New Parent

Sure, the ‘MEternity’ Leave Idea Seems Idiotic… But I Can’t Really Blame its Author

Meghann Foye has been getting a lot of attention for her NY Post piece about wanting her own ‘maternity’ leave without having any kids… called a “MEternity leave.” Granted, this is probably just a publicity grab for her new book, which I have no opinion on as I haven’t read it, but this piece alone is getting quite the reaction from parents, who are largely outraged at her insinuations that parental leave is an opportunity to obtain lifestyle flexibility, time for self-reflection, and a renewed sense of self-confidence if you’re burnt out at your workplace.

“Ha. HA. HAH!,” yelled, in unison, all parents who read this ignorant, unicorn pipe dream.

There have been some hilarious and cathartic responses written to Foye’s piece, like this one at Scary Mommy and this one over at Yackler Magazine. Both of these take Foye’s proposed ideas down with wit and acuity. Read them!

I can’t, though, in all honesty, attack Foye myself. Because deep down, I know I was not devoid of similar thoughts about maternity leave… BEFORE I had kids. And I know I’m not the only one who had wildly inaccurate, ridiculous, idiotic notions about what maternity leave would afford me as a new parent: Continue reading

When I was Disappointed by My Child’s “Gender”

With my first pregnancy, I really wanted the sex to be a surprise – after all, it’s the one major surprise in life you know is going to be wonderful either way, right? I got a thrill imagining all the possibilities of who my little unborn person could be, without gendered boundaries. I was thrilled when my son was born – I saw him on the bed below me and immediately squealed, “Oh my god, he’s here!” I tried to pick him up so fast the midwives had to stop me so I wouldn’t yank the cord.

My second pregnancy was an entirely different story. As you may know from a few of my other posts, I’m a feminist. I believe strongly in deconstructing the patriarchal values that disadvantage people who aren’t heterosexual, cisgender males in our society. So perhaps it won’t surprise to say I always hoped I’d have a daughter. I envisioned a young woman who I could raise to be a strong bulwark against the bullshit of the patriarchy, someone who would resist gender stereotypes and prove “the man” wrong with her intelligence and independence. My husband hoped for the same. We only plan on having two kids, so suddenly the sex of this little person had more at stake, and we decided to find out at the 20-week ultrasound. We’d heard enough stories of people who’d been disappointed with a baby’s sex, so finding out in advance seemed like the safer option.

When the ultrasound technician pronounced the fetus male, Continue reading

The Thing I Sometimes Forget About Professional Advice

This past week, I struggled with feeding my son. He didn’t gain as much weight as they would have liked, so I was advised by the midwife who came to visit me that I needed to feed him every 2 hours.

I did so for two days, and described to another midwife who came next to re-weigh him how a 2-hours system allowed him very little sleep, since he took a long time to feed, and then didn’t have much time to sleep before I had to wake him up again and try to force him to eat once more. (Before I started forcing a feed every two hours, he was sleeping four-hour stretches each night, so I’ll admit, it also just felt in violation of every instinct to wake a sleeping baby in the middle of the night when I’d been handed such good fortune!) She said I could feed every 3 hours instead, and maybe allow a 4-hour stretch once per night.

Two days later, this seemed to be just as bad a situation as every 2 hours, and I called the midwife paging service, hoping for some additional advice since I felt stressed out. It felt like our day was just an endless cycle of me forcing him awake, trying to force him to eat even though my breasts didn’t feel full yet, him sleepily not eating a whole lot, him being more awake in between attempts to latch him but then mostly just falling back asleep on the boob every time we returned to it. Then we’d start the whole cycle again after about 40 minutes of sleep. I had no idea what my kid’s natural rhythm was so I wasn’t even sure where to start on getting us into something that felt better.

