5 Unexpected Perks of Maternity Leave

  1. Not feeling guilty for all the TV you watch. Okay, sometimes maybe I should feel guilty because it’s gotten a bit out of control but what you can do? Sometimes that’s parenting. I highly recommend checking out Juana Ines (Netflix), American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (Netflix), Hell on Wheels (Netflix, violent – proceed with caution), America Divided (Amazon Prime), The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), A Chef’s Life (PBS) and obviously, Fixer Upper (Netflix/HGTV). I DO NOT RECOMMEND This is Us. I’ve really enjoyed but you will cry during every episode which is too much for someone who is already chock o’ block full of hormones.thisisus
  2. Going outside whenever you damn well please. Perhaps your job already gets you outside regularly. If so, you are much smarter than me. I have an office job where I have to ask others what the weather is like because I cannot see the outside world. At least on maternity leave, I could take walks when I felt like it. Getting to walk my crazy dog when everyone isn’t also out is also convenient.img_2761
  3. Doing errands while everyone else is at work. There aren’t many perks to running errands with infants. A lot more people open doors for you which is convenient because as a first time parent who carry way too much stuff with you at all times. At the very least though you don’t have to be at Target on Saturday with everyone else. You can go on a Monday at 10 am without having brushed your hair because no one you know is there.

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    This is my hair on maternity leave. No exceptions.This is also me sending pictures to my husband just to say hello. 

  4. I was very surprised as to how much reading I was able to do while on maternity leave. The key is e-books. It is extremely difficult to hold an actual book while also holding a baby but you can read a Kindle (or other e-book device) or read on your phone using an app. (Everyone at my book club thinks I’m insane for reading on my phone but it has never bothered me. If you’re stuck in line at the post office or wherever, just pull out your phone and read.) Breastfeeding, especially in the early days, takes forever. You feed, get up to go the bathroom and eat a snack and then it’s basically time to do it again. Once I got the hang of it and didn’t need to concentrate, I was able to read instead. It really helped me stay awake for night feedings as well. Since going on leave I’ve finished Girl in a Band: The Memoir, A Thin Bright Line, Margaret the First: A Novel, The Underground Railroad, and The Rosie Project. Out of these I would only highly recommend The Underground Railroad. The others helped to pass the time but weren’t particularly moving or exciting. I’ve started but haven’t yet finished The Sympathizer and In the Darkroom, both of which have been fascinating thus far. My mother-in-law also gave me a subscription to The Sun Magazine which I keep next to my chair for some good nursing reads.

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    The danger of reading an actual book is that sometimes a fussy baby will physically block you from that book. 

  5. I gained a much better sense of what makes me feel like me. When I first came home from the hospital I was in a fog of fatigue and it took me a couple weeks to start to feel human and even a little longer to feel like myself. My husband would come home from work and try to give me time away but I just drove around town aimlessly. Over time and with better planning, I know what I need to feel whole. I need to be able to anticipate my day. I need a plan even if my day doesn’t require it. I have to get outside and feel the sunshine. I have to talk to adults on a regular basis about something other than poopy diapers and childcare woes. I need time to write and think by myself. Add a beer, a snack and the occasional hot bath and I’m good to go. Oh, and this. I need a lot of this. img_2964

Maternity Leave: A Welcome Change that I’m Completely Freaking Out About

My maternity leave ends next week. I feel completely and totally torn about it. There are many things I’m looking forward to. They include:

  • Using both hands to eat my food (rather than holding a baby in one arm and dripping a sandwich onto myself with another).
  • Talking to adults on a regular basis. Every day I feel eagerly await Tyler coming home only to have very little to say when he gets home. “What did you do today?” “Um, took a walk. Did some laundry. Changed some diapers. Didn’t lose my mind?” Communicating takes practice.
  • Using my brain! I will have actual work to do. I will have to write emails that make sense, solve problems and advise others.
  • Exercising. We have a gym at work that also offers lunchtime classes. I’ll easily be able to run, take a class or use the workout equipment without cutting into my family time.
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To cuddle or not to cuddle? To cuddle. 

There are also many things I am freaking about.

