I had an interesting experience this weekend which I am hoping to commit to memory. I wrote in my ‘Gratitude Dairy’ about the event because it helped me to realize again the gift we can offer each other through having more empathy and through ‘active’ listening.
Life is a funny thing. I was spending time with a group of women the other night, which for the most part was a nice break from the demands of all of my boys. We’d had a family celebration the night before and I had only gotten about 3 hours sleep, so on top of my post birth ‘ratty tiredness’, I was really struggling to stay present and not just wish I was at home in bed. Perhaps Arlo was also longing to be at home because he spent most of the evening with “wind” and tummy aches that I could not seem to ease for him.
Each of these women tried in their own way to help, cuddling him and offering suggestions. Yet after a few hours of Arlo being upset and these women, who I genuinely believe to be terrific mothers, all giving me their opinions on Arlo’s complaint, I felt close to falling apart. I managed to wait until I was home and debriefing with Simon for the tears to flow and to express my raw emotions.
I think as your children grow you forget just how exhausting the first 6 months post-birth can be. With breastfeeding around the clock and trying to balance the needs of other small children I believe this to be possibly the hardest time in a woman’s life. Some days I navigate the whole day on ‘autopilot’, simply doing the best I can.
This is what I wish to remember…
When you express to another woman just how tired you are, all you really want them to do is “hear you out”. All you really need them to do is put their arm around you and agree with you that “it’s really hard work!” Most of all, all you want them to do is to tell you that you are doing a wonderful job and that you are a great mum for giving such much of yourself to all these little people.
I too have been guilty, I’m sure, of not really actively listening to girlfriends or sisters when they have needed me. I wish now I would have simply taken their hand and asked “How are you coping sweetheart?” and when I thought they’d finished their debrief I wish I’d have looked them in the eyes again and lovingly asked “tell me more honey, how can I help you best?”
If I’m self- responsible about the other night I know I let myself be bossed around by well meaning women whom I love and respect. By trying to remain open to coaching I allowed them to tell me that Arlo must have had wind because I was over- feeding him, and that he should only be feeding every 4 hours. Irrespective of the changes in supply later in the day, our own routines and my fatigue levels.
In my belief that it is important to be a ‘student of life’ and to remain open to learning, I allowed myself to forget that I have successfully breastfed three other hungry boys, and for the most part, I have done I pretty good job to date! I too, started “should-ing” all over myself, beating myself up.
My dearest girlfriend who was not there on the night, reminded me that I could have been braver, perhaps more authentic and said to these women “Look into my eyes ladies, I am so tired. All I need from you is your support, not your opinion or your advice.”
Now, while in the moment I didn’t think to respond in this way, and instead chose to feel attacked, I intend to commit to memory these raw emotions. In so doing I hope that I will find my future self to be a better listener and a more empathetic girlfriend, sister and mother-in-law (we have all boys in our family, no girls remember).
There is great learning in all of life’s events, don’t you agree?