Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Ease Into Motherhood: Get Yourself a Thing

"Ease-in to motherhood is a sewists’ celebration of motherhood and the changes it brings to our lives. During the month of July we invite you to share your experiences of the physical and mental changes of pregnancy, childbirth and/or any other way a child comes to your life. We invite you to share how you embrace yourself throughout motherhood, to appreciate all the physical and mental energy it takes, to accept and love the changes in your body, your mind and your life. We invite you to share how you still dedicate time to care for yourself. We invite you to share how sewing is a part of your life through the journey."

Monserratt invited me to contribute because she knows me and knows I have a lot to say about motherhood.  Although I will probably be repeating some of what is said by the other contributors, I am a bit further removed from having babies and toddlers, so hopefully can give a perspective from 10 years in the future for those of you in the trenches of early motherhood.

I was always a crafty kid, and carried all my supplies with me through various apartments and houses, and would occasionally make something.  I always had some fabric and a machine, and rarely did more than some alterations or curtain making, but every few years I would pick up a pattern or a Burda magazine and go through a sewing phase again.  It was a skill I could draw upon, but I didn’t consider it a hobby… because I didn’t need one.  I took night classes.  I gardened.  I travelled all over the world.  I ate at a lot of exotic restaurants.  I went out with friends, and spend a happy amount of time alone reading and doing creative things.  Then I decided I wanted kids.  (I waited to have children until fairly late in the game; I was 35 when I had my son, and 39 for my daughter).  There are drawbacks to having kids late, but also great benefits: financial stability, emotional maturity and confidence, and a stable career with excellent maternity benefits. 

***American readers should skip the next paragraph if they want to avoid reading about the shocking reality of living in a socialist state ;) ***

I was lucky enough to have both of my kids at a great hospital here in Montreal, where I was basically left to my own devices until I called for a nurse.  They were uncomplicated births (despite both kids being OP…those of you who’ve had posterior presentations know what I’m talking about, but I’ll leave out the details for those who haven’t).  I think I got a bill for $50 for each birth because I asked for a private room rather than sharing with another mom.  I took a year off with full pay after each birth, had breastfeeding and postpartum support from public health nurses who would come to my house, then had a CPE for my kids just down the street when they turned 1 year old.  (Centres de la Petite Enfance are our subsidized child care centres, that have trained Early Childhood Educators and charged $7/day, including chef-cooked meals.  I think the cost has gone up to $9/day now).  Needless to say, I had lots of support and an easy transition into motherhood. 

And yet.

It’s difficult to go from being able to spend each day as you please:  To wake and sleep when you want.  To work until the work is done and then leave, no matter the time of day.  To pick up and travel to the wildest corners of the world, and then come back with complicated medical mysteries that only made the stories more entertaining when you share them over late night drinks with friends.  To spend a few hours each Saturday cleaning your home, and then having the rest of the time free.  To work on projects uninterrupted from start to finish. 

To have just five g-d damn uninterrupted minutes to think.

Getting my recommended 5L of water a day
 The first three months or so with a new baby are like one long day that never ends: baby wakes crying, you change them, nurse them, wash them, sometimes change them again, hold them and play with them a bit, then they fall asleep again (if you’re lucky).  Repeat every 2-3 hours.  You do whatever you have to do during that unpredictable amount of time the baby is sleeping, although everyone will tell you to rest during that time, but then you never leave the house or get anything done.  So: if you sleep, you feel that you got nothing done, and if you do work, you feel exhausted.  Being an efficient, goal-oriented person is impossible with a newborn.  This is the time to put any projects on hold, read all those books piled up on the bedside table while you feed or hold the baby, drink 5L of water a day, and try to grab 1 hour snatches of sleep when you can.  This stage will end, even if it feels interminable

Then they get older, start sleeping longer, and you gradually emerge from the sleep psychosis and regain the ability to think again.  This is usually the point where moms get frustrated and wish they could have some time to themselves.  This is the time to get a Thing.  Maybe a Thing that gets you out of the house (like going to the gym), but if that’s not your cup of tea, a crafty Thing is perfect.  You can tell your partner (and yourself) that you need 1 hour to work on your Thing, and don’t let yourself get interrupted.  The satisfaction that you feel for starting and finishing your Thing is hard to explain to someone without kids, but believe me, the Thing can be immensely important.  The Thing gives variety to a day that is like every other day.  The Thing gives you something to think about when you’re at the same playground that you’ve visited 1000 times before.  The Thing gives you something more interesting to talk about with other moms than sleep schedules and weaning and hockey lessons and who is walking / talking / reading / getting early acceptance to Harvard. 

