Empty Nest

It takes a torrential rain or windstorm to blow the last remaining leaves off the trees revealing what was so well-hidden in the uppermost branches throughout Spring and Summer: one, two, sometimes up to three bird’s nests. They vary in size and shape, and I have no idea if these nests were constructed just last year for a whole community of birds to share some space together, or if they’ve been there for years and yet are so sturdy as to withstand several winters. But one morning, after dropping my kids off at school I looked up from my parked car and this is what I saw:EmptyNest

Instantly, I thought of all the families who’ve been preparing in excited anticipation for their babies arrival only to end up with an empty nest. Whether it be through miscarriage, infertility or infant death, these families don’t get to celebrate all they’d hoped for when they began their parenting journey.

Truthfully, I’ve been sitting on this post since early Fall, wondering if I’m the “right” person to talk about this. After all, my husband and I have been extremely lucky in our personal parenting journey. But, despite writing dozens of other posts, this image of the empty nest and what it represents won’t quit me. And since I first made that connection I know several people who have experienced miscarriage and infant death personally. While I may not have experienced these things directly, I do know something about the pain of it – at least, vicariously.

Working in this field, miscarriage, infertility and infant death are realities. And after 17+ years and thousands of couples, I know families I work with who have experienced all of these things. Sometimes I’m privy to this information – a family will choose to share the details of their parenting journey with me. But oftentimes, I’m not.

As their Childbirth Educator, they might not feel comfortable sharing with me (or anyone else in class) their history of miscarriage as we’re just getting to know one another. So they remain silent about any struggles they might be having with their current pregnancy. Despite feeling especially vulnerable about the health and welfare of their baby, they might not be willing or able to reach out for support.

And even if I might have played an important role in their preparation to become parents, if a family has experienced infant death, this might be just too painful to share with anyone outside their immediate circle of support.

I respect a family’s desire to maintain their boundaries and privacy around such intensely personal events. Families should never feel pressured to share their parenting journey with anyone other than whom they choose.

I’m dedicating this poem/post to all of the families I’ve known, personally and professionally over the years who have suffered through miscarriage, infertility, or infant death as a part of their parenting journey. I’m not sure how often these realities are acknowledged. But I think they should be.

Empty Arms

“We’re pregnant!”
We want to scream it from the rooftops
But, we’ve done that before
And remember what happened last time
Parents and siblings trying on their new identities:
Grammie and Pops, Auntie Jen and Uncle Matt
Friends joking, “You’ll never sleep again!”

So,

Instead we check the test results over and over again
Like a nervous tic
“Is that a plus sign?”
“Do you see one line or two?”
And we keep the news to ourselves
Locked away
Silent, mute, anxiety-excitement
Heavy in our hearts
We won’t tell anyone

Until…

Morning sickness becomes all-day sickness
The baby starts moving –
A lot
We’re past that day, that week, that month

Because…

We need to feel the weight of the baby in our arms
The emptiness has been almost too much to bear
We can’t go through it again
Everyone else’s excitement crashing down
Heavy, crippling us under their collective grief

So,

We wait
With the breath of hope caught in our throats
We wait
For the right moment to whisper
Only to a select few
“shhhhh – we’re pregnant.”
Please keep our secret – don’t tell anyone
Don’t get excited – don’t believe it
We don’t – we can’t

Not yet

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Every time I see a baby
My heart somersaults in my chest
And I wonder

“Why can’t that be me?”

If her baby is crying and she is frustrated, or angry, or too slow to respond
I wonder
How much better I would be at this:

Mothering

Because –
Why, exactly?
Because – I want it more
Because – I deserve it more

These are not rational thoughts
I’m not proud of these thoughts
But it is completely irrational that I’m not a mother
That we’re not parents

We’ve made the decision to stop trying
But we never decided that we didn’t want to have a baby
That was decided by someone – or something – else

And no matter what bargain we tried to strike
No matter what promises or prayers
We whispered long into the dark nights
Our arms remain

Empty

We still long to be parents
That desire doesn’t just go away –
That desire to be a family
Never goes away

Not ever

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I came into this place I was a mother
Because my baby was still alive
Not of this world, yet
But alive in the world created inside me

I could feel my baby’s every movement
Stretching my belly skin taut like a drum
Pushing my ribs out of place
Tap dancing on my bladder
Beautiful pain and exquisite discomfort
Now only a ghost memory

How can we leave this place now?
Arms empty
Breasts full

We have a car seat, a stroller, a bouncy seat
And there is a room in our home
A room with a dresser, a crib, a changing table, a diaper pail
All of the trappings of what was supposed to be
Our new little family

Intolerable cruelty
How will we ever get through this?

