Deciding to Jump: To Go Back to Work, Or Not?

olivia:

Still a little rough around the edges, but working on a new blog to separate out some of my more personal writing– I will still be blogging @ oliviaobryon about writing/teaching/travel, but also want to see what it is like to take a more focused approach in the blog world. If you enjoy my mommy posts, I invite you to follow Leap of Mama too!

Originally posted on Leap of Mama:

It's the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up.

It’s the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up.

I am standing on the edge of one of the biggest jumps of my life. Either I go back to work part-time as an intervention teacher and attempt to juggle my dream of writing into the mix of afterwork motherhood, or I take a deep breath, and jump straight into life as a stay-at-home mom and writer.

For many, the answer seems easy. JUMP. But the decision is much more layered than I expected. I love my school, my students, my coworkers. Some days I feel on the verge of going stir crazy at home. I have a part-time job waiting that may never be there again. The predictability of a work schedule, a paycheck, and good health insurance speaks to my cautious nature. Returning to work is somehow the less frightening choice.

With a face like this, it is hard to leave home. With a face like this…

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Natural Childbirth: What Worked For Me

A friend messaged me today asking for some insight on childbirth without pain meds. As I went through everything that worked for me, I realized I would have loved similar tips before I had Eloise. So, below are some thoughts on what helped me to avoid having an epidural. I don’t claim to be an expert, nor do I expect what worked for me to work for everyone. However, I really do believe natural childbirth is more attainable than most women realize. And, if you fall into the “I just want an epidural” camp, no judgment, I get it.

I chose to avoid an epidural because I have a sensitive system and I did not want my labor to be slowed down by any outside interventions, (my biggest fear was needing a C-section). When I found out I would have to be induced because my water broke a few days earlier, I was really nervous. I had heard Pitocin changes the way contractions feel. While this may have been the case, I survived, and I want other women to know that being induced doesn’t mean you will automatically need an epidural.

Here is what worked for me (and, I will be honest, I was nervous about whether I could handle the pain):

1. Research. Before Eloise was born, I read as many natural childbirth stories as possible. I also talked to everyone in my sphere who birthed naturally and watched everything I could find on Netflix and the internet. The more positive stories I heard, the more I believed in my own ability to give birth without pain meds in a hospital setting. Among my favorites:

2. Established a birth team. For me, this meant hiring a doula and deciding that only my husband and she would be present at the time of delivery. While I had other visitors before everything got too intense, I knew it was important for me to maintain my focus if I was going to keep my momentum. While I love my family, I could feel their concern as soon as they walked into the room.

Hiring a doula ensured I received support from someone who had gone through the birthing process hundreds of times. According to studies, the presence of a doula reduces the use of interventions. I could definitely see why. Our wonderful doula advocated on my behalf throughout the process. She monitored how much Pitocin was given and spoke up when she thought it might be too much, something I would not have known to do on my own.

Most importantly, the calm presence of my doula reminded me of my goal. As she sat there listening to me curse and moan, I did not want to let her down. In retrospect, I know she would have had no judgment if I changed my mind about an epidural, but there was something about knowing she was there for the specific purpose of supporting me in my desire for natural childbirth that helped me get through to the very end.

3. Exercise. This is where I could have done a much better job, but I did enough to make it to the finish line. If I have another child, I will work even harder in this department as I used every last ounce of energy I had to get Eloise out. I was really worried I would need a C-section if I had to push any longer. Had I built more strength prior to delivery, I may have been able to use a different birthing position than the traditional hospital bed, which could have expedited the process and made some of the after effects a little less painful.

4. Relaxation and nutrition. As much as exercise is important, it is equally important to be rested and well-nourished. If you eat crap the weeks leading up to your delivery, you will probably feel like crap, which is not going to help you. Likewise, if you fill your pre-delivery maternity leave with as much activity as possible, you may be wasting some of the energy you need later. I rested, a lot. I ate carefully. I spent a lot of quiet time on my own. You get the picture.

5. Birthing ball. Don’t leave home without one! I was pretty nonchalant about using a birthing ball, but once I got to the hospital I realized there was no comfortable place for me to sit and labor. I ended up spending most of the 17 hours sitting on the yoga ball my mother-in-law graciously brought with her to the hospital because I had forgotten it at home. The bonus, it made a fantastic seat for laboring in the hospital shower.

6. Flexibility. I don’t mean the physical kind, although I am sure that helps too. Birth is not a perfect process. I had to adapt to Pitocin even though it felt like the end of the world for a few minutes. By the end of labor, I did not even care how they got her out anymore. Had they told me I needed a C-section, I would have been disappointed, but it would not have mattered. I just wanted my daughter out and in my arms. This is something I did not understand before I got to the hospital. At the end of the day, all that matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mama, whether this is achieved with drugs, surgery, or just a healthy dose of willpower.

