Almost: Very Nearly, Not Quite

Almost

I’m almost done. October 31st – the last day of this year’s 31 Day Project. Last year at this time, more than anything else I felt a huge sense of relief that it was finally over. This year I feel different. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I hit the “publish” button pretty early in the day most of the time (I think there was only one evening that didn’t happen until 10 pm. Last year this was a regular occurrence. In fact, I posted once at 11:59!)

I’m the kind of person who makes rash decisions every once in awhile. Not big and bad decisions that end with regret, but ones where I’m not completely aware of what I’m saying “yes” to. Which, for me, is good. It allows me to be audacious and just do it. Then, my tenacity and unwillingness to ever quit something once I’ve started, keeps me going – even after I realize how much harder this thing is that I’ve gotten myself into. (I did the same thing when I signed up to walk my first marathon. “How hard can it be to walk a marathon?” Pretty hard, it turns out.)

That was last year’s experience: “I want to start a blog. I haven’t written one before. So, maybe the best way to do it is to commit to writing a post every day for an entire month.” What was I thinking? Well, this year I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and I think that might explain why it went so much more smoothly. I’d also like to think that the writing I’ve put into my book and the essays that have been published or are in the works, means that writing is easier for me now than it was a year ago.

But the best part of this whole process has been the process. There’s a lot to be gained by having a daily practice of writing (thank you, Saundra Goldman). And I think I’ll continue to try and write daily (that doesn’t sound like a firm commitment, does it?) But whether or not I’ll be hitting the “publish” button every single day is another matter altogether. My blog posts won’t be a daily occurrence and maybe that will be welcome relief for my FB friends who haven’t been able to keep up. (Do I have another 31 Days in me? I just might… But we’ll talk about that next year!)

I just came back from a weeklong writing workshop focused on the new direction of my book project and this will take center stage for me in the months to come. But I’m still committed to writing blogposts about bellies, birth and babies for the foreseeable future. These are the subjects that I’m most passionate about and I can’t imagine that I’m all done having something to say or learn about these topics.

Today, on the very last day of my 31 Day Project, it’s tempting to think that I’ve run out of things to write about. And this morning it almost feels that way. But the definition of almost is: “very nearly, not quite.” I love the wiggle room this provides. I’m going to take a few days break and see what comes up that needs to be written about the pregnancy year – from conception to the end of that 4th Trimester.

Thank you for reading my words and providing me support, encouragement, and comments along the way. And to all the other 31 Dayers out there – Congratulations! We did it!

Have you enjoyed this series of posts about the 4th Trimester? Was there anything that you wished I had written about that I didn’t? Please leave me some suggestions. Right now, I’m almost out of ideas. :O)

Mmmmm… Bacon

Bacon

Just four days ago the mighty Internet screamed at us “BACON CAUSES CANCER.” Actually, the report was about red and processed meat, but every news story written about this subject had a big picture of bacon attached to it. (What can I say? I’m so on trend.)

Was it sheer coincidence, my rebel without a cause tendencies, or both that contributed to our family eating red meat not once, but twice in the past four days? Beef Stew on Tuesday and Butter Noodles with Beef on Wednesday – both were dee-licious! The fact that we hadn’t cooked red meat in our house for the past six months, was a little ironic.

Initially, my kids were worked up about the dinner offerings this past week – which allowed us to have a great discussion about hype, and media coverage, and ratings grabbing behavior, and how to read studies with a critical eye that looks beyond the headlines.

These are also great things to remember as new parents. There will almost always be something that you should or should not be doing at any time for fear of really screwing up your children. Sometimes these things flip flop and end up in direct opposition to one another. So it behooves you to read headlines not as gospel truth but as an article to read yourself and determine if a) it’s sound scientific and evidence-based information b) it builds on the studies that have come before and is adding to mounting evidence for or against something c) it’s statistically significant and the risk of doing this behavior or avoiding that behavior will make a real difference in your quality of health or life.

I’m not going to list out specific parenting decisions here. Why? Because, I’ve got my own way of parenting. And the parenting decisions I make are likely influenced by a lot of different things: my family of origin, my friend circle, the books I’ve chosen to read, or the pediatrician that my children see.

If I were to state my opinion about “Parenting Issue A” one of two things might result: 1) someone reads it but they parent exactly the opposite of me and feel the need to argue about it or 2) someone reads it and feels like I’ve just endorsed something as the “right” way to parent their child. That’s a little too much responsibility, for me. And quite frankly, it doesn’t place enough responsibility on you as new parents. That sounds harsh and I’m sorry if you’re picking up on that tone, but it needs to be said.

