I always swear that I won't cry at send off. It's not helpful for me or the kids, I tell myself. We will play and laugh and hug. There will be no tears from me.
There were tears. When he pulled J in close to tell him to snuggle the baby he won't meet for months, there they were. When they called for five more minutes and suddenly it's real and you wonder how in the world to fit in half a year's worth of togetherness in five minutes, there were tears. Maybe the worst part is seeing the other families. Knowing this heart breaking feeling is far from your own, but is collective. There are newborns in the crowd. Some say they are "lucky." Dad got to see them being born. Spend a few days, maybe weeks with these new lives before they take off around the world. We all know that it isn't lucky though. That their Dads will come back and they'll have no earthly idea who they are. That they will learn about each other and bond then, not now. There are several very pregnant women in the crowd, including myself. Some of us have done this before. It doesn't really make it better. We know for sure what we're getting into. We know what it feels like 5 years later when your daughter recounts the story of her birth and reminds everyone that her Daddy wasn't there.
Have you heard of a postpartum doula? The idea is pretty much genius. In most other cultures around the world, new moms are doted on for several weeks following birth. In some cultures mom will leave her bed only to shower and use the restroom. How different it is from the United States. Fathers are given a very short paternity leave (if any) to bond with baby and protect and love on their spouse following birth. We see women up and back to their normal routine in record time. I'm not interested in being one of those women. Birth is a monumental thing for a body to process. It happens every single day of course, but not every single day for each of us. I will have very few of these special times in my life and I want to spend it breathing in my new baby. Learning about her. Welcoming her to our family and integrating her siblings into her care. Mopping is not on the list of things. Actually, mopping isn't even allowed by my midwives, they are that awesome. Bending over five thousand times a day to pick up Legos and train tracks and dolls after I've recently expelled a child from my uterus isn't either. So what's a girl to do? Three older kids who are accustomed to being fed and a house that does usually see a light cleaning on a regular basis. A postpartum doula of course! I'm not interested in having a baby nanny. And a postpartum doula is not a nanny. What I do want is someone to help with the things that keep me from nursing and napping and changing diapers and reading books with my olders. Light housework, meal prep, small errands. Holding baby while I shower. She does all that. Some are even trained in lactation and most have lots of knowledge about babies in general. Someone to ask, "Is this normal?" to.
You might be thinking that you already have someone who can and will come do all these things. Your mom, a close friend, your mother in law maybe. If you do, that is amazing. Soak it up. Enjoy it. Ask anyone who stops by to throw in a load of laundry or boil a pot of water for spaghetti. People love having something to do. This is the way that communities have worked for a long time; the "it takes a village" mentality and I love seeing when a mama has people around her to do this. For many of us though, this is no longer reality. My ties to the military community alone have shown me just how many of us are thousands of miles away from family. How many of us who haven't plugged into a tribe yet to have this kind of support.
My family and I are strict budgeters. There is quite a difference between needs and wants in our household. Postpartum doulas are not free. They aren't even cheap. This is not a need for us. I could resume my usual chaos after my husband's ten days of paternity leave are up. I've certainly done it before. The result was not pretty. I was exhausted. My body didn't heal quickly. My mental health absolutely suffered. Or, I can scrimp and save and put some money that I might've used towards a cute diaper bag or outfits that aren't hand me downs, and hire someone who can help me to make the most of this short newborn time with our new daughter. I won't remember the diaper bag fifteen years from now. I certainly won't remember most of the outfits she will have had on. But I will remember whether I was a stressed, frazzled mama trying to do too much with too little help, or a calm, peaceful mama who had what I needed, too.
It feels a little wrong to say this, but I get nostalgic for my days of single momdom. Totally just made that word up. Heaven knows it isn't easy. It can be lonely. And tiring. Feeling like everybody else has this picture perfect family and you got left behind. Here come the bills and its your check paying them, every time. A child has surgery and you're the only parent there to hand them into the arms of the doctor who you pray will bring them safely back to you. The parent there nearly crying tears of joy when they come back just fine. Locking the door at night, just you and your little person. Hoping at the beginning you don't hear any weird noises and then eventually not worrying anymore.
