One to One Coaching

I offer free 30 minute telephone/Skype consultations for people wanting to find out more about coaching on the 'baby decision'. Email me at mailto:beth@ticktockcoaching.co.uk and assistant Laura will respond and arrange an appointment with you. Visit http://www.ticktockcoaching.co.uk/ for more information about my coaching services.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Doubt & the baby decision: Learning to trust ourselves

'I'm always doubting myself.  Every day I have contradictory questions and worries.  Would I be a good mother? Could I be happy without children? What if I make a terrible decision and regret my decision?'

Many people trying to make the 'baby decision' feel racked with doubt.  Many of my clients tell me that they constantly question themselves and feel that they have lost the ability to trust any decision they could make.   This leads to a huge worry that their decision - whatever they decide - would end up in disaster.

It could be that it is a lack of confidence in themselves to make the decision.  But I think it's also a lack of trust in themselves that they can  cope with the challenges that they would face of whatever choice make.

Articles such as The Confidence Gap  in The Atlantic Magazine written by the authors of  the book Womenecomics point to the fact that women in the workplace often lack confidence and doubt their abilities daily in the world of work.

The shortage of female confidence is increasingly well quantified and well documented. In 2011, the Institute of Leadership and Management, in the United Kingdom, surveyed British managers about how confident they feel in their professions. Half the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance and careers, compared with fewer than a third of male respondents....We also began to see that a lack of confidence informs a number of familiar female habits. Take the penchant many women have for assuming the blame when things go wrong, while crediting circumstance—or other people—for their successes. (Men seem to do the opposite.) David Dunning, the Cornell psychologist, offered the following case in point: In Cornell’s math Ph.D. program, he’s observed, there’s a particular course during which the going inevitably gets tough. Dunning has noticed that male students typically recognize the hurdle for what it is, and respond to their lower grades by saying, “Wow, this is a tough class.” That’s what’s known as external attribution, and in a situation like this, it’s usually a healthy sign of resilience. Women tend to respond differently. When the course gets hard, Dunning told us, their reaction is more likely to be “You see, I knew I wasn’t good enough.” That’s internal attribution, and it can be debilitating.

As the article quoted above points out above, women have a tendency for assuming blame when things go wrong but at the same time, they credit circumstance for when things go right.  How does that work when thinking about the people making the decision to have children or not?  In my clients worse fears and fantasies, they put themselves fully as the person who could cause chaos by making the decision to either have or not have children.  But they rarely credit or see themselves as a person who can cope with challenges and deal with challenging or difficult situations that might occur in the future.

One woman might worry that not having children would meant that she might end up lonely, not trusting that she has the ability to create a rich and vibrant life that was different than others.    Another woman might be anxious and doubt her ability to be a good mother.  She may imagine that she could probably has some innate flaw that would also impact the life of her child.

So how can we learn to trust ourselves - trust our ability to make this decision now AND trust that in the future we will to be able to cope, be resilient and deal with any challenges that we might face, no matter what choice we make? 

I encourage all my clients to find different ways to do this.    One  method I often use through using a creative visualisation.  I ask clients to shut their eyes and focus their awareness on their breathing.  After 5 minutes relaxation, I ask clients where trust lives in their body and what it looks like?  Is it small? Is it hidden?  Some clients see it as a ball of energy or light, some have seen it as a plant or other image.  Usually it's smaller and seems fragile.  I then ask clients to visualise doing something that nurtures trust.  What is does it feel like when trust expands throughout their body?

I ask clients to connect with this feeling throughout the week before we meet again.  Generally clients feel more relaxed, confident and more able to access that feeling of trust that they can cope and that they can deal with any challenges that will occur.



Friday, 22 March 2019

Will I fail at being a mother ? The ideal mother & the comparison trap

Image by Photos by Mahin https://pixabay.com/u

Are you haunted by images of the perfect mother?  Glossy hair, successful career and endless time to make cupcakes with their children?  Or maybe you remember the time and care your own mother gave you as a child but wonder how you could ever live up to her?

