A Letter to New Mothers

Hey Mama,

We are closing in on the end on my little one’s first birthday. It is hard to believe that our tiny new babe has been here for a year. It’s a wonderful, nostalgic, wistful time and also the first signal that we’re exiting baby land. This little guy is getting bigger. Soon he’ll be off bottles and taking one nap a day. All the signs that he’s becoming a little person and we’re leaving the land of littles behind.

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Baby land is a wild and chaotic place. It is the Wild Things. It is a jungle. It is a beautiful place, full of mystery and bliss and struggle where you must work harder than you have ever worked for joy you thought might come easy.

I highly recommend baby land. If you want children, baby land is incredible, but it is a very hard place to be, even under the best of circumstances. As I see this chapter of our lives come to a close, it’s hard not to wish I had been able to access the knowledge, the clarity, the sanity that I have now and wanting to give myself so much more kindness that I ever would have allowed.

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As you enter this new world, you may find yourself looking at the past. Looking at a life that you could have had, had you not gone down this path. There will be moments when you are overwhelmed and you think, did I really choose this? Then in a flash, your child may smile at you or lay their head on your chest and you will think- oh yes, thank goodness I did. Their hand will accidentally brush hair from your face and you will hold your breath in the hopes it lasts forever. 

And yet again when they go to bed at night (for a few minutes, for a few hours?) and you choose to rest or you choose to clean or you choose to daydream or pull out your phone and look at their photos, you may think, “What have I done?” But you have made life and are molding that life and it is molding you.

It is okay to daydream of relaxing days. It is okay to be annoyed that you cannot eat your lunch in peace or feel overwhelmed that nothing is going to plan. In this new world of motherhood, there is an expectation of super human abilities. That you will remain calm in the face of chaos. That you will keep a beautiful home, perfectly divide all domestic duties with your partner, lose the weight, keep up your Instagram aesthetics and live a full, robust meaningful life outside the home. You will have it all and do it all.

Except you can’t. You’ll have to give some things up. A little bit of sanity, some hobbies, the clean floor, some of your social life. You may even think you have to give all of it up, but that’s not quite true either.

For many mamas, for me, the hardest thing I never understood was having to advocate for myself with myself, to practice self-care. To be able to recognize when I was heading towards the brink and to be proactive. To understand that I needed a break whether the day was hard or not. That I didn’t have to be drowning before asking my husband to take over, before saying, “I’ll do the dishes. You put the baby to bed.” It was both our jobs- the dishes and the babies. For all my feminism, for all my preparation, I have learned that lesson over and over again.

This new baby will be all consuming and you will feel you must make them the center of your life- how could you not?- but you are still important. That baby loves you and wants you to value yourself even if their tiny brain could never put that thought together. Put a reminder on your phone to do something for yourself every day, even if it is just a hot cup of tea or 5 minutes outside alone. Treat yourself like your best friend would- with kindness but no bullshit.

It’s okay to reduce your stress level. Let go of what you think meals should be- exciting or complicated. Change from cloth diapers to (biodegradable) disposable ones. Give up breastfeeding for formula. Whatever is not working for you. And when you do, send your guilt out with the trash. This is your journey and your family. Outside judgements need not enter here.

No matter how it feels, you’re not alone Mama. While being a mother may make you more aware of the sharp judgements of others (many opinions you may have been guilty of once too), you will also be shocked at the kindness and generosity of total strangers. Ask for help, reach out for a kind word, share your journey, joys and sorrows.

I am not out of the woods. I am learning motherhood every day. This new world has opened me wide and raw. It has fogged my brain and cleared my eyes. It feels like it has changed everything and yet, has it? Or has what’s important just been amplified? Has what’s important simply been revealed?

The days are long but the years are short. You will not always be able to embrace the chaos, sometimes it will be suffering and sometimes hilarity but if you can laugh through the tears from time to time, you’re doing something right.

Although I am incredibly frugal cheap, I recently made the investment in family photos. When I met with the photographer, she asked me why we were getting these done. I was honest when I shared that this time is so incredibly difficult that I struggle to see beyond the chaos. That I want photos that I can look back on and see how truly beautiful things were. That our family was just as it needed to be not in spite of the challenges of parenting but because of them. It’s not always easy to remember.

Everyone’s experience is different. You may walk into motherhood as if you were born for it, but if not, these feelings too shall pass. But the love you feel will not.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Postpartum Life

The weeks after baby’s birth are beautiful and totally brutal. There is the incredible joy of the new arrival. There are so many quiet moments caught up in watching this little life. Watching his little fists swat around in a robotic dance makes me laugh. One day soon he will see his hands and look at them in amazement. Another milestone arrived and on to the next.

At two and a half weeks, he sleeps for a couple hours at a time. Every day or so, he does a four stretch. Sometimes this is at night, sometimes it’s not. His face, completely relaxed, lips smushed in a pout is a heart wrencher but also puts me into a full sprint towards the nearest couch or bed. Total joy and totally tired.

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He eats well, something to be thankful for. I am happy when he is full and peaceful, but I do not wake up gleeful at 4 am when it is time to feed again. I don’t want to change his diaper although I am glad it is wet or dirty. I don’t want to uncover my own warm body to fetch him from his bed and fill him up, but I do. It is a gift for me to get to do so and my gift to him. Once we are cuddled up together and I halt his cries, then I remember the simple joy of our togetherness. Although not when he wakes up again 30 minutes later with an unknown complaint, cries of gas or needed comfort or more hunger.

I find myself considerably more patient with those in my life who wear diapers than those who speak in full sentences. I am almost as easily offended as I am tired. I have eaten so many sweets my teeth feel like they’re rotting.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time on the internet during our endless nursing sessions. The first weeks after birth are a tough time to be on social media so much and yet it is hard to avoid when you are desperately trying to stay awake at all hours of the day and night. I look at photos of friends and strangers adventuring across the world, across town, across their neighborhood. At once I am both jealous and totally content. I would love to be galavanting through another country or exploring a trail or cooking a divinely fancy meal.

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This meal will mostly sound like, “Taco! Haines taco! Haines bite!”

But I would also like to be here, just where I am, watching one baby sleep, knowing the other is also resting and will come home soon to blabber on about his day which I may or may not understand. “Haines paint. Elmo music! Mason (insert something unintelligible).” My home is warm in contrast to this rainy, chilly day. I’m sitting at a table I helped my husband make. In every direction I see photos of our family, art that tells the story of our lives.

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Cousin love

There is also a pile of laundry and a vase of flowers that need to be thrown out. I should have wiped the table before sitting down. There are remnants of Haines’ breakfast sticking my sweater to the wood. My breasts are sore and quite possibly leaking. My clothes don’t fit. I am almost always aware of my stitches and the discomfort that increases when I walk or stand for long periods.

Parenting is complicated. It is being thankful and a bit wistful all at the same time as you move between phases of life: childless to parent, baby to toddler, one child to two. But it is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to me. There’s no place I’d rather be.

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