I want you to parent your child the way you feel is right for your family. It doesn’t have to look at all like how I did it, or your siblings did it, or how your own parents did it. And while it makes sense to pay attention to what studies say about “best practices” and parenting, those best practices might not work for you and your family.

An example that comes to mind is how we chose to let our babies stay up with us until we went to bed (after the craziness of that initial 4th trimester had settled down, mind you). My husband wanted to be able to see and hold his baby after he got home from work. My first ate every two hours around the clock until she was eight months old. It didn’t make sense to us that we’d put her down in a crib upstairs while we hung out together watching TV in the basement, only to have to get up with her every couple of hours. So, we just kept her with us the whole time. I would feed her, then my husband would snuggle her until she fell asleep on his chest or in his arms and he’d keep her there until she wanted to eat again. When we were all ready to go to sleep (we’re night owls in this house!) we’d go up to bed together.

I can assure you that this will never be listed in any book or study about being a “best practice” on how to get your baby to sleep at night. I can also tell you that there are lots of people who will read this and think that we were completely crazy! But, still, it was a practice that we repeated with each of our four children and it worked beautifully for us as a family.

I’m not looking for validation or vilification for making this choice in how we parented our babies around the issue of sleep. I’m just sharing with you how we came up with a solution that was right and worked for our family. I want you to consider what’s working for your family along with all the scientific evidence and best practices out there and remember that almost everything extreme is not good for you. There is such a thing as drinking too much red wine, or eating too much dark chocolate, or – yes, it’s true – scarfing down too much bacon. But there’s also such a thing as using your common sense and realizing that moderation is key. Try to keep this in mind even as headlines are using extreme tactics to gain your attention.

Finding out what works for your family, those unique parenting decisions that you make that are “just right” for you, boosts your new parent confidence level in a way nothing else can. Not even bacon.

Have you come up with any parenting decisions that sit outside the “norm” or hide in the shadows of the headline grabbing new trend? How confident do you feel about making some of your own decisions about the best way to parent you child?

HELP – I’m Drowning!

Sea

When it comes to new parenting, many of us can feel like we’re drowning in a sea of information, of impossible learning curves, of all the things we have to do to just get through the day. This old flyer from The American Red Cross about how to rescue the drowning caught my eye and, because everything I ever look at somehow connects to my work with expectant and new parents, I think the phrase “Row-Throw-Go-Tow” is a good one for all of us to consider as we watch new parents wading into this dangerous sea for the first time. Here’s how you can help rescue them if they’re drowning!

When you see a new parent out and about, and they have that slightly crazed look in their eyes that reveals that they’re operating on very little sleep, and are at great risk of being unable to hold up their end of an adult conversation – row on over to them. They’ve probably been doing a lot of reading, information-gathering, and video-watching. But all of that pales in comparison to talking to a real, live person who’s actually thrashed their way through this wild sea – and survived.

If you can, throw them a couple of lifelines! After admiring the baby for a minute make sure to ask the baby’s age and then – tell these new parents that they look fabulous! When we’re first venturing out and about with our littles, we’re not feeling like we’ve got it all together (because we haven’t!) and we’re worried that it shows in our face, unwashed hair, and potentially spit upon clothing. Maybe reveal a little bit about what your own crazy morning was like, so they can feel like you’re swimming with them in this raging sea. Help these new parents feel better about themselves – it helps them feel better about their parenting.

There are literally tons of available media for consumption about new parenting – a Google search on this topic will pull up 215,000,000 results in .32 seconds! They don’t need another referral to a website – they need a real person. Go to them and be that source of real, down-to-earth, here’s-how-it really-is parenting advice. But only if they ask for advice first – always respect the Parental Code of Honor.

Remember how scared you were and how vulnerable you felt as a new parent and help those who are coming along behind you still struggling to keep their heads above water and tow them along. Carry them close to your chest until they’re feeling like they’ve got more solid footing underneath. Knowing that they can count on you to bring them to safety will make them feel so much better, and guess what? It’ll make you feel pretty great, too!

When we feel lost at sea as new parents, it’s sometimes those strangers who “get it” and say the right words at the right time that can save us. If you feel like you’re drowning in this new parenting sea right now, look for those who are able and willing to rescue you. And if you’ve made it to the other side, then help a drowning person out – they’ll be forever grateful that you did!

Where are you in this sea of parenting? Drowning, or safely on the other side? Do you have any memories of those sweet rescuers that helped you when you needed it most?

