Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Things Nobody Tells you about Having Kids

 I’m nearly 6 years (!!!) into this parenthood journey, and I’ve started to reflect on my experiences. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of people tell you a lot of things about what it is like to be a parent—but there are a LOT of things that they conveniently leave out. If I were to give advice to a new mom, these are the things I would want to say (of course I would *never* give unsolicited advice to a new mom because I know she’ll get enough of that from the other 10,000 people with whom she comes in contact!).

1.       The first year of your child’s life is the easiest.  Truth. Everybody tells you the first year is so hard. And it is hard—a primal kind of hard. You’re tired in a way you’ve never been tired. You don’t know the first thing about anything you are suddenly supposed to be an expert at. You don’t even know this human being whose life it is your responsibility to protect. And hormones. Lots of them. That year is hard, really hard. But you find your rhythm and you become an expert on the new love of your life. And then they start to grow up. Toddlerhood. Preschool. Elementary school. You meet moms that say, “Oh, if you think 2 year olds are hard…wait until he turns 3!” And you think they are crazy, until he turns 3, and you suddenly get it. And then you meet the mom that says “If you think 3 is hard, you are in for a real shock with 4.” And then 4 rolls around, and holy hell, 4 is hard. And then you meet the mom that says “4 is tough. But wait until…”  And then suddenly you realize that it is NEVER going to get easier. NEVER.  And you begin to reminisce about that first year when things were so simple.

2.       Motherhood is isolating. When I became a mom I knew exactly zero new moms where I live. I was working as an attorney and I planned to return to work. And then we decided that leaving my job was the right decision for our family. One day I woke up with a 4 month old baby, nowhere to go and nobody to talk to. It was a shock to my system, to say the least. But I quickly joined a moms’ group and had a social calendar that the Queen Mum would envy. From the outside, it would seem life as a SAHM is similar to being a sorority—always somewhere to go, and somebody that wants to join me on an adventure. Except it isn’t like that at all. I can’t remember the last time I was able to finish an actual conversation with a fellow mom. I can’t tell you how many times our plans have been derailed by a napping (or not napping) child, or sickness, or just plain exhaustion. I often go days without having any real valuable adult interaction. It feels downright lonely at times, even in a sea of moms that are in the same boat. On the rare occasion that I can get out, sans children, with some friends, I am reminded that I am not alone at all—I’m part of a sisterhood that just holds our meetings very rarely and doesn’t need to ever finish a thought because we know we are in this together.

3.       A “healthy” child is not necessarily an easy child. I was one of those moms that didn’t find out my child’s gender while I was pregnant, because I didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl “as long as it’s healthy.” I’ve been blessed with three amazingly “healthy” children. But my children are not without challenges. One in particular has some issues that until recently required weekly meetings with not one, but two, different kinds of therapists. I thought that because I had healthy children, life would be easy for us. Au contraire mon frere. Having a child that screams non-stop for 15 months is far from easy. Raising a child that hides under a chair covering his ears if you cook an egg too loudly or acts like you’re ripping his toenails out if you try to bathe him is far from easy. Searching to get that child the help that you believe in your gut he—and your entire family—needs, is far from easy. Rearranging everything in your life to get that child to the appointments so you can fight the insurance to pay for the treatments that give you a glimmer of hope that one day his life will be easy(ier) is far from easy. Worth it? Yes. Every second of it. But easy? Nope. And yet, my children are perfect. Perfectly made in their own way, each able to teach me lessons that no other being on this earth is equipped to teach.

