women’s bodies

Why My Sons Need Wonder Woman

I finally managed to get to the theatre and check out the new Wonder Woman movie. And boy did I love it. I’m sure there are many people out there ripping it apart for one reason or another (as there always are), but I found it very refreshing, as far as action movies go. I hope there are more films like this coming down the line for me to share with my kiddos as they get older, because boys as well as girls need stories like this: Continue reading

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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!

To Push or Not to Push: That is the question

pregnancyThe third trimester has officially started at our house. Woohoo! As Raise a Mother regulars will know, this pregnancy hasn’t been the easiest, so I am excited to be heading into the homestretch.

At the same time, we’ve still got so much to do. When I was pregnant with our first, I carefully researched and planned, making sure we got things ready throughout the nine months so we wouldn’t have too much to do at the end. This time…not so much. One of the things we have yet to sort out? Whether or not to try for a vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC) or to opt for a repeat c-section.

We are fortunate to have health care providers who are committed to giving us all the information we need and then supporting whatever decision we make, (Shout out to Ontario’s midwives!)

Still, it’s a big decision. After all, it’s literally deciding how we want our child to come into this world. If you had asked me right after my son was born, I would have said, without a doubt, that I wanted a VBAC. I even asked my midwife at my discharge appointment what I could do to help to increase the odds of a successful VBAC the second time around.

I had a hard time with my c-section, both before and afterwards. I was disappointed when my son refused to move from his breech position – our little Buddha making surgery a necessity. I was scared shitless when my belly stopped growing properly around week 34 and then my amniotic fluid got low, ultimately resulting in our surgery being scheduled earlier than initially planned because little buddy was no longer getting the nutrients or space he needed. After the surgery, my body temperature remained too low for me to hold my sweet baby, so I watched from under an inflatable hot-air blanket as my husband had the first skin-to-skin contact with our son. I had to wait at least an hour to hold him, let alone try to feed him.

I felt like a failure whose body hadn’t done what it was “supposed” to do. It didn’t help that I, like many women who have had c-sections, had difficulty breast feeding. My son didn’t regain his birth weight for a full three weeks, and we ultimately moved fully to formula feeding after three months of struggling with a never-ending cycle of bottles, boobs and pumping. I promised myself that if I had the chance to do it again, it would be a vaginal birth all the way.

But now, more than two years later, I can honestly say I’m torn about what to choose.

Because I’m not the same Mom I was when my son was born. I have enough distance, perspective and confidence to know that I didn’t fail my kid when we had a c-section (or for that matter, when we switched exclusively to formula). In fact, that was me Mom-ing Up. We did away with my expectations of how things were supposed to go and instead went with what was going to work best for my kid and for our family.

Now, there is a big part of me that finds it appealing to go with what I’ve already done – the “devil I know”, so to speak. After all, there are so many things about parenting that throw you into the deep end, leaving you to either sink or swim. Why not choose the thing that’s more familiar – where you know what to expect – if given the option to do so?

On the other hand, assuming that all is going well and there are no complications, VBACs are statistically safer than having another major surgery – which is, of course, what a c-section is. Not to mention that the idea of trying to deal with a six-week recovery period with a two-and-half-year-old at home sounds far from appealing, if not impossible. Seriously, how am I not going to pick up my firstborn for six weeks?

And, just because my c-section no longer makes me feel like a failure doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my desire for that moment of having my child placed on my chest immediately after he’s emerged from my body. Do I really want to give up that opportunity voluntarily?

On the other hand (yes, I have three hands in this scenario), the idea of trying to have a VBAC and ending up with an emergency c-section scares me the most. The idea that I could shoot for the moon and end up with a birth where I feel even more separate from my baby – and both of us are put at greater risk – is my personal nightmare. So, does that mean we shouldn’t even try?

At the recommendation of our midwife, my husband and I attended a VBAC information session run by ob-gyns from a local hospital. The facilitator emphasized that we shouldn’t think of this as a single decision, c-section or VBAC. Instead, we need to answer a series of questions: Are we comfortable with any medically-approved induction methods or do we want to rely on my body going into labour naturally in order to go for a VBAC? At how many weeks do we give up on that and schedule a c-section? If we opt for an elective c-section, what does our birth plan look like if I go into labour before the scheduled surgery date?  etc, etc, etc.

