Don’t Turn on Me

I’m standing in the lobby of a chic little hotel in Rome. My new husband and I have arrived for the first day of our honeymoon. It’s beautiful, exciting, and perfect…except for the exhaustion of just getting off a red eye and the obnoxious Italian woman chirping in our ears. We’ve arrived at our hotel at check-in time, but our room isn’t ready yet (at least that’s what we think she is saying through our drowsy fog). She wants to know if we want to wait here in the lobby, go explore the city and come back later, or go over to their “sister hotel” for a room.  Honestly, all we want is a hot shower and sleep. But she won’t leave us alone so we can make a decision. She just keeps talking at us!  I feel the rage-fueled irritation rising from my stomach, to my chest, all the way up to my hairline, and I imagine my face must be beet red. When she finally gets the hint and steps away, I immediately start arguing with my husband. My frustration about the situation boils over directly onto him. He looks me in the eye and with the world’s most serious face says in an emphatic whisper “Don’t turn on me!” With that, the tension deflates as I burst into a hysterical giggle fit. I breathe and calm down. We figure out what to do and inform the world’s worst concierge of our plans. We move on. Together.

Those words “Don’t turn on me” and that story have become a cornerstone of my marriage. My husband and I look back on it as a funny anecdote, but it’s also much more than that. Because it truly is so important as a couple, and perhaps even more crucial as parents, NOT to turn on one another. We are a team. No matter what. United we stand, and divided we most definitely fall. How do I make it through an epic tantrum or a sleepless night in one piece? The support and encouragement of my teammate, that’s how.

Our relationship has certainly changed through 4 1/2 years of marriage and 9 years together. We recently laughed as we spent Valentine’s night sharing a romantic meal of sloppy joes with our son, while reminiscing about past V-day dates at 5-star restaurants. But while some things have been lost (like frivolous, fancy dinners), others have been gained. Like the simple pleasure of eating popcorn and watching our favorite Disney movies with our son. Or even more so, the deep sense of contentment that comes from waking up each day surrounded by the family that we have chosen to build together.

This is not without it’s pratfalls. The stress that comes with the responsibility of maintaining our relationship, our child, our jobs, and our home sometimes seems like too much to bear. Sometimes, we retreat into our own fears, anxieties, and frustrations, turning away instead of toward one another. We may start to drift away, but when we choose to come back together and share the burden, it all becomes so much more manageable.

Because WE are the foundation of this family. Right now, let’s face it, our son is the star of the show. He’s the main focus so much of the time. Yet he is only here because WE existed first. Because we took each other’s hand and said yes. And not turning on one another means we keep saying yes.  Even when that’s difficult to do.

Sometimes, I am guilty of harboring a rage against my husband that can only be described as the fire of a thousand suns. This developed after our son was born, and at first I chalked it up to sleep deprivation. But I’ve discovered that it’s much more than that. I feel safe with him. I don’t have to be nice all the time, and I know he will still be there. But what I need to be careful about is not taking EVERYTHING out on my poor husband, because it is so so tempting to do that! After all, I can’t take it out on my little boy (he never asked to be here) or my coworkers (I would be fired) or even my friends (they won’t talk to me anymore). But my husband will be here. He won’t turn on me. He’ll stick it through and talk it out. Even if I’m really just upset because the coffee carafe broke and I really needed coffee (Side note: This happened once when my son was a newborn and I cried over the shards of a broken coffee carafe. Another staple anecdote in the history of our family.)

I’m still pretty new to this marriage stuff, and I certainly don’t claim to have all (or any) of the answers. But I look at my parents who just celebrated 33 years of marriage, and my husband’s parents who will soon be celebrating a golden anniversary, and what do they have in common? They’ve never turned on each other. They’ve made the choice to stick it out and keep saying yes. Whether through something as insignificant as an annoying travel snag, or through actual hard times.

Through good times and bad. Through these crazy early years of parenting. Don’t turn on me! Let’s do our best to keep saying yes.

I love you all.

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The United States of Anxiety

There is so much to be anxious about in this world.  We are a troubled nation at present. At least half of us are.  We’re worried about losing our safety, our morals, our basic human rights.  These are logical things to worry about if you are a thinking, feeling, adult human living in these times.  But if you are a parent, and you are like me, your worries manifest on a somewhat smaller scale.  You cannot even begin to untangle the gnarled mess of our world.  So instead, the anxiety finds other, more manageable places to live.

I think I have heard almost every parent say “I wish I could wave a magic wand and make my child’s (insert problem here) go away.”  For me, recently, that blank would have been filled in with “pneumonia.”  And it wasn’t just my child, but my whole household that was hacking, wheezing, and shivering.  Unfortunately, I am no wizard.  Just as my family had to suffer physically through this bug, I had to suffer mentally through it, knowing I would gladly take on my son’s pain if I could.  When he is sick, I do what I can to make him more comfortable (alternating Tylenol and Motrin, propping up his pillows, encouraging fluids, giving extra cuddles, and letting him watch way too much of a certain tank engine).  I also do what I can to make myself more comfortable.  To bring down the anxiety and plant my feet firmly on the ground, grounded in the reality that he will soon get better.

I have not always been great at grounding myself.  That’s actually an understatement, I have actually historically been terrible at it.  There have been many instances, especially since becoming a mother, when my anxious thoughts have flown far and free, threatening to carry me away (see this post). But I’ve gotten better at identifying and debunking the lies my anxious brain tells me.  Such as the following:

1. My kid is sick more than other kids.

Nope.  Everyone I know who has kids deals with just as much sickness during cold and flu season (and let’s be honest, the rest of the year too).  I get through this one by reminding myself that before I had a child, I had no idea how often kids get sick because I simply did not pay attention (and why would I?).  So I started out parenting with no barometer for what is normal/abnormal in this area and I’m still feeling that out.