4.       The things you think matter don’t. And you’ll be blindsided by the things that do. I know that I spent hours researching whether to start my first child with fruits or vegetables or (gasp!) rice cereal first when he turned 6 months old. For the record, we started with avocado (which technically is a fruit but often masquerades as a vegetable). Also for the record, it didn’t matter. I can remember agonizing about how and when to drop the morning nap, or when to switch from soft bottom to regular shoes. And I won’t even start in about the tormenting choice to supplement with formula. These decisions felt BIG at the time. But now, they are just part of the white noise of those early years. I look back at every single one of them and realize that if I had made a different decision, everything would have been fine. Perfectly fine, just different. Now I’m facing decisions that floor me. I’m not a political person at all, but I can remember feeling overwhelmed with a sense of importance during the last election. What kind of world am I going to leave for my children? How to educate my children—what is really important to me about their learning environments? God. What do I tell them about God, our religion, and other religions? That one keeps me up at night. How do I explain when bad things happen to good people? Or good things happen to bad people? I’ve been a mom for nearly six years, and the enormity of this job is really just starting to hit me.   
        There is no pain greater than seeing your child in pain. Labor is hard. It hurts. Like really hurts. Like pushing something the size of an elephant out a hole the size of a peanut. But it doesn’t hold a candle to the stabbing pain when your baby comes home from preschool and tells you that nobody wants to play with him. There is nothing to compare to the agony of sitting next to your child in a hospital bed while he is getting a spinal tap and all you can do is stare into his big blue eyes calmly singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy…” Emotional pain. Physical pain. Seeing your child in any kind of pain will take you to a place that you cannot possibly understand until your heart is walking around outside of your body. Nothing, I mean nothing, could ever prepare me to feel pain to the depths that motherhood has brought me. But at the same time…the joy. Oh the joy. I never knew joy like watching my child feel true happiness.
        You will lose yourself. But it’s ok, because you will find yourself again. I think this one is the most important. Read it again. You will lose yourself. But it is OK. Because you will find yourself again.  I think we set up an impossible standard in this country. Be everything for everybody. And find time for yourself. And be a good wife. And pursue your dreams. I thought I could do that. I mean I thought everybody—every mom—did that. And was happy about it. That was my job description. Right? Wrong. It’s impossible. As in not possible. At all. And that is OK. See how freeing that is? It was for me anyway, although it took me a while to come to that conclusion. I had 3 children in 3 years. That means I was also pregnant 3 times in 3 years. And I had newborns 3 times in 3 years. And also toddlers and preschoolers…you get the pattern. Somewhere between the vomiting, laboring, nursing, feeding, washing, teaching, potty training, disciplining, driving, reading, hugging, snuggling…I lost myself. I felt scared to admit that. People would ask me “What’s new?” and I felt like I needed to produce an exciting answer—more exciting than “I changed 16 diapers today.” Because the old me would have had a crazy story to share. But I didn’t have a more exciting answer. For the past few years I’ve mostly felt like a mom, and then a wife…and then somewhere if I searched really hard I could find a little bit of me. Except it wasn’t the me I knew 6 years ago. That me would have had a list a mile long of goals, aspirations, plans, and to-dos. This me—the mom-me—if given a moment to myself would honestly like to sit and think no thoughts. Hahaha. I can’t help laughing when I think about that. But I’m cool with that now, although it took me a while (and a few tearful conversations with my hubby) to realize that this is just a season. That’s all. I gave everything I had to these past six years, and I don’t regret a second of it. Not a single second. I’m not sure I can say that about my pre-mom life when I often threw myself into things that were not worth my time, frustration, or dedication. And guess what--I’m already starting to reach a point where my kids need me less (well, differently anyway) and I’m starting to think about who I am now and who I want to be next. It’s kind of an exciting time, really. So don’t worry about losing yourself. It’s not as bad as it seems. You’ll find yourself again, and the person you find will be well worth the search. I promise.   
         So there you have it. What I wish somebody told me before I had kids. But now I know, and I’m all the wiser for it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Putting Myself Back in Pictures.

When my Tatiman was born, we scheduled a 'newborn photo shoot' for his eighth day of life. We posed for our first official photo as a family of three--we all look young, excited, in love, and slightly overwhelmed with our new family situation. When Finny Bo Binny was born, we scheduled a 'newborn photo shoot' for his eighth day of life. We posed for our first official photo as a family of four--the Tatiman looks young and exuberent, my hubby and I look slightly older, slightly more experienced, and slightly overwhelmed with our new family situation. When Lici Chance was born, we scheduled a 'newborn photo shoot' for her eighth day of life. We didn't take a family photo. I just couldn't get it together--I hadn't blown my hair dry, I forgot to pack makeup, and my black nursing shirt had spit up on it. I didn't think twice about it at the time--obviously I was in no shape to appear in pictures.

