Honey Duggan is the delightful voice behind I'm an Outlaw, Not a Hero, the blog she maintains from her home in "SwitzerFrance", in a French village not far from the Swiss border.
Life in calm SwitzerFrance was recently upended for Honey and her hubby with the arrival of little Oswin in October. Here, Honey takes a moment to reflect on all she's learned over the past few months on becoming a new mom abroad.
Learning to Listen
Ever since I met my husband in a historic bar on a tiny street in Philadelphia, my life has been full of adventures. From traveling back and forth between Philadelphia and Chicago when we were dating, to our whirlwind nuptials at City Hall a mere four weeks before moving abroad to France, he’s made sure that we’ve kept things interesting. For the last four and half years we’ve called a tiny French village home, though we actually affectionately call it “SwitzerFrance,” due to its close proximity to the Swiss border. We’ve traveled around Europe, climbed mountains, swam in the Mediterranean, and eaten our weight in cheese, but our greatest adventure thus far has been welcoming our daughter Oswin to the world this past October.
As I began this journey into motherhood, I spent a lot of time thinking about the parents that my husband and I would become. I wondered, would be "fun" parents? Super strict? Co-sleeping-breastfeeding-cloth-diapering ninjas? Somewhere in between? How would our opinions on parenting change once our little bundle of awesome was here in our arms?
I told myself a lot of things. I told myself I'd only nurse for 6 months. I told myself I wouldn't co-sleep. I told myself I'd have a completely natural birth with no epidural.
Funny the things we tell ourselves when we think we know everything, isn't it?
I don't know why I thought those things, or why I let them form my identity as a parent. Maybe it was the stigma that can be related to them, based on what blogs, news outlets, and social media sites I frequented. Attachment parenting, cry it out parenting, baby led weaning, extended nursers, home birthers, formula givers, the list goes on and on. There are so many labels for everything we do, and the need to identify ourselves as parents through a set of labels can be overwhelming and often, guilt racking. Others judge us in an instant, based on those labels. I’ve noticed that living here in France, other women, often strangers, will unabashedly inquire whether I’m nursing my daughter, as their opinion of me will change with my answer. But if there's one thing I can say that I have learned in our child's first almost eight months of life, it's this:
To hell with the labels. All of them.
Labeling ourselves as parents is akin to labeling ourselves as jocks or nerds in high school. What about the jock that loves to read Baudelaire? Or the cheerleader who has a secret love for Dungeons and Dragons? Labels are just silly and can limit us from becoming the person we want to be.
When we became parents, we had rules and guidelines set out, and it turned out that none of them fit our situation. Our little girl determined how things were going to go, and if we just shut up and listened to her for a minute, we'd figure that out. Our job as parents is to nurture and support our children, and to realize that each child in this universe is different, with different needs. The trick if figuring out those needs. I thought I would exclusively breast feed, but with a few complications revolving around our daughter's birth, that wasn't possible. I felt guilty that we were supplementing her with formula, and did so for the first 10 days of her life. And then I realized, what am I feeling guilty about? We're feeding our child. That's what is important. What we took out of that situation is that our daughter is now a healthy, thriving little girl, who happens to be able to take a bottle and nurse. We fed her in the best way we knew how, and in the way to help her gain weight at a crucial time of her life. We did what we needed to do to make sure she received the proper nutrition and nourishment, the end.
We didn't think we would co-sleep either, but that was what our daughter needed for the first seven weeks of her life. It took a week or two for my husband and I to admit to each other that we enjoyed it, almost as if we were guilty of having betrayed our former selves and our righteous thoughts of what we previously thought was best. And then, when at seven weeks, she, almost by accident, started happily spending the night in her crib in the nursery, we realized that this was now what she needed, despite the fact that we had hoped we could co-sleep a bit longer.
Learning to listen can be such a daunting task, especially when the one you're trying to listen to can't tell you their needs specifically. But if I've learned anything as a parent it's this: go with the flow and don't judge others. Everyone has their own journey through parenthood, and everyone has to figure out what works best for their family and their child. No one, not your mother, mother-in-law, your neighbor, your best friend's-cousin's-aunt, knows your child better than you, and you're doing the best that you can. I didn't think I'd nurse past 6 months, and here I am now planning to keep this up until she's at least a year old. That works well for our family and our child, or at least it does at the moment. Maybe she'll start weaning herself tomorrow, or maybe she'll still be nursing at 24 months. Who knows. I sure don't. But I'm open to our little one's suggestions, and if I'm really truly listening, I just might be able to find out.