New Parent

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!

6 Things My Husband Taught Me About Mat Leave

There’s a lot of bad stereotypes about men caring for children. The Bumbling Dad is its own pop culture trope, and a quick image search for “when dad is left alone with kids” finds:

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The caregiving bar is set pretty low for dads. They’re expected by society at large to be lazy, reckless, selfish, and to just generally not take the job seriously. With our first child, my husband and I shared parental leave. And on the surface, it might have looked like he fulfilled some of those stereotypes:

  • Frequently left lunch dishes on the table until they had to be cleared away to make room for our dinner? Check.
  • Enjoy whole days where nary a chore or task seemed to cross his mind? Check
  • Take more naps than I did when I was on leave? Check.
  • Feed our son more fries and Goldfish crackers than I would have been okay with? Check.
  • Take silly, sometimes scary photos/videos to show me at the end of a workday (like the time his friend captured a shot of my 10-month old being thrown so high in the air that Dad’s hands were entirely absent from the picture)? Check.

Yet, despite these things, I’m trying to take more of a ‘paternity’ leave myself with baby #2.  Because more important than any of those tangible differences are the bigger picture, truly invaluable things I learned from watching my husband on parental leave:

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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

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