New Parent

Go the f*ck to sleep, my sweet little angel monster

Let me set the scene: a mother sits on the couch, sobbing while she holds her screaming baby for what seems like hour number 74, even though it’s only 2pm. Amidst her crying there’s “I’m so sorry”, “Oh my God, go to sleep!”, “Why are you so cute?” and “I love you so much”. It’s a normal day and it’s completely insane.

Sound familiar? I’m pretty sure this has been every parent at some point in the first year of their child’s life, (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself these days). This has definitely been me. It was me yesterday…and the day before.

Yes, this is where I’m at these days, mamas. Serving at the whims of an adorable little tyrant who WILL. NOT. SLEEP. I consider myself a fairly patient person, but this test is next level. Continue reading

GUEST POST: Giving up the Ghost of Breastfeeding, Over Two Years Later

Welcome back to Kayla Borja Frost; we’re grateful to have her share more of her parenting journey. Kayla is a licensed mental health counselor, mother, wife, dog-owner, and blogger living in the Boston area. You can check out her blog at https://whatwemeanwhenwesaymotherhood.wordpress.com/ .

When I think back to the first few weeks of my son’s life, one word comes to mind: heartbreak. I feel immense guilt for even mentioning that word in the context of my now two-and-a-half year old son, who is healthy and intelligent and sweet and beautiful. There are so many moms out there (some of them known to me personally) longing for a healthy little baby to call their own. And I am so grateful to have my son.

But rather than browbeat myself too much (because I don’t think that’s helpful to me or to anyone else), I think it’s more important to be honest about my journey. And as I cared for my newborn son, my heart was most certainly breaking.

Because all was not going according to plan. In fact, nothing was going according to MY plan. I hadn’t planned to suffer a serious hemorrhage after my baby’s birth. I hadn’t planned on the sleeplessness and worry of life with a newborn plunging me deep into insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I hadn’t planned on the nagging thoughts of “I can’t do this” and “I’m a terrible mother” and “I’ve made a mistake.” But there they were.

Most of all, I hadn’t planned that the simple act of feeding my baby would have me feeling lost, helpless, devastated, and full of rage all at the same time. The problem: I wasn’t producing milk (no more than an ounce or so at a time). I tried to be patient with myself (perhaps the hemorrhage caused my body a set back) and with my baby (maybe he needed to learn to be a more effective eater). I saw several lactation consultants and followed their recommendations: pumping after every feeding, lots of skin to skin contact, eating specific foods and taking supplements to boost supply, and even using a torturous SNS device (basically a baby beer bong for formula). The one suggestion I didn’t take (which ironically probably would have helped the most) was to go to a breastfeeding support group. I felt far too ashamed and embarrassed to face a group of women and lay bare my nursing failures. Of course now, with some perspective, I realize that I likely would have met women with similar struggles and gained support and reassurance. Hindsight.

However, at six weeks postpartum, the situation felt hopeless. I could only pump the smallest drops of milk. My son would feed for 45 minutes or an hour, and then ravenously suck down a bottle of formula. Then I would pump. Then I would clean the bottle and pump parts. Then it would be time to start this whole process over again. And while I had imagined breastfeeding would be this great bonding experience with my baby, instead I felt a growing resentment.

I also felt a growing resentment toward my own body.  I had always been a strong believer in mind over matter. At my first spin class, my body said “Noooo!” But my mind said “if all these other people can do this, you can too.” I stuck with it and became an avid indoor cycler. But breastfeeding is not a spin class. You cannot force your body to make milk (believe me, I tried). And for all the “It will happen” statements I clung to from LC’s or well-meaning friends, I shut out my OB frankly saying “It might not work for you” and “No one will know on the first day of kindergarten whether he was breast or formula fed.” I shut out my mother and my husband gently saying “It’s okay to stop” because they could see how miserable I was. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t just QUIT. For a lifelong super over-achiever like me, that was the unthinkable.

I remember the morning I stopped nursing. My child was 6 weeks old. I had been awake all night with the feeding/pumping routine, and on top of that worrying, worrying, worrying about it all. I felt very close to breaking, mentally and physically. So finally, I felt able to tell myself that I wasn’t QUITTING. I just had to stop. For my sanity. For my wellbeing and that of my baby. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to be able to hold my baby without a boob or bottle involved. I needed to banish the nightmarish whir of the breast pump. Moreover, my baby needed ME. And he needed me to be sane more than he needed breast milk.

I would love to say that I made my decision about breastfeeding and stood firmly and proudly behind it thereafter. But that would be a lie. I have struggled (and still do) with so much guilt. More than two years later, I still find myself thinking, “If I had stuck with it for another week, would my milk have come in?” When I see another mother nursing her baby, I feel a hot rush of jealousy and inadequacy. When the topic of breastfeeding comes up, I’m tempted to lie or to over-explain my experience. I just haven’t been able to truly move on.

