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  • Writer's pictureJai Morton

The mother-bloom



As I write this piece, I am days away from giving birth to my first child. (Full disclosure: it was then published weeks after birth). Motherhood, and the transition into this new chapter of life, has occupied my mind since falling pregnant. Even before, in talking about it. And naturally, continues to now, postpartum. It's been an exciting, nerve-racking and frankly surreal time.


I'd followed Caitlin Creeper, co-founder of The Salty Club, for years, initially for her writing and content around living abroad in Guatemala as an Aussie expat. But as I began to explore more topics around motherhood and birth, I became more in tune with her ponderings on her experience as a mother. Our conversations on both topics have been candid and encouraging – as is often the case, I think, when you find someone who understands part of your reality through their own experiences.


I hope her words strike a chord with you as they did with me. On the cusp of such a huge change – be it parenthood or something else – remember that, however overwhelming, hard, unexpected, surreal it might feel, these moments often allow us to bloom in ways we didn't even know we could imagine for ourselves. Life-changing, yes, but also life-expanding.



Abroad

You have lived and worked in Guatemala for some years now. What was the experience of setting up a life and livelihood there like?

When I was finishing school, I studied journalism and professional writing in Perth, Australia, and I needed an internship to start getting work experience. A friend who was visiting Australia that summer knew Erika Drolet, founder of Salty Souls Experience – a women’s surf and yoga camp based in El Salvador. We decided on an exchange, where I’d write blogs and edit some marketing copy in exchange for a trip to El Salvador and to participate in the retreat. Eventually, I ended up scoring a paid job with Salty Souls Experience, and I was loving it in El Salvador and wanted to continue learning to surf and speaking Spanish. So I ended up living there for three years.


From there, Erika, myself and the other founder of Salty Souls Experience, Marie-Christine, founded and created The Salty Club, which is like an online version of the retreats with surf-inspired workout classes, yoga, workshops and podcasts and other customised content.


It took us about 3 years to start making money from it, but when we did it allowed me to shift from working for the Experience to owning the part of the new business and working for myself.

I met my partner, Hugo, while surfing in El Salvador. He is from Guatemala but would come down to El Salvador, about a 5 hour drive, on the weekends. I pretty much knew from the moment I met him he was going to be important to me, we were together pretty quickly, doing long distance and seeing each other on the weekends for about a year and a half. Then I fell pregnant and I decided I wanted to move to Guatemala to be close to Hugo and do the parenthood thing together. I’ve been here ever since, about four years now. It’s been interesting because since I lived here I’ve worked online, which is fantastic for schedule freedom (surfing whenever the conditions are right!), but then that is not so good for structure.

In the early days I felt like not so many people were doing the digital nomad thing, so it was hard to put in boundaries – people assume you’re home so you’re available. I also realised working online meant I lost the social aspect I used to take for granted when I worked in retail and hospitality in Perth. Back then, I’d interact with sometimes hundreds of people a day and felt like my social sense was sharp and I just didn’t have to think about interacting, it was natural. My human-interaction cup was constantly full. Being social is a skill and if you’re not using it you begin to lose it. It’s why a lot of mothers can start to feel isolated without a regular contact with adults outside the family who love her, for her. It’s the same for working online or if you work from home.


I think we need to stay connected to others to the best of our ability.


Transitioning into motherhood


How did you feel learning you were pregnant and starting to prepare for motherhood?

I found out I was pregnant when I was 25 turning 26, I felt really young and it wasn’t on my radar at all… I thought it was going to be another ten years. I had only been dating Hugo for a year and a half, and it was a complete accident. When I found out, I felt scared, sick… and then even more scared because I realised I wanted to go ahead with the pregnancy and have the baby. I remember calling Hugo, me in El Salvador and him in Guatemala, telling him the news and him saying “Ok, what do you want to do? Well then, here we are, we’re a family.”


There were so many wild aspects of pregnancy, I felt like my intuition was so sharp, I had the most vivid dreams and life just felt really strong and like I was in it.

I remember when my belly started showing and anyone on the street could tell I was pregnant, and people treated me like a pregnant person, being extra kind and giving up their seats for me. It was so surreal. It was like the rest of the world accepted it before I did. I remember when Hugo and I would have conversations about the future and realise we were also talking as parents, about what would be best for the baby. The word ‘mother’ felt strange on my tongue– other people were mothers, not me.


I grieved some days as I knew life was changing. I felt every single possible emotion a human could feel in that time, and it didn’t even come close to the range of emotions I felt postpartum.

The Salty Club has created an amazing (200+ pages) ebook, Salty Mama, dedicated to the exploring the transition to motherhood, looking at the spiritual and emotional aspects of the journey through stories, exercises and information.


