The quiet mornings of motherhood

“Ahhhh maaaaa maaaa”

His call is early today. My ears and heart stir before my eyes and body do. I automatically check my phone: 5:53. Too early, but he’s not one of those alarm clocks you get to hit snooze on.

I go to him, offer a breast, which he takes happily. We rock, and rock, and rock, but his mind is already awake and his body follows. In the quiet morning of motherhood the sun is just peeking up over the horizon. Some birds are awake and singing, but most are still huddled in their warm nests. I’m jealous, thinking of my warm bed, as I pull on another layer in my chilly house.

I split up the scrambled eggs from the pan. Like everything, they, too, are now common property between us. His tiny fat fingers selectively pick up piece after piece, shoving them delightedly in his little mouth.

I stir the pureed ham in with his oatmeal, repulsed at texture and smell. We eat in silence, but stare at each other contentedly. I think about how much the story of my life has changed in the past ten months, as he sneezes ham droplets in my direction.

In my old chapters, I never would have been up to greet the sun, or share my food, or indiscriminately wipe poopy butts. Before, I only focused on myself and what was next for me. Motherhood as a funny way of rewriting your entire world in an instant. It also has a way of making your life suddenly perfect.

The morning is getting brighter and louder as the birds exchange greetings. I notice a spew ham drop in my hair and wipe it out. My breakfast companion has moved onto Cheerios, but I can’t seem to move on to the next phase with him. I want to keep him like this; so perfect, in this perfect moment forever.

In the quiet mornings of motherhood is where my new story begins.

As the sun sets on my final days of breastfeeding…

The play date was going lovely. The sun shone so brightly upon us in our grassy seating that it seemed like something from a movie. The cows mooed happily in the background, screaming children in field trip groups covered the spans like ants on a picnic blanket. Even the odor of the farm wasn’t offensive enough to cut our trip short.

It’s almost funny in a way that babies so close in age can be so drastically different. What a transformation a few weeks or a month makes in a developing infant. Still, I think our dates are more for the moms than for the babes. It gives us a chance to talk to adults and get out of the house, although we constantly interrupt our sentences to stop wandering hands from pulling hair or to redirect grass-grabbing fingers to toys.  Whenever we ask questions we inevitably have a different answer, thus reinforcing in my mind the 100 different ways to raise a child. They seem to be turning out all right, though.

5-5-17 As the sun sets on my days of breastfeeding cover

T abruptly begins to pull at my shirt. His face forages against my chest like a bear after honey. I look around, suddenly feeling very exposed. Adults and children wander freely around us, and I lament again that T won’t take a bottle on occasions such as these. “Well,” I announce, somewhat to hide my distress, “looks like I’m breastfeeding in public!” The other moms barely glance my way, busy with their own curious foragers.

I hear a loud chugging and turn to see a tractor pulling a wagon full of people. “Maybe I’ll wait for them to go by, at least,” I say out loud to no one in particular with a lopsided and halfhearted grin. I do my best to settle T on my lap, and hunch over him to bring myself close enough for him to latch. I unsnap the side of my bra like a pro, and finagle a nipple out while leaving my shirt in place to cover myself as modestly as possible. I hope no one really notices.

The feeding seems to go on forever. I’m painfully aware of how close people pass to us, imaging some kid saying, “Mommy, mommy, look a boobie!” I’m probably more embarrassed than anyone else is at the moment. The other mom chimes in with a joke, much to my reprieve, about how no one could possibly be upset about my situation, given that the cows are being suckled or pumped just over yonder. The irony is not lost on me. I do feel like a dairy cow right now; a constant source of nutrients on demand, my fenced pasture made of imaginary ties that never truly let me leave T for more than a few hours before being called back again.

I sigh, and T decides he’s had enough and rolls away. I deftly pull down my shirt, lest an offensive nipple see the light of day in public. Once again composed, I think about how one day I’ll miss breastfeeding and the bond that it holds for me and my son. He won’t need me in the same way ever again, another stabbing reminder of how fast he’s growing up.