  • For 40 hours a week our itty, bitty baby is going to be with someone else. Someone who seems very nice but who I don’t actually know. When he fusses will she comfort him? Will she talk or sing to him like I do? Will he get all that needs (which admittedly is very little because he’s an itty, bitty baby)?
  • After 12 weeks of struggling in the absence of any structure, I will be moving back into a fairly rigid environment. Baby must be dropped off by whenever in order to get to work on time and must be picked up by this time in order not to pay a fee. I will have to put on clothes, brush my teeth and generally look appropriate. IN THE MORNING! This seems impossible.
  • What if my brain doesn’t work? I wrote a letter recently that included the sentence “Pregnancy and a newborn kills my smarts.” I didn’t write it to be funny. That’s just the way it came out. Now I’m going to have to write at work? Oh good. This should go well.
  • I truly lucked out being on maternity leave during this particular winter. It was filled with 70F days. We’ve taken many walks and explored a lot of our area. Even though I like my job I don’t look forward to going back to a windowless office that used to be a closet.
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Don’t get me started on all the smiles I will be missing! 

Of course, I was lucky to be able to even take maternity leave as so many mothers can’t. I work for a business that is large enough to have to offer FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and we are able to afford to take the time. At times the lack of income was stressful (then again, I tend to freak out about money all the time) but we were generously helped by our families and friends who brought meals, helped with groceries and generally offered their support. While I wish moms in the US had the options that many other countries have regarding leave, I recognize that the 12 weeks I was able to take, though short, was still a gift.

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Haines and I have been spending these days with a lot of cuddles, long walks and an upcoming visit from his Nana this weekend. I’ve also been making a playlist for the munchkin as I try to improve my bedtime song repertoire. I welcome suggestions if you have any! (I know it needs more ladies. I’m working on it!)

Love for the One I Love

I feel bad for fathers. Well, not usually. At this particular point in parenting when we are figuring everything out I often feel I am taking on the heavier load in childcare. I’ve told Tyler before that sometimes I resent him between 10pm and 7am when he’s snoozing away and I wake at every little baby noise. (I don’t know if it’s connected but he’s begun to be more aware at night. Ha! )Perhaps dad radar must be developed while mom radar turns on the moment the child enters the world and instead must be fine-tuned. Dear ears, please stop waking me up for his every little noise!

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I’ve heard recently men say they found the first months of fatherhood easier than expected. It hurt me to hear that. My hormones are all over the place which has put my emotions on a constant rollercoaster (because pregnancy hormones weren’t enough??). Although we just recently crossed into six-hour stretches of sleep with our baby, previously I hadn’t slept through the nights in months just due to how incredibly hard it is to get rest at a certain point in pregnancy. Also, six hours never feels like enough. During the day I am breastfeeding or pumping every two hours. If I naively think I can skip a pump I am engorged, leaking, and wildly uncomfortable. Plus there’s the stress of finding daycare and preparing to go back to work after my 12 weeks of leave. So, this is all easy for dads*? I recognize that some burdens are difficult to share, but in any context in which your partner is struggling you should find a way to support them. That’s what partners do. For example, I am typing this while I sip a chai latte at a coffee shop. I am all by my lonesome and plan to be here as long as I want. Thank you, baby daddy, for recognizing the importance of this and many other things.

*In the context of this blog I am referring to fathers involved with heterosexual relationships involving childbirth as that’s the family dynamic I’m involved in. 

Fathers do seem to miss out on one of the best parts of becoming a parent I’ve experienced thus far- community. I don’t see men reaching out the way women do to lend a hand or check in on their friends who are new parents (perhaps because life with newborns is so damn easy?!) The women in my life, childless or mothers, have reached out time and time again to bring me what I’ve needed most: company and an extra set of hands. Over the last month we’ve benefited from multiple meals a week from my coworkers easing our days and giving us extra time to enjoy with our newly expanded family. Every week I’ve gotten texts just touching base and saying hi, helping connect me back to the world. In the last few weeks I’ve had visitors from across the state, the country and even Canada.

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Wilmington friends loving on this little one. 

The fact that they would take time off work, rearrange their plans, and pay for plane tickets all to see us and our little one is so incredibly wonderful in itself. I hadn’t expected how incredibly special it would feel to watch my friends interact with Haines, but every cuddle and smile goes straight to my heart. Watching them show love for the one I love takes all my words away.

There have been times over the past  year that I have felt far away from my core support group but these are just a few of the friends who have worked to make the distance smaller. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

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Hiding under this blanket is a baby who hates the sun.

