Tag Archives: motherhood

If Becoming a Parent Was a “Real” Job

 

Google has a funny idea of what "postpartum" looks like.

Google’s idea of what “postpartum” looks like. Google is sadly mistaken.

 

You got hired for a new job. Congratulations! You’re told it’s the best, most rewarding job on the planet. You will be paid in things worth more than money, more than gold, things you can’t fully fathom yet. You get instant tenure, and your significant other is your co-worker. Many people want this job, but not everyone gets it. People have paid thousands and thousands of dollars to get this job. Some people spend their whole adult lives hoping for, wishing for this job.

You’re promised 40 weeks of training for this job, though you may wind up with a few more or a few less depending on your boss’ schedule. This training is not easy- it includes many challenges such as fatigue, extreme physical discomfort, financial risk, illness, mood swings, extreme weight gain. Some people enjoy the training, but many more hate it. Even more hate it but never say they do out of fear of judgement because the perceived “norm” is to love every moment of the training. Training includes a few classes, monthly visits with experts, books, literature, panicked late-night Google searches, and peeing your pants when you laugh. As the weeks go by, it becomes more and more clear that soon your training will end and you’ll be out on the floor, finally earning your new job title.

After many months, you’re given your final test, and lucky you: it’s open-book. All your hard work and studying are about to pay off, and you go into the test with a handy cheat sheet of your exact answers to all of the questions you studied.

Unbeknownst to you, some jerk switches the test out last minute for a different test, one longer and harder than you expected. You TOTALLY DIDN’T STUDY FOR THIS. And yet, you pass. You’ve earned your name badge, and the second your test is over, you’re officially employed by a tiny, screaming person that only you and your co-worker can please.

Only, your employer speaks in an ancient, mystical tongue that you can’t understand. You and your coworker proceed to spend every waking moment (and they’re all waking moments, aren’t they?) scrambling to decode this ancient tongue and figure out how to make your boss stop screaming at you. You find yourself exhausted, dehydrated, starving, and mysteriously bleeding heavily for weeks, all while feeling guilty for wondering why you ever wanted this job in the first place. You and your co-worker, who used to get along famously, barely speak for weeks and even months. You both trudge along, taking rides on an emotional roller coaster through moments of pure, unconditional love and pure, crazy-making frustration. The days are long, and to quote Melisandre from Game of Thrones, “The nights are dark and full of terrors.”

 This is the initial postpartum experience for many first-time parents.

One day, you wake up and things are easier. And certain things keep getting easier, while others stay challenging and even increase in difficulty at times. You and your coworker slowly learn how to meet your boss’ needs while juggling your own (and each other’s). Eventually, you start to let go of control and begin the humbling process of admitting you have no idea what you’re doing. You do what works to get the job done, and throw away the rest. You do all the things you said you never would and bite your tongue when cheeky seasoned employees of other tiny bosses call you out on changing your plans. Your new normal is still a challenge, but when the joys start to outnumber the frustrations, your boss becomes the most amazing person on the planet, and obviously a smarter, cuter, better boss than anyone else’s.

And it really does get better, and all the people who you want to smack right now for telling you this with a pitying smile are right. And you will survive this. Ask for help. Demand help. Take breathers. Be patient with yourself. Kiss your partner. Kiss that baby. Drink lots of water. And know you are not alone. Somewhere out there at 3 am, there is a new mom feeding her baby in a dark room, just like you, staring out the window at a big world that she no longer knows how to fit into.

—————————————–

As in labor, in the postpartum there is an important difference between pain and suffering. Please don’t hesitate to use these resources if you need them and talk to your partner and healthcare provider about how you’re feeling. Please.

1-800-PPD-MOMS

The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (in plain mama English)

International Cesarean Awareness Network

 

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Hindsight

Pregnancy is humbling. Labor is really humbling. Living in the postpartum and looking back on my pregnancy and birth is extraordinarily humbling. Many lessons were learned the hard way, but I think that’s the way many have to be learned and earned. Here are some rambling observations that I’m still dissecting:

 

  • Babies change everything.
  • Everyone says “You’ll never sleep again!” It’s annoying, but they mean well. They’re also mostly right.
  • Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, the baby changes it up. Example:

Monday: (bragging) Babby slept for 4 hours straight last night, then was up for a feeding, then asleep for another 4 hours! Life is good.