So, there you have it! I am sure there are a million other secrets to natural childbirth, but those are the ones that worked best for me. Yes, I breathed through it, but my doula guided me through the process, I didn’t practice any fancy breath moves ahead of time. I didn’t use meditation or visualization. I just focused on surrendering to the process, remaining calm, and remembering my goal. I am stubborn but not particularly tough when it comes to pain or physical feats, which is why I want to share my experience. If I can do it, I am not alone.

Should you be contemplating a natural childbirth, feel free to contact me. I am kind of obsessed with birth. It is the most amazing thing I have ever done, even if it hurt, a lot.

This is not the face of a particularly confident mother about to give birth without pain meds, but I did it anyway.

This is not the face of a particularly confident mother about to give birth without pain meds, but I did it anyway.

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Month Four: Awake.

I am awake. It is 4:16 AM. She is asleep. I should be too but instead the hum of the fan is pounding a hole straight into my head. Insomnia is not fair when your sleep revolves around someone who is four months old. I take it back. Insomnia is never fair. The sleep gods must have a strange sense of humor.

I get up and turn off the fan, worried I might wake my husband who sleeps restlessly in the Sacramento summer heat. I creep back to my spot, her small hand reaches out to make sure I am still there. During the fourth month she has shifted her preferences and now refuses to sleep in her bassinet. Instead she has to touch me. I don’t mind. I actually revel in the closeness. Her soft skin helps me sleep, her quiet breath a lullaby.

Often I feel attachment parenting is as much for me as it is for her. People like to warn us we will regret it later. We just smile. For now shared sleep buys us extra hours and strengthens our bond as a family. We know we are not alone. Many of our friends sleep with their babies. I don’t know why it is such a shameful secret. In other cultures it is normal. Separation after all those months in one body is what feels wrong, for me at least. We tried the other way. It only partially worked and was exhausting.

Without the fan I can now hear everything. My head no longer hurts but I am aware. The dog’s claws scrape the wall where he sleeps under the curtain, desperate for a little cool air from the open window. Birds chirp and then disappear. A large truck moves somewhere blocks away. My husband breathes rhythmically, the other dog snores. I listen as the dog beneath the window goes to the kitchen. He huffs. Shit. He needs water. I should get up.

The words of this post begin to sift through my brain, but I lie in bed, enjoying the feeling of her skin against my arm, listening. The other dog continues to snore as the first patters past the open window, outside. Shit. He is going to bark. I hear him huff a couple muffled yelps, his attempt at self-control. Then he lets loose. I jump out of bed and stumble into the door of his open crate. I make more noise than he does. My husband stirs, the baby is still.

I get the dog inside and give him water. He twirls in appreciation. His bowl was empty. I sit in front of the computer, 4:18 AM. The crinkle of my granola bar wrapper awakens the other dog. They both breathe rhythmically by my feet as I type, asleep again. I am the one still awake. Twelve minutes have passed. I no longer care.

I will pay tomorrow, but in this moment the price is worth it. The cycle of sleep, play, feed, repeat is the most beautiful gift life has given me, but it leaves little time for anything else. I know it is a season, a brief span of time where I am needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I feel rebellious stealing these few minutes for myself. I am like the teenager on the phone in the middle of the night when the alarm clock looms just beyond the horizon and my parents have given up on telling me to go to bed. Tomorrow I will show up to life with black circles.

Oh right, tomorrow is already here.

She often sleeps through the night now, or for eight hours at a time. I seldom go to bed with her, so somehow it still does not feel like enough before I have to pull myself out of bed to feed her. If I am lucky, she will go back to sleep and I will somehow find eight hours myself. If I am not so lucky, she will open her eyes and smile and I will still be lucky anyway because she is mine and for the moment my only job in life is to take care of her.

On second thought, I better try to steal a few more minutes of sleep.

People like to warn us we'll regret sleeping with her later because we'll never get her out of our bed. We just smile. Some experiences are just to sweet to pass up, even if we might have to do a little extra work later.

Hard not to be happy sleeping next to this sweet being.

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What I’ve Learned From Daddy’s Kitty

The cat on my front porch looks like death. Often, my husband and I stop as we pass to make sure he is still alive. His bobble head sits atop a decaying body. We are certain he has picked our home to die.

A couple weeks ago, my husband stopped a few houses down from ours and pet him for a moment on our evening walk. Since then, the cat has not left our front porch for more than a couple hours, earning the name Daddy’s Kitty.

He stays for the thirty seconds of love he gets a few times a day. We found out an old lady down the street feeds him. However, he hasn’t gone away, day after day, and we have realized maybe he isn’t going to her for food anymore. Now two small plastic dishes sit on our porch, as well as an old dog bed where he keeps watch over our home at night.

We did not want a cat. We have two dogs who bark whenever they realize he is out front. We have a small baby who probably should not be exposed to whatever Daddy’s Kitty carries on his matted fur. At first I was afraid to even touch him. He cannot come inside our house. Still, somehow, he adopted us, not the other way around.

So, each time I step outside, I look death in the face. Daddy’s Kitty is hard to look at without contemplating suffering and mortality. No one seems to want him anymore, yet all he wants is love, his old purr box still sputters to a start at the slightest caress.

