Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized

Special Deliveries

Today’s post is part of the Moods of Motherhood blogging carnival celebrating the launch of the second edition of Moods of Motherhood: the inner journey of mothering by Amazon bestselling author, Lucy H. Pearce (published by Womancraft Publishing).

Today over 40 mothers around the world reflect on the internal journey of motherhood: raw, honest and uncut. To see a list of the other contributors and to win your own copy visit Dreaming Aloud.net

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I do not remember a time when I didn’t want to be a mother. It was a longing I was born with; not a desire to replicate my genes or a want to have a ‘mini-me’ that I could dress up in things I’d have liked to have been dressed up myself. No. I wanted to be a mother because I wanted to mother.  I wanted to raise children who would be loved and who would know it; children who would be happy and confident and encouraged to take their rightful places in the world.

I had always assumed I’d have at least seven or eight kids. (When I was between the ages of 4 and 12, my ideal number of offspring was fourteen – clearly I was raised Catholic!).  When I married, at 20, all I wanted was to have a baby to celebrate our first anniversary with.

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. It would be eight years, two husbands, three surgical operations, bucket-loads of pills, months of injections, invasive procedures and every ounce of my considerable determination before I held my baby.

The agony of being denied motherhood devoured me from the inside out. I ached, sometimes physically, for a child to call my own. My arms longed to hold a baby that they wouldn’t have to return to its rightful owner. My heart overflowed with un-shared love. Love for a child I was desperate to have, desperate to love, desperate to parent, desperate to raise. I read books on pregnancy, homebirth (having decided, by the time I was 18, that the only sensible, logical and safe option was to birth at home), breastfeeding, parenting and children. I dreamed of what it would be like when one of those infernal pregnancy tests eventually gave me the result I was looking for.

Sometimes, I would dream about holding my own baby and the dream would be so vivid that I would awake from it and still have the scent of a small baby lingering in my nostrils; would still be able to feel the silk of a tiny child’s hair on my cheek; the near-nothingness of a baby’s soft skin; the sweetness of a baby’s breath on my neck. I questioned the love of a God who could create such longing in my soul, and who could equip me with a certainty that I would be a great mother – and then deny me the fulfilment of my longing. It was analogous to creating a singer with a voice to rival that of Maria Callas, then ripping out their tongue and wiring their jaw shut. Every time I got my period – which was far from a regular occurrence – it was as though my womb was directly connected to my heart and, distressed by its own emptiness and failure, was shedding tears in synchrony with my eyes.

Poisoned by my desire I found it increasingly difficult to rejoice with people when they announced that they were expecting a baby. I got more and more resentful of others when they shared that they were pregnant – I  felt that I had been longer in the ‘conception queue’ than they had. I deserved that baby, not them. It was almost as though there was a finite number of souls who chose to incarnate in a particular year and somebody else, by getting pregnant, had snatched one of the souls that otherwise would have come to me. I could still smile to someone’s face and congratulate them. As soon as I was alone, however, I would cry tears of pain, sadness, jealousy, anger and fear. Fear that I would never fulfill my destiny to become a mother; that all the babies would be allocated to other people and I would be left without one. It felt as though my pain was bigger than I was. It was such a great thing that I was unable to contain it.

But it finally went away: On March 13th, 2002 in Pune, India, my beloved daughter, Ishthara was born. No words can express my joy when I held her in my arms for the first time. I couldn’t quite believe it. I was a mother! Finally, nestled close to me was all I had ever wanted. For some reason, love didn’t flood through me the first time I held her. I was numb. It was almost as though I was in an altered state of consciousness. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was really mine, that I was really allowed to keep her. Years later, when I was studying psychology, I read Viktor Frankl, and the experience made sense.

In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Frankl details how he and others were liberated from a Nazi death camp. Instead of being joy-filled and jubilant, they found themselves mis-trusting their experience; not quite believing it. Frankl explains that they had spent so long dreaming of this very moment – and had their hopes and dreams dashed so many times – that now, they were not sure they could believe it. It took the men a few days to grasp the reality that their dream had come true and was not about to be snatched from them.

