Yes, it can be chaotic. Yes, I still fit in self-care. Yes, my body has changed. And it's all a dream.

By Arianna Alloway
Updated: May 12, 2019 @ 2:28 pm
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I am the mother to seven wonderful little beings aged 17, 13, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 1 year old. They are my greatest teachers, along with my husband of 18 years. Sunshine is my favorite place to be, and I marvel in the magic of plants and their medicine.

When I meet people, or they find me on Instagram, they so often ask me the same set of questions about having a large family. Since I often post photos showing wanderings and activities with my kids all day, a big one is often if I work (or how!). And the answer is yes, just not exactly the way other working parents do.

I previously had a job as a medical assistant in family medicine and ob/gyn at a hospital, where I also taught teen prenatal and childbirth education classes, as well as doing doula work outside of that. When my husband and I decided to try for a third child, we felt that it no longer made sense for me to continue working outside of the home, since my income would ultimately be paying for childcare and very little past that. It’s so expensive! But even when I pulled back from full-time employment, I’ve always been doing something. For years I had a small photography business, and I wrote a book to help mothers grappling with their birth experiences — Illuminating HerStory — which I’m promoting now, while slowly moving back into supporting women after birth. I also am an artist and have a small online business.

A key part of my life as a mom of many is multitasking! For more of the questions people always ask (or maybe the ones they want to but aren’t sure if they can), read on.

Did you always picture having such a large family?

Not at all! I knew as a little girl that I absolutely wanted to be a mother; I thought two, maybe three, would be how my future would roll out. After our second daughter there was a lingering of missing. For me it was this continuous feeling of forgotten that would hit my belly deep and hard. I would leave for work or sit down at the dinner table and not be able to shake the feeling that I had forgotten something. This was my first experience with what is sometimes referred to as “spirit baby communication,” or the belief that a future child makes itself known to you before it exists. I believe this was our sweet third daughter reaching out, and I became pregnant with her the first month we tried to conceive. From here, I find it a bit challenging to put words to our choice to continue growing our family. It feels like reading out loud a secret little love note. There is just a tug there that we’ve chosen to follow. Never a choice made lightly, and one we make together as a family.

Does childbirth get easier each time?

Birth can be seen as easier, in that you have this glimpse inward or that you are able to recognize how your body moves through and responds to the different stages. But labor and birth do their own thing every single time. It is always an expansive experience that asks for complete surrender and trust. It’s always earth-shaking hard work and it always feels so new. I’m still left in utter awe and wonder even after seven. It will forever be an experience that continues to keep us on toes and humble.

I have been able to recognize patterns within my births. For example, during early labor, I get antsy and want to be continuously busy. I have a difficult time allowing myself to rest, and my appetite decreases. With my later pregnancies, I've been able to catch this and re-center myself so I can rest and take better care. During the earlier active labor, I begin moving inward, eyes stay closed even past the contraction, I check in with baby through meditation, I keep moving and swaying. As I begin to vocalize more through contractions, I know that I am getting close to meeting my baby. It’s as I reach that head space of, "I can’t do this anymore," and my voice breaks through my breathing with little whimpers, that I know we are so, so close.

I’ve had very quick labors to very drawn out, long and emotionally unraveling labors and births. We’ve had a baby in the NICU and babies born at home. I’ve felt loved and supported throughout some and left feeling disrespected and traumatized after others. I’ve learned where and how I personally feel the safest, which is at home.

As a birth worker, I've learned through these experiences that it doesn't matter where a mother is birthing, just that she is receiving the utmost respect, and is being held and heard without judgment or projection throughout.

RELATED: I Lost 2 Babies, and Almost My Life, Due to Preterm Labor

 

 

How do you manage all of your kids’ activities and schedules?

We’ve always felt it to be important that each of the kids are doing something they enjoy outside of school and home, but also learned very quickly that rushing around to all the sports and classes after school, with late dinners and homework to do, and never being together wasn’t for us. We were all overly tired, stretched thin, and apart far too often.  

Honesty, we make it work by slowing it all way down. We allow for more laid back evenings connecting with our children by cooking and eating together, talking about our days, and going on walks. This isn’t to say things aren’t chaotic, because they absolutely are, but it is most definitely the sort of chaos that is building the best memories, and for us that feels great.

Usual evenings involve me moving into multitasking beast mode. I am cooking dinner with a few kids that want to help, a baby is pulling at my heels or sleeping on my back, I am hollering out spelling-test words, listening to my daughter vent about the latest middle-school mayhem, and breaking up a squabble or two.

My husband is great about the weekend games when we’re in soccer and football season and will get the kids to where they need to be, while I’ll tackle the littles at home and meet up for the game later. If we have kids at different places at the same time, we separate, or our nearly 18-year-old will help out by hanging at a practice or game.

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Our eldest two daughters (ages 17 and 13) are involved in the school theater and winter guard programs. They stay after school, and by the time rides are needed, my husband is home. Then our younger babes (ages 10, 8, 6) play soccer and football in the fall. Throughout the year, between sports, we will scatter art classes, cooking events, and swim lessons as one-offs. Our 4-year-old does his activities during the day, which are currently gymnastics and swimming. I give him pre-school lessons at home while keeping the household running, this can look like counting how many socks he can find in the pile while I catch up on laundry, or asking him to find all the number 2’s in a recipe he is helping me with. We sing, craft, and connect outdoors. With my youngest son especially, I've found it easier to allow the learning to unfold organically rather than sit him at a table with worksheets.