In 2019, images of  mother as both the domestic goddess and successful career woman are ubiquitous.  Women are exhorted to 'lean in' and embrace both motherhood and work.  At the same time, Daily Mail headlines warn that poor mothering is responsible for everything from obesity in childhood to their children's sexist behaviour.   Along with the pressure to live up to the image of the ideal mother,  the consequences of not living up to this ideal seem to be severe.

Naomi Standen explored this in her wonderful book What Mothers Do... Even When it Looks Like Nothing .  One of the causes of a phenomena of maternal ambivalence (where mothers of babies feel ambivalent about being a mother) is the disconnection between the idealised version of motherhood that is so present in our society and the reality that it is often boring, difficult, challenging etc.  Women report a huge mixture of emotions and feelings about being a mother that often do not match this idealised version.  This is particularly acute in mothers of children of a year or under where the demands of babies and in particular the lack of sleep and sleep deprivation, often put enormous strain on mothers - both the physical strain but also the feeling of failure that one is not living up the image of beatific mother earth mother hood.

“Babies of around one year old are often active by day and wake frequently at night, for no obvious reason. Then a mother can feel desperate for sleep yet equally desperate to comfort her baby when he needs her at night. I have spoken to many mothers who have sacrificed their own sleep, waking up numerous times every night because their babies cried for them. It seems terrible that these hardworking women think of themselves as failures as a result. Surely a mother who has chosen to sacrifice her sleep deserves respect and admiration for her generous mothering.”  Naomi Standen, What Mothers Do

Many of my clients come to me expressing their belief about motherhood as a black and white polarity.  On one side is the ideal mother.  She is fulfilled, successful, calm, present for her children, able to juggle work and do the domestic chores.  One the other side, is the failing mother.  She is a mess, chaotic, not able to cope with the sleep deprivation of having a new born and, she lets her children down.

The fear of being a failure as a mother who lets her children down that can haunt women trying to make this decision.  Often I've heard from my clients that it is this fear of failure that most worries them and causes them anxiety.  When we unpick this fear and look at it closely, we find that the client often has an inner saboteur (i.e. an inner critic) that is very harsh, that is constantly encouraging the client to compare herself to the ideal mother. 

So, how can you address this fear and escape the comparison trap?

1.  Take 15 minutes to write without stopping about what your saboteur has to say about how you could never be an 'ideal mother'.  Let all the negativity out on the page.

2.  After doing this, take a moment and shut your eyes.  Imagine the saboteur in the room and then imagine you can do something to reduce it's power and silence it's voice.  Perhaps you sprinkle water on it and it shrinks.  Or you could imagine throwing it out the window!

3. Psychologists have a concept called 'the good enough mother'.  Coined by Winnicott, the 'good enough mother' has her flaws - as all humans do - but she provides good enough parenting to for her child to flourish.  What would being a good enough mother be like for you?   Write about all the ways you can imagine being a good enough mother.  If you are struggling, read up about what a good enough mother is.

If you are stuck in the comparison trap and trying to decide whether to have children or not, it's so difficult to see a way forward.  By challenging the voices of the saboteur that seeks to make us feel inadequate, we can start to break free of the trap and be able to see our decision more clearly.

We may still decide not to have children - it may not be the right thing for us but by acknowledging we don't HAVE live up to an unrealistic image of the ideal mother, we can know that we are making this decision from the best possible mental place that we can.




Friday, 1 March 2019

Swimming against the tide


'Everyone in the small town I grew up with has children.  I live in NYC now - but when ever I go back, I feel so strange.  And Christmas is always difficult - I always get an air mattress in a corner while my brother and his family get the best bedroom. It sounds like I'm being petty - but I'm not upset about the sleeping arrangements.... I feel like I'm the 'odd one out' and no one knows how I fit.  I don't think I want children ... I don't have a strong desire to have kids... but I think having children would mean that I felt more a part of the community and like everyone else.'

