I started writing this post and then – like most things lately – I had to put it down to tend to the tiny people in my life. As a result, the direction of this piece has changed a bit. What started out as somewhat of a moan (I dare you to try and parent three kids, two under two, while running a business from home and see if you don’t want to clobber your other half a great majority of the time) has turned into a reflection on marriage, parenthood and specifically, how a recent decision has enabled me to focus a bit of attention of this important area of my (our) life.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about marriage or my husband at all, really. In some respects this is because I haven’t had a whole lot to say. We have had so much going on the past year or so that we’ve really just been clinging on – scraping by and ‘just surviving’. Between buying a house (one which needed A LOT of work), the birth of our third child and everything in between, focusing on our relationship has taken a backseat. We know how important it is to make “us” a priority, and we have checked in and had some conversations acknowledging this, but the opportunities for date nights have been few and far between.
Last weekend we went down to Cornwall to visit family and had a surprise opportunity for some alone time. I won’t bore you with the details from our date, except to say that it was perfect, despite it being rather dull by our (much higher) pre-baby standards. In short, we left all three (!!!) girls with their grandparents and went out for dinner. I had a whole lot of feelings, including anxiety, surrounding leaving Sybil. I never would have entertained the idea of leaving Poppy (first child) at five months, and didn’t leave Tallulah (second child) until well after the first year too, but I trust my in-laws and with all of the challenges that come with parenting three children our marriage needed this. This isn’t to say that we’re struggling any more than anyone else would be in our position. I certainly feel as though we’re solid and can (and have) weathered our share of rough seas, and I think he feels similarly. All of that being said, neither one of us can ignore the growing feeling that we need to make more of an effort to reclaim some of who we are outside of being parents. Parenthood, in general, threatens personal autonomy. Not to mention that our free-time, disposable income and energy reserves have all been chipped away further by each subsequent child, leaving us feeling increasingly out of touch with ourselves.
Part of why this impromptu date night was possible is because I’ve been giving Sybil one to two formula bottles a day. I’d been feeling drained, low, anxious, and all-together burned out, and I was hoping that by passing off just a little bit of this responsibility that I would feel a bit less like I was drowning in and amongst everyone else’s needs. The decision to do this hasn’t come lightly, but I have finally come around to the understanding that I was teetering on the edge of full on break down and my baby (and the rest of my family) needed me, and needed me to be well, healthy, and stable more than she needed to be exclusively breastfed. Let that sink in. It’s a statement that took me a while to come to grips with and to become accepting of.
Any reference to breast vs. bottle feeding has the potential to to become charged – heated even. However, I didn’t want this to sway me from what I believe to be a powerful and positive message. My daughter was breastfed for five full months before we made the decision to incorporate formula for the sake of my mental wellbeing. Even if she hadn’t been, what one chooses to feed their own child is their own business. There have been many recent campaigns to promote breastfeeding and while I think these are, on the whole, valuable and beneficial to babies and the greater society, I think they also have the potential to be damaging. Early motherhood is a difficult, emotional time and feeling stifled by guilt isn’t helpful. I’m not arguing that breastfeeding isn’t ideal – it is what nature intended and there is a whole host of indisputable research on it’s benefits – but what I am saying is that there are many very valid reasons why women choose formula. When we first started thinking about combination feeding I felt an enormous amount of guilt. I was convinced that I was harming my child or, at best, doing her a disservice. What I wish I had focused on instead is the many ways in which sharing the workload in this way would benefit the whole family.
I’m going to end this post not by asking you how you and your partner keep the spark alive (which I briefly intended to do, before this post evolved the way it did) but by saying that both parenthood and marriage are complex, evolving beasts. They are also both an enormous amount of work, and this sits alongside anything and everything else that you have going on in your lives. It’s ok to ask for help, just as it’s ok to take the easy road. Especially if the easy road is a short cut to happiness, contentment and wellbeing.
*Photo above was shot at Barrington Court in Somerset, which is one of my favourite National Trust properties. It is also one of the few photos I have of Andy with the girls. The old cliche about photographers hating being in front of the lens definitely rings here! To read more about our favourite National Trust places, click here.