 I stumbled onto my Thing when my daughter was 1-year old, and I had both kids at the CPE.  The director stopped me one day and said, “I need someone to sew some new sleep mat covers for the groups.  You have a sewing machine, don’t you?”  She gave me the cut fabric and I whipped up 30 covers in a couple of days, and thought, “That wasn’t as hard as I expected.”  (Turns out that the fabric hadn’t been prewashed, so they all shrunk and couldn’t be used, but that’s another story.)  I decided to dig out some old patterns and make myself a few things to fit my Mom Bod.  I had some trouble with fit, and thought, “I wonder if there are any online tutorials?” 


I found Burdastyle.  I downloaded all the free patterns (OMG there were so many free patterns back around 2009-2010).  There was a whole world of patterns and tutorials and fabric shops there to inspire.  Even if I only had 10 minutes until naptime was over, I could take a quick look at vintage patterns for sale on Etsy and study the pattern pieces to learn about construction.  I could look at the independent pattern companies and see what I could make to fit my new (and constantly changing) post-partum body.  I had never been able to buy a fitted dress off the rack, but it was a simple thing to print a Sewaholic pattern that would work for my size 6/10/12 body!  If going shopping at The Mall with a post-partum body makes you feel frustrated and powerless, making a personalized article of clothing gives you back your power.  I had found my Thing.

I found sewing blogs.  I followed along with The Sew Weekly, then went to NYC in 2011 when Mena arranged a meetup.  I thought it would be weird and awkward to meet strangers from the internet, but it turns out that sewists aren’t perverted old men in greasy trench coats waiting to kidnap me.  Surprise!  We all had the same Thing, and we could talk about the Thing while we shopped for fabric and ate and drank and showed off our beautiful makes. 

You don’t usually learn this until you are an adult, but the unfortunate truth about friendships is that they are usually based on proximity.  You become friends with people because you live in the same neighbourhood, or your kids go to the same school, or you work together.  You may not have much in common aside from that physical proximity, but you make do.   When you make friends because of the Thing, you start off with a shared passion, and skip past all the what-do-you-do-where-are-you-from-where-did-you-go-to-school polite cocktail conversation and skip right to the important stuff:  OMG-your-ass-looks-so-good-in-that-pencil-skirt-which-pattern-did-you-use?!  We are almost without exception an open minded, interesting, passionate group of people.  (I say almost without exception because there must be a rotten sewist somewhere, but I’ve yet to meet them.)   Now when I travel, I have a premade set of friends that can show me corners of their cities I would never otherwise find. I’ve had beds offered, drinks bought, and free patterns given to me by the best gang I’ve ever been part of.  The conversations rarely start with talking about our kids, but when they do, it’s not in a competitive Mom Olympics type way; it’s a genuine curiosity about how each of us fits kids into our lives.  I apologize to any sewists I’ve met over the years who I may have scared off having kids, but I don’t sugar coat it – there is enough sugar coating to the mythology of motherhood without pouring more on.  It’s wonderful for those of us who chose it, but it isn’t compulsory (unless certain people in charge of drafting health care acts have their way, but that’s another political conversation I shouldn’t get into here).    

So here I am, almost 12 years after becoming a mother, and I’m finally able to catch my breath and look back.  I’ve been pregnant for almost 2 years with 3 pregnancies; I’ve breastfed for 4 years; I’ve gained and lost countless kilos; I’ve visited the ER covered in blood and vomit, or carrying a barely breathing child; I have a lot more grey hair; I’ve been mortified in public more often than I imagined possible….but I’ve survived.  Those little 10 minute vacations from motherhood that my Thing provided have expanded over the years into hours, then days, and now I take the whole summer off and can work on projects whenever I want.  You’ll have some bad times and you’ll have to put your Thing aside until life gets back to a new normal, but your Thing will be waiting for you.  Find your Thing, and it will grow along with your family. 

Hell, they may even join in.


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