Autumn. It is such a vibrant, vivid word. Layered with possibilities and a dazzling array of colour. Thanks to a poor sense of timing, I spent most of this spectacular season indoors – life existing between the countless times I had to collapse on the couch – my pregnant body aching and exhausted once again.
And then there was new life – our fourth child, Harvey David Hughes was born (after a long, traumatic and excruciating labour) and the days took on a different tone. Cycles of feeding, changing nappies, sleeping. Getting used to the logistics of getting four children in and out of the car. Supervising enthusiastic embraces from excited siblings. Downing endless mugs of warm Akta-vite. Savouring my first sips of wine again.
Throughout the haze of this crazy period, I noticed a shift and change in myself. Ideas adopted, lessons learned and new perspectives gained. I’m linking up with Emily Freeman to examine What I’ve Learned this season.
1. Date Nights ‘In’ Are Just As Good
In this stage of life, getting all four of our kids looked after so that we can have a night on the town is roughly as likely as snow in Summer, so we have made Friday our standing in-house date night instead. In the regular grocery shop, I make sure to buy some special cheeses or treats that we save to share between us. We whip up some cocktails (Espresso Martini being our current drink of choice) and either play chess or choose a show/movie that appeals to us both (often easier said than done!). I’m a big believer in location playing a significant role in the experience and look forward to when getting out is a reality again, but for now, I really look forward to the end of the week ritual.
2. Three to Four is Easier than Two to Three
I’ve heard it said before that after you have three kids, adding more in is just a breeze. While I wouldn’t put it quite like that (and I am a firm believer that each child is very different from birth and some children make the experience more difficult than others) the transition for us has (mostly) been quite straightforward. Moving from two to three is a major adjustment in working out how to parent when you are outnumbered. Three to four seems more about logistics and strategy (and trying to keep your shit together for as long as possible before exploding all over everyone*). One advantage is that everyone assumes that you are pretty much incapacitated so that even the simple act of showing up to an event can be enough to produce a surprised and impressed reaction.
3. *Emotional Meltdowns Are Inevitable
For most of my parenting life, whenever I have been pushed to the point of absolute rage or loss of control I have been absolutely mortified and ashamed in the aftermath. At the end of last year I discovered an interesting perspective on the science of self-control which began a path away from that horrid self-loathing. Of course, I try my best not to unleash on everyone, but those times when it all becomes too much and I respond in a way that is less than becoming, I apologise, take a deep breath and move on.
4. How to Breastfeed Properly
You would think that by my fourth child I would have this one down, but apparently not. I have struggled in the past with a lot of feeding related issues – low supply, slow weight gain, mastitis, refusal to feed. Each time that I faced the decision to switch to formula there was an emotional onslaught, the warm flush of shame and regret. Admittedly, I’m barely six weeks in, but already the experience has been much easier thanks to an off-chance comment by a midwife about shifting positions during the feed. This advice has proven very helpful and I haven’t had to supplement or resort to expressing between feeds…yet. I know that breastfeeding can be a minefield of opinions, perspectives and experiences and I would never pass judgement on the way that another mother chooses to feed her baby, for me it is just a welcome relief that things have been a little more straightforward this time.
5. How to Accept Help
‘I’m fine’, ‘Thanks so much but I think we’ll be OK’. These previously familiar responses are far from my vocabulary now… Having never been great at accepting help, I have finally learned how beautiful it can be when you just simply say ‘Yes, thank you, that would be perfect.’ From assistance with school drop offs and pick ups, meals delivered to the door, my parents-in-law whisking Hudson off to a kids sports program every Monday, an amazing massage from an Osteopath friend, sleepovers for the older kids, an incredible friend soloing five children for the difficult after school and dinner hours one night, delicious chocolate chip cookies to supplement our dwindling energy… the list is incredible and endless. We have been sustained, encouraged and held up by the generous and amazing people that surround us. I’ve learned the hard way that the only thing gained from refusing help is a hefty serve of resentment when it all goes down in flames. My only regret is that it took me this long to learn the lesson.
6. Audio Books are Awesome
OK, OK I’m a latecomer to this one. I’m well aware that this form of consuming literature is not new, but I have just discovered how great it can be. For the first few weeks of Harvey’s life, I spent the night feeds listening to Liane Moriarty books and I found it a completely different experience of the text. The fact that I can access (a limited number of) titles through my BorrowBox app that is connected with my local library makes the discovery sweet indeed.
7. Rewriting the Narrative is Powerful
My most recent labour experience was awful. I had wished and hoped for an easier, more straightforward experience, but it just wasn’t to be. After remaining in shock for a number of hours after the birth and feeling as if I would never recover, a chance encounter with a no-nonsense midwife helped me to reframe the story and find the positive elements in what had happened. My last traumatic birth experience took a good ten months to process, so being able to talk and write about the whole thing within weeks this time felt like a major step forward.
8. How to Be a Better Health Advocate
I’ve always dreaded doctor’s appointments. Whenever a strange symptom shows up in one of the kids I go into catastrophise mode, googling the (usually deathly) likely illnesses and playing out the possible outcomes in my mind. Somehow though, following the birth of Harvey, I have lost the fear and begun treating these anomalies as a matter of course. When Harvey had to return to Emergency when he was only 8 days old for worsening jaundice, we made the necessary calls, repacked hospital bags and showed up to the hospital ready to recount the history and ask the right questions. On Saturday, we were informed that Hudson has to undergo surgery to have his adenoids and tonsils removed, and grommets inserted into his ears. If anything, I was relieved that we are actually moving forward with his developmental issues and making a solid plan to help him sleep and hear better.
In so many ways, Autumn has represented survival mode for us. I can see the leaves beginning to settle now and I’m looking forward to so many things – planning a Winter Cocktail Party, throwing a Super Mario party for Eli’s 6th birthday, heading away for a couple of nights with the family during the school holidays. This hope and anticipation is getting me through those long nights of feeding… as well as the midnight snack of chocolate and the lure of catching up on episodes of Downton Abbey.
How about you? What epiphanies have you had this season? Did you discover any tips about how to do life better? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below.