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 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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Self-Care January

I am a person of lists. And goals. I love lists of goals. Even lists of lists of goals. So when my friend @thenewchrissy declared that she would be doing monthly challenges for 2019, I jumped on board. We share a lot of interests and values but I modified her a few of her challenges to fit my needs.

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A lot of folks start the year with Dry January. It makes sense considering the overindulgence of the holidays but I wanted to start the year off on a different foot. With only a few weeks left in my maternity leave, I wanted to focus on just enjoying it and relaxing as much as possible before it was back to the grind. Thus Self-Care January.

Self-care on maternity leave (especially at the end of one without pay) is not spa days or days alone in self-reflection or girls weekends. It is a 30 minute bath at the end of the day with a magazine. It is going to the grocery store alone and walking the aisles very slowly. It is choosing not to fold the laundry and painting my toenails instead. It is getting outside everyday.

Having a reminder that I needed to make time for myself was really helpful as I faced going back to work. The prospect of going back to work has, in my experience, been worse than the actual return but it’s still painful.

It’s hard to be present even in the parts of my job that I enjoy (which is the majority to be fair) when I’m aware of all the things I’m missing at home. Is he smiling right now? Is he cooing? Is he thinking about rolling over? (Yes, yes and not yet.) I race home to divide my time between two amazing, demanding children. One who wants cuddles and to be nursed. Another who wants to read books or tell me things like “I ride in Dada’s truck” (it’s not fascinating but it’s still cute). On my first week back of work, Haines was sent home from daycare with a fever and I was ecstatic to spend the following day with him. With Austin safely tucked away at my mom’s, we watched a movie, took walks and played hard. I loved it.

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Still at the end of the day, I was ready for a moment of me. I went to bed at 8. Best self-care decision ever.

February’s challenge is Snail Mail which I’m really looking forward to. I used to be an excellent pen pal but now I’m incredibly inconsistent. This month is going to be an opportunity to get back into one of my favorite activities.

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New Mama Mantras

There is nothing about motherhood that is easy. Even when it is relatively simple, even when it is straightforward, even when there are no complications, it is tiring and tough. Joyful, in a deep and incomparable way, but also tough.

I’ve started going to prenatal yoga again (cannot recommend enough!) which re-introduced me to the use of mantras to help me get perspective and calm the … down.

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Let Go//

These are the words that got me through labor. With every contraction I would breath deeply, inhale let, exhale go. But these words have served me well in the rough moments of new motherhood. Being a parent is frustrating. Babies get tired and cranky but can’t tell you what they want. They refuse foods you claim are their favorite.

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On Tuesday he loves Mexican food, on Friday he throws it on the ground. 

Everything is temporary//

This applies to the good and bad. In early childhood especially, everything is temporary. Breastfeeding is incredibly taxing and then suddenly it’s over. The moment you get used to a routine, your baby outgrows it. A bad attitude just needs a nap time. Baby’s favorite food ends up being given to the dog. Sickness takes over your world but only lasts a few hours, a few days. Teething seems endless, then the drool stops and another tooth is in. The constant internal discourse of “who am I now?” quietly dissipates.

Balance is about riding the fluctuations//

My yoga instructor recently shared this while we were practicing tree pose. Perhaps this statement seems obvious to you but I felt like she had smacked me in the face with her words. I have always lived and acted as though having balance as meant everything in its place, everything perfect when it is really about riding waves, flailing around and staying on the board. Why can’t I remember this in the moment? Here’s to trying.

This pregnancy is moving right along- only one week until we have our anatomy scan! I’m starting to feel movement and little kicks which is the best part of being pregnant. But I can tell my energy (and therefore sometimes attitude) is lacking so I am looking to weekly prenatal yoga, on top of increasing my other forms of exercise, as well as my new found/re-found mama mantras to keep me going.

And naps. Also a lot of naps.

