Tag Archives: mothering

On getting your time back

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This morning I was trying to remember how old my son was when I first left him alone for a few minutes to take a shower. My daughter is almost 11 months old, and I’ve just started to feel comfortable leaving her for a few minutes in a thoroughly baby-proofed space, away from my son, to bring the laundry upstairs or run the recycling out. I feel like I probably started to leave my son alone for a few minutes at around the same age. He wasn’t walking at that point, and he always self-entertained very well. My daughter is not quite old enough for me to take a shower while she’s awake and unsupervised yet, but it’s exciting to be 11 months along and to start to see a day when every single little decision of my life doesn’t have to be built around my youngest baby’s schedule the way it is now.

I truly believe that the radical schedule change that happens when you become a parent is the hardest part of childcare for most people to adjust to. Most people are able to care for a newborn just fine if they’re given the means and support, but having to eat, sleep, shower and everything else on a schedule completely dictated by a new little person can be a real challenge for a lot of us. I know a lot of parents, stay-at-home especially, lose themselves in childcare, especially in the first year, which is not good for their health or their families in the long-term. But I’ve also met parents who don’t seem to recognize how often newborns need to nurse and nap, and who are blithely running their tiny babies ragged with their bizarre, unfair expectation that the baby can adapt to an adult schedule. It can be hard to find the balance between getting your baby the sleep and meals she needs, and getting your sleep and meals too!

All this is just to say that if this is something you’ve been struggling with, you’re definitely not alone in it, and it does get better. Carve out some time for yourself occasionally by whatever means, but realize that soon your tiny baby will be walking and talking and making decent decisions on their own, which will mean that you can take a shower and your house will still be standing when you’re done.

Some days are rough.

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I have been working myself pretty hard the past few weeks, and this week, it finally caught up with me. I am tired, sore, low-energy, constantly on the verge of grumpy. My 7 month-old sleeps well for her age, but the night feedings are starting to wear on me, and her naps have been a challenge this week. And I hurt my back from constantly picking up my anxiety-riddled toddler to soothe his fits. And I forgot, once again, how terrible periods can be, since I haven’t had one in a while. Sometimes they are pretty terrible.

I have been trying to compensate for my lack of energy. We have been eating leftovers for days. I’ve been spending every second I can snatch napping on the couch. I tried to take a bath yesterday to relax and help my back, but my daughter decided that her traditional hours-long afternoon nap should instead be only twenty minutes, so that bath was aborted. I have since decided that having to get out in the middle of a relaxing bath makes me feel approximately five times worse than not having a bath at all, which is good information to have for the future, I guess.

I hesitated to write this post, but I feel like one of my goals with this blog is to point out all the places that motherhood/parenthood/family life is not like in the magazines, and this is one of them. Sometimes you are tired and grumpy and in pain, and you could really use a sick day, but the baby does not care. The baby cannot care, because the baby needs to eat and be clean and sleep, just like you, and she can’t do any of those things on her own. It can be tough. I am lucky to have a good support network, but I’ve also worked really hard to create a support network, because I know that I’m prone to depression and anxiety, and having babies is hard. I cannot be a good parent in a vacuum. I need help.

Today I am proud of myself for getting my toddler to his daycare on time, for loading the dishwasher even though I really didn’t want to, and for smiling at my daughter even though she does not want to sleep. Those are good things to be proud of, I think.

Prenatal intensive mothering can be a problem.

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Over at Sociological Images, Sangyoub Park has a very interesting and slightly scary post on tae-gyo, a form of prenatal intensive mothering practice in South Korea, which has mothers believing that their childrens’ entire lives hinge on what they do, learn, and even see during their pregnancy. Because mothers don’t have enough people judging their every move already.

Koreans believe that a mother’s state of mind and ongoing education during pregnancy determines a baby’s prospects. Their educational and occupational future, even their personality, is dependent on what their mothers do while they’re pregnant. A reporter, below, quotes a South Korean figure who claims that “nine months of prenatal education is more valuable than nine years of post-natal learning.”

This example of a Korean mothering practice is an interesting one, but of course we in the US have similarly bizarre expectations of what expectant mothers should and should not do. As a vegetarian, I was chastised routinely during my first pregnancy for not being able to eat 80-100 grams of protein a day, even thought people in the US eat more protein than almost the entire rest of the world, even when we’re not pregnant. My diet is generally healthy and my protein intake is more than enough by the standards of most of the world, but for many months I drove myself mad trying to eat more protein, because what if my baby became somehow ill because of my diet?

