How pregnancy made me a better person

8-29-16 How pregnancy made me a better person

“God damn she looks fat.” “Why are you letting your f-ing child scream in the middle of Target.” “She’s a terrible friend she never calls me.” “This party isn’t good enough.”

Pregnancy does a lot of funny things to a woman. She might go batshit and be crying one minute and raging the next about how the dogs never have any water in their bowl. Or maybe she just vomits multiple times a day for days on end. Yeah, just. Or maybe she’s one of those lucky b’s that breezes right through pregnancy with that glow everyone talks about (and secretly envies).  The funniest thing that pregnancy does is allow for a lot of introspection.

About four months into pregnancy, basically when the morning sickness began to recede, I saw myself with new eyes. It was not just about coming to accept and appreciate my new body that was rapidly dividing cells into fingers and toes. It was also about realizing what a judgmental person I often was. This came as a bit of a shock to me. I had always considered myself a nice person. But here I was, hearing mean-girl-style thoughts cross my brain waves that were unsolicited, and I realized that I wasn’t as kind as I wrote myself off to be. How disappointing. It was time to start mentally changing, since the physical part was already underway.

As my belly grew, so did my newfound softness of heart. I softened around many topics, but none so much as my attitude towards others. Especially women, it seemed. I judged less and cared more. Instead of judging that curvy girl running, I silently cheered her on. Instead of rolling my eyes at the mom with the out of control two year old, I prayed that wouldn’t be my baby one day and empathized with her. Instead of shutting out my friend that never called, I started calling her. Instead of being ungrateful that not enough was done to celebrate, I appreciated that people even cared that much about me in the first place.

Unfortunately, being a little softer means that you also are a little a lot more susceptible to getting your feelings hurt. Instead of firing back angrily, I found myself, to my surprise, reflecting on the words said about me to make sure they weren’t true. When I found them false, as I usually did, I felt pity for the angry heart that the words came from, instead of letting those words define me.

Pregnancy did a lot of things and caused a lot of changes, but I am so grateful that it did. I like the person I have become: a softer, kinder, gentler soul. Not that I don’t still have a lot of ass-kicking vibes. They’re just redirected a lot more productively now.

The truth about mommy groups

8-10-16 The truth about mommy groups

Today is the day. I am bound and determined to go to my first new mom’s group and get myself out of the house. Yesterday morning I felt so anxious and angry, a different kind of postpartum emotion that they never talk about. I felt like I just couldn’t mom. I didn’t know what to do, except to call my mom. It’s funny that no matter how old you get, you will always need your mother. “You need to get out of the house,” she told me, “Go for a walk. Go make friends. Do something.” She was right. Except for this morning, my little fuss bucket wouldn’t settle down long enough for me to get ready. Good thing I showered last night—the last thing I needed was to introduce myself, my son, and my BO. In between T’s warning half-cries, I slop on some foundation and concealer and mascara, so I don’t look like the corpse I feel like. I shift Baby T from arm to arm to put on deodorant. Jesus, my one-handed skills are amazing. I’d place effing gold in that event in the mom Olympics.

Group starts at 11 am, and its 10:50 and T isn’t settling down. If I can’t get out of the house by 11:00 then it isn’t worth me going, I think to myself. At 11:05 T is ready to be changed and to eat again. Forget it, I begrudgingly tell myself, I’m not going. The immediate next thought: “You ARE going God damnit because you need to get out of the house and prove to yourself you CAN do this.” I realize I’ve been holding myself back from leaving my prison, I mean house, because I am afraid to get out into the world with a new baby and juggle a stroller, car seat, diaper bag, and run the risk of getting shit on (literally).

I’ll show you shit, world, because I am coming for you. I park my car outside in the heat, unpack my stroller, and start sweating profusely as I try to put the car seat containing the wailing baby locked in the stroller frame. I push myself emotionally and physically to the building, find the conference room, and slink in late. The group’s discussion doesn’t skip a beat. No one looks at me funny. No one notices I am a sweaty nervous mess. No one notices my baby fussing in my arms. I sit in the circle and look around at all the women who are just like me.

