Birth Story #11 Yasmine Ganley
From and living in Auckland
When did you become a mother?
It still feels strange to consider myself a mother. I still feel like I am wading through and learning all the time. Listening, feeling, fucking up and then trying again. But I gave birth to my daughter in July of 2017, and then my son in February 2020.
Was it a premeditated decision?
Both pregnancies were a surprise, perhaps the first was the biggest surprise of my life. I remember physically shaking. I was in complete shock, it was a flood of emotion. We always knew we wanted to have two kids, we just didn’t know when that would happen, and it just did. We count ourselves lucky.
What is your approach to Motherhood?
With Emily, I think I tried to maintain my life-before-child. I kept working, had my toes dipped into various projects and enjoyed having both, but the toll of this came down on my health pretty hard a year later, and actually my health is still suffering from this. With James, I wanted to take away any extra pressure and just enjoy the first year of motherhood, just be there for him and Emily through the transition of a family of 3 to a family of 4. I was most nervous about this shift in dynamic for Emily, so made sure any time I had while James slept was solely focused on being with Emily. Perhaps that is an approach, when I’m being the best I can be, to be there for them when they’re with me. When they’re at kindergarten or asleep, then I can take the time to do the things I need to for myself.
I like to let them lead me during playtime. I find this allows them to get fully engrossed in the things that they want to, rather than me forcing something upon them that they’re not feeling. I also like to involve them in everything we do as adults and a family, like gardening and cooking, even if there’s a bit of mess, it doesn’t bother me. I try to explain things to them as I would a friend, I try not to hide anything from them. As a family we value experiences, we love to take the kids camping and on local holidays. I make the kids photo albums from each trip and we love looking back on these and talking about what was happening that day and all the other things we saw and felt. We love reading books, both theirs and ours together. We love singing and dancing after dinnertime.
Were you raised this way too?
In some ways yes, in others no. My parents definitely valued being in nature. My dad was a surfer and skier, my mum became a marathon runner after I was born. So we were always exposed to a healthy lifestyle and the outdoors. My mum hated, and still does, cooking! So it is a skill I am still developing. My dad was keen with his camera, always documenting our adventures. He still has shoes boxes filled with the printed photographs and they are my most treasured item, I just love going through them, so I think I wanted to created this for my own family too. There were nearly 8 years between my older sister and I, I was very much the baby of the family. I think I was left out of a lot of more adult conversations. I guess in some ways I have echoed the values and experiences I love and remember fondly as a child, but am consciously trying harder to rewrite the ones I don’t.
Did your intuition grow while you were pregnant?
I’m not sure so much while I was pregnant, the nine months do definitely prepare you for load of responsibility, but I’d say my intuition has grown more so while I have been parenting. Learning by trial and error. I’ve learned to tune in harder, listen to my own thoughts and reactions, out of necessity for my own and everyone else’s wellbeing.
How easy is it to listen to yourself?
It is easy to listen, it’s harder to act! Most of time I feel something brewing in me for a few days before it comes to the surface, loud enough for me to acknowledge it and respond. I do a lot of processing at night, when I can catch some moments of solitude. This means I toss and turn a lot before actually sleeping, but I do wake up feeling more settled. I think I am getting better at recognising something before it is an issue, but still this ‘bottling up’ is something I battle with and really have to work hard at releasing before it overcomes me. I tend to find that if I am relaxed and happy, my kids are too. So I am learning ways to include time for myself and my work, outside of family focused time. It’s a real juggle and there's no right or wrong way, sometimes it just falls into place and others it’s storm.
Could you tell us about the births?
With Emily, I went into labor 3 weeks early, early in the morning around 4am. I got up to make myself a cup of tea and then just lay in bad thinking “Shit, this is it!” My partner called my midwife when my contractions were at a certain point around 10am. She asked to speak to me, which I did, she heard a contraction and said “Okay, I think you’re still early. This labor could go on for days and then stop again, but why don’t you come into the clinic and we’ll see you”. So, here I am in heavy labor sitting in the waiting room, with other mums-to-be. When she finally checked me, she said “Oh gosh, it feels like you’re 9cm dilated, but I need to check again”. Sure enough, I was and we had to race to the hospital. That drive was hard work. I said to Matthew “I’m going to pull the grab handle above the window off your car and I’m not sorry about it”. He tried to distract me by asking me “Who sings this song? Who sings that song?”. I remember it was Frank Sinatra. We got to the hospital at 12pm, I didn’t want any baths or drugs, I just wanted to close my eyes and rock my hips. I went very internalized, I could have been anywhere. Emily was born at 4pm. Just after I said I cannot push any harder. I think I have always had a deep trust in my body, after years of being a dancer, I know how strong, mentally, I could be. I knew birthing would be mind over matter, a state that requires the mind to surrender to pain and go beyond it. Even though I didn’t know exactly what the pain would feel like, I knew it wouldn’t kill me, I knew my body would be able to handle it.
