Reflection

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.

 

We Let Our Kids Grow… What About Each Other?

Recently, my partner and I got into a spat. It seemed to rise out of nowhere, was emotionally intense for about five minutes, and then ended up being almost laughably frustrating because, at the core, we struggled to identify what exactly was the sticking point of the argument. When we stepped back, it seemed we were perhaps mainly griping out of habit, based on particularly trivial triggers. (I take great comfort in the fact that the longer we are together – and it’s been a loooong time – the fewer, farther apart, and shorter our arguments seem to get for the most part.) This particular disagreement got me thinking about the stories I tell myself about my partner, the assumptions I make about him, and the way I treat him accordingly.

When partnerships last for a long time, we really get to know each other, and it’s easy for us to think we have our partner “figured out”: we know what they do, why they do it, and how it fits predictably into the well-worn pattern of our relationship (“I knew it!” “You always…” “You’re just saying that because…” Insert-your-own-key-phrase-here). I think this dynamic of assumptions is likely true of most long-term relationships, whether they involve friends, lovers, or family.

Parenting my two young children gives me a different experience of being in a relationship with another person. Instead of taking this same approach, I find myself allowing a great deal of breathing room to just watch them develop, and I’m more generous in my assumptions about why they may or may not be doing what they’re doing or not doing. I can be enormously patient (not all the time, but I can be) with my kids because I acknowledge that they are simply not ‘done’ yet. They are working so hard to master new skills, dealing with high emotional reactions, trying to communicate and not having the vocabulary to articulate all they would like, getting overstimulated by much of the world around them, and learning a bajillion new things every day. I accept that life is likely overwhelming to them, and I try to support them through this experience – to share in their joys, notice their efforts, and empathize with them when it’s hard. And it feels like a no-brainer that I do these things – after all, I love them fiercely.

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…Which begs the question – don’t I also love my partner fiercely?

When we’ve been with someone for so long, it can be easy to take for granted their familiarity, our own knowledge of them. The way I approach and interact with my children is, in one way, so much slower, requiring so much more patience and energy on my part. I have to pay attention. I have to read the cues and behaviour they display now, and hear the words and beliefs about the world they express now, not what they displayed or said six months or two years ago. I have to be constantly attuned to their development as people – their changing capabilities, stressors, desires, and viewpoints. That is what it means for me to connect with them as individuals.

Yet I don’t always extend this same attention to my partner, my beloved, the one I’m committed to loving through thick and thin. I don’t necessarily allow the same grace and breathing room for his development, though I certainly would like to have this from him, when I think about it. After all, I’ve changed a lot over the years, re-assessing my priorities, values, and understandings of the world, myself, and my relationships. I hope that my partner and others in my life can allow me the space to continue to develop as a person, instead of assuming I’m stuck in whatever ways they found me when we met.

Yet in those conflicts, quite often, it seems we don’t deal with each other as we are now – it’s far too easy to let our assumptions of what we think we know about this partner of ours dictate how we react to them. It’s easy to cast each other in the same roles we played in the early days of our relationship, though likely they don’t fit so well anymore. It’s easy to project the values, opinions, and behaviours of years gone by onto the tensions of today, but it doesn’t provide much opportunity to acknowledge growth.

Of all the things parenting tiny people has taught me about myself, a major lesson is that I don’t know it all. I don’t always know where the life path is leading, the best way to get to a goal, or the true desires of those closest to me. Yet despite this lesson, I still sometimes fall victim to the ignorance of thinking I have my partner completely figured out.

Perhaps we need to more often treat one another like we treat our children – with that kindness and that acceptance of being a “work in progress”. Because we most certainly are works in progress, every one of us. And if we can love each other as such, hopefully we can model the kind of love we want our children to find throughout their lives, too.

 

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What’s with the “Best Friend” Obsession?