The truth about mommy groups is that they not only offer incredible support, but that the experience of going shows you that you are not alone. You are not the only one afraid for your life to leave the house, thinking that you will drown faster than a brick among fish. You aren’t the only one with breastfeeding woes and problems. You aren’t the only one whose baby isn’t following the “standard” developmental milestones like sleeping 3-5 hour stretches at two months (ha!). You find out that there is nothing wrong with you or your child, and that every new mom is just scraping by, just like you. No one knows what the hell they are doing, but we are all raising healthy, happy babies anyway. We are all making it.

Mommy groups provide an odd kind of community, one that allows for hands in poop, boobs out, pumps humming away, and sentences constantly interrupted with babbling baby talk. And I love it. I’m not alone, and you aren’t either. We are all in this together, and we all know that raising a child is scary as f.

Btw, not only did I got to mommy group and survive, but I also went to lunch after. Yes, we were some brunchin’ bitches, taking over the restaurant with strollers and car seats, discussing how many things we had in common, and all feeling better that that “one weird thing” isn’t so weird at all.

Final thought: Don’t go at motherhood alone. It’s too hard to survive. Contact your local hospital to ask if they offer new mom groups, or check Facebook or MeetUp to find one near you. I promise, you won’t regret it. You will find a group of women that understand you, and help you feel understood. Being a new mom is something that not all of your current friends might understand, but this group will. Go head girl, show the world who’s boss—uh, it’s YOU.

Breastfeeding sucks. (Literally. But I did it and so can you.)

Your beautiful little baby emerges into the world, lungs forcing out the first wails of a new life while tiny red fists fly. He is cleaned up and handed back to you, and your heart is full. He latches onto your breast for the first time and there is an immediate moment of bonding.

This is how I thought things would go. This is the impression lots of moms have: breastfeeding is the easy and natural process of feeding your baby. The truth is that breastfeeding is anything but. I had heard stories about breastfeeding difficulties before birth, and was relieved that other moms-to-be had heard the same when one of them timidly raised her hand in birth prep class and said “I heard it really hurts.” My mind was assured when the nurse responded “It should not hurt if you are doing it right.” No problem then, I thought, I just had to make sure I was doing it right.

As it turns out breastfeeding has been one of the hardest parts of motherhood. So much so in fact that I have come  so close to giving up so many times. I wish that I had known the realities of breastfeeding and not just what the class taught me (however the class was immensely educational, so take one of those too!). I want to provide you with my experience so that you, mom-to-be, aren’t in for such a shock, and may be able to put some of the advice to good use.

 

8-1-16 Breastfeeding sucks

I was fortunate that part of my post-partum hospital care was a visit (or two, okay more like four) with a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants are usually nurses that have advanced certifications to provide counseling and education about breastfeeding. Since it takes several days for your milk to fully come in, you may only produce a small amount of colostrum—or nothing at all. That is normal and okay. But it is still important to try to breastfeeding right away, as it mutually benefits both parties. It helps bring the milk in for you, and trains your baby to properly latch on. And try I did, shocked each time at how painful it was for my baby to latch on to my breast. It may have been because he was early and smaller, or because it just was what it goddamn was, but it hurt. Tiny mouths trying to learn how to latch often pinch nipples in the process, leaving one sore mother behind. The lactation consultant simply said, “Got to have some pain, mama, for the baby.” I was also told to pump regularly after each feeding to help the milk supply come in.

So after the whirlwind of birth and the hospital stay, I went home, baby and rented hospital-grade pump in tow. I pumped faithfully after each feeding for days. One of the things I wasn’t told was when to stop pumping. Oh and by the way the more you demand (pump), the more you supply (milk). My body started overproducing milk and I got mastitis as soon as the milk came in because my baby wasn’t yet effectively eating—and he was so tiny that he couldn’t drain it all even if he wanted to. My doctor put me on anti-biotics. My left breast was swollen, red, and angry—as was I—and the right one not far behind. Why didn’t they tell me this?, I thought, as I was painfully trying to heat the tissue with rice pads so I could pump out the excess milk that had backed up.

I figured out on my own via Googling and trial and error how to reduce milk production. Mainly, don’t pump after each feeding or pump only enough to release the built up pressure if needed and cold pack breasts after feeding to help stop milk production. Other women have the opposite problem and cannot produce enough milk. As I haven’t experienced this, I cannot speak to it, but I can only imagine it would be equally frustrating and painful. Many women have one breast that produces a lot more milk than the other, which leaves a uniquely frustrating problem to solve. One more thing, for some women milk letdown hurts like an m-f. For me this is the case. It is like painful tingles every time. Others feel nothing. All individual.

