Hayley Anderson and Lisa Jara shed light on the hardships and challenges parents, especially mothers, face in our modern societies and the impact their normalization (“That’s just how it is.”) has on the individual person’s nervous system and well-being.

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Talking with friends, I often hear that they experience motherhood or parenthood as a lot harder than they would have imagined. And I believe it’s in part due to the distorted societal views on what it means to be a mother/parent in this world and the unrealistic expectations placed on them.

My guest Hayley Anderson and I are here to shed light on the hardships and challenges parents, and especially mothers, face and how harmful it can be to normalize them by insisting “They’re normal.”, “That’s just how it is.” and “It’ll get easier”.

We dive into:

  • The impact normalizing the challenges of mothering and motherhood/parenthood has on your well-being
  • Why it’s true that “it takes a village to raise a child”
  • What birth story medicine work is and how it can help you process your birth experience
  • How to release and heal internalised shame
  • The healing gift of being present with another person

Resources we mentioned:

Book a Free Consultation with me, for a happy, healthy period or happy, health (peri)menopause experience!

Connect with Hayley through her website or on Instagram

About Hayley:
Hayley is a mother working to restore life-sustaining connections between body, cycles, soul and the land that supports us. Through her offerings as a birth story listener, sensory herbalist and fertility awareness method educator, she guides menstruators and birthing people towards easeful fertility cycles and matriarchal post-birth experiences.

She is passionate about creating a menstrual health culture where the cycle is understood as an initiatory pathway to wellness, wisdom, elderhood, cultural and ecological restoration. Her work offers a place for our experiences and stories around fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, matrescence to be witnessed and honoured for the power and significance they carry.

[00:00:36] Lisa: Hi and welcome everyone to another episode of “A Fireside Chat about Taboo Topics” series. Today our conversation is going to be around the hardships and challenges of mothering and motherhood, or parenthood, which I believe is a topic that needs to be talked about.

Because when I speak with friends who have children, and by the way, I don’t have children yet, so I’m mindful of that and please don’t hold it against me, but when I talk with friends, I often hear that they experience motherhood as a lot harder than they would have imagined. And I believe it’s in part because in our society, the picture we get of motherhood and what it means to be a mother or to have a baby is hyped very much.

And the hardships or consequences, that don’t have to be negative, it’s just consequences, they are not often considered beforehand. And today I’m very happy that my guest is willing to share about her experience in mothering and motherhood and her views on, well, maybe even our current society and what it teaches us about motherhood and mothering. So a very warm welcome to Hayley Anderson. Hi Hayley.

And to begin with, please let us know who you are, where you’re from, your work in the world and a cycle check-in, meaning the day of your cycle you’re on and one, two or three words that describe how you are here today.

[00:02:32] Hayley: Thanks Lisa.

So hi everyone, I’m Hayley, I live in the Southwest of England in Devon with my partner and my nearly three-year-old daughter. So I’m a mother and I’m also a birth story listener, I’m a birth story medicine practitioner. So I listen to birth stories and hold space for women’s birth stories.

I’m a sensory herbalist, specialising in anything to do with fertility and the menstrual cycle and I am a fertility awareness method tutor.

And in term, what would the other things be? Ah, cycle check-in. So I’m on day 10 today and I’m definitely feeling the fizziness of spring, so fizzy. And I’m just going to go with fizzy, fizzy is the dominant feeling. There are things fizzing up, that’s what it feels like.

[00:03:45] Lisa: And I’m excited what that will bring to the conversation, thank you. For me, I am on my day 13 and I have a hard time with my inner spring. For me, it’s spring and I can feel lots of critical thoughts wanting to pull me down. And I feel also assured that I am okay the way I am. So it’s an interesting combination that’s present at the same time.

Okay. Let’s dive right into that topic. When you became a mother three years ago, how was your experience? When did you realize that mothering is not all roses and lovely all the time?

[00:04:43] Hayley: Gosh, yeah, that’s a good question.