Also, if you are a first-time parent, you may notice that some people who had children 15+ years ago will comment on how often your child is sick as if it is abnormal and this may worry you.  Don’t let it!  These parents just don’t remember how often their kids got sick as little ones.  Why, you ask?  Because it would SUCK to remember that!  Of all the memories of childhood, why would you hold on to that?  In fact, I’ve programmed this blog post to self destruct so hopefully I don’t remember this time either!

2. My kid gets sick because I didn’t breastfeed him long enough.

I carry around a lot of guilt related to my breastfeeding experience (that’s fodder for another post), and this often comes up when my son is sick because as we all know one of the main benefits touted regarding breast milk is that it aids in building immunities.  But no matter what super boob your kiddo gets the chance to feed from (or not), he or she is going to experience basic childhood illnesses at some point.  That’s another way we all build immunities.  And on a good day, my brain will listen to reason, and I can take a deep breath in, exhale the guilt, and move on.  At least for the moment.

3. My kid gets sick because he’s in daycare.

My anxious brain adds: “He’s in daycare because you work full time.  And you work full time because you choose work over your child.  And you choose work over your child because you are a bad mom…and pretty much a bad person.”  Wow brain, thanks.  That is super helpful.  NOT!  The reasons that I work are both practical (money) and personal (fulfillment) and I truly know that working does not make me a bad mom.  In my case, I actually think it makes me a better mom because it helps me find some balance (again, on a good day) between being a mom and being a person out there in the world.

Does my kid get sick more because he’s in daycare?  Actually, that’s probably a logical yes. But like I said before, he has to get these childhood illnesses sometime, and now’s as good a time as any.  And what am I going to do, keep him in a bubble?  As much as I’d like to, it’s much more realistic for me to work through my own anxieties (as harrowing as that can be) to allow my son to go forth and be in the world, knowing his mom can handle whatever may come.

4. My kid will be sick forever.

One of the biggest lessons I have had to learn as a parent is that EVERYTHING is temporary.  Every stage, every issue (good or bad) is over as soon as you get used to it.  This has been tough for me to learn because my go-to reaction when something is bad is to immediately worry and obsess that this will last forever.  IT WON’T!  And with illness, I realize that I am so very lucky that it won’t.  My son is basically a very healthy child, and that is such a blessing.  I will do my best to live each day mindful of that blessing

Stay well my friends.  And don’t let the troubles of this world, big or small, overwhelm you.  Deep breaths, and hope.  Always hope.

I love you all.

New Year’s Evolutions

The ball has dropped (not that I was awake to see it)!  It’s time to put away the Christmas tree (that I feel like I just got out)!  Now, I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I think because I’ve learned by now that I’m never going to keep them up throughout the year.  But this year, I’ve decided that my most important overall goal is a simple one: to lower my expections.  That might sound really awful and cynical, as if I’m giving up, but if you know me you probably know that my expectations (for others, but most especially for myself) tend to be unrealistically high.  So really, I would be doing everyone a service by bringing them back down to earth.

For example, not so long ago, the perfect New Year’s would have meant going out to a fancy dinner, followed by drinking and dancing until the wee hours.  This year, I enjoyed Chinese take-out with some good friends and was in bed before 11pm.  And it was fantastic.  I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the night any other way (except maybe binge watching My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).  So, in the spirit of lowering the bar (and being happier for it), here are a few resolutions for 2017:

1. I resolve that my body is my body, and I will donate or throw out any clothing that makes me feel badly about myself and resolve to wear what makes me feel comfortable and attractive.

2. I resolve to refrain from eating my child’s discarded crumbs and crusts after every meal (which might coincidentally help with resolution #1).

3. I resolve to accept that my to-do list will never be “done” and will always be growing (and that this does not mean failure on my part).

4. I resolve to find the balance between drinking just enough coffee to function as a human and not so much that I develop the ability to see through walls.

5. I resolve to remind myself that leaving dirty dishes in the sink or crumbs on the floor does NOT make me a bad person (I would never think this of others, so why should I think it of myself?)

6. I resolve to make up funny, alternative, adult-themed lyrics to the Daniel Tiger songs that constantly get stuck in my head in order to prevent myself from going crazy.

7. I resolve to spend less time fixated on my son’s bowel movements and to pay more attention to when the last time I had a bowel movement was (Hmmmmm….?)

8. I resolve that there are no #momfails only #momgrowthopportunities and invite other parents to join me!  The word “fail” is way too bleak (and simply not true- we are not failing at this parenthood thing).

9.  I resolve to accept that 95% of what I see on Pinterest has never been accomplished by a real person in actual life.  (Note:If you have effectively completed a super-complex Pinterest craft, recipe, or DIY project, please refrain from telling me).

10. I resolve to be NICER to myself!  Whether that means by thinking nicer thoughts when I look in the mirror (see resolution #1), letting myself off the hook once in awhile (see resolutions #3 and 5), or doing something just for myself, I resolve that I will more closely follow the Golden Rule.  Because if I treated others the way I treat myself, jeesh, everyone would HATE me!  And I want to be a happier person and set a better example for my child.

So come on 2017, do your worst (not really though, please be nice).  The time has come for some serious bar lowering.  Join me!

I love you all.

All I Want for Christmas (is to Keep my Sanity…)

It’s the holidays!  I feel like something of a cliche going on about how difficult the holidays can be.  But everyone talks about it for a REASON!  Because it is (or can be) very difficult.  And because becoming a parent can make the holidays that much more wonderful and that much more daunting at the same time.

I have to admit, I have been struggling lately.  On top of the usual everyday work stressors and taking care of my home and family, I also feel this PRESSURE to be…well basically Santa Clause.  I’m not talking about the materialistic side of things, since my son is still at the age where he is just as happy playing with a box as the toy that came inside it.  I’m talking about the MAGIC of it all.  As a parent, I feel pressured to give my child a holiday season filled with joy and whimsy, and make memories that will carry into his adulthood.  Motivated by these unrealistic expectations (for a 2.5 year old and 2 full-time working parents), I feel driven to fill each moment of our evenings and weekends with Christmas carols and holiday fairs, trips to see lighting displays and Santa sightings.

