#Adaptation: #1 Job Requirement in Parenting

adaptation

Today we all have a choice: We can take risks and actions to ensure that we adapt with the constantly changing times or we can hope for the best and do nothing. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready? #Adaptation

This is the latest “instigation” from Linda Rottenberg as part of a really cool program I’m involved in during the moth of December to envision how I will try to do “business as unusual” in 2017. If you’re interested, check it out – there’s still time to join me on this Quest. I’ve been writing a lot in response to these prompts (this one is #8), but sometimes they’re more personal and end up in the private Quest 2017 Facebook forum. But sometimes an instigation like the one above, fits so well with what is asked of new parents, that I feel compelled to share the response here.

I can think of no other time in my life where I’ve had to adapt more than when I first became a parent. Starting in pregnancy I felt like I had to adapt constantly month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, and so on…

We are creatures who appreciate the usual, our known norm. We like having expectations about how our lives will flow from one day to the next because it allows us to wake up in the morning and get on with our day.

If the world was an uncertain mess (which, really, it kind of is) and we focused only on the not-knowing-what-to-expect-ness of it all, we’d likely become paralyzed – doubt, fear and concern about what’s going to happen next weighing us down.

I was incredibly sick with my first pregnancy. I threw up about 10x a day until I was sixteen weeks along. I lost fifteen pounds during that first trimester. I had to adapt, and adapt quickly, to this huge change in how I felt all day, every day, until my body finally decided that the “foreign body” growing inside of me was not my mortal enemy and we could co-exist without attacking one another. It wasn’t easy!

Then I had to adapt to the fact that once I could eat, I wanted to eat EVERYTHING not nailed down. I made up for lost time, that’s for sure! I ended up gaining 45 pounds over my starting weight (which really means, I gained 60 pounds if you count the original fifteen that I’d lost due to all my puking!) and I had to adapt to my ever-expanding and changing body as the baby took up more and more space, making it harder to breathe and move about in the world.

I had to adapt to having to pee every 15 minutes throughout the day (and night!), and eventually I had to adapt to start eating Tums before, during and after every meal because I could never be sure what would trigger my intense heartburn.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to wearing a belly band because my round ligaments were so tired of trying to hold up my belly throughout the day. Finally, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to crawling or being carried up the stairs at night when it was time for bed because my sciatica would shoot searing pain down my backside.

Know this: expectant Mommas are ALL about adaptation!

The process of carrying a baby in our own bodies, forces us to adapt from within from the earliest days of our pregnancy. And in this way, we have both an advantage and disadvantage over our non-pregnant partner.

How is this a disadvantage? Puh-lease. Re-read paragraphs 6-9 above if you haven’t already figured this out… All of the physical and emotional changes that happen during pregnancy can be incredibly challenging. And I’m going to say it – sometimes, pregnancy sucks! Not everyone loves it all of the time, and some of us really don’t like it much at all. Pregnancy takes it’s toll on us as women, but we often don’t even acknowledge this.

We just – adapt.

We keep going. We roll with it. We throw up right before teaching a class, hold it together for two hours, say goodnight to our students and make it to the bathroom just in time to throw up again after they’ve left.

But this also is where we have an advantage over our partners. We’ve been adapting for nine+ months before the baby arrives. We’ve already gotten a taste of what’s to come, what will be asked of us as new parents – because we’ve already been doing it for a really long time. This means that we’re a tiny bit more prepared than our partners might be for the rapid fire adaptation that is a requirement once our baby is ex-utero.

Today’s prompt states that today we all have a choice: we can take action in order to adapt to changing times, or we can hope for the best and do nothing.

But in new parenting, I’m not sure that there really is a choice! You must either adapt (and quickly!) on your own, or your little six pound peanut will make sure you adapt in order to satisfy their needs for survival. There really is no “hoping for the best and doing nothing” option when it comes to your role as a new parent. But by the end of “The 4th Trimester” it’s hard to remember what life was really like before the baby came.

Those first three months are intense and packed with so much to learn in such a short period of time. It’s hard to take stock of how many different ways you’ve adapted to this new role of parenting because even though at twelve weeks in you might feel like you’re no longer crawling through the trenches of new parenting, it never really ends.

