On Children

We view motherhood through a prism of what we have experienced as children, and what we experience of our own children. We are aware of how we are viewed culturally, and what expectations surround us in society. There is always so much to think about, to unpick. Most of us want to find a place where we parent in a way that seems authentic to us, without constantly reacting to the things we absolutely do not want to pass onto our children.

Since Ava was born, I am struck, every day, by how separate and whole a person she is. By how damaging it is to assume she, or any of my children, would be an extension of who I am. I often think of one of the best parenting books I’ve read, ‘Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting’, and what the Kabat-Zinns call ‘sovereignty’.

I look at both of my kids, and I see two people who are entirely unique, whose lives belong only to them. It is much easier to find a way to be gentle and respectful when you see children as whole, important people deserving of their own sovereignty. They are not mine to treat as a I wish. They do not belong to me.

‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.’

I often heard, growing up, the idea that we owed people for our lives. That we were under constant obligation, driven by guilt of disappointing, or guilt of not being who we were expected to be. Some of us learned to accept being treated in a less than dignified way because our lives didn’t feel like our own, to begin with. It took me 27 years, and the onset of motherhood, to understand that that wasn’t true and certainly not how I wish to treat my own kids.

But I chose to have children. I chose them. They do not owe me. They do not owe me their lives, and nor should they have to live in a way that isn’t right for them, just to please me.

‘You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday’

That means I hold myself accountable for how I act with them. I don’t get a free pass because I’m their mother (a notion I feel strongly goes against everything I believe in). I think I owe them more, not less, than anyone else. They should expect more from me, because I chose to bring them into this world, and now it is up to me to treat them with the love and kindness they deserve.

I chose them, and now they are here, I hope they choose me too. Not out of guilt, or obligation but because I am a person they trust, who brings them joy and who loves them unconditionally.

(Quotes from ‘On Children’ by Kahlil Gibran)

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Satsang

It’s around this time,  when birth is fast approaching, that I want to withdraw a little. That I feel like drawing the curtains and focusing on what is about to happen. I’ve had this past weekend as a date in my head for some time. My blessingway, on Saturday, was the rough deadline I had for work and any other projects I felt the need to finish. I knew that it would be a wonderful way to begin that move inwards.

And my goodness, it was. I am quite truly blessed to know some of the loveliest, kindest and strongest women, who did their very best to make me feel special and honoured which is something everybody, and certainly every pregnant Mama, should feel.

I wanted to describe it and share it with you, but I don’t know how to put into words the way our connection to each other was honoured and celebrated, or the overwhelming wave of gratitude I felt for the words and energies shared. My house is throbbing with their wonderful words and wishes.

In stark contrast, sometimes the world around is not so full of light and joy. Unfortunately there are people intent on bringing conflict to you no matter what. But as I was reminded yesterday, we are responsible for how we feel. It is up to us to say, ‘No thanks. Good for you, but not for me.’

That is exactly what I know I need to do now. To focus on the incredible experience of my blessingway, of the wonderful tribe of women around me who have my best interest at heart, and to take responsibility for who and what I allow in my life. 

‘In the tradition of yoga, keeping good company is a special practice called ‘satsang’, which literally means the company of truth, or the company of wise people….it is spiritual community.’ (Uma Tuli, ‘Yoni Shakti’)

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(Thanks to my talented friend Laura Toomer for taking some lovely photos in a way that was unobtrusive and very gentle)

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we carry each other

I’ve been thinking about my tribe. A group of people who have become necessary, constant. How as a mother, support and trust, an intimate community has become essential.

We search for it everywhere. We move house or stay put for it. We wonder, when we meet someone, if they could be one of our tribe.

Articles flood parenting forums about how we all need sister-wives and a collective ‘Yes!’ hits from all directions. We want this. We need this, but we don’t know how to live in this way anymore – amongst others, sharing space, giving our time so freely.