The pain is hot and sharp
It pierces and stabs
The pain is cold and dull
It throbs and aches

A constant reminder of how much
We were willing to love

How will we
How can we
Ever allow our hearts to love this way again?

Know that I grieve deeply with you if you’ve ever experienced miscarriage, infertility or infant death. And while these are such painful realities of many parenting journeys, they deserve to be shared and talked about – if and when you are ready to do so. These experiences are important chapters of your parenting story.

One national resource that might help you process is Share: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support.

I’d also encourage families to consider individual and couples counseling. There are many therapists who specialize in working with families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss.

Lastly, I’d like to remind all those who work with families to be aware that the parenting journey may include these painful issues and our families deserve our full support and compassion wherever they are in telling their stories.

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?

Love Gives You Wings

Fly

Short and sweet post today to encourage all new parents to remember that our partners will care for their babies differently from us. They are unique individuals who come to their role of parenting with their own set of family and life experiences, thoughts and ideas about how to take care of a baby. Some of these differences are big and can end up being deal breakers. If this is true for you, you’ll need to figure some things out and it might take a professional to help. Those big differences don’t just “go away” or “get better with time.” Honest, open communication is key to being able to trust one another as partners in parenting.

But there are other differences that really are no big deal. These are the ones that you don’t have to worry about and maybe you should even celebrate. Babies thrive on love, attention, and being parented differently by different people. One parent might be a little more conservative in how far afield you let your little one roam, another parent might be the one throwing the baby up in the air.

Plaid

CatchPink

WavesYellow

Trees

And for the record, this doesn’t come down just according to gender. Men are stereotyped as being the ones who always let their kids do “crazy” stuff while women keep their kiddos close. In our family, that is true only some of the time. Most of us have different comfort levels with when, how and where we let our kids explore. Our children have different comfort levels as well that must be considered. Some kids love flying through the air, others – not so much.

Whatever your parenting style might be, different parents provide safety and security to their baby. Just in very different ways. One parent keeps their little one close in a snug embrace, while another gathers them up and holds on tight after an exhilarating experience in defying gravity.

Both approaches, help your baby learn how to fly.

Did you find that you were the more safety conscious parent? Did you have a partner that was a little less so? How do you think your baby responded to this difference?

Have a Little Patience

Patience

As a Senior in High School, I had this amazing AP English teacher, Ms. Lausch, who encouraged us to keep a notebook at all times. We could doodle in it, write stories, song lyrics or poems, it didn’t matter as long as we did something. She would collect the notebooks every Friday and “grade” them. What she was grading on was our willingness to be creative. I adored her and this idea.

She entered one of my poems into a state contest – and I won! It was crazy to me, because I didn’t consider myself a writer, let alone a poet. There was a little ceremony where I received my small cash prize and I got to read my poem aloud to the judges. It was a great experience.

When I went to University of Dayton in the Fall, I signed up for a poetry class. The professor was the Poet Laureate of Dayton. He critiqued every word and every line of our poems, in front of our classmates, proclaiming our subject matter to be “juvenile” “silly” and “lacking in depth.” (We were 18! Sounds about right to me…) It was a painful experience for me to take part in. I still managed to get an A in the class, but I never wrote a single poem after that.

Two very different styles of teaching – one that lifted me up and told me that I could create, the other an exercise in crushing a young, would-be poet’s spirit.

The reason I’m starting this post with this story from my past is that today’s word prompt is “patience” and the minute I saw it I thought, “I want to write a poem about having patience when you become a new parent.” I’m feeling nervous and vulnerable about putting this out there. But, I encourage my families to lean in to their feelings of vulnerability all the time and “practice what you preach,” is something I prescribe to. So, here it is – my first poem in almost 30 years. I hope it resonates with some of you.

Patience

This is taking so long
Walk, birth ball, bathtub, breathe
Rinse and repeat

I’m only how far dilated?
You’ve got to be kidding me

This is taking too long
Stay focused, concentrate
“Ride the Wave”
It feels like I’m drowning in this wave

4-5 inches feels more like a mile
Why does this have to take so long?
She’s here
It’s over

I’m going to be so good at this
I want to be so good at this
I’m trying to be so good at this
Everyone else is so good at this
I suck at this

Will I ever be good at this?

