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When I Get Advice, Maybe It’s Worth – Ahem – Listening.

Sometimes, it feels like self-sufficiency is the name of today’s mom game. We’re supposed to know how to do it all, anticipate it all, and get it all right – nevermind that it’s our first time around the block. Trying to figure out how to navigate this is a catch-22, because it seems like there are lots of people around who’ve been down this path before – namely, women of the previous generation, our foremothers – but it also seems so obvious from the neverending slew of emails to our inboxes and posts in our social media groups, that the parenting game has so dramatically changed since their day that there’s no way they would still be valuable sources of information. They’ll probably let our babies taste sugar! and sit in a wheeled exersaucer! and drive the car!

Well, I had two experiences last week that were excellent reminders for me to not fall into that yucky little trap.

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my tiny lobbyist

I was in a place where I was at the complete end of my rope, friends – with toddler behaviour. (I can hear the sympathetic groans from those of you also in the trenches of your own threenager battle from here.) Oh, the neverending resistance! It seemed no matter what I said, the first words out of his mouth, before I’d even finished speaking, were “But Moooommmmy –” or “No, Iiiiiiiiii wanted…” or just a horrifying, whiny “Eeuuuuyynnnh!” that led straight into to a tantrum. Everything had to be his way, and I was FED. UP. I was tired of not having anything MY WAY and I was, frankly, starting to act like a three year old myself.

 

Thankfully, just at this juncture, I got to speak with two quite different, very lovely women, both of whom happened to have spent a great deal of time caring for me as a small child.

One afternoon, I had coffee with my bestie from childhood’s mom, with whom I hadn’t spent much time in the last several years, but at whose house I spent countless mornings before school, weekend sleepovers, family dinners, and game nights. Our chat inevitably turned to parenting, and I described my struggles with A: “I just don’t know what to do when he gets like that, when words, reason and logic aren’t his language,” I said.  She looked thoughtful and then said, “Have you tried sending him a picture?” I was confused, to say the least, and more than a little skeptical as she explained that he might have other languages I wasn’t using. She said I could form a picture in my mind before bed, of what I wanted to see in A’s morning the next day, and then ‘transmit’ it to him (no precise instructions on how), so that we’d be on the same wavelength. I would never, ever, have even thought of something like that.

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A couple of days later, my mom was over, and it was a particularly trying bedtime. A had been resisting and whining almost constantly since dinner ended, and R was crying through an uncharacteristic and seemingly endless battle over being alone in his crib. On one of my many, defeated slumps back down the stairs between checks on my small, wailing boy, my mom put her arm around my waist as I stood next to the armchair where she was seated. I sighed and asked, “Any tips?” She paused, the way good mothers do when asked for parenting advice. “Honestly?” she said, “At this stage it’s about picking your battles. I could tell earlier tonight wasn’t the time to tell you, but you seemed to want to die on a lot of hills, honey. I’m sure you had your reasons, but you’ll probably be happier with fewer. And so will he.” She squeezed me and said, “You’re a good mama.”

When we get advice on parenting, especially from women who’ve done this before, it can be easy to feel offended or questioned, to dismissively shake our heads the moment they’re out of sight and think, yeah, whatever. But in these particular instances, I didn’t feel offended, or dismiss their wise words. Instead, I followed their leads.

After my mom left that evening, I made a decision – I was going to say “yes” the whole next day to anything Arlo asked for – unless it was unsafe or impossible. I wasn’t going to engage in any battles unless absolutely necessary. It was quite difficult, and I slipped up a few times, saying “no” reflexively when my patience was worn thin or I momentarily forgot my goal. But it was better – decisively better. Whining was shorter lived and less frequent. And no, he didn’t spend the whole day watching television or drinking chocolate milk.

 

And yes, I even tried sending A pictures. I don’t have any claims to make about whether or not it “worked,” but I do know that some of the things I focused my energy on at night, creating those pictures, did seem to run more smoothly the next day. The bigger shift, though, was a newfound consideration that maybe A and R have some other languages  I can use to communicate with them, more important than “words, reason and logic.” I considered body language, eye contact, and touch. For the next few days, when A began to wail or whine, I tried not to reason with him or convince him with words that everything was actually fine. I got down on his level and relaxed the tension from my body. I waited quietly next to him, offering him my arms as a cozy place to hunker down until his feelings passed. I spent long pauses looking into his face with all the kindness and empathy I could muster, rather than straining the words, “I know you’re mad. I’m here.” And let me tell you, A absolutely responded; I feel we are regaining a closeness that I had felt starting to slip away, which I had assumed was just part of his growing independence.