I just read this paragraph from this article and now I regret that decision.

I was thinking today that if I had been in all our family holiday card photos in the ten years and change since I became a mother, I would have been photographed postpartum, then pregnant, then postpartum, then a little more together, then pregnant, then postpartum, then still sporting baby weight, still sporting baby weight, still sporting baby weight (sigh), then pregnant and now still a bit postpartum. What a story those pictures could have told about our family between the changes in our kids and the changes in my body and my husband's. I wish I had them now.

Oh, how I wish I had that family picture now. Lici Chance will never be able to look back and see how I looked when I was so overcome with wonder and joy that nothing--not even fitting into a pair of skinny jeans--could have felt better.

I have spent all of the last five years pregnant, postpartum, and pregnant again. They have been the most beautiful, and most amazing, five years of my life. Yet I haven't always felt that way about my body.

My Tatiman was an easy baby. I started back at the gym when he was 6 weeks old. Well, I tried to, but we were struggling with nursing so I had limited time for myself. The first time I tried to leave him in the gym nursery I heard him screaming for too long. Turns out I didn't want to spend the limited time I had for myself worrying about my baby. We needed each other. The Finny Bo Binny was born full term, but woefully unprepared to take in all of the sensations of the world around him. I literally wore him--all of his waking moments, and many of his sleeping moments--from the moment he was born until he was a year old. He needed my external womb, and I needed to give him the use of my body for longer than the accepted 9 (10) month stay. And then came my Lici Chance, much sooner than my mind or body were ready for, but as it turns out in her own perfect timing.

This is how my body looks after spending five full years creating life. It isn't perfect, is doesn't fit into the clothes it fit into five years ago--but it is loved by three little people who couldn't care less that my jean size is in the double digits.

I put so much effort into creating memories for my kids. We go on adventures together. We build forts together. We cook together. We have dance parties together. When they look back at pictures of all these events that they can't remember--I want them to see that I was there, living in the moment, loving every moment and not out of view for fear that a roll gets captured on film.  This mommy is getting back in the pictures.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I don't want it all.

News broke today that Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo, is pregnant and expecting her first child in the fall. First of all, kudos to her for being a young woman who has busted her butt to climb the corporate ladder in a tech firm. She should be the model for the Yahoo Barbie doll.

Since the news broke I've read a few articles that are trying to use Ms. Mayer as proof that women can in fact have it all. I think this statement--having it all--may be at the heart of the so-called mommy wars. And now the media is once again using a strong woman to make others feel inadequate. How about all those male CEOs--is anybody asking if they have it all? I don't think so. I don't believe for a second you can have it all.

I believe that phrase---that expectation--leads to a life of discontent. Life is about choices. When you have children (or, for that matter, choose not to), you have to forge a path where you decide which sacrifices will lead to which rewards. Those choices are so very personal, and they pervade every moment of every day.

I read one article that asked, "If you're up at 2 a.m. with a baby, why not read memos from your team?" Maybe because that 2am feeding is the only time your baby lays still enough for you to notice her curls have grown or her cheeks have filled out or her toes no longer curl when you tickle her feet. Those moments are fleeting, and deserve your full attention. Or maybe the contents of that memo involve complex legal issues that will affect a major settlement which will, in turn, completely change the course of somebody else's life. Those moments are intense, and deserve your full attention. If that is the definition of having it all, I don't want it all.

I have mom friends that have one foot in each world and get to celebrate big wins at work, and big milestones at home--but sometimes feel the pull when they have to leave a sick baby at home to make an important presentation, or skip a business trip to be home for a first birthday. They don't have it all. They've made the choices that are best for their families, they endure the sacrifices, and they revel in the rewards. 