Midwife #3 listened, then had a completely different response: “Stop waking him up,” she said. She explained why, based on everything I’d told her about our experience and my son’s health thus far, it would be okay to try for a few days going with his schedule, letting him decide when he would eat. If that worked and he still gained weight at the next re-weigh, then we had our answer. If he didn’t gain as much as they’d like, then we’d address it then, and that would be fine, too, since the next visit was only two days away.

If Plan A doesn't work

When seeking expert advice, I’ve always personally felt going to a professional seemed the safest bet – after all, the profession would have equal training across its population and a set of ‘best practices,’ wouldn’t it? The thing I seem to forget sometimes is that professionals are, in fact, a group of individuals like any other group – which means each individual brings their own experiences, preferences, and beliefs to the table in the context of their professional training.

Oddly, I seem to continually forget this each time I seek professional advice, despite the fact that with everyone ranging from physiotherapists, doctors, midwives, teachers, and mortgage brokers, I’ve had personal experiences where one professional will confidently tell me is what needs to happen, only to have the next professional tell me to forget everything I’ve heard about x, because is what needs to happen. Yet when I first hear x, I obediently latch onto the instructions and follow them as closely as I can. Then when I hear y, I get stressed about why I’ve been doing x so far instead.

But this isn’t a flaw in the professionals, or a suggestion that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or an implication that some are right and some are wrong. It’s a reflection that when seeking advice, I really have to take everyone’s with a grain of salt – even from a professional – and allow that one person’s advice is based on a specific combination of training, case experience, personal values and individual conclusions they’ve reached as a result of all those things combined.

I also have to remember that any piece of advice isn’t guaranteed to work, even if it comes from a professional, because my kid (and me) are also individuals bringing other factors into the equation. It would be more comforting to have consistent advice from all professionals in the same field, to not have such things as ‘second opinions.’ But if the problems we brought to professionals were that simple, we wouldn’t need professionals at all – there would just be one standard instruction book for Renovate Your Kitchen or DIY Therapy or Raise Your Child and one size would fit all.

Remi sleeping

Turns out the third time was a charm for me and my kiddo. Following the final midwife’s advice did the trick – and after a day and a half of longer sleeps, my wee one started gravitating to 3 hours between feeds all on his own. I guess he just needed to reset and catch up on some of the sleep he hadn’t been getting first.

And, luckily, he still usually gives me one 4-hour stretch between nighttime feeds (phew!).

Overcoming “Be Careful”-itis

Roald Dahl quoteThis past week, I was listening to a recent episode of One Bad Mother. The conversation was about struggling with reflexively saying ‘no’ to your kids – even when you don’t really have a problem with what they want to do.

My son is young enough that I’m not yet struggling with being a ‘no’ machine, but I do find myself reflexively saying something else. My personal catch phrase? “Be careful”.

I cannot seem to stop myself from saying “be careful”. “Be careful with the cat”. “Be careful climbing on the couch”. “Be careful on the stairs”. “Be careful”. “Be careful”. “Be careful”. All. Day. Long.

Obviously, some of this is justified. My son is not yet two. We still have a baby gate for our larger staircase. He starts to lose his balance and run into things when he’s tired. He is definitely not at stage where he doesn’t need any reminders to be careful.

At the same time, my son is already a fairly cautious child, as toddlers go. He is not particularly anxious. He gets a kick out of being a little bit scared, like when his dad jumps out at him from behind a corner. But he is thoughtful and deliberate, and you can see him thinking through how to tackle a new feat before he actually tries to tackle it. When he was a baby, he routinely practiced new motor skills in the safety of his crib before he would dare to try them anywhere else.

I, on the other hand, was an overly cautious child. My mom had to convince me to let go of her hand in the grocery store when she needed both of her hands to lift something (or to stop my sister from running off). I was scared of climbing and hated hanging upside down. And while I would not consider myself an anxious adult, I do still fall into the camp of: “I’m cold, so you need to put on a sweater”.

It’s definitely not my favourite part of myself. Even as a kid, I wished that I could find a way to just let go a bit. Now as a parent, when I hear myself say “be careful” for the seven-hundredth time that day, I can’t help but wonder if my worrying tendencies are at risk of stifling my son’s independence.