But the fact is, I am NOT Santa!  And by “trying to pack in all the Christmas,” (as my husband has pointed out), by trying to force the magic, I’m getting myself further and further away from my goal of making happy memories.  Because I will never remember all of these rushed activities if I am completely in my own head and not actually present for any of it.  And my worst fear of all would be my son remembering his mother as an anxious mess during the holidays.  So this is where I take a pause, regroup, and try to simplify things.  Because in the simple moments, that is where the magic truly lives.  But simple moments are difficult to find.  Here’s how I’m going to try to look for them:

1. Follow my child’s lead

Little kids are the BEST at staying in the moment.  That’s all they do!  They live life from one moment to the next.  And at times, when I’m able to hitch my wagon to my son and move along with him through the world, it feels absolute amazing and magical.

For a child, a holiday is exciting, but it’s also just like any other day.  They want to have their snack at the same time, they want to take a break to watch Daniel Tiger, they want some sense of normalcy and routine.  If not, it’s too de-stabilizing for them.  And if we, as adults, are honest with ourselves, don’t we want the same things?  If we follow our small child’s lead, perhaps our holidays could be a little calmer, and a little more quietly special.

Case in point, last night, we walked down to our town square for a tree-lighting event.  We stayed long enough to get a free cookie, watch Santa ride down the street in a fire truck, and see the sparkling lights of the giant tree.  Our son then announced “I’m ready to go home.”  We bundled him into his stroller, walked home and cooked a quiet dinner for the 3 of us.  We could have said “No, let’s get in line to see Santa!”  We could have pushed our way into one of the crowded downtown restaurants.  But instead, we listened to our kid.  We all had a little holiday fun, and then we called it quits.

2. Rest

Would you ever let your kid go to a holiday party or dinner without doing your darnedest to have him nap first?  NO WAY!  And guess what?  Most of the time, Mommy could really use a nap as well!  It will go a long way toward Mommy actually enjoying said event.

In our house, an almost fool-proof way to get our son to nap on the weekends is by snuggling up with him in our bed.  And I have decided to STOP feeling bad about this (i.e. Worrying about all the tasks I should be getting done instead, or worrying  about instilling bad napping habits in my child) and just go with it because we both enjoy it so much!  I either get some much needed rest, or I lie awake and revel in his tiny, warm body curled up against mine (a moment of stillness that can never happen when my toddler is awake).  Or I gaze adoringly at his flushed cheeks, noticing that I can still make out the baby face inside his big boy face.  This is worth more to me than all the laundry that needs folding and all the presents that need wrapping and all the work emails that need answering.  I won’t give up these moments for the world.

3. Banish the Green-Eyed Mom-ster

In this season of catching up with friends far and near (through photo greeting cards, Facebook updates, in-person gatherings, or what have you), I am embarrassed to admit that my tendency to compare and become jealous often rears its ugly head.  I’m not talking about worries that this one’s child is meeting milestones faster than mine, or that one has a bigger house than my family (although I’m certainly guilty of that as well).  My main source of jealousy these days has to do with adding more children to one’s family.  This is a complete exaggeration, but it seems like everyone I know is pregnant with a second, third, or subsequent baby.  And I’m not.

I feel completely horrible and ungrateful even typing this.  I have a healthy, curious, sweet, wonderful child.  But I really want another one.  My family is not REALLY ready for another baby though.  Who knows what will happen down the road.  But as I have been seemingly inundated lately with pregnancy and birth announcements, I feel a twinge of jealousy that I am actively working to set aside.  Instead, I want to focus on my gratitude for the amazing family I do have.  One day, hopefully, there will be another place setting at the holiday table.

4. Let Others Help

As I acknowledged before, I am definitely not Santa Clause.  Not only am I not the big man in red, but I don’t have to be the only holiday magic-maker in my son’s life.  He has relatives and friends and teachers who all want to help make this season special for him.  Despite what my anxious mind tells me, it’s NOT all on me!  Instead of trying to force magic to happen, I can sit back and let all of these magical people surround my son with love and fun (and way, way too much sugar).

Happy Holidays!  I love you all!

Mommy Training

“Who is training who?,” I can’t help but think as my son runs around pants-free all weekend, demanding the same Llama Llama and Berenstain Bear books on repeat as he sits on the potty.  Requiring one M&M for pee and two for poop.  While I know we are buckling down to get through these days of accidents (and sooooo much laundry) to teach him a skill that he will need for the rest of his life, I also recognize that he is teaching me a thing or two (beyond just number two).

1. Eyes on the prize.

Our weekends lately have been a mad rush of chores, errands, social engagements, and outings.  We are constantly on the go.  But not this weekend.  This weekend has been all potty training, all the time.  And that has actually been okay with me.  It’s been nice to work together as a family on a singular goal, when our focus is so often split in a million directions.  And in this case, since the prize involves no longer buying or changing diapers, I am all in!

2. Stay in the moment.

Potty training involves A LOT of waiting.  Waiting and watching for the signs that he needs to go.  Sitting on the potty and waiting for something to happen.  And I have actually really enjoyed a lot of these moments.  Don’t get me wrong, I have had to fight my impatience and anxiety, worrying that the second he gets up off the potty (having not gone) he is bound to have an accident.  But I have been able to remind myself that this is part of the learning process, for both of us.  Learning that it is okay to make mistakes, and learning what to do differently next time.  I’ve been able to model patience for my child, and I feel really good about that.  I mean I’m not going to lie, this wasn’t the most fun weekend of my life, but I wouldn’t have been anywhere else.  I was here, present for my child.  And that feels amazing.

