Traveling Without Kids

Traveling without your children seems as though it should be 100% spectacular. A gift from the heavens. And it is. Before kids I never understood why mothers would hesitate to take advantage of a kid-free trip. Your children are still there when you get back- what a great break! Enjoy what I have- freedom!

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But once your children enter your life, that’s it. I’ve heard many people say that having children is like having your heart outside your body. It’s wonderful with all that extra room to expand, with so much more capacity to love and be loved but it is now exposed, vulnerable, hard to protect.

Last week I was in Vancouver to see one of my best friends get married. I declared Anita my platonic soulmate when we first met (perhaps to her dismay or discomfort!) 12 years ago and to see her marry her romantic soulmate is not an occasion I would miss. It was my 4th time away from Austin overnight and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been away from Haines. While I’ve had to turn down both work trips and fun trips because of the babies (or the lack of money also due to the babies- pricey!) I don’t avoid traveling altogether. The time away resets and refreshes me. The infrequent work trips are valuable, and I try not to miss milestone moments with friends, just as I try not to miss them with my family.

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But the reality is it’s a struggle. It’s tears (mine) putting the babies down for bed and tears (mine again) before my first flight has even taken off, the anticipation of missing them already strong. It’s constantly wondering what they’re doing. When will I get an update, a photo, a Facetime? It’s wanting to hold every baby in the airport to smell their little heads and talk about my own cuties. It’s draining my phone battery looking at their photos.

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Travel does mean reading uninterrupted!

Travel is where Kat and Mama face-off. Part of me wants to go everywhere and do everything. Spend the money! Take the time off! Experience freedom and adventure! Tyler will hold down the fort at home- you deserve it. But the part of me that answers to Mama (or more often “What doin’ Mama?”) just wants to be at home reading Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too?” on repeat and feeling the tug on my pant leg as a baby pulls himself up to greet me.

And so it’s both. It is the occasional trip to a bachelorette or a wedding or a work conference that I try to squeeze every last drop out of before I go home and return to the world of both the routine and the sweet. Cuddles and chaos, diapers and bath time, playgrounds and teething, I miss you too.

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Breastfeeding: When the Journey’s Over

When my sister had her first child, over 14 years ago, I was shocked watching her use her breast pump. What a loud horrifying torture device. At 19 I was the stereotypical blend of naive and opinionated and told everyone I would never breastfeed. Fast forward 10 years later and nothing could have talked me out of it.

In fairness, no one was trying to talk me out of it. While many people asked me if I was planning to breastfeed, I can’t imagine what the response would have been if I had said no. The undeniable message I received from every direction was “breast is best”. I went to a breastfeeding class. I bought a supply of nursing bras and nursing tops and dresses. I ordered my breast pump. Although I was apprehensive, I wanted to give my baby the very best and generally speaking, for me, that means things natural. No man-made formula!

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Photo credit: Tula Q Photography

I’d like to say I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted to feed my baby with my own body. That I wanted to connect with him in this particular, physical way. That I wanted this specific experience, but I don’t think I ever thought that. That wasn’t my motivation. I wanted to be natural, environmental and cheap. I wanted to dive in head first to this new mama thing.

As if by not breastfeeding I would be less of a mom or miss out on some key experience.

What if I was so busy worrying about breastfeeding that I was missing out on just enjoying my baby?

I don’t regret breastfeeding. Breastfeeding taught me a lot of patience and resilience. I got to have the beautiful experience of feeding an infant with my old body, of providing life, sustenance, for both my boys which is pretty incredible. I’m lucky to have had the ability to breastfeed at all.

That moment that the baby latches for the first time is such a victory. It’s this incredible feeling of power, but it’s also coupled with incredible pain. Actual toe-curling pain. Fun fact: your uterus contracts when you nurse. This is a good thing for your body but it fucking hurts. As expected, your nipples also hurt. All of this goes away eventually. The toe-curling stops and if you are getting a good latch, your nipples will be okay as well. The feeling of power also fades, at least it did for me.

I never felt as though it was a choice. If you have the ability to breastfeed, you do, right? Even if it’s hard (yep), even if it hurts (yep), even if it means your spouse can’t help you feed the baby (yep). It’s a time in my life that I can really pinpoint the effects of media/social media and how it influenced my decisions. Even the second time around, I still felt an internal pressure to breastfeed as long as possible. I didn’t feel able to factor myself into the decision- my comfort, my needs, my stress level.

Breastfeeding is incredibly cool, but mom’s needs, wants and mental health should be a top priority instead of the last consideration. This is hard in parenting when you are so very needed, needed for the every day survival of your children. But what about you?

When people ask if I nursed Haines, my auto-response is “Yes, but I quit around 8 months.” It’s a negative story. It’s about failure. It’s about how I didn’t make it to a year, the ultimate nursing goal. But that’s wrong. Haines and I nursed for 8 months. Austin and I nursed for almost 9 months. We stopped nursing when it wasn’t what I wanted anymore and our relationship is just that, a relationship, a two- way street. When Haines and I quit nursing, it was a rushed stressful decision that resulted in days of emotional turmoil. Starting him on formula felt like a failure.  But the last time Austin latched, I knew the decision had been made. I felt done. I texted my mom friends for support and asked Tyler to bring some ice cream home.

