Trigger warning: toddler behavior

I knew that being a mom would be really hard. I knew that the toddler years would be some of the toughest. I armed myself with methods for staying gentle, memorized phrases to say when my toddler wasn’t acting the way I wanted, and convinced myself to call this stage the “terrific twos” because if I called it that, it must be terrific, right?

No. Not right. The two’s are not terrific. 

Let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind that two-year-olds can be terrible, tiny tyrants. How’s that for alliteration?

I remember when I first entered the mom world, and started browsing the mommy Facebook groups (proceed with caution) and saw moms saying things like “my child did XYZ and I was really triggered.” And I would think to myself, okay lady, ‘triggered’ is a strong word for being mad at your kid.

Then I became a mom of a toddler and I can now give you a list of about 281 things that I consider a trigger off the top of my head. Some of these things are reserved for making me Ragey. Yup, I said it. Sometimes I am Ragey because of things my two-year-old does. And I will tell you something: a lot of parents feel this way. We try to hide it and just make jokes about the terrible twos but in reality, sometimes we get Ragey and become a parent we never wanted to become. And often when we get mad, or Ragey, we try to control our children, but that often backfires (more on that in another post). So what can we do?

There are two things I am learning that give me hope:

  1. Grace.

Did you know we can have grace for ourselves? It’s true! At any moment of any day you can just say to yourself “this is not how I want to act, I’m putting that behind me, forgiving myself, and moving on.”  And if you start getting ragey again in an hour, you can just do it again. There’s no limit and you don’t have to wait until the next day.

2. This other thing I am learning about called “I am in control of my reactions.”  

I didn’t know about this thing until recently, and I still haven’t totally figured it out, but the more I learn about it, the more I realize it can help make these toddler years (and a lot of other things, like, riding the NYC subway system at rush hour) way less terrible and sometimes even a little bit terrific. And every time I practice the in-control thing, I see myself as the parent I want to be. The parent who doesn’t lose their temper or yell or feel threatened by their child’s actions. The parent who can remain calm and gentle while still holding to their boundaries. 

The example that led me to write about this is fresh in my mind because it happened about 2 hours ago. Miles is a very consistent napper and today seemed like it would be yet another usual napping-around-noon day. So, I had planned out in my mind all of the things I was going to accomplish during said nap, including a long overdue phone date with a dear friend. I’m sure you can guess where this is going but, one hour into trying to get him to fall asleep, I gave up. No nap today. I was MAD. Not Ragey, but mad. I started to take out my frustration on him and then I remembered lesson #2 from above. Instead of spending the rest of my day huffing and puffing about not being able to take a phone call and clean the bathroom, I chose to make banana bread with my toddler. We had the best time, and he spent 15 min licking the batter from the bowl while I ate my lunch peacefully alone. He didn’t nap, but now we have banana bread and I got to show my child love, grace, and kindness.  I call that a win for today.

Grace and Control. These won’t always work. We’ll still have Ragey moments and days. They will PUSH our buttons until they find those deep, dark hidden triggers and we will explode and become parents we never thought we’d be. Then we can come back to Grace and try Control over again. And the more we try, the more the muscle memory sticks and eventually Control will become our default, all thanks to Grace. And banana bread. 

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Aligning expectations with reality has completely changed the way I parent.

Changing our expectations to match our reality can be, quite literally, life-changing. In a way it can seem depressing to have low expectations of our circumstances – we don’t want to assume the worst about those around us, and we shouldn’t. But having unrealistic and unreasonable expectations, especially for our children, can lead to disappointment, bitterness and frustration. You don’t need a degree in early childhood psychology to be a good parent, but it is important to understand what is developmentally appropriate to expect of our children.

When Miles was a newborn, he would fall asleep around 6:30pm every evening for a nap. My husband, Erin, and I assumed he would stay asleep for awhile and give us a break to eat dinner with each other. But the reality was, despite his longer naps during the day, this particular nap was always short. The expectation that we would have a couple of hours together led to disappointment, and even anger, when Miles would wake just as we sat down to our warm meal every night. So one day after weeks of tears at dinner time, Erin and I talked and realized we could not change our newborn’s sleep patterns, but we could change our expectations. After that, we would sit down to our warm meal and the very moment we heard him cry (which never failed to be just as I was taking my first bite) we would make eye contact and smile at each other. Miles’ timing was comical. Erin used this opportunity to give me a much-needed break and allow me to enjoy my first warm meal of the day. Finally there was no more anger and frustration. No forks dropping onto the plate with a clang of disappointment. Nothing changed but our expectations: Miles was going to wake up and need one of us to rock him back to sleep around dinner time every evening. We knew it was a phase, but we didn’t know how long it would last – so we didn’t worry about that part. We just said, “Okay, this is life right now.” Eventually we were able to cut out one of his naps and start him on a bedtime routine, leading to a longer sleep stretch and the ability for us to eat an entire warm meal together.

