Power to the Mother: Beth Henson
Power to the Mother is a series of interviews on the transformative and empowering experience of motherhood.
Today on Power to the Mother I welcome Beth, mother of two and blogger at Someday Slower. Beth writes about minimalism and motherhood in such an approachable way, that I find completely inspiring. Speaking to Beth I felt a real connection in our experiences, she speaks with such honesty. Here we speak about the ways minimalism changed her life, difficult births, and of finding yourself in motherhood.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your family?
I’m Beth, married to James and mother to two children, Marty 10 and Flo 8. We rent a little townhouse by the sea, where we live an intentional life of minimal things but a whole lot of love. As we home educate, you will often find us eating brunch on the beach, or knee deep in the dunes, learning and living together.
What was your experience of pregnancy and birth?
Neither of my birth stories, talk of the births that I wanted. I had a hard time with each pregnancy and birth, so some details may unfortunately be lacking. I used to have a habit of blocking out bad things that happened, so that I could focus on the good. But however difficult my births were - I was rewarded with two beautiful, healthy babies and I want that to be remembered, as I share my story.
Before my firstborn, I had suffered two miscarriages, one being a missed miscarriage. This was particularly hard to deal with, as my body still thought it was pregnant, long before I knew otherwise. And so when I became pregnant again, I was very anxious. This was made worse by bleeding throughout - never quite knowing whether this time, we would make it.
Luckily we did but when the time came, despite the birth plan, I felt way out of my depth. I was taken into hospital at 39 weeks with contractions, following a stretch and sweep. I was put into a room and left alone to rest and contract in peace but the noises coming from the other rooms, left me in such fear, that I couldn’t relax at all.
I remember walking miles, up and down the corridors, with pre-packaged sandwiches and a whole lot of pain. I was only in the very early stages of labour but I hadn’t prepared for how intense it would be. It took a further two days of walking and another stretch and sweep before my labour started to feel very real. I was eventually recommended an epidural, as my anxiety was stopping my labour progress and although I felt sad for not having a natural birth, I remember that sigh of relief, when the pain relief hit.
Only the oblivion didn’t last because although I was now resting, my baby was in distress. After being left to push for too long the room was suddenly full of people, prepping me for theatre. I remember being rushed down the corridor, the wheels of the old hospital bed, screeching noisily against the floor. I was pushed into a sterile room with bright, white lights and I couldn’t stop shaking - I was cold with fear. A lovely midwife, held my hand as I had a spinal, repeating over and over, that she was with me and all was well.
My baby son, with big brown eyes, was born via forceps and placed into my arms, on a dark autumn night and I had never known love like it. I was on cloud nine but delivery wasn’t over. My placenta hadn’t come away naturally and so after some waiting, I had to have it manually pulled away. I didn’t really understand what was going on but was told, that retained placentas are a 50/50 complication and that I was just unlucky.
Despite the traumatic labour, I was allowed home the very next day and all memories of what I had been through, were placed to the back of my mind. I thought about it every so often but tried harder to forget, until one day I discovered that I was pregnant again. And this time, I not only had the fear of miscarriage but the fear of labour too.
I bled very heavily, during the first few months of pregnancy, much more than last time and as I sat on a plastic chair, painkillers in one hand and a leaflet in the other, I was told they couldn’t find a heartbeat. We were devastated but were told to come back a week or so later, so that they could scan me again, just in case.
We prepared for the worst, it had definitely felt like a miscarriage but they found her. She was alive, loud and strong - despite all odds and I will never forget, how amazed we all were on that day. I continued to bleed throughout my pregnancy but was reassured, that for me, this was just how it would be.
My pregnancy was filled with worry. I read up on retained placentas and had spoken to my midwife but no one could tell me that it wouldn’t happen again. In fact it was more likely to happen because of my previous experience, meaning my risk had gone up but we wouldn’t know for sure, until the time.
Thankfully, once again we made it and labour started at 40 weeks, following another stretch and sweep. We drove up to the hospital in the middle of the night to meet our baby girl, leaving our sleeping boy, with family to dream. This time, the contractions came thick and fast and after a hot hospital bath, it was arranged that I would have another epidural, due to my previous labour. I rested on and off all night - the contractions stayed steady and I started to feel that this time, it would be okay.
Just over 12 hours later she came earth side, after only three big pushes. I felt elated that after being left for so long to push with my son, I had birthed so easily. My daughter with a mop of dark hair, was placed on me and at that moment, a rainbow appeared in the sky. The rain had been pelting down all morning but suddenly the sun came out and shone the sweetest light into the room. I was so distracted by the meaning of this, that I didn’t notice the drama going on below me.
My placenta was once again retained. Only this time, during manual removal, it had split quite badly and I had lost a lot of blood. My husband was traumatised by the scene but I couldn’t get my head around what was going on and so once again, I tried to forget about it. I was kept in hospital for observations but after a few days, was deemed strong enough to return home.
I then became quite ill with infection, possibly from the strands left over from the placenta which can be quite common but luckily, after a round of antibiotics it was gone and I could focus on getting back on track.
A few days later, the head midwife, who had been with me in labour, came to our home. She spoke of how serious my burst placenta had been and informed me, quite matter of factly, that I could have died. I remember hearing those words and trying to erase them from my mind. I was happy, I had my baby - I didn’t want to think of anything else. I was offered counselling, to talk it all through with someone experienced but I shunned it away. I didn’t want to deal with any sad feelings, I just wanted to stay in this euphoric bubble with my family of four.
In hindsight, I have two big regrets. One; was that I wasn’t aware of hypnotherapy, or doulas, of something or someone, to help ease my anxiety. And two; was that I didn’t take up the offer of therapy. What happened during my births has stayed with me and brought me great pain. Greater than the physical pain of labour, a heavy, weary type of pain, that only comes when trauma and grief aren’t dealt with.
