Time to Say Goodbye

In my anxiety-filled, rule-breaking, soul-searching teenage years, I discovered the value in MOMS – ‘My Other Mothers’.

One of the MOMs whose words of encouragement and love remain strongest in my memory would be a particular high school teacher from my Taranaki hometown. I have memories of her that date back to primary school, when my little sister and I would finish school and wander off to the next door college. There , Dad would be trying to quell a restless classroom while we drew smiley faces on the whiteboard. Later in the staffroom we stuffed our mouths with chips while Dad stuffed his satchel with paperwork and teachers smiled at us over their Arcoroc glass coffee cups. Memories from those days are precious. Dad died when I was 11 years old. My parents had separated when I was nine and old social connections were lost. So at college I was thrilled to be back in Dad’s domain.

Looking back now, I can see this friend of his had , and very much still has, a heart of gold. She never appeared to tire of this shy third-former hanging back after class to chat. Her listening ear and kind words made a door to a chapter of my life I thought had closed.

It was many years later before I adopted another MOM. Sure, there were inspirational journo tutors, lady bosses, friends’ mums, aunties and in-laws, but there wasn’t so much to set those relationships apart from others I had with their male counterparts. That was until I became a mum myself.

Three years ago, when looking for a midwife, I had considered friends’ recommendations along with experience, track record and a similar ethos to mine. It didn’t cross my mind to consider the potential for friendship.

The appointments with my chosen midwife started out the same as any other medical check. Half an hour of sitting with sweaty palms and held breath as my blood pressure, weight and foetal heartbeat (exciting!) were measured. I scrolled through my phone making notes and reading out a series of questions I’d worried myself over between appointments. “Is it safe to wear tight pants? Can I still drink coffee? What if the cord’s around the baby’s neck? What happens if I bleed?”

As the due date drew nearer, I found myself leaning on her more heavily – not in the physical sense , but the emotional, the mental. I was approaching the biggest day of my life and was trusting that this new acquaintance would be there with me. Monitoring heartbeats, administering pain relief, keeping track of the labour, coaching my breathing, allaying my fears, urging me on, catching my baby. This tall, stoic mother hen with the hint of a South African accent offered wisdom, compassion and strength where I felt clueless, nervous and weak. She was gentle and schoolmarm in manner, seeking both to settle and scold me if ever self-doubt threatened to take over.

Earlier this year I said goodbye in a “Don’t want to make a big deal of it, but you’re basically my hero” kind of way. When she came for her final postnatal visit for my soon-to-be second child, my older, now two-year-old boy danced around proclaiming “ Midlife Sharon’s here!”, making excited jibber jabber, crawling under her legs and telling her every detail of his day. It’s basically how I felt I behaved whenever ‘midlife’ came to call. My younger son had just turned six weeks old and it would be my last such visit. After 20 years as a lead maternity carer (LMC), my ‘midlife’ was retiring. 

There was nothing special about what I wanted in a birth : water, medical intervention at minimal to none , and oh, I didn’t want to birth in a hospital, please. Too many sterile white walls, uniforms and machines. “Have you considered a home birth?” Midlife asked. “Not really,” I replied, a little shocked. Was she mistaking this 27-year -old mum for a 40-something hippie mother of four? What I wanted was simply a birthing centre experience , but there was no such thing where I lived. Not wanting to let her call my bluff, I started prepping for my home birth.

Last January, I am proud to say, I home birthed like a pro. I was 10 days over when my waters finally broke. I felt like a kid at Christmas, except I was Santa and it would take a heck of a lot to get the goodies down the chimney. My younger son Kingsley, all nine and a half pounds of him, was born in my bedroom. He came after a labour of floating in a giant paddling pool that my husband had blown up in the lounge, and lying in bed with a survival kit of TENS, Panadol, scented oils and Rescue Remedy. I listened to my older boy playing cars in the other room and I nibbled banana bread and sipped rose and vanilla tea between contractions. Perhaps , most remarkably, our Airbnb guest was oblivious that upstairs a child was being born. This relaxed setting was not the labour I had envisaged before meeting my LMC. I know this scenario isn’t always achievable, as I learned when birthing my older boy. But each birth, though different, was a surprisingly positive experience which I will treasure as the making of me as a mother.

The journey has only begun. There is so much to value in being a mother. The job of protecting, encouraging and shaping my sons’ lives is both daunting and a ginormous privilege. I have a lot to learn and , no doubt, a lot of stuff-ups to make on this journey of being a mum. But I hope along the road someone also finds me worthy of being, MOM. ¢ Michelle Robinson is a freelance journalist and blogger


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