Fifteen months later, I can say that changing expectations has truly changed the way I parent. Miles doesn’t sleep through the night, much to my dismay. But sleeping through the night actually shouldn’t be expected until after 24 months of age or later. Once I learned this and surrendered to the reality of it, waking for him became easier. Sleepiness in the morning is now something I just shrug off, its part of my life right now, it won’t last forever. I have never appreciated coffee the way I do now (which is saying a lot because I have always loved coffee). I have stopped going to bed every night praying that this would be the night he started sleeping 8 hours straight and waking up disappointed, leading to a grumpy start of my day. Instead I go to bed knowing that I will be comforting my kid a couple of times. Co-sleeping has made this so much easier and all of us are happy with the current arrangement.

The bigger picture here is accepting my child for who he is and meeting his needs. Each stage brings new challenges. You’ll be happy to see the previous challenge resolve itself just long enough to have a new one pop up. Parenting is hard. You have to dig deep into your reserves of patience and energy to get through each day. We cannot change the weather, because it is part of this world in which we live. But we can prepare for it. It’s going to rain today, I’m going to wear rain boots and bring an umbrella and expect to get a little wet.

It’s too easy to get caught up on changing our reality that this becomes our focus, instead of actually observing our children for who they are, accepting them for who they are, and adapting to our new lives with them. There is a peace that comes with letting go of the need to force change. Not just living in it, but loving it. Loving the middle-of-the-night cuddles with my sweet boy who one day won’t even want me in his bedroom. Having a new appreciation for the mornings I get to sleep in and wake up to a cup of coffee brought to me by my husband. Enjoying that every time my toddler challenges me, I can use the opportunity to teach patience and grace and unconditional love. Accepting the really hard parts of parenting, because that is the reality of caring for little humans.

[For the record, this lesson applies to marriage, too. We must accept our spouse for who they are and where they are, and move from there].

Filling Their Cup With Connection

Self-care comes in many forms, and I think by now we all agree moms need it. It’s vital to our well-being which is vital to the well-being of our family. When you take time for self-care, your cup is being filled so your energy can pour out to those around you. Children have cups too, and those cups also need to be filled. But in the younger years, their cup-filling looks very different from ours – it looks like connection, interaction, play, wrestling, cuddling and more.

As moms and parents, it’s our responsibility to fill our children’s cups (literally, but metaphorically too). The beautiful thing about this is that when we take the time to do it, we’ll see an increase in independent play and receive that moment of peace we’ve been craving all day. Children have an inherent need for connection with us, and when that need is met, they feel more confident to explore on their own. Just like the variety of liquids we depend on throughout our day, there are many ways to meet your child’s need for connection.

We need water for hydration – they need eye level interaction. Play is a child’s work. It is how they learn about the world around them. Parent’s involvement in their child’s play is crucial to relationship-building, confidence-building and emotional stability. Sometimes it’s a passive version – I might sit on the floor and read while Miles plays with blocks for a few minutes. Eventually though, he will bring a book to me and we’ll read together. Or I’ll start playing with the block, too and soon enough we’re building together (and destroying together). Sometimes it looks like me sitting on the floor doing stretches and Miles copying me. This is one of my favorite activities, since yoga is such an important part of my life, I love being able to share the benefits with him. Many mornings we start our day with music and instruments and dancing. I sit on the floor and dance with him. Starting our day with connective play helps create a bond that lasts throughout the whole day. We are on the same level, literally and figuratively. Two worthwhile investments to help with these daily interactions are a floor chair, helping you get on their level without breaking your back, and a learning tower which brings them to your level and can be used in the kitchen while preparing food (getting chores done while connecting with your child is a win-win).

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We need coffee for energy – they need rough play.
Physical play like rough-housing is
invigorating, and actually shown to be important for children’s brain development. It helps to relieve stress – the child version of us going for a good run or workout at the gym. A great way to get in your daily dose of roughhousing is to take it outside. Roughhousing doesn’t have to mean wrestling on the floor or bed. It can be a game of chase in the park, or jungle gym play at the playground. The most important part is that you are involved.

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We need a cup of warm tea for relaxation – they need calm, physical touch. Nursing is one way to make this connection, but it may look different for each family. When your child seems overwhelmed, overstimulated or is coming to the end of a long, independent play session, try offering a little cuddle session. Just a little way of saying “I’m here for you.” It’s their version of a long hug with your partner after an intense workday. They might refuse, and that’s okay. Some people would rather internalize those feelings. What’s important is the standing offer to connect in a calm, peaceful way. This can look like a short nursing session, a big hug, a calm dance while holding them and listening to quiet music. It could be perching them in front of you on a windowsill and quietly talking about what you see outside or reading a calm book to them while they sit in your lap. I find that after these cuddle sessions, children will often walk away with more energy and the willingness to continue with independent play.