Tuesday: Babby slept for 5 hours straight last night, then was up for a feeding, then asleep for another 4-5 hours! Life is blissful.

Wednesday: Babby slept for SIX HOURS STRAIGHT LAST NIGHT, then was up for a feeding because I freaked out that she slept so long and then slept for another 4 hours! Life is blissful. Parenting is easy!

Thursday through End of Time or End of Sudden Growth Spurt, Whichever Comes First: Babby eats every 2 hours, day and night. She is also a catnapper during the day, sleeping in no longer than 1 hour increments sporadically throughout the day. Life is tired. Parenting is coffee.

  • Though my experience as a doula was invaluable before I became pregnant myself, I now can’t imagine hiring a doula who hasn’t experienced birth/motherhood personally. I get it now, on a whoooooooole ‘nother level. Not to say that a doula who isn’t a mother herself isn’t worth her salt, just that going through labor and birth yourself gifts you with a magnitude of empathy, compassion, and first-hand experience that completely alters the way one doula-s.
  • It took a solid 3 months to begin feeling normal again, or at least to feel comfortable in my new normal. I didn’t even fully stop spotting until Week 13. I still sometimes pee my pants. My maternity jeans are too big, my pre-pregnancy ones are too small; yoga pants are the answer.
  • It also took 3 months to remember I have a husband. Our first real conversation happened during Week 12. We now snuggle and laugh and are best friends again… but it took time, and it’s something we actually have to work on and make time for now. It’s harder, but we appreciate each other more now than ever.
  • It took 3 months to love my pets again. Oh, my poor sweet babycats. Thank god Steve is a responsible adult, because I forgot to feed them for at least 2 months. They went from being All Important to Total Annoyances for awhile there. I threw around the term streetcats a few too many times. Luckily they still love me and even love the baby who turned their lives upside down.
  • Increased breastfeeding retention and quality maternity/paternity leave go hand in hand. Period. I do not believe for one second that I would still be breastfeeding if Steve hadn’t been home for almost 2 months. Paternity/maternity leave in this country is shameful and affects every one of us who have been a child or a parent (see: everyone). Leave needs to be long, it needs to be paid, and it needs to be available to every. parent.
  • Now I have All the Motivation, All the Creativity, & All the Great Ideas… and none of the time.
  • Key relationships have evolved. Some for the better and some for the worse. Being judged for my birth story and parenting choices does not sit well with me. ALL births are to be respected, no matter what they look like. Fanatics on both sides of the homebirth/hospital birth spectrum would be wise to lead with compassion and not judgement or pity. (The pity is the worst for me… just because I had an induced hospital birth doesn’t mean I was traumatized or fooled into falsely believing my experience was beautiful and powerful, thanks. I could go on and on here… and I will! In a later post).
  • The bills just keep coming. One perk of this is that I no longer feel anxiety over money, which used to be my biggest anxiety trigger. Acceptance in these matters is vital to my sanity.
  • Breastmilk poop does stink. Maybe not at first, when kiddo is going 3 times a day. But when her Poo Schedule becomes once every couple of days… yeah. It smells. Like cheese. It’s horrible. “Breastmilk poop doesn’t stink” is one of those Whoops! Lies of Ignorance I told when I was doula-ing before becoming a parent myself. Very sorry about this one, guys. Oh, and while I’m at it I need to apologize for “Sleep when the baby sleeps” (really good advice in a perfect world, but not gospel).

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I Screamed into a Pillow Yesterday

I don’t really want to think about yesterday. It was hard. And long. In a cruel twist, the universe decided that the baby would start teething and I would start ovulating at the same time (Read: 9 weeks postpartum). This means that yesterday, teething was in full spring as was my period. Even exclusively breastfeeding, with no bottles or pacifiers, and baby not sleeping through the night (though last night she slept for 6 hours straight… go figure). I didn’t realize how terrifying the first one after birth could be. The day ended with Steve coming home from work and taking the baby, and me taking a moment to sit on the couch and cry into my hands for a few minutes, then composing myself and heading into the kitchen to eat my first food in 10 hours.

I’m not going to recap everything. Instead, read this blog entry by PA doula and mother of 2, Brittany, to get an idea of how One of Those Days as a new mom can go. Brittany has a newborn AND a toddler, so, yeah. I can’t even imagine.