I feel like Marlin in the movie, “Finding Nemo”, the parent whose over-cautiousness is holding back both his child and their relationship. He tells his friend Dory, “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him”. Dory responds, “Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise. You can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”

Not much fun, and not a great way to learn, either. Roald Dahl once said “The more risks you allow a child to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves”. This makes a lot of sense to me. After all, who among us doesn’t credit our biggest risks and/or failures with our best learning experiences? Either we rise to the challenge and boost our self-esteem in the process, or we find out what doesn’t work and try to do better next time.

And this is really what I’m talking about when I’m thinking about ways to get over my “be careful”-itis. I’m not going to avoid saying “be careful” when my son could really hurt himself or when he can’t reasonably be expected to understand the potential consequences of his actions. But I do want to try to avoid reflexively saying “be careful” in circumstances that he can navigate on his own.

Maybe it’s ok for him to learn that if he’s not paying attention to what he’s doing, and a board book lands on his foot, he probably won’t like it. And he’ll learn to take better care of himself the next time he’s at his bookshelf. I mean, how else does a little bird learn to fly than to start by falling? It’s not like mama bird kicks them out of the nest right from day one. She watches and waits until they’re ready. After that, there’s really no other way to do it.

Even typing this makes me feel a bit guilty and gets the worry machine going in my head, so I know it’s probably something I need to work on. In the meantime, I’m just going to try to channel my inner Dory and just keep swimming.

Baby Bird Try To Fly

Parenthood is Not a Project

I’m re-reading my favourite parenting book: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. This is the third time I’ve read it in under three years, and I love it because it’s funny, it’s relatable, and each time I read it, I’m struck by new things. So don’t be surprised if I bring up Druckerman’s ideas in more blog posts in future.

Today I was reading her chapter on “The Perfect Mother Doesn’t Exist,” where she talks about how American-style (and I’d say, Canadian-style, too) parenting involves an intense amount of “concerted cultivation” – in other words, parenthood is a project. Druckerman admits that as an American living in Paris, “my project is to make my kids bilingual, international, and lovers of fine cheese.” It struck me that perhaps one of the reasons I had great difficulty during my first maternity leave is that I too, thought of my time at home as a project.

I’m not surprised I viewed mat leave this way. Most of my life until that point had been a series of projects – from completing each class and each year of education until I was 22, and then continuing that ‘project’ mindset as I moved on through a series of contract jobs, buying my first house, and the nine months of my first pregnancy. All these experiences had definitive expiry dates, finish lines, and clear goals.

So of course I saw mat leave, with it’s defined months – six, in my case – as another project. I had an actual spreadsheet of goals, and I thought I was being very reasonable to only put one major item on the slate for each week. This didn’t work out so well for me. I did manage to check off most of my goals (probably because I had been so minimal with them in the first place), but I still felt like I hadn’t managed to accomplish much as my return to work neared.

Looking back now, I realize the problem wasn’t that I had tried to be organized, or that I had tried to ‘make the most’ of my brief time off work by having a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish. The problem was that the point of that time wasn’t leave from work. The point of that time was my entrance into motherhood. I had been thinking about those six months as an isolated block of time, rather than as just the beginning of a lifelong experience with no expiry date, no finish line – the experience of being a parent.

Of course I felt I hadn’t “accomplished” anything – because my relationship with my child, my motherhood, my family, isn’t something to be “accomplished.” It’s something to be lived.

This isn’t to say I can’t have goals while I’m away from work this time around – I can, and I probably should, to keep connected to my independent adult self, who loves to-do lists and accomplishing things. But I won’t tie those goals to the finite period of my mat leave; instead, they’ll just be part of my life while I happen to be home every day, and they can and should go beyond my return-to-work date.