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Of course, there are always variations of normal depending on personalities and home life situations. To continue with the drink metaphor – you may enjoy chai while someone else enjoys black coffee, or iced cold water with lemon rather than room temperature water. You know your child best and can assess their needs based on their personalities and your daily routines. Sometimes the different ways of connecting can overlap. Taking a bath together in the evening can be really fun, eye-level interaction and also provide a calm, relaxing environment. Do what works for your family.

Another important thing to note: real connection happens when our phones and computers are away. When the tv is off. When we are mindful and present. It’s so easy to pretend to connect, by sitting on the floor alongside your child, staring at your phone screen. I am 100% guilty of this. But take a moment to consider this situation: you’re on a road trip with your best friend or partner, you’re in the driver’s seat, you’re favorite album is playing in the background and you’re so excited for this fun trip. But the entire time you’re driving, your friend is just scrolling through social media on her phone. Sometimes she looks up, but sometimes she completely ignores what you just said, absorbed in her own world. Connection is not happening, and in fact that road trip may actually damage your relationship rather than fortify it. Lets make a pact that we will start putting down the phone and looking our children in the eye while we play with them. (Besides, do you really need to read another post about Hillary and Trump?) If today was a bad day with too much screen time and not enough connection, don’t be hard on yourself – just set a purpose for tomorrow to be present and truly connect with your child.

 

 

That time I birthed a baby on my bed

Tuesday, September 8th

The day of Miles’ due date, I started to have some very light cramping in the evening. So light that I almost couldn’t tell if it was just in my head. Throughout the entire week, Jackie and I would rebozo twice a day using my Wrapsody wrap because at the last ultrasound, they said Miles was head down, but still posterior.

Thursday, September 10th

Erin and I went on a date (our last pre-baby date) for Ramen in midtown. I had a lot more cramping that night that I needed to take a cab to the restaurant, but still no other signs of labor.

Sunday, September 13th

I woke up around 8am, sat up and instantly something squirted out of me. I thought I had peed a little! But it wasn’t pee and we quickly realized realized my water had broken. It was only leaking though, not a full gush. I stood up and a lot more leaked out. We texted the midwives, who were at another birth that day, and they said to try to stay inside all day, not do a lot so we don’t kickstart labor yet. I didn’t listen to them because 1) we had plans and 2) I wanted to get labor started. So we went to Brooklyn to an etsy pop-up shop with Debs, then to Brooklyn Boulder so Jackie could check out the climbing. My midwife said to stay very hydrated, because women can keep producing amniotic fluid even after their water breaks (who knew?), so I was drinking a lot (and leaking a lot). The whole time I was wearing multiple panti-liners that were doing just about nothing to soak up all the water I was leaking. By 4pm I had leaked through all the pads and it started raining, so we grabbed a (very expensive) cab and headed back to Harlem.

Monday the 14th

My midwife sent me for an ultrasound to check my water pockets and the baby, because I still wasn’t in labor. An “acceptable” amount of water is 2.5 pockets, but a healthy amount is 8 pockets, and I had 3.2. So we knew I was okay and the baby was okay, at least for now. Miles’ heartbeat and size was also good, and he was anterior, yay! The doctor at the imaging center strongly recommended I go to a hospital to be induced, but my midwife told him we were going to try some natural things first. I was so grateful in that moment to have a provider who trusted we were safe and wanted to try natural options.

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Tuesday the 15th

I woke up and first thing made eggs with 2 oz of castor oil. A couple hours later I still didn’t feel the effects of it, so I made a shake with another ounce or so (still nothing). We spent the day doing nipple stimulation on and off. By the late afternoon/early evening the castor oil kicked in and I had diarrhea a few times over the next couple hours. That with the nipple stim set in some contractions. They were still very light though, lasting about 25 seconds every 3-4 minutes (with a few longer, closer together here and there). Jackie’s flight was 11am the next morning, so I wanted nothing more than to have this baby tonight. We had Jordan and Kate come over to make the labor affirmation signs and pray and have a glass of wine and ice the birthday cake. It was really fun and distracting which was just what I needed.

The affiramation signs we made said:

fullsizerender-7“The Creator is not a careless mechanic.”
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.”

“There is power that comes to women when they give birth.”fullsizerender-8

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”

“Just ride the wave”

 

We went to bed around 10:30pm, and I woke up around 1:30am with stronger contractions. Erin and Jackie both got up with me, helped me through the contractions, made me eat some snacks and drink coconut water. By 5am I was tired and ready to sleep more. We all went back to bed, and when I woke up around 7:30-8am, my contractions had completely subsided. Jackie and I said a very teary-eyed goodbye because this meant she was officially missing the birth, and I was birthing without a doula or photographer. This was really hard and emotional for both of us, after all our prep. Lesson learned: you cannot plan or predict labor and birth, not even a little bit.