You really are amazing, you know that?

As a new parent, you’re learning hundreds of new skills each and every day, applying them and testing them out in real time. Sometimes with great success! Sometimes? Maybe not so much. But either way, you should be super impressed with your overall ability to adapt to this new role as well as you have.

It’s not easy to become a whole new person, while caring for a whole new person, and being in relationship with a whole new person. Navigating this new terrain is challenging, to say the least. But it’s not something you can just refuse to do. It’s required of you. This is your new normal, your new reality.

Adaptation will become your constant companion. 

Because this parenting gig is based on a relationship. A relationship you share with your child –  someone who is changing and adapting to their own environment as they grow and develop from a wailing and hangry newborn, to a cooing and babbling infant, an unsure and unsteady toddler, to a walking, talking, running child, an independent and sometimes sassy youth, to eventually end up a distinct individual with their own thoughts, feelings and passions (that may or may not match up with your own.)

Adaptation will be necessary even into adulthood because you’re both forever changing from one day to the next. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready?

How can I help you?

I’m asking this question because I really want to know how I can better serve the people I care so much about: parents.

As part of my personal and professional Quest, in the coming year I’d like to make some adaptations, as well. I’ve got a few ideas of my own that I’m considering… a newsletter, podcast, live Q & A sessions, an interview series with leaders in the fields of pregnancy, birth and parenting.

But I really would love to hear what you would like to find here on my blog. How can I help you adapt better in these constantly changing times? Please help me, help you – and share your ideas and comments with me here by answering this super quick survey. Thanks so much!

Named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and one of TIME’s 100 “Innovators for the 21st century,” Linda Rottenberg is considered among the world’s most dynamic experts on entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership. Ms. Rottenberg is author of CRAZY IS A COMPLIMENT: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags and co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, the world’s leading organization supporting high-impact entrepreneurs. A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Linda lives in Brooklyn with her husband, author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, and their identical twin daughters.

Twitter: @lindarottenberg

How Pregnancy & Birth Transformed Me

 

Transformation

It’s not a new idea: Pregnancy and birth are powerful, transformative experiences. But I believe this power to transform happens every single time you’re preparing to become a parent, whether it’s your first time or your fifth!

Each of my pregnancies and births taught me and transformed me anew. The focus is usually on how much the first experience of pregnancy and birth transforms a woman into a mother. And this makes sense: the first time you do anything, makes the biggest impact. Everything’s new and it ends up feeling like all the really big stuff happens the first time.

But, actually, each time we say yes to becoming a parent – biological, adoptive, even if the pregnancy ends in loss – the decision to become a parent marks the start of the transformation process.

Growing up, I would have been considered a “tom-boy.” Even though I was quite comfortable in my body (I liked being a girl!) and I was solid in my heterosexuality (I really liked boys!) I’ve never considered myself to be super feminine.

My imaginary friend as a preschooler was a baseball-loving boy named Michael. If you were looking for me I’d probably be outside climbing trees or catching crawdads in the lake. I hated dolls and never played with them (the irony of this is not lost on me!) and I’d much rather play soccer or football with the boys than do anything else with the girls. And while all of these might be pretty stereotypical examples, they’re all true.

As a kid, I was hyper-aware of how boys were treated differently from girls. Even at a young age, I figured out that this difference had nothing to do with intelligence or character – it was because they were boys. I realized early on, that there was power in being male. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I hung out with boys more than girls when I was growing up. I wanted some of that power. 

(Or it could just be a part of my hormonal make-up. Once, in a conversation with my 13-year old son, I mentioned that I might have more testosterone than most women, to which he replied, “Mom you’ve got more testosterone than most men.” Ha!)

In any case, I’ve always been aware of the power imbalance that exists between the sexes based solely on gender, and I don’t think it’s cool. 

But when I became pregnant the first time, almost immediately, I realized something:

Women are the ones who are really powerful.

Our bodies, the very same bodies that might keep us from claiming the highest positions of power in business, politics, and lots of other areas, are co-creators of human life. Being newly pregnant and making this discovery, I remember thinking how sad it was that my husband was “just a man” and would never be able to experience what real power was all about.