This is ridiculous, because a healthy person with a healthy diet who is consuming enough calories is doing all she needs to do, and babies are independent people who rely on their mothers to grow, but are not under the control of their mothers, physically or mentally. I was made to feel guilty over how my baby was growing at the expense of my own happiness and well-being. I can’t believe that stressing pregnant people out over how much they are reading, or how much peanut butter they can consume, can be healthy for a fetus either, and in fact, pregnant friends have commonly mentioned how often well-meaning acquaintances tell them to stay calm for the sake of the baby. Because pregnant people aren’t allowed to feel anything but calm and joyous and blessed, all the time.

All of this is just another way for society to police pregnant bodies. Mothers, women, need to be allowed to be handle their pregnancies in whatever ways make sense to them without being constantly reminded of all of the 1 in 100,000 ways we might do it “wrong.”

Read Tae-gyo: Prenatal intensive mothering in South Korea at Sociological Images

On birthdays, on Wednesdays

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As I kid, birthdays were just for me. It was the day when everybody was nice to me, noticed me, made the dinner I liked, sang to me before cake. It was my day – just mine.

As a mom, birthdays are just for me, too.

My son turns 29 months next week. For a long time after he was born, I marked not every month, but every week of his life. He was born on a Wednesday afternoon, and every Wednesday I would think, “He’s this many weeks today!” Every single week, I thought about how many Wednesdays I had lived without him before he was born, and how much his birth had changed my life.

My daughter turned 6 months-old just last week. She decided to be born on a Wednesday too, and since she came just 20 minutes after midnight after a very short labor, I rather believe it was intentional on her part. I can’t say I’ve had the mental space to dedicate quite as much time to deep thought every week now that I have two babies, but I still notice Wednesdays. They are the days that my life changes.

My children are still very little. Their birthdays are just like every other day to them, though they may notice more friends and relatives gathered around, more colorful balloons, more cake than a normal day. As they grow, their birthdays will become more important to them, a day they look forward to every year, a day to celebrate who they are as individuals. Their birthdays will be just for them.

But their birthdays will always be just for me, too. They will always be the occasion for me to celebrate the day I became a mother, a parent, a person who grew another person in my body, brought them out into this world, and guided them through their life with care and attention. Their birthdays will always be my birthdays, too.

Breastfeeding was hard because I’d been doing it wrong.

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I’ve had two babies, and I’ve had trouble breastfeeding with both of them. Before my son was born, I read all these books, and my partner and I took a breastfeeding class – I was deeply committed to making it work. I knew that some women had trouble breastfeeding, but I thought I’d prepared and had support (and I had been leaking colostrum for months, ew), and maybe the first time would be hard and then I’d just get it.

Anyway, my son was born, and I did alright nursing in the hospital, but then we came home and I couldn’t get him latched without a lot of pain. I was a hormonal, useless mess. My doula had to talk me off a cliff, and my mother-in-law ran out in the middle of the night to get formula. I was able to see a lactation consultant and rent a breast pump the next day. Eventually, we did get it  (my postpartum doula helped a lot!), and now my son is almost 28 months-old and still nursing a few times a day, with no plans to quit as far as I can figure! But it was definitely a bumpy start.

When I got pregnant again, I didn’t even consider that nursing a newborn would be difficult. I nursed my son through the pregnancy, and I was looking forward to nursing a new little baby who theoretically wouldn’t be trying to do cartwheels while latched, like toddlers do. But I was wrong. Again.

My daughter is a bigger baby than my son was, and her head and neck were so strong when she was born that, whenever we nursed, she would latch and then arch, yanking the nipple along with her. It hurt, and it caused bruising, clogged ducts and serious discomfort for me until she was old enough to control her head a little better. I tried all the recommended nursing positions, visited a lactation consultant several times, and the only way I could find to nurse her without her hurting me at least some of the time was on my side. Since you can’t just lay down in the middle of the grocery store aisle when your baby gets hungry, this limited my ability to get out of the house for a few months after she was born.

I will be honest – I hated nursing her for many weeks. I felt like a failure for considering pumping and bottle feeding, or even just formula for her when I was still nursing her brother, but every plugged duct took an entire day of constant, painful pumping and nursing to clear, and although none of them turned into mastitis (a breast infection), every single one felt like an emergency. I wasn’t sleeping and was still healing from the birth. I didn’t have the energy for an emergency.

But, with some luck and a lot of support, I persevered, and as my daughter started to get better at nursing in other positions, I started to realized that if I could nurse upright if I leaned back and put her belly-to-belly on top of me. It wasn’t perfect, but it meant I could nurse her in the car, or on a park bench while my son played. None of the lactation consultants had recommended this position to me, and I wondered if maybe there was some risk associated with it, or some reason I didn’t see other mothers using it.