Some days… some days are really challenging. Luckily today is a new day. Fingers crossed, deep breath, here we go.

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I Support Infant Feeding

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I find the I Support You movement to be the best thing to happen to the parenting community in a long time. There is a sometimes unspoken, sometimes loud war against both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers, and division, resentment, guilt, judgement, and cruelty exist on both sides.

Author Suzanne Barston sums up the I Support You message perfectly:

…We also feel that the best way to support breastfeeding is to ensure that every woman feels empowered and equipped to feed her baby in the best way possible. That may not always mean breastfeeding; this doesn’t mean that we are ignoring the science, but rather performing our own risk/benefit assessment and making a highly personalized decision. This may not be your choice, and it may not be the best choice on paper, but parenting is not a standardized test. It’s more like an open-ended essay question.

By listening to each other’s stories, as long-winded, convoluted, and complex as they so often are, we can start fresh. This can wash away the negativity, judgment and defensiveness, so that we can more adequately address the real reasons women are not meeting breastfeeding recommendations. And we can do all of this without ruining a mother’s sense of self or well-being. I think that’s a pretty clear win-win.

I love how many women have come forward in the past couple of weeks to share their stories of the infant feeding choices they have made, and watching friendships form over social media due to their incredible honesty and open minds. This movement is about support in its purest form- compassionate, non-judgemental, understanding- support. Motherhood and parenting are not competitive activities, but it seems it’s easy to make them so.

It is vitally important to remember that infant feeding choices may encompass a myriad factors besides the type of food an infant receives. When we explore a mother’s choice of infant feeding method, we may be delving deep into her history, ideologies, and life circumstances:

  • How does she feel about her body?
  • How does she feel about her breasts?
  • About sex and her sexuality?
  • About mothering and parenting?
  • How was she parented?
  • How was she mothered?
  • What type of dynamics are at play in her significant relationship?
  • Does she have to go back to work? When?
  • Finances.
  • How supportive is her partner/parents/siblings/employer/family/friends/care provider/nursing staff?
  • Does she have reliable transportation? Safe housing?
  • How does she feel about touch?
  • How does she react to stress, sadness, anxiety, anger?
  • What feeding method is “normal” to her? What feels right to her?
  • What is her living situation like? Who else lives with her?
  • Are there language barriers existing between support people and the mother/family?
  • Did/does she have support prenatally and during the postpartum?
  • What was her birth experience like? Did she feel it was safe and satisfying?
  • Is her culture/religion/community supportive of her choices?
  • Does she have access to positive emotional and physical support during her pregnancy and postpartum?
  • Did/does she have access to resources and education so that she is armed with the information she needs to make informed decisions for herself and her family?
  • How did/does she feel about pregnancy?
  • Did she have access to lactation consultants or IBCLCs before and after birth?
  • Was/is her health care providers and staff properly educated and trained, compassionate, patient, available when needed and affordable?

When it comes to infant feeding, a woman’s choice may have everything, nothing, or something to do with the handful of possible factors listed above (or countless others). Either way, it is important to remember that there are 1,000 ways to be a “good” mother, and the choice to breast or formula feed is one that does not tip the scales negatively.

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In-Between Parenting.

I will cloth diaper. I will breastfeed exclusively and let my baby wean herself. I can’t wait to babywear. I am having a homebirth. I have a midwife. I have a doula. I am a doula. I love infant massage. I teach infant massage. I’m having my placenta encapsulated (AND turned into art AND into a tincture AND into a broth). I enjoy a good Tibetan singing bowl cd. I like to meditate. I make my own cleaning products. I compost (sometimes). If we have a boy in the future, we won’t be circumcising. I make my own paper. I toast the pumpkin seeds of my jack-o-lanterns every October. I drink nettle infusions and pregnancy herbal tea. I only drink almond milk. My second home is Goodwill, lair of bargains. I love birth art. I love acupuncture. I collect books. And cats.