For instance, I created a brand new organ to nourish my developing baby because, duh – I was that cool. And by virtue of being a woman, I created my baby’s bones, her brain, all of the internal organs, her skin, a couple of ears, some hair, her fingernails, eyelashes and a bunch of other stuff. I was making a brand new human being from scratch. And even though it was incredibly demanding, exhausting, and hard work, I did it 24/7! I created this new human being while working, teaching – even while I was sleeping!

All of a sudden, my relationship with being female was completely transformed! I didn’t become any less “tom-boyish.” My testosterone to estrogen/progesterone levels have stayed about the same. But everything about how I felt about being a woman had been transformed. I made my peace with being female in a male dominated world because I had discovered the real truth: Women are powerful beyond measure!

It was unexpected, this transformation. In fact, I’d wondered before I ever became pregnant if I was going to hate the physical limitations of my pregnant body. And while I can’t say that I loved every minute of it, overall I thought that the whole process was amazing. And that I was awesome!

I’m lucky to have a partner who was willing and excited to accept this transformation. He never felt threatened as I discovered this new personal power in my female form. Too often, when the person we love most in the world starts any transformation process, instead of supporting them, we get scared. We fear they’ll outgrow us, or no longer need us, so we try to tamp it down, make it not quite so big. Without even realizing it, we tell our partners through our lack of enthusiastic support, “You can be transformed, but just a tiny little bit.”

Transformation is a big word. Webster tells us that it is:

a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis during the life cycle of an animal.

But that’s exactly what pregnancy and birth offer all of us: powerful transformation – but only if we allow it. We don’t need to go in search of this transformation, we just need to notice it when it happens.

And when we do notice it happening, try not run away from it. Don’t be afraid of it. Feel it out a little bit. Embrace it. Talk about it with your partner. Assure them that this transformation you’re experiencing is about both of you growing into your new roles as parents. And then notice and appreciate the transformation as it happens for them as well.

For every woman and her partner, the transformation that can occur is unique. It’s a culmination of all of your experiences to date. And every single transformative experience we go through, birth or otherwise, has something to teach us – if we’re willing to learn.

My first pregnancy and birth taught me what real power was and that I’d possessed it all along. My second taught me what really matters in a birth story and it wasn’t at all as I’d thought. Number three taught me that there were still lots of surprises in life and to not to get too attached to things going my way. And my fourth taught me that the mental/emotional experiences of pregnancy and birth are at least as important and in some ways, even more important, than the physical experience.

Every time I was transformed. Maybe that transformation was most obvious with my first, but even if the subsequent transformations were more subtle, they remained equally life-changing. Each one of these powerful transformative experiences taught me important things about myself, my partner – and life. They’ve been instrumental in shaping who I am and how I move through the world today. 

How about you? Did you notice any transformation while you were pregnant or after you gave birth? If you’ve had more than one child, would you agree that the first time was the most obvious transformation for you? What have pregnancy and birth taught you?

My Belly Pooch

Belly Pooch

(Not my actual belly pooch… I’m brave people, but not that brave.)

At my age, my body and I have come to a sort of reckoning. I go to Boot Camp 3x a week and push my competitive self to beat the twenty-somethings in class alongside me and this allows me to drink red wine, eat dark chocolate, and cook with butter. Because, duh! Everything’s better with butter. I’m grateful every day to have a body that’s strong. And generally speaking, I feel good about myself.

But, after four babies my belly… Well, let’s just say that my belly looks like it’s given birth to four babies. You know what I mean? If you’re still pregnant with your first, then you might not know what I mean. But, you will. That’s not me being snotty, people. This is just me being the REP = Realistic Expectations Police.

When we’re first pregnant, we have expectations that even though we’re putting on weight, that after the baby is born – poof! – it’s gone. We might also have expectations that if we nurse the hell out of our babies, that extra weight just rolls right off.

And in some ways, both of these statements have some truth.

I remember stepping on the scale soon after my first baby was born and being amazed by my rapid weight loss program – I’d lost about 20 of the 45 pounds that I’d gained almost overnight! But could you tell by looking at me? No way.

And even though I’ve never felt hungrier than when I was a nursing mother, and thoroughly enjoyed being able to snarf down everything in sight as (slowly, very slowly) the number on the scale started to creep back down, I was still wearing maternity pants for awhile after my baby was born.