And of course, as soon as our nursing problems were mostly figured out, this article turned up on my feed: Many Moms May Have Been Taught to Breastfeed Incorrectly: Surprising New Research by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA.

Take a minute and open that in a new tab and look at the photos! (If you’re at work, be aware that it’s women breastfeeding, not that anyone should shame you for that.) Look at them! They’re in a reclined position, belly-to-belly with baby, with one arm supporting baby’s head. That is exactly what I had been doing successfully with my daughter, the baby who had such trouble in traditional breastfeeding positions, and here were a bunch of other moms doing the same thing! I was floored, and wished I’d seen this article when I had my son two years ago.

The article explores the idea that the ways that women are taught to breastfeed now are just not working for the vast majority of us. Mohrbacher says that 92% of women report trouble breastfeeding in the first week of their baby’s life, and that the most common reasons women give up on breastfeeding are trouble latching, nipple pain, and worries about producing enough milk. These are exactly the issues that come up when I talk about breastfeeding with other parents, especially with moms who chose to give up breastfeeding because it was just too painful and frustrating. Throughout the article, Mohrbacher argues that most of these problems are exacerbated, if not outright caused, by our poor breastfeeding postures, and that teaching new parents this alternative posture (which she calls “natural breastfeeding”) would alleviate many of these issues.

The article is a fantastic read, and I strongly recommend it, especially to expecting parents who are planning to breastfeed. Please share it around! There is nothing wrong with formula, and it’s true that sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work, but I know far too many mothers who had their hearts set on breastfeeding and weren’t able to for exactly the reasons mentioned – pain, latching trouble, or concern with milk supply. Knowing about this nursing position could save a lot of breastfeeding relationships, and I personally think they’re worth saving.

Book Review: “How Weaning Happens” by Diane Bengson

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I read this when my son was 15 months-old and was still nursing four times a day, but not overnight. I’d had mixed experiences with our pediatrician office, where some doctors were recommending cutting down on his nursing to encourage him to eat more solid food, and some doctors weren’t. I didn’t feel like he was nursing too much as he doesn’t drink any other kind of milk, and some of my research indicated that extended (after 1 year-old) breastfeeding had health benefits for mom and baby. But, there are a wide variety of opinions and it can be hard to find research on extended breastfeeding done recently with any real population size or diversity of study participants.

bengson-how-weaningSo, although we’re not really interested in weaning yet, I thought this book (sponsored by The La Leche League) would be a good way for me to get a sense of what some moms who choose extended nursing are doing, how often their kids are nursing a day, and at what point they’re choosing to wean. The book is certainly biased toward extended nursing and child-led weaning, but so am I, so that was fine for me. Most of it is a collection of La Leche League members’ stories about their children and their experiences with extended nursing, organized into vague categories.

This is still not a scientific study on weaning or extended nursing, but it is a highly informational read representing a wide variety of opinions and experiences, considering that everyone had chosen to breastfeed for an extended period of time. It really helped me understand that there’s no real “normal” in terms of what kids or families choose to do after one year. Some kids are still nursing six times overnight, some nurse once a week, and most are in between somewhere. I just appreciate having a collection of different experiences to work from while we were trying to figure out what a good solution was for my family. And I was very reassured that my son was not nursing too much, and I am still nursing him (now 26 months) until he decides to wean on his own.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

Link: “Mom Body” by Rebecca Roher

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So many of us don’t think very much about how pregnancy and birth work until we’re going through it ourselves. And pregnancy is so weird! You can describe it as a beautiful, miraculous process all you want, and it is, but it’s also a process full of discomfort. From the physical pain of your internal organs getting shoved around to the psychological discomfort of suddenly living in a body that looks different every day, pregnancy is bizarre and challenging work.

Huffington post has done a profile on a comic by cartoonist Rebecca Roher, created when one of her close friends was pregnant and birthed her first child. The cartoon highlights a lot of the strangeness of being pregnant, most of which you don’t usually encounter in popular culture. This is stuff I wish more people knew about. If you’re curious about what pregnant people are going through or the real experience of being pregnant, birthing, and suddenly being a parent (at least for some of us), I highly recommend you read it!
The entire cartoon is at GUTS here: Mom Body by Rebecca Roher

And the article on Huffington Post that I saw is here: ‘Mom Body’ Comic Nails The Emotional Exhaustion (And Eventual Joy) Of Pregnancy by Caroline Bologna