Author Archives for Shannon @RaiseaMother

Another Birth Story

Hey Mamas! Long time, no see. This time, though, there’s a pretty good reason for my little hiatus: he’s here!

That’s right, our second son arrived 12 weeks ago, just over 38 weeks into my pregnancy. Little J is small – he was just over 6 pounds three weeks after birth and is still not on the growth chart – but he’s doing well. He’s cooing and smiling and doing all the things little nuggets his age tend to do.  And so, I have finally found the time to emerge from deep in the newborn forest to share my experience of his birth.

Some of you will remember that my husband and I were debating whether or not to try for a vaginal birth after having our first son via c-section (known as a VBAC). In the end, after much consultation with our midwives and an OB-GYN, we decided to give my body until the due date to go into labour on its own, without any medical induction, and to book a repeat c-section if that didn’t happen. I will confess that while on one hand I was pretty sure that the baby wasn’t going to wait until the due date, I simultaneously thought there was a solid chance that my body would not cooperate by going into labour. My own medical history, my experience at the end of my last pregnancy and struggle with breastfeeding the first time around had led me to believe that my body was a bit of a dud.

Turns out, I needn’t have worried.

My water broke mid-morning, but contractions didn’t start right away. When they did, they were mild and sporadic, coming every 20 minutes or so. My midwives told me to expect a long wait, and that the baby probably wouldn’t arrive until the next day. Just go about your day, they said. Try to eat well and get some rest.

For extra security, we had my in-laws pick up our 2.5 year old just before noon. I cried when he left, knowing that things would always be just a little different moving forward. We watched an episode of John Oliver and then my husband, who had taken a sick day from work before we knew things were starting (sorry, love!), went to take a nap. I turned on a movie, thinking I had a whole day of gradually-progressing labour ahead of me. The mild contractions continued, still 15-20 minutes apart.

Then it was like someone hit a switch. I hadn’t gotten half-way through the movie before my every-20-minutes, mild contractions suddenly became strong contractions that seemed to come on top of each other, about 2 minutes apart. My poor husband was jolted awake by my yelling to him from the bathroom. We called the midwife, who stayed on speaker phone through a few contractions before telling us to head to the hospital.

I wasn’t having it. I did not want to get in the car. This was my first labour, and things had come on so quickly. I was convinced that baby was going to be born right there in the bathroom. Fortunately, my midwife was able to convince me that I definitely wouldn’t want to get in the car later on, and so my husband ran frantically around the house, grabbing the various bags I had prepped, with me barking random orders: “Here’s my hairbrush”, “Make sure the cats are inside”. The poor guy was so flustered that the TV was still on when he got home the next day (sorry again, love).

The ride to the hospital is a blur. I discovered that having the car seat against my back provided significant comfort and I focused my mind on breathing through each contraction. The midwives met us at the hospital just before 5pm and found that I was already 6cm dilated.

In all, I had about 4 hours of active labour and 16 minutes of pushing before little J emerged, one hand up near his face, fist-pumping his way into the world. My husband described them as four of the longest hours of his life, but for me the time sped by. To be honest, I had no concept of time. I found comfort in holding my husband’s hand throughout, but otherwise I turned deeply inward. My whole world became entirely about just getting through. I had expected the pain, but the intense pressure of the baby moving downwards took me by surprise.

Like so much about parenting, my expectations of labour didn’t sync with my reality. I had always thought that I would be a person who would embrace pain medication, and I tried taking the edge off with nitrous oxide. But I didn’t like the light-headed feeling it gave me, preferring instead to keep my mind focused. I had anticipated that I would want to move around a lot during labour, and had pictured myself giving birth in a position that would use gravity to my best advantage – standing or squatting or resting on all fours. Instead, all I wanted was to lie on the bed, with the pillows and mattress providing soothing counter pressure against my back.