But even as I started to exercise more and lost all of the “baby weight” I’d put on, my belly never looked the same. And I think this is an issue for a lot of Mommas out there. Even if you’re really fit, and wearing the same size as you did before the baby(ies) came, your body is now a different body altogether.

And why shouldn’t it be? What an amazing thing you and your body have done together!

You’ve been a co-creator of a brand new human life. You’ve expanded (emotionally, physically, spiritually) to allow this new little person to take hold, develop and thrive inside of you. You’ve sacrificed yourself in so many ways so that this next generation can be realized. You’ve given birth to your baby, either by pushing your baby down and through your vagina, or by enduring abdominal surgery.

Pregnancy and birth change women. Some of those changes remain hidden, they’re deep and internal shifts in how we now move as women through this world. But there are external changes, too. And sometimes, we’re not able to hide these very well.

Instead of trying to hide them, how can we begin to not only accept these changes, but celebrate them?

Part of this work can happen even during pregnancy. The next time you step out of the shower, towel off and find a full-length mirror and give that incredible body of yours the props that it so well deserves. Be amazed at what your body is doing to make space for your growing baby inside of you. Allow your partner’s words of appreciation for how sexy they find your changing body to sink into your psyche.

We’re so weird in this culture. We can’t wait to tell people, “I just ran my first marathon!” And are delighted to hear, “Wow! That’s incredible!” But we never even talk about the much more amazing feat of pregnancy and birth that we’ve gone through! Why aren’t we shouting from the rooftops, “Look at me! Do you have any idea how spectacular I am?!” Instead, we fret about how we look and beat ourselves up at a time when we need to celebrate all that our body is capable of.

But for the record, even I’m not immune to this stuff. No matter what my weight, I have a belly pooch now that wasn’t there before I became a Momma! And no matter how many crunches or core exercises I do, it’s never going to go away – not completely. But now I’m wanting to establish a different relationship with this belly pooch of mine. And it’s all because of a conversation my son and I had the other day:

He pulled up my shirt, hugged me, kissed my belly pooch and exclaimed – “I love your belly!”

Then, he pulled up his own shirt and said, “Look at my belly. It’s so tight and hard.”

(“Like that’s a bad thing?” I thought to myself.)

“Why do you love my belly so much?”

“Because it’s so soft, and squishy. Because it feels like a pillow when I’m hugging you. Because it’s where I slept when I was inside of you.”

I know, right? On a bad day, he’s a really sweet and cute kid, but damn. This was a response that even I had no comeback for.

And then I realized something. For the past seven years, I’ve been wishing for my body to change. I want my belly pooch to just go away already! But maybe I should try to practice what I preach.

Maybe I should try looking at my belly and instead of bemoaning all that it used to be, celebrate all that it has become.

My four babies made me the woman I am today. And I like this woman. So instead of picking her apart, reducing her to a pant size or a flat abdomen, maybe I should congratulate her and her body on a job very well done, indeed.

Embracing the ways that motherhood changes us seems a very empowering place to practice much of what we’re wanting to pass along to our babies as they grow up: self-love, kindness to ourselves and to others, acceptance of differences, appreciation of beauty in all of its forms, and recognition of hard work and effort, to name a few.

You know this parenting thing is a funny business. Sometimes you think you’re here to teach your little ones how to be in the world, and then all of a sudden the coin gets flipped and you wonder, “Which of us is the teacher here? How lucky am I to be learning from you?” And in that moment, you might realize that having a soft, squishy belly is the best thing in the whole wide world.

At least it is to one particular seven year old who has just taught you how to love purely, completely and without judgement.

Now, that’s a lesson worth learning.

Sex Life? What Sex Life? Part II

SexLifePartII

As mentioned in an earlier post, Sex Life? What Sex LIfe? Part I, there are many factors that can conspire to make postpartum sex a little bit tricky to initiate. But the good news is there’s only one thing necessary to have a lasting and healthy sexual relationship: direct, open and honest communication.