So thinking back, yeah, so for me, I think actually it started quite early in the journey, during pregnancy, actually. Because six weeks into my pregnancy, I experienced debilitating nausea for two months solid. And I would wake up feeling awful and I would feel awful all day until about 3, 4 p.m. when I would have this window of about an hour where I could physically get up without having an overwhelming feeling of being sick.

And this went on for a really long time and the level of isolation that I experienced in that time and also the sort of separation of self, so the right of passage into motherhood, it felt like it started earlier for me because I had to set aside parts of myself and parts of my life far earlier than I’d expected.

Because there was the initial sort of “We’re pregnant!”, you know, amazing. And then there was the “OK, this is really physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually challenging.” So I think my sort of idealized view of pregnancy and motherhood got knocked quite early.

But then there were different phases of that. So there was that and then things got a bit easier.

But the other moment that comes to mind was around three weeks postpartum when, so we were doing the first 40 days cocooned and my daughter was born at home and there was no need for me to go anywhere. Really, I was privileged in that my partner had taken a chunk of time off work. But around the time, so I did five days in the bed, five days on the bed, five days around the bed. And it was only when my mother came to visit two weeks in that I came downstairs. So I hadn’t even left the bedroom.

And then from that point, there was this sort of steady going out into the world. The part where I believe innately as a human culture, a mother would be received by something collective. And that didn’t really happen because we don’t have that functioning understanding of the Rite of Passage, of Rites of Passage in our culture. So I’d say it was then that it started to set in that there’s really no one to help.

So I’d had support, but it’s a lot to try to manage having support consistently throughout that time. And there was a moment when my partner was out, had to go out. And it was one of the first times I was on my own at home, with the baby. And she screamed for hours and hours and hours. And I ended up just a tired mess on the floor holding a crying baby.

It was such a defining moment of like, “Where is everyone?” Like, “What do I do? How do I summon the capacity and strength in myself to understand this moment and understand how I even ask for help? And what’s the help that I need? And who’s going to give this help?”

And so I would say that those moments, and there were a few of those, sort of between three weeks and six weeks postpartum, and then, of course, lockdown also came in in England, at that point, so all of those experiences of being isolated and unsupported then were sort of mirrored by the world, which was such a thing, such a thing to have happened.

And I remember taking her to the herb garden for the first time. So I have a herb garden in my home, which is my sanctuary. And I remember going to the herb garden and because that’s the place where I hear the sort of whisperings of my soul, if you will, or the the intuitive capacities in me enliven in that space. And I made a promise to myself then that I would not normalize this.

And that was the most important promise that I made to myself as a mother, because what then happened as I went on the rest of my journey through these last three years of stepping out into the world as a mother, was that everywhere I went, the message that I was getting is that all of those difficulties and challenges, “Oh, they’re normal. That’s just how it is. Oh, you just, you know, it will get easier.”

It’s like, what do I do with this then? So I made that promise to myself that I would not normalize how difficult it was and is.

[00:11:01] Lisa: Yeah, that felt really deep just now. This, “Yeah, everything will be fine.” And there is truth in that, because it somehow will work out. But the way when it’s raised sometimes, it denies the difficulty that is there right now. And we need to do something with that, with the emotions that are present, with the state we’re in. We need to find ways or have ways to calm our nervous system down when it’s activated.

And it’s yeah… So yes, of course, it will become easier and you will learn how you deal with these situations. But right now you’re suffering, it’s hard and that’s valid.

[00:11:50] Hayley: Yeah, for sure. And I’m really glad that you’ve brought the nervous system in in responding to that because the other important angle to look at modern motherhood through, is that the one nervous system, one mother’s nervous system is not evolutionary prepared to take on the job of motherhood alone.

The mothering of children as we’ve evolved as a human culture was shared. The responsibility was shared between 60 nervous systems, maybe more. And so the expectation that this modern culture has on one single nervous system and not only one single nervous system, but in early postpartum, the one single nervous system of someone who’s just given birth, there’s nothing okay and normal about that.