After worrying for months about my body not being up to the task of labouring – and when I began to doubt during labour itself – it was such a relief to hear my midwives saying, “This is going so well. Things are going just as they should be. We are so happy.” Much of my experience of labour is now blurred in my memory, but I clearly remember the comfort of my husband saying, “You’ve got this.”

My body was so eager to bring J into the world that it started to push even before I was fully dilated. My midwives helped J arrive safely just before 8pm, all 5 pounds and 14 oz of him. And suddenly, there he was: a tiny body snuggled onto my chest, just as I had wished for so many times since my c-section. It was the greatest relief and my world was just the three of us, cozy, safe and happy.

There was a knot in J’s umbilical cord, created by his pre-natal gymnastics, which fortunately hadn’t completely tightened. If it had, he probably would have died due to his oxygen being cut off. His small size and quick delivery had saved him. This was the first scary surprise of the night.

J’s birthday fist-pump and his quick arrival meant that I had what the nurse later called an “impressive” tear. My midwives brought in an obstetrician to do the repair. To help keep me comfortable and calm during the hour-long process, I was taken into the operating room and given a spinal anesthetic. I chatted away to one of my midwives to keep my mind off the work being done to repair my body. I got back to the recovery room and suddenly felt like I was fading. The combination of blood loss and fluids given to off-set the spinal meds dropped my blood pressure to 40/20. At the time, I didn’t know how serious this was. I just saw everyone around me jump into action. I was given two pints of blood and recovered quickly. I saw the colour return to my husband’s worried face as it returned to mine. We both finally got to eat and rest, and our cozy world was back to the way it had been immediately following the birth.

It took me a few weeks to process my experience of J’s birth – the trauma and the joy. It’s amazing how quickly the details fade, a by-product of sleep deprivation, no doubt.

Now we have officially made it through the fourth trimester and all the intense-newborn-focus that that entails. My body has healed, though I’m still doing a bit of physiotherapy to ensure that healing process goes as well as it can. L has accepted that the baby isn’t going anywhere. While he has yet to agree to hold him, he likes when his little brother smiles at him.

Our new normal is starting to feel a little less new. Our adventure as a family of four is well on its way and I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

 

Our little bean, on his birthday and at 11 weeks old.

 

Looking Forward to Mat Leave the Second Time Around

Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas! I hope you’re all enjoying a day filled with love from your little ones and maybe even a bit of grown-up love time.

In our house, we have officially reached the baby-could-come-anytime countdown. And like pretty much every Mom I know, I am simultaneously completely ready to be done with pregnancy and frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible before the little nugget arrives and I am newborn-bound. Given that this will be my second maternity leave, I also find myself reflecting on my hopes and expectations for what lies ahead.

I should start by saying that I am extremely fortunate. Living in Canada means that I am entitled to a full year off with the baby, and with my workplace benefits, I can afford to do that. This will allow me time and space to truly step away from work and focus my attention on my little one and my family. I know very well that this is not something everyone in North America enjoys, and I am grateful.

At the same time, I know from my experience with my last maternity leave that so much time away from the routine of work and adult time can be deeply isolating. And for someone like me – who thrives on checking off to-do lists – the need to feel like you’re getting things done can be hard to fulfill when your day is largely dictated by a tiny human who gives exactly zero fucks what’s on your list for that day.

Still, I’d like to think that the fact that this isn’t my first baby rodeo will help me have more reasonable expectations and provide perspective and comfort on those tougher days. With that in mind, I’ve got three goals for this upcoming year at home:

Accept that some things are just not going to get done, but recognize that lots of things are getting done: The last time I went on maternity leave, I had a big list of things I thought I would get done in my “year off” – things like mastering recipes for lemon meringue pie and hollandaise sauce, and finally painting a three-panel seascape for our living room. Seriously.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It will shock precisely no one who has ever met a baby that none of these things even got started, let alone finished. But there were lots of other things that did get done – organizing and cleaning projects that made our daily lives as new parents easier, a scrapbook of my son’s first year. And, of course, there was all the growing and developing that my son did over that time, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. In other words, the stuff that was more important to our family got done. 