It can feel uncomfortable if you don't have children, particularly as you get older.  Having children is still seen as 'the norm' and for many women,  this makes the decision to have children or to not have children very challenging.  As the quote from one of the women that I interviewed for my book shows, if you don't have children, you can feel sidelined.   This is more acute depending on where you live.   Fore instance, working with several clients in France, I'm aware that French culture is extremely family focused - more so than in the UK.

Swimming against the tide generally doesn't feel good or comfortable, particularly when we aren't sure ourselves of what we want.  Even if we  have a value of  'being independent' or 'doing things differently or 'being unique', it's very challenging for to do or believe something different than most of the people around us.  This is called 'Groupthink' and it is a powerful psychological tool that is very hard to resist. 

I work with clients to explore what their reactive pattern are under stress, pressure or conflict. When we are operating in our reactive pattern, we are mostly concerned with safety.  We seek safety through approval, or control.  The easiest way to get approval from our friends, family and peers is to conform to group norms.

But there is a huge cost to conforming.  It takes energy to pretend to want the same thing as those around us and to suppress our own desires and needs.   There can also be a sense of precariousness - and a belief that your membership as part of the group will be threatened if you don't conform. But the question is, how true is this belief?  Would we really be rejected, are we really outsiders if we follow our own path?   Or is this a fear that we have - in part - created?

An exercise that I think can help is to re-look at the situation with our friendship groups when we are feeling less stressed, when we are feeling calm and centered.  When we can 'recover to our centre' - we can experience how much better we feel when we challenge our usual reactive pattern. When we centre we can feel more at home in ourselves, more confident, more able to move forward and make difficult choices, even is they mean that we are going to follow a different path than our peers.

So try this right now:

1. Take a breath.  As you breath in, imagine the breath travelling up your body from your feet and then as you exhale, imagine the breath travelling back down you body, back down to your feet.

2. Imagine that you can expand your energy so that is becomes a bubble that surrounds you.  This bubble extends about an arms length all around you.   Now imagine your worries and anxious thoughts as if they were small paper balls that someone is flicking at you.  As those paper balls land in your bubble, the energy holds them so that they are just pieces of information that you can assess and then let go of.

3.  If you are holding any tension in your shoulders or jaw, just notice that and then allow that tension to flow out of your body.

4. Think of a quality you would like more of - it could be 'calm' or 'peace' or 'lightness' or 'ease'  or any word which is a quality you think would help you at this current time.  Now how the questions 'What would it be like if I had alittle bit more of my quality [insert name of quality] in my body or being right now?'

Once you have done that, look again at the situation you are in and what it would be like if you did choose not to have children; choosing a different path than many in your peer group or community.  Is there anything different in how you are feeling about this choice now?  Do you feel that you could make this choice and still be accepted?



Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Baby or Not? Reflections on the Baby Decision

Struggling to decide whether to have children or not?  My friend and writer Michelle Hebert-Boyd responded to my invitation to write about personal reflections on the decision that she and many women struggle with daily: choose children and motherhood... or choose a child-free life.  

I recently listened to a Guardian podcast  called “Maybe Baby: Should I Have a Child or Not?”. In it, the host Leah Green spoke to various people (women, for the most part) to understand how people come to the decision to have a baby or to remain child-free. As someone who struggled to become a mother and has since struggled to raise a child with special needs, I found myself nodding my heads to the points raised in this podcast. Where were these questions a decade ago, I wondered, when I was ready (or not) to have a baby? Why aren’t women better supported in making what is, arguably, the biggest decision they can face? As with any type of choice that relates to women’s reproductive health, it seems the discussion of whether to have a child or to remain child-free is still one that is based on rigid gender assumptions, and gets talked about mostly in whispers, amongst other women. This podcast gave me hope that we can raise the discussion above a whisper, and start to explore the options in front of us with confidence and support.