When you see your provider for that standard six-week postpartum visit, be prepared to talk with them about your sexuality. Nothing should be off-limits. This can feel awkward at first, but remember, your provider has studied for years about pregnancy, birth and postpartum. They’re considered experts in the care of women during this transition. Anything you feel might be of concern to you, bring it up. Don’t be shy. They’ve heard it all before, I promise.

Whatever your concerns, they’re most likely to be temporary and will resolve over time. But the anxiety of not knowing this can become a bigger deal than it needs to be. I’m a huge fan of paying to hear these experts say the three little words that can make you feel so much better: “That’s completely normal.”

If, at the end of this six-week appointment with your provider, you’ve stopped bleeding and your physical healing is complete, you’re probably going to get the green light for having sex. You’ve been examined and it’s been determined that you are physically ready for sex. But now you need to weigh that information with whether or not you’re feeling emotionally ready for sex.

Have you ever heard this joke? “Sex is like pizza. Even bad pizza is still pretty good pizza.”

I don’t think it’s very funny, either.

Sex, good sex, rarely just involves the physical. I mean, there is something to be said about just going at it! But if you think about it, the best sex of your life might have involved, but was not dependent upon: a gorgeous and romantic location, a crazy position, or the addition of some kinky sex toys.

Good sex usually occurs when there’s a trusting, loving relationship established between you and your partner. Better sex happens when you feel safe and accepted for who you are. Great sex happens when you’re able to see and be seen by your beloved.

Good sex involves a level of intimacy and vulnerability that allows the two of you to become one, physically and emotionally. It can’t happen if one of you isn’t feeling emotionally ready. It can’t happen when you’re feeling guilted into it. It can’t happen when you’re just trying to soothe someone else’s sexual frustration. It can’t happen when one of you feels resentment – sex being one more thing on your to-do list of how you serve others and not yourself.

Sex postpartum has the potential to be so much better than it ever was before your baby arrived! The reason is because you’re about to reveal to one another a level of tenderness and vulnerability that you don’t even know about yourself. It’s through that window of openness that you can begin to cultivate a new, more intimate and connected relationship with your partner inside – and outside – of the bedroom.

But communication is the key.

If you’re not feeling ready (either one of you!), you need to express this to your partner while reassuring that it has nothing to do with your desire for them as a person. Too many partners take the new Momma’s lack of desire for sex as a lack of desire for them – as if the baby has somehow taken their place.

Now Mommas, initially you might respond, “That’s ridiculous!” Before you start telling your partner to “Grow up! The baby needs me!” think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes.

If your partner was the sole source of food and most often the source of comfort for your newborn, you might feel more than just a little bit left out. So it’s possible (and I would add normal) that your partner might be feeling a bit on the outside of this new little Momma-baby dyad. It can get lonely out there sometimes.

As the partner, it’s important to remember that Momma might be “all touched out” by the end of the day. She might want her body to be hers and hers alone. She’s likely to feel overwhelmed by trying to meet her newborn’s needs and get showered before four pm. The thought of adding some sexy time into the day may not even be on her radar.

It’s helpful to take stock of one another’s perspective to understand where the other is coming from when it comes to sex – or anything else, for that matter. Perspective taking is challenging, but it makes you a much more thoughtful person. And this alone is a very big turn-on! Thoughtfulness can go a long way toward creating a much more mutually satisfying relationship.

But here’s the real-deal. For most women postpartum, it takes awhile longer than it did before the baby was born for their body to feel desire. This can be a big mismatch from where partners are.

Your partner might catch a glimpse of you before you jump into the shower and think, “Let’s do this!” But your mind is already on the hamster wheel calculating all the things that need to get done today – and sex is the last thing you’d ever think about.

Partners hear this: if you’re willing to wait until the timing is right (and it might end up being early morning now instead of nighttime – Mommas are battling end-of-the-day exhaustion levels, remember?) and if you’re willing to engage the biggest sex organ in a woman’s body you just might get somewhere. This mismatch in your sex drive can be minimized.

(Here’s the part that applies to all couples, not just those who are new to parenting!)

The biggest sex organ for a woman, in my opinion, is her brain. It’s that whole brain-body connection that I can’t stop writing about! In order for a woman to be able to truly let go, she needs to feel safe, she needs to be able to trust and allow herself to be vulnerable. It’s best if she’s not feeling too anxious or stressed out.