At each feeding now I try harder to cement the memory into place. How perfectly messy his hair is, those beautiful wandering eyes, those inquisitive fingers grabbing onto my face. I marvel at how I could have ever made such a perfect little being.

Yes one day I might miss my sore nipples, too, because that all comes with the territory of the most intimate connection that is breastfeeding. My sweet boy is growing up fast. I don’t think I’ll mind feeding him for now, just a few more times.

Four days after giving birth I was body shamed at a maternity store

Unbeknownst to me my milk had just come in. All I knew is that my boobs looked like Dolly Parton’s on a bad day. These hard, swollen, and veiny additions to my chest looked nothing like what I had been living with the past decade, and I felt as awkward and uncomfortable as a girl entering puberty sprouting breasts for the first time.

Since the baby was early I wasn’t prepared. I had only two nursing bras that I was fitted for at the hospital. Feeling anxious and overwhelmed with the sudden growth of my family, I left the safety of my home for a few hours with my mom in search of bras that would allow the full release of my breast at the beck and call of my new baby.

I was so unfamiliar with the territory of postpartum that I resorted to going to where I had bought my maternity clothes: a popular maternity store. I had remembered seeing a wall of colorful bras once before, finding the little plastic clips that were supposed to hold up my pregnancy-inflated boobs a bit of a joke. I found myself once again staring at the wall of two-cupped clipped wonders, although this time it wasn’t so funny.

4-28-17 Four days after giving birth

I grabbed a selection in a variety of sizes and styles, and was about to head to a fitting room when a saleswoman approached. Seeing a potential commission, I suppose, she started to suggest and gather other items to try. “You vil definitely need some of dees,” she said in a thick accent, stuffing little boxes onto my already full arms. The picture on the front of one looked like a modern day chastity belt, the picture on the other looked like an orthopedic back brace. “For the belly pooch after,” she said, misreading my expression for confused, “you haf to poosh it back right avay or else you alvays gonna haf dees,” she said, gesturing to her own flat stomach, curving her hand in an empty crescent shape where a post-partum belly would fit.

“You shopping early?” she asked, clearly mistaking my four-day-old post-partum belly for pregnancy—I still looked about six months pregnant. “It’s guud to haf,” she concluded. I could feel myself flush, and didn’t know if it was embarrassment about the presumption of my figure or the raging hormones—or both—but I teetered with my arms full to the dressing room. I dropped everything on the bench and proceeded to try things on, trying not to drip my boobs’ newfound fluids everywhere while also trying not to cry at the horrible shape they had become. “I didn’t know it would be this bad,” I said to my mom, although I wasn’t sure if I meant my breasts, belly, or how I’d feel. Possibly, probably, all three.

I had saved them for last. I studied the boxes and then removed the shapers. I struggled the get the impossibly tight and high “underwear” up my sturdy thighs and over the belly that I suddenly felt ashamed of. It was so uncomfortable, I couldn’t imagine wearing them day in and day out while also trying to wrangle the school-bus size maxi pad for the lochia inside. Maybe the other would fare better.

It was worse. Thick and stiff, I struggled to fasten the brace around myself. Unable to bend at all, I couldn’t imagine myself trying to sit comfortably and feed my baby at the same time. I tried to picture taking it on and off to pee 10 times a day. Hopeless. Fed up, I tore it off as fast as I could and threw it back on the bench.

I suddenly realized how ridiculous this was. I felt angry. Why were body shapers and braces becoming standard postpartum apparatus, along with sitz baths and nipple pads? What was this saying to every new mom, fresh out of the delivery room and terrified to be left alone to care for a brand new human being?

It was telling them everything that I was feeling at the moment.

Your body is now ugly. Your body is unattractive. Abdomens have to be flat to be sexy. There is no excuse to be fat, not even birthing a human. Fix yourself.

That day is a dark and painful scar in my mind. I hated what I had become. I couldn’t see the beauty that I had become.

I couldn’t see that my breasts swelled with life’s milk that would nourish my child into a healthy being.

I couldn’t see that my dripping was bountiful; a blessed sign that I’d be able to breastfeed.