And then there’s this thing of “It gets easier.” You know, the thing, it gets easier. I don’t think it does. I mean, it changes, motherhood changes, but there’s this sort of joke or convivial thing that gets passed around parents where “Oh, you get comfortable and used to one phase of development of the child, and as soon as you get comfortable, it changes.” And it’s so true.

But there’s something else in that. I think, is it getting easier or are we put in a place, as mothers, that we have to learn to cope and be with this incredible nervous system load? So I would argue that actually, it doesn’t get easier. I think our bodies and our systems and our being have to find ways of being with that intensity.

So it’s true that we have to grow and we have to learn how to regulate ourselves in a different way. We have to learn to be with a level of intensity that we’ve never experienced before, at a nervous system level. So I think that phrase “It will get easier.”, it’s not only a bypass of the present experience of a mother, but it’s also a bypass of the cultural norm that’s placed on mothers.

But it will get easier, because you will learn how to cope with this unrealistic load. So there’s a lot in that as well.

[00:14:46] Lisa: Got that. And thank you for challenging me on that. I totally see that even I perpetuate these things. The way I thought of it was more, you may be able to find that security within yourself to change with the changes that are happening. And that’s the “easier part”. It’s not that the situation itself is going to be easier.

But when you are open to connecting to yourself and finding, as I said, ways to calm your nervous system, ways to hold yourself and allow yourself to be held by others, that’s kind of the “easier”. But I understand that I might need to have to do some explaining whenever I use that phrase.

[00:15:38] Hayley: Oh, I mean, this is just coming now as I listen to you. This is sort of new for me, examining that phrase. So it’s not, I don’t want you to feel like you’re perpetuating something by using that phrase.

And also just to say, Lisa, as as someone who’s child free, being willing to have this open conversation with a mother, I’m just eternally grateful to you because this, what we’re experiencing now, is a tension that exists in our modern culture between people that have children and people that don’t have children. And we’re creating a bridge right now in having this edgy conversation about it.

[00:16:26] Lisa: And also the reason why I like to have these conversations is because, I am thinking about do I want to be a mother or not? But I want to step into motherhood, knowing also the quote unquote downside of it, so that I can make an informed decision. Because I believe anything else isn’t responsible or fair towards the child that I might put into this world.

And just very quick, this “It’s getting easier.” it’s not just in motherhood that we hear that. I could think of probably five different situations where I get “Yeah, it will get easier. You will get over it.” So these things are being normalized all the time, not just with motherhood, but with very many things in our life.

And so I invite everybody watching or listening to, next time they hear someone tell them “Time will heal it. It’ll get easier.” to really question what’s going on there.

[00:17:27] Hayleay: Yeah, sure. It’s the biggest bypass. And the other phrase that always catches my ear is if someone responds with “at least”. Because that, our cultural inability to stay with what’s real, is incredibly damaging and is, yeah, this is the sort of root of this promise that I made to myself, that I’m not willing to normalize the challenges around motherhood.

Because as soon as it gets normalized, it’s like it isn’t seen anymore. It’s like it gets exiled. And what I see happening in our culture at the moment is that when things aren’t named as something that’s not okay, so one example is the devaluing of mothering, the act of caring and mothering, that that gets devalued – that is being normalized and normalized and normalized and normalized, to the point where it’s almost impossible for it to happen.

So by naming that, in order for something to happen differently, it needs to be seen, it needs to be named. And whatever comes up in that space of naming and seeing, which is usually quite a lot of feelings, a huge range of feelings, and grief is a big part of that, it’s so radical to resist the normalizing of something that we know in our hearts isn’t serving us collectively.

[00:19:30] Lisa: Yeah. And what I had to think of is like, when we are alone in our head, right, and when we see other people not saying, not speaking up when something’s happening, we think it’s our fault. Like it’s us who’s wrong or who has a wrong way of thinking. And “Oh, it seems to be normal because nobody seems to mind.”

But no, it’s just that everybody is too afraid to speak up, or unaware that that this is happening

[00:20:02] Hayley: Yeah, or even deeper than that, that the conditioning is so strong that it’s like there’s a numbness to it or, you know, “That’s just the way it is.”