On the third day, Ishthara reached her bony arm up and touched my cheek with her hand. She looked in to my eyes and I swear I saw all the knowledge of the Universe in hers. Love surged through me stronger and more overwhelming than anything I had ever known. I knew true happiness for the first time in my life. Finally, I knew what love was. I discovered a bottomless well of love that I had never thought could possibly exist – much less that it could exist inside me.

Everything about Ishthara sent joy and love surging through me – and nothing had prepared me for that. I knew I was prepared to be a parent but I wasn’t prepared for the love that being a mother brought me. I found that I instinctively knew what she needed and wanted. I found extreme joy in being with her, in responding to her needs – in pre-empting them, even. Holding her little body close to mine, keeping her body alive with mine, watching her flourish and grow and thrive filled me bliss and peace. For the first time in my life, I felt as though all was well in my world.

When I held Ishthara in my arms, and breathed in the scent of her, I felt as though I had come home to myself. It felt that I had spent my entire life preparing to hold a child I didn’t have to give back. This little splinter of God had made my biggest, greatest, grandest dream come true. She had turned me into a mother. 

Not long after Ishthara’s first birthday, I left my second husband. Then the unbelievable happened – I discovered I was pregnant. Without even trying!! How did that happen? I was shocked and delighted. I was also worried about how I would love the baby I was carrying. I had no doubt I would love her, but I loved Ishthara so much – she was the child I had always dreamt of, the child I had always longed for, and she and I had such a tremendously tight bond – that I was sure I wouldn’t possibly be able to love my second child as much. I felt sorry for her, coming into a family where she wouldn’t be loved as much as her elder sister. I couldn’t conceive that there could be enough love in the entire world – never mind in me – to love my second child the way I loved my first. 

Kashmira was born on the 18th of May, 2004. When I held her in my arms and told her I loved her for the first time – I was lying. I knew I should love her, but I felt the same way I had when I’d first held Ishthara – kind of shocked and numb and waiting; waiting for waves of love to wash over me. I fretted that this meant my fears were correct, that I would never love this child as much as I loved my other one. Three days later, however, I woke up and looked at Kashmira and a feeling of adoration for my child flooded through me. I was overcome with relief and profoundly grateful that this little person had chosen to turn me in to her mum. 

Special delivery

Pic: Ishthara and Kashmira, aged 38 and 18 months, respectively

It’s a feeling I have felt, for both my special deliveries, and the privilege of being their mother, every day since.

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Writing

NaNoWriMo Update

Well, it’s November 25th and you may remember that, all gung-ho, and full of vim and vigour, I announced my participation in the NaNoWriMo project twenty-three days ago.

The premise is simple; glue your butt to your chair for an extended period every day during the month of November and produce 50,000 words at the end. You will then have the bones of a book that you can work on and edit to your heart’s content and try to shape it into an actual book that you can bring to market. Like most things worth their salt, NaNoWriMo has its detractors: Some writers claim that  it’s difficult to work like this, ‘churning out’ 2.000 words a day every day on average on one project. Others heave a sigh of relief when November comes around, safe in the knowledge that the support of the project will motivate them to get some words on a page. Still others see it as a month of indulgence to  write on a pet project, or try out a new genre – one they have never fiddled with before.

I approached NaNoWriMo with a project I’ve been wanting to work on for quite a while. I was really excited to try my hand at a bit of fiction. I’ve done a bit of plotting, I’ve gotten to know a little bit about some of my characters, I have a few set-ups for them and I have scenes written (in my head only, mind!) that had me crying in the shower as I felt the emotions of the characters involved and put words in their mouths and hearts.

So, I sat down, committed to writing my socks off and producing the required 50,000 at the end of this month.

Didn’t happen.

