Worry & Anxiety

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!

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!

 

 

GUEST POST: How community helped during the hardest time of our lives

This month, we are pleased to welcome Kristi Sterry to the Raise a Mother village. Kristi is the mom of two little boys.  She works in cancer research, and enjoys travel, hiking, and trail running. You can find her blog at lovelearnrunblog.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @krististerry. Welcome, Kristi!

bio-picOur youngest son, James, was born with a serious medical issue.  Hours after his birth, we discovered that his esophagus was not connected to his stomach, his trachea was underdeveloped, and had a fistula.  This condition is called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula, or EA/TEF.

Our world changed overnight. Instead of the sleepless nights, baby cuddles, and diapers we expected, we found ourselves navigating major surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and an uncertain future.

Our friends and family shared our heartache and our hope for this sweet new baby. Everyone we knew offered to help.  And honestly, they made all the difference in the world.  Here’s how:

Help with the older kids

My water broke at 5:45am, and we left for the hospital by 7am.  My older son, Thomas, awoke to the news that he had a new baby brother.  Before Thomas even met his brother, James had to be life-flighted to a larger hospital 2.5 hours away.  I followed as soon as I was discharged from the hospital.

I was terrified for my new baby, but my heart broke for my firstborn.  I knew he was confused and sad and missed his family.

During this time, our friends and family took care of Thomas, helped him FaceTime with us, took him on play dates, and brought him over the mountain pass to visit us.  Knowing that he was being loved and cared for brought this mama tremendous peace of mind.

Meals

After we got home, friends showed up with meals every day for 2 months.  It was such a tremendous help to have that off our plate so we could just focus on our family.  And many of my friends don’t cook (like me!), so they chipped in on gift cards.

Reach Out

Those long days at the hospital were really lonely, especially since we were hours away from home.  My best friends texted constantly.  My sister and mom e-mailed me encouraging quotes and verses late every night, since they knew I would be up pumping.  One sweet friend sent her friend who lived locally to deliver a care package.  It was so nice to connect with another mom.  Honestly, the love and support we received during that time still brings tears to my eyes.  Not everyone knew what to say, but just knowing they were thinking of us meant the world.

Keep offering to help

This is the big one. Once the baby comes home from the hospital, it seems like the medical crisis is over. But for many families, it is harder, lonelier, and scarier once they leave the support of the hospital. Our friends and family keep checking in with us.  They pray alongside us when James is sick.  And they celebrate every milestone as he continues to grow and thrive.

Watching your child suffer through a major medical issue is not something I would wish upon anyone.  But I wouldn’t trade our journey with James for the world.  He has taught us many things, not least of which is what a wonderful community surrounds our family.

January is EA/TEF Awareness Month.  Each year, 1 out of every 4,500 babies is born with EA/TEF.  Even after their repair, many of these children battle a long list of chronic issues.  On this official awareness month, we spread the word about this unknown condition and celebrate modern medicine gifting our children with life.

Question Into the Abyss: Why Can’t I Gain Perspective Til Some Major Sh*t Goes Down? And Why Can’t I Hold onto It?

Well, friends, I just wrote a few days ago about how I was sick, tired, and couldn’t handle not getting the things on my lists done. Well, once I finally thought everything was back to normal, we had an emergency room visit which turned into an overnight in the hospital for my 8-month-old and myself. He is okay now, and hopefully we won’t have a repeat anytime soon, but what struck me was how differently I felt once we were released from hospital about… well, everything.

  • The houseguests who came over while the house was still a disaster? I would have felt embarrassment for the state of things on another day, but instead I just laughed it off.
  • The prep I hadn’t done for the holiday party we were supposed to be hosting that night? Normally, I would have considered cancelling rather than being ill-prepared, but now I figured nobody gives a fuck – I just wanted to see my friends.
  • The fact that my toddler was suddenly not able to go for a sleepover during said party because his arranged caregiver had come down with a cold? Would have usually been a trigger for some anxiety about noise level on my part, but now? Well, if he wakes up and joins the party, what do I care?!
  • The crappy naps R took once we got home all day? Whatever – at least he’s sleeping peacefully!
  • The tantrums A threw a few times the afternoon we got home? Normally it doesn’t take him long to push my buttons so far that I want to pull my hair out, but after the hospital – it’s just a normal part of toddler lifeI thought. He’ll get glad again.