The podcast included interviews with people who explained their choices and how they arrived at them. I was struck by the fact that the voices of all of those interviewed – whether they’d had a child or had chosen to remain child-free – held a fear that their choice would be judged. It’s clear that judgement and societal expectations play a huge role in influencing how these decisions get made, and that it’s typically women who feel they have to defend them, even if a couple has reached the decision together.

As one woman in the podcast says, the realization that having a baby or remaining child-free is actually a choice is life-changing.  Yes, most of us have access to birth control, and we’ve given thought to preventing pregnancies. But it’s most often with the notion that we’re merely putting something off, and we’ll get around to having a baby sooner or later, at some point in the dim future.  Having a baby is an idea to which girls are socialized for from the earliest age, with baby dolls and nurturing role-plays. But the idea that we might not only just put the decision off, but make a completely different decision…well, that does fly in the face of how most girls are still socialized. Having a baby is the just the default expectation society holds for women – especially for cisgendered women in heterosexual relationships. People still assume that if you don’t have a baby, there must have been a medical reason that prevented you from doing so. It’s not typically seen as a choice.

Many women are sure, from an early age, that they don’t want to have a child., for a whole constellation of reasons. Still, as the podcast points out, they are often told they’ll change their minds; they just haven’t found the right person, or ‘those hormones’ will kick in eventually and they’ll be full of regret. This is, frankly, sexist crap, and assumes that there is only one way to be female. Just because you have a uterus doesn’t mean you need to use it to grow a baby, any more than having hair means you need to grow it into a long braid.

We are more than the sum or our organs. We’re the sum of our choices.

For others, the decision to have a child or to remain child-free is harder to make. We struggle because many of us haven’t found the tools to help work through this decision. It’s a choose your own adventure book, and the stakes are high. Both paths are filled with uncertainty. Happiness isn’t assured, either with children or child-free. And once we’ve made our choice, we don’t get to relax, because the paths aren’t straight or smooth. It’s just a lot more decisions, a lot more obstacles, either way – that’s life. That’s why it’s so important to be clear about what choice you want to make, and what is important to you, before choosing either adventure.

Having a baby or deciding to remain child-free is a very individual choice, and there is a story behind everyone’s decision. There’s no magic formula to tell us what to do. For someone who is as much of a planner as me, that was unsettling. I wished I could shake my Magic 8 Ball and get definitive advice. I wish, in retrospect, that I’d had access to a life coach like Beth Follini.  Beth’s coaching fills a unique niche – she helps people work through the choices in front of them where having a baby is concerned, helping them to ultimately understand themselves better and to find the path that is right for them. Using evidence-based tools, Beth leads her clients through self-inquiry, exploring their fears, hopes, and goals. She doesn’t steer them in any one direction; the choice is the client’s to make. Beth stands with people, encouraging them and challenging them, while they stand at the cross-roads.

I’ve stood at that crossroads myself, although the paths weren’t as well defined for me. I don’t think I even knew what questions to ask. Maybe I didn’t know that I could ask questions. I was in my mid-30s, and felt the pressure of social expectations and my own biology. I felt I didn’t have a lot of time to make a decision. To some extent, more than a dozen years ago, I didn’t really feel there was a decision to be made. Most people I knew had children. The few who didn’t were perfectly happy and fulfilled, but it was still very much seen as an ‘other’ choice back in the early 2000s.

My partner and I had talked about having children, before we got married. Neither of us felt strongly it was a must-do thing. Nor did either of us feel it was a must-avoid. We were somewhere in the middle, bobbing in a sea of ambiguity and expectation. We’d only just gotten married. I had a job I loved, and for the first time in my Gen X life, I had money to travel and have fun with. I wasn’t sure, really, how a baby would fit into that mix. I remember feeling a bit resigned to it…like, “If that’s what fate has in store for me, fine; if not, fine.” It was the biggest decision I’d had to make in my life, and I felt completely unprepared to make it. Looking back, I wonder if I understood that it really was a choice.