So this time around, I’m going to try to be kinder to myself and to have faith that while sometimes it may seem as though nothing is getting checked off the list, in the grand scheme of things the important stuff will get accomplished. I may still have no clue how to make hollandaise sauce, but my kiddos will be fed and cared for, so we’ll call that a win.

Get out of the house and into the village: The last time I was on maternity leave, it took me months to feel confident enough to leave the house alone with the baby for any trip longer than the five-minute walk from my house to the local coffee shop and then promptly home. We went lots of places with my husband or other family, but when alone I was petrified that my son would have a meltdown in whatever public place and I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself. Last time I was on maternity leave, I was also the only one of my friends with a small baby. Linds was home with little A, but she lives six hours away, so our commiserating was mainly over the phone. My not very big house started to feel teeny tiny, let me tell you.

Two days in particular helped me gain a bit of perspective. The first was five months in, when Linds came to visit for a week with A. We took the bus together to the mall to do some Christmas shopping…for most of the day. And you know what? Everyone was fine. The boys were mostly content, but when they got fussy, we knew how to deal. It was exactly the proof I needed that I could hack this mom thing, not just in the safety of my house but out in the world.

The second day was nine months in (yes, nine), the first day that I spent mostly away from my son. All that time focused on the needs of my beautiful little baby hadn’t included enough focus on taking care of myself and I was melting down. My husband saw me melting and, fortunately, took matters into his own hands. He called my mother-in-law, who was more than happy to take my son off my hands the next day while my husband was at work. I don’t even remember what I did with that day. I just remember realizing how very much I had needed that break and how important it is to embrace the village around you.

So, this time around, I want to remember the lessons from those two days. I want to get out of the house more from the start, confident in the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of navigating baby needs in public. And, at the same time, I want to remember that it is more than ok to ask for help. It is necessary. No one can do this parenting thing truly alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your kids. This time around, I am also fortunate to have a few friends who are home with their little ones too, and I plan to take full advantage. After all, there’s no one who understands what you’re going through as a mom better than other mamas.

Enjoy: Initially, I was going to write “enjoy every moment”, but let’s be real. Some moments…they’re not going to be so great and I’m not going to enjoy them. Some moments are going to royally suck. That’s ok. There are lots of moments that will more than make up for those times that make me want to scream into a pillow.

And having done this before, I know full well that when this year comes to an end, I’m going to wish I had more time at home with my little nugget.

Mom Stuff I Learned at Work #1: Celebrate the Small Victories

We’ve written here before about how our professional lives shape and impact our parenting lives. Usually, these reflections have been about the challenges we face as working parents, trying to find a balance for all the demands on our physical and emotional time and energy. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to say on that theme in the future, but lately I’ve also been thinking about ways in which my work life has helped to prepare me for the marathon that is parenthood.

I am trained as a social worker, and my degree had a focus in social justice advocacy. For the better part of the past six years, I have worked in politics for a party that is known as a perpetual underdog. Let’s just say, I am familiar with an uphill battle.

And in both my professional training and work experiences, I have learned that the ability to do two things can be the difference between keeping motivated and dragging through your days: 1. the ability to re-define a “win”, and 2. the ability to recognize and celebrate the small victories.

At first glance, these skills might seem like another version of #GoodEnough, one of our favourite self-care reminders here at Raise a Mother. They’re related, but they’re also more than that.

Telling yourself something is #GoodEnough is about setting realistic expectations. It’s about not holding yourself to the standard of the “perfect Mom” who doesn’t exist. It is, to some extent, about letting yourself off the guilt-hook. It’s about allowing yourself to believe that you are doing a good job.

Redefining a win and celebrating small victories are a little different. These are about the big jobs, the ones that are going to take a while. They are about breaking down a seemingly impossible task into manageable chunks and giving yourself kudos when you deal with one of those chunks.

