This is one of the final two stories in this series: a different Sarah than the last post, and another wonderful journey! Here is Sarah’s story for your inspiration, consideration and thought:
Growing into Young Motherhood
Almost nine years ago I began my journey through motherhood. I was 21 years old, still in university and had been married for two whole weeks when I found out I was expecting an unexpected honeymoon baby.
I was shocked and scared and really stressed out and remained that way for the next nine months. I tried to convince myself that nothing much would change….I’d always wanted children and even if this was a lot earlier than I’d planned and since I was under a lot of pressure from family and friends to “get my life back on track” after the baby was born I figured that is what I’d have to do.
Deep down I didn’t think it was going to be that simple. I had always wanted to be home with my children when they were little and the thought of signing a baby up for daycare at 3 months old while I went back to school felt wrong to me.
It turns out my daughter Sophia, now 8, agreed. A stressful pregnancy and a difficult birth had led to a little baby who had a very, very hard time adjusting to the life in the outside world. We used to joke that she had only come with two settings…nursing and screaming…only it didn’t feel like a joke. My husband and I got a crash course in attachment parenting from our newborn even though we had never heard of it. We held her all the time. She would only sleep more than 20 minutes if she was on one of us and all our attempts at bottles and soothers and the crib were for nought. My plan to nurse for two weeks went out the window….it was the only thing that went right it seemed. Soon my plan for full time school changed to part time, then to one course then to maybe next year.
We moved to a new city for my husband to start law school and so while he studied it was me, Sophia and eventually a copy of Dr. William Sears’ “Fussy Baby Book” that I stumbled upon as a guide. We were fortunate that my mother-in-law offered to buy us a firm a mattress so we could co-sleep and a sling to carry our little one in, and since we didn’t have a car we used the stroller for groceries. We still didn’t sleep much but it did get easier and there was gradually less crying, both hers and mine:)
When my daughter was about one we started to get lots of pointed questions about how long we planned to do this for…. “this” being breastfeeding and co-sleeping. By this point I’d read most of Dr. Sears’ books so I wasn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. It felt right, we were less sleep deprived than we had been and Sophia was thriving. The pointed questions quickly turned into not so veiled criticism as Sophia passed her first birthday though and that became very stressful for me to deal with. I’d always cared a lot about other people’s opinions, especially my family’s. Fortunately around this time I’d made some friends in our new town, one of whom invited me along to a la Leche League meeting which became a wonderful supportive network for me.
When Sophia was two we decided we wanted to have another baby. I had a horrible experience the first time in the hospital and after reading Naomi Wolf’s book Misconceptions I knew that I needed to find midwifery care for this baby. There were no practising midwives in the province we were living so we travelled 12 hours each way to appointments and then moved temporarily back to my husband’s home city for the birth of our son, Sasha. We spent a great deal of time and borrowed money to have his birth the way we wanted in the face of a lot of criticism. Sasha was born at home with the help of our midwives and his birth was the most challenging and empowering experience of my life. It was such a healing event for me in the wake of Sophia’s traumatic hospital birth and the whole pregnancy had been much calmer as well. Peaceful mother = peaceful baby. Sasha was sweet-natured and slept well from the start. He also had the advantage of more experienced parents and we were already committed to attachment parenting.
Twelve days after Sasha’s birth we moved…again. It was a huge change and we had a difficult time meeting new friends. I started to rely on videos to keep Sophia entertained, tried to teach her preschool at home and started signing her up for classes so she (well really me!) wouldn’t be so lonely. During the long Canadian winter we spent a lot of time at Toys R’ Us.
A year later we moved again and life was feeling crazy running from activity to activity but we had started to make new friends. I was pregnant with our third child when we received the troubling news that an ultrasound had found a marker for a chromosomal abnormality in our baby. There was lots of talk about BPA in plastics happening in Canada at the time and in my research I found it could be linked to this possible problem with our baby. Well, the plastic went….a whole room full of plastic toys and all the plastic from the kitchen too. We had a big yard sale and since I was purging things I hated out went the tantrum- inducing children’s video collection too. It was such a relief to rid of so much “stuff”and our home felt much less chaotic.
After about a month, life without television felt like the norm (though it was a rough month!!!) and Sophia and 18-month-old Sasha didn’t even notice that 90% of their toys had disappeared. They actually played with the few that were left instead of just tearing things off the shelves and we spent a lot more time outside too.
That summer our second daughter, Bella, was born at home, thankfully healthy and happy. She was a restless baby but because we practised attachment parenting from the beginning she settled in much more quickly and we were all more rested because she slept beside us from the start. Sophia turned five and that September and we started homeschooling to the shock and dismay of family and friends but it just felt right for us. I thought I would feel overwhelmed with the new baby and so chose to begin with Oak Meadow, the first curriculum I came across that laid everything out day to day. I knew it was “Waldorf-based” but didn’t really know what Waldorf was. The year went well in some ways. We had a really good routine based around school time but it felt like a lot for a five-year-old. We also dove into more activities and the homeschool scene in our city. I felt like we had to do everything to provide Sophia with the “proper socialization” that everyone was so concerned about. We had somewhere to go everyday which became exhausting, especially with two very little ones in tow.
The next year Sophia was six and we started with Oak Meadow First Grade. It was a disaster. Sophia fought it everyday and it felt like overload to me. I also wasn’t sure that I could face another year of spending everyday driving to and from activities and playgroups and classes. No one was happy with the way things were. About this time I started to look into other options and researching Waldorf education. I started reading online, found Beyond the Rainbow Bridge at the library and then stumbled across The Parenting Passageway which introduced me to a whole new world of thinking about parenting and child development and school.
So we stopped everything. We stayed home, dropped the classes and playgroups, stopped school and restructured our house. We started a new rhythm, we told fairy tales, we baked and learned to finger knit, we put the children to bed earlier, played with a few friends once a week and spent hours and hours outside just enjoying being in nature. At night I read and made notes and thought and meditated and planned and then talked with my husband about everything I was learning. Everyday went better and our home was more peaceful and we were all happier. (Carrie’s note here: I was so happy reading this paragraph! )
Last year when Sophia turned seven we started first grade again. This time we used the Christopherus First Grade as a base and it went well. Sophia was really ready to begin lessons and we had even met other families interested in Waldorf education and formed a playgroup with like minded families.
While not perfect, my family’s life is lovely and it turns out that my life ended up exactly on the”track” I wanted it to be on. We welcomed our fourth child, another baby girl, Anwen, this past spring and I can’t imagine my life having a gone another way. When I look a back at where we started with Sophia I wish that I had known what I know now, of course. If only there had been a class on attachment and Waldorf parenting my last year at university!
We’ve come to recognize that Sophia has some sensory issues that explain a lot of the challenges we’ve had with her and I do think that had we come to Waldorf earlier things could have been different. I regret how stressed out I was during her pregnancy and the sensory overload and lack of rhythm she experienced as a young child. I wish we could have stayed in one place instead of moving 8 times in 8 years. I certainly realize now how important it is to protect a young child’s senses and provide a strong rhythm and how those things have been so strengthening for my younger children and how positive for Sophia even though she was older when we started.
But along this journey of motherhood I’ve learned that the most important thing is to keep learning and growing and striving to connect with these beautiful little souls that have been entrusted to me. I am so grateful for my little “catalyst”, Sophia, who has made me have to grow and search for the best way to mother her and her brother and sisters. And I am also so grateful to the mothers and Waldorf educators whose work has guided me and to my husband and the friends who have supported me along the way. I feel very blessed.
And thank you, Sarah, for blessing us by sharing your journey, your story, your family and your life. We thank you!