I matter to him.

“Maybe I just need to go back to work,” I said to my husband with a shrug. My sentence didn’t come out as a statement; the words fell into each other in a long sigh, like stale breath exhaled after being held too long. It was yet another conversation about tightening the budget, something we’ve done constantly since we decided that I would give being a stay at home a chance. I had never really realized how much we’d been spending, until I had given each dollar a careful examination before setting it free into the world. In truth, it was more than our budget. It went a lot deeper than that for me. It was a suggestion imploring to be closed, denied, and followed up with reassurance that I was doing the right thing by staying home.

I’ve always been insecure. Well, maybe not always, but since arriving at the age of breasts, periods, and bullying, my self-confidence was always at low tide. Today, I’m responsible 24/7 for our offspring, someone we waited and longed for, but suddenly made me insecure and depressed with his arrival.

The first months were easy. I never slept, instead running on love, joy, and adrenaline. I was all too happy to lose myself completely in motherhood. But now I constantly wonder if I made the right choice. Was it the right thing to stay at home? Can I even handle this? Am I doing a good job? Is he eating enough vegetables? How do you feed an infant vegetables, anyway, when most of them are choking hazards and he now refuses to eat purees?

Maybe I am looking for validation, something that makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile, some physical evidence of my efforts well spent. The extra cash wouldn’t hurt either. In truth, maybe I am just looking to run away. It seems easier to sit at a desk all day than deal with a highly demanding baby: tantrums, nap time refusals, and poopy diapers are just the tip of the postpartum iceberg. Maybe, just maybe, my inner critic is right. “You can’t do this,” she often tells me, “you’re not good enough.” Whether it’s motherhood, my blog, or my choice to nap instead of doing something productive, she is always there to remind me of my inadequacies.

As I stand in the playroom, I half watch him play independently and half scroll through Twitter, jealously eyeing all the mothers who seem to have it all: happy kids, a self-made career, and most importantly, they seem to have showered that day. Unexpectedly, he looks up at me. I almost missed it, lost in the rabbit hole of social media. He looks me right in the eyes and a huge grin lights up his face. I find myself genuinely grin back at him. We hold each other’s gaze for a minute, and he turns back to his toys. The exchange didn’t last long, but it filled my heart to the brim.

Using no words he told me everything I needed to hear. I am a good mom. I am doing a good job. He is happy and loved. I might not matter anymore to my old coworkers. I might not matter to the blogosphere. My opinions might not count to anyone but our family. But my son doesn’t care. With no words he told me the one thing I needed to hear most, and that is that I matter to him.

Changing the expectations of my motherhood

“Damn that’s fucked up,” I thought as I looked in the mirror.

I leaned in closer examining the red splotches and dots on my face that seemed to have cropped up overnight. Probably another shift in hormones, I speculate.

I’ve been thinking that thought, or something similar to it, a lot lately about my body. I escaped stretch marks in my first pregnancy, but my body is still permanently changed. It’s not just the weight; my boobs are different from almost a year of nursing. My hips are wider. Butt bigger. Cellulite spread.

I leaned back, away from my reflection. I really wanted to sleep while the baby was sleeping, but I told myself I should be getting things done around the house. Writing on my blog. Doing something useful. Then I caught myself.

I caught myself getting wrapped up in expectations. Whose expectations? I’m not sure.

​Mine? Society’s? Mine via society’s? I keep placing these demands on myself instead of just being present and taking care of me the way I need to.

By six months postpartum (or so), people really expect you to have your shit together. Like suddenly when the sun rises on the 182nd​ day you are suddenly able to sleep all night, exercise, eat right, lose weight, take a shower, and put on make-up,​ all while having a sparkling clean house and looking well put together in your pre-pregnancy clothes. For some mothers, this might be a reality. They are able to find their groove and regain control of their lives. For others—like me—it isn’t. The baby was still up every two hours. Sleep deprivation was taking its toll, and I looked and felt more like a walking zombie every day. It was also causing depression. Some days it took everything I had to just get through the day; forget adding in the fitness and healthy eating part.

It took me 11 months. Eleven sleep deprived months. These days, finally, he is sleeping at night. The fog is starting to lift. I feel less depressed on more days. I still sleep during the day when he naps, subconsciously feeding the sleepy girl that demands more to compensate for the hours she’s lost. Eleven months of a challenging baby and here I am feeling guilty. I feel guilty when I choose to sleep. I feel guilty when I don’t want to go for a walk. I feel guilty when I’m too damn tired and un-showered to leave the house. Why? Because I’m letting someone else’s expectations dictate how I should be acting as a mom, instead of acting out of self-care for the mother that I am.

I keep reading blogs that emphasize self-care. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” everyone keeps saying. Well I must be living in the fucking Sahara desert then,​because that cup has been bone dry for years. In other words, I’m really bad at self-care. I constantly put others first, putting all needs above my own. Having a baby just made it worse, particularly since he’s a demanding one.

I see what I am supposed to be. I see photo after photo on my Instagram feed of these stay at home moms in white, bright houses where nothing is out of place. They are showered and look lean and healthy. Their kids looked bathed and happy. “I’m always so happy,” they say, “I just love motherhood so much that I never have a bad day.” Bull. Shit.

Look, I can’t judge you. And I won’t. If that is really your life, then God bless you,​boo,​because you are the epitome of optimism and I’m jealous. But I’m guessing for a lot of those photos, the moms have set up help, a heaping pile of laundry outside of the frame, and that was their first shower all week. These images, along with these expectations that live up somewhere next to the iCloud in the sky, set mothers up for failure. How can I possibly attain such perfection while raising a perfectly polite and sane human being at the same time? And I’m supposed to have more?!

Listen, mama, I’ll tell you the truth. Lean in close (but not too close because I didn’t put on makeup). I’ve got two words for you: 1) Fuck 2) It. Fuck it. Yes FUCK IT. And not in the giving up hope because it’s pointless kind of way, oh no sister. ​I’m saying FUCK IT because you ARE already doing great, you ARE already enough, you ARE a great mom. Don’t put those expectations on yourself. Be the mom you need to be, and it will be exactly the kind of mom your kids need.

Yes it would be nice to get this extra weight off. It would be nice to not eat so much and be hungry all the time because of the calorie deficit created by feeding another living person from my own body. But I have been breastfeeding for almost an entire year and that is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. I’m [slowly] working on getting back into shape, but I will get there. And the dishes and laundry can wait. Rolling around with my son on the floor is more important than any demand of you should be that society is whispering in my ear.

My son doesn’t care that I’m fat. He doesn’t care that my hair is dirty. He doesn’t care that I didn’t clean the kitchen. He doesn’t care that my house isn’t Instagram worthy. That gappy, toothy grin tells me that I’m doing it right, and that is enough for me.

 

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!