self-care

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.

Everyone Needs a Little F*** Off Time

We’re trying something new in our house: Fuck Off Time. (Granted, we have to avoid saying its name it front of our toddler, who has dropped a couple of proper-context F-bombs in the last week or so. Oops. Cue the judgment here, I guess).

I mentioned in a recent post that my partner and I both feel every day like we’re “on duty” from the minute we wake up until the minute the kids are in bed. Yes, he gets the ride to and from work by himself, plus his break at work, and I get the time when our baby is napping ‘to myself’. But we both know, as workers, that a commute doesn’t really count as “off” time, and we know as parents that neither does a child’s nap, since it can end at any moment and you’re still “on duty.” No, we were both craving some true off duty time. Time when we were not in charge of anyone and had no obligations. In short, time when we could Fuck Off and do what we wanted. Essentially, the kind of time we used to have in abundance (but which we never truly appreciated!) before we had kids.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

We took a look at our daily routine and determined there was only one time where it would really even be possible for one of us to Fuck Off: dinner prep time. This would mean that one person would have to handle double-kid-duty and dinner prep each night so the other person could Fuck Off, and we would alternate. As parents who had fallen generally into a 1:1 parent-to-kid system of childcare since our second son was born, this seemed pretty ambitious. I should mention that of late, dinner prep time often coincides with a feeding for R and whining/tantrumming from A. We decided to try it for a week and see if it was possible, or if it was just too much.

The rules of Fuck Off Time are simple:

  • One person makes dinner and cares for both kids at the same time.
  • The other person Fucks Off and has zero obligation to get anything productive done, but they can if they want to (like actually want to – note the italicized, bolded bits there).
  • If someone (ie: me) has to feed R during her Fuck Off time, she can do so in the basement watching something on Netflix, and then return R to Dad.
  • If we eat somewhere else or if Fuck Off time is not possible on a given day, we simply pause the alternating and pick up the next day where we left off.

I’m happy to report it has been two weeks and so far it is the Best. Thing. We. Have. Done. At least in a while. Here are a few reasons why it is awesome:

1. It teaches our kids about daily life and getting things done.

With our usual 1:1 approach, there’s almost always a parent available to play. With Fuck Off Time, our kiddos have to entertain themselves a bit more. Our toddler, A, can choose to play by himself or help with dinner. I’ve been impressed with how helpful a two-year-old can be in the kitchen, and when he plays by himself, I love listening to his dramatically narrated stories about train crashes and “Who can help?!”, especially when he makes the trains say “Thank you” to each other (I’m hoping this unprompted politeness balances out those F-bombs?). 20170116_172726-1

9-month-old R is making friends with his pack ‘n play (I only recently discovered that parents of yore used this invention for, you know, PLAY, and not just sleeping away from home). He simultaneously learns to be okay with being alone for a short time, and also gets an opportunity to play with his toys without A taking them away when they look like too much fun.

I want my kids to learn that everyone – even mom and dad! – needs time to do what they like, and that sometimes, they have to be okay with not being the centre of attention because shit just needs to get done. I feel like Fuck Off Time gives them a little, manageable dose of that every day.

2. My on-duty time gets a fresh sense of purpose.

Dinner prep used to be one of my least favourite times of day. I’d procrastinate, avoid thinking about it, and way too often, I’d get to 5pm and go, “oh, crap! what’s for dinner?” It was rushed, haphazard, and just generally sucked. Now I know when “my day” is on, and I get kind of pumped about planning what we’ll have (with a picky eater, a toddler, a vegetarian, and allergies to nuts, dairy, and various fruits/veggies at our table, it’s sometimes a fair challenge to be varied enough for interest and make sure there’s something on the table everyone can/will eat). Sometimes I do some prep in the afternoon, and I try to think of a fun activity A hasn’t gotten out in awhile to suggest for him for while I’m cooking.

I get to feel a bit like super-mom every other day for successfully taking care of two kids and cooking at the same time (I know, I don’t have super high standards, but the kitchen isn’t my forte, okay?).

3. My partner and I each get to give each other a much-needed gift a few times a week.

The On Duty person gets to give their partner the gift of the ultimate luxury: saying,”I got this; you can go Fuck Off,” with a big smile. Fuck Off Time all to oneself… seriously, is there anything more romantic one parent can give the other? The lucky parent then gets to return from this blissful time to a thoughtfully-made meal (and some days, copious amounts of hummus, cheese, fresh veggies, and bread totally counts as a meal, by the way, at least in my house).

The Fucking Off partner gets to give the gift of true appreciation for what their co-parent is doing. It’s harder to see the work your partner’s doing when you both feel like it’s all-hands-on-deck and you’re both run down. The sincerely grateful “thanks for making dinner, honey; this looks great!” that now gets offered on a daily basis in our house is completely lovely.

4. I sometimes CHOOSE productivity, and am TRULY happy about it!

In the last two weeks, I finally bought clear plastic bins to put excess toys in, I reorganized our toy room and reduced the number of toys that are out at a time, decluttered our bathroom, stacked firewood in our backyard, and drove around delivering some things we’re done with to friends who want them next.

