Celebrating the birthday of an adult who was my baby

Glass of wine?
Check
Reminisce with baby photos?
Check
Sentimental movie?
Check (The Time traveller’s Wife)
Chocolate?
Check (A tub of Heroes, intended for 5 weeks time!)

I have a curious sense of dislocation with going through the hours of this day, when 28 years ago I was giving birth to my first boy. It’s not the time that has elapsed which gives me this sensation but it’s the fact that he lives far away on Maui, Hawaii with a time difference of 10 hours between us. It can be hard to get a mutually acceptable time to talk on the phone. Thankfully, there’s post and text and facebook messaging and so many ways to keep a connection.
It’s odd to be celebrating in his absence, but it affirms for me that this day was SO significant for me and needs marking, even without the guest of honour.
I remember the details so clearly.. my Dad driving me to the hospital in Dublin and then leaving me and returning to Wexford.
Does anyone labour without a support person of their choosing now?
I was 19.
I had done antenatal classes in a group of 5 women with a local midwife, in her home. When she finished the business part of the evening, we would lie on the floor of her sitting-room, eyes closed, relaxing to soothing music, while she made tea. I think now that those classes were more about educating me to accept the hospital procedures than about helping me make informed decisions for mine and my Baby’s care.
I was told I was “going nowhere fast” as the partogram was consulted… imagine the cheek of me, to not dilate at the required rate of 1 cm per hour. So my labour was speeded up with oxytocin and after 2 hours of that, I was going mad and asking for pain relief. I was assessed as being 3-4 cms at this stage.The pethidine made me space out and I remember a midwife being annoyed that I wouldn’t focus on her when she wanted me to. 10 mins later, I told them I needed to push.
“Nonsense!” I was told briskly.
Then she put her hand on my stomach and there was a sense of urgency as I was wheeled from labour to delivery…. honestly, who designed this notion of orderly women dilating at a set pace, in a certain room, which then had to change DURING TRANSITION?!!!
In my 4 home births, I have laboured in the kitchen, sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, polytunnel, lane … oh, and in the mobile home for one birth… but I never moved much for the grand entrance moment… that was about being in my space and being comfortable and reassured with my trusted midwife, whom I’d gotten to know during the pregnancy and previous births.

And who had the bright idea that labouring and birthing women should lie prone? I was squatting for my home births.

The pethidine made Darragh drowsy and unresponsive.

“He has no rooting reflex!” I told the medic who let me hold him for 5 minutes before taking him away for 12 (!!!) hours.
“Are you a nurse yourself?” was the response and then the condescending you-would’nt-tell-these-porkies-to-a-child: “He’s a bit tired; we’re just taking him for observation”.
I was brought to the ward and told to sleep.
Sleep?
I lay there thinking: these are the MOST important hours of his life and I should be with him.
I got up at various times and asked several people could I see him and was told to wait til morning.

Now, I would roar til I got to be with my son, but then, I was too compliant and a “good” patient. Back in 1986, there was no rooming-in at this (or any?) Irish hospital.
Despite the separation and the staff feeding him formula without my permission, when my chart clearly said “breastfeeding”, we managed to get breastfeeding happily… thanks in no small measure to having seen my 5 siblings breastfeeding and believing it was natural and having been loaned La Leche League’s “Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”.

I was sure of two things: I was absolutely besotted with this new person, (the song I couldn’t get out of my head was Billy Ocean’s “Suddenly”, with the line “you wake up and suddenly, you’re in love”) and there had to be a better way to give birth.
Thanks to the Home Birth Association (then Home Birth Centre) and some home educators I met who had home births, I discovered that birth can be empowering and even ecstatic.

I’m grateful that we bonded fiercely, despite hospital interference, and that our connection feels strong and true.

Keeping my nerve on a road less travelled

When I first thought about home education, my son was 9 months old. I had met only one family, with a toddler and 2 children under 10. I knew no home educated teenagers or adults. Before this family loaned me their John Holt books “How Children Learn”, “How Children Fail”, “The Underachieving School” and their Education Otherwise (UK) newsletters, I hadn’t thought about the concept of children continuing to learn at home within the family, just as they learn to sit, crawl, walk and talk. Because I was born in Brisbane, I had a vague notion about the Australian “Schools of the Air” where children on remote farms maintained radio contact with a teacher and worked somewhat independently on their studies. We moved to Ireland when I was 6 and my parents’ idea was “the more education, the better” and for them, education=schooling.
I have to credit La Leche League and the concept of “mothering through breastfeeding” with giving me enough courage for each day’s challenges. My mother breastfed all 6 of us and I’m the eldest. There was never any formula in our house. I remember one brother having a bottle of diluted blackcurrant as an older child and that same lad, 21 months old when his “baby” status was displaced by another, asking for a soother. My mother got him one and it was soon discarded. No drama, no fuss.
La Leche League also hosts an annual conference, which has become an unmissable highlight in our year. There are often talks relating to education as part of the programme. Some of the most encouraging talks have been from parents who are home educating, telling their stories, being honest about what worked and what mistakes they made on the journey of accompanying their child’s learning. The conference bookstall has been a source of much take-home inspiration: Agnes Leistico’s books: “I Learn Better by Teaching Myself”, “Still Teaching Ourselves”, and Mary Griffith’s “Homeschooling Handbook”
We were weaned early, though. I first met a breastfed toddler when I was 16. I was highly impressed that when I took this child, aged 18 months, to the corner shop he asked for “babu” – his word for apple – and ignored the rows of chocolates and sweets. His mother loaned me her La Leche League book “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” 3 years later, when I was having my first baby. There was so much love and wisdom and many powerful, gentle examples in that book. It’s still a book I return to, and recommend highly to anyone seeking reassurance in following her/his heart in parenting.
So wobbly days, questioning myself days, wondering if this unusual path is really right for us? Dara Molloy from the Aisling Árainn network on Inis Mór, organised an “Alternatives in Education” day in Clonmacnoise in the summer of 1988 and from that, a list of home educators in Ireland grew and a newsletter “Sa Bhaile” (Irish for “At Home”). It gave a vital link to other people in Ireland whose children were learning at home and was a crucial channel of support and inspiration.
It’s funny how our ideas can grow and develop. I thought all my children would get a college degree. Eddie thought they would all do the Leaving Certificate (exam taken at around 18 years of age, on which access to college is largely based). So far, with 3 adults, we’ve both been wrong! The eldest did a few Fáilte Ireland courses in bar skills and hotel management after he sat the Leaving Certificate exams. The next did Leaving Certificate and 2 years of acting courses. The third is in third year of college (studying for a degree in music) without having attended any school or sitting the Leaving Certificate. He gained entry to college by studying piano at home and then attending a one year course, aged 16, in a local college and achieving a FETAC (Further Ed. and Training Awards Council) Level 5 in Music and doing well in the college entrance exam and audition.
I am amazed now at my daring, really. There have been times when I did the soul-searching: “Is this really the best path?”
“Am I cutting off some possibilities from their futures?”
When Darragh, now 27, was home from his travels, I had one of those moments and enough humility to ask him:
“Did I do ok? Did I give you enough? Do you regret the home educating?”
His reply was one of those “real Mother’s Day” gifts:
“Mam,” he grinned, reassuringly, “I LIVE in Hawaii!”