And even if you’re the love of her life, that doesn’t happen just because you’re lying next to one another in bed. It’s a rare woman whose feelings of desire can be turned on like the switch on a lightbulb. She might require a little more prep-work. Instead, try thinking about lighting a fire and the care that’s needed to get that spark to a full flame.

Engage her in conversation. It doesn’t have to be about profound or romantic things. Discussing with each other how the day has gone and really listening to one another (no electronic devices nearby to distract you from each other!) goes a lot farther than you’d think in terms of creating connection.

If you notice that she’s had a particularly rough day, offer to take charge of the bedtime routine, or do the dishes so she can sit down with a glass of wine and relax a little bit. If she can ease out of Momma-mode, and let some of the day’s stressors go, she’ll be much more responsive to you.

Even after all of these positive steps toward setting the mood for some loving, she might not want to go there – but she just might. How do you know?

Ask her!

I think when it comes to sex, partners are too often silent: groping and hoping that if you touch her in just the right way under the sheets she might be ready to go. Instead of this blind attempt with the potential of rejection without explanation, ask her if she’s up for messing around. Most women can gauge whether or not they can be persuaded.

If it’s defintely, “No.” Then, it’s not going to happen. Mommas it will help your partner, and your relationship, if you can articulate why you’re not into it at this time: “I don’t think it’s happening tonight. I’m _________________ (too tired, too worked up about my day tomorrow, still upset about the conversation I had with my Mom, angry about the comment you made to me last night.) This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but direct, open and honest communication has to happen for real connection to occur.

If she is in the mood, she’ll let you know – with or without words (hubba! hubba!) And she’ll appreciate that you asked!

But here’s the clincher that might lead to better (and more!) sex for you both: Mommas if you’re on the fence about whether or not you feel up for having some sexy time, let your partner know that too by saying, “I might be able to be persuaded.” And then partners, do your best to persuade her!

Extra time spent catching her body and brain up to one another can make all the difference in terms of having good sex, more often. She might really want, she might really need, to have an orgasm. But unless her desire is able to fully manifest, the sex you do have might end up being one-sided, not mutually beneficial and therefore, won’t happen nearly as often as you’d like.

If you take these considerations into account however, you might find that your sex life post baby can be even stronger and more satisfying than it ever was before the baby arrived.

Last comment to all new or experienced Mommas out there: Make orgasms your new best friend! Every time you have one, it’s like going to the spa for a mini-massage. It’s one of the best ways to release tension throughout your entire body plus your brain gets flooded with that love and bonding hormone, oxytocin. Ultimately, with a healthy and satisfying sex life, you’ll experience less stress and more connection with your partner.

Your sex life postpartum may not be the most important aspect of your relationship, but it does deserve a lot of attention! You need to take care of it, and nurture it – with at least as much attention as you shower on your baby. When that happens, both your baby and your relationship will thrive.

How have you nurtured and cared for your relationship postpartum? Are there areas which deserve more of your attention? Do you need to focus more on using direct and honest communication with one another?

The Eyes Have It

Eyes

There’s an article that I just read from the BBC about a project called “One Day Young” from London photographer, Jenny Lewis, who for the past seven years has been capturing a stolen moment in time in the lives of new mother/baby pairs within 24 hours of birth. I encourage you to look at all of the photos she’s taken for this project. Then come back and read the article and see if you agree with what I’m about to say.

All of her photos are mesmerizing to me and I recognize my own self as new Momma in the disheveled hair, the still pregnant looking bellies, the exhaustion visible in every pore. I love that the photos are not retouched and appreciate that the photographer has really attempted to show a more realistic image of new motherhood.

But to be sure, I see myself more in the faces of the women who have a slight smile on their lips, maybe a bit of a gleam in their eyes – those women who seem to be thinking, “I can’t believe I just did that! I’ve got a secret… I totally kick ass, and this baby is my proof!” At least that’s how I felt after the birth of my first baby and I’m pretty sure a picture taken at that time would have reflected my inner rock star.