My toddler has recently discovered the idea of “best friends.” I’m pretty sure he learned it from Thomas the Tank Engine, as I first noticed him referring to Thomas as “Percy’s best friend” and vice versa when narrating his own play. The Thomas videos and books he knows use this description for the two engines. He then expanded this concept to other toys, talking about “Gordon’s best friend James,” and telling me that “Marshall is Chase’s best friend, Mommy!” When he referred baby brother R as “my best friend,” my heart melted.

As cute as it is, it gets me thinking about why, as parents and adults generally, we encourage the idea of “best friends” so strongly in our kids. I’ve heard many parents reinforcing this to their children, when they refer to a child’s buddy as their “best little friend.” I always seem to hear a particular stress on the word “best,” and a particular tone of gravitas, paired with a loving smile – our kids can be in no doubt that a “best friendship” is a special treasure, to be cherished and held in high esteem.

I’m not disputing that close friendships are precious. The one I always called my “best friend” growing up is still one of my dearest friends to this day;  I love her fiercely and would do anything for her. She is hands down one of the best people I know. If I ever describe someone offhandedly as my best friend, it’s probably her. I couldn’t be more grateful to have her in my life and in my corner.

However, there have also been many instances when I’ve seen the idea of “best friends” cause more pain than good:

  • When knowing that I was somebody’s best friend was the main source of my own self-esteem, and so my self-worth was in another’s hands (thankfully, in my case, the kindest hands).
  • Whenever there was an odd number of girls in my grade in elementary school – it was an incredibly small school – and we paired off; you bet your bottom dollar we all knew which girl didn’t have a best friend.
  • When I went to high school, and my long-time bestie wasn’t in any of my classes – it was agony watching from afar as she bonded with peers I didn’t know… I remember this transition being physically painful.

As a young adult, I saw my much younger siblings go through these sorts of transitions, too. I wanted to console them with my hard-earned wisdom that once you grew up, the actual title of a “best” friend didn’t mean so much, because one could have all sorts of friends, many of them fiercely dear, and each of them ‘best’ for different parts of life. Despite knowing this, and remembering that intensity and anguish, I still tell my almost-one-year-old that he and my friend’s son are “besties for life, and they don’t even know it yet.” It’s too cute not to conceive of them as kindred spirits.

So why do we push the idea of “best friends” so eagerly and happily with little kids? Is it practice for romantic monogamy? (Honestly, the intensity of best friendships and the jealousy and possessiveness that can ensue amongst adolescent girls is eerily similar…) Is it that we want so much for our kids to share and be kind that we nurture the idea of holding another person on a sort of pedestal and putting their needs above your own? Is it that we wish so dearly for our kids to receive unconditional love (the kind we’ve had for them since birth) that we latch onto its earliest semblance and encourage it in their earliest relationships? Is it that we are so terrified of the process of letting go and eventually leaving our kids forever that when they first attach to a peer at daycare or school, we relievedly say with a big smile, “Oh, is so-and-so your best friend? That’s wonderful.”

 

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Maybe our childhood cultural fascination with best friends is also a symptom of our human tendency to categorize, rank, and judge everything. We like to know and proclaim which things are our “favourite” or which we have deemed “the best.” But one problem with doing this with people is that ranking someone as “first” means you have to rank everyone else as “lesser.”

In this way, we treat friendship, admiration, esteem and love as finite resources, and model this for our children; liking this person most means you don’t have as much liking to give to that person. Being best friends with person A means you can’t get to as deep a level of friendship with B, because that would threaten person A’s position. That could be a cozy, reassuring place to be for our kids if they are someone’s “best,” but when they are (inevitably) on the less desirable side of the line, this thinking also might teach them that their dear friend’s increase in friendship with someone else means there must be less for them. What is left for young minds and hearts to conclude but that they are no longer as worthy of that person’s highest affections?

I’d like to avoid teaching this kind of thinking with my kids when it comes to love, friendship, and admiration. I’d like to teach them what I’ve found to be much more fulfilling as an adult: to form each relationship in my life on its own merits, without worrying about how highly I “rank” in their network of friends. As my oldest is just starting to get to the point where he can start developing those early friendships with peers, it’s definitely something I’m going to keep in mind.