Obviously, I've chosen to spend these years at home with my babies. My choice does not come without sacrifices--I certainly feel a pang when I see a member of my graduating class in the news for winning a major case. There are days when I wish I was knee deep in legal briefs instead of dirty diapers. But for me, I would not trade these years with my babies for anything. I've made choices. I've made sacrifices. I know I don't have it all but the truth is, I have everything I need.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mom Village

It's been said that it 'takes a village' to raise a child. So true, so true. People often tell me they don't know how I do all that I do with three little people. It's simple...I've got an amazing village of moms (in addition to my amazing husband and our families), so I rarely have to go it alone. We are still recovering from all of the (mis)adventures of the past year, and I can think back to so many instances where things would have been so much worse without our village. Happy Mother's Day to the mom that caught Finny Bo Binny when he was about to take flight off the 2nd story of a playground structure. Also, to the moms that made me feel ok when he did take that flight, and I couldn't move fast enough to catch him. Happy Mother's Day to the mom that volunteered to watch all three little people when we had to put our beloved Lukey boy to sleep, and to the mom who offered to do the final pooper-scooper-ing of our yard so I didn't have to face that final task. Happy Mother's Day to the moms that have cooked and delivered meals, shared recipes, and reviewed my experiments. Happy Mother's Day to the moms that have saved us hundreds of dollars with your product reviews, and helped us spend hundreds more dollars with your product raves. Happy Mother's Day to the moms that have helped me diagnose illnesses, and reassured me that my babies' symptoms mean nothing serious. Happy Mother's Day to the moms that have given me rainy day ideas, and the moms that have invited us over to puddle stomp at their house. To the moms that live far away, but post pictures of their babies on facebook so I can feel a part of their lives, all the while oohing and ahhhing at the pictures I post. Happy Mother's Day to the mom that helped Finny bowl his first spare, and the mom that held Felicity so I could help with the second. To the mom who tied the Tatiman's shoe, and the stranger (mom) who came running after me when we left a beloved lego guy on a park bench. Happy Mother's Day to the mom that convinced me to come to a moms' night out, even if I had to bring my sweet Lici girl, because she knew I really needed a night out. Happy Mother's Day to the first-time-moms and moms-to-be, who remind me of the excitement I felt when these babies were in my belly--a particularly good reminder on days when I'm ready to to run away and join the circus. I hope today was a day of appreciation for all the moms in my Village.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

When Breasts Aren't Best.

I’m not one to talk about my boobs. Really, there is nothing particularly special about them, nothing worthy of discussion. It’s almost fitting then that the first time I’m discussing them in public is because they are failures. That’s right, though I’m a B cup; I have F- boobs when it comes to providing milk for my precious babies.

I’ve thought and thought about writing this post, but every time I’ve begun to write, I’ve fallen into a pile of tears and decided that depression is not the best place to be when I write a public blog. But today I’m not depressed. No, I’m angry. And we all know…anger is the best place to come from when writing a blog!

I’m angry because I’ve met five women, this week alone, that have gone through the same struggle as me—and all of us are *just* feeling ok enough to talk about it. We are all middle class, educated women who embraced the mantra “Breast is Best” and came into motherhood with every intention of feeding our babies the way nature intended. We knew that breastfeeding would give our babies higher IQs, better immunity, more bonding time, less allergies…and on and on and on.

What we didn’t know is that our bodies would fail us. And today I’m angry because nobody told us that could happen—and even angrier that nobody is figuring out WHY this is happening. I often think of my struggle to breastfeed as similar to my friends who have struggled with infertility. Breastfeeding, like conceiving a child, is such a miniscule part of what makes you a parent—yet as a woman, if your body doesn’t let you accomplish these things naturally, it’s hard not to feel like a failure.