I found this framing very helpful because it recognizes the many variables that come into play in any birth experience. My husband and I want to ensure that we are on the same page, so our plan now is for each of us to answer the questions and come up with what would be our own ideal birth plan. Then we’ll compare and find the plan that will work best for both of us.

Of course, the decision may not end up being ours in the end. I know all too well that kiddos have a way of rendering your well-thought-out plans irrelevant. The circumstances of this pregnancy may shift and a VBAC may no longer be an option. The best we can do is plan for the best-case scenario, be prepared for things to change, and keep our focus on getting our little nugget here safe and healthy.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with a repeat c-section or VBAC. Any advice you can offer to this mama-of-two-to-be?

 

Raising Boys When Trump Can Be President

Issues of sexism and patriarchy have never been the focus of this blog, but they’ve come up a few times. We wrote just over a year ago about Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect in light of a seemingly endless train of sexual assaults prominent in the media. Well, now Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States, and women everywhere (and we don’t think we’re being hyperbolic when we say everywhere) are frankly, scared. We certainly are here in Canada. The day after the election, our experience of greeting other women was that we asked each other, with a sombre, knowing tone… “How are you?” None of us had to say why we were asking.

Simply put: the recent election showed us that a man can have double digit sexual assault accusers – and be shown on video, bragging about how he assaults women – and still be elected president. This is the part that’s hurting the most post-US-election, that a man can say terrible, terrible things about women and minorities, on tape, for years – he can even make that kind of divisive, hateful rhetoric the basis of his campaign – and that’s still apparently not a disqualifier for being elected president.

There are so many small, seemingly-innocent ways in which rape culture is perpetuated in our society – from the “boys will be boys” excuse we so often hear when male children engage in violent or aggressive behaviour that we would never accept from female children – to the many, many, MANY examples of pop culture ‘love’ stories where a woman resists a scoundrel-type hero who initially forces a kiss on her only to have her (of course!) fall in love with him in the end.

And while there is a big jump from watching a blockbuster to assaulting someone, there is no doubt that the message is sent, over and over again, that male aggression and dominance is not only acceptable but to be admired. No one starts out as a rapist or even remotely sexist, but these repeated messages, both subtle and not so subtle, are steps along that path.

Electing someone to his country’s highest office who has been open about his disrespect for women as objects worthy of either a) sexual assault, (if attractive enough, in his opinion), b) dismissal as a nuisance to employers (if pregnant/mothering), or c) dismissal as a “nasty woman” (if daring to disagree/state facts/aspire to a position for which she is actually qualified), is, yes, TERRIFYING.

It’s basically the cherry on top of a sundae for rapists, assaulters, abusers and garden variety misogynists to reassure them that, regardless of how they treat women, no pansy-ass-liberal-PC-police can stop them from achieving their ambitions in the world, because hey, it’s still a MAN’S WORLD. It says that, not only is this behaviour acceptable, it’s acceptable in a person with enormous influence as a leader and a role  model.

We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach our sons that women are equal to men as it is. We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach them that traits commonly associated with women (cooperation, openness, nurturing, and emotional intelligence) are just as valuable, and necessary for a vibrant life, as those commonly associated with men (independence, strength, assertiveness, and reason).

How are we going to explain this to them? How do we explain to them that the country where their grandfather and aunts live has a President who thinks Mommy shouldn’t have the right to make her own choices about her reproductive health, even though Daddy should? A President who thinks that  if one of their aunties gets pregnant, she should have to forego employment security, because she apparently ‘deserves’ what she gets for being knocked up, even though the father of that baby would not be similarly disadvantaged for becoming a parent? A President who, if he was in the same room with Mommy, or one of their aunties, or any woman they know, would feel entitled to size her up, decide if he felt like ‘grabbing her by the pussy,’ and believe that because he’s famous she would ‘like’ such treatment?

How do we explain that, while this man became President when people knew that these were his beliefs and voted for him anyway, that this standard is NOT OK for them?

We are feminists. Our husbands are feminists. We hope to raise feminist children, who will grow into feminist men, men who respect women – and all people – as equal human beings.