And while #GoodEnough is often about recognizing that a particular task is not actually important in the grand scheme of things, celebrating a small victory is about recognizing when a particular task is an important step on the road to achieving a larger important goal.

I’ve gotten fairly good at redefining a win and celebrating a small victory at work. When you’re trying to advocate for changes in public policy, things do not move quickly. There are many, many steps on the road to success. Sometimes your bigger goal is something that you know full well will be years, decades – or even generations – down the road. If you don’t take the time to claim some of the small accomplishments as wins, the challenging days start to take a much tougher toll.

Let’s be honest: parenting is no different. The ultimate goal is to raise a good human being. Talk about something that will be decades in the making. Even some of the shorter-term large tasks of parenting, (getting them potty trained/ getting them sleeping or eating well/ getting through toddler tantrums or puberty), can feel like endless hills to climb. And at the same time, you have the giant goal of becoming the parent you want to be – definitely a long-term project.

I’m not yet as good at celebrating a small victory at home as I am at work, but I’m working on it. This weekend, I watched calmly as my two-year-old coloured all over a Christmas list I was working on. For most people, this is probably nothing to note, but I was proud of myself. People who know me know that I have slightly anal-retentive tendencies when it comes to organizing and list-making. I get an abnormal amount of joy out of colour-coding. My little guy’s artistic expression rendered my list almost illegible and the colour-coding basically disappeared.

My pre-kid self (even my early Mom self) would have been annoyed and resigned myself to starting a new, clean list. But this weekend, I didn’t freak out; I didn’t get annoyed or make a new list. I just accepted that this year’s list is decorated by my budding artiste and I gave myself a mental high five. On the really, really long path to getting to the non-control freak Mom I want to be, I took a little step forward. On to the next…

You Deserve a Medal, Mama

copy-of-good-jobthank-youkudosThe last few weeks have been really hard, everybody. Work has been a daily battle. I’m so far behind on chores and life admin at home. And growing this second human has been knocking me on my ass so much more than my first pregnancy.

I could write a lot more about this ongoing feeling of being overwhelmed, (and I’m sure I will in the future). But today, I’m going to re-focus my attention outwards – on my village – and give some well-deserved shout-outs. I firmly believe that there are times when a Mom, or any parent, deserves a medal just for showing up and managing to wear clean clothes. These ladies have way overshot that bar, and they deserve some kudos:

To my university roommate – who just pushed out her third baby like a boss, in what she described as a “quick and easy” labour and delivery…I know you are probably exhausted right now, and that there are many adjustments going on at home. But remember: You are a rockstar who has grown three humans. I’ll just repeat that: three humans. And they are all alive and well and thriving. You are doing a great job!

To my work bestie – whose eight-year old was so proud to make her own dinner one night…I know you felt bad that she made dinner instead of you. But remember: You are single-handedly raising a confident, self-sufficient, resourceful kid, who knows you are there when she needs you. That is exactly what you want to be doing. You are doing a great job!

To my friend who just recently had her first baby – and still managed to make it to our book club within the first week…I know it seems like your world has been completely turned upside-down, and in many ways it has. But remember: Your friends are still here and we love you. Self-care is important and you made time for it, right off the bat. You are doing a great job!

To my sister – who is deep in the weeds herself, with two little ones under three…I know you worry about a lot, and that it’s hard to find the time and energy to take care of yourself when you are working so hard to take care of your babes. But remember: You have so much love to give and your kids are showered in it. You can give yourself some love and you’ll have plenty left for them. You are doing a great job!

To the slightly frazzled-looking lady in the mirror – Who, in the past two years, has knit one fall hat for her son that was too small and one that is far too big…I know you feel sometimes like you can’t seem to get anything right. But remember: Be gentle and kind with yourself. Your child feels safe and loved. That’s what matters. You are doing a great job!

