Looking Forward to Mat Leave the Second Time Around

Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas! I hope you’re all enjoying a day filled with love from your little ones and maybe even a bit of grown-up love time.

In our house, we have officially reached the baby-could-come-anytime countdown. And like pretty much every Mom I know, I am simultaneously completely ready to be done with pregnancy and frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible before the little nugget arrives and I am newborn-bound. Given that this will be my second maternity leave, I also find myself reflecting on my hopes and expectations for what lies ahead.

I should start by saying that I am extremely fortunate. Living in Canada means that I am entitled to a full year off with the baby, and with my workplace benefits, I can afford to do that. This will allow me time and space to truly step away from work and focus my attention on my little one and my family. I know very well that this is not something everyone in North America enjoys, and I am grateful.

At the same time, I know from my experience with my last maternity leave that so much time away from the routine of work and adult time can be deeply isolating. And for someone like me – who thrives on checking off to-do lists – the need to feel like you’re getting things done can be hard to fulfill when your day is largely dictated by a tiny human who gives exactly zero fucks what’s on your list for that day.

Still, I’d like to think that the fact that this isn’t my first baby rodeo will help me have more reasonable expectations and provide perspective and comfort on those tougher days. With that in mind, I’ve got three goals for this upcoming year at home:

Accept that some things are just not going to get done, but recognize that lots of things are getting done: The last time I went on maternity leave, I had a big list of things I thought I would get done in my “year off” – things like mastering recipes for lemon meringue pie and hollandaise sauce, and finally painting a three-panel seascape for our living room. Seriously.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It will shock precisely no one who has ever met a baby that none of these things even got started, let alone finished. But there were lots of other things that did get done – organizing and cleaning projects that made our daily lives as new parents easier, a scrapbook of my son’s first year. And, of course, there was all the growing and developing that my son did over that time, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. In other words, the stuff that was more important to our family got done. 

So this time around, I’m going to try to be kinder to myself and to have faith that while sometimes it may seem as though nothing is getting checked off the list, in the grand scheme of things the important stuff will get accomplished. I may still have no clue how to make hollandaise sauce, but my kiddos will be fed and cared for, so we’ll call that a win.

Get out of the house and into the village: The last time I was on maternity leave, it took me months to feel confident enough to leave the house alone with the baby for any trip longer than the five-minute walk from my house to the local coffee shop and then promptly home. We went lots of places with my husband or other family, but when alone I was petrified that my son would have a meltdown in whatever public place and I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself. Last time I was on maternity leave, I was also the only one of my friends with a small baby. Linds was home with little A, but she lives six hours away, so our commiserating was mainly over the phone. My not very big house started to feel teeny tiny, let me tell you.

Two days in particular helped me gain a bit of perspective. The first was five months in, when Linds came to visit for a week with A. We took the bus together to the mall to do some Christmas shopping…for most of the day. And you know what? Everyone was fine. The boys were mostly content, but when they got fussy, we knew how to deal. It was exactly the proof I needed that I could hack this mom thing, not just in the safety of my house but out in the world.

The second day was nine months in (yes, nine), the first day that I spent mostly away from my son. All that time focused on the needs of my beautiful little baby hadn’t included enough focus on taking care of myself and I was melting down. My husband saw me melting and, fortunately, took matters into his own hands. He called my mother-in-law, who was more than happy to take my son off my hands the next day while my husband was at work. I don’t even remember what I did with that day. I just remember realizing how very much I had needed that break and how important it is to embrace the village around you.

So, this time around, I want to remember the lessons from those two days. I want to get out of the house more from the start, confident in the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of navigating baby needs in public. And, at the same time, I want to remember that it is more than ok to ask for help. It is necessary. No one can do this parenting thing truly alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your kids. This time around, I am also fortunate to have a few friends who are home with their little ones too, and I plan to take full advantage. After all, there’s no one who understands what you’re going through as a mom better than other mamas.

Enjoy: Initially, I was going to write “enjoy every moment”, but let’s be real. Some moments…they’re not going to be so great and I’m not going to enjoy them. Some moments are going to royally suck. That’s ok. There are lots of moments that will more than make up for those times that make me want to scream into a pillow.

And having done this before, I know full well that when this year comes to an end, I’m going to wish I had more time at home with my little nugget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

 

Two Moms, One Question: What About Santa?

With both moms here at Raise A Mother having young toddlers, this holiday season begs the questions: to Santa or not to Santa? How much to Santa? And what about when it’s time to stop Santa-ing?

LINDSAY:

I may be the more cynical of the two of us, but I’m struggling with the whole concept of Santa. I recently went out with a group of mom friends whose eldest kiddos are 2-year-olds, like A, and when we talked about it, it seemed to me that almost everyone in the group had some reservations about this aspect of Christmas. Asking other moms I know since then has revealed the same issues. Whether it’s a major or hardly-there concern, and whether it’s about putting too much focus on getting presents, feeling pressure to buy more presents than you otherwise would, being creeped out by the Big Brother he-sees-you-when-you’re-sleeping connotations, or worries about ‘lying’ to your kids and how you’ll address that when they inevitably find out – almost every mom I’ve talked to acknowledges some weirdness about it. However, the overwhelming conclusion seems to be that as uncomfortable as those issues are, most of us plan to do Santa in some shape or form, since we don’t want our kids to be left out.

