It takes a village to raise a child. Everyone needs a tribe to offer them advice and support when times get tough. These are two of the things that I’ve read since having a child. More people are raising children without a close support network. This is something that I’ve read too. This last statement is one I can personally identify with for while it may take a village to raise a child and while it would be handy to have a ‘tribe’ who can help and offer support, I am extremely limited in who I can call on. You see I come from a dysfunctional family which can be difficult enough in itself. I am also motherless, having lost my beloved mum to cancer when I was twenty four and somewhat fatherless for my elderly father is lost in a haze of cancer, Parkinson’s and dementia.
When I got married I found the experience extremely hard. Not because I didn’t love my husband but because I didn’t have my mum at my side at a time when I dearly would have loved for her to be around. She wasn’t there when I was choosing or being fitted for my wedding dress, nor in the church watching me walk down the aisle, nor at my wedding reception. She never even got to meet my now husband of three years. My dad was there but was on the brink of his cancer diagnosis, so my fairytale day was slightly marred. Then I fell pregnant and once again I felt the void that my mother had left behind when she passed. I had so many questions and didn’t know who to ask. I have the loveliest mum and sister in law and a small network of friends online who have children , but they’re not the same as having a mum to turn to. I have brothers and a sister too but we’re spread all over the place and quite frankly not terribly close. At that time I would have given anything to hear my mums voice, to be able to ask her advice and to experience her excitement about me having the grandchild she always wanted me to have. Instead I went through gestational diabetes, a high risk pregnancy and a traumatic birth and haemorrhage without her and as someone who worries a great deal about what other people think of me, I found approaching other people, even my Inlaws, to ask for help and to ask questions really hard. My mum was used to me and my worrying after all and now I didn’t have her to turn to and my dad…he was going through enough himself. It was a really lonely time.
Then there were the newborn days. I really struggled. I had help from my husband and his family and from my best friend but from my side of the family not so much. I’d spent my pregnancy stuck in the middle of a family dispute and in and out of hospital with my dad so relations there were pretty fraught. As a new mum though, particularly one recovering from a haemorrhage, an episiotomy and anaemia there was so much I wanted to ask and I really could have done with my mums listening ear and the help I know that she would have given me. Luckily I had access to lots of services which kept me afloat. I visited my GP and was diagnosed with postnatal depression but found it such a relief to just talk to someone and not be judged. I had our local breastfeeding support service visit to help me with breastfeeding when I was struggling and I had a health visitor who visited me regularly to make sure I was coping okay. I also joined a local baby group which gave me a small ‘tribe’ until Emma could crawl. I really needed that back then.
I didn’t realise just how much my mums passing and our relationship would play on my mind from those early days either, nor how much I’d notice the huge gap in my life that she and my wayward family had left behind. When Emma was late teething I had no one to ask when I got my own first tooth. My mum wasn’t here and my dad was beginning to succumb to dementia. He didn’t have a clue. When Emma was diagnosed with colic, something I knew I had when I was a baby, I couldn’t ask anyone how long I suffered with it. When Emma was late walking I had no one to ask what age I had started to walk and when I was having issues breastfeeding I had no knowledge of whether my mum tried to breastfeed me or not. With mum gone and dads dementia progressing it was like my childhood was quickly being wiped out. I didn’t know, and still don’t know, how I’ll discuss my being a baby with my daughter as I have no knowledge of the time and no one to reminisce about it with. The questions that can’t be answered keep coming too as Emma gets older. Did I have blonde hair when I was tiny like her? And just where do her blue eyes come from? I think they must come from my mum but nine years have gone by since her passing and now I’m finding it hard to even picture the colour of her eyes.
My mums battle with alcoholism as I was growing up has also come to the fore. I think she led a much harder life than I’ve ever been made aware of and she dealt with her issues by drinking rather than using antidepressants and accessing counselling like me. I don’t use drink as a crutch, but I often find myself wondering if my depression and low self esteem which seems to be a lot like my mums is going to cause as much damage to Emma as mums struggles have seemed to have done to me. I like to think I’m being proactive, but I can’t help but think back to growing up and hoping that I’m not going to repeat many of the same mistakes in my relationship with my own daughter. It’s one of my biggest fears.
Something else I think about is what my mum would think of my parenting style. I decided early on that I wanted to use cloth nappies while no one else I knew did. I wonder if she would be impressed by my continuing dedication to them. I’ve been babywearing since Emma was tiny. I wonder what she’d think of that and whether if she was here she would want to try it for herself. I try my hardest to practice gentle parenting which is probably completely different to how my brother and I were parented. I’ve also never been able to practice cry it out and co sleep every night. I wonder if she’d stand up for me if I ever were to have met any negativity about it.
One thing I know that my mum would be proud of is the amount of time Emma and I spend outside, whether in the garden, at the forest or at the farm or zoo with the animals. Some of my happiest memories of my mum and I are of us on outings with my dad or are of my brother and I playing outside. This is an aspect of my mums parenting that I want to recreate and is one that I remember positively. It is something which has helped me so much in battling my depression too and which has helped me to remember happier times. I can think of her in a happy way and feel her with us when we’re exploring the outdoors, instead of just thinking about her loss. It’s therapeutic and something I intend to keep embracing.
As for my tribe, one which doesn’t consist of my own family, I guess I can describe it as small but mighty. While I don’t really have more than one person i can ask for help with childcare or have many people around me with children who I can turn to for advice, I try to make the most of what I’ve got even if it means reaching out on social media. I will continue to strive to seek help and to seek out likeminded people so that I can build my village and expand my tribe. I will also do all that I can to make my mum proud and to instil ‘Nanny June’ in Emma’s thoughts.