Daddy's Kitty

I wish I could get a better picture of him, but he is so desperate for love that he won't hold still long enough to snap one.

I wish I could get a better picture of him, but he is so desperate for love that he won’t hold still.

Daddy’s kitty is old, forgotten, and ugly. Yet he craves love and is not afraid to show it. Last night I lay awake and felt empathy for all the creatures on this planet, human and otherwise, who are like Daddy’s Kitty. Lonely and suffering. The thought was overwhelming.

Some neighbors regard him as a pest or parasite, a metaphor for how many see the dying in our culture. Death is uncomfortable to be around. It is easier to ignore or make it disappear. But Daddy’s Kitty is still here, still living, still wanting to be acknowledged, loved, and kept company.

And, who am I to end his suffering if it is part of his journey, part of the life we all live and the end we will eventually face? I was thinking about how there is suffering in birth yet how hard we fight the suffering that comes with death. I get it, but I also wonder if somehow we are trying to avoid an essential element of existence.

For now, Daddy’s Kitty is still purring and I do not feel it is my job to make him stop. I just wish I could ease his suffering by giving him a bit more love, but my hands are literally full. I am still fantasizing about some sweet old lady who will come and rescue him to a life of air conditioned Fancy Feast.

If nothing else, I am grateful to Daddy’s Kitty. He has reminded me of life’s duality and the importance of finding peace in the uncomfortable. He has shown me that even when we feel like we have nothing else to give, the smallest act of kindness does not go unnoticed. After all, Daddy’s Kitty is still sitting on my front porch because my husband stopped for thirty seconds to acknowledge him.

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Anyone up for a summer health challenge?

As I lay on my yoga mat this morning, I remembered the way my body felt at the end of my pregnancy. Compared to my non-pregnant self, I was disabled. Each movement required effort, changing positions in bed was a conscious act, a walk around the block left my hips and lower back aching. I wanted so badly to run at full speed down the street when we walked the dogs. I swore I was going to make the most of being able to move when I was no longer pregnant.

Three months postpartum I have not made good on this promise. While I am slowly getting stronger, I have been generally too tired or too preoccupied with baby tasks to exercise beyond our evening dog walk, (which took about a month to do comfortably). The first time I tried downward dog a few weeks ago, I practically fell on my face, my arms weak, my wrists throbbing. At the two yoga classes I have attended, my hips, back, wrists, legs have all creaked and ached in ways I never expected.

Put simply, I did not realize postpartum recovery would be such a slow process. I assumed the six week doctor’s visit would coincide with my miraculous return to postpartum health. After all, I eat well, take care of myself, had a natural childbirth… Ha. Apparently sleep deprivation and the act of carrying and then pushing out a baby take different tolls on different people, naturally-oriented or otherwise.

In talking with friends, I have realized postpartum recovery differs for everyone and it really can take anywhere from a month to a year to feel normal. Three months in and I am ready to take matters into my own hands. I want to move better than before and be stronger than I have ever been. When you have known what it feels like to be unable to move, moving suddenly takes on a much greater value.

Which brings me to this post. A year ago, I had just finished a 30-day yoga challenge and felt the strongest and healthiest I had felt in a long time, (also when I got pregnant, hmm…). I want to come up with a new health challenge to get back to (or better than) that point. While I am in no way ready for our next kid, I know I am going to have to be strong and healthy to go through that all again, (I really think if I had been in better shape, my delivery would not have been as taxing and I may have had the energy to actually use a pushing position other than the classic inclined hospital bed).

Using year-ago post-yoga-challenge me as my inspiration... I don't expect (or even want) to ever look exactly the same as pre-baby, I just want to FEEL the same if not better. This picture is probably the healthiest I have ever felt.

Using year-ago post-yoga-challenge me as my inspiration… I don’t expect (or even want) to look exactly the same as pre-baby, I just want to FEEL the same if not better. This picture is probably the healthiest I have ever felt.

So, I need a little inspiration. My time is limited and it is also 100+ degrees outside (yuck!). The more I can do with baby indoors the better. I need goals/ideas for:

1. Healthy eating: I’m already on a restricted diet to help with her colic, (no dairy/wheat/processed sugar), but other processed foods are still a major weakness, (hello Mojo Bars, Late July tortilla chips, turkey jerky, etc). I need easy but filling inspiration, (and when I say easy, I mean no more than 20 minutes to prepare, since baby girl will only sit and watch me for about half that time before she starts fussing). Oh yeah, and I need to drink more water, duh.

2. Exercise: This makes me giggle. I have never been a runner (despite my pregnant fantasy of running at full speed). It’s hot outside. My baby doesn’t wake up until 9AM. I hate exercise videos. I’m full of excuses. I pretty much only like yoga and walking, but I’m going to need some serious encouragement to do enough of either to make a difference. Really, I need a buddy to force me.

3. Mental health: Hanging out with other moms has helped and will definitely be an important ingredient going forward. Writing is also key, but comes at the expense of household chores, exercise, food preparation, etc. Obviously exercise helps, but it already has its own category. Limiting technology makes this list, I find myself sucked into internet on my phone while I nurse, which doesn’t seem good for anyone involved and takes me out of being present with my daughter, (must break addiction)… I digress.