I couldn’t see that my belly was the beautiful proof of what my body had worked nine months to accomplish.

I couldn’t see that my bleeding was tangible proof of the struggle my body had just undergone to deliver a healthy baby.

I couldn’t see how hurtful and cruel the woman’s words were. I don’t believe she did it intentionally. Our culture is shaping all of us physically and mentally. We are being taught that natural is not beautiful, and are corseting every flaw to make perfection.

I am already perfect. I was perfect before pregnancy. I was perfect during pregnancy. I am perfect after pregnancy. I will not shame the healthy body I was given, I will celebrate it for its’ accomplishments. I will not change it by restrictions, I will sustain it with healthy foods and exercise. I will not hide it, I will flaunt it.

There isn’t anything that is wrong with me. There is something that is wrong with society. And I, for one, will not stand for it anymore. Will you stand with me?

How to (re)do Cry It Out

I can’t believe I’m back here again. Especially because I don’t 100% believe in letting a baby cry to “learn” to sleep. But here I am, on day 3. How did I even get here?

I wrote before about the first time we did Cry It Out (CIO) for sleep training T. It worked so fast it was almost hard to find fault in the method…almost. But then it failed. No one would let a sick or teething baby cry at night, so all of that peaceful sleeping went out the window. So why would I try this method again?

I’m sharing my reasoning and experience so that you, mama, might find solace if you’re going through the same. I’d never try to convince you to try this method, because it is definitely not for everyone. There are many moms who don’t agree with this method, and I totally understand. I can say that I have a foot in that pool as well.

4-21-17 How to (re)do Cry It Out cover

What the hell happened?

We were going through hell at night. Night wakings occurred about every two hours. A quick cuddle or breastfeed wouldn’t always get him back to sleep, sometimes we were up for an hour at a time. My husband would take the first half of the night, and I the second, so that at least we could each get a little bit more sleep—although the crying would wake us up regardless. Whatever bug T and I had lasted so long I didn’t think I could make it. I was getting delirious from sleep deprivation. Adding new teeth to the mix just prolonged the episode. Until T was better, we were helpless. It was all I could do to just survive at this point.

My husband and I discussed at length what the next steps would be. I did even more research than before, reading both professional opinions and sleep consultant websites, books, and talking to many moms who used all different kinds of methods. In our several visits to the doctors, I also asked for their opinions on sleep. The answer stayed the same: “There is no solid evidence definitely for or against the Cry It Out method.” I double checked—no matter what side of the fence you were on, you could find professional research to support your stance. I was leaning towards the camp that said that letting a baby cry was learned helplessness (basically giving up) and not teaching them anything about self-soothing.

Finally, the baby got better. There were no new signs of teeth. I really didn’t want to do Cry It Out again, because frankly I wasn’t even sure it would work again. One doctor said it was normal to have to do a “refresher” after things like illness or travel, but I remained skeptical. The lack of sleep was taking its toll on everyone, though. I was anxious and feeling depressed, the baby had more fussy hours, and my husband was just as tired. Finally, finally, the baby started dropping night wakings. All through the week he would drop a wake until we got to one blissful night of one wake. It was like the clouds had opened and showered me in warm fuzzies and glitter. I was cautiously optimistic—would this be it?

He’s up again…

That was short lived. The glitter was scratching my eyes up anyway. The next night T was up every hour, sometimes even less. The night after that he woke up four times within the hour after going to bed. With everyone at the end of their frayed ropes, we started Cry It Out…again. Since T is just a few months away from being a year old, the research I had done/what other parents said suggested that the “crying” intervals be longer than they had when we started the first time. We started at 20 minutes, then my husband went to check on him. Wow did that piss Baby T off. He wasn’t that upset before, but the check-in actually made it worse. Since T was cycling between complaining crying and silent sitting, we decided to let him be. It wasn’t going as bad as I had expected (not that an upset baby is ever easy). The first night took 50 minutes by himself to settle down. The second night: a little over an hour. The third? Ten to fifteen minutes. I’m as baffled as you might be reading that, but yes, somehow by some sprinkley, air-borne magic he settled down quickly with hardly a protest.