[00:20:13] Lisa: Yeah. And also, in our society where difficult emotions aren’t allowed to be present in the room, “Yeah, you can have your tantrum, but go outside or go somewhere else, don’t have it here.” and this pain, this emotional pain and the grief and the rage and the shame, they get stored in our body.

And when we don’t have means to express that, and no space, that becomes physical pain. I’m embarking on a journey to become a women’s pelvic health specialist and women’s pelvic pain, whether that’s pain during intercourse or pain during menstruation or whatever, there is always an emotional component of grief, rage, anything difficult that hasn’t been processed.

And so I guess that’s also where your birth story medicine comes in to support women to go through that experience and release some of that tension. Am I right? Would you maybe like to share a bit about birth story medicine?

[00:21:31] Hayley: Yeah. And also in what you just shared, there’s like a constellation of like, this is more connected, it’s connected that if we think about the pelvic area of a woman’s body, which is the seat of the most mysterious creativity and life sustaining force known to our species. And I personally believe that we are we’re not supposed to be holding anything there other than life.

Yet the consequence of the way that we’re living now is that that’s happening and it’s causing all sorts of disconnections. And it’s not just down to … So now what I’m actually seeing is that I think women are holding in their bodies a lot of the unprocessed grief, rage, tantrums of more than themselves. So it’s ancestral, but it’s also the people around them in their families.

You know, we have that ability to hold in our bodies and we will almost automatically, if things aren’t being moved and expressed in us and around us. So I just think that’s massive, that’s a really massive point.

[00:23:05] Lisa: I’m briefly interrupting your listening pleasure to say that this episode was recorded over a year ago, so by now I have completed my training in female pelvic health and am officially working as a Menstrual and Menopausal Health Specialist, supporting women and menstruating folks to alleviate their pelvic health challenges without medication, external hormones or surgery.

All natural and holistic, addressing all the levels, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – or energetic, if spiritual isn’t a word you like to use.

So whether you experience menstrual health challenges, for example irregular cycles, painful bleeds, endometriosis, PCOS, PMS, PMDD, or you’re going through perimenopause with insomnia, hot flashes, joint ache, weight gain, mood swings or brain fog, please reach out and book your free consultation right now.

There’s a link below this video or podcast episode where you can do that – if you want to address this naturally and holistically, and basically take your menstrual or menopausal health into your own hands. Let’s have a chat and devise a plan for you, how you can support yourself and you body on all levels, so you feel safe, happy, healthy and holy in your body, good in your own skin and like the powerful being that I know you are, who knows how to navigate challenging life transitions with unshakable trust in themself.

This call is without obligations, so whether or not you want to hire me for support, this call is designed to help you get going, so I’m happy to simply point you to some further resources, if you feel like right now isn’t the moment to step into deeper work with me.

And in any case, be sure to sign up for my weekley e-letter Moonday Musings, so we stay connected and you get personal stories, food for thought and information on female health into your inbox every week, so you can start the week feeling refreshed and inspired and connected to your amazing body.

That’s it for now, enjoy the rest of the episode!

[00:25:30] Hayley: In terms of the birth story medicine work, the birth story medicine work is around the stories that we as menstruators and birthing people tell ourselves. So all of these stories that we inherit and absorb from our conditioning. There’s this idea that around the age of seven, we create our own personal rulebook for life. This is who I am. And this is how I am in the world.

It’s when our inner judge receives their rulebook and it’s like, OK, this is what it means to be good, this is what it means to be bad, this is what we can do, we can’t do, this is what I should do. So we each have a very personal version of that book that’s written just for ourselves. And within that will be anything that’s happened to us from between being in utero to around that age.

And then it continues to develop and be reinforced or retraumatized or changed as we grow. And then as we go into birth, we’re bringing that into birth with us. And in most births, no matter how we give birth and where we give birth – what we bring to the birth space is most important. And once we’ve given birth, depending on what happened, our rulebook will interface. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves will interface with what’s happened.