This is nothing new, of course – major jolts to everyday reality commonly cause us to check that reality and consider things in a different light (especially when those jolts involve imminent danger to the health of a loved one and a rush to the emergency room!).

But my own recent experience is making me wonder, why does it HAVE to take something so major? And is there a way I can hold onto this perspective instead of reverting back to my old sweating-some-of-the-small-stuff routines? Continue reading

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

The Light at the End of the Tunnel Was REAL!

There’s something that I’ve assumed for a long time, but that I’ve been waiting to really claim as truth until I was a bit further in. But now that I’m 8 months into a mat leave, I can say it: the second half is WAY better.

With my first kidlet, I went back to work after six months, and my husband got to take paternity leave. I remember being very jealous of his experience, and assuming that the second half was the “good half” that I just didn’t get to take. I remember wishing we could have swapped halves, so he could take the first months of sleepless nights and never-ending breast feedings, and I could take the 6-12 month window with its boundless curiosity, increased mobility, and longer stretches of night sleep. So with the second one, it wasn’t even a question of sharing parental leave. I was taking the WHOLE. DAMN. THING.

I did wonder though, as I went through those first six months again with little R, whether I had bitten off more than I really wanted to chew. Through sleepless nights, struggles with naps, painful breastfeeding challenges, and anxieties over weight gain (not to mention hormones and postpartum recovery), I suspected that I might actually be happier going back to work rather than dealing with at-home mothering for the whole year. I worried that the second six months would be just as bad as the first. I worried that an ugly fear would be revealed as an ugly truth: that it wasn’t the halves of the year that made the difference, but the parent taking the leave – that maybe my husband was just more suited to full-time caregiving than I was. [Cue socialized mom-guilt over not instinctively loving every single second of motherhood here.]

Fortunately, I’m happy to report that, at least in my case, I was RIGHT! (Woo hoo, how many times do we really get to say that about something to do with parenting, mamas? Excuse me while I shout it from the rooftops.)

The 6-12 month window really IS the better half, I firmly believe. I started to see a shift right after R turned 6 months, and I thought maybe it was just a phase, but now that we’re going on 8 months, I’m sure of it. It is SO MUCH BETTER! My little guy wakes up for one feeding most nights, but sometimes sleeps all the way through. He belly laughs when I tickle him and flirts with his twinkly blue eyes when I fetch him after a nap. He can often play on his own with toys quite happily for twenty minutes at a time,  after which he crawls over to me with a big smile and pulls on my leg. I’m convinced he’s started using his own versions of two of the baby signs I’ve been showing him for weeks, and nothing makes my heart glow like receiving his communication. We’ve gotten into a good rhythm of breakfast, play, nap, and taking outings where he smiles and coos at strangers to brighten their day.

Now I know that this is not the case for every mama and every baby, and I count my lucky stars that this one sleeps fairly well and generally has a happy temperament. There are also things about life with R that still challenge me (I haven’t become a Stepford pod person!). There are days where he refuses to nap unless in the stroller, his continuing resistance to taking a bottle, his frequent clinginess as a “Mama’s boy” which means sometimes I can’t put him down or pass him to anyone else.

But I’m going to bask in this reassuring victory all the same. There WAS a light at the end of my tunnel; it wasn’t a mirage.  I’m going to be grateful each day that I live in a place where a year-long maternity leave is in line with workplace law, because it’s good for my baby, good for me, and good for my family. I’m going to ride the rest of R’s first year out doing my best to focus on the fact that this is a special time I’m fortunate to have with him.

Whatever your particular mom-tunnel is right now, I promise you there IS a light at the end of it. It might be really far away, it might be only a little brighter than the darkness, but it IS there. And I’m sending you speedy vibes to get out of that tunnel asap, because from a mama who just came out into the sun, I know the tunnel sucks, and it’s really, really nice out here.

Light on the end of railway tunnel.

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