I’m a planner and a journalist. I like to research things, to ask questions and make lists of pros and cons. I prepare cost-benefit analysis spreadsheets for the most mundane of things. Beth Follini would say I approach things from my head. For a variety of reasons, over the years I’ve learned not to trust the advice my heart gives me. The head is about facts, and logical arguments, and data. The heart, I’ve found, can lead to Really Bad Decisions. It’s the one whispering in your ear, telling you to hurry up and decide before it’s too late. It’s the one that taunts you with FOMO, regret, and all the ‘what ifs’. Its whispers can be very loud, especially in the wee hours of the morning, when the head isn’t sharp enough to fight back.

I remember being on a business trip a week before my 34th birthday, feeling quite consumed by the choice in front of me: baby or not? What did I want my life to look like? After my meetings one evening, I found myself wandering into a bookstore, drawn to the huge section on all things baby-related, hoping to find something – anything – that would help me clarify my feelings. There were hundreds of books in this very-large section. There were books on fertility, pregnancy, baby names, infancy, toddlerhood. There was a much, much smaller section on women’s health. But there were no books, at all, about actually deciding to have a baby or to remain child-free. There was lots of advice on how to get pregnant and what to do after that. There was nothing to help me figure out if that’s the path I actually wanted to take.

I bought a book about fertility and a copy of I Don’t Know How She Does It and walked out of the store. My head felt defeated. My heart felt triumphant.

It wasn’t until my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage that the questions came into focus for me. The miscarriage had been emotionally devastating and physically exhausting. Like the decision to have a child or to remain child-free, miscarriage isn’t something that gets talked about as much as it should. I am someone who has succeeded at most things I’ve tried, so I felt like an enormous failure for not being able to do this most basic human function. There was always innuendo from others about what I’d done to cause it (it’s possible I imagined some of that innuendo, since I was so good at blaming myself for what I might have done or not done). Then, there was the inevitable comment, most typically from older relatives:

“At least you know you can get pregnant. You can always try again.”

If I’d felt ambivalent about having a baby, the miscarriage forced me to examine my feelings. Did I even want to try this again? Was I willing to risk that a miscarriage might happen again? If I said no…how would that feel? What would a child-free future look like?

For the next few months, my partner and I talked through all these questions and more. We decided that if we couldn’t have a child, that would be fine. We weren’t going to pursue IVF or adoption. We wanted a baby, but not at any cost. We decided that we’d be okay with whichever path opened up in front of us.

With my biological clock ticking loudly, I revisited the question just a year after my first child’s birth. Should I have another? Time was running out. There was another, more difficult miscarriage. My second child’s birth resulted in a life-or-death situation for both of us, and a warning that I shouldn’t have any more children. I remember feeling relieved that the decision-making was taken out of my hands. I was done.

There were times, over the years, that I’ve questioned whether the path I chose was right. Like the women interviewed in the Guardian’s podcast, I could list a dozen reasons why daily life with children felt kind of awful, sometimes. But also like the women in the podcast, I was ultimately happy with the path I’d taken. Both my head and my heart were sure, though, that I would have been equally okay with a child-free path. Having the opportunity to explore those questions and personal values was critical to finding peace.

Another issue that features heavily in the podcast is one that parents are sometimes loathe to admit: the fear of risk. The fear that Something Will Be Wrong. The fear that the future we’ve envisioned as a happy family with happy, perfect children won’t materialize. And what will happen then?

I can attest that children with special needs take a real toll on parents’ emotions and well-being, as well as their relationships. There is a higher rate of divorce and relationship breakdown among families with kids with special needs. The financial and emotional burden can overwhelm you.