Wednesday, September 16th

Our midwife came over around 2:30-3pm. At this point, it had been close to 80 hours after my water broke and I was still not in active labor. She checked the baby (no vaginal exam since my water was broken and there is a great risk of infection). She gave me a homeopathic remedy for helping to induce labor. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. At this point, there were very few options left that didn’t involve modern medicine. Since I really did not want to go to a hospital, we decided to induce at home. I started to feel contractions between the 2nd and 3rd dose. By this point it was about 6 or 7pm and my contractions were lasting 30 seconds and coming about every 3 minutes. The midwife decided to leave for a little bit to let things get going. She wasn’t sure if she was going to go home or just get dinner nearby. She texted us and said she decided to get dinner nearby (good thing!) and stayed out for about 2 hrs. When she came back, we set up the couch for her and all went to bed by about 10:30pm.

Thursday, September 17th

Labor:

I woke up around 12am with pretty strong contractions. I spent the next 30 min or so just holding on to each side of the kitchen island and rocking my body back and forth during each contraction, with Erin standing behind me, rocking and breathing with me. The contractions were only lasting about 30-40 seconds, but coming every 30-45 seconds and were very, very intense. A couple of times around 1am I was having contractions with no breaks in between them. This was the hardest. It felt like I could get through any pain, as long as I had that break to rest and prepare for the next one. Without the break, it felt impossible. Erin and I decided at this point a warm shower would be a good idea to help slow things down. We got into the shower together and stayed in for about 20 min, just working through the contractions. Erin was my rock. He held me during each break, and swayed with me through each contraction. I sat in the tub for awhile. The warm water was so hot, but also felt so good. It helped slow things down, for a little while at least. I got out and spent a few contractions in the bathroom just rocking on the bathroom sink and towel rack. Afterwards Erin made me drink some coconut water while I just rocked on the kitchen table again for awhile. I remember just staring at the sign “The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you” on the kitchen table and trying to believe it. Then I heard Erin praying quietly over me as he rocked back and forth with me. It was so calming to know he was there and was calling on our Savior to be present. I couldn’t feel God’s presence the way I wanted to, I couldn’t even feel Erin’s presence the way I wanted to, but I could comprehend that they were both there watching over me and that was so soothing.

Transition:

Around 1-1:30am I got the birthing ball and sat on the floor leaning over it. Val woke up and checked on me, and I told her that I didn’t want to do it anymore. She said “Well, hunny, you have to.” (ha!) and I said “Okay.” I was irrationally angry at her for telling me I had to do it. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to quit. That I could stop or take a break. I wanted someone to just give me just a short break. To take the contractions away for just 30 min, and then I could muster up the strength to do it some more. Looking back, I realized at this point I was just exhausted and entering transition. I went back to the kitchen for a minute, but then suddenly felt a daze come over me and like a zombie just walked straight to the bed, laid down perpendicular on the bed, and fell asleep. I was too tired to even tell Erin that I needed to lay down, I only had enough energy to just get to the bed. At this point, I was sleeping through contractions which seemed to be coming less often (2-4 min apart) or else I was just so tired that I was sleeping through some of them and didn’t know how far apart they were. The contractions now were the strongest. So intense. I was sweating profusely and so badly wanted to cool off, but the lights were off so Erin didn’t know, and I couldn’t speak to tell him. Each contraction felt so long and hard, at times they were coming back to back without breaks again. I would grab the railing we put on the bed (for co-sleeping with baby) and just pull and squeeze it. During the contractions my entire body would shake uncontrollably. Then I remembered what we learned in the Bradley class – if I totally relaxed all of my muscles I was able to stop the shaking: breathe, relax, let go – every single muscle, even my forehead, even my fingers, just let the wave rush over me. It was helping, my body knew what to do, I just had to let it work. I only accomplished this about half of the the time because staying relaxed during a contraction took real effort, way more than I had the energy for. Erin tried to grab my hand during one of the contractions and I told him not to touch me. I wanted so badly to explain why, to tell him how being touched made everything worse, but all I could muster was “don’t touch me.” He laid down at the bottom of the bed and I felt the blankets move when he laid down and told him “don’t move.” Every touch or movement felt like painful pricks on my skin. He eventually fell asleep there at the bottom of the bed, which was good because he needed rest too. In between my contractions I was having nightmarish dreams. I remember they were about babies being born in hospitals, and the images in the dreams weren’t scary or disturbing, but the feeling I had during them is what made them seem like nightmares. Just a weird feeling.

Pushing:

I woke up around 3am and it felt like the baby was a rocket in my stomach (the best way I can describe it). Like there was literally nothing else inside of me but him (which was close to true, since my water had been leaking for days), and he was hard and right down the middle. I remember looking down during a contraction and could see only him right in the center, no more bump. Then, it felt like I had to poop and there was a weird pressure – aka: pushing contractions. It dawned on me what was happening and I woke Erin up and told him “get Val!”