I have just about found the right balance between breast feeding and pumping (to store some excess in the freezer), and Baby T and I are working each time together to get a better latch and better positioning so that it hurts less and less. So why didn’t I quit? Mainly because I am so stubborn, and also because I already have developed the revered mother’s guilt. I also like the bonding that this repetitive routine provides for me and my son. As you will be told a thousand times, breast is best, and that is probably true. Your body makes food specifically tailored to your baby’s needs, and also builds intestinal fortitude and immunity. I felt too guilty to quit, and so suffered silently (and not so silently) for about a month trying to get the hang of breastfeeding. I was fortunate enough to not have cracked nipples or other serious breastfeeding concerns—which by the way are not normal and should be consulted by a medical professional immediately.

Last words: you ultimately need to do what is right for you and the baby. Working through breastfeeding for a few more months is what is right for me right now, but it is also perfectly acceptable to choose to formula or to pump and bottle feed your baby. Formula is prepared to be a nutritional and healthy source of food for your baby, and there is no shame in choosing not to breastfeed. If you experience that much pain and stress from feeding, it isn’t worth the emotional damage to you and the conveyed anxiety to your baby. Lactation consultants are a wonderful resource and extremely helpful with latching and positioning, but they too come from a particular point of view and are just one voice in many of feeding options.

Breastfeeding is truly an experience like non-other. If that is what you choose to do, you can do it, I fully believe in you. The most important experience, though, is the one you have with your baby, regardless of how that looks.

Need help? Check these resources out:

http://kellymom.com/

http://www.askdrsears.com/

https://medlineplus.gov/breastfeeding.html

Reseeding your garden: The power of starting over

One Christmas, one New Year, one birthday, a new job, and a new baby. My how much can change in a year.

About a year ago today I was writing about the fires of transformation, talking about how I was trying to transform my life, and delve into my inner depths to try to unearth who I want to be and discover who I was meant to be. I still haven’t reached my finish line; indeed, I don’t think you ever can. We are meant to be constantly evolving and changing as individuals, but always for the better. Passions change, life stations change, and so we must too change with them.

Reseeding your garden

As my life has changed, blogging fell by the wayside. It was getting harder and harder to find the motivation—and time—to write when I was working full time and pregnant. Needless to say, once Baby T arrived, there wasn’t even enough time for daily showers and going to the bathroom, let alone writing at all. Much like my garden outside, Ainsley and Arrow (my previous blog) is now seeded with weeds and wilting in the summer heat. The pages aren’t blooming with new posts, and the colors are less vibrant.

The brilliant thing about nature—and creativity—is that it can always be brought back to life. It never completely goes away. Planting new seeds, adding water, and giving a garden time is all it takes to blossom anew.

Reseeding your garden 2

For me, giving birth has given way to another birth: a spiritual one. Suddenly, my priorities have changed, my eyes opened, my heart filled, and a new personal life has taken its’ first breath. Following my passions and transforming into who I was meant to be has never been so pertinent. The need to light my own fire to become a self-reliant woman and mother has never burned brighter. Sometimes, starting over isn’t because something has died and we have failed, but because something new needed to be born and our direction changed. The power of starting over is that we get to start again, this time making something new.

As with all new change, it is scary. I confess that I have been anxious and nervous about coming back to blogging and making a business plan, not because I haven’t done it before, but because I left it for so long I had forgotten what it was to be inspired and motivated to chase my dreams. As I (uncomfortabley) write, I feel a new calmness in my soul and envision a different future for myself. Not one that requires me to leave my beautiful new baby for 8 hours a day, but one that lets me be the mother I want to be while also being the independent woman I want to be.

It feels good.

Not all gardens are successful. Some plants die while others thrive, and that’s okay. It is all in the process of planting the seeds and seeing what blooms. In truth, it is more about becoming the gardener than growing the flowers. I plan to get my hands dirty, starting today. It has never felt so rewarding.

When to put the book down: Recognizing when we’ve taken on too much and how to step back.

When to put the book down.jpg

Hey sister, cut yourself a break.