Donald Trump’s election has not, as we’re sure some of his supporters might hope, cowed us into some sort of bizarre acceptance that it’s a “man’s world” out there. All it has done is made us more sure in our principles, bolstered our confidence that the work of feminism is far from over, and made us even more determined that our sons will know, each and every day, by our words and actions, that misogyny is not okay. Even misogyny by quiet bystanding. Even misogyny in its subtler forms. Even misogyny masked as “locker room talk” or excused as “boys being boys.”

And yes, this might sometimes result in us being moms who are “no fun,” who can’t “take a joke” or “let it go.” But we’re okay with that. Because the alternative – quietly laughing along because we want to be liked by our boys, or just being quiet, or simply eye-rolling at the sexist behaviours they will encounter in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations – is too horrible. We’re seeing the results now of what happens when people turn a blind eye to sexist, racist, and homophobic behaviour.

We love our boys, and we want them to be free to be complex, multi-faceted human beings. We do not want them to feel defined by what is between their legs, as Donald Trump seems to define women by what’s between ours. We want them to care so much about other people of all backgrounds, and to empathize with them so strongly, that should someone espouse the values and opinions that Donald Trump has displayed, they will call them out. They will stand up to the injustice – not “like men,” but just like decent human beings.

 

Self-Care, Blah Blah Blah… Oh, But Wait.

Self-care, me time, blah blah blah. The things people say to us moms (and women generally, let’s be honest) all the time about what we need. But where do we get it?! we frantically wonder as we move from task to task, the endless, managerial to-do list of our lives flowing through our heads. I have NOT been doing a good job of this lately, friends. I’ve not been eating well: I just snack endlessly to ‘tie myself over’ til this or that is done. I don’t drink enough water. I don’t get enough sleep, despite going to bed early and actually napping when my baby naps (I’m sadly one of those must-have-eight-consecutive-hours-nightly-or-I’m-a-zombie people). I don’t take people up on their offers to take my kids off my hands well enough: I usually send one out, but not both at the same time. I’ve not been taking my vitamins, and I’m losing more weight than I probably should be.

But I thought the only person I was hurting was me, and that this exhaustion was part-and-parcel of the “mom with two young kids” package I had signed up for. I figured I just had to get through the muck and come out the other side, and then it would all be fine later.

Then we had the sad doctor’s appointment where our family doc told me my six-month-old is not gaining enough weight. And her guess of why is that I’m not producing enough milk due to insufficient sleep and calories; yep, I’ve been “officially diagnosed” as spread too thin and being too fucking tired. Continue reading

One Birth Story

There are two reasons for sharing my birth story in this particular way.

First, online discussions about birth are too often fraught with tension, either focused on quantitative details (length in hours, degrees of tearing, number of interventions, etc.) that can be used to compare/measure us against fellow moms; or devolving into endless debates with battle lines drawn on natural/medicated or vaginal/c-section grounds. Ultimately, though, we are all women who have experienced something at once unbelievably common and, at the same time, incredible: the growth of tiny people inside our bodies who are now real live people in the outside world. So I think we also need space for us to just share how that experience felt for each of us, without comparison or needing to identify our position on some ‘debate’ about motherhood.

Second, my central Scary Unknown the first time around was what labour would actually feel like, and I didn’t feel my childbirth ed class really covered it. Particularly, what might it feel like when the baby actually comes out, the precise moment when something that was the size of a beach ball under my shirt would actually exit my body? A reasonably terrifying prospect, but oddly, a memory which faded within a few months of the experience. I remembered all the quantitative and factual details that get retold endlessly to family, friends, and new fellow parent acquaintances, but I didn’t remember what the contractions or pushing actually felt like. Growing and delivering a child is the most awesome physical feat I have ever accomplished, and I imagine I’m not alone in this sentiment. It seemed a shame that I didn’t have any qualitative memories of what my body actually experienced.

(Heads up: The author knows she has a few friends who are uneasy with a lot of vag-talk, so if this is you and you don’t want to read descriptions of her reproductive parts, maybe skip this one.)
Pregnant mother

How is this supposed to go again?

So with these two things in mind and my second delivery approaching, I decided to journal about my experience of childbirth – during my labour:  Continue reading

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