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Turning 32: Acceptance, Love and Hope

In only a month I will be 32. Today I am in an unfamiliar city, which is pretty much my favorite thing in the world and I am enjoying it tremendously, despite having cried three times already for missing my baby.

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My boys without me

I am listening to two adorable baristas discuss giving up sugar. They are tiny, young, friendly and energetic. One is petite with a pixie look and a valley girl intonation. My 20-year-old self wouldn’t have tolerated her in conversation but completely envied her style. The other has an androgynous look and I am drawn to her smile instantly. My twenty-year old self would have followed her all around campus. I’m still eavesdropping.

But in a month I will be 32 which somehow feels more significant when I turned 30. When I turned 30 I was pregnant for the first time which overshadowed everything else. Two years later I am pregnant again, less overwhelmed by the enormity and more…surrendered? My life, in a long term think-about-the-future sort of way feels paused while I create new life, someone else’s life. My mind has shrunk- unable to take in much beyond my house and the people who live there. I know that since becoming pregnant two years ago I have not been as good of a friend as I once was. I forget birthdays and don’t return emails, never on purpose but simply because. 

I no longer write, travel or create crafts often- all of which are my favorite things. There is a half-finished gray knit hat in a plastic bin in my attic among piles of yarn waiting for me, hoping I will come back for it. But I don’t have the time or money (two things to enjoy traveling) or the energy (required of writing or crafting). Although I sometimes long to do one or many of these activities, mostly I don’t care. It’s become normal but in waiting Haines grow and become more independent, I have seen the light. It won’t always be like this. This is just a phase of life where I will do me, as best as I can do me, and this is enough even though it won’t look anything like before.

Normally in a new city I would be racing around, walking every street. Today I worked remotely, found amazing Mediterranean food, bought two books in the book store where I am now very unhurried. I am sipping tea from an actual teacup and saucer. The afternoon light is casting a gentle flow across old wood floors in the café and I’m admiring the energy of nearby baristas while I write.  

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This is a sign of my age right? When taking time to be slow is just as important as seeing the sights? Then again, bookstores have always been “the sights” for me. I am old enough to have only bought 2 books (it’s called living on a budget) but not old enough to know I should go ahead and buy all the books, because books are invaluable. 

I believe the new year really starts on your birthday. I always look to the new calendar year as a fresh start but birthdays are far more inspiring. So what do I want for my next year? What do I hope for 32?

I hope for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

I hope for calm in the face of chaos.

I hope to have a few moments like this one where I feel contented in everything, fully knowing that all is not perfect.

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Ten years of friendship

I hope to spend time with friends and have a few laughs. I hope to hold hands with my husband after the bab(ies) have gone to bed.

I hope to read a few good books and enjoy a few warm summer nights.

And if I am lucky, I hope to get a few good nights of sleep.

All in all, I think this could be a wonderful year.

 

Baby’s First Year Survival Tools

One of the things expecting mothers always panic about is all the things. You feel you need all the things! In reality, you won’t need half of what you end up with when you have a baby. A lot of people will try to give you things. You’ll most likely accept everything  thinking, how am I to know what I need? You don’t, so cut yourself some slack. I don’t know what you need either, but I do know what I used to get through HEB’s first year. If we have another baby we’ll probably need totally different things! But hopefully not because we’re not buying anything.

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Newborn hell (or 0 to 3 months):

I have to be honest, those newborn days that everyone (without a newborn) glows over… those are pretty intense. Even if you are not breastfeeding you may start to think, surely this is impossible! Horribly enough we all started off as extremely needy, up all hours of the night, feeding every 2 hours, adorable little babies.