“Oh fuck what time is it?” — Night wakings

The first two nights T only had one night waking each. It was such vast improvement so quickly it really is hard to hate the method. We let him complain for five minutes to see if he’d settle down (he didn’t), then I went in for a quick change and feed. All business, no rocking or singing or anything, then straight back to bed. He woke back up when I put him down. The first night he cycled for an hour. The second: 5-10 minutes. I’ll let you know how tonight goes…

So am I permanently damaging my kid or what?

That’s the real question, and it depends on who you ask. Although I don’t like the method, we didn’t implement gentle sleep training methods early enough in T’s life so here we are, and we have to deal with it the best way possible. This is how I justify putting all of us through the ordeal:

  1. It’s fast. I don’t know why CIO works as fast as it does, but it does. This means minimal upset for a very short length of time.
  2. It’s working. Because T isn’t full-fledged crying his little eyes out, I can (kind of) handle it. If he was tears-streaming, hiccupping sobbing, I might be writing a different post. Because he is older and cycling with quiet periods where he is clearly settling himself down with his lovey or feeling his sleep-sack fabric, I feel a teensy bit better about the process.
  3. Everyone is getting more sleep i.e. is feeling/functioning better. When we were all sleep deprived it showed. As much as his crying sucks, it doesn’t seem fair to subject a baby to sleep deprivation that is affecting his daytime mood and capabilities as well. One of my books said that it is just as important to preserve an infant’s sleep as it is to care for his other basic needs, which I can agree with.
  4. I’m not setting the stage for a dictatorship. At some point, a parent cannot let the child dictate what happens when and give in to cries and protest. If a child throws a temper tantrum over brushing his teeth or taking a bath, do you give in and say “Okay, you never have to.” No, obviously, you don’t. What is the line between nurturing versus teaching when it comes to sleep? I don’t know, but at this point in time the line for making bedtime bedtime for this family is now.
  5. The sleep crutches have to be broken sometime. I tried the gentle methods of breaking T’s bad sleep habits (breastfeeding, rocking, singing, holding, etc) and they didn’t work. Going cold turkey is definitely harsh, but I make up for all of the above during the day when it counts most.

And most importantly….

  1. It is what is right for our family right now. I could absolutely be singing a different tune by next week. Maybe things all fall apart this weekend. Maybe it all backfires. Maybe it actually works this time. I honestly don’t know. The only thing I know is that fragmented sleep wasn’t working for anyone, so something had to be done. This is the something we chose. It may or may not be right for your family, but only you can decide that. I encourage you to do your research, talk to your doctor, and make an educated decision that works for all of your family. The only other thing I can say is

Good luck. Sleep training fucking sucks.

When Cry It Out stops working

A little while ago I wrote about how we decided to try the Ferber, also known as the interval Cry It Out, method. We were desperate, and nothing else was working. We saw huge changes and great results after only a few days of implementing the new method, and we were all sleeping and so much happier. I can’t say that my engorged volleyball size boobs were happy in the morning, but I sure was.

Just when we had settled into sleep-filled bliss, Baby T started backsliding. We couldn’t figure it out. He didn’t appear to be sick or teething, yet he started waking up more often at night. Frustrated and confused, we took to researching—I swear I think I’ve ready every thing on infant sleep possible…

Of the hundreds of posts out there, one thing I found was something called “extinction bursts.” Fancy name for a bummer of an event, it basically means that your baby has your game figured out and is now fighting you harder. Babies are way smarter than we are, and they can figure all kinds of things out. Primarily, how much crying does it take for you to come and get them.

I’m definitely not saying to neglect a baby’s needs, far from it. However, T’s behavior seemed to fit this extinction burst description to the letter, so we just had to ride it out and keep on the same plan of not picking him up. I read that it might last a week or two, but to stay with the plan and behaviors already enacted and things would get better. Eventually things improved. We wiped the sweat from our brows, prepared to go back to a lot more sleeping.

Did I mention that babies have our number?