 

 

I Refuse to “Make the Most of It”

I’m almost at the end of my mat leave. It has really crept up on me fast here at the end. For so long, I felt like the months stretched far ahead of me and I had so much time to spend with my baby, not to mention my wonderful fellow mom friends.

First off, I’m going to do something moms don’t do a lot and toot my own horn: I think I did a good job this time. From the outset, I was really trying to take more of a paternity leave, ie. doing parental leave the way my husband did his with our older son. I also learned a lot from my first mat leave, especially the hard lesson that my child’s first year of life was not a project: it is merely the start of a lifelong relationship. These two personal epiphanies have made it possible for me to truly enjoy the past 11 months.

But old habits die hard, so when I suddenly, recently realized that my first day back to work was less than a month away, my brain immediately started racing. I was instinctually formulating a list, nervously scanning my surroundings and the corners of my mind for the things I might have wanted to accomplish, the activities I would miss the most once I returned to work or that I worried would fall by the wayside with no one in the house to do them all day. I had to make the most of it!

Thankfully, I stopped myself pretty quickly. I decided right then and there that I was specifically NOT going to “make the most” of this last month. For me, doing so is just too much pressure.

First, it stresses me out trying to figure out what the “most” would be – what’s the most important to me? What’s the most fun activity that I’m going to miss? What’s the most practical thing to get done? What’s the most efficient use of these last few weeks!?!???

Second, it inflates my return to work date as a gloomy cloud looming on the horizon, signalling THE END. In reality, the day I return to work is not the end. It is just the first day in a transition that’s going to last a very long time. It’s the first day I happen to go back into the office, but the negotiations between my work, home, spousal, parental, and personal selves have been going on for years and are just going to continue to grow and evolve. It’s the first day I’ve been going to work since R was born, but not the first since I’ve been a mom. I’ll be okay.

Third, it fills me with a kind of anticipatory ennui, dampening with melancholy these next weeks that I could be spending with as much comfort and joy as I’ve spent the last 40+. I want to stay in the moment, not spend each day subconsciously worrying about how I’ll remember it one day soon.

Nah, I got this. My life is not divided into discrete blocks of time – it ebbs and flows, and my circumstances change and evolve. I know I will evolve with them. Will I miss things about mat leave? Will I miss feeling so connected to little R that sometimes it feels like we are one person? Will I miss the ability to see my wonderful mom friends and their littles growing up on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis? Will I miss puttering around my home, spending so much cozy time? Will I probably cry about these things, more than once??? Abso-fucking-lutely. On all counts. But I’ve done so many big life changes already, and none of them have broken my life, or my self. The transition from couplehood to parenthood. From maternity leave to paternity leave. From one parent at home to two working parents. From one kid to two. This is just another transition coming down the pipes.

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.

Will I Accidentally Teach My Sons to Devalue Women???

So often, I’m inspired and intrigued by the writing of another mom out there on the web. It’s wonderful to read another woman’s words and think, yeah, I totally get where she’s coming from, and I am so glad she wrote that!

Today, I’m having this feeling about Kasey Edwards‘ piece over at Role Reboot, entitled, “When Your Mother Says She’s Fat .” Her letter to her mom is a bit of a truth bomb, especially as she describes when, at age seven, she first heard her mother called herself “fat, ugly, and horrible”:

“In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:

1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly, and horrible too.

Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure, and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.”

That first idea, that “you must be fat because mothers don’t lie,” really strikes me. It goes along with the notion that “The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice” (most often attributed to author Peggy O’Mara). But what Edwards implies is that not only does the way we speak to our children become their inner voice, but the way we speak to and about ourselves in front of them contributes to their inner voice as well. I think for many parents, myself included, we place a lot of emphasis on the way we speak to our kids about them, but not quite so much on how we speak about ourselves in front of them. Perhaps, though, this is just as important.

Edwards goes on to talk about the responsibility she feels toward her own daughter: to end the passing chain of self-degradation around ideas of beauty and worth. Her piece makes me think about my role as a mother, too – only I have sons, not daughters.