Whether you’re recovering from baby or not, I figure pretty much everyone could benefit from some new health goals or focus. Excited to hear your thoughts/secrets/tips as I develop a new plan for myself. I also encourage you to come up with your own summer health challenge. Life is too short to waste time unhealthy.

{And, side note, I managed to bang out this post in one sitting without baby girl waking up. We’re making real nap progress! Going on two hours! Woohoo! Now to see if there is time to actually proofread, might be pushing my luck…)

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Month Three: The End of the Fourth Trimester

The first three months of a baby’s life are often called the fourth trimester. As Eloise approaches three months of age, I now understand why. I knew she would need me close, but I had no idea how much I would also need her. Turns out sharing a body does not end quickly. However, with each passing day, little pieces of her independence (and mine) are beginning to shine through.

I can feel the fourth trimester closing.

Sure, she still needs me and I still need her, but she is beginning to look around, to turn her head and follow other people around the room. The colic has mysteriously disappeared in the last week and now I am able to put her to sleep around 9PM, leaving me with a couple hours untethered. Instead of the sleepy bundle, she is now alert and in search of external stimulation, babbling a mystical language I wish I could understand.

Our newborn has become a baby.

Happy, sleepy girl.

Happy, sleepy girl.

During my pregnancy and the early days of her life, I gobbled up literature on attachment parenting. I envisioned myself floating around the house with my sweet baby in a variety of baby carriers. I imagined harmonious co-sleeping. It all seemed so natural. But Eloise was not like the babies Dr. Sears describes. She demanded to be close but only tolerated her carriers for short stretches at specific times of day. She slept fitfully beside me but peacefully in her bedside bassinet for the majority of the night.

While strategic use of the carriers and a few hours of co-sleeping each morning have been integral to our first few months, they have not dominated our time together in the way I expected. Instead, she has mostly preferred to be directly in my arms, forcing me to get creative about housework and other tasks. At first I fought it, but then I settled into holding her much of the day, acutely aware of the fleeting time this would last.

Month three has heightened my awareness of time. She has transformed from a tiny newborn in premie jammies to a baby who suddenly fits her three-month clothes. There are only two more inches between her feet and the edge of the bassinet. She now throws her body forward and from side to side to show you where she wants to go. Her eyes watch movement with the kind of envy that tells you she cannot wait to run and dance everywhere she goes.

There are just so many little things I don’t want to forget. Like her smelly little hands from shoving them in her milky mouth all the time, or when her grandfather drove her around for thirty minutes so we could watch her auntie’s scene in a play, or how I finally discovered a way to safely sleep while holding her in my big blue chair. I want to tell her someday how her grandmother walked her through the Shasta forest, chanting like a monk because it was the only way to quiet her, and how her dog Odin would sleep with his body pressed up against the base of her basinet, ready to tell us when she stirred.

This month has sealed our bond. I loved her beyond words the moment I first saw her, but now I know her, too. Every time I put her down or let someone else take over, I marvel at her when she is in my arms again. My growing, changing daughter. Month three, while not always easy, has been powerful magic.

I had no idea bliss could be so simple.

Attachment parenting at work during colic hour in Mt. Shasta.

Attachment parenting at work during a bout of colic in Mt. Shasta.

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Breastfeeding in Public, Get Over It.

Before Eloise arrived, breastfeeding in public was one of those causes I did not fully understand. Yeah, babies need to eat and Americans are often too uptight, but I didn’t get why women would want to nurse in public areas. I just figured it was simple enough to find a discreet location to share an intimate moment between mother and child. While I did not really care if mothers nursed openly, I just figured privacy was more desirable for the mom.

Then Eloise came along and suddenly I was the only person in the world physically responsible for her nourishment 24/7. As is common in the days after birth, her weight dropped as we waited for her jaundice to improve and my milk to come in. At just four days old, she was down nearly a pound to five pounds, four ounces and we were back at the doctor’s office to determine whether we needed to return to the hospital.

In desperation, I nursed every second I could, including in the lobby of the pediatrician’s office. This baby was going to gain weight, darn it. I began in the area designated for lactating moms, which was really just a pathetic set of chairs set by a very pubic stairwell. However, once our name was called and Eloise was still eating beneath the protection of a nursing cover, I made the decision not to stop her as we walked to meet the nurse.

With each step, I kept thinking how every single ounce she consumed counted. I figured in a room full of other moms my desperation to give my baby what she needed to stay out of the hospital would be understood. I was wrong. Not only did people stare, but one mom loudly moved her tween son to the other waiting room and another commented to her teenaged daughter about what a young mom I was, (hello, I’m 30 lady!).

Suddenly it all made sense. Not only did I understand the fierce biological need to provide your child with nourishment in any setting, I also got why so many moms feel like it is worth standing up for their right to nurse in public. I just didn’t realize that modestly nursing beneath a cover would feel so taboo. I thought it was just the moms who pop their boobs out who made others feel uncomfortable. Turns out people don’t even want to know you’re nursing beneath a cover. Either way, people need to get over it.