Eyes2

(Photo by Jenny Lewis)

But the images that linger in my memory, are ones like this:

EyesHaveIt

(Photo by Jenny Lewis)

“I am not entirely sure who is to blame for the rose-tinted vision of motherhood. It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells you how tough it is to have a baby. Before you have one, you never quite get it. I often think about vulnerable mothers in tough circumstances and how they manage.”

Gitta Gschwendtner, mother of Til

There are photos in this collection where there are no Mona Lisa smiles. These are the ones that show a different set of emotions: “I have no idea what I’m supposed to think of you, let alone how to take care of you.” Or, “My birth was traumatic and I feel ripped off!”

You can sense the fear, anxiety or anger behind those eyes that are averted or avoiding direct eye contact with their baby. And while there are only a few pictures from the entire collection that have connected narratives in the original article from the BBC, they seem to complete one another perfectly. The image and words just fit for that baby’s first day of life, that woman’s first day of mothering.

But this leads me to ask a question… Oftentimes, new Mommas suffer from PMADs (Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders) in complete silence, their outside demeanor belying what hell they’re going through on the inside. How does this happen? If during those first 24 hours a photographer can capture these images, what are we missing? Because I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of women who’ve been struggling with a PMAD months after their baby’s birth and in all the pictures from that time, you’d have a hard time knowing it: they look joyful, happy, as though everything is wonderful – while inside they’re falling apart.

But in these One Day Young photos, the difference between the women who are suffering and unsure, versus those who look eager and excited to take on their new roles is obvious.

It’s purely speculation on my part, because I haven’t interviewed any of these women and have no idea about their medical history or how their births turned out, but I would be willing to guess that unmet expectations definitely played a part and contributed to their looks of disillusionment and overwhelm.

This is not their fault. Like Gitta says above, there’s a rose-tinted vision of motherhood that is pervasive in our culture and this doesn’t do anybody any favors.

Parenting is hard. It’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever done in my life on every possible level. And we need to be sharing this message with more people and more often.

There might be naysayers who cry out, “You don’t want to scare them!” But realistic expectations are not scare tactics. Different aspects of parenting will be more or less challenging for each individual (as an example, for me,  it was the entire year each of my children turned three…) Knowing that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns allows women to understand what they’re getting themselves and their partners into.

Even though I’m just supposed to be talking about getting a baby born in my classes, I throw in some info now and again about the realities of life with a newborn, so that they’ve at least heard it from one person before the baby arrives.

This is going to be hard. There will be days that you hate it. There will also be days that you can’t believe how much you love it. You’ll be stretched to your absolute limit – multiple times. You’ll have a mirror held up before your face every.single.damn.day and even though you try your hardest to be the best version of yourself, oftentimes you’ll fail and be a version of yourself that you really don’t like that much. You’ll compare yourself to others, but why? You, your partner and your baby are unique and the only “right” way to parent your baby is the way that’s working for your family – today. Because, it’s not going to work a month from now. You will never “arrive” as a parent. Because it never ends. There will always be a new challenge to learn from.

The photos of these women in their first 24 hours with their babies are raw, they’re real, and these women have just gone through the most intense transformative experience of their lives and they’re not able to mask their true emotions and vulnerabilities.

And I think we need more of that. All of us. We need to put down our armor and share openly, first with ourselves, and then with those people we love, about what’s really going on inside. But then, that circle needs to expand.

We need to be willing to share with other new parents our highs and our lows of parenting. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Find your tribe now. Find that tribe of people who will celebrate your parenting successes, and listen to your parenting fails – followed up by sharing a few of their own.

Knowing just how challenging this parenting job can be and having realistic expectations about what’s to come, is empowering to new families. When they feel prepared and armed with realistic expectations about their roles, unfettered by rose-tinted visions, they’ll end up feeling less isolated, alone and incapable and more able to partner and parent with confidence: all the things we should want for our new families.

How can you bring more realistic expectations into the work you do with new families? If you are a parent already, how could you help expectant parents have more realistic expectations about this time in their life? If you are a new parent, how could you reach out to other parents to find your tribe?

“I’m getting so fat!”

I'm Getting So Fat!