With all those hard things though came a feeling of confidence for me. I was doing it. Not totally on my own. We all have a support system. But at the end of the day it was my little guy and I. I didn't have to discuss parenting decisions with anyone. I made the money. I paid the rent and for the food and the clothes and the toys. It forced me out of my comfort zone on a nearly daily basis. There is something freeing about that. I worked, went to school, raised a sweet little boy and certainly felt like I was accomplishing more than I do these days. These days my contribution to my family doesn't involve dollars. That feels "off" for me. It always has and it always will. The opportunity to stay home with my children has been the absolute highlight of my life so far. I wouldn't trade the beautiful, amazing family I have now for the world. But I won't pretend there aren't aspects of that life I don't miss too. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to experience both. Wherever you are in life, you might be surprised to look back on it fondly. Even in those days of feeling rejected and alone I recognize now that I was working on learning how to be by myself. Because I had the opportunity to do that I know that I'll always be able to. It's all a lesson, that's for sure.
I'm sure there are people losing their money left and right for betting we'd be divorced by now. In the last two and a half years we've moved across the country, moved homes, had another baby, broken addictions, been promoted at work, and dealt with a serious health scare with our toddler. Life has happened, to say the least. While being married for two years doesn't exactly make me a marriage expert, there are a few things I've learned.
I get annoyed with my husband a lot. A lot. Did I say a lot? He has gas. A lot. He can completely zone out in front of a screen and he manages to "sleep" through screaming children with impeccable ease. He walks into a room and completely misses the mess that ruins my whole day. Guess what? He also has a mile long list of the things I do to annoy him, too. I jump to conclusions. Lose my temper too easily. Talk about things completely uninteresting to him. A lot.
I'd say the first thing I learned about marriage is that life is much more enjoyable when you let little things roll off your back. I know now that my husband is never going to walk into a room and just start picking it up. He will however, do just about anything I TELL him that I need help with. I'm a dreamer. I come up with crazy ideas on a whim and insist we do them NOW. He's my logistics guy. He figures out how the idea can become a reality, and every one in a while he just says no. Our dreams about life are the same but oftentimes the way we see fit to get there is very different. We challenge each other. A lot.
It's corny to say, but you get out what you put in. You cannot build a good marriage without time and sacrifice. When recruiting duty was at its worst and Will was working from 6am to 10pm six nights a week, there were days I thought, "why in the world does anyone get married?" I was doing all this taking care of my kids on my own before anyhow and I didn't have another person to worry about before. There was no time for us to pour love into our marriage. To spend time together to remind us why we loved each other so much. Relationships don't work like that. People make it work, sure. But find me a couple who says their marriage is in a great place without putting time into it, and, well, you won't.
The weekend before last we took a kid free getaway. Our first in two years. I don't love leaving my babies. It isn't the most comfortable thing in the world for me. They were in wonderful, loving hands though and we needed that time. Two days was perfect. Reconnecting. Laughing. Not talking about a child's bowel habits or latest meltdown. Needed for sure.
At the end of the day, I always have someone on my team. Through this craziness we're on the same side. I'm beyond blessed. I'm sure 5 or 10 years from now I will look back on this post and laugh about how I thought I knew anything about marriage. For now though, I'm enjoying having figured at least something out.
I feel like I need scary movie music to begin this post. Dun. Dun. Dun. That's the best I can do.
I've posted before about my general loathing of all things bedtime. My children basically come out of the womb hating sleep. About the time they start sleeping through the night the nap has been ditched for each one. I used to just think it was likely crappy parenting on my part. The more I read about "normal" infant and toddler sleep though the more I realize I've got pretty normal kids. We believe in meeting our kids' nighttime needs and that includes helping them to fall asleep, usually. Which is sometimes a pain. By the time 8 p.m. rolls around I'm feeling like Cruella Deville and ready to shut the world off. I dread it before it even begins. The bath, the teeth, the books all leading up the to power struggle of the day. We've tried lots of things. Earlier bedtimes, later bedtimes, strict routines, lax routines, everything short of Benadryl. We've had a lot of good nights lately. I lay in bed with the olders and tell stories and they drift off while Will snuggles with the baby and she goes to sleep. Some nights, like tonight though, go more like this:
"Mama, I'm not tired."
