you know what? In reality, I hate mess. And nice though it was to sew in the middle of family life, generally I find it even nicer to sew in my own room, preferably with the door shut and an audiobook on. In that post, the kids get mentioned first, then I appear briefly before moving on to my own mother, who pops up straight away in the second paragraph (analyse that...). That idea I had about "keeping myself sane" - I suspect what I meant was "keeping" (or rather, "making") myself the kind of mum who blogs lovely things about her children on the internet. It is me in that post - but it also really, really isn't.

The only kind of parent any of us can be is an authentic one.  Nobody else can parent your kids the way you do (and that's a good thing!); no-one else can speak to your experience.  You might be the parent, like me, whose only choice is to embrace the fact that motherhood and identity are sands constantly shifting beneath your feet. That's ok. We're ok. Our kids are ok. It's who we are. The only stories we can tell are our own; and we are the only ones who can tell them.

You just need to Find Your Voice.

(It's the one that's been there all along).

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