I had two class series that began this past week. Night one, we discussed anatomy and terms using a set of slides that show the changes that occur in a woman’s body from before she was pregnant to just about to pop – 37-39 weeks along. My goal is to have these Mommas walk out of the classroom that evening with a deeper appreciation and respect for their bodies and all the changes that have happened. I want them to be impressed with themselves. And, I’ll admit that I want their partners to be a little bit in awe of them.

The uterus starts out as a pelvic organ, but it’s clear to see by the end of pregnancy that while it might still originate in the pelvis, it has greatly expanded and is now shoving out of the way and applying pressure on all the other organs housed within the abdomen. Depending on how much space a woman has in her torso, the space that exists between the bottom of her ribcage and the top of her hips, greatly determines how she’ll carry her baby: tucked up and inside, or way out in front. Both situations have their drawbacks, believe it or not, as I talked about in an earlier post that you can read here.

I know that I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle in trying to get women to feel more positive about the physical changes that are happening during pregnancy – but I’m determined to try. I’m someone who had issues with my own body image as a young woman, and sadly I’m not alone. But it was pregnancy and birth that transformed the relationship I now have with my body. 

I was a “tom-boy” as a child and I grew up thinking that at least some of the power men seemed to possess was, in due part, because of their masculinity. Until I got pregnant, that is. Then I remember thinking almost every day during pregnancy – “I’m so freaking powerful! I’m creating a brand new human being – inside of my body! And after my body opens up to birth this baby, my body will make all the food my baby needs. I am incredible. My body is amazing!”

In my youth, I wasted so much time wondering if I was carrying too much weight, or how my body looked as I tried to wear whatever fashions were the most popular, even if they weren’t the most flattering for my particular body type. I still work out and take care of my body today but my focus has completely changed. It’s not so I can be a certain size or see the “right” numbers reflected back to me from my bathroom scale. I work out so that I’ll be healthy and strong enough to keep up with my four children now, and hopefully, I’ll still be around to enjoy my grandchildren someday. This marks a huge transformation for me.

I want that same transformation to happen for the Mommas in my classes. But the issue is that too many women view their bodies negatively during pregnancy. They catch themselves in the bathroom mirror or their reflection from a store window and think to themselves, “I’m getting so fat!” Now is the time to stop berating your body and instead give it some well-deserved love and respect. Now is the time to go out in a bikini and strut your stuff – without concern of your tummy sticking out. There’s no way you could suck it in if you tried, so why not show it off instead? What I’m trying to do is switch out the negative tape that’s been playing in their heads with a positive one instead because I think all of this follows us into our births.

It’s hard to feel strong in our birthing bodies if we feel shame in our pregnant bodies.

I know this message resonates with my students because I can see partners nudging the pregnant Mommas and whispering things like, “See? What did I tell you?” Sometimes I’ll even notice a Momma whose eyes are full of tears – it just happened again this past week – and I know that I’ve obviously struck a nerve.

I’m not trying to make anyone cry, but I am trying to get them to switch out those tapes. I can’t think of anything else that we get to experience that has the possibility of such incredible transformation. Pregnancy and birth allow for both personal and relationship transformations that can forever change how you view yourself as a woman, as a mother or father, and as a couple.

And this transformation begins in how we view our bodies while still pregnant. You are not getting fat – your body is changing to create space within you for that transformation to start even before your baby is born.

How has pregnancy changed the way you feel about your body? Has this been a positive or negative change for you?

Waves

SBWave ORWaves

Sometimes…
Parenting feels
Like riding a wave
In Santa Barbara

Sun shining
Blue sky brushed with paint strokes of white
Water warm like a bath just drawn
Waves
Smooth, gentle, easy
Kissing your ankles and calves
Moving toward you and away again
In a hypnotic rhythm

Sometimes…
Parenting feels more
Like a “Sneaker Wave”
Along the Oregon Coast

One minute
Walking along the water’s edge
Looking for a sand dollar
Complete
With no edges broken

Then –

BAM!
Water crashing in from all sides
Tumbling head over heels
Up then down then up again
Hoping the undertow
Doesn’t drag you out to sea

These waves
Keep coming

Small and gentle
Or with monstrous ferocity
Sometimes both
At the same time

They never stop
Do they?

Have you had days like this as a new parent? Have you ever had a day that had both types of waves? How do you find your footing on the days when the water is rough?