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me and my guys

What Am I Teaching My Boys?

I believe I have a huge responsibility as a mother of boys to model positive ideas about beauty and worth with regard to women and girls – ie. that there is no connection between social norms of beauty and inherent worth as a person. (Yes, with regard to men and boys, too, but the correlation is so much stronger for women in my culture, so my work has to start there).

But damaging ideas about beauty and thinness are actually not what I worry about passing on to my boys the most. I have a different brand of negative-self-talk that I worry will affect their perception of girls and women.

We all have our baggage. Mine is along the lines of general self-doubt and low self-esteem. Now, I’ve done some hard work on this in the last decade and I think I’ve come a long way – a looooooong way. I no longer have panic attacks about not being good enough. I don’t wallow for days in a defeatist stew of blaming myself for everything and everyone unhappy around me. I don’t have unrealistic, perfectionist expectations that follow me around everywhere while I try to put on a happy face as if my constant effort isn’t painful.

All. That. Being. Said…

…There are still rare moments where glimpses of this unconfident, former self re-emerge. When I’m particularly sleep-deprived, or there is too much on my plate, I occasionally still hear myself (usually through tears) saying things like:

  • Oh my god, I’m just the worst. I’m terrible. (eg. when my child gets more than a minor hurt and it scares me and I wish I could have prevented it)
  • Sorry, sorry, I don’t know why I’m like this. I just can’t ever seem to read situations right. (eg. when I’ve realized after a meltdown that I could have chosen a better time to have a difficult conversation with my partner)
  • I don’t know why I never ever learn! You’d think I could have figured this out by now. (eg. when the same obstacle presents itself over and over and I wish I had prevented it)
  • I can’t ever do anything fucking right. (eg. when I’m particularly stressed and so have more at stake than is reasonable on something, and it doesn’t go perfectly)

Let me start by saying I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me having these feelings of stress or regret in and of themselves. Feelings are what they are, and I can’t control that they arise. But I can try to control what I do with them. And importantly, I need to consider how my kids may perceive my reactions, especially as they get grow and learn about the world around them.

It’s not unreasonable to suppose that my kids, growing up in a family with hetero, cis-gender parents, are probably going to form some pretty deep-seated ideas about “how women are” and “how men are” from their two main role models: me and my husband. Whether I like it or not, this is probably what’s going to happen. So if in times of stress, I resort to self-blame and devaluing myself, but in the same stressful situations, my husband does not have these reactions, what might my sons learn?

Well, I can’t be sure, but it might go something like this:

  1. Mommy must be the worst, never learns, and can’t figure out how to do things right, because mothers don’t lie.
  2. Daddy must be getting things right since he doesn’t worry (out loud) about not getting them right or say he is the worst.
  3. Daddies (men) get things right and are fine the way they are; Mommies (women) don’t know how to get things right and always need to improve.

Hmm.

A thought-train like this will sure play nicely into established ideas about men and women that they’ll see all around them in their dominant culture. Men as self-assured, women as flaky. Men as rational, women as emotional. Boys as good enough, girls as having something to prove. Patriarchal valuing of “male” attributes over “female” ones will be reinforced. What they see at home will reflect what they learn from their culture, strengthening it.

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Changing My Language

So I’m going to try to remember this in times when my old baggage comes creeping back. If I bring myself into the moment instead of making those sweeping conclusions about myself, I can lower the stakes for these times. Maybe I can change some of my words, as even small shifts could have a big impact.

Instead of talking about how I’m the worst, maybe I can focus on how I’m disappointed with what has happened right now. Maybe instead of apologizing for being the way I am, I can acknowledge that I could have done this one thing better and move on. Instead of bemoaning that I never get anything right, I can applaud my dedication to always keep trying.

And instead of worrying about the negative things my boys might think of me, I can strive for the things I want them to learn about me, and vicariously, to infer about women and girls. Now that list could get really long… it’s a thought for another day!

 

 

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