As I thought about this, I set aside my book, rubbed my big round belly, and promised baby #2 that this go round, our time together won’t be a project. We won’t try to accomplish things over the next year. We’ll just experience living with each other, getting to know each other, and cherish the fact that we have so much time to devote to the start of this new relationship that will last forever.

Motherhood is not something to be accomplished. It's something to be lived. (1)

 

Hey, Dads-to-Be: Patriarchy Might be Causing Some Shit at Your House

If you’re a dad-to-be, I know you’re likely getting a lot of information right now on why your pregnant partner isn’t… well, herself. You might hear about incessant nausea, joint and muscle pain, bloating, extreme fatigue, trouble sleeping, swelling of limbs, constipation… and that’s just the physical side of things. From the emotional/psychological angle, your partner might show inexplicable weepiness, sudden bursts of anger, emotional confusion, frequent changes of mind, or overwhelming worries that she can’t seem to make you understand… thanks, hormones. Hopefully, it’s understandable why these things might make the person you thought you knew so well behave at times like someone you don’t even recognize. But there might just be another, sneakier, underlying contributor to your partner’s frustration, sadness, anger, or anxiety… especially if you happen to be in love with a feminist.

Chances are, if your partner is a feminist, patriarchy might well be fucking up her day (or week, or month) right now. Think about it: your partner’s likely proud of her ability to achieve things, happy in her self-sufficiency, and values her place in ‘the world.’ So if this sounds like her, consider these six new realities she may be facing:

#1. She simply can’t do things she’s used to being quite good at. 

“Girl power.” “Empowerment.” “Be the change.” These are catchphrases of modern approaches to raising girls into strong women. She grew up on these, perhaps internalized them, and is, hopefully, damn proud of the things she has achieved – athletically, professionally, creatively, organizationally, you name it. Now she might not be able to get out of the car without assistance, carry bags, reach things on high shelves, shovel snow, or, you know, walk at a normal pace. Nothing to make you feel like a child again like not being able to walk properly.

#2. Her own brain and body seem to be working against her. 

Patriarchy is bolstered by assumptions that female bodies and brains are simply inferior to male ones – that women’s brains are simply less “rational” than men’s, that their bodies aren’t as “strong,” etc. – and such beliefs have been used to justify women’s oppression for centuries. Now your partner’s dealing with “baby brain” (where she forgets things or has trouble articulating ideas), and she can’t lift heavy things. It might be frustrating her to feel that she’s perpetuating stereotypes that have been used to discredit women for eons, even if it’s only temporary, and even if the whole reason for her temporary lack of rationality/strength is that her body’s busy working on an incredible feat of strength: you know, growing a whole other damn human being, brain, muscles, organs, and all.

#3. She knows she’s about to be thrown into a shit-storm. 

Despite how far feminism has come, the label mom still comes with a lot of baggage. Check out Google Images’ top hits for “moms”:

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 Superhero. Handling everything. Blissful. Clean. Beautiful. (With one little tiny freakout in there, but it’s the ugly outlier.) Our culture still assumes motherhood is a ‘natural’ state your partner will just easily, gracefully fit into. (If this was true, we wouldn’t have postpartum depression, but we sure as hell do: about 10-15% of Canadian mothers are affected, with similar rates in the US.) It’s also culturally assumed that a woman will necessarily – and don’t forget, happily! – set aside large portions, if not all, of her adult identity to devote herself to being a mother… though she’s also expected to retain enough appeal (sexually, intellectually, socially) to maintain her relationship with you, and all other adults. Then there are the “mommy wars” and contradictory parenting philosophy camps on all sides to contend with, plus pressure to choose one of these camps so you start things off on the ‘right’ foot.

Even the strongest and freest woman might reasonably dread her inevitable entry into this fray, because even if she tries to avoid the whole thing, she doesn’t live in a bubble, and she’s smart enough to know this. She will, at some point, be thrown into the mix by others.

#4. Her world has shrunk to the bubble of your relationship. 