Val came in and helped me get my pants off (which I did reluctantly because I had no energy and so much pain). She checked me and I was 8cm. She said “oh, we’re having a baby!” And ran into the living room to call Lindsay, her assistant. She told Lindsay to hop in a cab or she would miss it. Then she and Erin started prepping the bed for the birth. We were supposed to have set up the bed and the tub ahead of time, but no one realized how quickly everything would progress (we all assumed I would labor through the night and give birth sometime midday on Thursday). They set up the bed around me while I was still laying there dealing with contractions. Erin helped me get onto my hands and knees on the bed.In between getting tools for Val, he stayed by my head, encouraging me, holding my hand, wiping the sweat off my forehead with a wash cloth. I am yelling and screaming in my throat, so Val told me not to scatter my energy but to work with my body. To put my energy towards the push. She said to use my breath to bear down with each push/contraction, and try not to make noise or hurt my vocal cords during the push. I did what she said, it felt like silently screaming. Doing this was so much better. So much less pain. I was finally working with my body, instead of against it. In between pushes I would lay in some combination of child’s post and downward dog, and Val would apply a hot compress to help relax the muscles and allow them to stretch and rub the small of my back with her wrist – that provided so much comfort and relief.  She kept quietly whispering some of my motivational signs, “just ride the wave sweetie” as she rubbed my back, and I thought she was truly an angel sent from above (I guess I had forgiven her for making me continue…).

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Birth:

A little while later (maybe 30 min) she checked me and I was 10cm. She said “ok we’re having this baby”. I was sweating so much at this point, I had Erin help me take my shirt off.  Lindsay came in right around this time and grabbed the camera to get the angle where the baby would come from. Val reminded me to bear down, because I was starting to get worked up and my pushes had become vocal again. I switched back to “silent screaming.” Working with my body again (Why is that so hard?) After one or two of those pushes, the baby was crowning. Val had Erin and I each feel his head. At first I told her I couldn’t feel him (because it all just felt like weird wet vagina to me), so she had me feel again and I could tell it was his head (though it still didn’t feel like a head to me). I was mad she made me feel it. I didn’t care where his head was at this point unless it was outside of me! I did manage to make a joke right then. A few weeks back, we had a watched this video of a woman giving birth (mad props to this woman for birthing a 10 lb baby in a car with her clothes on, hero status) and at one point she screams “Babe its coming out of me!” So I looked at Erin and said “babe, its coming out of me” with the most dry, mundane voice because I could not muster a playful voice in that moment. But I made Erin smile, so there’s that.

Another contraction was coming and Val told me to slow down now. Not to push with it. That was so unbelievable difficult (I had been trying so hard to work with my body, now I had to work against it!). Pushing with it is the only thing that made me feel like I could get through it. But I did my best. Next one his head was out. She had me slow down again. Next one she said “okay this is it, push baby out” and I did.  I got his head out without a tear, but when his body came out something tore me (Val thinks it was his elbow). I didn’t feel anything though. I heard his cry and the next thing I knew she placed him between my legs and there he was (born at 4:12 am on Thursday Sept 17th). I was in a complete state of shock. I didn’t pick him up right away (the birth pause), I just looked at him. I remember seeing him pee, and I remember being so sad that he was crying, but I couldn’t think of what to do. I started to pet his head, and I looked at Erin (who was crying) and I felt so happy and completely oblivious to anything else going on. After about a minute I picked him up and Val put a towel over him and I held him against my chest.

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The breast crawl:

Erin then helped me lay down, and Val explained a breastfeeding method of letting the baby find the breast himself. So we put Miles on my stomach and he crawled to my chest and rooted around until he found my nipple and started to latch – this took him about an hour, but it was amazing to watch. Erin and I were just cheering him on the whole time (“c’mon buddy, you can do it!”) and laughing and smiling and just falling in love with this little peanut.

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First picture together!

Placenta:

During that time (about 20 min after baby delivery) imagethe cord had stopped pulsing and the midwife said it was time to push out the placenta. Pushing was the last thing I wanted to do after all the pushing I had just done. I felt cramps and contractions and Val told me to give a few good pushes. I finally did and it came out after about 4 little pushes. I didn’t even feel it come out – I actually had to ask if it did. Then Erin cut the cord and Val clamped and cleaned up the cord on Miles.

Stitching:

At this point, they needed to check my tear. It was a lot deeper than Val originally thought and I needed a lot of stitches. This was the most traumatic, painful, and difficult part of everything. Even with a local anesthetic, the pain was horrible. I was leaning on Erin who was sitting behind me (with baby on my chest). Erin was just comforting me the entire time, but it took an hour for her to finish stitching me and most of that time I was crying and shaking in shock.

Finally done!

fullsizerender-3When she was finally done, the midwives had me pee and eat a banana (against my will, haha!) made our bed, and cleaned up. When I came back from the bathroom, Erin was sitting on the couch, skin to skin with Miles. Its an image I will never forget. The trauma and pain I had just experienced was gone in that moment.

