Tag Archives: exhaustion

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.

When mental worlds collide

moms-to-do-list-no-do-listMamas, over the past while, I’ve really been in the weeds. At work, things have been busy and stressful. At home, we have been fighting colds while trying to keep up with our household tasks and our active toddler. And then, of course, I’m currently growing a human.

This week, after a particularly rough day at the office, I told my husband: “If I was served on your toast at a restaurant, you would complain that they stiffed you on the butter.” I am spread pretty thin at the moment, guys.

Of course, this feeling won’t come as news to my fellow working moms – or, frankly, to any mom out there. No matter what our circumstances, every mom I know has many, many balls in the air at any given time.

As a full-time working mom, most of my week is spent in the office. My mental energy has to be focused on the dynamics, challenges and giant, never-ending task list of my professional life. The nature of my job is such that I am the lead on, and need to be on top of, a large variety of projects on a continuous basis. I am the president of a lot of stuff.

Then I come home, and I want and need to be completely present and focused on my family life. There’s a giant, never-ending task list here too. To me, it’s even more important, and I want to give it the attention and energy it deserves. And because I only have a few hours each day with my son and husband, I want to make them count. I want to be the best possible mom and partner I can be. I’m just so tired.

Recently, it’s gotten me thinking about the work-life balance and personal/professional boundaries. In times like these, when I’m in the weeds, I feel like my worlds are colliding. They’re not balanced at all.

Try as I might, I’m not always able to leave my professional to-do list at the office. It still runs through my head, joined by the tasks from my home to-do list, until my brain becomes so full of worry about all the things I still need to do that I just want to take a nap. I feel as though I’m standing between two tall towers of paper, the weight causing them to lean perilously towards each other, ready to collapse and bury me at any moment.

I want my kids to remember me as a loving, joyful, playful, positive person in their lives – a person who made those few hours each day count – not as a person running around like a chicken with her head cut off.

As working moms, we’ve heard a lot about finding the work-life balance that works for us. But most of that discussion focuses on the number of hours in a day, on where and how we are physically spending our time.

What about our mental time? Even when we’re physically at home, how do we keep the stresses and pressures of the work day from infiltrating the emotional energy we are giving to our families?

I know this is not a question with an easy or fast answer. And like so many things in parenting, it has more to do with working on myself. But this is where I’m at this week, mamas. It’s real and it’s hard and I know it’s where many of you are too.

And then there were four…

Well, mamas, I’ve got an announcement: I’m pregnant again!

My husband and I are officially expecting our second child, due on March 3rd. No news yet on the baby’s sex, but we should be able to find out during our ultrasound in October. Since I love a) spoilers and b) planning ahead as much as possible, you can bet that I am counting down the days!

I am so excited to be able to share this news with you. It has been incredibly hard over the past couple of months to not be able to write about the ups and downs of the first trimester – especially when I know how great a resource of support we have in this village.

Being pregnant this second time has been a lot harder than with my first. The exhaustion and the nausea have been much worse than I experienced with my son. At one point a few weeks ago, I asked a good friend of mine, “When was the last time you were nauseous every day for months?” It wasn’t until I said it out loud and saw his eyes widen that it hit me what a physical toll being pregnant can take a body, even from the very beginning. And I know that many, many women have it worse than me.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about being pregnant when you already have one or more small children, (though it should be pretty obvious): toddlers don’t care that you’re pregnant. My son doesn’t understand that I feel sick and need extra rest. He’s busy being two and experiencing all the intensity of his brain developing at an incredible rate. He needs me to be the best, most patient mom I can be, day in and day out – even when all I want to do is find a comfortable position to lie in while I figure out what I might be able to stomach for dinner.

For all you mamas out there with older children, I know this doesn’t stop at toddlerhood. I distinctly remember, as a teenager, chasing my poor pregnant mother around the house making waterfall noises when I knew she had to pee. (I am SO sorry, Mom. That was totally a dick move.)

But the thing is, even with all its challenges, it’s the joy I find in being a parent to my son that makes me even more excited to meet our new little babe. Last week at my midwife appointment, I got to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, and it was just as thrilling as when I heard my son’s tiny heart thumping away – long before I had any real sense of how much my life was about to change.

I’m so glad this cat’s finally out of the bag! I am looking forward to sharing these next few months with all of you mamas out there, and to hear about your experiences in this crazy world of second-time motherhood.

 

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When Non-Parents Talk About Parenting

When Non-Parents Talk About

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted about how, as a non-parent, her opinions on anything related to parenting or children are discounted by friends who are parents… when she disagrees with them. She got a fair number of comments on this post, and expanded her original thoughts, noting:

“I’m rapidly becoming the only person I know without kids and being told my opinion doesn’t count at all is weird to me, so it occurred to me that unless my opinion is still pointless when I’m agreeing with parents, they’re actually only saying “as long as your opinion is different than mine, you don’t get to have one” which seems a lot more child like than parent like to me.”