I have about 7,000 words of my book written. Look, it’s 7,000 words more than I had a few weeks ago, but I’m not going to nail NaNoWriMo this year. I’m not even going to start on the whys and wherefores of why I have so little done. I’m neither ashamed nor embarrassed by my lack of wordage. NaNoWriMo has served me well; I have spend the month thinking about my writing – thinking about what I want to write, what I want to focus on, what really matters. I’ve formulating a good, solid plan not just for the book I’ve written and am ready to market, but about the next one, the one after that and the spin-off work that could come from it if I market it properly.  I have looked long and hard at self-publishing rather than going the traditional route and have not decided against either (yet!). I’ve changed focus and looked at the bigger picture, the long-term and asked myself serious questions about where I want my writing to take me and what I want it to do – the purpose of it, if you will.

I’ve also been writing a bit more than usual – and remembering the joy I get from writing, how easy it comes to me if I just let it, how good it feels to structure a sentence that says exactly what I want it to and how the flow of words from brain to fingertips feels as good to me as a run in perfect weather feels to a professional runner: The exhilaration, the triumph, the purification of the exercise that release endorphins and spur you on to do more, to do it again, to keep going.

So, the end of November will come and go, and I will not be a NaNoWriMo winner. Except, in a roundabout way, I will. I’ll have a course plotted, a strategy devised and a much clearer picture of who I am as a writer. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a win.

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Uncategorized

Raising Teenagers

When she turned eleven, Ishthara told me that she was now a teenager because, in Irish, the word for ‘eleven’ translates as ‘one-teen’. Well, she’ll be 13 in March, and is fast becoming what I recognise as a teenager. Her sister, at ten and a half is not far behind. I am very happy with how we’ve managed so far; I’m proud of who my girls are and love the fact that they get on so well, and we’re generally a happy lot.  Having babies and children was easy – but now we’re on the brink of something new and I really want to ensure I don’t make huge mistakes and damage my girls at this fragile stage in their development.

 

I realised I needed help if I was going to negotiate this one. Talking to the parents of my girls’ peers is very useful, but there are certain times when something comes up and it’s not possible or appropriate to ‘phone a friend’.  I don’t have a partner and I don’t have family I can discuss raising children with, so I feel very heavily the weight of the responsibility of doing this and doing it properly. I can’t draw on my own experience of being parented because the level of dysfunction in my family of origin was such that the (then) Eastern Health Board recommended I be placed in care. My ‘mother’ refused because she was more worried about what the neighbours would say than the constant danger I was in. (Of course, the EHB could have acted anyway, and taken me away against her wishes. They have never provided a satisfactory reason why they didn’t.)

 

My girls mean the world to me and it would kill me if I damaged them to the extent that I was damaged by my ‘parents’. Doing what they did would ruin my children, but – equally – doing the opposite of something does not necessarily produce the opposite results. I truly believe that everything I need to know has been written, somewhere, by someone – I just need to find it.

 

In Hodges Figgis the other day, I went searching. The helpful assistant asked if she could help.

‘I’m looking for a book about bringing up teenagers.’

‘Do you have a particular title in mind?’ she asked.

‘Ummmm – the manual?’ I responded, a tad hopefully.

 

In the end, I parted with my pennies for ‘Flagging the Screenager’ by Harry Barry and Enda Murphy. I chose this one for a couple of reasons: It’s new (published in September of this year), it’s Irish (at the moment, I’m bringing my children up in Ireland, so I wanted something that would be relevant to the society they are currently in); and it’s endorsed by someone I know and respect and with whom I share a lot of values and thoughts on children and the rearing of them – Carol Hunt.  When I contacted Carol and told her I’d bought the book on her say-so, she was enthusiastic; reiterating that it’s a ‘brilliant book’. I felt relieved and confident with my choice.

 

Flagging-the-Screenager-Front Photo credit: http://www.libertiespress.com/shop/flagging-the-screenager

 

I will be honest – I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far, so good. I am finding that specific issues that have already come up for us are addressed in the book in a ‘real world’ way rather than a theoretical way and there are plenty of examples and illustrations from the authors’ own lives and case studies from their own practices.

 

Hopefully (with the help of this book and my other resources – including fabulous friends) my children will reach 25 as happy, healthy, positive, confident young women with good memories of growing up and becoming young women. That’s not too much to expect, is it?

