Dreams and reality

Yesterday, a friend of mine gave birth for the first time, to a little daughter.

The date also coincided with five years on from the date that I was expecting to become a mother.

Obviously, I know due dates are far from an exact science. Not many babies are born on the due date that’s written in their hospital notes. I know that.

But my first baby – she was born a whole 6 weeks 2 days before her ‘due date’.

A preterm baby. A 33-weeker. A preemie.

I had never, ever anticipated that.1-IMG_3233

The shock was intense. My baby was so perfect, so miniature, so beautiful… and so fragile. I was scared to pick her up. I was scared about the future. I was lost in the intensity of the hospital baby unit, which operated in a language I didn’t speak, even though it was English, and which muddled my emotions and thoughts and made me so, so anxious.

Later on, I had another baby. And he was born even earlier, at 30 weeks. He needed far more medical intervention than his older sister had. Incubators, antibiotics, feeding tubes, phototherapy, continuous positive airway pressure, long lines… these became part of our daily life, for a time. We were more prepared the second time, and even though we knew bereavement was a possibility, by God’s grace we held it together.


Both our babies survived. Both are healthy, inquisitive, unique, and beautiful children. Beautiful. We have so, so much to be thankful for.

Yet it seems to me that motherhood hasn’t ever been what I wanted or expected. From the moment I became a mother, it was not at all what I’d ordered. Not what I’d planned. Not what I’d dreamed of.

From the moment I gave birth to my daughter, in a highly-medicalised setting which the antenatal classes had taught me to studiously avoid, everything went against the plan. I held her – then she was taken away. She went to the baby unit – but I went home. I wanted to feed her myself – but she could only be fed through a tube. (We did eventually have a wonderful and long-lasting nursing relationship, but I had to fight for it.) I thought I would breeze through the early days with panache and grace – then I encountered postnatal depression.

Is motherhood ever what we dream it will be?

My friend who gave birth yesterday, had a caesarean section due to her baby being breech. She didn’t ask for that. She also had a twin miscarriage eighteen months ago. She didn’t ask for that.

I am thankful for what I have and for what I’ve learned from my experiences of having two premature babies. But I would never have asked for that.

For all the dreaming we do, we can’t ever make the reality perfect like the images we see in adverts. The beautiful images we see and dream up are just… images. They’re one-sided. They’re a pale reflection of the glorious, messy reality that we live daily. For it is a glorious, messy reality. It is what we live. It is full of all kinds of stuff that we didn’t anticipate, didn’t want, didn’t mean to do – and it is full of new chances, full of forgiveness, full of grace.

We don’t get to choose everything that happens in our lives. Birth and motherhood are stark examples of that. From the moment of conception, there’s a whole vast array of possibilities and we don’t get to be in charge of them.

Yet we can know that every day, every moment, every thing is a gift. Even the things we didn’t ask for.

This article on the blog of This Mum Runs, the running community which I’m part of here in Bristol, also candidly and poignantly describes one woman’s experience of motherhood and baby loss. A good read.


What I want them to learn


At the weekend, I went to a reunion dinner at New College, Oxford, where I studied music around about a decade ago. (A decade? Really? Wow.)

Now, Oxford is a pretty special place to my husband and me. We both studied there, as undergraduates and postgraduates, and we lived there a long time after graduating. Our children were both born there. But it’s also special because it’s just special.

In Oxford, you actually feel like you are surrounded by learning. And that learning is wonderful. And that learning for its own sake is good. It is a city full of libraries, colleges, museums, lecture halls, where learning is valued and pursued and praised. It’s a pretty amazing place.

Taking the train home, I started thinking… As we embark on homeschooling, whether it ends up being for a term, a year, a few years, or their entire school years, what are my hopes for their learning?

I’m not talking about getting them to learn addition, or Shakespeare, or algebra, or photosynthesis, or Beethoven. I’m talking about the relationship I’d like them to have with learning.

What do I want them to learn?

To read for pleasure and profit.

To read to understand, to read thoroughly, and slowly, and carefully.

To mine the internet for all it’s worth, to know how to use the internet to access human knowledge.

To write creatively, persuasively, eloquently.

That learning is lifelong. That learning is good.

That listening to and learning from an expert is an amazing way to expand your knowledge and gain new perspectives.

That there are often many ways of looking at and tackling a single problem.

That they will be loved and accepted whatever their idiosyncrasies, and whatever they excel at.

To understand that learning is also a discipline.

That a life of learning is a rich life.

That a life surrounded by books is a rich life.

To use museums, galleries, artefacts to enhance their learning.

That it’s OK to be wrong.

That it’s good to ask questions.

That there are opportunities to expand our minds every day.


Resources for those considering home education

In my previous post, I wrote about our journey to deciding to home educate, for now, our two children (the older of whom has just reached statutory school age).

Now, I am no expert on education. I don’t have a teaching degree or anything like that. And our family has been officially homeschooling for less than a month, so we are novices. But since I began to investigate home education I have read and watched a ton of books, articles, and videos about education. And before that, since becoming parents we have been continually thinking about how to parent, the values we would like our children to learn, and the environment we would like them to grow up in.

There are so many interesting resources about home education out there, and I have barely scratched the surface. I am constantly learning more about how children learn, both through observing my own children and through my own reading and research.

For anyone who is considering home education, or wants to know more about it, or wants to understand a little more deeply some of the reasons that people choose to home education: here is a list of some of the most helpful and interesting resources I’ve found so far.Read More »