 

What parenting hacks have you learned that others could use?

Let the perfect parent go. Being imperfect in front of our children, and accepting their imperfect, is how we teach, as well as remember, the practice of forgiveness, compassion, honesty, empathy, contentment, and patience. The imperfect moments build the tool box for our babes to pull from while moving and growing through the difficult, hard, and sticky of life. Our role as parent isn’t to play perfect. It’s to teach our children how to be human, and with that comes an abundance of mistakes and messiness.

Also, simplify the act of self-love. The idea of self-love within motherhood is often seen as this guilt-soaked event that has to be away and alone. Or something we wouldn’t usually weave into our mundane. This just creates the excuse for us to lack in this area. We can’t wait around for time off or self-care to be gifted to us, or until our entire being is utterly depleted, in order to carve some out. Perhaps self-love can look more like recognizing and reclaiming boundaries — then practicing how to speak up for them — rather than a pedicure. Or maybe it’s crafting, painting, or dancing while the laundry mountain sits. Or maybe it IS a pedicure. Our children witnessing us doing the things we enjoy sets a wonderful example and allows for them to see us shine bright far beyond the role of motherhood.

 

What does it feel like to be pregnant and breastfeeding for so long?

What does it feel like not to be pregnant or breastfeeding? It has been so long that pregnant and or breastfeeding has become my norm. I like to joke that my body will go into shock when I’m no longer growing or feeding a human. Honestly though, it feels badass — aren’t our bodies amazing? My body has been working its magic in nourishment and comfort for almost 18 years and with that has come a massive amount of respect and love for my body. It has been an area of encouragement to take better care of and honor my body as-is. Personally this may look like nourishment and creating meals that are warming, cleansing, and blood building. Or maybe leaning into certain plant allies, like a hot mug of Tulsi tea and honey. I’ve also learned it’s important to move past the dogma that surrounds our diets and truly eat intuitively. I also make sure to meditate and move my body every single day through yoga or dancing, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. This year I have begun practicing and guiding yoga nidra, which is a deeply restorative practice.

 

 

Do you ever just need a break?

There are times I feel touched out and that’s usually a result of lacking in self-care. When I’m moving through moments of frustration or feeling overwhelmed, I share exactly that with the kids. I may say, "Mommy needs a little extra space right now,” or, “It would be so helpful if you could sit next to me for a few minutes instead of on me." Usually all of the children respond well, and I hope that hearing my honesty allows them to continue being comfortable speaking theirs.

If they are resistant or if I’m feeling overwhelmed with our youngest, the best solution is to step outside. This removes us from whatever situation is feeling big, and into a space to breathe and release tension. Even if I end up nursing anyway, this change in surroundings and then practicing mindful techniques — like allowing my attention to fall naturally on three areas of the yard, spending 15-30 seconds noticing how I am feeling in my body while looking at what caught my eye, and then slowly bringing my awareness back to self — helps me so much. I will invite the older children to practice this with me.  

 

How has your body changed?

My belly skin hangs loose, creating a kaleidoscope of patterns as my body twists and bends, though my yoga practice has gifted flexibility and strength through the years of motherhood, pregnancies, and births. When I first began a yoga practice, touching my toes or doing a single pushup was a yearlong goal. Now, I feel my strongest both physically and mentally when my practice is solid and regular. There are some changes yoga can't touch, of course.

Little purple spider veins wrap and lace my ankles from years of increased progesterone from pregnancy causing walls of blood vessels to relax.They are also caused by the extra blood volume in pregnancy and normal weight gain. I got most of mine through my second pregnancy while still working and being on my feet for eight to 10 hours a day. Stretch marks and dimples my landscape, with bosom that lay soft and supple. I’m also told by my four-year-old that my navel resembles a goblin, so that’s cool, too.

RELATED: Why Pregnancy Makes Your Feet and Ankles Swell

I imagine I think about my body as much as any other mother or woman. I look in the mirror and wish my butt wasn’t so flat, and I know I will miss my full boobs when the swell of nursing is gone. I admittedly do shy away from this question and similar. My body, more specifically my weight and size, has been a topic often brought up by other mothers in the past and has become an area of insecurity, or one I feeI have to defend. I am a small human. I am 5-foot-2 and have always been just under 100 pounds. I have been told things like I am too small to breastfeed a baby what they need to thrive. That I look like a little girl myself. That I got out easy, or I need to put on weight.

Although I know these words and others to be untrue, the unintentional shaming still leaves marks. Body shaming from either end of the spectrum still leaves its mark. So for as much new confidence as I’ve found over the years and within my mothering body, it hasn’t been completely without working through insecurity and doubt. I think this is part of why moms, with all different family sizes and lifestyles, reach out for my story and relate to me. This learning of self, this acceptance of new selves, is a part of it for all of us.

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