I’d always been a productive sort of person, measuring my success by the amount of things I marked off my check-list.
If I hadn’t managed to finish as many tasks as I’d have liked, I’d feel like I’d failed, or I’d been lazy with my time.
And when I had my first baby, as a busy first-time mum trying to balance work and family life, every moment became even more precious.
The transition from pre-baby life – where we receive validation for productivity, to days that pass without five minutes rest, yet nothing is done – is hard. But still, I managed to ‘do it all’, emailing one-handed as I breastfed.
But when I had my second baby in January 2021, during lockdown, things weren’t that easy. We struggled to breastfeed. I found myself pumping endlessly, hardly producing any milk and my little one ended up in and out of hospital. It couldn’t have been more different from my first experience and I found it difficult to accept.
Five months in, with breastfeeding established, our days had become a military operation: 8:10 leave the house to take my eldest to school, 8:50 home and breastfeed, squeeze in a nap, head out again to a baby group. You get the picture.
So, between my various plans for the day, every time I breastfed my baby, I found myself clock-watching, wondering how much longer each feed could last, mentally calculating if I’d have enough time to make dinner before picking up my eldest child from school.
I wasn’t present. Instead, it felt like I was standing in line in a checkout, tapping my foot impatiently while the person in front counted out their pennies.
I tried emailing again, ‘making the best use of my time’. However, as my baby got older and became more curious, the breastfeeding gymnastics began. I found my son had eyes in the back of his head and there was no way I could go through my inbox without my nipple getting whiplash.
It seemed I had two choices. I could either spend our time together, getting frustrated, impatiently wishing my baby would hurry up, or I could accept that our time to feed needed to be distraction free.
I reminded myself that my body was the sole supply of my baby’s food and how important it was to drop everything to respond to hunger cues. I’d take to the sofa and breastfeed for as long as it took. I’d do nothing other than feed my baby at this time.
It didn’t come easy. I had to fight down my initial resistance to not putting away laundry first, or wishing I could’ve finished peeling veg. But soon, I grew accustomed to my ‘tiny alarm’ that told me to stop and sit down.
My mindset soon shifted to being at peace with a checklist-less life, a day where I savoured the minutes instead of counting them.
I started to take time to daydream, write poetry in my head or mentally plan. I never could completely clear my mind to meditate. I was still making use of time, just in a different way.
Soon, this slower way of living started to spill into other areas of my life. I used to make sure I had notes to type during train rides or listened to podcasts while driving. Now, if there is no impending deadline, I permit myself to do nothing.
In order to embrace these slow moments and not criticise myself for not being ‘productive’ in the way that I’d traditionally thought of it, I had to reduce the number of tasks to the essentials.
As long as everyone was fed and watered, I decided, the other things could wait. I streamlined other areas of my life – changing the weekly shop to fortnightly, getting my kids involved with the cooking, or throwing some fish fingers and chips into the oven, if we had somewhere to be.
As a family, slow living, I found, came to mean less structure, more hanging out. It means connection. I think it’s important for more people to embrace this and feel less pressure to rush.
Unintentionally, I had started practising slow living. It’s a way of life that redefines ‘productivity’ and reconsiders what a day well spent should look like. It is being grateful for what you have. It means meaningful work, deep relationships and joyful leisure.
We live in a world where we’re never not doing ‘something’. We’re working, commuting, chatting, scrolling, watching. We don’t sit and ‘be’.
Allowing ourselves this freedom is difficult – particularly when you’ve had a baby and feel the pressure of measuring up. Despite how hard you plan and try to organise, a baby won’t adhere to your schedule. The laundry will pile up, phone calls will be missed and there’s only so much you can catch up with while the baby sleeps.
Yet, try to remember that your day won’t be ruined if the beds aren’t made. Once the essentials have been tended to, start the day by giving yourself a set amount of uninterrupted time for a coffee in peace, a bath, or even a swim if you have time.
Breastfeeding added balance to my life, helped me to be more mindful and improved my wellbeing. It taught me to carve out time for leisure and be intentional with activities, completing tasks as well as possible, rather than as fast as possible.
And surely that is an equally productive way of being?
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