3. Focus on the positive.

Potty training is all about celebrating small victories.  He peed near the potty (around it and I think a few drops made it in)!  Yay!!!  A few days of this has helped snap me out of some real Negative Nancy thinking, and I am grateful for that.  When I see my son’s beaming face and hear him say “I’m so proud of myself!,” how could this not be worth cleaning up a few (or more than a few) messes?

4. There is no “right” way to do this.

I, like many mommies, was totally freaked out by potty training.  However, I fought urge to Google and YouTube every possible method and approach.  This might work for some of you, but for me it is toxic.  It plants ideas in my mind about the “right” and prescribed way to do something, which I then become obsessed about following to the letter.  Instead, I got some basic supplies (potty chairs, pull-ups, underwear, M&M’s) and decided to approach this with common sense and a spirit of experimentation.  Results are pending, but I have to say I am truly proud of myself for coming at this from a laid back (for me) perspective.

I think the root of all potty training fears (for me and for most moms out there) is that we will somehow irrevocably scar our children through doing potty training “wrong.”  As a mental health professional who works with individuals with severe emotional challenges, most of whom have been through serious trauma, I can tell you that not one of them has mentioned potty training as part of the issue.  We need to take the crazy pressure off ourselves mamas!  Granted, this is an important opportunity to begin teaching our kids about having a healthy relationship with their bodies, having control over their body parts (when they go, who sees their body parts, who touches them) and curiosity about their own and others’ bodies.  Throughout this mostly-naked weekend, my son has started to ask these kinds of questions, but we are approaching this as an opportunity rather than as a big SCARY.  At least for now.

5. There is so much I can’t control.

I am constantly in need of reminding that my son is a PERSON with his own preferences and opinions.  He has been this way since day one (stubborn and immovable), which came as quite a shock to his control-freak mother.  Throughout the past few days, I’ve found myself urging (okay, nagging) my child to go sit on the potty.  Unsurprisingly, he says “No” and fights me on this.  But if I just back off, I notice he will run to the potty and try (or sometimes go successfully) on his own.  His bathroom times can’t be scheduled or enforced any more than mine can.  He is his own person, and he loves these little steps toward greater independence.  He lights up with joy and pride in himself, and there is nothing more beautiful for a mom to witness (even when it involves poop).

Stay strong mamas!  I love you all.

That’s What Friends Are For

Let’s face it, parenthood can be lonely.  You’re never alone (even to use the toilet), and yet there’s a sense of loneliness.  If you’re like my husband and I, maybe you do a lot of dividing and conquering, for example “You watch him while I clean the house, then I’ll watch him while you do the shopping,” and so on until you realize you’ve gone the whole day with maybe 5 minutes of interaction with someone who is not asking you for milk or quoting Paw Patrol.

On top of that, as a full-time working mom, living far away from my family of origin, and with most of my close high school, college, and early adulthood friends scattered to the four corners of the earth, I simply lack the time and resources for an active and satisfying social life.  And as I say that, I realize that what I really want is completely unobtainable (at least to me), because what I really want is the TV version.  I want the neighbor friend who drops in at any hour for a glass of wine and a chat.  I want the tight-knit group, inexplicably hanging out at a coffee shop in the middle of the day a la Friends (Where was Emma you guys?  Where?!?). Now as I said, I acknowledge that this is not a realistic expectation of friendship (although if anyone out there is achieving this, please let me in on the secret!). But I do have some thoughts, some to-do’s, and some definite do-not-do’s that I’m hoping can kick my social calendar up a notch.  Here goes nothing.

For my friends with kids:

I don’t have many friends who have children yet, and the ones I do are unfortunately not close by.  But I hope those friends of mine who have commiserated via phone or email or Facebook on the difficulties of parenting know how much I appreciate and need them.  I hope I can continue to share in their joys and triumphs, their setbacks and sorrows, as they have played an important role in mine.  I promise to visit when I can, to call or text more frequently, and to make more time for you, my friends.  Each one of you has been a part of shaping the person and the mother I have become, and this distinction deserves more of my attention.

I promise to resist the temptation to compare our children.  “This one is more talkative” or “That one is growing taller than this one” is not helpful to any of us.  It can brew up a storm of worries, anxieties, or even resentments, and those are not the ingredients for friendship.  Instead, I will do my best to love and accept your child as unconditionally as I do my own.  I will appreciate the differences between our children, and the differences in the way we choose to parent, and refrain from judging them.  I will learn from you, as I always have my friends,  and I hope this will be mutual.

And lastly, to the moms and dads I see around the neighborhood, at the park or at the library, I promise to offer the possibility of friendship.  I recognize that just because we are parents, that does not mean we are well-suited to be friends, but how will we know until we try?  Until we take a moment to talk, to listen, to acknowledge one another, we will never know how much we can relate to one another.  Even if we have more differences than similarities, I promise you that I am not a soldier in these bullshit “mommy wars.”  I am not here to judge or be judged.  I will continue to put myself out there to make new friends, because how can I complain about being lonely unless I am willing to do something about it?

For my kid-free friends:

I want you to know how much it means to me when I see  you take an interest in my child, when you get down on the floor and play with him, when you ask me how he is doing and truly care about the answer.  It means the world.  I also want you to know that I truly care about what is going on in your life, and I don’t for a second think it is less important than mine.  I promise to put in more of an effort to be there for you, especially when times are tough and you really need a friend.  I will do my best to be that friend, and please know that being a mother does not mean that I cannot take on some of your burden.  I can and I will, as you have done for me so many times throughout the years.

I promise to try to talk about something other than my child when we are together.  It means so much to me that you love my son, but at the same time, being with you reminds me that I am more than a mother.  And I will make time to be that version of myself with you my friends.