Which makes me wonder, why have breasts become so threatening? Is it because we have over-sexualized them? Or because we don’t want older children to know how they were fed at the beginning of life? What happened to all those people with “I heart boobies” breast cancer bracelets?

A month after Eloise was born, I visited a local art museum with my mother and grandmother and realized how limited the options are for breastfeeding mothers. I could either sit in a disgusting bathroom stall, return to my broiling car, or pick a bench somewhere in the museum. I opted for the latter and searched out the most remote seating in a darkened room but still found myself uncomfortably surrounded by a tour group.

That’s just it though, even with attempts at secrecy, I feel uncomfortable nursing in public because now I expect people to respond the same way those mothers did at the doctor’s office. And, it turns out people do often respond the same way, as states like Texas still struggle to pass laws to protect nursing mothers in public.While I’m not going to stop nursing when I’m out and about, it would be nice to live in a society where lactating mothers are treated as commonplace instead of a distasteful spectacle.

This campaign by Texas college students pretty much sums it up:

o-WHEN-NURTURE-CALLS-1-900 o-WHEN-NURTURE-CALLS-2-900 o-WHEN-NURTUR-CALLS-3-900And, if you’re a nursing mom, check out my new favorite mom trick ever, (might even be how I managed to write this post…):

 

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Tonight I Found Myself: Mama, Yogi, Occasional Writer.

I have heard of people finding God on their yoga mats, instead I found myself. As I moved my creaky, postpartum body through yin yoga poses, I realized I am not the same person who started this blog. I’m not even the same person I was three months ago. We are constantly undergoing transformations and don’t often pause to think about it. Tonight, instead of writer, teacher, occasional traveler, I am mama, yogi, occasional writer.

It was difficult to get my tired butt to my first yoga class since I got pregnant. Colic usually hits us hard between 7:30 and 10:30 PM and the class I most wanted to attend was smack dab in the middle. Thankfully, my husband pushed me out the door, almost literally. Armed with both his parents and some pumped milk he would not take my worried excuses as reasons not to go. Had it not been for the improvement to her colic with my change in diet (I miss you dairy, wheat, and eggs!!), I would have fought harder. But fortunately, the last few nights have been a little quieter around here, so I felt tentative, but alright to leave.

I am so glad I did.

First, I discovered my body needs to move, everything down to my wrists and toes still hurt. I could feel the fear I was holding from the end of pregnancy and the beginning of parenthood melt on the mat. It is incredible how our emotions manifest themselves physically and so often we hardly notice.

Second, tears escaped. I cried as I realized how much fear I was holding onto, fear to move the parts of my body that hurt worst in labor, fear to leave her tonight, fear to make the right decisions regarding her health. Fear, fear, fear. Then the instructor began talking about what needs we have that aren’t been met, and I realized mine was the need to be brave. She then explained how once these needs are identified, she spends the day recognizing when those needs are being met as an exercise in gratitude for what we already have. As I poured through my recent life choices, I realized I am just as often brave as I am afraid, if not more so. I felt empowered.

Third, as these emotions unfolded, it struck me my fear of leaving my baby girl was unfounded. I had the most beautiful visualization of this invisible cord still connecting us, weaving its way out of the studio and all the way back to our house, where Eloise was safely cradled in a floating bag of water. Powerful symbolism in light of my water breaking three weeks early… More tears, of course. To know I am always connected and protecting her, even when we are not together or things do not go exactly as planned, happy tears.

Fourth, me. I forgot how much I love yoga, how it opens my mind and plants me back in my physical and mental self. I realized I am a new me. The writer, the teacher, the occasional traveler have made way for an improved version. So, I think it is time to rebrand myself, to figure out my place in this world as the mama, yogi, and occasional writer (among a million other things). This means new focus in my writing, I’m excited.

I leave you with a couple questions I enjoyed contemplating tonight. You do not have to answer to anyone but yourself:

First, what needs do you have that aren’t being met? If you stop and pay attention, how are those needs already being met without you realizing it? Or, what do you need to change to have those needs met?

Second, who are you tonight? Not three-months-ago you, or three-months-from-now you– who are you in this very moment? Can you sum yourself up in a few words or is that too stifling, too confining?

Happy thinking.

And, in case you were wondering, Eloise slept peacefully until about 10 minutes before I got home. Alex even time stamped photos to prove it because he figured I wouldn’t believe it! Here’s hoping all this dietary self-restraint is paying off.

Amazing how one little person changes everything!

Amazing how one fiesty little person changes everything!

