Saturday, September 8, 2012

Enough Love

When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I fell into a state of panic. I wouldn't have admitted this to myself at the time, let alone anyone else. How did this happen? I was always in control of my life - I called the shots, I took responsibility for my decisions, so who was this baby coming into our lives, when we had plans for other things?

This was the beginning of a 3-month long depression, from about March - May 2011. I knew I was depressed (the hormones weren't helping), but, as is often the case with depression, I couldn't shake it. I had every reason to be happy - pregnant, great husband, beautiful daughter, loved my house, job, family and friends. Had my health. My meditation cushion waited for me to return but I only gave it sideways glances - too hard basket. I also made excuses that I was too nauseous and tired to practice yoga. Yet at the same time, I searched for answers. I searched the many dozens of self enrichment books perched on my bookshelf for signs of help, but I was convinced these didn't apply to my situation. I scoured the internet, listened to dharma, spoke to friends, cried. Still nothing.

So how did I get out of it? I turned within. I had been trying to ignore the incessant stories going on in my head, but I'd had enough of the complaining. So, I listened instead. I gave my soul the time. And what came forth was a deeper understanding of what was going on. How could I possibly love this child as much as Olive? Did I have enough love? Surely I couldn't consider anyone else to be as special as Olive? Did I really deserve to have another child and the happiness it brings? What was this fear of being happy?

The realisation that I feared having enough love for my baby was a powerful lesson in the Buddhist teaching of maitri. Maitri is self love, or an unconditional friendliness and compassion for oneself, and I realised this was what was missing and that I had to bring back. Most of us don't have enough of it. Cultivating maitri is the foundation of bringing forth love into the world, and when one practices maitri, one realises their love is infinite. Of course I had enough love for this child! I had huge reservoirs of the stuff! When I practiced maitri, it became clear just how much love I had yet to give to my unborn child, my family and the world. So I gave myself a break, and gave my soul the hug she so needed.

This new insight was perfectly timed with the beginning of the second trimester. Boy was I happy, and yes, we ultimately had a beautiful boy, Archer Colin Smyth.

When you love your whole self,  you can love the whole world.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Returning to Work After Having a Baby? Tips to Reduce Stress

The thought of returning to work after having such a glorious amount of time off with my bub developed into a mild yet consistent soul ache as my return date approached. Is this happening to you? For whatever reason, you know you have to go back, you can hear yourself telling others that you'll be 'a better mother' if you go back, so you just bite the dust and turn up on day 1 with dark circles under your eyes the colour of glorious blueberries. This happened to me after having my first child. I was so tired, frazzled, guilt-ridden and cranky that I wasn't going to let it happen again after my second. So I thought it might help the mums and dads out there to share my 5 Top Tips for returning to work after parental leave to ensure your transition is as smooth and stress free as possible, and actually enjoyable.

  • Stop resisting and face up to reality. This is the most important thing you can do - it's about accepting change and accepting your circumstances. Having a baby is a life-changing experience, so continue to be open to the changes in your life. By resisting change (and facing going back to work), we experience a hardening of our souls, so let the internal acceptance of your reality melt this hardening and feel the resistance soften. Hear yourself say it out loud. "Ok, I know I'll be going back to work in July. I accept this next change in my life. I accept the challenges and opportunities it will bring. Life is forever changing."

  • Take stock of the new you. During your time off, you have become a wiser person. How will you use this new wisdom at work? What are your colleagues going to get? It would be great to keep a journal on your experiences so that you can come further into the reality of the situation. 

  • Organise care well in advance. This may mean having a family member help out, or sending them off to a paid childcare centre. In many parts of our country, the availability of childcare is limited so check with your local childcare provider what the gist is with regards to waitlists as soon as possible, even when you're pregnant! There are 4 childcare centres within 2 kilometres of my home, however it took me 2 years to get my daughter into the one I wanted. I also found mid year intakes to be the most challenging - many centres prefer to deal with new intakes at the beginning of each year. As I write, this, I have gone back to work 3 days a week, however only have 2 days of care for Archie. We feel fortunate to have some flexibility with Damo's work. When choosing a childcare centre, go with your instinct. You will know if you feel comfortable leaving your child in their care. Here are some other helpful tips on choosing a childcare provider from Kidspot. You may also like to purchase a book on this topic from Ruth Powell.

  • Talk about how you feel about leaving your child. Keep communicating your emotions with you partner or other close people in your life. Leaving your child in the care of a family member or childcare provider can be a time of great stress and guilt for many parents, however just because other people experience these emotions, doesn't make it any easier on you. Yes, the truth is, it sucks, big time, and is something you might very well go through. I remember crying as I was putting Olive's lunch in the daycare fridge, trying to be 'strong'. As soon as I left the centre, I got back in my car and let it all out. My eyes were very puffy. Do know this: everything passes, nothing stays the same. Again, try to accept what you are feeling instead of resisting. Let yourself feel these emotions, sit with your vulnerability, practice maitri - unconditional friendliness towards yourself. Practice compassion by thinking of all the other parents who have felt this way, and who will feel this way in the future. You are united with them in your emotions. Try to wish for their suffering to ease, as you wish for your own suffering to ease.

  • Keep in contact with your employer. Will you be returning to the exact same role as when you left? If not, how has it changed? Who's new to the team?

  • Know your rights at work. Will you be breastfeeding at work? Will you be changing to part-time work? There are certain obligations by employers in Australia that ensure parents who are returning to work are not disadvantaged because they've had a baby. 

  • Organise your weeks. Chances are that if you're planning on returning to work after parental leave, you're already somewhat organised. For those who need a little help, I have found it a huge benefit to plan my week in advance. This way, I know my family will be eating healthy meals, I've carved out quality time to spend with my kids, husband and self, whilst also knowing that I'm delivering on what I need to deliver at work. Kikkik is awesome at this stuff. I use her weekly planner every Sunday. It takes me about ten minutes to plan the next week. I also use a whiteboard in our kitchen to plan our meals, which takes me another 10 minutes. My husband or I will then go and get what we need for the week to fill our cupboards with healthy foods.

  • What have you learned about returning to work after parental leave? Can you add any of your own tips?