There Is Hope

Hope

What if you really wanted to be a Momma? What if you and your partner tried for a long time to get pregnant – and it finally happened? What if you were not in the “right” relationship at the time you found yourself surprised by a pregnancy? What if you chose to do this whole thing on your own because you never found the “right” relationship? What if, no matter what the circumstances surrounding getting pregnant, you were (immediately, eventually, finally, reluctantly?) happy about it? What if you had a super challenging birth? What if your birth was fantastic?

So many questions today! But what I’m trying to get at, is that no matter what the circumstances or level of happiness you might have had about your pregnancy or birth, you might find that once the baby is born, you’re not feeling the way you had expected to feel.

Maybe you’re having a hard time getting through the “baby blues” that everyone told you about. It’s those hormones readjusting postpartum, and should taper off by about two weeks after your baby’s birth. But maybe nobody told you that this “normal” hormonal fluctuation would be so severe or random. It feels like you’re on this emotional rollercoaster – first you’re up, then down, racing through corkscrew turns at breakneck speed before starting all over again.

What if these blues don’t subside? It’s so important to check in with your partner, especially right around that two week mark to take stock of how you’re feeling. If you’re able to breathe a huge sigh of relief because you’re feeling more and more like yourself again, then you’re on your way.

But if it’s the opposite, these feelings are not lessening and being replaced by more positive feelings about yourself, your partner and your baby, then I want you to be on the lookout for a potential PMAD: Postpartum Mood or Anxiety Disorder. We used to call this postpartum depression, but now it’s more comprehensive to talk about mood or anxiety disorders because not everyone presents with depression. This term has been expanded to include other emotions like anxiety and anger so women understand they should be checking in with their provider if they’re not feeling more like themselves in a relatively short period of time after their baby’s birth.

Currently, 1 out of every 7 women will experience a PMAD following the birth of their baby, and 1 in 10 men will do the same. Hormonal fluctuations, negative birth experiences, living far from our families of origin, lacking a strong support network, societal expectations that we be back at our desks and ready to work too soon, and the pressures from social media to share only good and positive emotions could all be contributing factors to these high numbers.

It’s important to talk about this and share widely, to shed some light on this subject. Because no matter what the circumstances of our pregnancy or birth, we’ve been fed the myth that parenting a newborn child is supposed to be the happiest time of our lives. Just look at any media depicting the newborn period. Can you recall even one that doesn’t show an impossibly perfect and well put-together woman glowing as she holds her gorgeous, smiling, baby who never cries?

I’m just arguing that for most women, their reality of early parenting looks nothing like this. When the expectations for our babies, partners and ourselves are set so incredibly high then the gap that exists between those expectations and our reality must also be a contributing factor.

The symptoms of PMADs can include the following: Frequent sadness or crying, changes in appetite, not being able to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time, feeling emotionally numb, helpless or despairing, being irritable or having surges of anger, feeling guilty or ashamed, not being able to concentrate, having a lot of anxiety or panic about caring for the baby, or the health of the baby, lack of sex drive, or lack of feelings for your baby. Some of these symptoms can be experienced by almost every postpartum woman at one point or another – but it’s the frequency of experiencing these symptoms that matters.

If there’s even the slightest recognition in the above symptoms, you might be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder – and I want to give you a message of hope. What you’re feeling at this moment does not negatively reflect on you as a parent, or on how much you love your baby. You can feel better than you do right now. There’s an amazing organization that can help called Baby Blues Connection. This is a local organization that has been instrumental in helping Mommas and families find hope since 1994. But even if you’re not local to this area, BBC has information that can help you and your partner navigate the world of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Please check it out.

One of the biggest barriers to getting help when you’re experiencing a PMAD, is the stigma of asking for help. We still tend to think that parenting is a DIY activity and that if you’re struggling with any aspect of it, you should just wear a fake smile and never admit it to anyone – not even to yourself. But once you receive the help that you need, you’ll be parenting so much closer to how you were hoping you would.

Parenting a newborn is hard, stinky, thankless work sometimes. But despite all of this, it should be something that can bring you joy. I want that for you. I hope this message reaches you so that you, in turn, can reach out for the help that you need – help that will make you feel whole and hopeful again.

Have you experienced any of the symptoms of a PMAD before? Are you just now realizing that how you’re feeling might be more than just “baby blues?” Will you reach out for the help you need to make parenting something you can enjoy?

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps…

Perhaps3

Perhaps, you thought that you and your partner would be on the same page in terms of “growing up” and taking care of your new little baby? Perhaps, you thought you’d both suddenly be so much more mature? Perhaps, the reality of where each of you are in your development as new parents is causing you distress?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

I’m in the beginning stages of learning from the magnificent, Elly Taylor and her Becoming Us Program. And one of our recent lessons mentioned the word, “generativity.” This is a fancy term coined by psychologist, Erik Erikson and basically it means becoming less selfish and more selfless. Moving into this stage of generativity usually happens somewhere in adulthood and it often coincides nicely with people who are becoming parents for the first time.