 

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Month Two: A Good Enough Mom

Since the beginning of our journey, our doula has told us, “Instead of worrying about perfection, be happy with good enough.” At first I did not know what she meant. I had never questioned my ability to be a mom, I figured I’d be good at it because I pour every ounce of myself into everything I care about. Ha. I should have remembered the learning curve in becoming a teacher, hard work does not always translate into greatness…

The first twinges of inadequacy crept in at the hospital, first with nursing that did not seem to work, then with the screaming in the middle of the night, and finally with the news we might have to go down to the neonatal unit, where I would be unable to sleep beside my new baby, in order to treat her jaundice. It turned out we got to go home, but when the tests came back again and we had to return to the hospital because her bilirubin levels were still rising, I fell apart.

I sobbed in the arms of my mother and all the way back to the hospital. The poor intake dude must have worried about me, such a mess over something so minor in the grand scheme of problems worthy of the pediatric unit, but I felt like I was letting my three-day old baby down by not being able to hold her through the night as she bathed in neon blue light, like we were missing a critical moment in our bonding. Thankfully, the pediatric ward is different from the neonatal unit, I was allowed to sleep in the same room, even if my inability to pick her up and soothe her felt traumatizing in my three-day postpartum, hormonal haze.

Minus the near-daily heel pricks and cruel joke of a cold the first week brought, the rest of the month passed without too much self-analysis as I recovered from birth and absorbed the sweetness of my new baby. However, month two has been a different story. Colic. If you don’t know what it is, count yourself lucky. Colic sucks. Screaming, sometimes uncontrollable, almost every evening for hours at a time. I joke as the sun sets that the vampire baby is waiting to emerge. Forget the Happiest Baby on the Block. Baby carriers like the moby and our rocking chair are our only solace, as long as we have the energy to keep moving.

Couple this with sleep deprivation and yet another stupid cold and I often feel like maybe I am doing something wrong. Last month I reported that the sleep deprivation was manageable. After eight weeks, I have changed my mind. It is survivable, but manageable makes it sound easier than it is. If it weren’t for my mother-in-law, who comes and rocks the baby sometimes for a couple hours during the afternoon, or my husband, who stays up until three in the morning rocking her in his chair, I would never get a chance to catch up. It turns out the advice of sleep when the baby sleeps only works if your baby sleeps! Accordingly, I have written this blog entry in 15 minute chunks and foregone the opportunity to do any chores to make this post happen.

She is worth it though, all of it. Her smiles, her little laugh, her intent focus on the world around her, make all the other bits disappear. She has made me the happiest I have ever been. But even with the happiness, being a mom is hard. All the worry and challenges can feel isolating. In the last few days I have let it out and found myself supported with words and hugs from the women in my life. I have realized that while concepts like attachment parenting are beautiful in writing, sometimes in our culture of mom at home by herself instead of surrounded by other baby holders, you have to put her down to survive.

So, find a mom out there and give her a gigantic hug. God knows she deserves it. And, if you are a mom, let yourself find peace in being good enough. Chances are, there is another mom nearby who totally gets it, and if there isn’t, well, I do.

What new motherhood actually looks like. Please note, I resisted the urge to make this picture more attractive in Photoshop.

What new motherhood actually looks like. Please note, I resisted the urge to make this picture more attractive in Photoshop.

The face that makes me question myself.

What our evenings often look like…

And, the moment of peace that follows and makes it all better!

And, the face that makes it all better!

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What I didn’t expect about the first month of parenthood

7AM again and the nightshift is just ending. I have been awake nearly as much as I have been asleep, but I don’t mind, this is my favorite part of our routine. Instead of lying in the basinet, she is next to me, our last attempt at sleep before morning is officially here and she refuses to lie in bed. Her eyes are open and staring at me, her warm breath on my cheek, our faces just inches from one another. The sweet smell of baby fills my being. She is happy, I am happy, it is one of those moments where nothing else matters.

In the last weeks of pregnancy people constantly told me, “Enjoy being pregnant, your life will never be the same.” As silly as it sounds now, those words filled me with trepidation. I was overjoyed to become a mom, but suddenly I found myself clinging to the life my husband and I shared alone. What I did not realize is I would never want my life to be the same.

In the last four weeks I have discovered many other things I did not expect about becoming a parent, some trivial, some life-changing:

1. The body changes during birth and recovery are more manageable than they sound. All the tongue-in-cheek blog posts, while honest and enlightening, made the transformation seem like the world’s worst torture. While it has definitely not been a day at the beach, all of the (sometimes intense) physical discomforts have been overshadowed by the excitement of being a new parent. In other words, ladies, don’t worry about all the gruesome side effects, you won’t mind nearly as much as you thought you would.

2. Hormones. I did not expect to cry as much as I have in the last few weeks. I cry when I’m happy, sad, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, watching a movie, watching a sitcom… I will probably cry at some point while writing this post.

3. No matter how much thought goes into each parenting decision, someone will think you are wrong. Sleeping arrangements, breast feeding, supplementation, you name it, someone out there will have a very different opinion and not be shy about vocalizing it. This has been one of the hardest lessons of new parenthood. I did not expect to care what others think. I am only now, after a month, beginning to emerge from the anxiety of not pleasing everyone.