So many changes
All at once
She’s so tiny and needs so much

I have needs
He has needs
We all have
So many needs

To sleep
To take a shower
To be social again
To be left alone, for once
To feel like we know what we’re doing

Why is this taking so long?

One morning I wake and realize
I can’t remember what it was like
Before she was here
Not really

I am changed
He is changed
We are changed

It took a long time
Much longer than I thought it would
Much, much longer than I thought it should

The best advice
I could have received
I wish I had received

Have a little patience

With your process
With your body
With your baby
With your partner

With yourself

Just have a little patience

If I wasn’t doing this work that I’m so passionate about, there’s nothing more I’d rather be than a rockstar! So, for those of you who need a reminder as new parents to have a little patience, this is for you. Sing it to yourself quietly on the tough days, but on the really tough days, check out this video from Guns & Roses, and let Axel and the boys sing it for you nice and loud!

Remember that this transition – it takes time. So have a little patience.

Does this resonate with you? Did you feel impatient for the transition to parenthood to just happen already? How long did it take for you?

The Calm Before the Storm

Storm

Maybe you came home from the hospital or birthing center just a couple of days into this new parenting gig and thought to yourselves, “We’ve got this! There’s food in the fridge, the house is calm and peaceful, our gorgeous baby is sleeping quietly in the bassinet. What’s everyone complaining about? New parenting is a breeze!”

And then, your baby wakes up. But I don’t mean like waking up from a nap. No, I mean they wake up and they are hangry! I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced being hangry before? It’s when you are hungry and angry at the same time – and it isn’t very pretty.

But no one experiences hanger quite like a newborn when they first really wake up. Which happens for most babies, somewhere between day two and day five postpartum. Think about it – they’ve never had real hunger before this, but now they have to ask for it, and their bellies are so incredibly small that they digest their food in no time at all. After they wake up for real, any warm, fuzzy, sunny idea you might have had about parenting a newborn, turns into the cold, dark, stormy reality of actually doing it.

Coupled with your baby’s desire for food, which can seem like it’s constant, you have to deal with lots of other stuff – especially in those early days postpartum. Like a body that has changed so dramatically that you barely recognize yourself. Your pregnancy hormones are trying to regulate, which is no small task. But now you’ve also got to deal with other hormones being triggered so you can make the milk to help quiet the squalling infant that seems to be always at your breast.

Your baby starts to pee and poop – a lot. And suddenly, the pile of laundry climbs three feet higher from yesterday (how can an eight pound newborn create so much dirty laundry?) Your sleep schedules have been seriously interrupted and you find all those warm, gooey, love-feelings that you were having for your partner start to give way to a scorecard of who is doing what in terms of caring for the baby. And unless you’ve set some solid boundaries ahead of time, you’ve also got loads of spectators, I mean visitors, to watch this whole thing unravel.

I’m not painting this lovely picture to freak out anybody who is still in the “waiting to give birth” category. It’s just that I get great feedback from my former students when we get together for a reunion. The last group I met with really would have liked more information about what those first few days might really be like. I know that it’s close to impossible for them to hear about the postpartum period. When they’re in my class, their brains can only take in the answer to one very important and specific question: “How do I get the baby that is currently inside of me to come out?”

But when this group of former students talked about how different their reality was from what they expected in those first few days, and more importantly, how they didn’t know if what they were experiencing was normal, I knew I’d need to address it here as well as in my classes from now on.

Your baby will seem like a little angel at first, and they’ll be your angel again someday, I swear it. But initially, you could get duped into thinking that you’ve got the baby that everyone wished they had, only to find out that you actually have the baby that everyone warned you about!

Take heart. It’s not like this forever. You will see the sun come out again. There are many, many more blue skies in your future. But if, initially, it feels like a storm cloud has settled directly over your house I want you to know that you’re not alone. There are lots and lots of other new parents who are going through the exact same thing.

Finding them and talking about it can be a great way to get those storm clouds to blow over. I could tell at this reunion that even though their babies were months older and the storm clouds were nowhere in sight, they were better for the sharing of what those first days felt like. Knowing that you’re not alone really can help.

So another plug for educators to hold reunions. Seventeen+ years in and they still inform my teaching and what I focus on in my classroom. Also, a plug for new parents to find a support group – either one that’s attached to the hospital where you gave birth, or an independent one in your community. You’ll find great comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

Did your experience with your newborn look like this? All sweetness and light until… How did you cope with the immediate switch between expectation and reality in those first few days postpartum?