This makes sense to me – a baby is born, a family is created and suddenly you find out what real responsibility means. You now have to take care of this completely helpless person. You are “nudged” into growing up and maturing into the role of parent so you can put your needs on the back burner while you attend to all of your baby’s needs.

It would be so lovely if both you and your partner grew up and into your role as parents at the same time and at the same pace. But oftentimes, this isn’t the case.

Maybe it’s the sheer physical demands that a Momma goes through during pregnancy, or through the birth itself, but she’ll often reach this state of generativity at a quicker rate than her partner. This can be cause for great conflict in the early weeks and months of life with your new baby. Because of her physical ties to the baby, especially if she’s breastfeeding, the Momma might feel resentful toward her partner who’s still finding time to carve out a quick run, a long game of golf on the weekends, or a regular evening out with his buddies. “Doesn’t he see that all I do is give, give, give to our baby day and night?”

Partner might see her in this role and doubt whether or not he is ready or able to fill such impressive shoes – his learning curve is oftentimes much steeper than it is for her as she’s usually had some experience with babies via babysitting. “If I can’t do it the way she does it, I’m a failure.” And society still sends the message loudly and clearly, that by virtue of being female, she’s automatically the “better” parent (which is utter crap!) If Momma asks him to be more focused on the home front, he might actually end up feeling stifled and controlled.

This does not make for a happy couple on the other side of giving birth to a bundle of joy that was supposed to bring you closer together!

How to resolve this? There’s a lot that I’ll be learning as I complete this course, and I promise to pass that along to you here. But I have a few of my own thoughts that I’d like to share.

For partners, especially men, pregnancy and birth might be the first time in their lives where they feel completely out of their element. And from a societal standpoint, we do very little to welcome them into this world of women. They might go to every clinic appointment and ultrasound, they might want to be really involved – but end up feeling like a third wheel most of the time. Or maybe, deep down, they’re completely freaked out and long for the days when they could’ve been smoking cigars in the waiting room and not required to step foot into the labor and delivery room – but if they tell anyone that, they’ll be labeled an insensitive, uninvolved jerk. What if we tried to meet them wherever they are during the pregnancy (without judgement) and then support them better in their role as expectant father? I think this might be a good first step.

Communication between the couple has to happen early and often so that you both know where the other is in terms of adopting this new role of parent. This can feel like an emotional land mine if you don’t respect the “no judgement” policy. Your partner needs to be able to reveal his true feelings about becoming a father. And he needs the time and space to move into that role.

There’s also something to be learned from our partners as we move into the world of motherhood. We need to remember the importance of self-care, of figuring out what individual needs we have that we don’t want to lose in our new role of Momma. Instead of feeling resentment toward our partner, maybe we can learn from them how to carve out the time and space we need to feel whole and separate from our role as parent.

Of course, I’m speaking in general terms. Sometimes our partners are beyond ready for their role of fatherhood and it blows us away, and it’s us new Mommas who are slow to catch up. The reality is that very few couples reach this stage of generativity at the same time. But instead of putting a wedge into your relationship, perhaps this can become a new and better way of understanding each other as individuals. Perhaps we can learn from each other as opposed to being intimidated by or resentful of one another. Perhaps this can be a period of growing together, rather than growing apart.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

You might think you know the song of this same name, but I’m not sure if you’ve heard the band Cake sing it. If you like Cake, like I do in all it’s many forms, than this version is worth a listen. (I love it when I can find a tune that goes with my blogpost – it feeds the rocker in my soul!)

Can you see how you and your partner might be approaching parenting at a different pace from one another? Is this helpful to realize how very common and normal this stage of development is and that it’s possible to “catch up?”

Shhh… Baby’s Sleeping

Whisper

Those signs you receive at baby showers that are supposed to go on your front door asking people to knock softly and avoid ringing the doorbell so your baby will stay asleep are really interesting to me. Not that I don’t understand how badly it sucks when you finally get a baby to sleep to have them wake up sooner than you’d like. No, I get that. But those signs worry me that new parents might think the only way to keep their baby asleep is to tiptoe around the house in their socks and speak in a nearly inaudible whisper. That really limits what you can do as a new parent. It’s super impractical, in my opinion.

I remember images of our baby asleep in her bouncy seat. One particular time comes to mind: our friends came over with their toddler, and we ate brunch and talked in normal voices, and then the toddler had a tantrum about having a poop diaper, and then our dog went crazy and started barking – and our baby slept right through all of it. She didn’t even stir. But later, after everyone had gone home, and our dog was taking a nap, and my husband and I were reading quietly, a pen dropped off of the edge of the countertop – and our baby startled awake and began crying!