Reading stacks of literature on pregnancy and baby care. Being too fatigued to do anything after work other than get home, eat dinner with you, and then go to bed. Giving up physical activities she used to do regularly. Having to reduce hours at work or go off early entirely in order to be on bedrest. If your partner faces these sorts of limitations, it can feel like her world has become entirely enclosed in this pregnancy – which, since the baby isn’t here as a separate person yet, might really feel like her whole world has become enclosed in your relationship. And if she values interactions with the world outside of her partnership, this can be incredibly frustrating or lonely.

#5. She is sometimes literally barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. 

There will come a moment when your partner will be shoeless, with a uncomfortably large belly, and happen to be making herself a sandwich. The cultural relevance of this will hit her, and she will either react with exceptional good-humour defensive skills, or fall somewhere on the irritated/grumpy/sad/angry/outraged spectrum. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, see here; it’s a fairly upsetting history.

#6. She has to watch you continue to live with none of this. 

You won the biology and patriarchy lotteries. While your life might have changed since the positive pregnancy test, it’s no contest with the changes put upon your partner. You’re not responsible for prenatal vitamins; eating with the growth of another human in mind; doing 9-months worth (and probably longer) of designated-driver duty; getting up multiple times during the night to keep hydrated and use the bathroom; having an altered libido (and often, contrary to popular lore, not in an awesome way); preparing for a necessary and possibly lengthy absence from work; and learning how you’re going to push a baby out of your genitals. So from her viewpoint, you get to maintain all your physical abilities, keep staying up late if that’s what you choose, keep eating what you like, keep drinking with friends, and just generally carry on with life.

Of course, this isn’t patriarchy, it’s biology, but it’s so wrapped up in patriarchy and socialization that it can be a psychological gong-show for your partner. And it’s not your fault that this is the way it is – it’s the biology lottery. It’s not your fault that you won, but it’s not her fault that she lost either, so the least you can do is be a gracious winner, empathize with her over the inequality, and understand where she’s coming from.

There are good parts of pregnancy, too, no question. There are women who love being pregnant and have minimal discomforts. There are women whose chosen lifestyles already fit well with the demands of pregnancy. There are non-feminist women and women who don’t see their feminism as contradictory with the roles of wife and mother. But this isn’t for the partners of those women.

This is for the partners of women who might feel some patriarchally-fuelled upset about their pregnancy, motherhood, and the tangled interactions of biology and culture. If any of these things seem like they might resonate with your partner, being open to talking about them with her might help you get through what can be a conflicted, confusing, and stressful time. Who knows? Sometimes a simple, empathetic, “Fucking patriarchy, eh?” is all she might need.

 

 

Letter to My Postpartum Self

If you’ve read this blog before, you might have come across my account of the dark, twisty postpartum period I had the first time around that caused my current, second pregnancy to, well, basically scare the shit out of me. Fortunately, I’ve had time to reflect, talk this fear out, and hear some wise words from other mamas in my village. Still, I know it’s easier to keep hold of these calming thoughts while Mister Baby is still in my belly than it might be once he’s out here in the world and my postpartum hormones mix with sleep deprivation in a toxic brew of negativity. So this letter is not only for me, to come back and hold onto in any twisty moments I might find in the year ahead, but also for any mamas out there who are in the dark place now, or who are pregnant and worried about moving into the dark once their baby arrives. Much love to you.

Dear Mama,

I know things are difficult right now. That things may seem like they’re falling apart, or that all your preparation has been for nought, or that you don’t even recognize who you are anymore, or maybe even all three at the same time. You may be questioning core things about yourself, your abilities, your judgment, your life, your partner, and not believing there could ever be a time where this uncertainty ends. All I can tell you is that even though you can see no light at the end of the tunnel, there is a lightI promise. I’ve been down this road before, and so have mamas since time immemorial. But I know that right now this seems like cheap platitude, so here are some thoughts for while you wait for that little light to appear and grow larger:

