At bebo mia inc. we believe that our success is inextricably linked to the success of our students and community; when someone in our community succeeds, we all succeed. That’s why we want to put the spotlight on our alumni as often as we can. We like to think of our “spotlight” as synonymous with storytelling. For us, it’s one of the most magical and powerful ways of sharing wisdom and knowledge. Our wonderful friend, Laura Gillian, began sharing her story last November in a Blog titled “Stories, Journeys, Twists, and Turns with Laura Gillian”. We’re thrilled to be sharing Part 2 with you now, too!
Hi! And welcome back!
My first blog post tells of the outer and more visible journey of my life; this writing tells of the hidden, inner story.
We’re moving from the Stories, Journeys, Twists, and Turns and into How Strength Can Emerge from Weakness; this is how my personal journey turns into an exciting focus and direction!
In the first blog post of this 3 part series, I alluded to a difficult childhood and indeed, my life did not have an ideal start.
There were severe psychological and emotional supports that were just simply not present, and the lack of these things have powerfully impacted the very core of who I am, not just when I was small, but right through to adulthood.
Throughout my life so far, I have felt as though there was a black box in the centre of me – a box that held unhappy things, that informed how I felt; it was a dark place that I could never have access to, never be able to open, understand, and make choices to change.
I want to tell this story because it might make someone else, someone who has a similar journey of invisible wounds, feel less alone. I wish I could have known what I know now, when I was a young woman stepping into parenthood.
My story is also about another person, my mother – whom I love, so I want to tell it minimally, carefully, and with much respect – as if she, in her best self, were present to read this.
My mother suffered from a life of severe depression, and although my dad experienced her as a very happy and fun young woman, he said that as soon as she became pregnant (with me – I am her only child), it was as if a switch flipped. In hindsight, and with knowledge gained through involvement with pre- and postnatal women, I’m now guessing that she experienced prenatal depression which also brought into play her previous causes of depression. However, a really big factor was not wanting to be a mom.
As an older adult, I can feel a tremendous amount of compassion for my mom as a young woman who was trapped into something that she knew she couldn’t cope with. With that, and with what I imagine to be: no real prenatal support to normalize her fears and anxieties; a lonely and frightening labour and birth; and all ending with a real baby – which can be hard even for those who want to have a baby, I think it is fair to guess that postnatal depression followed with a vengeance.
I believe that she tried, but as her child, I often felt that she didn’t – although I know in hindsight that she loved me. From my perspective, she never recovered from her depression and our relationship struggled desperately right up until she died, unexpectedly, not that long ago.
The life that I experienced as a child led to a declaration, at the age of six, that I would never have any children. My small person’s observation was that children were highly problematic and most undesirable, even though I knew, with a certainty, that my Dad and his parents loved me in ways that I could understand and feel safe with.
I grew up and got married – all normal and expected things, and then a very significant twist in my journey took place one year into my marriage: I had an inner shift with a beautiful, joyful, new and growing sense of spirituality that completely altered my thinking. “Maybe it would be ok to have a baby. One baby.”
In thinking about this one baby and what kind of parent I would like to be, I realized that my past brought challenges to the parenting table. It was another two and a half decades before I was able to clearly identify and name those challenges, but what I did know is that I really wanted to give my child the best that I could.
So, I thought, and I planned, and I prayed, and two and half years later, the parenting journey began with the arrival of a beautiful, tiny, little person. In less than five years, three more beautiful, tiny, little people joined our family. It turned out that I really liked these beautiful, tiny, little people that became part of my life and that I genuinely enjoyed being their mom.
Looking back, I can say that sometimes I was a good mom, and sometimes I wasn’t.
I consider myself highly analytical which meant that I processed intensely and tried to understand what worked, what didn’t, and why.
I came up with a formula that I thought would be super helpful to parents and even tried to develop it into speaking, but I always fell flat on my face. There were always strong feelings from that little black box that said, “You can’t do this. Who do you think you are? Good things are for others, not for you. Success is not ever for you.”
Also, financial restrictions were a bigger deal than some might think, much bigger than those who don’t have financial barriers even realize.
“Just do ABC…” kind and supportive people said, “…be confident!” It’s not so easy when you are on your own. “Just being a mom” (until everyone grew up), paying the bills, and trying to quietly deal with my past took all of my energy.
That last part I just mentioned – trying to deal with my past – was the biggest roadblock. I had so little confidence and capacity to consistently believe that I had something of value to offer, even sometimes doubting that I had any value.
Those confidences were for other people. The idea that good things are for others was a deep and jagged vein that ran through every fibre of my inner being. The funny part was, when people met me, they assumed that I was confident. One person even went as far as to say, “I imagine you having had the most beautiful childhood!” Inside and outside can be very different!
Years passed, and I worked hard to understand, to grow, to be strong, to have confidence. It was really hard work and with it came some gains, but it was an ongoing struggle.
One day, out of the blue, I received a phone call with the news that my mom died.
In that moment, I felt like all the air was vacuumed out of my universe. I wasn’t expecting her to be gone. No one was. But something incredible and beautiful happened in the days that followed.
