Heidi - Mother / Whaea

Trigger warning: This story deals with the sensitive topic of miscarriage. If you have been affected, please see the links to support services and information below.

As a young teen, I had really low self esteem. I was desperate for friends and ended up hanging out with the wrong kids. One day we got caught bunking class and shop lifting. Mum wasn’t pleased, so she pulled me out of school for good. I was 14 at the time. After that, I did what life threw at me and I never strived to be anything in particular. I found a job at a supermarket in the produce department. If I wasn’t at work, I would be home looking after my younger sister who had cerebral palsy. My relationship with mum was tough. To put it simply, things at home were really hard.

After many years of going from place to place, job to job, I wound up back in Christchurch. I found myself working at a supermarket again, but this time I was in the butchery department. My boss, Bess was very strict. Occasionally she’d let a compliment slip if you did a really good job. She taught me a lot. She showed me that you had to be tough to be a butcher; to give as good as you got. It wasn’t easy work, but it taught me how to be strong both mentally and physically.

I was known for being an excellent wrapper. Back then, everything was wrapped by hand. Bess and I used to have competitions to see who could wrap the fastest. The plastic couldn’t just be flung over the meat, we had to be careful to make sure everything was properly covered. Most importantly, it had to look nice. Bess wouldn’t slow down for me, even if I was still learning. I remember the day I managed to keep up with her. She turned around to look at me, “Good work, Heidi.”

I worked at a few different places. It wasn’t because I was uncommitted, I just wanted to have new experiences and learn as much as I could. At one supermarket I had a boss who was particularly hard to deal with. He talked to the other butchers normally, but I was talked ‘at’. It was always, “Do this Heidi, Do that Heidi.” He treated me like I didn’t know how to do my job. I had all respect for him, but he wasn’t giving me the time of day. Anyway, one afternoon I wrote down how I felt. I gave the letter  to our head manager. I said, “Look, this is the problem I’m having with my boss. I cannot work with him if he treats me in this way, but I don't want to leave my job. I really like it here.” The manager pulled us both into the office.

I sat down, my hands and voice shaking, and read off the piece of paper. I only said what I had to say and I made sure it wasn’t in an accusing manner. I did it in a way where I complimented him, but also pointed out what I thought he was doing wrong. After I read it out, I had tears in my eyes. He looked at me and spoke softly, “I’ve never said this to anyone, but I feel humbled. I didn’t realise that’s the way you felt, and I had no idea that’s how I was treating you. I see it now.” It was a strange feeling, knowing how powerful my words had been. I stood up for myself. It was one of my proudest moments.

Looking back, I think I would’ve loved to be a chef. Yeah, that would be my dream job. I never thought I had the memory for all those recipes or the focus to get everything perfect. After having kids, I’m starting to think about what I’ll do when they’re both in kindergarten or school. I’ve been thinking that I would like to be a cook at an old person’s home. There wouldn’t be as much pressure as being a chef, but I’d still be doing what I loved; cooking. I’ve done some research and there are some homes that take you without experience, but not many. Even if I need to work at Subway first, I’ll do it. At least then, I’ll have ‘official’ work experience on paper. I’ll be one step closer.

They say being a mother is one of the hardest jobs in the world, up there with air traffic controllers. Yet employers don’t accept it as work experience. When you’re looking at applying for jobs, it’s not good for your self confidence to know that. People don’t take you seriously. They think you’re out of practise or out of touch.

I’m scared that’s what my kids will think of me, too. ‘Just a stay at home mum’. The thought makes me constantly second guessing myself, you know? Every time my kids cry, I think I’m the world’s worst parent. My goal is to think better of myself and to know I’m doing as well as I can. There’s a tendency to compare your kids, to see if what they’re doing is normal or not. I like talking to other parents and hearing what they’ve been through, as it helps me realise I’m not alone. I’m not the only one feeling this way.

Before I had Devon and Lilly, Nick and I went through a devastating miscarriage. I was twelve weeks pregnant when I woke up one night with cramps. Initially, I thought it was from the dinner we’d eaten the night before, but I soon realised something wasn’t right. I woke Nick up and he took me to the emergency department. I remember saying to the nurses, “I think I’m having a miscarriage,” I had no idea what that meant, let alone what was about to happen.

They took me upstairs and sat me down in a waiting room. Not long after, the pain stopped so I started reading a magazine. I was thinking everything’s sweet, time to go home. That’s when they came back to take me to the scanning room. I went with them reluctantly. We were halfway down the hallway when blood came out. I turned white and started crying. They took me to the table - they called it a bed, I called it a table - and told me to lie down. The baby had no heart beat. Nothing. All of a sudden, the contractions started. I begged for them to give me some pain relief. After taking some gas, dad turned up. “It hurts, dad. It hurts.” He said, “It’s ok honey, just relax.” I could see in his eyes that he was feeling for me, but he knew he couldn’t do anything to help. You don’t want to know what happened next, you’d need a strong stomach.