For my online friends:

I have repeatedly expressed my gratitude for the private, online support group that has sustained me through many dark  nights of the soul on this motherhood journey.  In fact, I already wrote an entire blog post about you my friends (see here).  However, I have to take a moment to state that I really do consider you friends.  Even though I have only met a few of you face-to-face, so many of you have shared your deepest secrets and most special moments with me and I with you, so how could be not be friends, or sisters even?  I am grateful for each one of you and I promise to continue to do my best to serve others as I have been so well served by this group.

For my friend and partner:

My dear husband.  You are truly my closest confidant.  I am sorry that I do not always take the time to treat you like a friend (sometimes more like a business partner–albeit a really a bad ass business partner), and I promise to do better.  We are both so busy and often become two ships passing in the night, yet please know that the desire to spend time with you, simply to watch a television show alone together, or to talk about something funny that happened at work, is always there.  I promise to do more to nurture our friendship.

For my son:

I want you to see your mother enjoying life.  I want you to appreciate that I have interests and outlets beyond being your mom.  I hope that as you grow, you are able to appreciate your parents’ circle of friends, both far and near, who will hopefully continue to play a part in making you who you are.  Maybe (probably) we will never have those TV friends and neighbors, but maybe (probably) we can have something real.

I love you all.

None of the Credit, All of the Blame

I started to write this post in the pitch-black, early morning when my son wouldn’t sleep.  I feel the need to explain that he has been sleeping better the past few nights because I suffer from magical thinking and the belief that if I focus only on the nights he was not sleeping well I will somehow send us back to that awful place.  All of this speaks to the lesson of this post (that’s right, I’m giving you the lesson right at the beginning, so you can feel free to quit reading after the first paragraph) which is that control and parenthood do not peacefully co-exist.  Being a parent means NOT being in control the vast majority of the time.  And for those of us who are control freaks (I really hate that term, but I guess it applies), this is not an easy pill to swallow.  Here is what I wrote in the wee hours:

My child won’t sleep.  It’s the age old complaint and here I am, complaining again with a two-year-old.  No, we didn’t just transition to a toddler bed or take pacifiers away.  We use room-darkening curtains, white noise, the whole nine.  This kid just won’t sleep.  For now.

I know how it feels to feel crazy for lack of sleep.  In my son’s first days home from the hospital, he fooled us all by sleeping 5-6 hour stretches in the night.  “We have a sleeper!”  We joyfully and hopefully exclaimed.  But a few weeks in, all of that changed when he started waking every 1-2 hours ravenous with hunger, and continued this behavior until he was 8-9 months old and we finally used cry-it-out (CIO) techniques to put ourselves out of our misery (more on that later).  During this period, I first experienced that new-mom rush of adrenaline that comes when you wake in the night to your baby’s cry.  That jolt that has you wide awake, tending to your baby’s need, and struggling to fall back to sleep until seemingly you are jolted awake again within minutes (sometimes literally).  For me, it has been a struggle to combat this adrenaline rush, which can be triggered even by tiny non-baby related sound (the dog whining in her sleep, a strange bird outside).  I have had to find strategies to help me fall back asleep, and most of all to avoid the negative, self-fulfilling thought loop of “I will never fall asleep again.”  I have had to use deep breathing and relaxation exercises and hot showers and even medication for help with sleep, and I also know what it’s like to have a night where none of these methods work and you are wide awake and feeling absolutely insane at 3 am.  If you are there right now mamas, I feel you, truly I do.

I also know how it feels to try every possible trick and tactic the Internet has to offer to “gently” get the baby to sleep with “no crying.”  Maybe these have worked for someone out there, by my son is not that someone.  And when none of these suggestions worked, I assumed it was because I was doing something wrong.  I always blamed myself.  It was my fault that my child wasn’t sleeping.

When we finally decided we would try CIO (otherwise known as Progressive Waiting or the Ferber method), it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Listening to my child cry for 45-plus minutes was physically painful in a deep and biological way.  But we stuck with it.  And it worked.  He slept.  And he has slept consistently from around 8pm to 7am each day since, except for times when illness, vacation, or other strange circumstances disrupted his sleep.  And it has gotten easier to let him cry it out every now and then.  But for the past few weeks, something has been off.  Maybe he’s getting molars.  Maybe it’s the change in seasons.  Maybe he’s having a growth spurt.  Maybe it’s night terrors.  Maybe maybe maybe.

So here I am, awake, listening to my toddler cry and scrambling for a solution.  When I’m stuck in the muck and mire of these motherhood trenches, I like to zoom out the lens and take a look at the bigger questions.  Can I be okay with not knowing why this is happening?  Can I accept that I cannot control or fix this?  Can I recognize that my responses are not necessarily “right” or “wrong,” they just are what they are and I am doing the best I can?  Can I learn to let go of my tendency to take none of the credit, yet all of the blame?  I think I can, but I have to admit my thoughts are pretty cloudy right now.  Because my child won’t sleep.

Those were my thoughts from the dark of the night.  Here in the light, I have to wonder about what I can control as a parent.  I believe I can control my intentions and that my intentions are good.  I approach parenting from a place of deep and endless love for my son.  I want him to be a happy, grateful, kind, and considerate person.  I want him to be curious and have a passion for life and learning.  I hope that more of my actions will brighten rather than dim his inner light.  This is what I can control, and I believe that matters.

I love you all.

Unplugged or Unglued

I’m a very lucky lady.  I recently went on a week-long vacation in Maine with my family.  We stayed in a lovely house on an ocean sound with friendly seals swimming nearby, surrounded by trees and stillness.  It was glorious.  And I decided to take the opportunity to unplug.