And so what I do is, I help people who are already embarking on that journey of wondering, “Why do I still feel this way about what happened?” Or, “You know, I can see that this is really impacting my life or the way that I’m parenting and I don’t want to feel like this anymore.” And so birth story medicine is a storytelling process where I hold space for the stories that are coming.

Because there’s no one birth story. There’s the birth story of what happened. But then there’s the stories that get woven into the birth story. So it is really connected to the things that we hold in our body and the stories that we hold about ourselves within ourselves.

Yeah, and it’s very, very powerful work. And there can be stories that we’ve carried all our life that get activated in the birth space because of the intensity of birth. That’s when it will come. That’s when we’ll feel it, when we’re under that that much pressure.

And in terms of the Rite of Passage of birth, it’s the ordeal. It’s the descent into the underworld where we face the thing that we really don’t want to face. And so birth story medicine is the return, is the “I see you coming out of the underworld. I see you. Welcome back. What’s here?”

[00:29:08] Lisa: Yeah. And what I also find, or think, and I think you said that when we talked the other day, that every birth story deserves to be heard and acknowledged. And what happens in this acknowledgement by another, that’s the thing, it can’t just be you.

I know that around internalized shame, we internalize shame when something happens where we think “This is not fair. This is not right.”, but there is nobody else to confirm because either there is nobody present or because they are looking the other way. Which is similar to what we talked about earlier, that they are normalizing it.

And in order for us to heal that, it’s important to have somebody who’s there with,m you who tells you, “No, your perception is completely valid. It’s completely right. It’s OK. Yes, it’s hard. And yes, it is unfair.” And I think that it’s this being witnessed and being validated by the witnessing, by the acknowledgement that there is nothing wrong with us and that we are all basically humans in a human experience, which is in and of itself a hard thing oftentimes. Or a complex thing, let’s say.

[00:30:40] Hayley: Yeah, the power of witnessing, it’s huge. And I think there’s a big misunderstanding, perhaps, around what’s needed for someone when they’re expressing something, or I’m thinking about my daughter and my approach to being with my daughter’s big feelings or that actually the witnessing alone with our bodies and our presence is often enough. You know, sometimes there’s a need for verbal validation, but I increasingly find that more and more what we all need and what I need is someone to be there and be like, “I’m here, I’m listening.”

And the fact that, yeah, that’s a skill that’s hard to find in people nowadays, it’s really sad. I think it’s a really sad place that we’re in that that skill isn’t more present in our lives day to day, and it’s very real.

In the sort of early years, now that I’m sort of engaging in various early years settings, so preschool settings, and a child, between two and three is really where they’re starting to really express their will. And they’re, you know, things, tiny things can become these really big, big responses and the level of distracting and trying to bypass or, you know, “Come and have this, come and do that. Oh, do you need a snack? Do you need a drink? Do you need …?” instead of just actually being like, “Oh, yeah, I see you really wanted that toy.”

And just listening, just listening and allowing them to express what it is they’re expressing. And so from a really young age, you know, in these environments and even in many home environments, we’re shown that it’s not OK. We’re either shown that it is or isn’t OK to express our feelings.

And in our house, we’re very open with all of our feelings and sometimes it’s really intense. It’s really intense, everyone’s having big feelings, but we just hold each other, we hold and we listen. And and it is, I think, yeah, it’s the most radical thing to do. And then, yeah, that’s what I do with my clients as well. I see the power of that.

[00:33:23] Lisa: And I just want to add that there are many reasons why people aren’t present with another. And if you are a parent watching or listening right now and think, “Oh, I need to be more present with my child, I’m doing something wrong.” – that is not what we are saying! Because we both believe that you are doing your very best parenting, because every human does their very best. I firmly believe that.

[00:33:52] Hayley: Oh, yeah. And and it’s a big ask. It is a big ask on top of all the other asks upon parents to do this extra layer of stuff. And there are times when I discern in myself, “Can I listen right now or not?” And that’s the important muscle that I’ve had to develop as a mother, is how resourced am I in this moment and how much can I give? How much can I realistically give to this situation or not? And that it’s OK to not do it as well.