4. Nothing in my life has been as animalistic as having a child. From the intensity of birth to the insane feeding schedules and even more insane sleeping routines, I have never felt so connected to my physical self. Even more shocking is the intensity behind my need to protect my child. When the dogs move too quickly in her vicinity, an instinctual ability to destroy any threat rises inside me. This power, while somewhat superhuman, is so primal it scares me.

5. Sleep is relative. When I heard friends talk about how they were still getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night with a new baby but that  the sleep was broken up, I thought, alright, no biggie, I already wake up 5 times a night to pee while pregnant. What I did not expect was how difficult it would be to feed a restless baby for hours on end in the middle of the night then go back to sleep for an hour and a half and wake up to do it all over again two or three more times. But, here is the magic. Somehow, by 10-11AM, I feel human again because those sleep chunks really do add up. I am both exhausted and rested beyond what I expected.

6. Yoga has made my postpartum life better. I am not supposed to exercise for another couple weeks. I thought I would ignore this advice, but the truth is, my body is not ready to move more than required. However, yoga has taught me to find peace in even the smallest moments. I slip into meditation while I nurse. I let go of every muscle in my body for savasana when I lie down in bed. I breathe deeply while she screams. It all helps.

7. Discomfort over others holding my baby. I thought I would have no problem passing the baby around. Instead, I find myself waiting for people to ask to hold her and then insisting they wash their hands and grilling them about their recent health histories. Then, when they are holding the baby, I watch where they put their hands, cringing if they touch their eyes or scratch their face, uncomfortable if they touch their lips to her, or worse yet, stick their finger in her mouth…

8. Extreme pleasure over others holding my baby. Yes, I know what I just described above, but there is also a true joy in watching the people I love pour their love into her, kisses and all. At family dinners, she is adored, half a dozen faces surrounding her in those rare newborn eyes-open moments. My heart is warm in knowing how many people she has brought happiness. I knew others were excited, but I did not know how happy a new baby could make an entire clan of people. So, I guess I am just going to have to be a little less neurotic about sharing germs.

Above all, I did not expect becoming a parent to happen as naturally as it has. I had so many concerns before we decided to have a baby. I worried about finances and other life goals. I was concerned I would stop writing or waste all the time I spent setting up my classroom and establishing myself as a teacher. What I did not expect is that none of this really mattered. It could all be figured out with time and the things I thought were most important really pale in comparison to the intense emotions of parenthood. I would not trade what we have now for anything.

Pretty cool.

One month!

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Birth & Surrender

Just one of many posts scribbled in my journal in the wee hours of the night. Parenting has changed me. Everything is moving in slow motion, but I don’t mind. It’s hard to even put her down long enough to type anything at all…

***

It’s time to push and some of the nurses are switching shifts. One says there is a beautiful, light rain falling outside and I look, the dawn sky letting a little light in through the window. I knew you’d come in the rain. I am soothed by this omen. Each contraction brings another chance to push you out, to see your face and touch your skin to mine. I give everything I have, again and again, until I am certain I only have a couple left in me.

I have to get you out on my own. I have worked so hard not to have an epidural, not to waste a single ounce of energy in bringing you into this world. I was already pretty tired before the Pitocin went surging through my veins, leaving a fuzzy feeling all over my body. Five nights of prodromal labor, darkness bringing the rhythmic pains, the excitement of a moment finally coming, contractions 12, 8, 6, 4 minutes apart, then the light taking it all away again.

Your water broke long before they induced me. Five days. Your Grandma Cathy says the weather did it, a magnificent thunder storm. It was not the overwhelming burst of water seen in movies, but instead a trickle, easily confused with all the other pleasant end-of-pregnancy symptoms. I did not go to the hospital then, I expected contractions to follow, and they did, but then they stopped at dawn and everything seemed fine again.

Besides, I knew a small, or high leak, was considered common in the home birth world, nothing to worry about if the steps are taken to avoid infection. We closely monitored the situation and kept waiting for nature to take its course. Each day I would sleep the best I could and each evening the contractions would come again, teasing me with the prospect of imminent delivery. After five nights of this dance, the contractions growing to the point where I would moan and rock on the floor, my watch cued to time and hope, I reached my edge. It was time to go to the hospital.

Sure enough, my water was mostly gone. You were safe, still, but it was time for you to come out. When the midwife told me they would have to induce, tears poured out. I wanted a natural birth for you. I had heard Pitocin horror stories of more painful contractions and one intervention leading to another until a C-section was necessary.

I was afraid.

The midwives and nurses were so kind, though. They encouraged me with stories of otherwise unmedicated births with induction. An almost natural childbirth was still possible. I cried and regained my resolve. Your dad and I walked around the hospital courtyard, me in my goofy, oversized gown, while we waited for your doula, Heather, to arrive. The air was cool, but I was running on so much adrenaline, I didn’t mind. Your dad stopped and held me. He was so excited to meet you. We were standing at the very top of a long roller coaster.

Heather arrived and reassured us the small dose of Pitocin would be alright. By 7PM, it was pumping through my veins, the contractions returning as they had each night, regular and strong.

“Is this what they felt like at home?” the nurses would ask.

“Not quite,” I answered for some time.

