As I venture more and more into my life and deeper into my Educaring® journey; increasingly the truth behind the notion that we do not do RIE® but live RIE® becomes more apparent and real. It is easy to walk the everyday walk of life, to just keep going, thinking that we are doing pretty good, practicing what we are preaching; however, it is when something unexpected happens, when stress rises that we commonly revert to our defaults. During these times our true values, ways of being and support systems become evident and are confirmed.
I was in this situation in September 2018 during my pregnancy with my first-born. Following conception my pregnancy progressed without anything to note except a low-lying placenta at 22 weeks. This was not a concern; it is relatively common and often changes as the pregnancy progresses. I had experienced frequent movement, however being a first pregnancy, it was hard to know what to expect, I had no benchmark from a previous experience to draw upon. It was at a routine midwife appointment at 31.5weeks that my world came crashing down. My midwife struggled to find a fetal heartbeat. At this point I headed to the Women’s Assessment Unit (WAU) at Auckland Hospital where my husband met me. It was here that it was confirmed that there was no heartbeat, that our baby had unexpectantly passed away.
Several hours later in this unbelievable course our lives had taken, we received, what I consider our first blessing, I moved into spontaneous labour and gave birth to our first-born son, Manu. Unfortunately, this relatively easy birth was following by theatre for me as I experienced a haemorrhage. A couple of hours later I was reunited with my whānau including our wee Manu to try to comprehend what had just taken place. A day off work with a couple of appointments, including a relaxing massage and the excitement of the final build up to the inaugural NZITC Unfolding conference had suddenly been extremely upended!
It was like living a dream, it all felt surreal and I had to keep reminding myself that this was real time, that this had just happened and that the numbness would eventually pass. My only thoughts at this time was that this was not the entry into motherhood I had envisioned; I knew it was going to be different and challenging but this was hard, the why questions started. The question of how we would bounce back from this and the knowledge that my life would never be the same again kept being at the forefront. Now 11 months on, as we approach another milestone from this first year, I look back on the months that followed Manu’s birth and I can see how Educaring® and Magda’s ideas had permeated my personal life from my professional life. I can see how these have become part of who I am, they have become some of my defaults.
One of the biggest choices I was able to make was to Slow Down. Slowing down is something that educators often struggle to do as we meet the needs of others and get all the tasks done, yet it is an imperative foundation to Magda’s ideas. Magda said, “Do less, observe more, enjoy most.” For me following Manu’s birth I had an option. I could keep extremely busy, return to work following brief bereavement leave and pretend that life was as it was before his passing or stop, do less, and allow my life to crumble. I chose to do the latter, I chose to take maternity leave, do less, observe what was happening for me, my husband and close family and somehow find little moments to enjoy. Moments as simple as sitting on the deck, listening to the chicken’s cluck with no southerly wind blowing in off the harbour, or savouring the scent of an essential oil a friend gave me.
In the initial months every waking moment I was affronted by the fact that I had not planned to be in this place. While slowing down seemed a little crazy, it allowed me time. Time to grieve, time to cry, time to smile, time to laugh occasionally, time to reflect, time to just BE. It gave me space to allow emotions to flow and be expressed. It gave space for me to accept that anger, grief and sadness were acceptable to express anytime, anywhere. I didn’t feel the need to suppress these emotions or expect others around me to suppress their emotions, especially if they were different to mine. I was able to accept and acknowledge these emotions. “Remember, crying is a baby’s language – it is a way to express pain, anger, and sadness. Acknowledge the emotions your baby is expressing. Let him know he has communicated.” – Magda Gerber. Crying became my language and release. Emotional literacy, allowing children to learn about and express their emotions, rather than suppressing or ignoring them is important in our work with children, yet, we often don’t allow this of ourselves, and other adults. This leads me to authenticity and respect.
Giving myself and my husband permission to be authentic was a colossal aspect of my healing. To do what I needed to do or often just do nothing, to feel what I was feeling or feel numbness, to be indecisive, to sleep, to workout, to read, to question, to just be and allow others to do what they needed. Not having expectations allowed this authenticity to emanate. For me, allowing authenticity spoke respect.
Respect is the underlying principle of the Educaring® Approach. And this respect starts with self-respect. How can we sincerely respect others around us and the children in our care if we cannot respect our self? RIE® advocates meeting the child where they are, accepting what they can do today and enjoying this rather than wanting them to be on the next level. As a RIE® influenced practitioner I strive to do this, to accept where children are at right now and allow them to be in that place for as long as they need to be. Following Manu’s passing I had to do this for myself. I couldn’t physically or emotionally be anywhere else, I also had to do this for others on this journey, I had to allow them to be where they were, to do things differently to me. I found myself giving this respect to myself and to others.
While I earlier mentioned not having expectations, I did still have boundaries. I had to have physical boundaries, as I would burnout if I did too much, and I had to have social boundaries too. One of them was that it was ok to not go to events and be around others. Consistency and predictability within my days kept me going and eventuality got me back to a place of ‘normality’ if such a place exists.
The final aspect that I recognise as being evident in my life during this past year of grief and healing was having a secure base. This we should all know is imperative to our work with children as primary or main caregivers. We act as a secure base for them especially during times of change. I was lucky to have two secure bases during this time. One was my husband, as I knew he totally got what I was experiencing from his previous experience and the other was my God, who sure wasn’t going anywhere.
As Manu’s anniversary approaches and I have been reflecting on the past year, it has been interesting to examine how that during this time the people who got what I was dealing with, who were able to allow me time to heal and continue to allow me to be where I am on this journey to this day, many of them are familiar to the Educaring approach themselves. It is also thought provoking to see how the boundaries between professional life and personal life are blurred in relation to living the philosophy. I could not separate the two ways of being, they are entwined every day of my life. Don’t do RIE®, live RIE®, it’s so much more fulfilling and authentic.
Malenka is an NZITC Board member. She completed RIE® Foundations with Polly Elam in 2011 and completed her RIE® Practicum with Sharon Smith in 2019.