I experience a deep and profound sadness mixed with rage when I see “breast is best” advertisements. I fully recognize that this material is meant to inform and encourage mothers and the general public. And I am truly in awe of the superwomen who make breastfeeding work for their families, whether for a few months, a year, or longer. I now understand how difficult this is, even for a woman with adequate milk supply. There is no such thing as an “easy” road for any of us.

However, my problem with the current trend in breastfeeding education is that it frames breastfeeding as a choice. And if we feed our babies formula, we are not necessarily making a “bad” choice, but it’s not “best.” But what about those of us who did not have a choice? Adoptive parents. Parents with health problems that prevented breastfeeding. Parents that had to return immediately to work. Or moms like myself that just couldn’t make it work? It enrages me that I am thought to have made a poorer “choice” for my son, when what I feel is that my “choice” was taken away. It was out of my hands. I realize that just by writing this, I am opening myself up to criticism that I didn’t try hard enough. That I made the wrong “choice.” I’m sorry, but fuck that. I’m done feeling bad about this. Or at least I’m really, really trying to be.

So as my husband and I question if or when we might try for another baby, I find myself seriously concerned about attempting to breastfeed again and hoping that I can find a healthy, balanced approach. As I consider this, I am reminded of some good advice a mom friend gave that has stuck with me. As I complained to her about my breastfeeding woes, she said “There’s always going to be something in parenting that doesn’t work out at all the way you’d imagined.” For example, she had always imagined going for leisurely walks with her infant in his stroller. Unfortunately, her son had such terrible reflux that he couldn’t tolerate the stroller.  They never used it. Her stroller was my breastfeeding.

There’s something that just doesn’t work out for all parents. As hard as it is to accept that and move on. But we can move on. Because our children are fine. They’re better than fine. No one will know on the first day of kindergarten that her son couldn’t go for walks in a stroller. And no one will know my son was formula fed. Our children are fine. And we will be too.

Want to share your ideas with the village in a guest post? Write to us at raiseamother@gmail.com for more information. We’d love to hear from you!

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.

GUEST POST: How community helped during the hardest time of our lives

This month, we are pleased to welcome Kristi Sterry to the Raise a Mother village. Kristi is the mom of two little boys.  She works in cancer research, and enjoys travel, hiking, and trail running. You can find her blog at lovelearnrunblog.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @krististerry. Welcome, Kristi!

bio-picOur youngest son, James, was born with a serious medical issue.  Hours after his birth, we discovered that his esophagus was not connected to his stomach, his trachea was underdeveloped, and had a fistula.  This condition is called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula, or EA/TEF.

Our world changed overnight. Instead of the sleepless nights, baby cuddles, and diapers we expected, we found ourselves navigating major surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and an uncertain future.

Our friends and family shared our heartache and our hope for this sweet new baby. Everyone we knew offered to help.  And honestly, they made all the difference in the world.  Here’s how:

Help with the older kids

My water broke at 5:45am, and we left for the hospital by 7am.  My older son, Thomas, awoke to the news that he had a new baby brother.  Before Thomas even met his brother, James had to be life-flighted to a larger hospital 2.5 hours away.  I followed as soon as I was discharged from the hospital.

I was terrified for my new baby, but my heart broke for my firstborn.  I knew he was confused and sad and missed his family.

During this time, our friends and family took care of Thomas, helped him FaceTime with us, took him on play dates, and brought him over the mountain pass to visit us.  Knowing that he was being loved and cared for brought this mama tremendous peace of mind.

Meals

After we got home, friends showed up with meals every day for 2 months.  It was such a tremendous help to have that off our plate so we could just focus on our family.  And many of my friends don’t cook (like me!), so they chipped in on gift cards.

Reach Out

Those long days at the hospital were really lonely, especially since we were hours away from home.  My best friends texted constantly.  My sister and mom e-mailed me encouraging quotes and verses late every night, since they knew I would be up pumping.  One sweet friend sent her friend who lived locally to deliver a care package.  It was so nice to connect with another mom.  Honestly, the love and support we received during that time still brings tears to my eyes.  Not everyone knew what to say, but just knowing they were thinking of us meant the world.

Keep offering to help

This is the big one. Once the baby comes home from the hospital, it seems like the medical crisis is over. But for many families, it is harder, lonelier, and scarier once they leave the support of the hospital. Our friends and family keep checking in with us.  They pray alongside us when James is sick.  And they celebrate every milestone as he continues to grow and thrive.

Watching your child suffer through a major medical issue is not something I would wish upon anyone.  But I wouldn’t trade our journey with James for the world.  He has taught us many things, not least of which is what a wonderful community surrounds our family.