How wrong I was…

4-14-17 When Cry It Out stops working cover

I don’t know if our journey is common or not, but what happened next brought some of the most challenging days of parenting we’ve had yet. T went through a particularly vicious cycle of illness, teething, illness, teething, illness. I’m pretty sure he teethed through the whole thing, but needless the say the last few months have been extraordinarily tough on everyone.

Because T was either ill or in pain, one of us went to him when he would wake up crying at night. This didn’t take long to become the new pattern of need for him. We were back to where we had started before any kind of sleep training—some nights even worse! When your longest stretch is 60 minutes at a time and your shortest is 15, you know you’ve got it rough. I don’t believe in making an ill or teething baby cry, so we have just been trying to survive for the last few months.

T is feeling better, and we haven’t seen any new teeth [yet]. So what’s next?

I’ve been doing even more reading and research, talking to moms who have been there, and considering hiring a sleep consultant (yes they do exist). We’re trying to make a plan. We’ve discussed doing another round of cry it out, this time adapted a little bit since T is older and even more stubborn than before. We’ve discussed co-sleeping, since he has always been a clingy baby. We’re just plain stumped about what to do next. I’ve gotten every piece of advice, including some moms that say that there’s nothing really to do but just wait it out—sleep improves with age. This is the most difficult suggestion to swallow.

Whatever we do next, I will keep you posted. Maybe I’ll even figure out the magic formula to make babies sleep! Ha! Don’t hold your breath. I’m glad I didn’t. I’d be long blue by now!

The one thing no one tells you about becoming a mom

I wish someone had told me. It’s like the world’s best kept secret. Maybe no one tells you the real truth because then maybe people wouldn’t have kids. But I’ll let you in on the secret…

Motherhood is really. Fucking. Hard.

I knew becoming a parent would be tough. I knew babies weren’t easy and you didn’t get much sleep. I knew about colic and the 24/7 care that babies required.

But I didn’t know it would be this hard.

4-6-17 The one thing cover

Truly, I didn’t expect it to be like this. Maybe knowing it wouldn’t have helped anyway, in the way that something someone tells you doesn’t have the same weight as personal experience.

I’m past my ninth month of sleep deprivation. I can count the nights I’ve gotten more than 6 hours of sleep in a row on one hand. Add this into newborn colic, infant illness, teething, baby mood swings, being on call every second of every day, and zero time for self-care, and it is turning out to be one hell of a year. It was a year I wasn’t prepared for, and didn’t see coming. It’s been hard. So hard.

But here’s the other amazing truth about being a mom… it is the best thing ever. Admittedly, I don’t always have this opinion at 3 am when I feel like crying and inwardly pray to my baby “Please, oh please, just go to back to sleep.” I might not feel this lovey dovey when he’s fighting his nap and I want to cry because his 30-minute-to-the-t nap time is some of the only time I get to myself during the day. But when I call my friend in a desperate attempt at adult conversation and pour out my aching, tired heart, and she tells me that sometimes it’s hard to make that connection with a difficult baby, my immediate and heart felt answer is “But I love being a mom.” And truthfully, I do.

It boggles me that even as broken as I had felt in that moment, my honest response was still one of love. I had surprised myself. I’ve never loved anything more than my little boy and the path of motherhood I am crawling walking on. I’ve had my lowest days as a mom that I’ve ever had in my life. But I’ve also had my highest. Having that realization was enough to get me through that day.

I just needed someone to tell me that it was going to be okay. That I was okay. That I am doing okay. I guarantee that every mom everywhere needs those words at one time or another. Babies are so hard. We don’t know what they want because they can’t tell us, and in between the cries and hours of rocking them alone in the dark, it can be hard to remember that we are everything to them, and that they aren’t doing it on purpose.

The next day was more than a new day and a fresh start for me. It was one of the best days I’ve had as a mother yet. It was full of giggles and hugs, a long nap for both of us and my son’s wet, open mouth “kisses” on my cheek. Those unexpected hours make up for the many dark ones. I wish I could capture that light I felt in a glass ball so that my heart could remember it during the heavy hours. Good days or bad, time passes so quickly. I would have to agree with everyone that always tells a new mom “Enjoy these moments, they go so fast.” Dark nights might feel like an eternity, but as I’m here almost a year later, I can testify that they pass in the blink of an eye.