This, and...

This concept of grieving your pre-parenthood life strikes something in me. I think it is a super important one that often gets overlooked. For new parents, there's this huge shift, going from a status of mostly just considering oneself and making decisions that way, to having a tiny being fully dependent on you. Looking to you for nourishment, safety, protection, love. Changing the way we live in order to provide those things, and generally feeling out of depth in a new world and way of being. It is a huge life adjustment for most, not to mention the hormonal, emotional and physical changes mothers and fathers experience in the early days of this new existence.


But time and again, I see this concept saddled with a hefty dose of judgement or guilt. Either by mothers/fathers-to-be themselves, or others around them. There's this narrative that goes something like 'well, you signed up for this – there goes your freedom, enter a smaller, boxed-in life of less fun, joy, abundance. Forget yourself now, it's all about the baby'. And well, I guess I push back on that. I think to start from that mindset is very limiting.


Of course the difficulty, the doubt, the fears, tears, exhaustion do come part and parcel with becoming a parent, we know it was never going to be easy...but that doesn't mean new parents should be made to feel guilty for grieving the life they had before. Or for simply wanting to do something just for themselves, or feel like a version of themselves that is human and imperfect and just let that be.


How has that grieving process been for you?


I think parenthood opened me up to holding multiple truths at one time. I used to be so opinionated and see the world in black and white. Now I know things can be ‘this, and…’ there is a part of me that misses only looking out for myself. The free girl who moved overseas alone at 22, who took massive, sometimes dangerous risks, who loved dance music festivals and was maybe considered one of the more outrageous friends of the group.


I try really hard not to feel guilty mourning that version of my life; that girl was the only girl I knew for the first 26 years of my life, she carried me through so much. She deserved to be honoured and grieved, and so I did through pregnancy, and sometimes still do.

For example in Australia, the only ceremonial thing we really have for the new mum is the baby shower… I think there should be some sort of ceremony or party grieving the maiden, speaking love over her, handing the reigns over and stepping into the mother. I know grieving that freedom doesn’t take anything away from the all-consuming love I have for my son.


I really push back against the ‘this is what you signed up for' idea. We signed up to have a kid, not societies restrictive view of the martyr mother. Honestly, I don’t think any of us have much of a clue what we’re signing up for.


But we do have a say in how our experience goes, and who we are in motherhood. We get to be whole, complex people in motherhood, as we remain a woman, a wife or girlfriend, a business owner, a daughter, a writer… or whatever it is for you. Still so many other things. We can love our kid more than anything and be so grateful, and grieve what we had to let go in the process. At the same time.


And slowly, we will hopefully learn to reconnect with that wild part of us in different ways. Either by reconnecting with stuff we used to love to do, or finding something new. I connect to my wild through surfing, skating, writing, through being barefoot with my kid, and my dance parties happen in the kitchen instead of at festivals… maybe life feels less frivolous and inconsequential at times, but it feels deeper, richer, and full of a whole new scope of meaning too.


And every single study you read shows kids don’t need you to be perfect for them; they need you, as you are, honest, fucking-up and showing repair and grace from those fuck-ups – and that is truly good enough. I let my son see me stressed, sad, restless, nostalgic, tired. I explain to him it’s not his fault and these feelings are ok to have. I don’t want him to say ‘my mother sacrificed everything for me’ I want him to say, ‘I really got to know my mum and she showed me every face of womanhood and being human. She showed me it’s ok to be complicated and contradicting. She made me feel ok with who I am, and all the feelings I have'.


One of my friends just went to Germany for two weeks, and left her 3 and 4 year old with dad at home. I think that’s awesome. As baby gets older you still can explore and evolve and grow as an individual… they will learn mama has a life too, they can be loved and cared for by many people and she always comes back. Postpartum for me was a real cocoon, I didn’t want to leave Jago's side for a few years. And that’s fine too. Everyone is different and the key is to stay connected to yourself and honest with what you want and need.

What has it been like raising Jago abroad, away from your family?

It was rough on everyone. It was Covid, Australia’s borders were closed, no one could visit me and I wanted to go there. I was resentful Hugo had his family around, so I kept them really at arms length. I hated the idea of them having a relationship with my son when my family couldn’t. I was pretty intense, anxious and primal in the early days. If someone else held him, it felt like a piece of my chest was missing. Now, he’s a wild three year old, he adores his Guatemalan family and I need all the help and love I can get, and I love how his grandparents are infusing elements of Guatemalan culture into him that would be lost otherwise, taking him down to the town square to listen to the marimbas, stuff like that.