January is EA/TEF Awareness Month.  Each year, 1 out of every 4,500 babies is born with EA/TEF.  Even after their repair, many of these children battle a long list of chronic issues.  On this official awareness month, we spread the word about this unknown condition and celebrate modern medicine gifting our children with life.

Why Sleep is the Best F**king Thing on the Planet

When you’re sleep deprived as the parent of a baby or young toddler, it can seem like the world is, well, basically, Mordor:

mordor

 

…when it looks to everyone else like your life should be this scene from Marie Antoinette:

marie-antoinette

 

In my experience, people are usually pretty nice to you about this plight, pretty sympathetic. But eventually, even some of the nicest people, with the best intentions, seem to get a little… shall we say… sick of your tiredness? Continue reading

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!

GUEST POST: The Lifeboat

We are very excited to share our first guest post! Kayla Borja Frost is a licensed mental health counselor, mother, wife, dog-owner, and blogger living in the Boston area. You can check out her blog at https://whatwemeanwhenwesaymotherhood.wordpress.com/ .

Life boatWhen my son was 4 months old, I hit a low point triggered by one absolutely terrible night. My husband and I attended my son’s 4-month well baby appointment, and his pediatrician was quite adamant that we should give up swaddling.  She felt our son was too large and able to roll, and at this point the swaddle was more risk than reward. She suggested stopping cold turkey. So that night, we took her advice.

To say it did not go well would be an understatement. The baby was up every 1-2 hours (which was not unusual for him because he was quite a voracious eater). What was unusual was that it would then take hours for him to fall asleep after a feeding.  He would cry and flail and flail and cry. He clearly HATED not being swaddled. But we pressed on, determined to stick to the doctor’s advice. Around 4 AM, we finally gave in.  The little guy was practically passed out cold before I finished the last tuck of the swaddle blanket.

The next morning I was an exhausted, emotional wreck. In this state, I posted a completely embarrassing, word-vomit, cry for help on Facebook asking, (begging,really), for advice and support.  I did receive messages of encouragement from a few friends with children.  But I also got something else that was much, much more valuable.  A good friend from college reached out to me with an invitation to a private mom’s Facebook group. I eagerly scrambled aboard what I had yet to realize would be my lifeboat. I was adrift in a choppy sea of motherhood, and these women pulled me to safety.

I know this sounds corny. But it’s also very, very true. Having a private, judgement-free place to ask questions about pregnancy, birth, and life after baby (including topics as sensitive as physical and emotional difficulties after childbirth) has been invaluable.  These women have been the tiny pinpoint of light in the darkness, (sometimes quite literally, if I’m posting at 3am).  Perhaps more importantly, as I’ve grown in my confidence as a parent, it has been so important for me to be able to give advice and encouragement to other moms, becoming a crew member on that lifeboat.

This all goes back to my lack of confidence in myself as a mother.  Instead of trusting myself and my understanding of my child’s needs (for example, the swaddle), I deferred to a pediatrician, who I trust implicitly with my child’s medical needs, but who sees him for 10-15 minutes every few months.  I didn’t recognize that, as his mother, I probably knew better.

This recurring theme plagued me in the early days of parenting. I studied “tips and tricks” books and websites, trying my best to recreate the steps they said would get my baby to eat or sleep or calm down. And when these formulas didn’t work for me and my son, I blamed myself. “I must be doing this whole parenting thing wrong,” I thought. And off I would go to furiously Google more tips and tricks. But once I was in the lifeboat, I was able to let go of all that. Here’s why:

A successful mom’s support group, in my experience, is one where the members are encouraged to share their most private experiences and get supportive feedback. You will never feel judged. You will never feel you are doing it “wrong.”  And slowly but surely, you will start to internalize these beliefs. Moms will share some tips and tricks, but it will all be in the spirit of “Here’s what worked for me and my baby.”  You will be exposed to many ideas and beliefs about parenting with an invitation to take what you like and leave the rest.

As my baby grows into a toddler, I am less active in the Facebook group than I once was.  Sometimes, I think maybe I don’t need the lifeboat anymore.  And just as that thought enters my mind, my son breaks out in a weird rash, or has a massive tantrum, or challenges me in some new and uncharted way.  And I thank my lucky stars that I can consult these brilliant, beautiful women who keep me feeling strong, and hopeful, and help me believe in myself as a mother.

If you are treading water and lacking a lifeboat, I urge you to find or build one of your own.  This is both simple and difficult to accomplish:

Step one: Set up a private group filled with other parents that you trust (and who you trust to invite their own trusted friends to join).  Step two: Create group rules and norms around a culture of acceptance and love, with the goal of helping one another be the best mothers you can be (no matter what that may mean to each individual member).  Step three: Hold on for dear life.

I know I will.

Want to share your ideas with the village in a guest post? Write to us at raiseamother@gmail.com for more information. We’d love to hear from you!

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