And to all of you out there, just Mom-ing up day in, and day out…I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but you all deserve a medal too. Remember: you are doing a great job!

When mental worlds collide

moms-to-do-list-no-do-listMamas, over the past while, I’ve really been in the weeds. At work, things have been busy and stressful. At home, we have been fighting colds while trying to keep up with our household tasks and our active toddler. And then, of course, I’m currently growing a human.

This week, after a particularly rough day at the office, I told my husband: “If I was served on your toast at a restaurant, you would complain that they stiffed you on the butter.” I am spread pretty thin at the moment, guys.

Of course, this feeling won’t come as news to my fellow working moms – or, frankly, to any mom out there. No matter what our circumstances, every mom I know has many, many balls in the air at any given time.

As a full-time working mom, most of my week is spent in the office. My mental energy has to be focused on the dynamics, challenges and giant, never-ending task list of my professional life. The nature of my job is such that I am the lead on, and need to be on top of, a large variety of projects on a continuous basis. I am the president of a lot of stuff.

Then I come home, and I want and need to be completely present and focused on my family life. There’s a giant, never-ending task list here too. To me, it’s even more important, and I want to give it the attention and energy it deserves. And because I only have a few hours each day with my son and husband, I want to make them count. I want to be the best possible mom and partner I can be. I’m just so tired.

Recently, it’s gotten me thinking about the work-life balance and personal/professional boundaries. In times like these, when I’m in the weeds, I feel like my worlds are colliding. They’re not balanced at all.

Try as I might, I’m not always able to leave my professional to-do list at the office. It still runs through my head, joined by the tasks from my home to-do list, until my brain becomes so full of worry about all the things I still need to do that I just want to take a nap. I feel as though I’m standing between two tall towers of paper, the weight causing them to lean perilously towards each other, ready to collapse and bury me at any moment.

I want my kids to remember me as a loving, joyful, playful, positive person in their lives – a person who made those few hours each day count – not as a person running around like a chicken with her head cut off.

As working moms, we’ve heard a lot about finding the work-life balance that works for us. But most of that discussion focuses on the number of hours in a day, on where and how we are physically spending our time.

What about our mental time? Even when we’re physically at home, how do we keep the stresses and pressures of the work day from infiltrating the emotional energy we are giving to our families?

I know this is not a question with an easy or fast answer. And like so many things in parenting, it has more to do with working on myself. But this is where I’m at this week, mamas. It’s real and it’s hard and I know it’s where many of you are too.

And then there were four…

Well, mamas, I’ve got an announcement: I’m pregnant again!

My husband and I are officially expecting our second child, due on March 3rd. No news yet on the baby’s sex, but we should be able to find out during our ultrasound in October. Since I love a) spoilers and b) planning ahead as much as possible, you can bet that I am counting down the days!

I am so excited to be able to share this news with you. It has been incredibly hard over the past couple of months to not be able to write about the ups and downs of the first trimester – especially when I know how great a resource of support we have in this village.

Being pregnant this second time has been a lot harder than with my first. The exhaustion and the nausea have been much worse than I experienced with my son. At one point a few weeks ago, I asked a good friend of mine, “When was the last time you were nauseous every day for months?” It wasn’t until I said it out loud and saw his eyes widen that it hit me what a physical toll being pregnant can take a body, even from the very beginning. And I know that many, many women have it worse than me.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about being pregnant when you already have one or more small children, (though it should be pretty obvious): toddlers don’t care that you’re pregnant. My son doesn’t understand that I feel sick and need extra rest. He’s busy being two and experiencing all the intensity of his brain developing at an incredible rate. He needs me to be the best, most patient mom I can be, day in and day out – even when all I want to do is find a comfortable position to lie in while I figure out what I might be able to stomach for dinner.