It’s a long story, but the core of it is this: there was a quiet, inside-out, not driven by me, growing sense of forgiveness, healing, peace, and genuine love. It is truly the most spiritual experience of my life. For the first time, I could thank God for my mother, for who she was, that I look like her, and that I have many of her ways and her mannerisms. It has been 20 months since this experience and it is still as fresh today as it was then. I am so thankful.
Five months later there was a very small turn in the road that came in the form of an email from the MSP instructors. They were asking the students to identify their personal gift or strength and send them a note. Big life-altering events, and small turns – they all contribute to the whole. I took a deep breath, wrote an email, and sent it to Alana at bebo mia.
My first thought was that maybe she didn’t like it, or thought it wasn’t worth much. Shadows of the past. The black box was dealt with and gone, but the well-formed paths of emotional response still pop up sometimes. I’m just much better at dealing with them.
The reality was, Alana was on holiday and my email got lost in everything that piled up while she was away. I took another deep breath and pressed send again, just to see what happened.
Lol! And Happy-Out-Loud! She responded, and her response lifted my worries of rejection! She was truly encouraging and wonderful, and really liked what I wrote!
We arranged for a phone call to talk about how to go about sharing my parenting information and she asked, “Are you ready to go? Is the material all ready?”
“Yes! It’s all in my head,” I thought, “how hard can it be to put it down on paper?” Silly me! It turns out that it was extremely difficult.
I worked four days a week in an office and I co-owned (with an adult child and her husband) a bed and breakfast. My part was site manager – which means I also lived at work, and work lived with me.
So, there I was, trying to figure out the focus and format to write a course as well as get doula work, working at a day job, and running a B&B when I got home. It became fair to say that I had three jobs. It was all very exhausting, but it was still hard not to take on new things.
What is wrong with me?? I think it is fair to say that I was still searching, even while I hoped I had found my path and settled. I thought that I would be a birth and postpartum doula and offer parenting help. But it still didn’t seem to be enough.
Sigh. More work. And yet, somehow, I felt like I was still searching. There was still a missing piece.
And then, the biggest game-changer for me came a few days later: I came across and signed up for a lecture series put out by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children on Infant Mental Health (IMH).
Oh, my goodness! What an eye-opener that was!
It provided me with so much insight and understanding, and not just for me as a child who has spent a life in recovery, but in understanding my mom even more! Out of the 15 lectures, there was only one that shut me down inside. I had to stop for listening for a while, and the world felt very bleak. Of course, it was the one titled: Parental Depression. Most of the others, I listened with loud inside affirmations: “Yeah! That’s me!”, “Yeah! That is exactly how I feel!” “Oh-my-goodness! That describes me as a child and as an adult!”
But the amazing thing is this: with the healing, forgiveness, and love for my mom, I could completely step into a non-judgemental position. This lecture series takes the approach that parents can only give what they have to give. To help the child, we need to help the parent, and in supporting the parent in ways that are meaningful to them (super-important focus!), we can help them find their way to have better and more things to give to their child. It’s a process and a journey.
The best part was the realization that not only did I want to help parents who are having normal everyday parenting struggles but also, parents who, like me, have varying measures of childhood trauma that impact how they relate with and to their own children.
Even though I always knew that I wanted to talk about parenting, it was through these Infant Mental Health lectures that a general direction became focused and strong.
Now, I could write the course. Now I knew who I was writing to.
We all need help, but layered underneath that help, I have been able to write an understated means for a bewildered parent, to chart a fresh path for the next generation. I want parents to know, with a certainty, that their unhappy experiences are not “just the way things are”. They can have the pleasure, and the relief, of making a change and setting new patterns. It’s challenging, and some days feels impossible, but it can be done…bit-by-bit, one step at a time. And every step counts.
By having my own story, which will always be better or worse than someone else’s story, this is not purely an academic sharing, but from a lived experience of struggles with successes and failures.
The best success of my story – in my opinion! – is that my four adult children are living well with relational health, with lives that they enjoy, and the best, best part is that there is a new generation with each child genuinely welcomed and loved.
And THAT is what I love most of all!
Back to my journey in this current day: I have three jobs, I’m exhausted and too tired to develop the business of sharing great things with parents. I need to make big changes.
And yet I am so weary of change and the energy that it takes. My current home is my 35th! It’s staggering to me that people have the peace and stability of living in one home for decades! Maybe they think it’s boring – I guess that’s all about perspective! It sounds pretty AMAZING to me!
I have now shared the external and inner workings of my journey. Next, in the 3rd and final post, I will share the current process of change and how that is playing out to date.
Sometimes, the next step is a big leap, and it can feel very frightening!
Laura Gillian is passionate about all things related to parenting as well as infant (and parental!) mental health. Recognizing that raising children can bring anywhere from moderate to severe challenges, including sometimes the re-surfacing of a difficult history for the parent, Laura is highly motivated to help parents find their own unique path to both parenting and enjoying the journey. She loves to see kiddos and their grown-ups happy, healthy, and whole and living well together.
Laura lives in Kingston Ontario, and enjoys spending time with her four kids, four kids-in-law, eight grandkids, and her parents whenever she can. She loves to knit, grow food, cook, eat and read.
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