I felt like in a big way I was losing my own identity by not having my family around me, to bounce off in my Australian-ness. Going home to Australia was so helpful in that regard, I went when Jago was 2 and a half years old. He met all my family, they exist to him as real people now. It put something in my heart at peace. But it also shifted something in me, it made me realise actually being away from my family, though so difficult, gave me the freedom to make my own decisions on how to raise and care for my baby, and choose what parts from each culture I wanted to incorporate into my mothering. I did stuff that was frowned on in Australia, like co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding, I found my own way as a mother through my stubbornness.


I moved away to find my own place in the world, and now I have the freedom to continue to do so with how I build my family.

I do wish Australia was closer, Guate and Aus are like two different corners of the planet. But I need to trust the 22-year-old me who made these decisions for a reason. She was following something that sometimes I can’t see. It’s not time to go back to Australia yet.


I can relate to that feeling – a knowing you have but sometimes can't convey or see physically. My own experience abroad has had moments of clarity and tangible reasoning, while other times it's felt unstable, and yet other times so sure. Even with distance, uncertainties and no sense of what's ahead. The latter has been very strong since settling in Norway and starting a family.

Do you grapple with the onslaught of information and opinions about mothering and raising children out there? I find it overwhelming at times.


Yes! I was so overwhelmed when I was pregnant, even angry, it felt like opinions came out of everywhere. I didn’t understand why it felt like everyone needed to give me an opinion. Now I understand I actually can just smile and let the majority of everyones' opinions go; sometimes people just give advice just to fill the gaps in social conversation, sometimes people are trying to help, usually the intent isn’t malicious… except for the people who think its ok to comment on your weight – fuck them!


There’s so much information out there too, it can be helpful to use as a tool, but not to drown in it, and to use it sparingly. You also have an intuition, and if you feel like it’s telling you something about your baby it’s ok to listen to that too.



Wildness and mundanity

You have talked lately about integrating your son into a life that to some, appears more unconventional, and about the balance of a more mobile life and offering stability – how are you navigating that?


When a baby is little it’s easy to project yourself onto them; because they can’t talk yet and you can put them on your hip and take them wherever you want to go. I projected a wild beach baby who needed to be free and unencumbered by the societal conditioning of life. I raised him wild at the beach for two years, which was a lot of fun, and he was healthy and tanned and free.


Now, as Jago’s personality emerges each day, as he interacts with the world, I realise; ok, there needs to be some baseline expectations so he can function in normal society – manners, empathy for others, realising though deeply loved, he is not the centre of the universe. I realised he thrives in routine, in knowing what to expect out of each day, I realised actually me putting in rules and appropriate expectations for him isn’t controlling him, it’s guiding him. There’s a difference between being authoritarian and authoritative.


When he was a baby we had such an unspoken skin language, sleeping on me, breastfeeding, he was calm when he was near me, a lot of it was very tactile. Now as he’s at the age where of course there is touch and physical affection, now he’s able to understand my direction and talk to me, so we’re learning a whole new ball game of interacting with each other and moving through the day and me guiding him.


I heard once that parenthood has about 15 different stages and some stages will be easier to navigate, but you won’t be good at all of them. This stage is a massive learning stage for me. And part of it is letting go of what I believed he needed, to make way for who he is and what he needs.

So now I’m trying to find the balance between adventure, curiosity, freedom, giving him a tonne of nature and a real rich experience of life, while also blending in the dependability, the routine and kind of necessary mundane, grounding life-stuff he needs.


Has motherhood changed you? What have you learnt?


In every single way possible. Someone once said to me “the baby joins your life, you don’t join theirs.” I get the sentiment, but it’s a merge, the baby massively restructures your entire physiological and emotional system, your perspective of life and family, of death, of everything. I remember writing in my journal:


I was trying so hard to keep everything as it was before. But now, I don’t think the answer is holding tight-fisted onto the self I don’t want to lose. But is in trusting that I will find my way back to myself once this giant hurricane has blown through my life. Or, maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it's about trusting that I’m going to like who I find along the way even more, as a mother.

Yes, it’s important to try hold onto the things that light you up, bring you joy, make you feel like you (maybe they will be lost for a time, especially in the postpartum haze, keep them attached to you with an invisible string and trust you will be able to return to them at some point.) But part of it is also surrendering to the ‘you’ you are now becoming. This woman you are becoming through becoming a mother is something extraordinary and probably so much stronger than you can even imagine.


Motherhood is truly the hardest job in the world. It takes you right to the edge of yourself over and over again. But the woman you meet in motherhood is just so breathtaking. I like who I am as a mother, now, and as a woman and I wouldn’t ever want to go back.


- thank you, Caitlin



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