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.

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting and the Art of Conversation

Or How I’ve Become Incredibly Boring

I have nothing to say. Well, not exactly. It’s more like I can’t remember what I have to say. Like, during the week I’ll think “Oh, isn’t that interesting/funny. I’ll have to ask so and so about it when I see them this weekend.” Once I finally get to hang out with whoever, I can barely remember anything about them, let alone the cool thing I wanted to share. It’s more like, “Think of something to say. Um, I think they have a job. Just ask them about their job.” 

I have all kinds of thoughts. I read articles and blogs daily. I watch films and documentaries. Most of the books I read are worth talking about (not all, but we don’t have to discuss my secret love of Charlaine Harris’ novels). All the same if you were to ask me what I’ve read or seen recently I’d just black out. Um, Barnyard Dance? Goodnight Moon? I’m sure there was another book too…

I’ve blogged before about losing my mind and I had tried naively to attribute that to a social media addiction but taking Facebook off my phone really hasn’t helped. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I’m not on my phone all the time (honestly I don’t know what everyone’s doing on their phones- I run out of things to look at pretty quickly). I’m just tired. Haines even sleeps through the night most of the time but I’m still ready for bed at 9. I thought everything would turn around once he started sleeping decent hours, but it’s almost like I’m making up for the sleep I lost.

So if I run into you somewhere and stare at you blankly don’t be offended and please don’t write me off. I’m in here somewhere trying to remember something remotely interesting to tell you.

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Um, I like tea. It’s caffeinated right? I know I like caffeine.

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Do you want to talk about this kid? This is easier for me. 

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5 Ways to Survive Without Sleep (AKA Being a New Parent)

Oh cruel, elusive sleep. I miss you so. In all my non-parenting years you had so rarely failed me. Sure, the occasional illness or stressful time kept me awake but generally we were faithful friends. I was kind to you, you were kind to me.

I didn’t understand how good I had it. A friend once called pregnancy the empathy gauntlet. You get a little taste at how difficult it can be when you don’t fit in spaces, when your body doesn’t feel like yours, when you suffer from low blood sugar, when you have dietary restrictions and so forth. And then there’s the insomnia. You’re incredibly tired but you can’t get comfortable, can’t stop feeling anxious, can’t sleep.

And then the baby is born. Now you could totally sleep if you were only given the opportunity. Nope!

Haines was sleeping 8 hours at 10 weeks (sometimes) so we thought we were golden. We thought we were rockstar parents. It turns out we were just naive. Since I returned to work he’s slept through the night only a handful of times. Sometimes I think he knows that I’m about to break down and he gives me an extra hour. Sometimes he seems a little less aware. When I was on maternity leave, not sleeping sucked but it was manageable. Tyler always made an effort to give me a break and often got up with Haines when he inevitably woke up at 4 or 5 so I could sleep an extra couple of hours. Now that we both work those days are few and far between.

I realize that babies often don’t sleep through the night. I knew that going into this whole “having a baby” thing but I just didn’t get it. Like childbirth, breastfeeding or pregnancy in general I knew what it meant in theory but not in practice. With Haines’ arrival all of the sudden I realized that new parents (or not so new parents) all over the world were in this situation. They were raising children, going to work, taking care of their home and not sleeping through the night. It blew my mind. That might sound crazy to you but it’s a whole new world when you’re suffering through a day of work after a night in new baby hell and you realize this is just the norm.

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Mornings are hard.

Truly it was a revelation. And then the people on the news are saying all these crazy things like don’t drive if you’re tired. Like they said if you miss an hour you could be in danger. Miss an hour?? What if you have a baby? Then you’re always tired.  You always miss an hour! How am I supposed to go to work? (Side note: obviously there’s a difference between being baby tired and being truly sleepy while driving which is really unsafe.)

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Now we’re in the beginning stages of testing “cry it out”. Everyone told me you’ll know when you’re ready to sleep train. The moment I felt less responsive to Haines’ crying at night, I knew I was ready. I was tired enough to listen to him tough it out. We’re on day 2 and we’ve seen some minor improvement. In the meantime I’m trying these survival techniques:

  1. Consume absurd amounts of caffeine: I now prefer to drink black tea several times ado. I’m also being a little more forgiving with my soda consumption. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
  2. Limit my alcohol intake: I don’t drink as regularly or as much as I did pre-baby life due to breastfeeding and the lack of sleep but I’m trying to take it down a notch again. It makes me too sleepy and takes away from the quality sleep I am able to get from time to time. It’s not my first choice but I surely it’s only temporary. (PLEASE!)
  3. Make time for exercise: This is significantly easier said than done. I normally work out on my lunch break but lately my lunch break has been spent working. This negatively affects how much energy I have in the afternoon but also my attitude. Being able to be somewhat positive is directly tied into exercise for me.
  4. Lowering the expectations: Sometimes I go to bed at eight. Sometimes I don’t do any dishes. Sometimes I barely remember to brush my hair before work. We all do what we can.
  5. Ask for help: Tap your spouse for a shift. Call a relative. Get a babysitter. At some point it’s about survival. Take a nap. I got to take a couple naps in Florida and my mom and sister took Haines for each night in Oklahoma. It was magical. I was like a whole new person for a couple days.

I’m sure you all have golden children who starting sleeping through the night at 2 weeks and have never stopped but I’ll be over here lying on the floor trying to convince my baby to take a nap. You’re supposed to model appropriate behaviors right? I’m all over it.

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This is a rare sighting of a baby napping in the wild. Capture the moment- it may never happen again!