(Warning – this post is long and contains a lot of exclamations)
Growing up in a competitive household with lots of siblings pushes you to be the best in everything you do – academics, sports, etc. Add having high achievers for older siblings and you have one of two results – either you crumble under the pressure, pretend not to care and deliberately sabotage yourself, or you try to find your niche and you refuse to be satisfied until you excel at it. Of course, there is a third option – you embrace the competition, savour the challenge and accept your failures. Right. Good luck with that. That’s a lifelong goal of mine. I’m option number 2…until now.
Before I had my son, I didn’t even KNOW I was a perfectionist. That statement would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. I realise now that there have been arguments had, friendships lost and stress gone through all because I wanted people and situations to live up to impossible expectations. Even when I became aware of my perfectionist tendencies, I thought being a perfectionist was a good thing! Then I read a quote somewhere about perfectionists never being satisfied. Hmm. The glass is always half-empty (this is conveniently misinterpreted as a desire for constant improvement), and the idea of something – a new experience, relationship or environment – is never as good as the real thing. Check. Check. Check.
People have been trying to tell me this for years. But it all came home just over a week ago. (32 years, 1 month and 20 days ain’t so bad…)
First, the backstory to this ephiphany.
Almost as soon as I knew I was pregnant I wanted an all-natural, painkiller-free birth. I did my research, spoke to various people, and decided that my son being born without any drugs in his system would be the best thing for him. Some people cheered me on, some called me crazy, others were just baffled. My husband scoffed – I have to find him everytime I stub my toe. There was no way I wasn’t going to take medication.
Fast forward 10months and an intensive Bradley Method Class later and my husband and I went through a fast, intense and extremely painful labour. I say ‘my husband and I’ because he barely left my side, never stopped holding my hand and didnt get a toilet break. He went through it, whether he liked it or not (he didn’t).
Not once did I consider medication. I told the nurses to go away, and hubby dimmed the lights, played relaxing music and lit tealights (battery powered – don’t light a candle in a hospital please). I was exhausted but euphoric when my son was born. My husband was shattered and a little traumatized.
Now I’m not saying what happened next was because of the natural birth, but the intensity of it, the excessive amount of weight I’d put on, my doctor (sort of) telling me he was going on holiday two weeks before the birth and leaving me with someone I’d never met, as well as a few other factors I had no control over, amounted to it taking me a good 3 months to heal physically and emotionally, to be able to do any exercise at all, in fact for me to remember who the heck I used to be.
So far, my story is not unlike many others. I have a gorgeous, healthy baby and I’ve been indoctrinated into the sisterhood of natural mamas. I’m exercising again now, I’ve lost most of the baby weight, and as fas as remebering who I was before, that’s nothing a mani/pedi, Booker prize novel and a trashy weekend of E! and Bellanaija.com can’t fix.
So what’s the deal? Well, a week ago, I made some new friends through some chaps my husband trains with. One of them is this really cool Aussie with an adorable month old son (3 weeks at the time).
We were all hanging out having brunch at Sentosa when the conversation turned to her labor. She leaned back in her skinny denim shorts, sipping her latte, her Seafolly canvas hanging off her arm and began to narrate how chilled her birth had been. The minute she’d felt the slightest bit of pain, she asked the nurse to crank the epidural up. When it was time to push, she was completely numb and couldn’t feel a thing. She’d even managed to kip for 5 hours during the birth, it was all so slow. She’d had a good rest she said, and when it came time to breastfeed she was and I quote “as fresh as a daisy”.
“AS FRESH AS A DAISY??”. No one will ever see the pictures of me taken right after labor because I was BATTERED. Three weeks later and this chick was swimming and had already been to the gymn. “That is seriously impressive”, my husband said in wonder. I felt like clocking him on the head.
I have to be honest. I had a lump in my throat listening to her. Was it possible that childbirth could really be that relaxed? I know everyone is different and there are some things you can’t control. I also know there are risks to epidurals and I’ve spoken to women who wish they’d gone natural. That’s not really the point of all this. Listening to this new friend and spending more time with her has convinced me of something. 95% of the things that happen to us happen because we expect them to. We’re petrified they’ll happen and so they end up happening. They’ve already happened in our minds.
Why did I HAVE to have a natural birth? Why wasn’t I open to other options? Why didn’t I give my husband more of a say?
WHY DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO TAKE THE MOST DIFFICULT ROUTE IN LIFE?
These are big questions. And I don’t have the answers. All I know is, sometimes it’s worth taking the hard road, but there are many ways to peel an apple. And some of those ways are easy. You’re not going to get to the end of your life and get a medal for peeling the longest, unbroken, perfectly symettrical apple. Just peel the damn thing.
It’s time to banish the word ‘suppose’. “I’m supposed to clean and cook and take care of a newborn. My house is supposed to be spotless. My son is supposed to sleep through the night. This isn’t supposed to happen. It’s not supposed to be that way”. How about “I’ve just had a baby and I don’t know my a*** from my elbow.” Or “The baby’s going through a growth spurt and won’t stop crying. Can you pick up dinner everyday this week? Everyday, yup.” Or my favourite and personal challenge – “I’m cool if I come across lazy, entitled and spoilt but I need to rest/paint my nails/fill in blank. There’s a Laundromat down the road, I won’t be doing laundry this week. Or next”.
Seriously though, looking to the future, I’m not saying I wouldnt have another natural birth, but I will consider all options, and think of how it would affect everyone involved. Me included. After all, as mothers shouldn’t we also think of what will leave us in our best, restest, strongest state? ( A lot of superlatives, sorry) I want to get to the other side of my choices – hard or easy – and be happy with those choices. To want to do them again if I had to.
And just in case you think this childbirth example does not suffice, here’s another. I did nothing but cloth diapers for the first 3 months of my son’s life. Cloth diapers…while looking after a baby on my own. WHY?
The perfectionist is dead. RIP. Thank you baby.