 

 

The midwives ordered us to sleep, which we did on and off for about 6 hours (Looking back, that was probably the best stretch of sleep Miles has given us in this past year!). It was so hard to sleep at 7:30am with all the adrenaline and excitement, despite being exhausted. The sun was shining through the windows and we could finally turn the AC back on a little (phew). There was such a sense of peace and calmness in those hours after his birth. It was so nice to be able to just lay down, with baby on my chest and Erin by my side, knowing that we finally did it. We brought this baby earthside, together, in our home.

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Looking back now, a year later, I’m amazed that we did it. After a lot of research, prayer, thought, and discussion, I was determined to have a home birth. It felt right. And so many things tried to get in the way – insurance, low iron, Miles was transverse for awhile, etc. With each obstacle that arose, I prayed, cried and fought to make it happen. We found solutions. I religiously took iron supplements three times a day and my iron levels went up. I used every spinning babies technique I could and he turned.

It’s true what they say, you forget the pain. When I think about his birth I feel strong, empowered, and proud. Reading through this story again though, I remember how hard it really was. How painful it was. How I felt like giving up just as I was making progress. It’s cool really, how I wanted so badly to give up but didn’t actually have the option of giving up. Nothing could provide relief besides the tools I had inside of me: breathing, moving, resting, grasping, relaxing, letting go, acceptance.

How often do I allow myself to give up on other things as soon as they get difficult? What if I immediately prayed every time life throws a hurdle? What if giving up wasn’t an option, just like it wasn’t that night?

I learned so much from this experience. I learned that God provides perfectly and there’s no reason to doubt Him. I discovered that my husband is an amazing, supportive partner through the most difficult of times and I am so lucky to have him. And I found out I am capable of so much more than I ever realized.

 

 

 

A hangry mom is not a happy mom

Leave it to becoming a mother to teach you how to let go of any perfectionism or OCD you might have. Now, I am by no means a perfectionist nor do I have OCD, you would know this if you came over right now, but I do have some weird quirks. One of which is when and how I consume food. Eating, to me, is not something I do because I need energy and nutrition, it’s a spiritual ritual that reminds me why life is worth living.

Okay I’m mostly kidding, but seriously guys, I love to eat and I am really particular about how it takes place. Ask my husband – if we’re going to watch a movie and we gather snacks to eat during the it, I will not allow the snacks to be eaten until the movie has started. Opening credits must be rolling before we dig in. Why? I don’t know, I think it’s an unfounded fear in the snacks running out before the movie is over, and lets be honest, I am watching the movie as an excuse to eat those snacks. I also rarely eat on the go. I will keep my bagel neatly wrapped in its foil until I can eat it while sitting down and sipping my now-lukewarm coffee.

All that is fine until you become a mom and realize that eating while sitting down is actually a luxury that is taken for granted by anyone who doesn’t have children. And recently, I’ve had some hangry outbursts at home. I honestly didn’t realize that I could get hangry, probably because I am almost always eating something (see above love for food). But the combination of my food quirk and motherhood is a perfect storm of hangriness. You could say “well Sharon, your baby is eating solids now, why not put him in his high chair and eat with him” and that would sound like a really great idea until you meet my kid. The moment he realizes he is buckled into anything and unable to move freely, he will scream and cry like he’s being carted off to solitary confinement for a year. If he’s unbuckled, well, this happens:

 
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But today I had a breakthrough. I ate my lunch while sitting on the floor and playing with Miles. It wasn’t perfect, he wanted to taste some of it and got a little on the couch but there are have been worse things on our couch than lentils. It wasn’t relaxing, per se. But it was generally pleasant. It seems like such a small thing – realizing I can enjoy my meal while not sitting at the table relaxing over a book and pondering life’s unanswered questions, but to me it was a breakthrough moment and I was such a better mom for it. Today, Miles went down for his nap a little later than usual. If I had chosen to wait until he was asleep for my perfect meal experience, I would have been entering hangry territory and would not have been the mom I want to be.

Sometimes we need to let go of our expectations and just let life happen. Today I had to let go of a peaceful meal. But peace is something we can choose to have, no matter the circumstances surrounding us. My decision to eat in a less than perfect setting was ultimately a decision to be a more peaceful mom, and thus a better mom. It’s a beautiful thing when you realize that sometimes sacrificing what you want can actually make you happier.

We all deserve to nurse to our babies

(*Note: this post was written months ago while I was still working, when more pumping sessions we’re relevant to my lifestyle. Fortunately that has changed, but the insight I got during that time is still very relevant to both myself, and the cows).

It’s 4am and the white noise machine barely covers the mechanical hum drum of my breast pump. I’m sitting on the couch trying not to disturb my husband or sleeping baby. It’s strange, choosing to be awake at this time of night when sleep is a rare luxury these days, but since I’ve returned to work, I want to make sure Miles has a good supply of milk in the freezer for the days I’m not here to nurse him.

My nipples are sore from being tugged on by a machine in the middle of the night and as I watch my milk drip one tiny drop at a time, hoping to get at least 5 ounces this time, the only thing that is keeping me going is the love I have for that tiny little human I created. If it weren’t for him, Lord knows I would be face down, drooling puddles on my pillow (now that I can finally sleep on my stomach again!).