The biggest difference in how I felt during these tasks was that I didn’t feel rushed or tense through them: the time was actually MINE, and I didn’t have any of my usual mom-guilt about not being “on duty,” because I wasn’t supposed to be. Fuck Off Time = relaxing, even if I’m doing something productive.

5. I get to feel glamourous and/or lazy in the middle of the day!

Watching Netflix and browsing rugs on Pinterest while someone else makes my dinner? Reading my book and drinking hot chocolate while someone else handles that whining? Showering at my own pace AND drying my hair right afterward? Luxury, I tell you! There are all sorts of possibilities for this time… colouring, yoga, working out, writing… and when the weather gets nice again??? A short bike ride, a walk, napping in my backyard under the leafy maples, going to my friend’s house for a quick dip in her new pool (*wink wink, you know who you are, nudge nudge*)… My dreams are endless and the future is bright.

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6. Fucking Off makes us better parents when we come back.

Instead of being simply worn down by the time we get to bath/bed, at least one of us is always a little refreshed. We have a renewed patience, interest, and calm to share with our kids as we play, sing, read stories, and get ready for sleep, and I think they can sense the reduced stress in the air at this time, which makes everyone happier.

An important note on comparison: Don’t! I believe this is absolutely essential for Fuck Off Time. And it’s pretty easy to be tempted. Like on Friday, when I’d spent the day with little R and some fellow mom friends while my husband had a grinding day at work, but it was my turn to Fuck Off (yes, it was the BEST day). Or on Saturday when I’d been woken up by babes many times the night before, but my husband got to go for a relaxing RMT appointment in the afternoon, and it was still my night on duty. The Fuck Off time can’t be in any way conditional on “who got what” already today, or yesterday, or last week. It’s either a free gift to each other or it isn’t. If it comes with strings attached or any guilt at all, it’s no good.

I also have to make a huge disclaimer and acknowledgment here that I know I am supremely lucky. My partner and I are in a position right now where we’re both usually home before dinner prep time even starts; I know many parents don’t have this luxury. People work night shifts or irregular shifts or long hours. They have other commitments that keep them busy or away from the home. They have kids with unique needs or situations where independent play without adult assistance is much harder to achieve. And I know that my own luck won’t last forever. Pretty soon, I’ll be heading back to work and things will change in a big way. R might not tolerate being away from me for even a second when I get home from work at, the earliest, 5pm. I simply won’t be able to do any prep for dinner in the afternoons, and will have to think of things further in advance. There will certainly be a lot of house tasks that just haven’t gotten done during the day, which will be nagging for my attention and pushing my buttons. As our kids get older, there will be after-school lessons, carpooling, and homework to juggle, too.

But I hope knowing how good this has been, we’ll continue to find space somewhere in our lives for Fucking Off. Even if it’s only once a week, or a few times a month. Because it’s just too good to not try for.

Lists: This ‘Type A’ Mom’s Worst Frenemy

I really needed a break this week, friends.

Sickness, that common December friend, swept through my house, meaning I was the only person well enough to take care of… well, everything and everyone else. I felt like I spent four days (covering an entire weekend that is usually our chance to get things done and have fun as a family) being trapped inside the box of my house. It seemed I simply cycled through an endless rotation of getting snacks, water, clean laundry, naps, and more clean laundry for the rest of my family. I did all the night wakings with two sick kiddos, one of whom decided he couldn’t go back to sleep for two hours each night after his night feed. I missed a couple of holiday events that I was really looking forward to: Breakfast with Santa in our local community, and a festive family lunch. I LOVE Christmas, so this really bothered me. I had big plans to have the tree up and decorated on Saturday, and it didn’t happen for two more days. Finally, on Monday, I hit a new low Continue reading

GUEST POST: Making it look easy

We’re happy to welcome back Laura Marquis ! You can check out her first guest post here. Laura lives in St. Augustine, Florida with her husband Jeremy, her son Will, her daughter Caroline, and her dog, Lucy.  She works part time and enjoys reading, painting, writing, swimming, and pilates. Welcome back, Laura!

I recently returned from a long weekend away with my husband.  We went to our favorite beach spot on the Florida Panhandle and tucked ourselves away.  I napped on a white couch, ate breakfast at 10am, and thought only of my own needs.

To say that this was a treat is an understatement.  There is nothing I know that is better for the soul of a mom (particularly one like myself who is at home with two toddlers every day) than time away.

Being a perfectionist, during my time away I imagined myself returning to my life after the trip ready to do it all better.  I would carve out 30 minutes to write every day, I would work out six mornings a week without exception, and I would squeeze in both more self care and more part-time work. Needless to say, by lunchtime my first day home I was reeling from the shock of re-entry, and becoming more painfully aware with every hour that my plan was likely not to be followed.

I was baffled by the fact that a fully rested version of myself couldn’t execute the plan on day one.  Then I realized: this is hard. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mordor

 

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

marie-antoinette

 

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

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