Two days later, I got sent home. No pamphlets, no support. Nothing. The next morning I felt the insides of my body move again. It hadn’t finished. My immediate reaction was to flush the toilet, and realising what I’d just thrown away, I broke down in tears. To top it all off, my friend had a miscarriage not long after me. She sat me down, held my hand and looked at me.

“Heidi, I’m so sorry.”

“What do you mean? You’ve just had a miscarriage, why are you apologising to me?”

“I’m sorry,” she said “I wasn’t there for you when you needed me most. I never realised what you went through and what you had to deal with. This whole time I’ve had your support and your everything.”

I told her, “It’s not your fault, you weren’t to know.” It made me blubber. She went home with pamphlets, support groups, and I had to ask her, “Did we go to the same hospital?”. Turns out we did.

A few years later we planned to have another baby. I’m so thankful we’ve been able to have two healthy babies since the miscarriage, I don’t think we could’ve gone through that twice. Being a parent is a 24/7 job, I tell ya. What they say is true, kids don’t come with a manual. You’re constantly thinking about what needs to be done next. What bills you’ve got to pay, what meals they’re going to eat, what clothes they need to wear. That’s just the beginning. More than anything, if it’s not physically draining, it’s mentally draining. Kids are forever asking you questions and you have to know the answers. They’re never happy with “I don’t know”. My partner, Nick always says, “Google it!”, but you can’t say that to a kid. It never ends. If I could turn my brain off for just five minutes, I would.

Every day is different. Nick gets up early to go to work, he builds computers for a living. My day usually starts like this; get up then get them up. Make them breakfast, help them to eat breakfast, then make Devon’s lunch and get him to kindergarten. After that, Lilly and I come back home and I eat my breakfast. Lilly always helps herself to a little bit. She plays with her toys and while watching her, I get half an hour to do something for myself. I usually sit and knit. I’ve knitted socks, jerseys and shawls. I love to knit baby shawls. My gran, who was very dear to me, knitted this particular baby shawl. She knew the pattern off by heart. The first few times I tried to knit it, I made a lot of mistakes. She’d always offer to help me fix it, but I had to prove to myself I could do it. She never found the time to write the pattern down for me before she passed. The one she had was so worn that it had holes in it and was unreadable. One day I managed to find the same pattern in a craft store. I’m determined to carry on the tradition. Someone once paid me to make a shawl as a present. It took me three or four months of knitting. They paid me $350 for it. It seems like a lot of money but it only worked out at about $2 an hour. If I charged minimum wage, it would end up costing a fortune!

Lilly turns three in February and Devon turns five next month, so he’ll be off to school. We’ve already spent hundreds on getting him ready. $120 for the books, stationary and backpack. Another $300 for the uniform. I’ve got a friend, she’s a single mum and I don’t know how she’s going to afford it. She said she’ll start saving up. She gets a bit of help from the father and work and income, but it’s not enough. When I was a kid, I don’t know how my parents afforded it. I went to a private catholic school! Even though Nick works full time, we still couldn’t do it on our own. We had to ask for Devon’s nana to help pay for it all. If you don’t have that family support, what are you supposed to do?

It’s hard sometimes, but I have a family, you know? It’s my family. When I go to bed at the end of a long day and think, far out, I’m so tired, I have to remind myself. I’ve got two happy, beautiful kids and I’ve got Nick whose a really supportive partner. I’m very, very lucky.

I’m looking forward to seeing our kids grow up, but I think we put too much pressure on kids with regards to education. “You must do this, you must do that”, instead of letting them have the freedom to do what they want. Yes, I want them to have a good education. I’d like to see them make it to the end of high school, because I never did. I also want them to be able to make their own choices and do what they’re really interested in. They don’t have to be a psychologist or a doctor, or anything like that. Just something that makes them happy. I don’t care if Lilly never gets married or has children. Grandchildren would be great, sure, but it’s her life. I want her and Devon to strive on their own terms, to do what makes them tick.


Resources

Parents don't earn a salary, but being a mother is much more than a full time job:

- If you are interested in working with children but aren't ready to have your own, you might like to think about getting into early child teaching or  primary school teaching. You might like to follow up by emailing or visiting tertiary providers and asking them more about their courses in teaching.

- Whanau Ora provide a Tamariki Ora service, as well as Plunket. Both services are highly recommended for the support you need for your under five year olds.

- "Sands New Zealand is a network of parent-run, non-profit groups supporting families who have experienced the death of a baby." Their website has an extensive list of support services for women who have had a miscarriage.