“The Period of Purple Crying” What is THAT?!

Purple

Have you heard about “The Period of Purple Crying?” Have you already experienced it? If not, consider yourself lucky. If you are reading this in the midst of such a period, you have my greatest empathy.

The Period of Purple Crying is something that most parents will experience at some point and I want you to know what it is. I also want you to understand that it’s a temporary situation that will get better. And that even if you’re baby does a little or a lot of purple crying, they won’t grow into insufferable children. Purple crying is just a normal developmental process that babies go through. Having realistic expectations about this might make it easier to get through it than if you have no idea what it is until your stuck in the middle of it!

Does this mean that your baby will be crying so hard that they turn the color purple? No. The word “purple” is used as an acronym to describe this period of normal development for newborns.

PPeak of Crying: It begins about week two and continues until about months three-four. It can increase with every week peaking at about month two, then lessen during months three-four.

UUnexpected: Your baby’s crying can come and go without any reason.

RResists Soothing: Your baby may not stop crying no matter what you do to help them.

PPain-Like Face: Your crying baby may look like they’re in pain, even when they aren’t.

LLong-Lasting: The crying can last as much as 5 hours a day or more.

EEvening: Your baby may cry more in the late afternoon and evening.

Sounds fun, right? I know – it sounds terrible. But read on, because there are some things that you can do that will make this slightly less challenging.

They call it a “period” so that you understand that there is a beginning and also (blessedly!) an end to this behavior. I think people are still wanting to label this as “colic” and that might make you feel better – for a little bit. But sometimes that same “diagnosis” might make you feel like there’s something wrong with your baby or that they need to be treated medically, when they’re perfectly healthy and just going through a normal stage of newborn development. (It’s always a good idea to talk with your provider if you feel that your baby might be in pain or not feeling well. They’ll be able to rule out any medical issues.)

But, what are you supposed to do with a newborn who is having periods of purple crying? First, recognize that any attempts to soothe your baby might work some of the time, but nothing works all of the time. Your baby is a brand new little human being and they can be unpredictable little buggers sometimes.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to soothe your baby, you should. But try not to take it personally if after all of your lovely attempts, your baby still does not soothe. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or that you’re a bad parent. It just means that for this period of time, your baby will not be able to be soothed, no matter what you try. Frustrating? Absolutely! But at least you can stop thinking that you suck at parenting.

What soothing behaviors can you try so that you feel like you’re doing something?

Change the baby’s position: Sometimes this will be enough for them to settle down because of their different perspective or something distracts them. Maybe they’ll get a better look at your face or feel your body against theirs which can be very comforting.

Repeat something over and over again: Try soft little pats on the bum or back to the beat of your favorite song. Engage their senses and create a rhythm out of whatever it is you’re doing. My husband had a different “Daddy Dance” that he created for each of our babies – the same movement over and over – when our kids were newborns. It was soothing for them and gave him a little bit of a workout at the same time. Win-win!

White noise (even a vacuum, or fan can work in a pinch): Some babies will respond really well to white noise. You might have to start it quite loud depending on their crying and then gradually turn it down. This can be super helpful for some babies. Our friends had the cleanest house in town with their first newborn! We’d come over for dinner and take turns holding her and vacuuming various rooms in the house. It really worked!

Keep your baby close to you: Try wearing them around the house in a sling or some other type of baby carrier. You might have to find “the one” that this particular baby likes. (We had a different carrier for each of our babies. Try to get them second-hand, they are not cheap!) But if they’re having a particularly hard time soothing, maybe add some skin-to-skin contact. That will help to fire up the oxytocin for both of you!

Try to engage all of their senses for even more impact: But keep it human, not mechanical. Babies will always respond better to human voices, features, touches and smells than the most expensive toy or baby gadget ever created.

None of this probably sounds like rocket science to you. Cultures all over the world have employed these same soothing techniques for their babies since the beginning of time. But here’s something you might not know.

There is such a thing as using soothing activities or techniques in advance of crying episodes to lessen the amount and duration of crying jags overall. There are countries where babies are worn almost 24/7 and they don’t have the same levels of purple crying that our babies do in the West. Hmmmm….

You might try and track the actual crying episodes for a few days to see if there is any rhyme or reason to them. It can feel incredibly overwhelming if you feel like your baby cries “all the time.” But if you see in your notes that your baby is happy during the daytime and only inconsolable between the hours of 6-11 pm, you’ll see that he doesn’t cry all the time.

