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Early days – with Isabel Boltenstern

As an ex-exhaustee, she knew that life with children could be challenging. But through challenges, Isabel has focused on finding solutions, and shares them in an inspiring, liberating way!

A few months ago, Isabel moved from Stockholm to Helsingborg and is now living in a house, closer to her parents. She seems to genuinely enjoy her life and shares it on her Instagram @boltenstern. She and her boyfriend Alexander have two children together: Ilse who is two years old and Otto who is just over four months old. When she is not on parental leave, she works as a sports reporter and runs the Mommy Training app in parallel. She has previously written a hugely popular book, ‘Good luck with the rest of your life’, about her exhaustion and her journey out of it.

Isabel has always shared her life openly and cordially, as well as her parenting. She is straightforward, bright and funny! She likes to question old truths and stands up for free choice – simply a breath of fresh air that we at Unna believe is useful for many to take part in.

First (initial) time

We turn the tape back a bit to talk about the first time with the first child, and later on we will talk about how that experience laid the foundation for the experience now with the second child.

Can you tell us a bit about the first time, with the first child?

-“I remember that from the start there was a lot of focus on incentives to get milk production going. So, there was a lot of focus on that! And it was fine, I had intended to breastfeed even though I had heard about and thought it seemed practical to share breastfeeding so that you can get better relief. Anyway, I breastfed as instructed, and got a bit of a shock at how much sucking it involved. And how much it could hurt. My nipples got all sore and I remember in the evenings sitting and crying while Alex pressed my feet to try and divert the pain from her breasts as she nursed.

Did you reach a turning point?
-Yes, we had home visits from the BVC and I got fantastic support from my nurse. She really saw me, and that I wasn’t doing well, and told me about breastfeeding that “maybe you shouldn’t be so stubborn”. There are other ways that might have worked better for us.

What was it like to hear that?
-An incredible relief! Previous health care contacts had all been very clear about the benefits of breastfeeding and wanted to get it started at all costs, so it was an eye-opener when my nurse explained that my well-being was the priority rather than breastfeeding at all costs. Her modern way of looking at it did me a lot of good.

Would you say this was your biggest challenge as a new mother?
-At least that was the first challenge. I only really felt for a short time that I had failed at something, like the first bottle, but then after a few more nights of coherent sleep I saw the bigger picture and could feel grateful and satisfied that we had solved the problem.

-But I think my biggest challenge was actually the loneliness I had to deal with. I didn’t really have any maternal self-confidence and became cautious and hesitant about doing things and meeting people. It seemed safest to just stay at home, but then I was alone, which was not good for me.

Could you get out of it later?
-Yes, or a saving grace for me was that I wrote openly about what I was experiencing on Instagram. I was met with a lot of recognition and a sense of belonging with lots of other mothers who may have experienced or had experienced the same thing.

About expectations

We talk a lot about how expectations can control how you experience things. Both one’s own expectations and those of others, and how this is really evident in the case of a new mother. If you live up to expectations, it may be easier to feel good, and vice versa if you don’t. Isabel is so clearly a person who wants to decide for herself, and not just buy into what someone else has predetermined. She tells us:

“I wanted to give birth by caesarean section and already there I was “wrong”, so to speak. Then, as soon as the baby was out, it was clear that I was expected to breastfeed, so even though I didn’t have a strong opinion that I should breastfeed at all costs, it was kind of loaded. It was so clear that it was expected.”

Do you remember what your expectations were before having a baby for the first time?
-During my first pregnancy, I was so incredibly focused on the birth that I barely gave a thought to what it would be like after the baby arrived. I really wanted a C-section and had to fight for it throughout the pregnancy. Four days before my due date, the incision was approved and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

What was it like to deal with the uncertainty of childbirth?
-“Even though I had a good pregnancy, there was still a constant worry that was simmering, and it felt both humiliating and frustrating not to be heard. It took away some of the joy of being pregnant actually.

Did anything during the baby period go easier than you expected?
-Yes, it was easier than I thought to keep my baby happy. We didn’t come up with a lot of baby-friendly stuff, but noticed that she was happy just being where we were. And that she could be happy even in the arms of others.