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Will I miss that little flutter suck of a baby nursing himself to sleep? Sure, but my baby’s growing up and I miss my body more. I miss myself.

The Birthday Question

Recently I was asked “a birthday question” of “What have you learned this year?”

What a fucking question.

What more could I have possibly learned this year? (Kidding, clearly I still have a long way to go.)

I have learned that I sell myself short. Sure, I knew this but I used to think of it as humility or sacrificing for the greater good. I realize now it keeps me from feeling like I deserve to ask for things- money, job title, support, friendship, time for myself. It’s funny how my children have been the ones who have taught me selflessness but also to advocate for myself. Tonight I kept one arm outstretched to block Haines from picking the blueberries out of my salad as the other arm spooned pureed carrots into Austin’s mouth.  Also, that moment pretty much sums up motherhood.

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I learned about boundaries. Boundaries are the key to relationships of any kind. It’s not something I ever understood the value of. They had a negative connotation. Shouldn’t our most meaningful relationships exist without boundaries? Anything goes! But boundaries are as simple as expecting honesty from your spouse/friend/parent or drawing a line between work and home. In parenting boundaries feel particularly few and far between but they can still exist if you choose them. It is not a bad thing to move a baby into their own room or to insist that a toddler maintains their bedtime simply so you can be alone for once. It is not bad to say, “Play by yourself for a few minutes” and mutter “…before I lose my shit.”

I have learned I am strong, resilient and patient- three words I would not have used previously to describe myself. Were these qualities there all along? Surely, they have not just sprung to life but whatever the case may be- I feel them now. This is as much due to being able to push through when things are hard as it is knowing when to call it quits.  

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I learned about the constantly evolving human. Even if we cannot change our bodies, our circumstances, our income, we can change our minds. We can change our outlook. We can change our perception. And that can change your whole life.

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I have so much more to learn and wonderful people to learn it with. Thank goodness. Here’s to 33.

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Postpartum Real Life

It’s hard to express how much I love my babies. The love is constantly evolving, growing deeper every day. It starts at this place deep in my chest that twists and wrenches tight when they cry. And when they smile, the warmth starts deep in my belly and blooms upward filling me.

But it’s also hard to express it, because it’s become increasingly clear to me that I have postpartum depression. People ask me how things are going, if the fog is starting to clear and I lie. Because we are still sleeping poorly at 5 months postpartum, my brain still feels broken and I have yet to regain control over my emotions.

I have two incredible children. Their voices fill my heart with joy. My husband is a supportive kind partner. I like my job. I do interesting, fulfilling work. Sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes it is more than enough.Logically, I know that I am lucky. In my best moments, I feel grateful and energetic. But so often I feel there is a wall blocking me from enjoying it.

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The wall effects the way I feel about Austin. It effects the way I feel about my home, my husband, myself. I hate that. I hate to admit it. I hate to think about it but there it is, all the same.

I am lucky to live in a time where women are sharing their stories, that struggling with a new baby is a common story that women are more honest about. Still I see picture perfect Instagram accounts, I see women getting through so much more than is on my plate and I think why can’t I do more?

Postpartum depression effects 1 in 8 women and yet we mostly hide it away, with little in the way of a safety net for new moms. Luckily when I described how I felt after my first pregnancy to my midwives, they recognized I had experienced it with Haines and shared with me that I would likely experience it again. So this time I’ve at least been able to recognize, this is not how I should be feeling. This time I’ve sought help. This time when I do things for myself, I try to recognize that it truly effects my mental health and isn’t just selfish.

I don’t write just to share. I write because I have so appreciated the women, friends and strangers alike, who share about their journey in motherhood raw and authentically. It has been enormously comforting to see the many paths of motherhood without the shine of glossy family photos.

I wish I had more words to describe this phase of life, but it’s too raw and too real. Too good and too hard. So I’ll just put this here for now.

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Back to Work

This week, after twelve quick weeks, I returned to work. In America, my friends congratulate me on being eligible and able to take advantage of the full twelve week leave. The men I know all say, “Wow, that’s a long time.” My friends in other countries think it is ridiculous that twelve weeks is considered ample time to recover and return to work. As someone who hasn’t slept a full night in months, I’m inclined to agree.

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I know there are so many benefits to being working parent. I drink my caffeine hot and enjoy adult conversations on a daily basis. I use my brain and solve problems that make me feel accomplished, even if just for the workday. I have a career, a boss, a field that I enjoy. Oh and the biggest advantage- dual income!

But I will never stop feeling that I am missing it. Not just missing out but truly missing “it.” Missing the best parts of the day with my boys. Missing them grow before my eyes. Missing everything. Our time together is mostly sleepy breakfasts, wrestling in and out of pajamas, perilous dinners (Will he throw a tantrum because we dared offer him food?), nursing in the wee hours, and reading a quick bed time book to one while the other protests, ready to be rocked to sleep. It is not nothing but it is also not enough. Would anything be?