The interesting thing is, it really is literally love that keeps me going.. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” is what helps us mammals to lactate. Many working mothers who pump bring pictures and videos or even a onesie that smells like their baby, to help them lactate while pumping at work. That’s because it’s hard to get oxytocin flowing when you’re in a cold room, with your co-workers voices echoing down the hall, and your baby nowhere in sight. While breastfeeding, you have your little one right there helping those hormones flow – skin to skin contact, hearing him cry and whine out of hunger, watching him work for the right latch – all of these things are biology on our side. Hum drums and co-workers and cold closets are not. But one thing we bring with us into that pumping closet is our love for our babies, so one way or another, we get the milk flowing.

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We’re not the only ones who produce milk, as I’m sure you’re aware. Every mammal does. And just like us, oxytocin is essential to milk let down for them too. Farmers know this. That’s why it’s good cow-milking practice to stimulate the teat for a few minutes before the milking process. The stimulation increase oxytocin. There’s a stimulate teat setting on my pump, too.

But the big difference between my pump and the cow’s pump is that I willingly hooked myself up to this machine. I am choosing to sacrifice time, sleep, and comfort for my baby. Cows (and goats and sheep) don’t get to take their babies’ used blanket to the pumping room with them while scrolling through last night’s impromptu photo shoot on their iPhone. In fact, their babies are torn away from that just days after their birth, usually for humans to consume as meat.

Cows are extremely emotional beings. Their love and dedication for their babies is not far from mirroring the love we have for our own. There have even been reports of mama cows hiding their offspring from farmers, knowing from experience that if they’re caught, they’ll never see them again. Cows who have been separated and later reunited with their babies can be seen very vocally celebrating the reunion.

But these other mammals – because of their lack of voices and thumbs – have their babies torn away from them and are forced to pump milk so we can haphazardly use it in our cereal, coffee and feed it to our own babies without even thinking twice about its source or the turmoil it may have caused that family unit. With an often misunderstood and vastly underestimated capacity for emotions, cows, sheep, goats and other milk producing farm animals have hormones just like ours that cause attachment and protectiveness and rage. They have milk that flows when their babies are hungry and nipples that need stimulating when their babies are not nearby, just like us.

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As a decade long vegetarian, breastfeeding my own baby has forced me to take a long, hard look at the dairy industry and decide once and for all not to support an industry that makes it money by tearing babies away from milk-producing moms.

 

The Forgotten Trimester

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This photo was taken about 18 hours after I gave birth to our son. I was mostly naked save for an adult diaper and a wrap holding my belly in (not because I was trying to make it shrink or hide it, but because it was uncomfortable – painful really – to have all of that extra weight hanging off of my small frame). I hadn’t showered since being in labor. I was dirty, in pain, exhausted and so so happy. I had no idea what the days ahead had in store and I greatly underestimated the amount of time it would take to recover, both physically and emotionally.

Throughout pregnancy we have apps that track our progress as we count down to the due date. We learn how how big our baby is getting each week and what is happening to our body throughout those developments. There are monthly appointments where our physical and mental health is checked on by a professional. We take take classes and read books to prepare us for labor, birth and how to care for a newborn. And then it happens, finally, the baby arrives. We can put all that knowledge to use! But we often forget to research and learn about how to care for ourselves during the weeks following a birth. Those weeks can be some of the most physically and mentally draining, yet postpartum preparation and support is too often overlooked in our society today. Many women are met with some unpleasant surprises as they try to navigate those first weeks, often alone.

Physically I experienced a lot of pain and bleeding for much longer than I expected. I couldn’t walk without pain for almost four weeks. My stitches were a nightmare. Pooping was terrifying. My boobs were sore.

Emotionally I was experiencing a love so intense it made me cry everyday. After family had left and my husband returned to work, I was lonely. My days were filled with joy, frustration, adrenaline, and exhaustion all within moments of each other (which can be exhausting on its own).

While this isn’t everyone’s experience, it was mine, and I was totally unprepared for it.

Women’s needs vary greatly depending on the individual and her unique circumstances but there are a few universal postpartum needs: rest, emotional and physical support, and healthy food. As a society we need to better prepare pregnant moms for what life after baby’s arrival might truly look like. And we need to be more available to provide for these moms.

“Lying-in” is an old postpartum practice, often displayed in Renaissance art and literature, where a new mother would stay in bed for up to two months after giving birth while friends and family cared for her, brought gifts and food, and let her spend the time bonding with her new baby. Interestingly, the term is now defined as a woman in the process of giving birth. And unfortunately that seems to be the new norm. We need to return to a time when we extend our care for a new mom beyond just the labor (and we need to take better care of laboring moms too – but that’s a blog post for another day).

I’m not suggesting women stay in bed for two months, that sounds mostly awful and I can’t imagine anyone in present-day society enjoying that, even with Netflix and Kindles. But allowing for rest and bonding is crucial to a new mother’s mental and physical well-being.