  • Netflix– get it, gift it, don’t judge yourself for binging it.
  • Chicco Keyfit stroller caddy– We loved this for the ability to plop our carseat right in and start strolling without ever disturbing our sleeping babe. There’s also tons of storage underneath so I could throw his diaper bag in there. I preferred using this for grocery shopping (heavy things in the caddy, light things in a basket) rather than a cart when he was small.
  • A breastfeeding station- Find yourself a Boppy or a Brest Friend or whatever and keep it near your comfiest chair or couch. Near that fill a basket with granola bars or easy to eat snacks, your kindle or your TV remote and remember to bring water when you’re sitting down to feed. Two minutes in and you’ll suddenly remember you’re DYING of thirst.
  • Rock n Play– Haines slept in the Rock n Play for the first 4 months of his life and absolutely loved it. Admittedly though we never put the batteries in so it didn’t rock him on its own. I would reach out and rock him to sleep in the middle of the night if needed, but never used the actual function. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to stop.

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3-6 months:

This was a pretty tough time for me. I went back to work and Haines’ sleep had really gotten worse so the level of fatigue was high. At the same time though H started to interact with us. He was alert and playful. It really lifted me up.

  • Bouncy chair– This is something we didn’t know we really needed. It was a hand-me-down (as is everything else) and I wasn’t even sure why we would want it. Um… you want to carry this lightweight all over your house so you can get things done! This is what baby lays in while you cook dinner, go to the bathroom, type your blogs- all the important things.
  • Frozen meals- I had fixed some items in advance and my mom and Natalie also stocked my freezer as well. The first few weeks/months we were the beneficiaries of a meal train but that comes to an end well before the fatigue does. Having the world’s easiest meals on hand is very helpful. I also froze muffins to help me with my constant need to snack.
  • Ergo– We started out with a 2nd hand Chicco carrier which worked okay, but it was a huge upgrade when a friend gave us an Ergo. After a little while you start to want options for going out and having some sort of baby wearing device is a must. (Also, I tried a wrap and found it to be an enormous pain the tush.)

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6-9 months:

The first turning point! Everything was fun during these few months (minus sleep training and ear infections). Haines was excited for everything- food, Clara, being outside. There were also so many milestones during this time. He sat up, crawled and walked all between 7 and 9 months.

  • Kiddo food trays- I LOVED using these to make Haines’ baby food. I made all of his food at home which was much easier than I anticipated. When he napped on the weekend, I would dump all the veggies into a steamer before blending in our Nutri-bullet. Any blender will do. The only downside here- HEB moved on from purees pretty quickly. He wanted to feed himself!
  • Baby proofing- This turned out to be much more in depth than I would have expected. We had to get rid of several pieces of furniture that we deemed being too annoying with a baby to keep. If you’re going to try to limit your “No! Don’t touch that!” conversations than I will suggest going beyond outlet covers and cabinet locks. Every trash can in your house should have a heavy lid, your toilet paper should be moved near the ceiling and any knick-knacks resting within 3 feet of the floor should be moved. Probably just get rid of your blinds now.
  • Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy- For months this was Haines favorite toy. It could entertain him indefinitely. This is probably the only thing we ever tore up the house looking for.
  • Nursery rhymes- Start practicing now. This was the only way we could get perk up a cranky baby during diaper changes or going into his carseat.

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9-12 months:

This was the second turning point. We have a routine. We can mostly anticipate Haines likes and dislikes. He’s fussier and harder to console but also easier to distract. Children are weird.

  • Alphaprints book & The Itsy Bitsy Snowman are Haines two favorite books right now. They are guaranteed to lift his mood!
  • Bathmat– If your baby wants to crawl all around the bathtub then I recommend getting a non-slip bathmat for the tub. It has cut down on his falls tremendously and ours has a hook so it can hang on the shower to dry.
  • Spoutless sippy cup– Haines has struggled with all the other cups we’ve given him but took to this one right away! (Full disclosure: we still use a bottle most of the time, but this cup has helped a lot).

 

If you’re stressing about needing all the things, don’t. Get a carseat. Figure out a safe place for the baby to sleep. Buy a few diapers (and expect many more in gifts). Collect every hand me down you can. You’ll figure out the rest.

And remember, for better or for worse, this is only temporary.

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