For all you mamas out there with older children, I know this doesn’t stop at toddlerhood. I distinctly remember, as a teenager, chasing my poor pregnant mother around the house making waterfall noises when I knew she had to pee. (I am SO sorry, Mom. That was totally a dick move.)

But the thing is, even with all its challenges, it’s the joy I find in being a parent to my son that makes me even more excited to meet our new little babe. Last week at my midwife appointment, I got to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, and it was just as thrilling as when I heard my son’s tiny heart thumping away – long before I had any real sense of how much my life was about to change.

I’m so glad this cat’s finally out of the bag! I am looking forward to sharing these next few months with all of you mamas out there, and to hear about your experiences in this crazy world of second-time motherhood.

 

pregnancy-announcement

What happens when I DIY

IMG_20160618_172816A few weeks ago, Linds and I were thrilled to be interviewed on our favourite podcast, One Bad Mother. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the episode, you can check it out here.

Talking to friends and family afterwards, one of the main take-aways from the interview was our overall emphasis on accepting things as #GoodEnough. (Many thanks to everyone who participated in the #GoodEnough challenge — feel free to keep ’em coming!) In particular, people related to Lindsay’s experience of comparing her preparation for her son’s birthday party to my DIY prep for my son’s party a month earlier.

Since this experience has struck such a chord, we wanted to explore it further. Because here is something that is true for me, that is not necessarily true in the same way for my sister — or for many others scanning Pinterest with a mixture of anticipation, inspiration and guilt: my DIY-ing gives me a creative outlet that I’m otherwise missing in my daily life. It’s actually about me.

I am, and have always been, a creative person. Throughout elementary and high school, I steadily took almost every English, art, theatre and music course available (though not dance — I am not a graceful or coordinated person, just ask…anyone). Lindsay and I both participated in extra-curricular theatre groups as well as school shows. My first jobs as a teen were performing as a children’s entertainer (read, clown — don’t judge), and helping to run a kids’ theatre camp. Even on vacation, I would sit on the beach and sketch set and costume designs for hypothetical productions.

And then I went to university and became an adult and I no longer had the time or resources to spend on creative pursuits that were really just for me. Sometimes, I have grand plans for a creative project that’s just for my own enjoyment, but I never seem to prioritize actually making it happen. Case in point: since we moved into our house, I have planned to paint something for a giant wall in our living room. I can see the picture in my mind. In reality, it’s four years later and I haven’t even bought the canvas, let alone picked up a brush. The wall is still sitting blank because I keep insisting that I’m going to paint one of these days.

Here’s the thing, though — when I’m planning a DIY project that is ostensibly “for someone else”, it gets prioritized and I get to do something creative.

I’ve been like this since well before my son was born. I took up knitting six years ago, and in that time I have knit gifts for each of my five sisters, for each of my six nieces and nephews, for my parents, for my husband, for my son. I have knit a total of two things for myself — one of which was a Christmas stocking to match the stockings I had already made for Randy and Lucas.

The thing with my son’s birthday parties is the same. Look, mamas, we all know full well that 1) they don’t give out prizes for children’s birthday parties, and 2) my child will be happy and feel loved on his birthday regardless of whether or not there are themed decorations. We also all know that there are plenty of things out there that just make us feel bad about ourselves, that are in no way real measures of how we’re doing as parents.

Geeking out on thinking up theme-y puns for the punch label and Pinning inspiration for a sea turtle cake doesn’t make me a good Mom. It’s not actually about my kid. In my case, doing these things makes me me.

What happens when I DIY is that I give myself permission to spend time doing something creative that makes me feel good. It’s sneaky self-care. It keeps me in touch with a part of myself that was there long before motherhood, and will be there long after my kids are grown and have kids of their own. For me, DIY-ing is not about trying to be something or someone that I’m not. It’s about getting in touch with who I am.

I think what makes any of us a good Mom is being ourselves, and showing that person to our kids.  So, you do you, mamas! The best Moms are the ones who do.

Lucas' Birthday 2016 2

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