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So much love all the way from Texas. 

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College roomies out for a boat ride with a baby who is not sure what to think of us. 

 

Where is My Mind?

I’m totally losing it. I don’t think it’s shocking that a woman with a 7 week old baby would feel like her creativity is missing. But it’s been missing for a long time.

I first noticed it when I was pregnant. During the first trimester I was too tired to care that I hadn’t written anything and my craft supplies were collecting dust. In the second trimester I spent my extra energy canning. Three batches of tomato jam, one applesauce, one apple butter, one pasta sauce, strawberry syrup and strawberry jam later I found myself in the third trimester. There is no extra energy in the third trimester. Everything I had went to keeping my job and eating (I gained most of my weight then, which is not how it’s supposed to go!).

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Now I have a newborn. At 7 weeks we wake up at least twice a night and his preferred spot is in my arms. So no, I don’t have a lot of extra energy for writing blogs, writing letters, creative thinking, cooking fun meals or arts and crafts. And yet it feels so much more extreme than that. When I have a few moments to myself, I have no idea what to do. I have found myself just sitting on my couch staring off thinking, “What do I like to do?” “What do I need to do?” Tyler told me to get out of the house and take a break. I had no idea where to go.

Much of this can be contributed to my recent monumental life changes but I think it’s more than that. It’s not just Haines that’s blinding me, it’s the media. It’s the morning news, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s watching the Today show in the morning while I try to wake up and automatically reaching for my phone every time I’m sitting for a few minutes with nothing to do. Considering the number of times Haines eats a day, that’s a lot.

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Milk drunk baby

I want my brain back, but that means learning to do nothing again. To sit with my thoughts, even if nothing comes at first. To take walks without music or podcasts. Deleting Facebook from my phone. And for the time being make lists so I can remember what’s going on! I know Haines will be impeding the situation for quite a bit longer but maybe I help find my mind little by little.

In the meantime:

  • I’m reading The Sun when I need help staying awake in the middle of the night instead of looking at my phone.
  • I’ve deleted the Facebook app from my phone so I can’t easily access it.
  • I will be making an effort to get outside every day. (If anyone has any tips for hiking with infants, I see this in my future…)
  • I will sit and do nothing sometimes simply to let my mind move itself rather than have outside influence.

One thing at a time, y’all.

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Get outside!

6 Weeks Postpartum: We’re Going to Make it After All

(R.I.P. Mary Tyler Moore)

We’ve made it six weeks. Surprisingly the time has passed more slowly than I expected. I’ve been asked quite frequently how I’m doing, how motherhood is and so on but I have no idea how to respond. This is a strange new world and I’ve barely tapped the surface of it means to be a mother. How I’m doing rests entirely on how Haines is doing. If he eats well then I am happy. If he sleeps well then I am rested. If he cries and fusses then chances are I will cry and fuss. (Well, if he cries a lot. It’s not as though I cry every time his pacifier falls out.) It’s a very different existence when your demeanor rests entirely on how someone else is doing. I think in any other situation this would be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. In the world of newborns and perhaps parenting in general, it’s just normal.

In some ways I feel that I am also just starting out in the world, same as Haines. I have a new identity and new way of a life. Together we’re taking one step at a time.

Exercise

Haines has accidentally rolled over twice now (his arm was stuck underneath in a weird way that helped)! He’s lifting his head pretty regularly as well.

At my postpartum check up I had lost 27 of my 42 pregnancy pounds. 15 more to go! Hopefully I don’t have to lose all of those to get back into my jeans. I’m trying to walk every day. There’s a trail near my house that is a four mile loop and we do this regularly. I’m hoping to incorporate some other forms of exercise here shortly.

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Our first trip to Hugh McCrae Park

Sleeping

I am a champion sleeper but Haines is not. Typically he gets up twice a night which is pretty tolerable BUT he “talks” during the night. The snoring is fine. The occasional squeak is fine but all sorts of squeaking and other weird throat noises is not the easiest to tune out.