With James, I had low-lying placenta throughout my pregnancy and was booked in for a c-section. The (male) doctor told me that there was no way it would move this late in the pregnancy and that I would be considered high risk, therefore would need a c-section. I was forced to book myself in knowing that I didn’t want to have one. I then I booked myself in knowing that I didn’t want to have one. I then booked myself in for pregnancy yoga with an amazing lady who lives near to me and was recommended by a dear friend of mine. I continued to see my acupuncturist, who is a beautiful healer. Just seeing her each week was like a hug of reassurance. I saw a kinesiologist and a reiki healer, who both said to me that I needed to trust my body. I did plenty of yoga, especially positions with my bum in the air! I was determined. I also demanded an extra scan at 37 and 39 weeks to see if the placenta had moved and I booked this in with the best radiology centre in Auckland because I wanted the best opinion. And there it was. It had moved, not only a little bit, but a huge amount of movement had occurred which meant I was able to give birth naturally. It made me realise that birthing is my right, it’s my body and I am in charge of it.
I went into labor a little later, like 7am, but was so distracted by Emily being around and reading books with her etc, that I figured my contractions were slowing down. Emily was picked up by her grandparents, I took myself into our room and did some breathing. Then my body kicked into gear and contractions were slow but steady. I paced up and down our garden stairs to get my blood pumping! I wanted baby out. He was full term and it was the middle of summer. I was ready. I called my midwife and she said she would meet us at the hospital. We met there at 3pm, she checked me and I was 5cm dilated. I thought “Shit, this is going too slowly”. Then, maybe 3 or 4 contraction waves later, I said “I need to push now”, I fell onto the bed on my side and James was born very, very fast. My midwife was asking to slow down and not push, but I could feel him just leaving my body without me pushing. It was a very real lesson in trusting my body to do what it needed to. It really felt like it took over. He was born at 5pm.
What disturbed you about the idea of a c-section?
I didn’t have anything against having a c-section. I would have, of course, had one if I needed to, but I really believe that the body knew what it was doing and what had to be done. I trusted in that, whatever the outcome. I was fighting for a natural birth because that was my preference. And had I not taken matters back into my own control, I would have been led to believe that I needed full blown surgery, when I did not. I was protecting my body and its recovery. In the back of my mind, I knew I had a toddler at home that would also need me.
What did you feel the first time you held your children?
Relief, they’re here, they’re healthy, we’re safe. Pride. Love, for them, for my partner and for myself.
What do you recall the most about the postpartums? How different were they from each other?
With Emily, I had very sleepy days, where we both rested a lot. This meant demanding nights, but we survived. I enjoyed having time on my own with her to bond and to begin a relationship together, build trust and a way of communicating. With James, I poured a lot of energy into making sure Emily was happy and feeling secure. Perhaps, as a result of this, James was easier in terms of how much he needed. He was independent from the start, because he had to be. Two weeks after James was born we went into lockdown, so he received a very quiet and gentle start to his life. It was just us at home for months, no visitors coming and going. I think this really helped to shape his first days and ours as a growing family too.
That sounds like a really good scenario thanks to Covid-19. Has the lockdown situation helped you in other ways?
I think having us all at home in those first weeks of James arriving was most beneficial for Emily. We got to find our dynamic as a new family of four in our own time without the distraction of other people coming and going, or leaving the house for work or kindergarten. I think this cemented for Emily that we were still there for her too, she wasn't being pushed aside or replaced, she had her place.
I had said to my mother-in-law “Oh, I may need your help on Fridays, as that will be one of the days I have two kids all day on my own”. Then lockdown begun and I was handed a solid 6 or so weeks of it. After that I realised I could cope. Somehow it was okay.
Which are the most significant changes you have experienced in your life since you became a mother?
I am better at not giving my energy away. I am more protective of myself, because I know my kids need me and they need me at my best.
How do you take care of yourself to be at your best?
I try to eat well, fresh herbs and leafy greens out of the garden. I drink a lot of tea. I supplement with mushroom powder and magnesium. I go to bed early. I try to give myself a pocket of time every few days that is just for me. While James is asleep, I will read or nap, watch or listen to something that fills me up. Or, for example, my mother-in-law came by the other day and I escaped for a solo cup of Mumbai chai on my own in the village and it was heaven just sitting there reading with no one talking to me or sitting on me. I nearly wasn’t going to do it, but came away feeling so energised. I still hesitate that it feels too luxurious to do so, but I am learning how much I benefit from the little moments like these.
Did the relationship you had towards your mother change after becoming a mother yourself?
One hundred percent. It keeps evolving too the further on I am.
What is the best about being a mother? What do you see as the worst?
The best and the worst sort of feel intertwined for me, you can’t have one without the other. It’s thrilling and haunting to have my partner’s and my own personality traits mirrored back at us. I find this confrontational, yet also humorous in a way. Some days I beat myself up for not reacting well to a situation, and other days I am able to let things go reminding myself we are all in this together, we are all learning from each other, we haven’t done this day before.
There is so much emphasis on how to take care of the baby, physically and emotionally, yet there fails to be the same amount of attention given to the mother or father or caregivers in that. We too are learning just as much every day on how to be parents and how to navigate those first few years: how it’s going to feel to send your baby to daycare, for example, it’s a transition for everyone involved.
Going from having one kid to having two was a huge jump. Any spare time I used to have is now gone and I feel some days I really crave solitude. I am an introvert and I recharge on my own. Sometimes it can be days before this happens. Currently, this is what I am struggling with the most. Especially because I have started to dip my toes back into work again, so the pressure can build on me and I can crumble. And then there are days when we thrive, like I will catch Emily helping James down from the couch when they are playing or I watch James figure out how to peel a banana. I erupt with reassurance and a little pride. Every day is different, I try to embrace that. I teach them and they teach me, that’s something I try to remember too.
— Photos: Yasmine Ganley