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my sweet, funny, creative kiddo

Sometimes I think the momosphere would have me believe that if I have a community, it’s limited to the women of my own generation, my fellow travellers on this new and rocky terrain, who are the only ones who can really understand me and the only ones who really ‘get’ what this is all about these days. But it’s not true. Some things have changed – laws about car seats, or recommendations about screen time, for example. But what has not changed are some pretty important things, too – like connecting to and loving a tiny person who’s just figuring out the world, keeping your cool in a strenuous moment, or learning how to maintain your sense of self and to give unconditionally at the same time. How remiss we’d be to not realize that there is, for those of us lucky enough to have some foremothers in our village, a potentially vast wealth of knowledge, ideas, and seemingly-strange new things to try. What have we got to lose by listening?

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What’s a gem you’ve gotten from one of your foremothers?

 

 

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SPOTLIGHT ON: Sarah Kowalski – Motherhood Reimagined

Sarah Kowalski is a fertility doula, life coach, and author of the recently published memoir, Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming a Mother Doesn’t Go As Planned, which chronicles her journey to motherhood when she realized at almost-forty that she actually did want a child – but she still didn’t have the partner or the white-picket-fence life she’d always pictured. Now, Single Mom By Choice and raising her beloved son, Sarah’s making it her mission to reach out to other women looking down the same poorly-lit path she embarked upon – and hoping to shed some light based on her experience.

I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of Sarah’s book, and to chat with her about her quest, life as a Single Mom By Choice, and the guilt and self-care struggles so many moms face, partnered or not. Sarah’s book is personal, fascinating, heart-wrenching, funny, and oh-so-relatable – even though I got knocked up the old fashioned way and am raising kids with a partner. Continue reading

Sometimes Others See the Gifts You Don’t

I’ve said more than once to my husband or a close friend that I don’t have many skills that would be useful in an apocalyptic situation. I’m not particularly creative with foodstuffs, I don’t know how to repair things, and I’m certainly not equipped for any sort of hunting/security needs. My skills, such as I have, seem pretty well geared toward a luxurious state of peacetime. I think I rock at my job of helping undergraduate students sort out some of their problems. (How many people are going to be in university when the zombies rise?) I’m confident in my writing skills. (Maybe I can help write the manifesto of the underground rebellion…) I’ve been told that I give pretty incredible hugs. (I’m not naive enough to think this could solve many dystopic conflicts.)

Sometimes this questioning of my “valuable” skills trickles down into the level of my friendships. I have friends who are amazing bakers, generous chauffeurs, thoughtful gift-for-no-reason givers, crafty geniuses, or handy repair people. When they share these talents in a way that benefits me, my family, and my home, sometimes I hear a quiet inner voice asking, so what do I contribute to this friendship? have they not realized yet that I don’t bring anything tangible to this table? Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos to the Pre-Tech Moms

Much is made of the negative sides of the internet and smartphones in the parenting world. Mothers of previous generations have consistently told me they do not at all envy us younger women when it comes to figuring out how to do this parenting gig. They look at all the information that we have available to us on the web, and surmise that it’s no wonder we are so stressed about getting things”right.” They express gratitude that all they had to deal with was the sometimes conflicting advice of their immediate circle of family and friends, as well as a few parenting books, instead of the opinions of the global population of the interwebs. They shake their heads at the high expectations arising alongside social media imagery that tells us we can, and therefore should, be able to attain perfection as mother, crafter, party-thrower, cook, housekeeper, organizer, and professional.

But I’d like to throw my own head shake, along with some hefty kudos, back to my foremothers today. Because for all the bad rap that technology gets for its dominance over our lives, it is also sometimes my savior of a day.

Kudos to the moms who did this without cell phones. What did you do when you were, as I assume everybody has been since the invention of clocks, running really late with an infant to meet a friend who also had a baby? Did they just wait around forever, or did you finally show up at your agreed-upon place only to discover your friend had, quite reasonably, left an hour before? (I refuse to believe that you were just always on time.)

Kudos to the moms who did this without Netflix or podcasts. Being able to tune into an episode of One Bad Mother, or binge-watch West Wing or The Crown, have been key to my sanity while in a stretch of waking up at 5 a.m. every morning with a tiny baby who thinks that’s an appropriate time to start the day. I think I would have gone crazy if I was left with only the entertainment TV and radio stations deemed fit for air at that hour.

Most importantly, kudos to the moms who did this without having friends in a little box in their back pocket. I don’t know what I would do without having my friends accessible at the touch of a button, even in the midst of winter when none of us want to go out of the house, even while a little one is too sick and we don’t want to risk passing the germs around, even in the middle of the night when I’ve felt frustrated and ineffectual. Many instances of loneliness and self-doubt have been alleviated by an encouraging text, a humourous retort to my baby’s inconvenient behaviour, a photo that confirms no one else really has it all together either, or even just a string of messages with content that doesn’t seem in the least bit important. On some days, those “insignificant” conversations have been essential for keeping this mom grounded in the world outside her house.

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I love knowing what these women get up to during 3am wakings

I know, I know, if we lived in a time before these technologies, we would be able to do without them as well. But this is neither here nor there. Today, I want to give kudos to my heroines of the past, who did all we do, and sometimes a hell of a lot more, without these little electronic boxes that connect me to my village.

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.

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