Nutrition

Haines is a champ eater. We’ve been incredibly lucky that breastfeeding, while not always fun, hasn’t been particularly difficult. He learned to latch quickly and I learned to help him quickly as well. Many of the women I know talk about breastfeeding as something they enjoyed particularly because no one else could do it. It gave them a special connection and an excuse to have their own time with the baby. I’m not all that crazy about being the only person who provides food to Haines. I love when Tyler or our of our parents gives Haines a bottle. Watching them get to have that time is incredibly special. Plus shouldering cluster feedings and eating in the middle of the night on my own isn’t sweet. It’s tiring. Of course these feelings may evolve as I go back to work and this becomes the majority of our short time together.

Many people told me I’d be insatiably hungry while breastfeeding but it’s not been as bad as while I was pregnant. I’m struggling to let go of my sweet tooth. Ice cream, cookies, candy, doughnuts… I can’t be stopped.

Sanity

Haines isn’t a particularly fussy baby, a fact that has directly contributed to my mental health. That being said, maternity leave is a strange alternate universe. One on the hand, I never think about work. I don’t miss it. I don’t have to convince myself to stop checking my email. It’s barely on my radar. BUT I miss structure. I’m a creature of habit. My day needs something to give it shape. If I’m not going to be drinking cocktails by the pool all day then I want to know that today is Monday or Tuesday or what have you (I don’t actually know what day it is).

In order to differentiate between the days I have tried my best to schedule something for every day. That has included inviting friends or coworkers for walks, having visitors, and exploring different parks or walking paths in town. Haines is only likely to be a good sport about our activity if he’s being pushed in a stroller. Some days this does the trick, others I feel totally without purpose. If my day has no purpose, what the heck am I supposed to do with it? Yes, cuddle and spend time with this sweet baby. And then what? Also, life with Haines is much easier inside the house than out and about but sticking close to home has a tendency to make me feel trapped after too long. The more I venture out the clearer my mind feels and the more myself I am.

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First attempt using Moby wrap. 

Survival Tips

Be prepared! My diaper backpack is kept fully equipped at all times. I try not to go anywhere without extra burp cloths, blankets, outfits, diapers, wipes and a pacifier. If we could get close to a feeding time and I might not want to breastfeed, I stick a bottle inside a wine freezer pack and take it along with us. I’m not great at being discreet while breastfeeding and I don’t always want to let everything all hang out.

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It looks like this except not nearly as pretty/fancy. 

Leave the house! If I can’t socialize every day then I still have to get out and about. Any place with a pathway to push the stroller is on the list to be explored. Once I get better at baby wearing all sorts of new areas will be open to us!

Talk it out. Tyler is really good at recognizing when I need a break but vocalizing the struggle is more helpful than just relying on his intuition.

Acceptance. Life with a newborn slows everything down. I have to accept the new pace and even relish it. This little guy makes it hard not to.

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Hear Our Voice: Standing Together

Yesterday thousands of women across the world gathered together and stood as one. Some marched for reproductive rights, some marched for equal pay, some for justice, environmental protections, education, LGBT rights, some in solidarity, some to just be heard. These are just a few. Many (most?) also marched against the new administration.

I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about the march. This may be as surprising to you as it was to me. I didn’t vote for Trump. You probably already guessed this. The number of concerns I have about him cannot be listed. I don’t need to because you already know them all. Even if you don’t agree, you’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard what concerns others have. But I am a person that is driven by hope. The anger and fear and negativity that is the obvious response to the election does not fire me up. I do not feel emboldened as so many of my friends do. I feel crushed under the weight of it.

Once I would have felt differently. I would written endless letters to newspapers and congressmen. I would have confronted strangers and annoyed friends. The same person who was once an outraged college freshman, flabbergasted that Bush had won a second term, is now much quieter. Is this the result being tired from pregnancy and a newborn? Is it related to having a partner who is more conservative than me? Or is it the unavoidable stream of negativity that is my Facebook feed, my NPR station, my morning news?

I haven’t been able to find hope in places in the external sources I’m used to. Instead I’ve had to pull away in order to see the good. This didn’t start with Trump’s presidential campaign, but long before. I can’t discuss a lot of national issues I should be familiar with for this reason.

When I first heard about the march, I was hesitant about unifying against the Trump administration. I don’t want to spend my time being against anything and anyone. Even if that’s how I feel, I want to work towards good. I want to build bridges. My extra energy, the energy I have after nursing and caring for a newborn, after my marriage, after myself, after work, after caring for the relationships that are important to me- that’s the energy I wants to spend working towards something.