It doesn’t change that your baby cries non-stop for five hours straight, but at least it prepares you and allows you to create a strategy for how to effectively deal with this purple crying until it ends.

Because, it will end. I promise you that. At about 12 weeks (sometimes a little bit earlier, sometimes a little bit later) your baby “wakes up” for lack of a better way to describe it. They become more like the baby you had imagined, and those periods of purple crying will become something of a war story for you to share with other new parents.

But please –  remember in that sharing to always let those poor parents who are still in the middle of it know that it will get better. It always does.

Want to read more about The Period of Purple Crying? Check out this website. And if you are a crafty person who loves to knit, there’s a campaign called Click for Babies to help spread the word about purple crying to new parents and help lower the risk of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Did your baby go through this? If you’ve experienced this first-hand, what was it like when it ended? Let’s try to provide some hope for those who are still in the middle of it.

Happy Birth Day to Me!

Home10:5

This post is dedicated to my first-born “baby,” who made me a Momma sixteen years ago today. She’s grown into such a lovely young woman. Beautiful, inside and out. Mature well beyond her years. Determined, curious and questioning. She’s fun and funny. She lives her life at a volume that might be too loud for some (but never for me). I love her with all of my heart and I am grateful every day that she chose me to be hers.

You climb into the backseat of your green Saturn wagon with your brand new baby. But instead of securing her into the little bucket carseat in the middle of the back (the safest place for the baby to be, so you’ve been told) and then climbing up front to the passenger seat, you tell your husband, “I’m just going to sit back here.” You don’t get an argument. In fact, you notice that he’s driving slower than you’ve ever seen anyone drive a car, following every traffic sign to the letter, continuously muttering under his breath something about “all the crazy people” that are driving too fast, or too close, or too – “Don’t they understand we have a brand new baby in the car?!”

There’s this weird mixture of excitement and sheer panic that manifests as something solid in the pit of your stomach. Just a few days ago this little person was inside of you. But now she is here and the enormity of what has happened hits you full force: you are now responsible for someone else in a way that you never have been before. You’re responsible for someone else’s life. 

You can’t decide if you want to go back and hug the nurse who wheeled you out to the car with a cheery, “Congratulations! You’ll do great!” – or punch her in the face. Maybe there’s a third option. Couldn’t she come and live with you? Just for a little while? Until you get the hang of this new parenting thing?

The drive which usually takes only three minutes, feels like it’s taking three weeks. That may have something to do with your husband driving ten miles under the speed limit, but maybe it’s okay that it’s taking awhile. It gives you a minute or two to try and catch your breath and steady yourself. “People do this every single day,” you think, “Every day, people all over the world are parenting their children.” This thought doesn’t bring you the comfort you were hoping for, but you keep repeating it as a mantra over and over in your head anyway.

As you pull up in front of your house, you take stock of how much has changed in such a short timeframe. Nine months of pregnancy seemed like too long to wait to meet your baby, but now that she’s here? Another three months of her inside of you might have been a better idea.

Your husband parks and jumps out to gather up all the crap that you brought with you for the birth. It was long and hard and nothing like you expected it to be. It definitely did not go “according to plan.” Even so, there was a lot of extra stuff that you thought would be essential for your birth that you didn’t even pull out of the bag! Oh, well.

You take stock of how your birth ended up. A few more interventions than you’d hoped for, but still you feel good about it. Your birth support team was amazing and you felt like you made the best decisions you could as birth happened. Your husband returns to the car to grab the birth ball and your extra pillows – these did get used, a lot.

You stay in the back of the car with your gorgeous little girl while all of this is going on. She’s sleeping peacefully in her little seat. Her eyes fluttering slightly as she – do babies dream at only two days old? You look at her cute little squishy nose, her tiny rosebud lips, her impossibly small fingernails and wonder at it all. You did this thing – this miraculous thing! – of bringing a brand new human being through your body and into this world. And even if you are nervous, the reality of that accomplishment builds you up – at least for the moment.

Your husband comes around to the side of the car and helps you out. He climbs into the back to unhook the car seat and ever-so-gently lifts your baby out and you walk together as a new family up the front steps of your house. And as you cross the threshold, you realize how much your life has changed. Even your house has been forever changed.

It has become a home.

This was how I remembered our first trip home from the hospital with our brand new baby. Does this resonate? How did you feel as you made your way home? Did your house feel different to you now that you were bringing a baby into it?