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Even though I like most things about my job and my life, going back to work also makes me feel like I am running back into a hamster wheel. Thirteen hours of each day will be spent at full speed. Up at 6 so we can all get dressed, get fed, get out the door. Work hard to leave the office by 5 to get home, to get everyone fed, dressed, in bed around 7 before sweet tiredness turns into angry tears. Clean up, prep for tomorrow, take a shower in the hopes that there will be a few quiet, relaxing moments before nursing the baby again and lights out at ten.

There is no perfect balance. No parent doesn’t wish to be home, long to be at work, can’t wait for the kids to go to bed, and joyfully wake them up. Our situation will find its normal but for a few days at least I am giving myself the space to feel all the feelings as they are.

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There is something extra sad about going back to work this time knowing we will not be doing this again. We’ve decided our family feels just right as a foursome so there will be no more pregnancies, no more newborns, no more back to works. All of which is the right choice for us but it is hard not to feel wistful about the end of this chapter.

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My Baby Turned Two

As much as it is easy to be caught up in the rapid development that is our newborn’s, it is hard not to watch Haines’ development with bewilderment. Only a moment ago he had his first Christmas and now he’s turning 2. Already this year it is his third Christmas season. How can that be? He’s just starting out in the world after all!

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Baby’s First Christmas

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Patiently waiting his turn to go through his stocking last year

These last few weeks I have probably watched Haines more closely than normal, wondering how big brotherhood is effecting him and waiting for him to cross that final hurdle to full toddlerhood. He’s two now. No longer a baby, not yet a big kid. His words are joining to become two and three word sentences although he still often grunts and signs for things. He still sleeps in a crib but also brings his dishes to the sink after meals. Haines repeats everything we say, clearly noticing more and more around him each day.

What a strange world this is. We’re trying to figure out the balance of reasonable expectations and actions have consequences and picking what battles we want to fight. Of letting him explore and try new things OR this is not worth my sanity for his adventure.

I thought this holiday season he might be old enough to start to enjoy the stories and traditions but he is still too young. He doesn’t understand who Santa might be or why we decorate the tree, not the floor, with ornaments. I scaled back my tree decorating dreams and we skipped decorating cookies. There will be time for that yet.

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Instead we’re taking advantage of this last opportunity to get by with a little less. We celebrated Haines’ birthday with a trip to Enchanted Airlie (holiday light display) and a low-key party. Burgers, queso and cookie monster cupcakes. Haines loved the cupcakes but probably not as much as he loved the fruit and yogurt dip my mother made. As always, Nana is his favorite! I cleared the furniture out of the living room to let the kids take over and that was it. We didn’t get him a gift. We didn’t decorate the house. We just loved him a little more loudly and filled our house with friendly faces. It was the best.

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Living That Newborn Life

We’ve hit 7 weeks (I think) and little Austin is starting to take note of the world. He’s watching the ceiling fan, staring at the parrots on our couch (yes, our couch has a parrot pattern- don’t be jealous) and today I waved my hand in front of his eyes while talking to him and he smiled. My heart exploded. Then he pooped everywhere which pretty much sums up newborn life. One moment I’ve overjoyed, the next minute I’m overtired. I wear Austin most hours of the day, except overnight or when he’s being held by someone else. All hail the Ergo!

Life feels incredibly surreal. It is a list of things to do, things I want to do that constantly disappear on me. Was I going to do something today? What did I want from that store? I don’t remember. I’m cleaning the house 15 minutes at a time which means the house isn’t getting very messy but it also isn’t clean.

Parenting is a strange new world again. I don’t know how to chase a toddler while I wear an infant. I don’t know how to convince him to stop standing on the coffee table while I’m nursing. Haines is in the midst of testing the limits and I’m in the midst of my new mantra “surviving not thriving”.

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The newborn days have an extra complication of really needing to take care of yourself while a tiny person demands that their needs come first. There’s those first days immediately following birth where baby wants to cluster feed but your nipples seem to be falling off in pain.

You’re sleep deprived but every time you go to sleep your finely tuned mom ears wake you up with tiny baby noises. Plus there’s the checking to make sure they’re still alive. And the feedings.

Not to mention the area that is unmentionable. The stitches from tearing or an episiotomy and just the general feeling that you have been hit by a truck below the belt.

Nothing like trying taking care of your biz while your toddler accompanies you to the bathroom. A kind offer of “poop paper mama?” Why thank you dearest.

And then, for me at least, there is the feeling you’ve lost yourself. Not totally, but the person I was before kids feels as though it is growing farther away. I told Tyler a story about boogie boarding in New Zealand and he was surprised since I never want to do that here, when we live at the beach. But there was a time when I went boogie boarding and sky diving and traveled to countries where I didn’t speak the language. Where is that girl now?

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She’s changing diapers and worrying about a toddler’s cough and trying not to wish these days away. These are days that are precious, where every tiny movement and sound is a new development and these developments make my heart explode. Just as much as I explode I also dream of days when we can play games with the boys or take them camping. Days when I am not preoccupied by nap times and nursing. I dream of hikes alone or just remembering that I like to hike.

Oh, newborn days. I’m loving you. I’m tolerating you. I’ll miss you when you’re gone.

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