However…

I eat sugar. I use a microwave. We are vaccinating. I use Pond’s Cold Cream. Since getting pregnant I have begun a pretty serious affair with paper plates. My cats get whatever litter is on sale. I hate green tea. We have a TV (and BASIC CABLE). I eat, and enjoy, meat. Sometimes I forget to take my prenatals, and I don’t stress over this. I ate a brownie for First Breakfast yesterday. We only buy organic when we can afford it (See: rarely). I don’t own any crystals or keep crystals in my birth bag… I don’t carry much in my birth bag at all actually, because I believe my most effective tools are my eyes, hands, and heart. I wear hand-me-downs… but some of those hand-me-downs are WalMart brand. I don’t own a Vitamix. Whole Foods is far too expensive (though being there does make me feel fancy and I will say their hot, spicy chais are worth every penny).

It seems I’m just not crunchy enough to be… crunchy.

It has been recently been made clear to me by a few “natural mothering” advocates that I am just not crunchy enough to be a part of their “clubs.” (I’m calling them clubs. They’re more like “websites”).

And I will admit, this stings a bit.

Nevermind that my hairbrush “smells like bread” according to my husband, because I decided to go shampoo-less and used a yeasty concoction of corn starch and baking soda instead. Nevermind that I am battling the aftershock of a major breakout because I so desperately wanted the oil cleansing method and Bragg’s apple cider vinegar (yes, with ‘the mother’) to work for me. Nevermind that because of me, and me alone, my husband now makes, eats and LOVES spinach, turnip, mustard, and collard greens with dinner. Nevermind I use coconut oil for everything under the sun that doesn’t involve my face. Nevermind that I truly believe my teenaged niece has “Bird Energy.” Nevermind that I support our local farmer’s market, would totally only buy fair-trade coffee and chocolate if we could afford to, and vow to someday own and operate our own hobby farm and cat rescue. I own more than 30 mason jars of varying sizes, damnit.

I’m a “everything in moderation” person. I consider myself to be a realist. I want our daughter to eat healthy, fresh, real food but also enjoy sugary cake and ice cream at birthday parties, if those foods agree with her. I love to hike, and I also love a nice drive. I’m not a natural birth advocate, but I am a respectful-birth advocate. I love birth art… I’m not a fan of chanting. I love tai chi. I don’t like yoga. I intend to follow the gist of attachment parenting but also feel I have something to learn from every parent.

And I’m so okay with all of these things. I’m not a true hippie, and I’m certainly not modern. I’m an in-between. I live in the gooey nougat center of pregnancy and parenting. We’re a middle class family on a budget, doing the best we can. Sometimes I live on beets and kale. Sometimes I eat waffles for dinner.

shrug.

If you’re in a similar boat, please allow me take the pressure off of you right now. You don’t have to be crunchy. You don’t have to be not-crunchy. You can be whatever you want to be. You can wear your baby in a sling on Monday and push the baby in a carriage on Tuesday. You can feed your baby in whatever way you feel is best. You can diaper however you want to diaper.

What’s important is putting in the time to research things you have questions about, trying different things, having the right support, and then choosing what is going to be the best for you and your family. “Best” is relative and subjective. What works for your sister, friend, mom, aunt, internet pal might not be the best for you– BUT isn’t it great that we get to change our minds?

Learning, trying new things, and finding what works for us comes with what some of us deem as “failure.” Sometimes, things just don’t work out. You try a brand of clothing detergent only to find out that your kiddo has sensitive skin. You try to grow your own herb garden and then find that gardening is not your forte in any way, shape, or form. You put an expensive thingymabob on your registry that came recommended by everyone you know and your baby just flat out hates it. You choose to vaccinate or not vaccinate, and then 5 years later you meet someone who impacts you and you can’t turn back the clock. That’s not a failure, that’s just life.  Whether you consider yourself more or less crunchy than most, it’s all good. If you’re an in-between parent, that’s good, too. At the end of the day we all just want the best for our families, don’t we?

If you love and respect your child, and you’re doing the best you can with what you have, you are doing a fantastic job. This is me giving you a virtual hug. Doesn’t that feel good?

So, where do the quasi-crunchy mamas live on the internet? Where do the meat-eating vegetable lovers lay their heads at night? How do the label-less explain themselves? How do the in-betweens connect?

If you can relate to any of this, let me know. I know there are more of us out there, lurking in the pregnancy forums of the intrawebz, gasping at the price of pink Himalayan sea salt, biting our nails with anxiety as we, deep into the night, compare every stroller, baby food maker, wrap, diaper, and vitamin we’ve ever heard of.

In-between parents, UNITE!

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