"Mama, remember when we went to Disney World and we rode those tea cup rides and I was scared of that rabbit? But I'm not scared of him now cause I love rabbits. What color were those tea cups?"
"Mama, is it time for sliced cheese? That's my bed time snack. It must be time for my bed time snack."
"Mama, I'm gonna play with your hair. It's so soft. Except, here's a tangle. Why do you get your hair tangled?"
"Mama, at the beach, I want to see a whirlpool. But I don't want to get in the whirlpool. And I don't want you to tell that story about whirlpools because then I go to sleep."
And I'm staring at her with wide eyes. Mentally pleading with her to go the eff to sleep. But I remember being that little girl too. The little girl whose brain didn't just shut off and allow her to fall asleep. So sometimes we get up, do some chores and try again in 20 minutes. Sometimes we talk about all the Disney World things I just knew she'd never remember. And sometimes I have to leave for five minutes and get my composure back because I'm angry that it isn't finally my turn to go to sleep or snuggle my husband on the couch. Bedtime and overnight parenting is something I've really had to work on. It isn't easy. I've said that once I start sleeping through the night again I'm never going back. Lord, please let that be true.
We work on it together. She learns little by little ways to help herself fall asleep and I learn by little ways to help her fall asleep too. I know from experience this ends at some point. Her older brother is happy to get a hug and a kiss and climb into bed. It will end. And maybe I'll be sad.
Probably not, but it's a nice thought anyway.
I sheepishly raise my hand and admit I'm nervous about birthing again. This might surprise some. It's my fourth baby, after all. A baby we planned, no less. I *knew* she was going to have to you know, be birthed. I've helped other women feel confident during their own births as a doula. And yet here I am, anxious about doing it all over again. Theories abound about why exactly birth is physiologically uncomfortable. Some are religious, based on text from the Old Testament about Eve's original sin and others about bringing women closer to Christ during suffering during pains of labor. I don't particularly believe either of those theories and think more in terms of muscles and body parts that just aren't used all that often. The cervix doesn't make a habit of opening to the size needed to bear a child on any kind of regular basis. I firmly believe that the end of pregnancy is so uncomfortable as a way to ready us for birth. Walking around at forty weeks, I don't care what has to occur to bring this baby into the world, let me please just get on with it. I've birthed three children, two without epidurals. I've had long births and a very short birth. They've all been difficult in their own way. So how do I get past this nervousness?
The first step is figuring out exactly what I'm anxious about. I'm not anxious about complications. I'm not anxious about needing a cesarean. I know my body births babies. And should a complication or need for a cesarean arise, I know it will be an absolute emergency because I trust the team I've assembled. So what am I nervous about? Well, it's hard. Physically harder than anything I've done in my entire life. I believe in the women who experience painless childbirth. I'm not one of them. So what can we do to make it better?
1. Allow into your birthing space only those who YOU wish to be there. The atmosphere of your birthing space can change so much about your perception of pain. There is a good chance that our children will need to be present for this babies birth because of my previous fast labor and childcare issues. This isn't my absolute first choice, but we are preparing by watching birth videos and will have all.the.screens and all.the.snacks available to them when the time comes. I'm excited about this new "rolling with the punches" plan because we are preparing for it. However, having people around you who make you feel uncomfortable can physiologically cause dilation to reverse. Our bodies have amazing self defense mechanisms, and a woman's body will not birth in an environment her instincts don't feel is safe for her baby.
2. Think about what feels pleasurable to you during pain ahead of time and SHOW your partner how to do it. I failed pretty miserably at this during my last pregnancy and Will had no clue how to comfort me. I ended up retreating to a corner and laboring mostly alone until transition. Those around me mistook this for confidence when I really needed a hand (or two!) on me. If you like to have your hair played with or brushed, show your partner or your doula. If there are certain words that feel really good to hear, tell your partner or doula exactly what they are ahead of time. You won't be in a space to communicate these needs exceptionally well if you wait until birth day.