 

The Women’s March gave me that. In a time where our country feels isolated, women across the globe in 55 different countries, stood up for us from New Zealand to Kenya to South Korea. Even Antartica rallied. In a time where our country is angry at Washington D.C., women flocked there with over 500,000 people in attendance. In a time where our country is not just divided but fractured/shattered/broken, marches were held in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

We need community. We need to remember why we love our friends and neighbors. That we loved them between election years and why. We need to work together to build up those that need it- those that haven’t been served well enough in the past, those that we fear will be mistreated or forgotten in the next four years, those that need us and we need them.

OUR MISSION

The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

HEAR OUR VOICE.  -womensmarch.com

Yesterday I rallied with men, women and children in Wilmington, NC. I felt proud, inspired and encouraged to be with them and to hear their voices. It was the reminder I needed that change is attainable and we can all make a difference.

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Christmas Came Early

We had done our best to think the baby would be late. Unbearably late. This, we heard, was the best way to not be get through the days before baby arrived. The day before our due date we went to the midwife for our weekly appointment. We knew there was really nothing she could tell us to help predict when the baby would come but we hoped for something anyways.

Everything looked great and I was dilated 3 cm. This really means nothing though. You can stay at 3 cm for days without progress. We scheduled our next appointment and an induction for the day after Christmas. On the way home I asked Tyler to stop and buy a Gatorade. I felt nauseas and gross, glad to be working from the couch. I planned to stop work a bit early and get in the bath but come 4 pm there was still too much to do.

At this point Tyler had come home from the grocery and I admitted that I had been having contractions since 2pm almost every twenty minutes. I showed him where I was writing them down in my work notebook. He was not impressed that I hadn’t told him immediately.

Everything seemed very manageable then. I got in the bath and rested. The contractions were felt doable. I could handle this. When I called my mother to let her know what was happening I was calm on the phone. No rushing, drive safe. Don’t come if you’re tired. Tyler arranged for our dog to be picked up by friends.

Although my contractions didn’t become consistently closer together, things quickly deteriorated. My attempts to walk around the house were unbearable. I threw up my dinner- soup and a milkshake generously dropped off by a coworker. Soon I refused to get out of the recliner, dozing between each contraction and squeezing Tyler’s hand when they came. It was hard to open my eyes to see my mom when she arrived. When Tyler called the midwife around 1am I was asking for an epidural. I wanted to go to the hospital. My contractions still weren’t consistently 3 minutes apart and she encouraged me to stay at home and walk around- speed things up. Um, no.

I barely made it to the car.

Mom and Tyler carefully walked me out, holding me up. Our hospital is only 4 minutes away which made all the difference. The midwife changed her tune when we arrived- I was already 10 cm dilated and wanting to push! It was straight to the delivery room where the midwife sat at the end of the bed ready to break my water. I started to fall apart asking for an epidural again (if you’re ready to push this isn’t going to work). With the midwife between my knees a contraction hit and BAM! My water exploded all over her and the surrounding area. She got up to change her clothes with a “Well, that settles that.”

The baby was ready to make an entrance and I was able to start pushing immediately. Fortunately for me it was all over in a matter of 5 or so contractions (20 minutes, perhaps) and also fortunately for the baby whose heart rate dropped significantly for about 10 of those minutes. I ended up getting an episiotomy which certainly wasn’t in my birth plan but was totally for the best. It all came to an end with the announcement of “It’s a boy!”  and the total shock of a baby being placed on my chest.

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Childbirth Surprises:

  • I didn’t curse, which I was proud of as that seems like an unpleasant thing to put up with at your place of work. On the other hand I screamed so hard my throat hurt for days. Sorry, nurses.
  • Apparently Tyler and I both truly thought the baby would be a girl as we both thought/said, “Are you sure?” when we found out it was a boy.
  • It turns out there is no keeping your support team away from the business end of childbirth. With your head to your chest and your knees open and up to your ears, there is no way to distinguish any part of you. The whole of you is in childbirth.
  • The post-delivery shakes completely caught me by surprise. I didn’t know to anticipate them and they felt totally debilitating.
  • The nurses and staff at the hospital completely lived up to their reputation and took care of us 100%. It was incredible.

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Baby Haines has been kind enough to sleep on my chest while I’ve typed but I think he’s reached his maximum. We’ll just have to share more soon.

Happy holidays everyone.

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This is a very photogenic family.