Saturday is officially the Most Challenging Day of the Week in our house. The sudden break in routine doesn’t sit well with any of us. I am overwhelmed by there being children all over the place, usually pyjama clad, and making all sorts of screen based demands before I’m awake enough to cope with them or respond in a way befitting the parent I aspire to be, rather than the slightly befuddled, caffeine seeking parent I actually am on a Saturday morning.
One of the kids, and already I can’t recall which one, was kicking off about something. Again. And it was tiresome. Again. And I had run out of patience. Again. And I was over it being Saturday already. Again. And I escaped to my room as I do when I have nothing useful to add to the situation, stared in the mirror and breathed deeply, while the screaming, or the yelling, or whatever hullaballoo it was continued downstairs. And as is usually the case, if I walk away/run for cover the noise or the drama reaches some kind of a peak, before eventually subsiding. And as it does, the muscles in my body that were tense, unclench. My breathing slows and becomes a little less intense. The hideous pain of the moment passes. And I feel a deep sense of relief that its passed, and a teeny bit of trepidation that it might start again.
Anyone who’s ever given birth, or been with someone giving birth, or simply watched an episode of One Born Every Minute or Call the Midwife will know this is pretty much how a contraction rolls during childbirth. And that the message to the labouring mother is always along the lines of “breathe through it”. What I have yet to hear a midwife tell a mother (probably for good reason, as it’d probably be a bit dispiriting) is that as a parent you’re going to have occasion to “breathe through” a different kind of pain for some considerable years after your labour’s stopped. Actually, this truth is probably the most useful piece of parenting advice I was never given.
Sure there’s a ton of advice about naughty steps, and controlled crying, and potty training, and teaching phonics. But less about the need to “breathe through” the more unmanageable aspects of parenting, which are often messy, noisy, relentless, chaotic, and/or publicly shaming. The moments where no parenting ‘approach’ is going save you, because you are bone tired, or unimaginably bored and frustrated by having the same conversation over and over, and frankly all you have at your disposal is your breath. Because in those overwhelming moments it’s Too Much. Thinking doesn’t feel like an available option – probably because the flight or fight mechanism has kicked in so mercilessly, all the blood and adrenaline has flooded to your extremities, and away from your brain (or something like that).
When it all gets too much, you aren’t going to be able to work out what may or may not create a favourable outcome for you and your child. The stage where this could have become a teaching opportunity has long passed, and survival becomes key. Which leaves you with breathing. Just as you did as you birthed the child who is currently wailing like a banshee over something ludicrous. And as even the very worst labour pains eventually did, the moment will pass. You will have breathed through it. You will have acknowledged to yourself, as you likely did at some point during your labour, that some things are just too much. Too intense. Too overwhelming. In each of my labours there was a point where the midwife kindly but firmly told me to stop screaming “quite so much”, and start breathing through the contractions instead. And I reluctantly obeyed. And that advice helped me push each of my oversized and overcooked boys out into the world.
And now those boys are small people all of their own, the contractions keep on coming – just in an emotional form. As they get older, the contractions are less regular – though no less intense – and currently make a fairly predictable appearance during the school run, and on Saturday mornings (see above).
I kind of wish someone had told me as I drank my cup of post labour tea that in no way was I done with contractions. Not by a long shot. I think it would have been good to know that I’d still be needing the midwife’s kindly but firm advice for years to come.