Hormones

They are rampaging right now, and are extraordinarily powerful, so don’t discount them. Remember those horrible adolescent years where you didn’t know what to do, or who you were, or how you were ever going to get to where you wanted to be? Same thing in early motherhood. This is hormones mixed with being thrown into the deep end of new expectations and new experiences, while striving for independence and a sense of accomplishment within this new angle of what it means to be a woman. But remember those wonderful teenage years where it seemed like everything might turn out a moony fairy-tale after all, and you couldn’t wait for all the fantastic experiences that were certainly ahead of you? This is early motherhood, too. This is hormones mixed with the delight in your little one’s smiles, snuggles, and that unbelievably good baby-smell.   So it’s a roller coaster, but a roller coaster you’re riding with a blindfold on. To pretend you’re taking a train ride, or to feel as if you should have been able to predict that next rise or fall, is ridiculous. You can prepare a bit, but some days, a fall you didn’t expect will still knock the wind out of you. When this happens, you don’t need to justify why – you’re on the roller coaster, that’s why.

Feelings

Similar to hormones, these are only sometimes things you have any control over, and they come in waves. Sorting out whether this particular rage about some unfinished laundry is the result of today’s emotional tsunami or a legitimate, last-straw outburst you would have had in the pre-baby days will be difficult. So if you think something specific or tangible is causing your melancholy or exasperation, notice it, but wait until the wave passes to decide how to move forward. Never be afraid of identifying a feeling, or admitting that you don’t know where it’s coming from, or that it’s overwhelming you. This is not a failure of rational thought – this is rational thought, because you’re recognizing the reality of your situation. The incoming tide will eventually stop, and you’ll be back to the emotional levels you’re used to handling as a reasonable adult.

Your Body

After birth it will be yours again, but not yours. You will still be attached to your babe for most of the day. You will not look like your pre-pregnancy body, at least not for awhile. You will not have your libido back, perhaps not for a much longer while than you find acceptable. You will be exhausted, at first from the experience of birth and its initial recovery, and then from carrying your wee one in your arms instead of in your belly, from night-wakings and extended periods of crying (from you or your little one). This is okay. Motherhood and marriage/partnership are long games, and you have time to adjust. There is no need to freak out about where you are 6-weeks, 3-months, or 8-months down the road from the birth day, or worry that this is where you’ll be forever. It isn’t.

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Housework

Acknowledge your role as a new mother, and not, unless this is your long-term plan, a ‘stay-at-home parent’ (even if this is your plan, give yourself some time to just be a new mom first). Keeping your baby alive and yourself sane can be a full-time job in itself, with simply no room in that job description for ensuring a tidy living room, kept-up laundry, made beds, or washed dishes. Keep the division and expectations of household labour at pre-baby levels until you’ve had a chance to adjust; don’t take everything on yourself just because you’re ‘at home’ now. If you’re going back to work after a year, this adjustment could be the whole damn year. That’s okay. If it takes less than a year, bonus for you, but treat it as a bonus, not an expectation.

Family

Fuck the advice you’ve received about ‘managing’ family interactions in the postpartum period – you’ve probably been told to both accept all help that is offered, but also to guard time to bond with your wee one so you’re not overrun with well-meaning visitors. This conflicting advice, especially while riding the hormonal roller coaster, might have you torn in the same day between desperately needing someone to be there to hold your baby so you can have a shower, but feeling like a failure if you ask for help because you can’t even manage to get a shower without assistance. Or feeling incredibly lonely for another grown up to talk to but also so drained you don’t have the energy to contribute to an adult conversation. In those moments, identify your feelings – loneliness, or irritability, or  perhaps a desire to just be alone with your baby but only-after-that-shower-because-unless-that-happens-you’re-going-to-go-crazy. Look at the feeling for a minute, then let it drop beside you onto the floor. And then ask for that help from someone who loves you, and be honest with them about that feeling so they can help you in the way you need, which is really what they want to do. Trust me.