I see where she’s coming from. Countless parents did this to me before I had kids, and it’s been one of my goals since becoming a mom to not do this to other people. (If I’ve done this to any of my non-parent friends who are reading this, please accept my apology!)

But I also see why parents do it. So often, non-parents speak their opinions in a way that comes across as though they would do things so much better if they were in your shoes, with such confidence in their conclusions. (I know this because I was guilty of it for sure: my kids would never behave poorly in public. You just teach them not to, right?) And any parent knows when they sense this attitude that the person talking to them is being completely ridiculous.

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But even if non-parents express conflicting opinions to yours in the most diplomatic way, it can be hard not to want to dismiss them. Continue reading

A Surprising Remedy for Tiredness: Host a Playdate

I woke up this morning already drained, and just knew it was going to be one of those tired days. I hadn’t gotten much sleep, woke up at 5:45 to feed the newborn, and felt a real dilemma once that was done over whether to lay back down for 15 more minutes or have a shower while my partner was still home and could look after the boys (I chose the latter). I was preemptively cranky about how exhausting the day ahead was going to be. I also had a playdate planned for later in the morning; a couple of friends of mine and their kids were going to come over.

I contemplated cancelling, apologizing but saying I just needed to ‘lay low’ and get through the day. I knew they would understand. But I didn’t really want to do that, because I haven’t had that many daytime adult interactions since my son was born a month ago, and frankly, I was craving some company and conversation. Continue reading

A Little Re-Frame Changes the Whole Picture

Sometimes we get stuck in ruts that suck. There is a certain situation or environment that is constant or recurring in our lives, and it sucks… worse, sometimes, we know we suck in it. Those circumstances that bring out the worst version of ourselves, but we can’t avoid them because they are necessary to our lives. They could be at work, at home, with relatives, with friends, or with our kids. My own awful circumstance that I’ve been re-thrust into this week is the Dreaded Newborn Night Wakings. My son was born one week ago (hurray! I’m finally done being pregnant!), and nighttime feedings are once again part of my routine (ahhh! I’m a terrible person when I’m tired!!).

Night wakings with a baby are the circumstance that brings out the worst in me. So re-entering this space (my older kid has been sleeping through the night consistently for several months now and it’s been blissful) suddenly sparked an all-too-familiar, trigger-happy, irritable anxiety that only manifests between midnight and 5am. In this space, an uncooperative support pillow lights a match of rage in my throat, and a refusal by my days-old child to immediately go back to sleep after a feed ignites the urge to throw a toddler-esque tantrum and whisper, “Fine! We’ll just sit up all fucking night then!” Like I said, I’m a terrible person when I’m tired. I long ago accepted this about myself, and always try to get enough sleep to avoid the monster coming out. This tried-and-true strategy of consistent bedtimes and eight hours of sleep is just not an option for the near future, unfortunately.

I’m sure (or at least I hope, even just so I can feel less terrible about it) that most of us have these situations – certain circumstances that get under our skin and change our reactions and behaviour for the worse. Yesterday, however, I decided to try to do something about it, and I was amazed at how calm and peaceful last night was as a result! So I’m feeling pretty great about it today and thought I’d share.

The first thing I did was re-frame the purpose of the situation. Instead of thinking about The Impending Horrible (night wakings) as drudgery, as simply a necessary, sacrificial duty of my life, I decided to think of them as a opportunity for long-term gain. As I imagine all parents of newborns are, I’m very invested in helping my son learn to sleep well, calmly, and most importantly, through the night. And as a second-time parent, I’ve already noticed myself being much more calm and collected during the day in moments that distress him as a newborn, than I was with my first. So if my son experiences me as calm and reassuring during the day, but as anxious and on edge during the night, he might learn that night is a time for being on high alert, for worrying about things – that nighttime, in short, is bad… which probably won’t help him feel at ease about sleeping through it. Keeping this big-picture purpose in mind helped me last night to stay calm throughout our feeding and awake time, even though I was just as tired as the nights before, and could have easily reacted in my old patterns.

The second thing I did was re-frame my expectations. I realized I had been going into each night waking hoping for the best (ie. that he would eat quickly and go right back to sleep) but focusing on and anticipating the worst (my exhaustion and the possibility that he would stay awake all night). I took a look at my baby tracker app, and noticed that his average time awake per instance at night, is around an hour to an hour and ten minutes. So my expectation that we would feed for thirty and then both be back to sleep was simply unreasonable. I was setting myself up for failure and irritation every time. Looking at the clock when he woke up last night, and expecting that I would be awake for up to an hour and fifteen minutes more, helped me to not feel anxious the whole time about when the feed would end, if he was eating fast enough, etc. And when he did go back down faster than that, it was a pleasant surprise instead. By being realistic about the crappy situation that I normally approach with wildly idealistic expectations but a sour, pessimistic attitude, the whole thing got a lot better.

I’m going to try to remember these two approaches to other situations that I find grating, irritating, or generally rut-like in my life. Because being calm and moving with what felt like a little more grace through this rut last night was not just easier on those around me (my son, but also my husband, who gets up with me at this stage to pass the baby to me, change his diapers when needed, help soothe him back to sleep, etc.). More importantly, it made me feel more in control of myself, instead of like the sleep-deprived monster I never seemed able to keep at bay before.