 

If you know a new mom….

Spend some time with her. Let her know you’re not bothered by exposed nipples and dripping milk – she’s doing her best to figure out how to feed her baby. She’s probably worried about his weight gain or concerned with her latch, the last thing she needs is a person in her home too prude to be in the same room as a leaking boob.

When you enter her home, please, first ask her how she is doing and what she needs. Give her a hug before trying to hold the baby. Ask about her birth story, telling it over and over can be so healing for her spirit.

Bring her some food. But not just any food. Take the time to look up postpartum recipes that contribute to healing, nursing and recovery. Make her something fresh, and bring it to her on the couch. Ask if you can hold the baby while she eats. (Bonus tip: if the baby starts crying, don’t try to comfort him/her, give the baby back to mom and put her food in the oven to stay warm. Hearing her baby crying will make that meal unpleasant, and newborns really just need their mamas when they’re crying).

If something is messy, clean it. Don’t ask if she wants it clean, she’ll probably say no because she’s polite and doesn’t want someone else cleaning her bathroom. But odds are, seeing a sparkly clean bathroom later that day will bring to her a sense of relief.

 

Pregnant, first time moms….

Put the newborn book back on the shelf. You’ll have time to read it later, and more likely you won’t need it because none of us ever know what we’re doing anyway, no matter how many books we’ve read. Pick up a few books on postpartum healing. Find out what your body might be going through, try to anticipate the needs you might have based on your personality and specific situation. Talk to other moms about their experience, what they appreciated having, what they didn’t expect needing, and how long their recovery took.

If you are able to, consider hiring a postpartum doula. If you have a partner or family in town to help, the doula might be able to lead them in what to do for you. Or hire her for when your family leaves and your partner is back to work because you may be very grateful for an extra pair of hands around, even a month after giving birth.

Find local moms to spend time with. This will be crucial to your mental health. Look up local groups on Facebook and organize a get-together, or find a postpartum yoga class. Consider pelvic floor therapy a few months after giving birth, some simple exercises and massages can help your body heal and gain strength again, which can do wonders for your mental health as well.
Most importantly though, don’t be afraid to ask for what it is you need. There is someone in your life who wants to and is able to provide it for you. Find them, ask them, and don’t feel bad about it. You just gave life to a new human, it’s the least that we could do.

 

(One last note: I was very well cared for after giving birth. I had many loved ones come visit and bring meals and take care of me. My husband provided the best support and took care of me in every way possible. But despite all of that, I was not prepared for how much I would need that support. This is what was most difficult. And not every woman feels this way. Many women give birth and feel fairly back to normal soon after. Some take even longer than me to recover. Every single birth is different, and every single recovery period is different – which is exactly why we don’t know what to expect and must prepare ourselves for the endless possibilities).

My sacrifice of praise: becoming a stay at home mom

Motherhood comes with a lot of sacrifices. From the day we conceive we experience nine months of it physically, mentally and emotionally. Then there’s the whole laboring thing. And finally, we have our sweet little baby in our arms and realize it was all worth it.

But the sacrifices don’t end there (I’m convinced the lack of sleep in pregnancy is just a way to prepare us to give up on sleep altogether). Now, don’t get me wrong. When I say “sacrifice” I do not mean burden. A burden is a chore or a debt that must be repaid. A sacrifice is something we do willingly because we love the person on the receiving end. It is considered a sacrifice because we don’t expect anything in return.

While I have made many of the common sacrifices that comes with childbearing (the nine months of sharing my body, the labor, the sleepless nights), I had yet to really feel the weight of what it means to have to put my son before myself in a big, life-changing way.

The past six months since my return to work had been a whirlwind of juggling babysitters and childcare, fighting exhaustion every morning and evening, cleaning nonstop, trying to maintain status quo in my professional and personal life, and all the other normal tasks that come along with just sheer existence on earth. I did my best to take it in stride but ultimately our family was suffering. So, after a lot of thinking and praying and serious internal conflict, I decided to leave my job at The Dodo and stay at home with Miles.

It feels strange saying goodbye to something that I had just started. This wasn’t just any job. This was an opportunity to work for a company doing something I truly believed in: I got to go into work every day knowing I was making a difference in the lives of animals and helping to change the history of the way we as a society treats them. So the decision to say goodbye to that was not one I took lightly.

The hardest part was accepting that I am exchanging a job I love and enjoy for one that is more challenging, with very little reward and no breaks. Yes, of course raising a child is rewarding but if I’m honest with myself, I much prefer our comfortable lifestyle of two incomes rather than planning my days around nap times and playground visits and cleaning. But I brought that little man into the world and now life isn’t about me anymore. And, as a Christian, life really shouldn’t be about me anyway, should it? But how often do we actually get the opportunity to close the door on something we really want for the sake of doing what’s best for someone else? So if nothing else, I am grateful for the opportunity to practice living sacrificially.

“Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Luke 17:33