When I gave birth to the Tatiman, it never occurred to me that I would do anything other than breastfeed him. Until I nearly starved him to death. I read the books, I listed to his pediatrician, and I worked with two lactation consultants. I drank water, I ate oatmeal, I took herbs, I downed tinctures, and I ordered medications not approved by the FDA. I fed him 12 times a day for an hour each time, then pumped for 30 minutes after each feeding, and then fed him whatever I managed to pump. That’s 20 hours a day, minimum, that I sat in tears, facing my perceived failure, while I still managed to starve my beautiful baby boy. Nobody worked harder than I did to do what I believed my body should do naturally. When I finally accepted that my body was not producing enough milk, I knew I had to supplement with formula. I can vividly remember the smell when I opened that first can of formula, and feeling a stabbing pain in my heart when I realized I would not even taste that powdery mix, yet I had to feed it to my innocent newborn son. I wanted to run away to a lala land where my boobs worked, but unfortunately, no lala land existed, so I added formula to the mix. Now my baby was thriving, but I was still spending 20 hours a day doing everything I could to make milk…and failing, repeatedly. I cannot explain to you the anguish I felt (and still feel, remembering that time) every.single.time somebody asked me if I was breastfeeding. I wanted to SCREAM that I was TRYING, but the feelings of failure and fear of judgment usually had me dodging the question. I can’t even begin to tell you how marginalized I’ve felt by well-meaning women who suggested I drink more water or take a ‘nursing vacation.’ My struggles with breastfeeding factored heavily into our decision not to have any more children (yeah, we see how that went!). Eventually, I made surface-level peace with the situation and went on to nurse the Tatiman for 10 months, and continued pumping and giving him ‘shots’ of breast milk until he was a year old.

I had high hopes when I gave birth to the Finny Bo Binny. The Tatiman had been tongue tied which I had hoped factored into our issues. Finny Bo had a perfect tongue. Unfortunately, I still had imperfect boobs. I began the routine—nurse, pump, feed, rinse, repeat—but was scared to take many of the herbs and drugs because Finny had a wicked case of reflux, and I didn’t want to make anything worse for his poor tummy. Still, we managed to keep up the schedule until Finny was 5 months old, and then I pumped until he was 8 months and the breast milk ‘shots’ became breast milk ‘sips’ and life went on. I held out hope that the problem was his, rather than mine, because even when taking in massive quantities of formula on top of the breast milk, the Finny Bo Binny has never broken the 10th percentile for weight. It was possible that he was really just a slow grower on my breast milk, since he barely grew once we added formula. Possible, but not plausible.

Seven weeks ago I gave birth to my beautiful Lici girl. I naively thought the third time would be the charm. I also naively thought I could mentally prepare myself for my inability to breastfeed her without any supplementation. When reality sunk in…depression started to sink in too. But this time I was DETERMINED not to spend the first few weeks of my baby’s life feeling like a failure. So I started the herbs and tinctures and medications, and I forced myself to adopt the attitude that I would give her all the breast milk I make, and the rest is just nutrition.

Nutrition. That’s it. Formula is not the devil. Formula has kept my children alive and thriving. And I don’t mean to brag…but I have one of the smartest three year olds I’ve ever met—his IQ isn’t suffering. I have a 22 month old that is practically glued to my side—we didn’t fail to bond. And I have a 7 week old that is currently snuggled up, wrapped in a Moby, making the sweetest little cooing noises. Did I mention she can already roll? Well, she can. I think she’s going to be just fine.

I’m angry because I had to go through some very dark times to get to where I am today, and I even angrier that I have been unable to find any help in the form of answers and treatment from the medical community. In fact, my beloved lactation consultant just attended a three-day conference where under-supply did not receive a SINGLE session. How can it be that even an organization whose main goal is to promote breastfeeding is ignoring the issue? I think it’s because there is still a perception that anybody that wants to breastfeed can. And anybody who can’t is choosing formula as the easy way out. Maybe that was true one day, but it just isn’t true today. More and more of us are struggling, and I want to know why.

So for now, I nurse my baby girl as often as possible. I suck in her sweet smell, and stare into her lightening blue eyes. I rub her long toes and I pat her little tushy. I consciously use the word “nurse” to describe what we do rather than breastfeed. Nursing is caring, and loving, and attending to—and I do all of that, in spite of my milk supply.

I imagine very few of you actually care about my struggles to breastfeed, but if it makes one of you feel like you are NOT a failure, I’m glad I put it out there.