Before everything became too intense, all your cheerleaders arrived, a whole waiting room full of family eager to meet you. Your grandparents, godparents, and Aunt Kaitlyn spent the entire night on those uncomfortable fold-out chairs, supporting you with their laughter and lullabies from afar. For a few sweet minutes, they all came in and sat with me, their love so strong I cried as they each stopped to kiss me good-bye between contractions, my body rocking back and forth on the big red yoga ball. Your grandfather James, as he is apt to be called, made me cry the most, his words so tender they burst my heart.

However, much to the chagrin of your big, beautiful, loving family, I needed space to get you out, space to curse and chant, and lose my modesty in the dimly lit shower and delivery room. And, boy, did I curse. “Oh f***” was my favorite phrase. Your kind, patient, powerful doula sat with me quietly through it all with reminders to surrender, no matter how painful. Your father’s touch, his hand still on my thigh, calmed me.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I began to talk to myself, yelling “I surrender” to the universe over and over again, in hopes someone would hear me. Periodically, a nurse would tell me someone from our family was hovering outside the door, concerned over all the noise, desperate for news of your arrival. They kept vigil as I moaned and cursed and chanted through the night.

I questioned my ability to keep going without drugs, the pain in my lower back and hips unbearable as they opened with each wave. Maybe some people really do achieve a pain-free childbirth, but even if you call pain something else, it hurt, a lot. Your doula gave me strength in her words and presence. Had she not been there, I might have caved.

That’s the funny thing, though. Caved is not the word. I have a new respect for all types of birth, medicated and otherwise. Each journey is different, and even if I had chosen an epidural, I would have still done an incredible amount of work to get to that point. Birth and parenthood is an enormous mental transformation no matter the path. I get that now.

Still, the promise of transition kept me going. I did not want a single drop of pain killers to slow me down. I needed you out of me, I was tired and quite certain I did not have an ounce of strength to waste. Transition promised change and by a little after six in the morning, I was ready to push. I thought you would come quickly, you were so low and close in station two, but my body had other plans.

Maybe I had not surrendered enough yet.

Two hours of pushing with everything I had and then magically, your original midwife from all our office visits appeared, the third change in shifts since we began. Her retro Vans announced her arrival behind the curtain. That’s when the nurses mentioned rain and somewhere I found my last reserve of energy, now was time.

Heather and your dad sat at the foot of the bed, amazement on their faces as the hair on your head emerged. The midwife climbed onto the edge of the bed and three nurses held my legs, everyone working together to get you out. A few more pushes with this extra help and I felt your head, your shoulders, your wiggly body tear into this world, shock and the most intense pain I could imagine. You were finally here, wet and warm against my bare chest, tears in your fathers eyes and mine.

While we bonded, staring in disbelief at all your perfect, little features, I felt more connected to your dad than I have ever felt in our nearly 14 years together. You are our glue, our little miracle, the love that has ripped our hearts open in a way I could have never understood before.

Even two weeks later, your dad and I cry and smile in disbelief– a joy so intense, the happiest moments of our lives thus far. But, with this happiness has also come the pain of surrender as we have turned our hearts over to you. We have already had our scares as new parents, our extra nights in the hospital, our worry over all the little things. Surrendering is difficult, but you are here to teach us new lessons and we are ready to learn with our hearts grateful and ready to receive. You are our greatest blessing, Eloise Claire.

To say we love you is not enough.

Eloise

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37 Weeks: Almost Time.

I’m excited for little things, like day trips to Bodega Bay for fish and chips and walks on the beach, baby in her carrier, dogs on their leashes. A drive down the coast to the aquarium in Monterrey, where she’ll see another world underwater. I’m excited for long walks through our neighborhood, first in her stroller, later on a tricycle. Her first Christmas trip to San Francisco with our big, loud family.

I can’t wait to be able to lie on my back again when I sleep, to drink a whole glass of wine or a pint of beer, to go to yoga and bend my body any way I’d like. I can’t wait to move again, in a normal way. I fantasize about putting on my running shoes and running full force down the street, as though I ever liked to run in the first place. I can feel it though, the exhilaration of full exertion, the bounce of a good pair of shoes.

I’m curious about the sensations, the rushes or the pain, depending on who you ask or what you read. I want to know what it feels like. I’m expecting sleepless days and nights, exhaustion beyond anything I can imagine. I’m expecting the hardest thing I ever do, because that is how people describe it.

Mostly, though, I am imagining her in my arms, or beside me in the sleeper next to our bed, or sitting in the swing next to our television, or crawling across our floor with toys strewn everywhere. She is both real and imagined, all there is left to do is wait.

Each day of waiting is a strange balance of rest and preparation, a little writing mixed in for fun. Somehow middle grade fiction is pouring out of my fingers without the promise of enough time to finish before she is here. The change in genre is refreshing, the lower word count a goal I might be able to reach before everything changes. Each non-labor contraction brings it all back home again.

Change is near and I’m excited.

Even the dogs seem to know it is almost time.

Even the dogs seem to know it is almost time.

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