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For my current job, I answer approximately 10,337 emails per day.  I am on call during the evenings and on the weekends.  But during this vacation, I turned off my work phone and left it at home.  I turned off notifications for email and social media on my personal phone.  Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t give up the Internet and technology entirely.  What do I look like, some kind of fool?  I used GPS apps.  I googled nearby restaurants and attractions for the vacation.  I used my phone to take photos.  But other than that, I made the decision that I would put down my phone and engage more with my family and with the world.  Here are a few things I learned:

1. My son is growing up way too fast.

Having this time with my son was absolutely precious and priceless to me.  I did my best to soak up every smile, every laugh, even every frown and tough tantrum.  I love that his favorite part of the trip was being naked in the hot tub 95% of the time.  I love that he went on his first hike ever and repeatedly said “I don’t need a hand” when people tried to hold his hand to help him.  I loved taking a nap with him in the afternoons, his sweaty little body curled around mine.

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When you have a baby, people immediately start to tell you “Enjoy every moment.  It will go by so quickly.”  And in some ways, this is true from the very beginning.  All of a sudden, the little lump is able to hold his head up, to smile, to babble.  But in many ways, it feels like the time can’t move fast enough.  Like you want desperately to fast forward to the part where sleep and sanity begin to re-enter the picture (i.e. After the first year, if you’re lucky.)

I have suddenly gone from that phase to a phase where I would love to freeze the frame and keep my sweet 2-year-old forever.  Every day, I see more of my baby disappearing and a real boy taking his place.  He’s already calling me “Mom” sometimes instead of “Mommy” or “Mama” (I blame Daniel Tiger and Mom Tiger for that new development.  Thanks a lot PBS.)

2.  A phone is a nice crutch.

When I’m feeling bored, or anxious, or irritated, or any number of uncomfortable feelings, my go-to move is to scroll through social media as a distraction.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Throughout my vacation week, I found myself reaching for my phone many times, about to open social media.  At the last moment, I was able to remember my promise to unplug, resist temptation, and put the phone down.

I also found myself fighting an uncomfortable urge to post photos to social media.  I would snap the photo with my phone and feel a pull to immediately share it.  As though if I didn’t share the moment, it hadn’t truly happened.  I wanted that instant feeling of attention and validation.  “Look what I’m doing!  Isn’t it great?!”  But I was able to resist.  I waited until after my unplugged sabbatical to come home and obnoxiously post all my vacation photos at once.  I learned that even though it feels like I HAVE to do something RIGHT NOW, that’s not actually the case.  It can wait.  I can wait.  I can sit with an uncomfortable feeling, and just wait it out.

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3.  Disconnecting from my phone meant reconnecting with myself.

I realize that saying “reconnecting with myself” sounds like I’m talking about finding inner peace or discovering my true passion for candle making or something (which would be nice, but that’s not where I’m going with this.)  What I mean is that I actually reconnected physically with myself.  I landed in my body instead of living so much in the frenzy of my mind.  The activities of the vacation (along with the disconnection from technology) helped with this.  I spent mornings kayaking in the glassy ocean.  I climbed rocks and hiked on soft beds of pine needles.  I sat in the warm sun until I baked.

Now before you start to think of this as some sort of health spa vacation, let me make it clear that this was not that.  I ate and drank in the excessive manner befitting a vacation.  But the difference is that I didn’t allow myself to feel guilty about this.  I didn’t fixate on my appearance or worry about looking fat or bloated.  I just allowed myself to feel GOOD.

I’ve come to realize that my reaction to my postpartum body is quite different than many (perhaps even most) women.  Now that I have a small child, I feel almost relieved that I lack the time and mental energy to obsess over my physical appearance and shape as much as I did prior to pregnancy and motherhood (which, to be clear, was A LOT).  Instead, I see my body as amazing because it made and birthed an actual person.  I feel gratitude that my body is healthy and strong enough to get me through long days of the hard work it takes to keep my family going.  Instead of seeing exercise as punishment for the fact that I don’t look a certain way, I see it as a welcome respite and self-care activity.

My unplugged vacation afforded me the opportunity to appreciate my body.  And to prove it, here is a selfie of me in my bathing suit from the trip.  Here I am, no make-up, unwashed hair, cellulite and all.  I can’t believe I’m really doing this.

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4.  What happens on vacation, stays on vacation (unfortunately).

Now that I am back in the real world, being inundated with emails and texts and social media notifications and STRESS, I’m resisting the urge to beat myself up.  My vacation self could very easily go all superior on my real world self and start giving a lecture.  “What’s wrong with you?  Did you learn nothing from this vacation and this unplugged experiment?”  But I know I must resist this urge, just as I resisted the urge to escape into my phone during vacation.  Because life is not a peaceful vacation in Maine.  And even though I took away some valuable lessons from this experience, that doesn’t mean I will suddenly be able to live my life in a completely different way.  Change takes work every day, whether I’m at home or in some far-off destination.  I may not be unplugged anymore, but I’m not coming unglued either, and that’s something.  And I’ll always have Maine.

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I love you all.

 

The Runaway Balloon

A good friend  recently asked me what I hope to accomplish with this blog.  That question gave me pause.  When I started writing a few months ago, it felt like something that I just HAD to do.  The words were bursting to escape.  But since my friend asked me this all-important question, I thought I would give it a go to answer.  This is why I write:

1. I write because I feel a responsibility to put my story out there in the world.  To do my part to change the narrative about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.  I believe we are very close to reaching the critical mass of information needed to change hearts and minds (not to mention media portrayals and public policies) related to postpartum health.  I hope to see regular, mandatory screenings for postpartum physical and emotional health and more thorough follow-up care.  I want to see parental leave policies that make sense to support the health and bonding of new families.  I hope I can be a part of that change.

2.  I write because, having gone through this huge shift of becoming a parent, I need an outlet to rediscover and redefine myself in light of these tremendous changes.  Moreover, I hope to hear from readers who can relate to this journey, whether the life-changing event is becoming a parent, losing a loved one, moving to a new area, or one of a million difficult transitions we find ourselves undergoing in this crazy life.