We have built walls around everyhing we do and we struggle on, unnecessary islands in need of each other.

I had this idea of a tribe in my head for a long time, since I first held my newborn daughter and read The Continuum Concept and learnt how there were women all over the world refusing isolation, demanding that they find one another.

I dreamt of a village full of people who parented in some kind of similar way, who could hold the darkest moments with you and celebrate the lightest. I fought for this. I searched and came close, sometimes, and sometimes felt the disappointment of trying to make someone into a person they were not.

I learnt to let go, and say no more. I learnt that conflict and competition were not driving forces in good relationships. I learnt to say, ‘Good for you, not for me.’ And when I knew what was not okay too, my time became so much more precious and it was easier to dig out the people I wanted to give it to.

I felt the pull of good friends, old friends, all over the world. People I see so rarely, but who are my people nonetheless . I held the dream that one day we would find ourselves in the same space once again, and we would laugh at how funny and silly our lives were, how everything and nothing had changed.

And one day I looked around at where I was, without thinking of anywhere else, and I saw it. I saw a tribe of women around me. Each of us in our separate homes, but not separate either. A village of people who had become important and necessary. Not alone. Not islands. Women who had woven their way into my life and had become my people.

People to talk to at 3am when you can’t sleep, people who go to the darkest place with you because they understand the darkest places exist whether you want them to or not.

I see these women. I notice them and I feel noticed. I feel that we are creating something so beautiful out of the ordinary moments of our lives, watching our kids and trying to figure out what and who we are in the thick of loving these tiny humans.

I know that my days are shaped by knowing them and the choice to let them in, to be there for them, too. I know they will carry my babies in their arms and in slings, would nurse them if I asked, because I know they love my children the way I love theirs.

Maybe we don’t need communes or tents but a choice to soften our edges and let the right ones in. To love and be loved. To be vulnerable and open with those who will tell us, ‘I’m here for you’ when you don’t know what to do.

Over time, we learn how to hold space. We talk about dinners and partners. About work and people who annoy us. We bring each other food. We drink iced coffees and whisper secrets in the garden whilst our kids dig in the sandbox. We laugh at dirty things.

We hold space for each other. We know not to decide what matters and what doesn’t. We hold it all equally and over time we find we have become a part of each other that is immovable.

We carry each other.

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Spring Days

I’m finally feeling that certainty that Spring is here. We are starting to spend more and more time outdoors – Ava on her scooter, Ezra on his trike and me prodding and pulling and attenpting some gardening. Regardless of anything else, I feel like Spring is here because I actually have some motivation to garden.

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And we have a kind of renewed energy all round. We’re emerging from blankets and sofas and throwing ourselves into new projects. Ideas for days out here and there, fun things we’ll do when friends come to visit.

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I’m feeling the love, right now. Maybe because I’m approaching that last run of pregnancy where I can sense that soon, I’m going to be birthing. Soon I’m going to get to meet little Gatsby.

Whatever is going on, I feel flooded with gratitude and good energy. I’m surrounded by some of the most amazing people I could hope to know – I have a tribe of incredible, talented, strong Mamas around me, I’m knee deep in orders from now until Autumn making baby carriers and felted figures and all the things I love to make and we’ve reached a point, presently, where watching Ava and Ezra learn in a natural way is so fulfilling.

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So often we are faced with unpicking damaging ways of thinking, or examining why we are finding letting go of something particularly hard, and lately it feels as if this has eased off somewhat. I’m not sure we ever actively tried to teach Ava anything, but I can definitely see how we had this idea of how hard we had to try to help her learn, whereas with Ezra we haven’t been teacherly at all, or in any way pushy and coercive. And he’s so completely, happily Ezra.

I come back again and again to the feeling that it would be so, so hard for kids not to learn. You’d have to make a real effort to keep them from the world and the world from them. But relaxing, forgetting about learning, having fun, following their interests and being there with them to talk and answer questions…this is such a source of joy right now. We all seem okay at the moment. We all feel connected. I’ll take that, and be damn grateful for it, too.