I felt like a failure for so long and hated my body, for not doing as it should. But knowledge is power and I recently started talking about what I had been through. Both my labours and the fact that it wouldn’t be safe for me to get pregnant again, despite what my ovaries tell me has been a hard thing to carry. And it only got heavier, the longer I carried it. Therapy has been essential for me, to hold all of these feeling in one place, explore them and then let them go.
In the days, weeks, months, even years after, how did you find new motherhood? Do you feel your experiences shaped you at all?
I continue to be shaped by my motherhood experiences because I believe that being a mother, has made me the person that I am today. I feel whole as a mother - as if a piece of me was missing before and now it has been found. To me being a mother is the most important, rewarding and purposeful thing that I will ever do.
New motherhood created some of my very best memories. I often wish that I could step back in time and cradle my babies once again. I look back on those early years with such fondness and love, it was such an incredible time for me.
However, it was also very lonely. I was the mother that co-slept, fed on demand and didn’t put my babies down. Everyone around me told me that I was making a rod for my own back but as well meaning as they were, they were wrong. I instinctively knew that I couldn’t spoil my babies with love and so I carried on - despite the looks and the conversations that my decisions created.
We also had the heartache, of having a son who didn’t fit in. Whilst other friends met for coffee and hung out at playgroup, we stood outside the doors, soothing a crying baby/toddler/child, back to peace. We didn’t know it at the time but our son is Autistic and busy places, sounds, smells and other children, were too much for him to handle. It was a very lonely time, navigating our family both inside the home and out.
But it led us down a path, that although different from the norm, had much better views. With no option, other than to follow the child, he led us somewhere beautiful and for that I am so thankful. He clearly knew the way, even when we didn’t.
You blog about minimalism and its impact on your life. How did you stumble upon the concept?
Two years ago, I became overwhelmed with life. At the time of finding minimalism, I was suffering from chronic illness, myself and my husband were living apart and life just felt way harder than it should have. One day I had the desire to simplify and remove the excess - the stuff in our home and the commitments in our lives and how we lived it. I wanted to be able to breath and enjoy my family, rather than spend all of my time, standing on the sidelines washing up.
At that point, I didn’t know that what I wanted was minimalism. I assumed that minimalism was just aesthetics, I had no idea that it was a lifestyle until I watched a documentary titled, ‘Minimalism - A Documentary About The Important Things’ and it suddenly clicked. The ethos of the film, struck me with such clarity, heart and soul that I knew without doubt, this was what we needed.
And how did minimalism change your parenting?
I have always parented intentionally but minimalism added so many extra layers, that have changed both my motherhood and my family’s experience. Before simplifying, our days were spent shopping and our lives were spent tidying up. I was always playing catch up, rather than playing with my kids because I never had the time, to do all that I needed to do.
And although I was a present parent, I was drowning in the daily grind of looking after the home and keeping up with commitments, that I didn’t want to keep. By simplifying our home, our calendar and our lives, we suddenly had the time to live the way that we really wanted. And I didn’t know it at the time but the life that we dreamed of, really was buried underneath all of our stuff.
Minimalism made me realise that there was something much more precious that the latest toy, trinket or bag and that something was time.
For me, minimalism has allowed me to get out of the box that society and my experiences had placed me in. It has given me the time and space to be intentionally me. To learn that I am more than the things that I want and buy, that I am enough, just as I am.
I remember reading once that “you’re always one decision away, from a totally different life.” And this is how I feel about minimalism. Had I not simplified, I would have continued to collect a life full of stuff, rather than a life full of memories. Minimalism for me is about the more of less and the space that it creates for what really matters.
What advice would you share with mothers expecting, brand new mothers and mothers far into this journey?
To be authentically you, rather than what everyone else is telling you to be. And to have the courage, to live your motherhood, however your heart tells you to live it.
I think that it’s important to think about how you want your motherhood and your children’s childhood to feel, rather than how you want it to look. That it is those feelings of warmth, respect and togetherness, that shape us and stay with us - that feeling of being loved, no matter what.
It can seem overwhelming, holding someone else’s life in our hands but strip it back to the very bones of how you want your families lives to be. I think it’s really important to be confident, that what you are doing is right for you, whether that be birth plans, the way you parent or how you are educating your child. Even if others tell you otherwise, remember that you know yourself and your child better than anyone else.
Above all else, no matter how far into the journey you are remember this; every day, every minute and every hour, is a fresh start gifted to us and an ongoing chance to start again.
What have you found empowering in motherhood?
Motherhood has given me the greatest confidence I’ve ever felt, I have grown two humans and given birth, surely I can do anything! It has also moulded me to be the best version of me, both for my children and for myself.
It has taught me that you are never too old to learn. My children teach me more everyday, than I could ever hope to teach them and that by empowering them, it empowers me to follow the path that I truly believe in.
And finally, how do you create pockets of mindfulness in your day? What do you do?
I wake early, so that I am getting up for my day rather than getting up to my day, if that makes sense. That way I can enjoy some alone time to do some guided meditation, or just wake up in my own time - rather than being jumped on by little feet!
I have a notebook nearby, so that when I wake, I can empty my thoughts onto the page. This is just mindless scribbles, so that I can start the day with clear head. The idea came from a lovely friend and it works wonders for decluttering all of the excess, that I hold.
I always have the book that I’m currently reading, near me in a basket or bag, so that I can steal a few pages as the opportunities arise and I make sure that I get outside everyday. Some days that means, getting only as far as my garden to listen to the birds. But even then, if I’m lucky, I can often hear the sea.
I also like to remind myself, that the in-between moments of our days, those pockets of time that we sometimes miss, are always there, I just have to remember to look for them, as and when they come.