And to develop that awareness of the various sticks, inner sticks, that we might beat ourselves with and guilt trip ourselves with to just lay those sticks down and give that listening and holding to ourselves first. That’s the mother muscle that you need, actually, is the deep self-compassion and the understanding that, you know, we’re doing something on our own that we were never designed to do on our own.

So our bodies, every day, in motherhood, our bodies are up against it already, before we’ve even started the day, you know. There’s no village. There’s no village. So it’s yeah, that deep, deep, deep compassion. You know, within the context of that, all of that understanding is so vital. It’s so vital.

[00:35:34] Lisa: Thank you, Hayley. If someone would like to have a birth story medicine session or just get in touch with you further and speak about this important topic, where can they find you? How do you like to be contacted? Where do you hang out?

[00:35:53] Hayley: So I hang out a lot on Instagram and you’d be able to find me by searching my name, Hayley Anderson.

My website is pellarandpollen.com [Note: It’s now hayleyanderson.co.uk]. Pellar is a word for a healer from this part, this specific part of England. So pellarandpollen.com, and people can email me. It’s the easiest way to go to my website and then email me or send me a message on Instagram.

[00:36:31] Lisa: Yeah, I will make sure to link everything below because this is important work that you do. Thank you for doing it.

Do you have some closing words? Is there anything that you feel might want to be shared right now? What would you like to leave everybody with?

[00:36:54] Hayley: I would like to say something about perfection and motherhood, that’s what’s there. Perfectionism is one of the big patriarchal sticks that mothers may use against themselves. And so if there’s, and this applies to all of us, right? It applies to men, women, everybody, because it’s a patriarchal tool, perfectionism.

So I’m just off the back of us talking about the expectations placed on mothers and just the more we can dismantle the perfectionist tendencies within ourselves, you know, trying to be the perfect mother, the perfect partner, the perfect practitioner, the perfect sister, daughter. I just, yeah, I’m with that as we finish, just want to see that dissolve away. Goodbye perfectionism. That’s what I’d like to say. You’re enough. You’re already enough.

[00:38:12] Lisa: A perfectly imperfect human being, as I like to say.

[00:38:18] Hayley: Yes, yes. And loving our imperfections, not just accepting them, but actually really loving them and celebrating them.

[00:38:28] Lisa: Just having fun with it, with our quirks and everything. [Hayley: Yeah, I love that.] Making fun of ourselves in a nice way.

[00:38:37] Hayley: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of that happens in our house at the moment. Because I’m not very tidy in the kitchen. And I have started to make jokes about it because my partner’s very tidy. So making jokes about something, about that, is such good medicine. Such good medicine.

[00:39:00] Lisa: Yeah, we say, my husband and I, I’m the clumsy one because I sometimes, like the fridge doesn’t close all the way or something. And then it goes, “Beeeeep!” And we’re like, “Oh, the clumsy Lisa is at work.”

[00:39:15] Hayley: I thought you were going to say that you sort of walk into things. I thought, I was imagining you walking into the fridge, but leaving the fridge door open a little bit, that’s okay. We can deal with that.

[00:39:27] Lisa: It’s a lot of electricity that goes out the window in these times.

[00:39:33] Hayley: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, that’s one of the lessons that we’re trying to teach my daughter at the moment. It’s about how to communicate to a two-year-old that we need to turn the lights off and close the fridge and keep the door closed. That’s a whole other thing. We’re talking about polar bears and … yeah …

[00:39:56] Lisa: Wow. Yeah. And that’s a conversation for another time. I think we might want to check back in again and have a future conversation. [Hayley: Yeah, I’d love that.] It was gorgeous to have you here today. Thank you so much, Hayley, for being here.

[00:40:13] Hayley: Thank you for doing these wonderful chats, I really enjoy them. And thank you for giving space to these, yeah, these things that are not so welcome in so many other places. I really see what you’re doing. Thank you for it.

[00:40:29] Lisa: My secret gift is holding space. Okay everyone, have a beautiful day or night or morning, wherever you are, and speak to you soon.

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