What? That doesn’t make any sense. Unless you take into account that newborns sleep patterns are different than ours and won’t look familiar until they’ve made it through that 4th trimester, about 12 weeks. For myself and my baby, I found that wearing her during the daytime hours for the first three months (and yes, it was almost constant!) allowed me to maintain normal activity during the day – with normal volume.

I listened to talk radio the whole day through. It was my constant companion aside from my first-born. I never thought to lower the volume of the radio just because she was sleeping, I wouldn’t be able to hear it! So our days were spent listening to the soundtrack of a rowdy dog plus NPR personalities keeping us up-to-date on the greater world around us. And she would wake and sleep at intervals that were pretty normal for a newborn – every couple of hours, as she needed to eat. Once we’d finished a breastfeeding session, we’d have a little face-to-face time, do a diaper-change, and she’d get another little snooze in before the whole cycle began again.

Babies can be very different one, from the next, and if you find that you have a baby that really requires a quiet house in order to sleep at all, then maybe these signs are for you. And I sincerely hope that they work and that you get some sleep while you’re baby is sleeping too.

But if you’re finding yourself feeling locked in your house because it’s nap-time, and you can’t have anyone over or listen to music or a podcast while you’re baby’s sleeping for fear of waking them up, then maybe see what happens if you strap them on and go about your day with normal volume.

You need to find the right balance for both of you. It’s important to take your baby’s needs into account, but I’d argue it’s just as important to take your own needs into account. You’ll be a much happier parent if you feel like you can maintain some form of normalcy in that newborn period.

For me, walking on tiptoe and speaking in whispers wasn’t going to cut it. Thankfully, my baby seemed just fine with daytime noises – she’d just tune them out when she really wanted to sleep hard, but if she was in a lighter state of sleep she’d more or less doze until she was ready for her next meal.

She always woke up to eat – no matter the volume of what was going on around her.

Did you have a sign that you put on your front door asking people not to knock or ring the doorbell? Did it make a difference in terms of how long you baby would sleep at a stretch?

Crash Out, Please!

Crash

I just spent the last several hours talking to four different groups of expectant parents about how important it was after the birth of their baby that they crash out when their baby does following birth. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s really, really vital to getting your new parenting off to the best start possible.

There’s an energy surge that occurs right after a baby is born that kind of buoys new parents up. But it’s really only happening so you can all gaze in wide-eyed wonder at each other for awhile. Then after that first feeding and any newborn procedures that they might receive, your baby (who is completely brilliant, I might add) will fall into a very solid sleep following their incredible journey into this world. I suggest you try and do the same.

Why?

Because your baby has been inside of you for months and while you are up and about, it’s like they’ve been hanging out in a little hammock all day long. They’re in a perpetual state of drowsiness until you stop – or lie down to go to sleep. You already know what I’m talking about. When you’re busy throughout the day you might not notice too much movement from your baby, but when you’ve settled down for a good night’s sleep? That’s when they start dancing, or playing soccer, or whatever it is they’re doing inside of you that keeps you awake for hours on end.

This doesn’t change just because they’ve been born – your baby’s idea of day and night will be mixed up for awhile, and you’ll do so much better if you try and match them and sleep more during the day. Because you know you’ll be sleeping less during the night. And no amount of whining, or wishing it to be different will change this fact. It’s just how things are with your baby at the beginning. But especially in the first 48 hours.

I’m not sure if this is true just because it’s all so new, or because you’re away from home, or if it’s because your baby is experiencing hunger for the first time and needs your body to start producing the good stuff, but it’s hard. So I implore you to follow your baby’s lead and crash out when they do.

Try very hard to resist the temptation to stay awake watching them dream, counting each individual eyelash, marveling at their impossibly small – but fully formed – nails. And, please, please, please – don’t invite your family and friends to come and visit for those first few days. (Weeks, perhaps?) Everyone “forgets” that babies sleep during the day and are awake at night. They will be all too ready to hold your darling angel fast asleep in their arms during the day, but watch how quickly they will turn over your crying baby as evening comes on and they begin to awaken. The learning curve for new parenting is incredibly steep, but it can be unnecessarily steep when you’re trying to learn without any sleep.

I know I’m not the first person to say it, and I’m sure I won’t be the last but: When your baby crashes out so should you!

Did you sleep at all in those first couple of days? Do you remember what it felt like if you tried to sleep more during the day initially? Was this helpful for you?