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Vent to Maintain the Status Quo

A few days ago, a frustrated mother wrote a letter to the Irish Independent. The day after, my friend the writer and broadcaster Barbara Scully wrote a reflective piece sparked by her reaction to the letter. Ralph Riegal has a piece about it, too, saying pretty much the same thing as Barbara.

 

Cue much soul searching and reflection nationwide, as Facebook and Twitter share the letter and discuss its contents. Nodding in agreement with the sentiments and situation expressed by Ms Hartnett. But here’s the thing; Nothing will change because of it. It doesn’t matter that so many of us agree and are in the same situation. It doesn’t matter that so many people feel that their children are being short-changed by this government. It doesn’t matter that so many of us can recognise this as a form of child abuse. It doesn’t matter that so many of us have our hearts broken on a daily basis because we are not able to spend as much time as we would like with our children. It doesn’t matter that so many children are deprived of quality time with their parents. It doesn’t matter that parents suffer and children suffer and we are doing who-knows-what damage to future generations because one salary is no longer enough to provide adequately for a family.

 

Ms Hartnett has vented and turned the national gaze to what we’re doing to our children and ourselves in order to bail out the banks. She has focused our attention on what is the reality for many of us. But nothing will change because of it – except, perhaps, in the lives of Ms Hartnett and her family. I applaud and support her decision to excuse herself from the rat race and wish her well, but in the full realisation that we need a shift in culture in order to effect any real and lasting change in the lives of our citizens.

 

I have said this so many times already but I’m saying it again; in Ireland, we do not value our children in this country. We do not love them enough, as a nation, to do our best for them. We do not pass laws, make societal changes and enact decisions with our children and their well-being at their core. Until and unless we do, nothing will change. A rant, a vent and a few column inches as a result do nothing to change the status quo; in fact, all they do is maintain it.

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Personal, Writing

NaNoWriMo 2014

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – turns 15 this year. I did it for the first time back in 2004. Actually, I started it in 2004. I didn’t make it across the finish line. In hindsight, it was gloriously optimistic of me: I had just (a few weeks beforehand) moved continent and ended up in a place I hate; I had a five month-old and a two-and-a-half year old and no practical or emotional support with raising them, and I was trying hard to figure out what my Next Move would be.

So I got to about 10,000 words and left it.

This year, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo again. NaNoWriMo has changed in the intervening ten years. It’s now a very sophisticated affair – a slick website with FAQs, forums, discussion boards and lots, lots more. I’ve signed up because, to write consistently on a specific project, I need a prod. I’ve discovered that much about myself in all these years of writing. Whether that prod is the deadline imposed by a TV studio, a magazine or newspaper editor or a conference organiser. Or even a friend.

I wrote the first draft of my memoir with the prodding of a friend – who happened to be a newspaper editor – in India. We had a deal that I would write a minimum of 500 words a day and email them to him. If he didn’t get the words, he’d ring me to find out where they were. The strategy worked. Not least because there is a five-and-a-half hour time difference between here and India and if I didn’t turn in my words, I’d get a call at Stupid O’Clock to ask me where they were.

That book got written because I committed to writing a minimum of 500 words a day – because 500 words is easy; it’s doable. I set out to write 500 words a day, but often wrote 3,000. If I’d set myself a target of 2,000 words a day, I doubt I’d have lasted a week.

There’s an idea for a novel that has been rattling around inside me for more than two years now. Some days, I feel that if I don’t sit down and write it, I will wake up some morning and it will have written itself on my skin from the inside out. So that’s my NaNoWriMo project for this year.

I was exhausted yesterday after just 3 hours’ sleep the night before, and was sorely tempted not to write – to put it off until ‘tomorrow’. But I’ve got a writing buddy this time around. A real-life, real-world friend who has signed up as well – and there was the prod I needed. For extra pressure, Kashmira (who is not quite ten and a half) has signed up as well and she got off to a cracking start yesterday.

So I knuckled down and wrote a modest 1,123 words. I’ve started. I’ll let you know if I finish.

If you’d like to join the madness (it’s not too late!), you can sign up here.

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