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And soon, I know there will be a new little person to focus on. I know the pace of all our days will shift and a new dynamic will be found, whatever that will look like. But right now, I’m happy to be riding this energy of wanting to do things – and my list is long – before all of that occurs.

We have rooms to paint, and gardens to plant with summer flowers. We have things to do before May, when our friends return from Canada and I imagine we’ll be spending all day, every day with them. I have orders to complete and new ventures to think about for late summer and Autumn. I have ballet shows to prepare for and a friend’s Blessingway to organise. Parks to go to and squirrels to feed. Chapters of The Wishing Chair to read over and over. Train tracks to build. All good things.

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I am pregnant, yes. Now move along.

It’s noon, and I’m standing in Sainsburys with a tired toddler in a pushchair, a tired 4 year old who is telling me how tired she is, a trolley and a 6 month pregnant bump. We have spent the last 4 hours in some sort of busy to-ing and fro-ing, walking around, going to coffee shops and then parks and we are all a bit cranky and ready to go home.

We all look cranky and ready to go home, and I’m doing my absolute best to keep my shit together whilst waiting for the unbearably slow checkout line to diminish.

This is the point where having a conversation with Ava about the ‘My Little Pony’ magazine she’s about to buy in a patient and engaged fashion feels like a huge parenting triumph.

This is not the point when I feel up for another discussion about how pregnant I am and how I have a huge bump and how I must be mistaken because surely I am not due when I just said I was, but actually, as the lady today suggested, ‘tomorrow, given the size of you’.

Well, okay, stranger who I’ve never met before, thank you for offering your views on the inaccuracy of my carefully considered due date, and thank you for sharing your complete and utter amazement that anyone could possibly be so big and not ‘about to pop’, but if it’s okay, I’d rather not.

I know. All of these comments and brief conversations are ‘well-meaning’. But that doesn’t really cut it. My body is not up for discussion. The same rules apply when I am pregnant as when I am not. You’re not allowed to be rude or condascending regardless of how funny you think it is, because the chances are, I’m not going to find it so funny. It’s old. I have heard it hundreds of times before. Once already today, actually, and every time I think, ‘Do I really have to explain to you, annoying stranger, why I have such a big bump, or that I am quite, quite sure when I am due?’ No. I really do not.

And I also know how completely and utterly fascinating pregnancy and babies and birth is to everyone. I find it fascinating too. If you really wanted to ask me a question I would so happily answer you, because there is nothing I love to talk about more than my children or the amazing feat of carring a child and birthing it. If you really wanted to know something about any of that, I would be delighted to engage with you.

But what always happens is this. You want to tell me something about me. And since you don’t know me, or anything about me, I find that kind of annoying.

I’m totally down with the fact that I have big bumps. And since I tend not to put on much weight anywhere else, I’m quite sure I look quite the sight, being roughly the size of Jupiter, and overshadowed by the sizeable sphere on my front. I am also down with the big babies I seem to birth, and agree that, yes, I probably do look like I am about to go into labour at any second. But is the size of my bump really the most interesting thing about a pregnant lady? I can think of so many other things I’d rather ask.

Recently, during Ava’s ballet lesson, I had the following conversation.

Stranger lady: Oh my God. Look at you! When are you due?
Me: Not until May.
Stranger, patting my stomach: Oh my God! You’re kidding! You’re kidding me right!? (Shouting loudly across the room) Kate! Kate! Look at this! This lady isn’t due til May! Can you believe the size of her bump!

I moved away at this point because honestly, I don’t want to be rude to someone who I assume is just…what? A little inconsiderate and not so good at physical boundaries?

But this is not a rare occurrence by any means. It happens every time I go out. It happens at every stage of pregnancy and it has happened throughout each one so far. I assume the main reason that these comments always come from women, instead of men, is that men are probably more aware how a comment about a strange women’s body might be construed. It is socially unacceptable lest they be considered a perv, so they don’t do it.