So to all the tired, dark-circled, hungry, lonely moms out there: It’s fucking hard. I know. But you are enough. You are doing so well, and you are a really great mom. I wouldn’t lie to you, would I?

The art of mastering kindness (Especially when you want to drop kick that son of a…)

Why is it so hard to be nice?

I am not sure that human kindness is an innate feature. After all, way back when, if you were too kind you might get eaten. Being nice and favorable isn’t a survival mechanism. Selfishness is. And no I’m not talking about when you were back in middle or high school, I’m taking about early human evolution. Still, some kind of bonding must have occurred between these early humans, lest we wouldn’t have sociability or the innate need for companionship.

I read an article recently about a mom who is trying to teach her child about kindness and friendship. She tried to explain to her daughter that not being mean, or being indifferent, isn’t the same as being nice. I really started to think about this. Being indifferent to someone isn’t the same as being nice, or kind, to them.

So what is it, then, that makes kindness…kindness?

3-20-17 The art of mastering kindness cover

Kindness takes an extra degree of effort. It takes those extra few seconds to hold open a door, to ask a crying stranger if they are okay, or to organize a donation event for a food bank. So often we hurry through our day and, usually selfishly, just try to get to quittin’ time so that we can retreat back to our caves for food and quiet. I get it, though. The last thing I want to do after caring for my baby all day is to do more. I want to be alone and cherish my solitude. But I try to include small acts of kindness in my day and evening, because it is good for the heart. Do you ever do something for someone else and just feel good about it? That good feeling must be why the cavemen continued to be kind even though it could have meant a detriment to their survival. Maybe we haven’t really changed all that much, after all.

Kindness takes caring. In this crazy day and age that we live in, self-preservation is the name of the game. A lot of people have the mindset of “me, me, me,” and, I hate to say it, that the younger generations are even more so. It seems like they never grow out of that MINE stage—a never ending parents’ nightmare. Are we losing the art of caring for one another? Possibly. The number of individuals who volunteer has been declining for over a decade. Why? Some suggest that the emergence of the social culture online takes place of personal interaction, thus cutting off our exposure to seeing those who may need help most. Whatever the cause, it is a trend that I believe will decrease our empathy for others and foster selfishness and isolation in younger generations.

Kindness takes patience. Living near a big city, I experience my fair share of major traffic. Even on days when there really shouldn’t be traffic, there can be major backups that make a short drive into an unnecessarily long one. Before, I had no qualms about letting some choice words fly, or honking my horn to ensure that the moron going under the speed limit knew of my ire. Lately, when I let the f-bomb fly, I look in my rearview mirror and see my little baby looking back at me. I instantly feed guilty, even though he can’t understand such vocabulary yet. I imagine, though, that he understands tone, and I find myself apologizing for my bad behavior. If I want to set a good example for him, how can I have such a short fuse for something so insignificant as someone who didn’t merge properly? If my baby has taught me one thing, he has taught me to have the patience of a saint. The more patience I have, the calmer I feel, and the less angry outbursts [that raise my blood pressure a few notches] I have.

Kindness doesn’t expect reciprocation. Have you ever held the door open for someone or let someone cut in front of you on the road, and when they didn’t say thank you or give you the “thank you” wave you found yourself saying “You’re welcome!” in the most sarcastic tone you can muster? True kindness doesn’t mean getting something back. It requires giving because giving is good and the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter on what scale we give, we should act because it feels right. Granted, if you are on the receiving end then puh-lease wave a thank you; kindness is expressing gratitude, too, ya know!

Being nice is not indifference. Being nice takes more.

Think about one act of kindness that you can do today. Maybe if we had more people who were willing to take a few minutes to do good, we wouldn’t have as many problems as we do. Maybe you can be that one that helps change things, even for just one person for just a minute. You never know how far your good deed goes.

So yes, I’ll hold the door open for that person who walks by without a second glance, and still smile and say “You’re welcome!”, and mean it.