Bonding with Your Wee One

You are your baby’s only mama, and no one can replace you. Even if/when you don’t breastfeed, even if you go back to work early, even if your wee one loves spending time with other relatives and friends… none of these things change that you are momSo embrace those other relationships for your child, embrace the good things that come along with the absence/end of breastfeeding (inebriants, non-nursing clothes, and outings longer than 2 hours, anyone?), and embrace the return to the parts of your professional work that you enjoy. Cut yourself some major slack on the bad days (see all the thoughts above), and luxuriate on the good days, so that you live presently in the moment with this new tiny person who is constantly learning more about the world, and about you, his mama. Love every new discovery. Teach him to breathe deeply through pain even when you think you might fall apart instead. And remember that this moment in time, whether it’s going fantastically or horrendously, will end. Let that knowledge increase your appreciation of the moment or your comfort for the future – or perhaps both, if it’s that kind of day.

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Remember that you are working through a tremendous feat, walking on the rocky mountain that is the postpartum period. There is no finish line, no set path, no goal to get to the top, even though it may feel like you should have such a goal in sight. There is only your experience of each day on the mountain, how you feel there, and the memories you will keep later. Eventually you will leave this mountain, but you may not even notice when the ground evens out. So don’t worry about looking for the plateaus – just live in the place you are today, find a spring of fresh water and a soft place to lay yours and your baby’s head. Whenever the sun is out, take a pause to let it warm your face. If you do that each day, you’ll be just fine.

Love,

Lindsay

Mom Things I Learn During Yoga #1

This morning was not a good morning. I woke up with worries about parenting, and was overtired from the moment I opened my eyes, which never helps. I started to express these worries to my husband in the early morning light, and he said gently, “Lindsay, we’re trying our best, and he’s healthy.” I found myself saying quietly, “Yes, when he was a newborn that seemed like that was all that mattered, but at what point is that no longer enough?”

I had the good sense to not continue the discussion at 6:20am, and instead decided to leave my son with his morning bottle snuggled up with his dad while I got out my yoga mat in another room, dim and quiet. Usually when I sit silent, eyes closed, some of the things my yoga teacher often says run through my mind: There is nowhere else you need to be right now, nothing you need to be doing… Calming things. This particular morning, what came back was a mantra I repeated to myself a lot in the early months of my son’s life: Sometimes it is necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are heavy. Thinking about this, I felt my shoulders relax, my lungs expand, and the tension melt out of my hips and back.

Sometimes it is necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are heavy.

I have many pressures and worries that have arisen through the learning curve of mothering. The tide of overlapping possible concerns doesn’t really seem to ever go away. But a few cheesy, poster-worthy thoughts ring true when I stop to reflect on an anxious moment: Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no chaos, but in the midst of chaos, to still be calm in your heart. Or my my counterintuitive favourite: Relax… Nothing is under control. It’s a struggle each time another wave of worry comes along, but remembering these little nuggets allows me to sit there in my living room and let the waves wash over me so I can move on with my day, instead of getting the wind knocked out of me by each crash.

So if there’s a worry or sadness that’s weighing on me in the days to come, I’m going to try my best to remember to just let it go, even if for no other reason than that it’s heavy. It might not go away, and I might still need to pick it up later to deal with it or it might sneak back up onto my shoulders all on its own, but if it feels unbearable, it’s okay to just leave it there on the carpet for awhile instead.

“A New Normal”: At Once Scary and Comforting

In the midst of a painful transition, an overwhelming change, or a period of limbo – all situations where what has been “normal” either has suddenly vanished or seems to be slipping from our grasp – loved ones will often try to ease the difficulty by telling us we’ll find a “new normal.”

I’ve heard this more than once in the past few weeks, as I confided to close friends, family, and finally, the general populace of the internet through this blog, that I’ve been going through an overwhelming transition of my own. So I’ve been thinking about this idea of a “new normal” a lot lately. Sometimes the notion is a comforting one: eventually I won’t feel like this anymore, and things will be familiar again. At other times, though, this same thought can be terrifying: this painful period IS the new normal, and eventually I’ll just become resigned to this discomfort/sorrow/stress/fatigue/insert-your-own-unpleasantness-here.