So my first question this Christmas is: are the majority of new parents out there today initiating Santa with their kids not because they really really want to, but because it’s just what we do collectively

This is where I’m struggling, because I can’t think of other areas of life where I’m trying to create the illusion for my kids that a fantasy is real. And don’t get me wrong, I really like many aspects of Santa, like his qualities of generosity, jollity, and cheer. I love putting out the cookies the night before and hanging stockings. Not to mention that the general ability to believe in magic that most of us lose with growing up seems so precious in kids. But I’m still challenged by the idea of deliberately engaging my kid with a fantasy story as if it’s realWhen we read a book about talking engines or dragons, I don’t feel a need to stop and say, “Just so you know, this isn’t real.” But I’m also not going out of my way to create dragon-sightings or doing ventriloquism with his toy trains to try to migrate those stories into his real life. It’s a puzzle to me, so I’d love to hear from some other moms in the village on how you resolve this!

 

SHANNON:

I guess I’ll start by answering the question Lindsay posed in her response: No, I’m not just planning on doing Santa with my kids because I don’t want them to feel left out. I’m planning on Santa-ing because I have very fond memories of believing in Santa as a young child, and because I like the sense of excitement, joy and magic that he brings to the season for kids.

I guess I don’t struggle as much with the idea of Santa. My childhood self wasn’t scarred or even hurt when I found out that Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t feel betrayed. I understood that my parents and the adults around me had created a fun, pretend time for us. To me, it didn’t feel very different than when my Mom would commit to some other form of imaginative play and then the game would eventually end. My Mom never felt the need to point out that we couldn’t really turn into mermaids. On some level, even as a very young child, I already knew that. But that didn’t stop me from wishing ardently on countless stars that I would someday sprout a fish tail. That’s what kids do. They believe in magic – whether it’s magic presented to them by others or magic fostered in their own imaginations. 

I remember feeling disappointed that Santa wasn’t real, but also that I already kind of knew. Because kids generally do figure this out on their own. And with Santa, as with many things in parenting, I want to meet my kids where they are, to let them take the lead. Once they start expressing their own doubts, I like to think I’ll take that cue as a sign that they’re ready to learn the truth without feeling shocked or blindsided.

It is absolutely important to me to teach my children that giving is more important than getting, and to set reasonable limits on spending. These things are true every day of the year, not just around Christmas. I think when you are modelling and talking about these kinds of lessons throughout the year, children expect them at the holidays too. Like virtually everything else in parenting, I think you make the holidays work in the way that works best for your family – not the other way around. So, Mamas, how do you make them work for you?

 

santaornot

GUEST POST: An Elf I WANT My Kids to Emulate

We’re absolutely thrilled to have Caitlin Murphy writing her first guest post for Raise a Mother. She is a dear childhood friend of Lindsay and Shannon, and someone we both admired as a parent before either of us had kids of our own. Caitlin is an imperfect perfectionist, empath, and mama to three wonderful wildings – with another on the way! She has a passion for working with children and families, reading, and writing, and lives with her family and husband, John, in London, Ontario, Canada.

I love Christmas. There’s something about the holiday season that makes me feel like a kid again… and now, as a parent, I get to witness that magic through the eyes of my little ones! My family always had a lot of treasured Christmas traditions, and now that I have a family of my own, we’ve carried them on with the new generation. Decorating the house while listening to Christmas carols, making a gingerbread house while listening to Christmas carols, baking delicious treats while listening to Christmas carols (there might be a common theme here…) – the list goes on! But mostly, I associate the holidays with spending time with family and friends, and a general feeling of spreading kindness and the “Christmas spirit.” I wanted to share those same sentiments with my kids – to teach them that the meaning of Christmas goes beyond presents, treats, and holiday sweaters.

A few years ago, when my oldest was a toddler, the Elf on the Shelf became “a thing”. My mom bought one for us as a gift, and without giving it a lot of thought, we followed the basic premise: the elf arrived at the house to keep an eye on things until Christmas Eve, we gave him a name (“Spat” – thanks 2-year-old!), and every day he was in a new funny place for the kids to find (if I remembered to move him, of course!). It’s a cute idea, but parts of it didn’t quite sit right with me… the idea of this little dude reporting to Santa about my kids’ behaviour seems…. A little Big Brother to me. Also, some of the elf antics I’ve seen posted on Facebook or copious Pinterest posts are pretty mischievous or naughty… not really behaviour I want to encourage. As much as possible, I try to practice positive parenting, and my mom (a former child psychologist) has always said one of the best ways to encourage positive behaviour in kids is to “catch them being good.” So we decided to shake things up a little with our elf!
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

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