And whilst I love the feeling of sisterhood and comradery amongst fellow women, I don’t think that gives us a free pass to start treating each other like public property.

Especially in the checkout line of a busy supermarket with trolley and two other children in tow.

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thoughts on a doula

I’m coming to the end of my course work for the Doula course I did back in November, and starting to think about my final assigment, what form it will take (a felted painting? something written?) and where I will go from here.

I was unsure, for some time, about whether to do the course at all. York has many wonderful Doulas already, many of whom are friends and some of whom have a clear calling: this is their life’s work, what they were born to do.

I didn’t feel like this. I am passionate about so many aspects of birth, and have always been in awe of the whole process. Even as a child it was a fascination to me and something I knew was important. I love discussing it and supporting others, but I also know that there are lots of other things I want to do too. So I delayed for a while, until enough people encouraged me to do it, and I ended up doing it just as I came to my second trimester.

The timing has been just right. Much of the coursework is about reflecting on yourself – your own issues regarding your birth experiences and parenting. Unpicking what it is each of us will bring to the births we attend. The further along I go in this pregnancy, particularly with the decision to have an unassisted pregnancy and birth, the more this reflection feels important to me.

I know so much more about birthing than I did when I was pregnant for the first time. I’m not sure I even knew then what a Doula was. Having a doula with Ezra (and specifically, the Doula we chose, who was exactly the right person for us) was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I made and I know that it played a huge part in the birth I ended up having.

This time round, I was lucky enough to have a close friend who I knew would be my Doula. Her littlest one was due at the same time as Ezra, so we became friends during my last pregnancy knowing that she couldn’t attend my birth. When I found out I was pregnant this time, I think she was the 4th person I told, and we instantly agreed she’d be there. Not only has she experienced a freebirth herself but I couldn’t picture birthing without her. My kids love her and I knew having her there in that space would feel the way I need it to feel – warm, supportive, loving.

And certainly I am lucky that she happens to be a good friend, too, and also happened to be one of the people encouraging me on with my own journey as Doula, but I think regardless of how well you know a person, the most important decision in choosing someone to share that space with you as you birth, is how they make you feel. Nothing is more important than guarding your birthing space and inviting only those inside who bring the right energy and attitude.

We carry our own stories with us everywhere we go. A common factor for the Doulas on my course were the journeys they had experienced from their first birth through to their second, third and fourth. Each birthing experience teaches us so much. It is such a primal and incredible transformation to go through, and when we stop to really look at each experience and to think about why the things that happened may have happened, our stories can become a way to help others and support them in the decisions they make.

So often I think of the parallel between a Doula and a therapist. The role of reflection, of mirroring back, of being present and truly listening without bringing your own agenda or issues to the birthing space. I think of the women I know who are Doulas, all with such distinct personalities, and how each of them has so much to offer.

It’s hard to explain how comforting it is, during pregnancy and birth, simply to have someone there who is there completely for you. It can seem like such a luxury before you’ve experienced it, and before you know how huge an impact births have on everything that follows; from your own feelings as a woman and mother to the feelings you have towards your child.

I don’t know, once I am officially a Doula, how much doulaing I’ll do. Maybe only one or two births a year. Maybe more, or less. I feel honoured to have been asked to be there for the births a couple of friends are planning, and this is how I can see it going. I know how important it is to me to have Hannah there for Gatsby’s birth – and I don’t think that it is a coincidence I met her when I did, or became close to her over my pregnancy with Ezra.

The people we know and invite into our lives have such an impact on us – any real connection we make stays with us. It is irremovable, and the consequence of really knowing a person reaches far beyond anything we can really comprehend. And that applies even more so to those who are a part of our birthing experience too. They become a part of our birth stories, and those stories become a huge part of how we come to know ourselves.