My sister recently told me about a friend of hers, who was going through a particularly agonizing professional schedule and complete absence of “work-life balance.” What helped was someone gently suggesting that perhaps this person had forgotten that this period of heightened stress wasn’t, in fact, “her normal,” reassuring her that it was simply temporary.

This simple wisdom brings to mind one of my favourite thoughts from Jeanette Winterson (and as I’ve loved several of her novels, this is saying something):

JW Quote better

It’s easy to forget, especially when we’re in the depths of our uncertainty, anxiety, or just complete weariness, that “this too shall pass,” that the difficult moment itself isn’t the new normal that we’ll find. Time, and life, march on, and if we can see our discomfort for what it is – a natural symptom of change – then maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so scary.

Now, parenthood may not be precisely like some other common hurdles, in that it appears (at least in my limited experience so far) to stretch out as a never-ending parade of transitions. Once we wrap our heads around toddler-tantrums, it’ll be time for starting school. The awkward transition of pre-adolescence will be closely followed by the quest for independence.

In this way it’s more on the scary side: how will I ever find that new normal if the parenting game just changes all the time? But I still have hope, too, hope that with each transition, I’ll become better at this process of change: my perspective to see it for what it is will quicken, my resilience to laugh through it will strengthen, and my ability to be kind to myself as I face it will grow.

Pity Party For One…

This week, stay-at-home parenting seems like the only reasonable solution for life.

I’m hoping this will sound familiar to someone else:

We eat out an unreasonable number of times due to a lack of groceries, and of time to get any. I manage to stay on top of a few loads of laundry and a bit of tidying only by getting up early enough in the morning to be ready for work 20 minutes before I have to head out the door. I’m in desperate need of some girlfriend time, but already feel like teaching dance for an hour and maybe going to yoga once a week is the limit of time I can be away from contributing at home without feeling guilty. Our evenings entertaining friends (and I’m not ambitious here, just another couple sitting on the couch eating popcorn and chatting would be amazing) seem few and far between, almost a thing of the past. My partner and I both feel like we wake up, are in ‘go’ mode all day at work, come home to dinner/bath/bedtime for the baby, and finally plop down for a a brief period of half-focused-doing-nothing in the same room before collapsing into bed, knowing in several hours the cycle starts all over again.

I get it now. I get why for generations, and in many cultures still, the norm was/is to have one stay-at-home-parent: this whole two-working-parents standard we have is just unsustainable. A colleague who’s a grandmother says, “I don’t know how you’re making it work.” I say, “Well, you did it with your three kids,” eagerly hoping for some tips, to which she replies, “Yes, but I stayed home!” Another colleague says she only got through this stage by hiring someone full time to care for her daughters, cook, clean and bake while she was at work.

In moments of bleakness, my husband will often shake his head or dejectedly sigh and say, “Cycle of productivity.” This week, I really feel the weight of that. The crazy thing is, I don’t feel like I’m that productive, not in a creative/achieving sense. Busy, sure, and productive at work, yes, but what is this garden-variety productivity really worth if you don’t feel you have time to appreciate or savour your life as a whole?

I want to live in the moment with my son when we are home together. I want more than an hour at home with him per day that’s not swallowed up by the evening ‘schedule.’ I want to feel like I have more time for relaxing in the calm space of my home than it takes to get that home to a state of calm. I want my husband and I to have the energy to really be involved with and invested in one other after our kid’s in bed, not just find comfort in our solidarity through the slog.

I’m sure there are lots of things we could do to work towards these goals, but in moments of bleakness, those solutions just seem like something else I don’t have the time or energy for. Maybe it’s also okay, though, to spend a little bit of time having a pity party every once in a while. I know the cloud will lift eventually, and when it does, I’ll be eagerly hoping for tips again, so leave ’em in the comments, dear readers.

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