3. Stay as active as possible. I absolutely cannot stress this enough. I don't believe you can have a sedentary pregnancy and expect a very, very physically grueling process like birthing to go well. Walk, squat, dance, play, MOVE.
4. You gotta have some confidence. No two ways about it. This is a struggle for me. After Rowen's birth I felt like I could climb any mountain. But that feeling eventually faded. We've got to do hard things if we want to be able to do more hard things. Stephen Gaskin, the husband of the famed midwife Ina May Gaskin said in her book, Spiritual Midwifery,
"If all your life you never do anything heavy, there's certain passages
in life that are heavy. Having a baby, for instance, is one. If you be a total paddy-ass all your life they're going to have to knock you out
when you have your kid, because you're going to be too chicken to have it.
And if you do something that builds character ahead of time, you'll have enough character that you can have that kid, and it will be a beautiful and spiritual experience
In about 16 weeks or so (holy cow!), it's going to be time for me to do something heavy once again.
I can do it and I will do it. And you absolutely can too.
However your baby is born, I hope that you will be informed, well cared for and listened to.
Recently, a book about infant sleep was released telling parents that allowing their babies to cry it out was the right way to encourage healthy sleep patterns. This isn't a new occurrence. Books advocating cry it out are published often. This particular book though caught my attention because it included a tip about parents needing to be ready to change the sheets because children left to cry it out often get so upset they vomit all over themselves. When I read that excerpt I literally felt sick to my stomach. Who would leave their baby to cry so long and so hard that they vomited?
Oh, wait. I did that.
My sweet baby didn't deserve that.
But, once upon a time, I did it anyways.
Because I didn't know better. Because I was exhausted.
Because I didn't realize that I was causing her harm.
There is a reason our babies cry. Always. Sometimes it's a need for food or a clean bottom. Often it's a need for touch. A need for security. A need for warmth from another human being. We all need these things. As adults we have the skills to find ways to meet these needs. Babies don't. So they communicate with the people they trust to meet those needs, by crying. Sleep training "works." It will train a child not to communicate their needs. It will teach them not to trust. But it doesn't get rid of those needs. Studies have shown that babies remain in distress during times of unmet needs even if they aren't communicating them because they've been trained not to. The brain goes through enormous growth in the first year of life. Ignoring our babies needs changes that growth. We seem to want our babies to fit seamlessly into our lives. Nothing has to change because we are in charge of when they eat, sleep and play. When did we become too busy for babies?
We live in a society that pushes independence. One that tells us that if our children aren't independent by some arbitrary age they never will be. Science though, tells us this isn't so.
Writing for Psychology Today, Darcia Narvaez says,
"The fact is that caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994) Soothing care is best from the outset. Once patterns of distress get established, it's much harder to change them."
I didn't do that with my sweet Cianna. I was so tired at the beginning of my pregnancy with Rowen that for about two months right after she turned a year I let her cry herself to sleep. I'd get her in the morning and see sheets still stained with tears. I hadn't done this with Jameson. It went completely against my instincts. Everything in my being was telling me to get get her. But I was afraid she'd always need me. And I was so dang tired. She learned during that time that I couldn't be trusted to meet her needs. She became very defiant and withdrawn. I work everyday to undo the damage that I caused her. Parenting doesn't end when I get tired. Her needs didn't stop because I was tired. She is/was biologically wired to need to be close to me at night. I wish I knew then what I knew now. Some of the issues she deals with now might not exist. The great thing about parenting though is that every moment is a chance to make a new decision. I know better now. And I'm so grateful for the mama tribe I have that reminds me when things get tough.
I'm so grateful I have this opportunity to do hard things. To love my babies. To follow my instincts.
Stein, J. A., & Newcomb, M. D. (1994). Children's internalizing and externalizing behaviors and maternal health problems. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 19(5), 571-593.