I see you over there, feeling guilty that you are taking time to surf some blogs and read quietly to yourself. You are probably feeling like there are a lot better things you could be doing, and mentally ticking off all the tasks on your to-do list. I know you. I am you. But I’m suggesting to take a week to just “be,” and not “be doing,” and see how it feels. Drop a few things off of your list, and refocus your priorities. Focus on your health. On your partner. On your child. On your dog. Anything that might get a little lost in the shuffle. This is why I am telling you to start cutting back …

If there is one thing that pregnancy has taught me it is that I take on way too much—and beat myself up about not taking on more. I decided that it would be the best idea ever to give our house a make-over, including paint, new furniture, and some slight remodeling to a few rooms. My brilliant plan also had a hard deadline—my June 4th shower, when family and friends would arrive. Add that to a full-time job, morning sickness, daily fatigue, and other daily responsibilities and my husband and I quickly felt like we were drowning.

Nothing ever goes as planned, and projects got delayed and took longer than we thought. My changing body and chemical exposure restrictions meant I was more and more limited in what I could help with, so my husband was left to captain most of the projects. I have since then realized that we had taken on way too much, but I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t doing enough. The house was a mess, my blog neglected, and I wasn’t taking the steps I was planning on to grow an independent business. I was feeling majorly disconnected from my husband. I was feeling like a failure.

My wake-up call happened after I had traveled to two back-to-back work conferences and a bridal shower in just two weeks, and I was experiencing extreme exhaustion. My body wasn’t responding well. My OB looked at me and said “You are seven months pregnant. You need to slow down.” She was right. I was pushing myself so hard, just trying to get to June 4th, and I wasn’t taking good care of myself.

You don’t have to be pregnant—or anywhere near it—to be feeling overwhelmed. As women in today’s society, we are expected to be everything—plus more—to everyone. We need to be high-achieving professionals, doting mothers, good family members, attentive lovers, participating society members … the list goes on and on. I don’t know if other women experience this, but no matter how hard I work I feel like I always have to do more and am never doing enough. Maybe it is just my hard-wiring to be an overachiever. Regardless, my mom helped bring my ambitions back into focus—“You are a human being, not a human doing.” Read that again please: “You are a human being, not a human doing.” It was time to change my mental tape to just being as a woman, expectant mom, and wife, instead of telling myself to do, do, do, do. I needed to take some steps back and realize I mentally, and physically, just couldn’t do it all. And that is okay.

It is okay to just be great at a few things, and say no to the rest. The world won’t fall apart. Your future won’t be doomed. In fact, I am willing to bet you’d be a lot happier and feel more fulfilled when you put the book down. Just let go. Let go of your expectations and enjoy your reality. It can definitely be uncomfortable, and feel downright wrong at first. You almost have to re-train yourself to run a new mental tape and live in a different state than you had been living before. Take a step back, and just be. I’m think you will thank me.

Stop should-ing all over yourself

Stop shoulding cover

I had two aspirations in life. The first was being a paleontologist. I imagined myself on sandy plains, picking delicately away at ancient dinosaur bones while the sun poured down. I even had an outfit I would wear—denim overall shorts, a white sleeveless shirt that tied at the neck, and my arrowhead necklace. And sturdy boots of course. Quite a fashion statement for an 8-year old carrying a home-made book of dinosaur classifications (one section for carnivores, and another separate section for herbivores).

My other aspiration was to be a marine biologist. I wanted to work at Sea World, specifically, and spend my days water bound with the dolphins and whales, moving as if weightless and aerial in the blue dyed water.

I spent my childhood days studying various species, drawing them with accuracy to the best of my abilities. When I visited Sea World I dreamed of being the one in the wetsuits on stage. When I watched Jurassic Park I was preoccupied with how the bones of centuries-old animals were brought to life in skin and flesh. Did I mention I would also be an artist, too?

As I grew older I started growing out of my clothes, my shoes, and my childhood dreams. More practical voices, both in reality and in my head, were saying, “You won’t make any money at that.” “You should chose to be something like a doctor or nurse.” “You shouldn’texpect to get a job doing that.” “You should be going to school at X.” Vivid dreams of interacting with animals and paintbrushes started to fade, and practical mental intrusions like “nurse” or “surgeon” started taking their places. These were also the days I felt least like myself; an awkward teenager who hated how she looked but desperately tried to fit in with all the kids, and not knowing what to do with her future, only vaguely knowing what Ishould be doing. I had adopted the monologue internally: “You should be doing it this way. You shouldn’t feel like that. You should be this person.” This went on for years. And years. And years.

