Arjun, Running & Reflections
My oldest son, Arjun, turns 9 in October this year. If there is one thing I have learnt in nearly a decade of being a mum is that special moments are rare, fleeting and should be held on to firmly.
I had one moment a couple of Sundays back.
It seems small, almost dare I say it….easy. But parenting never is done with ease - it is an accumulation of many, many hard yards put in.
This moment, this time with Arjun, signified so much for me. So much that I had hoped and longed for. Like the universe said “so you see, here it is the full circle I have been waiting to show you”. It also finally eased something my mummy heart has been holding on to for a long time.
On this particular Sunday morning, it was set to be a wet and miserable day. I woke up feeling a little low mood wise. Fatigue from the week kicking in, facing a day of house work and getting ready for the week ahead with the three boys stuck inside. I sensed Arjun was also feeling a little frustrated. Him and I are very alike. We need some fresh air and to move our bodies, ideally in the morning. I checked the weather forecast and could see the day was going to deteriorate but there was a pocket of dry weather currently. I thought about going for a run to help shift my mood a little….and then I thought about seeing if Arjun wanted to come with me.
It has taken 18 months of slow, tedious, safe postpartum recovery for me to be back into a position where I can run safely again. Before children I ran. You could say I was ‘a runner’. I loved long distance running and would run half marathons ‘for fun’ on a weekend with no extra training. While I have never got back to this level after having children (and am ok with that) it is something that gives me great joy, both physically and mentally. I have deep down hoped that one day the stars would align and that I would one day be able to run with my boys. That has been my only focus postpartum – to be recovered and strong enough to keep up with them. I know am yet to share my third postpartum journey…..I will get there I promise.
Recently, Arjun has started playing basketball and has absolutely loved it. I thought this might provide some context to him running with me – so I asked if he would like to come with me. I said we could go to one of my favourite running spots and I could teach him how to run up one of my hills (there is a lot of mental training with that). He simply said yes, that would be great mum and went off and got changed into some shorts and shoes. I half expected a drama with that but no he just did it happily. We live on a semi-rural lifestyle block now so need to drive a little bit to get to a good place to run but I do not mind this as it helps to give me a break from the house. We just played some music on the way (his choice of sounds) and Arjun said to me “you know Mum we could do this every Sunday” oh did my heart soar.
When we parked up, I said to Arjun that it will be a little cold when we get out but that we would warm up quickly. Again, I expected some resistance but there was not any. We got out and ran. We did a little bit on a straight section and then tackled the hill. The whole time I was coaching him on how to strategically attack a big hill. The goal was getting to the top without stopping and I set little markers for him along the way. This is one of the reasons I love running by the way. It helps train my mind for other projects. Writing a book, developing a new product or a recipe it all requires an accumulation of small steps together. To put one foot in front of the other and to keep moving. To pace at the beginning and a push at the end. I explained all of this to Arjun while we ran. I felt deep satisfaction at being able to pass on such important nuggets of information to him, all while moving our bodies in a joyful way together. Watching him run beside me, hair blowing in the breeze, muscular limbs gliding with ease - that I had feed, nourished, and cared for over all these years I felt such deep pride.
I also finally felt peace.
Not for the first time, I reached through space and time to myself as a new mother.
I could see myself so clearly, like I was right there nearly a decade ago.
Sitting on the couch, in our small two-bedroom rental in pajamas having not slept the whole night in a blur of painful latches, pumping and trying to feed.
An exhausted shell of who I knew myself to be, barely holding it together having just had a baby three weeks ago. The darkness of postnatal depression lapping at my door.
I could see myself placing Arjun, a tiny new-born, on the couch next to me, unable to take anymore. Unable to give anymore because I literally could not, having given and given and given until there was nothing left. Not able to feel the bond with my son through the fatigue that was so deep in my bones and the pain from feeding so excruciating that blood would come with every feed. I could see my husband picking up our son and calling my best friend for help.
I wish I could tell you how much this moment has caused me so much pain, so much worry, so much guilt, so much despair. That even though I know there is no research or evidence to support that at all (trust me I have looked) that I somehow had hurt the bond with my son for ever in that unbelievably challenging time.
One of the key things to pulling me through this period was that I kept doing my PhD and went back to work early. I worked on my PhD in two blocks in the day when Arjun slept from four weeks of age (of all my boys he was my good day sleeper) and at 12 weeks he started daycare. I battled so much with myself at this time when it felt like everyone else was just ‘enjoying’ their baby. Here I was clinging onto doing something that was both important to me and I needed to do. Running with Arjun, talking with him about some of the things I had learnt over the years in tackling big impossible tasks – of which my PhD was the hardest of all - felt like the universe was saying to me…..see….there was a reason for your struggles….there was a reason it has all been so hard….I just could not show you at the time.
I made different choices with my next two sons. I did everything I could to not reach such a void again. This meant mixed feeding them and in Ray’s case paying for more help as well. No longer signing up to the ridiculous belief that we should do it all ourselves. As I transcended into motherhood on my own without my mother, I just thought this was normal to do it all yourself. I would do anything to help stop another mother going through what I did. It is why I have shared so openly about my struggles. What I did not realise until I felt that peace on Sunday though was just how, all these years later I still worried about those early raw days with him.
To have him enjoy the time with me to feel that bond and connection while doing something we both love and guiding his mental fortitude at the same time was incredibly special. We have run each Sunday morning together since and both of us look forward to this greatly.
I hope with all my heart that this gives hope to another mum reading this. That if you are in the deep fog of those newborn days and perhaps not enjoying it in the way you thought you would or thought you should be that it is ok. That if you have or are struggling with breastfeeding that I promise you one day you will look at your child and think – wow I made that. That if you do need to return to work for whatever reason that also it is ok it does not make you less of a mother in any shape or form. I also hope you know that it is ok to hold on to something that is yours. I do not know when as mothers we started this insane expectation that we must be completely and utterly fulfilled by motherhood alone. If you are that is great – you do you. But if you are not…there is nothing wrong with you. There is no rule book that says this. Fighting to hold on to a bit of you may be the hardest thing you do, trust me I know, but it also maybe the most important thing you do. I am so aware my hardest parenting years are yet to come – hello three teenagers – but I could see glimpses on this Sunday that the very thing which I held on to was also what I am now passing onto my oldest son. My son who made me a mother, who taught me everything I know and what I am capable of, and no doubt will continue to do so.
Hang in there mama, fight for you, fight for what lights up your soul, fight for what is right for your family and no one else’s. The universe has a grand plan for you….it might take a decade or more but when those plans come full circle you will just know.
I know some of you (especially new followers) binge read my blogs so here are the ones that relate to this blog – there are a few and I wanted to keep the flow of this blog going so you can just click on these below and come back to them.
x Dr Julie