What advice would you give yourself as a new mother?

-It would be that you should remember to communicate your needs to those around you. Because otherwise no one knows what you need, and it will be difficult for anyone to help or relieve you. It is also important to communicate even if you don’t know exactly what you want, so that together you can find new ways of doing or solving things so that you can have the best possible experience.

Apart from that advice, what do you think you would have needed during the first period to make that period better?
-I needed to see more possibilities, more options in how to take care of children. It is so easy for new parents to think that there is only one right way, but that is not the case. There are many ways that are right!

Is there anything you would not have needed?
-“I thought I was pretty well off the hook, but I certainly didn’t need any pressure or direction. I need problem solving!

Was there anything you decided to do differently, or try to have a different approach to, this second time around?
-“Well, the plan this time was to combine breastfeeding and bottle feeding from the start – entirely because it was such a good solution for us with our first child. Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to do this because he still refuses to take the bottle.

Sharing responsibility from the start

Isabel and her partner Alexander have shared parental leave in a way you rarely (never?) hear anyone else do. They have also talked openly about their clear division, and indeed highly recommended other parents to explore their options to do the same.

Tell us about the choices you and your family have made about maternity and parental leave!
We are both self-employed and have not wanted or been able to take a break from our jobs, so we have shared the parental leave every day and both continued to work 75%. After the first month, which I needed to heal from my incisions, we have made it so that one of us works until lunch while the other takes care of the baby and then we switch at lunch. The next day we do the opposite, so the person who worked in the afternoon the day before now works in the morning. So we have shared every day straight away.

Tell us about the benefits of this division!
-“On the one hand, both parents are involved in everything, every developmental stage of the child. And secondly, we can both keep our businesses running. There is also a greater understanding of each other, that you may be exhausted after spending time with your children or that it is not easy to come home from a hard day’s work and immediately start cooking. We feel that we have more energy to do things and be at our best, both in the parental role and in the role at work, through this split. You get the best of both worlds!

Why don’t more people do this? What are your reactions when you talk about your choices?
-“Many people say they are inspired and would like to do similar things, but I think they never actually explore the possibilities. Of course, not everyone is self-employed and can do their job from home, but a surprising number of people still “share” parental leave so that the mother is at home for a year and the father is on parental leave for a couple of months during the holidays. There are other possibilities, you just have to have the courage to ask your employer if it is possible. Maybe they are more accommodating than you think?

Isabel Unna Baby
Both Isabel and her partner Alexander run their own health and fitness companies.
(Picture from Isabel’s Instagram)

Is there anything that bothers you about parenting?
-Yes, I am bothered by the fact that some people have the basic attitude that the father cannot take care of the child in the first year. Heard a friend say “As a father, you can’t do anything in the first year!”. And furthermore, talking about the baby being maternal, as if there was no reason for the baby to be maternal. And as if this pattern could not be broken by sharing the chores better and allowing the father to develop his own ways of comforting, soothing and putting the child to sleep. I understand that feeding can be difficult, like now when we’ve had a taste of one who won’t take a bottle, but I think a lot can be done to try to break patterns where the father becomes irresponsible/helpful in caring for the child, much earlier.

Children are different

Has it been easier, or has anything been more difficult in becoming a mother for the second time?
-A lot has been easier because I have more knowledge about what it means to take care of a child, but it has also become so obvious how children are different! What worked with Ilse does not automatically work with Otto! What has been more difficult this time has been that little brother doesn’t take a bottle or pacifier, something we took for granted because big sister did it right away. This of course makes things more difficult as we all become more locked in due to a lack of feeding alternatives.

Isabel Unna Baby
The family of two!
(Picture from Isabel’s Instagram)

We at Unna are happy to have been able to talk to, and share Isabel’s story! We thank her for that, and for sharing both challenges and solutions so transparently through her channels, and for putting words to what can be difficult, such as exhaustion. Follow her on Instagram @boltenstern and don’t miss her training app mammatrĂ€ning – fully adapted for training during and after pregnancy.

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