3.  I write because I want to encourage myself (and my readers) to take a moment.  A moment to think about what we truly want out of life and to consider what we can do to make that a reality.  I think we all spend a lot of time running from one obligation to the next with little thought put into the bigger picture.  For me, the big picture is that I refuse to allow anxiety to rule my motherhood journey, and my life as a whole.  I choose to fight by doing what I can each day to live a more mindful, present, connected life.  I want to encourage others to do the same.  To make thoughtful choices, rather than simply getting lost in the daily scramble.

I have a lot to be anxious about right now.  Not that I ever need a reason to be anxious. If I don’t have a “real” one my mind will sure enough manufacture one (Did my son eat enough for dinner?  Does he have runny nose and fever coming on?  Is so-and-so at work annoyed with me?  Will I have time to finish that project?)  On and on it goes.

I picture my anxious mind as a balloon.  In my hand I hold a thin ribbon, grasping to keep ahold of the balloon.  As my anxious thoughts grow, the balloon fills with more and more helium, lifting and pulling, struggling to break away. Some days, I am capable of holding on, or even deflating the balloon.  Other days, I have no choice but to let it go and sit with my discomfort and uncertainty, hoping it will come back to me.

So what do I have to be anxious about these days?  Well that would be change of course, both big and small.  The small being that my husband and I decided to order a new, beautiful, grownup bed (It’s not even from Ikea!), move all of the current furniture out of our bedroom, and paint the bedroom.  Now I know you might be thinking, “Why is this something to be anxious about?”  But for those of you, like me, who experience anxiety tending toward perfectionistic themes, I don’t have to explain this at all.  What if we paint the whole room and then don’t like the new paint color?  What if the finish on the new bed clashes with the existing furniture?  What if someone comes over and sees this endeavor mid-project, when it is a total mess?  And when will we find time to do all this when we are working full time and taking care of a toddler and the laundry needs doing, the fridge needs stocking, and the rug needs vacuuming?

Sometimes, often in fact, I fixate on these smaller anxieties to avoid the big ones.  The ones that would surely blow my balloon away like a heavy gale.  Tomorrow, I start a big job.  A job I believe (or hope) I’m well qualified for.  That I’ve worked very hard for.  That is more responsibility than anything (other than parenting) that I’ve ever done. And I have a lot of worries.  Will I be good enough?  Can I handle the pressure? What will my team think of me?  What will they think about the fact that I am a mother.  And will they judge me for being a mother with a very demanding job?  These are big questions.  Too big.  So instead, I fixate on paint drips.  Because that is something I can conceivably control.

I’m struggling today.  But I’m also blessed.  Blessed that through hard-won wisdom and skill-building, I have the power to challenge my anxious thoughts, to set them aside on good days, and to overcome them on even better days.  I am blessed to have a partner who (more often than not) takes every action he can to make my life easier.  Who supports and believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself.  Who lets me pick the paint color and effusively says he loves it (whether or not he really does).  I’m blessed to have a son who (despite my sometimes constant worries) is healthy, strong, and thriving.  Who affords me daily opportunities to grab on more tightly to the balloon.  When, for instance, he initiates a game of pretend, where he is the baby kangaroo and I’m the mama.  “Let me sit in your pouch,” he says.  And I pick him up and bounce him around the house, singing a silly song.  How could my mind possibly be anywhere else, other than grounded in this exact moment?  Taking in every delightful sensation to hold forever in my heart.  Or, when I put him into bed at night, and he gives me a sticky kiss and says “Mommy, sing sunshine,” and we sing the very same lullaby that my mother always sang to me.  And we both feel warm, and comforted, and safe.  The balloon is mine in these moments.  I’m in no danger of drifting away.  I am here, I am whole, and I am happy.  I wish you these moments, my friends.

I love you all.

 

 

 

 

Mad as Hell

I. Am. Angry.  The goings on in the world (both in the big, wide world and in my own small life) have got me seriously fuming.  I’m feeling emotionally drained and just about ready to give up on humanity.  But, on the other hand, I refuse to let this anger eat up any more of my precious time and energy.  There are too many good things in my life that deserve my attention.  So instead, let me process some of this anger and see if I can come to any productive conclusions. Here goes.

Let’s start with my own little corner of the world and set aside the more far-reaching anger for a moment.  Let’s talk about June 16th.  June 16th is a tough day for me.  It’s the anniversary of the day I experienced a traumatic post-childbirth complication that could have taken my life (see Let’s Begin at the Beginning for more on that story).  I can’t help but experience some serious feels when I look back at memories of this date.  I feel lucky to be alive and healthy, but I feel conflicted about how little we openly discuss traumatic birth experiences.  On one hand, I understand the impulse not to scare expectant parents, but on the other it seems unfair that we go into childbirth with so little understanding of what’s “normal” and what’s not.  That’s when the rage comes in.  Because what is the deal with the standard of care for postpartum women in this country?  Why is it that we take our babies to the pediatrician the day after getting out of the hospital, then the next week, and so on, but it is standard for a mother who just gave birth to go 6 weeks without any medical care?  Not even a phone call to check in.  God forbid we get on the bandwagon with countries that actually send visiting nurses out to check on new mamas.  I didn’t know enough about what a body was supposed to do after childbirth to be able to know that something wasn’t right with mine.  But a medical professional would have known. And if I had had more thorough care, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened to me. And that makes me mad.

This year on June 16th, I spent the day in the emergency room with my 2-year-old.  Don’t worry, he’s fine.  He slipped and hit his head on the corner of a bed frame, resulting in a tiny gash above his eyebrow.  A little glue (thankfully no sutures) and an orange popsicle, and my boy was right as rain.  I realize I sound calm, but believe me when I heard the sickening crack of his skull, I was not so calm.  I heard his screams.  I saw blood running down his face.  And I am not even exaggerating, the first lucid thought in my mind other than “We need to go to the ER” was “It’s fucking June 16th.”  Then we were off to the hospital, and there I was going down the same corridors where I was wheeled to emergency surgery exactly two years before.  My son was a brave and cooperative little patient.  We got through it.  But we shouldn’t have had to.  You know those days when everything just feels like TOO much?  Well, June 16th tends to be one of them for my family.  I seriously might sage my house next year on that date.  I think we might need it.