And yet, there is no such thing as perfection in life, no matter what path you choose. You just never know. You might have a physically ‘perfect’ baby placed in your arms seconds after birth, but you don’t know what’s going on in that baby’s brain. Brain-based diseases, mental illnesses, and developmental issues may take years to show up, requiring you to become a completely different parent than you’ve been. You throw the script out the window and start over.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t risk to remaining child-free, of course. Relationships still break down. One of you can become sick or injured. Life is rarely what we think it will be, no matter how much planning or thought we put into it. There is no ‘safe’ road.

Yet, when the podcast’s host asked parents of kids who had mental health challenges or special needs whether they had regrets, they said no – not regret, really; more of a reflection that life could be easier than it is. As a parent of a child with special needs, I understood this. There is a peculiar sadness, almost a nostalgia, for what life could have been – for the typically-developing child in the happy family that could have been. Do I regret my choice? Overall, no. But would I have chosen THIS? No, probably not.  Few of us willingly choose the difficult paths. Most of us aren’t given the tools to think through everything eventuality in front of us. That’s why the work that Beth Follini does to help people sort through their feelings, hopes, and preparedness is so critical. It’s not about making people choose one path over another, or scaring people with worse-case scenarios. It’s about helping people feel as prepared as possible to make informed decisions about the road ahead, and to own those decisions with confidence – no matter what life throws at you.

The Guardian podcast is one of the few forums I’ve heard raise the issue of whether a mother feels mentally okay to have a child. After that first miscarriage, the hormonal flood from pregnancy and the miscarriage left me with a debilitating, month-long migraine. That gave me a lot of time to lie in bed and think. One of the things I thought about was whether I was mentally healthy enough to be a parent. I’d had an eating disorder in my 20s and had fought hard to maintain recovery. Would pregnancy’s changes to my body set me back? What if I didn’t lose the weight after pregnancy – was  I prepared for that? What if I passed the eating disorder (which has a strong genetic component) along to my child? I remember hoping I didn’t have a girl, so that the body image issues wouldn’t be as strong. (Spoiler alert: my first child is a girl, and my second child – the boy- is the one who is more prone to body image issues. The universe mocks me, truly.).

We owe it to ourselves, as women, to recognize and talk about the choice to be made. We need to think hard on those choices and evaluate our options. We need to be able to reach the best, most informed choice for us – not for our partners, not for our parents or friends, and not for society. Because at the end of the day, during those long sleepless nights (or the long stretches in the psychiatric emergency room with a child in distress), it’s us, not society, who is raising this child and living through the experience.

I haven’t heard many honest discussions about the decision to have a baby or remain child-free, to be honest, and I found this one quite balanced (although it was presented from a fairly cisgendered perspective, and there was little mention of the gendered parenting roles that may play into women’s decisions around having a baby). More voices from the ‘child-free’ path would have been helpful. Just as there is no one typical experience in having a child, there is no one typical child-free experience. People who make the choice to remain child-free are too often viewed as selfish or flawed. Hearing more about their stories and choices will help remove that stigma, which then frees women to truly see the choices in front of them. Discussions like this one hosted by the Guardian shine a spotlight on the real lack of support for ‘choice’ women have in making decisions about having a baby.

At the end of the day, the decision whether to have a baby or to remain child-free is one with no easy answer. With either path, there’s no way to know what it will look or feel like, whether we’ll have regrets, or whether we’re up for the challenge. But that’s life. The uncertainty is what makes it equal parts awful and exhilarating. The choice is a very personal one, but needs to be seen in the context of the broader social discussions about how women are valued and expected to behave in society.

For more information on coaching support for your baby decisions, contact Beth Follini at beth@ticktockcoaching.co.uk and visit her website at http://www.ticktockcoaching.co.uk/

By Michelle Hebert Boyd

Michelle H├ębert Boyd is a writer, editor, and social policy consultant based in Nova Scotia, Canada. She blogs about parenting, mental health and gender issues at www.baloneyinthemiddle.com. You can find out more about her writing services or hire her as a writing coach at  Michelle Hebert Boyd