What about you, lovely readers? What are your ruts or your recurring, inner-monster-inducing spaces? How do you help yourself move through them as best you can?

Bonding – a Whole Approach to Life

I recently read this beautiful essay on how human connection – not sobriety – is the remedy for addiction. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but if you aren’t going to, I’ll try to snapshot the key points that have sparked my thinking here:

The author, Johann Hari, explains two separate addiction experiments done with rats, the long and short of which is that the rats who were kept in isolated, un-stimulating environments were exceptionally prone to drug addiction, but those who lived in ‘Rat Park,’ a healthy, happy environment for rats, were not. Moreover, once rats who had been conditioned to addiction in the isolated cages were allowed to live in Rat Park (“a lush cage” with “colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends”), they quickly returned to a life free of drug use. He goes on to make comparisons to human examples of Vietnam-war veterans and those prescribed heavily-addictive drugs in hospital settings, which are quite interesting.

But my thought-train here has really nothing to do with addiction per se, or with rats, or with the ethics of animal experimentation. Rather, one of Hari’s passages struck me particularly:

“Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. […] But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet.”

His argument is about addiction as a clinical condition, but I think his assessment of human beings is something we can all reflect on and learn from.

While not in as dire circumstances as many people, there are many of us living what appear on the surface, or from the outside, to be ‘full’ and ‘happy’ lives… or at least what ‘should’ be so. In truth, many of us live in self-constructed cages of isolation. Even if we’re not facing depression or constant physical isolation, we’re often more isolated than we would like to be. Why is that, especially if we are lucky enough to in fact have the means, the people nearby, and the opportunities, to be more connected, more bonded with our village?

Too often it seems we feel we don’t have the time to connect with our people, our friends and family; this is the most common cause I hear. But what are we doing instead? The usual culprits seem to be working, getting chores done, driving around to do errands, with the awful end result that when one does have some ‘free’ time, it needs to be ‘me’ time (read: a chance to collapse from exhaustion, to sleep or zombify in front of a screen).

But I think in these cases we need to question the importance of the things we’re using our time for instead of connecting – because at the end of the day, we are choosing to do so, and only by acknowledging our own agency can we start to either change it or become okay with it.

Do our living spaces really need to be tidy in order to enjoy our home with those we love? Does our time need to be ‘free’ of obligations or to-do lists before we can engage with our people? Or would it be better if we did more things communally – buying food, cooking, folding laundry – embracing that we’re all going through this together, rather than feeling we need to ‘get our shit together’ before we can enjoy one another’s company? Do we really need to ‘unwind’ at the end of a long day by scrolling through a social media feed that only gives us that ‘parody’ of bonding? We could instead be actually connecting with the people and activities that bring us joy, or indulging in that ‘me’ time by having a bath, walking outside, or doing an activity that engages our bodies and minds rather than just collapsing from exhaustion, often in front of a screen?

We have created a culture, as Hari says, “that cuts us off from connection.” The expectation is that we will all live in our own little kingdoms, whatever your particular box of living space looks like, and that our first responsibility is to keep our own kingdom in order. If we are good at keeping this order – bringing in the right amount of money for our lifestyle, tidying and cleaning, having the ‘right’ groceries in our cupboards with our near-future meal plans settled, having at least some plans in the works for how we’ll change our kingdom/life, and maintaining whatever image we’ve created of our lives in our online worlds – then we can occasionally, when it’s a ‘good’ time, invite others into our kingdom to enjoy the space we’ve cultivated, or allow ourselves some time away from our boxes to enjoy someone else’s kingdom… provided they have kept their kingdom in order, of course.

Perhaps we need to start living with each other, instead of alongside one other with the occasional meeting in the same space.

The people we wish we bonded more with might live in the same space as us, our spouses or children; they may live down the street or across town or across the country or the world, and technology may be a necessary tool for allowing us to simulate face-to-face interactions with some of them. We may wish to bond more with ourselves, to connect with our interests, and hobbies, those experiences that allow us to feel more alive, more engaged and joyful.

The point is not how we connect but whether the connection, the bonding, is a real bond or a parody. Even more so, the point is accepting our own agency (should we be so fortunate as to have some, as there are many in the world who truly don’t), so that when we feel we’re living in a cage, we can look around and determine honestly if the bars are real, or if we’ve given them form and weight with our own perceptions.

“Bonding” in this broader sense doesn’t seem to be something that can be done or felt effectively if only allotted in rare, discrete blocks of time; such a model means there will also be set times of isolation, boredom, or loneliness. It would be idealistic to think all of life will be continuous bonding and connection, but it also seems sad and unnecessary to resign ourselves to a life plan where bonding and connection are rare ‘treats’ if we’ve been ‘good.’ I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think it’s worth some serious consideration, and I hope some of you will leave your thoughtful comments below!

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