June 16th brings up a lot of thoughts and feelings related to my difficult postpartum experiences.  So let’s take a moment to talk about the way we treat (or rather don’t treat) postpartum mental health in this country.  Did you know that emotional complications are the number one complication of pregnancy for both pregnant women AND their partners?  Did you know that rates of postpartum mental health issues run pretty standard at about 20% across the board, while rates of SIDS are currently at about .0003%?  For those of you that have had children, which one of these do you feel like you got more education about from medical professionals?  I’m guessing you heard “Back to sleep!”  “No crib bumpers, loose blankets, or stuffed animals!”  These recommendations are shoved down the throats of new parents (and rightly they should be to try to minimize SIDS).  But where are the standard recommendations to help the 20% of new mothers who are struggling each and every day?

In my experience, the help was not easy to find.  At my 6 week postpartum OBGYN visit, I cried.  What I mean when I say that I cried, is that I literally sobbed through the entire appointment.  The nurse asked me how I had been doing, I got out something along the lines of “I’m so anxious” and I burst into tears.  The waterworks pretty much did not stop from there.  How did this not raise any red flags?!?!  As a therapist myself, I am incredibly embarrassed that I didn’t recognize what was going on with me (therapist, heal thyself!) But my instinct was to chalk it up to sleep deprivation (which is so, so real), and my doctor was more than happy to go along with that explanation.  I was told to let my husband take the baby for a night so that I could get a full night’s sleep, as well as encouraged to attend the support group at my local hospital.  The support group that was called a BREASTFEEDING group (Did I mention that breastfeeding was a major root and cause of my anxiety?)  So no, I wasn’t going to rush right over to that group.  Instead, I basically spent the next year putting band-aids haphazardly over bullet holes, until I finally felt strong enough to limp my way to a therapist and get some real help.  If I wasn’t a therapist myself, I don’t know if I ever would have had the wherewithal to get myself to treatment.  And that is just unacceptable.  We can do better!  We have to.

While we’re talking about mental health, let’s talk about the intrusive thoughts I’ve been struggling with recently.  This terrifying world that we inhabit has been more than ready to supply material for me to fight off with my hard-won therapy skills.  I’m afraid to let my child go anywhere, as I wonder where and when the next mass shooting will occur.  A grocery store?  An ice cream parlor?  His daycare?  When he’s not with me, I find myself constantly wondering “Is he is okay?” When he is with me, I worry “Can I keep him safe?”  After all, children are attacked by wild animals, and instead of compassion the grieving parents are met with slander on social media.  I can’t imagine ever feeling that it is my place to make judgments about these incidents.  I know from experience (see above regarding a bed frame and an ER trip) that things can happen so quickly.  Even when you’re paying attention.  Even when you love your child.  Or maybe even when you make a terrible mistake (or even a series of terrible mistakes) but still don’t deserve the condemnation heaped upon an already horrific situation.

What are we thinking when we take to our computers and smart phones and make sweeping proclamations meant to harm someone?  When we blindly take stabs at those “bad” parents, at that religion, at that sexual orientation, at THOSE people, what are we saying about ourselves?  The connecting thread here is a LOSS of connection.  A loss of empathy.  The same lack of empathy that I experienced when medical professionals turned a blind eye on a struggling, sick young mother rather than taking the time to truly SEE me and offer me the help I needed.  Why?  So they could get on to the next patient of the day, the next lunch break, the next email.  Don’t get me wrong, I am positive they meant well.  They heard my polite excuses, and it gave them permission to dismiss me and move on. Because our instinct is to avoid connection at all costs.  In an awkward moment, we whip out a cell phone as a welcome distraction.  We “multitask.”  We stretch ourselves as thin as possible, never asking for help because that would be considered a failure.  This is why I was able to look that doctor in the eye, through my tears, and say “I’m really okay.”  And this is why he chose to believe me.

This lack of connection, this emotional isolation, is a key component of many of the problems in our society.  It is as connected to postpartum depression as it is to the violence tearing apart our nation, seemingly more often and with more victims all the time.  Because when people feel alone and isolated, whether in the distracted and busy blur of life, or in their misery, or in their hatred, other people become less human to them. And when others become less human, it becomes easier to justify taking their lives.  So when we look to religion, or nationality, or sexual orientation, or mental illness to explain a lone wolf’s actions, perhaps we need to look inward at the rest of the pack, and say “What is wrong with us?”  And the idea of fixing what is wrong with us seems insurmountable.  And that gets me very, very mad.  Because I have a child that has to grow up in this world.  And things need to be better.  They just have to be.

So what will I do with this anger?  What can I do to make some small difference, to start to heal this broken world?  I recently attended a high school graduation ceremony, and I found my eyes tearing up as I looked out at the young female graduates, hoping that by the time they have babies (which I realize for some of them might be very soon or already underway) that we have created a better system to support them.  I hope they are not expected to go back to work 2 or 4 or 6 or even 12 weeks after giving birth.  I hope they get proper medical and emotional care.  That when a doctor is weighing baby and making sure he is thriving, that doctor also takes a second glance at mom and ask “How are you doing?” and really listens to the answer.  I believe these changes can occur, and I believe I can be a part of them.  As a therapist, I am taking steps to gain the training and experience needed to treat women and families with perinatal mental health complications.  As an activitist, I plan to get involved in organizations that will push for reforms in the system.  These are small steps, but this is something I can do to reach out and re-establish that lost human connection.  Small steps toward building the empathy, kindness, and love that can overpower fear, hatred, and even anger.

I love you all.