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a brother

We had a scan on Sunday, a ‘JustGender’ scan to find out we’re having another boy. I didn’t realise how much I was anticipating it until the exhaustion I felt after. Perhaps the pressure of Ava’s hopes for a sister made me feel more anxious than I’d realised.

It was a private scan, so we were in and out without much fuss and with minimal time spent actually looking at the baby. But it was lovely, all the same, to be able to see him and to see all the similarities and differences between Ava and Ezra’s scans too.

Ava sat on the couch with Howard and when we could see clearly that he was boy, she was a little upset. Ezra stood beneath the screen and waved, saying ‘Hi baby!’

When we left, I spoke to Ava about how I knew she was disappointed but that I thought once he was born she would love him very much. I reminded her that Olivia, one of her favourite friends, has two brothers, which seemed to do the trick and almost immediately she accepted it and declared, ‘I don’t need another sister, I’ll have two brothers like Olivia! Let’s buy him a toy!’. And that was that, potential devastation swapped for joy and excitement. She wanted to buy him a giraffe since she has one and Ezra has one, so that’s what we did.

How lovely to be able to simply accept what is, so quickly and effortlessly? One of the perks of living in the moment. Ava also assured me she would just have a sister next time anyway…

But it was a surprise nonetheless, because we had grown so used to Ava’s insistence she was getting a sister that we’d just accepted it as fact. I didn’t know one way or another. With Ezra I knew without a doubt, but I couldn’t figure out if beneath Ava’s assurance I had any instinct at all.

(I did, during my first Yoga class, ask him if he was a boy or girl and immediately I thought, ‘Oh, he’s a boy!’ but then I seemed to forget about that until we were in the scan room and could see, clear as day, what he was)

This little one had such a pretty profile and such long legs. He was kicking and waving constantly, which certainly matches how it feels to carry him. Perhaps I should have known since my cravings have been so similar to being pregnant with Ezra, but when I think of it, it feels like this wee one has a soft and gentle, even energy, a more subtle energy than Ezra did.

With each of my children I feel a growing sense of their personality as the pregnancy progresses, and I’ve always guessed quite accurately who they might be.

The whole concept of gender is one I so often consider in relation to everything – how much of it is constructed and how much of it (if any) is inherently related to the sex. I’m surprised at myself that I enjoy knowing the sex whilst I’m pregnant, but I think it has helped my children so much to accept the reality of another, new person in the family.

Beyond that, it is such an abstract concept until the moment your child is born and then it seems irrelevant. Who they are is what we really want to know, and perhaps knowing if they are a boy or girl helps us to build a picture in our heads… helps us to translate a feeling we have about them. I never think of Ava and Ezra as their sex, or assume their gender, because it is their personality that makes them so wholly unique.

I’m interested in how there is always an interplay between expectations and motivations and… all the questions that gender poses. I know some people truly believe that little girls intrinsically love pink, but my experience is that it is so much more complicated than that. There seem to be some undeniable differences, generally, between boys and girls, and yet just as many exceptions and no real way of knowing whether those differences are purely biological and hormonal or also influenced by the culture we live in and absorb.

Regardless, we don’t knowingly have any expectations of our kids based on their sex, so when Ezra wears nail polish or shouts, ‘I a girl!’ nothing about that seems odd or unnatural. When he smashes his trucks into one another and jumps off the sofa I don’t feel a sense of pride in my boisterous boy’s physical prowess.

But knowing we’re having another boy seems like a fun, if relatively insignificant, way to start to get to know him. Much like I wonder if he will also have blonde hair or how big he will be.

Despite Ava suggesting many names (including, but not limited to, Count, Picture and Shoes, the latter of which has become his nickname) we decided on a name: Gatsby.

At night Ava brings him toys and places them round my bump, and Ezra says, ‘Gapbee in Mama tummy’ and gives it a kiss. Which is all so lovely, that I feel quite certain Gatsby, whoever he turns out to be, will be very much loved.
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