I let others dictate my formative years of what I wanted to do with my life and what Ishould be doing. So instead of pursuing something like art or marine biology, I pursued nothing, and finally picked a major because I had to, and because it was what I already had the most credits toward. My interest in it never caught fire. I regret those decisions, looking back, but looking backwards never helped anything. I might not be where—or who—I am today without those years of mental wandering and self-purpose struggles.
Today I decide to be a different person. Well actually, I decided to be myself. I stopped should-ing on myself. I decided to be the artist and now paint canvases with whatever comes to mind in whatever colors I choose. I plan to eventually enter myself in an art fair, once I work up the courage for it. I decided to be the jewelry maker, and will be making my best friend’s head piece for her wedding in October. I decided that my retirement dream is to live on the beach, and volunteer at a marine rehabilitation center where I could help marine life live better lives. I’ve even gone swimming with dolphins twice. No dinosaur bone discoveries yet though…

I didn’t quit my day job (yet). I’m not that gutsy. One day I hope to be. My plan is to create a life where family and independence come first, and the typical 8-5 is non-existent. I am aware this will have its drawbacks, just like the career I have now has. Nothing is perfect.

But I feel free.

I feel free when I imagine this life. I feel complete when I imagine this life. I feel right when I imagine this life.

It might take a while to accomplish, but nothing ever worth doing is easy or simple. I feel solace in knowing that I am working toward the path that still has (much) smaller footprints of my childhood self. It feels good to know the bold and sassy girl inside again. It feels good to be me.

Why you should be doing absolutely nothing.

Doing nothing

The alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. I reach groggily for my phone, tapping blindly on the side table for what feels like a plastic casing. The beeping blares on, and I realize that the phone is plugged in and resting on the chair. A strategic move I had planned—this forces me to get out of bed. Regardless, I tap “snooze” and fall back into bed again, savoring those nine minutes.

The day is busy—phone calls, e-mails, work—the usual. Before I know it, it is time to go home. I used to get dinner started right away, but lately my pregnancy brain drives me toward the couch to sit with my feet up for a minute. Often, my angel of a husband will get home and start cooking. Before I know it, we have had dinner, watched some tv, and talked about our day, among other topics of discussion. Weekends are usually busy with friends, laundry, and errands. Before I know it, it’s Monday and that darn alarm is going off again.

Does this sound familiar to you? I’m sure many of you have similar stories, to varying degrees of difference with jobs, kids, or people in your lives. Some of you might have classes on top of this, adding an extra work load and extra stress. Or maybe you are getting married—or divorced—which is an extra set of tasks to be completed.

I hear you. It’s hard. Like, really hard, actually. Some days it seems like just getting out of bed might be the hardest thing you have to do today. Life is busy, and it is only getting busier for us. Whenever I took some time for myself to lounge around do nothing or watch some of my overloaded DVR I would feel extremely guilty. “I really should be exercising.” “I should clean the bathroom.” “I should finish that book I started 6 months ago.”

No, you shouldn’t.

What you should be doing is taking some time for yourself. Listen to your body. What does it need? Sleep? Exercise? Mindless zoning out time? When you don’t take time for yourself, you are neglecting your needs and not letting your brain rest and recover. It is important to take physical and mental breaks from the daily grind in order to let your body recuperate and start coming back to a place of balance.

When we start to lose balance in ourselves, we begin to feel more stress and a disconnect from the world and others around us. We begin to feel a bit lost, and that aimlessness can be unsettling. It may feel like we are going through the motions and not truly living. If you’re ever felt like you are just doing something day in and day out because you have to and without fulfillment, you are living without balance.

Restoring balance can be overwhelming, so much so that sometimes we just give up on even trying because it seems so impossible. Like any other task, break it down into small chunks. A bubble bath one night, a tv show and wine another, or even a ten minute walk by yourself around the neighborhood. The more “me time” you fit in, the better you will start feeling. Assign a night and a time to yourself if you really need the extra prodding. Book a date and keep it, no rescheduling.

Life is busy. And that’s okay. Just make sure that part of your “busy” includes some down time, and that time is reserved just for you.