It’s Been A Long Day…

Long Day

One morning, I called my Mom, almost in tears, saying that I’d already yelled at my kids “at least 25 times” that day and it was only half past nine in the morning! I asked how she’d done it with twice as many kids as me, and without ever yelling at any of us.

“What?” she’d asked incredulously. And I’d responded, “I don’t ever remember you even raising your voice at us.” And my wonderful Momma laughed out loud for a full five minutes before saying, “That’s what you’d call ‘having a selective memory’, sweetheart!”

Then she shared with me some epic tales of losing it and going off on us kids (none of which I remembered) and then told me something important: “Honey, when your children are small the truth of the matter is that the days are long, but the years are short.”

And now that I have one child talking about college, the two in the middle are rocking their High School & Middle School years, and my youngest is turning eight (tomorrow!) – I’d have to agree with her.

I was teaching this past weekend to a room full of expectant parents who must have thought I was crazy when I told them how jealous I was of them. But, seriously, I am.

I don’t envy the sleepless nights, the sore nipples, or the diaper changes to come. And to be sure, age three was unbelievably hard for me! (ALL four times!) No, I don’t have hazy, rose-colored memories of parenting infants and toddlers.

I vividly remember being attached at the hip to at least one of my babies all day long and what it felt like when the only hours that belonged to me were either those when I was sleeping or when I was alone in the bathroom without one of my children walking in on me, or asking me a litany of questions through the closed door.

(In all honesty, these bathroom moments continue to be few and far between…)

But I do envy expectant parents the opportunity to be transformed by the awesome power of birth: to find a strength that has yet to be tapped, and a vulnerability that has yet to be explored. I am jealous that they get to discover a whole new person they never even new existed inside themselves being born on the same day as they welcome their new baby.

I love being a Momma and my kids are absolute gifts in my life. But parenting has been, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had! And on the eve of my “baby’s” 8th birthday, I’m starting to appreciate the nostalgia expressed by parents who are no longer in that intense phase of parenting little, littles.

You know what I’m talking about…

You’re in the middle of Target with a 6-year-old who always manages to be where you can’t see her, a 3-year-old who keeps trying to get out of his seat in the shopping cart, and a newborn who’s decided that NOW! is the perfect moment to have her first real meltdown and is screaming inconsolably.

As you struggle to wrestle the baby out of the front-pack carrier, unhook your bra with one hand, corral the other two and sit down in the middle of the storage container aisle to feed your baby, you catch the eye of an older woman walking past. She sees your frustration rising to a breaking point, walks over, gives your arm a tight squeeze and says, “You’ll miss all of this one day! They grow up too fast!”

And in that moment, you can’t decide if you want to hug her – or punch her in the face!

(This may or may not have happened to me about 11 years ago…)

What does she mean?! She can’t possibly mean that she wishes to switch places with you (she doesn’t). Or that she longs for the days when her children were all moving in different directions and demanding so much energy, time, and attention that she remembers feeling like she never had enough for herself (she doesn’t).

But maybe with the passage of time, she’s realized the wisdom in my mother’s words: the days are long (and let’s face it – some days longer than others!) but the years are oh-so-short! And maybe she too, has a somewhat “selective memory” when it comes to what it was like to have babies and toddlers underfoot. Maybe she honestly forgets (or chooses to, anyway) all that made that time in her life so challenging and instead focuses her attention on all that she loved about that time as well:

~ the softness of her newborn’s cheek

~ the delicious smell of her baby’s head

~ the dimples of her toddler’s hands

~ the chubby feet and rolls upon rolls of her little one’s thighs

~ the sing-song call of “Mommy! Mooooooommmmmmy!”

She doesn’t envy you those incredibly long days. But, maybe she wishes that she could freeze time for the days that went by too fast. It is a blessing for us all that selective memory exists when it comes to parents – and children. 

This selective memory allows us to decide what we choose to focus on. I really cannot remember my Mom raising her voice at us – in fact, as I got older, she mastered the use of lowering her voice for emphasis to great effect!

But this imperfect recording of my childhood gives me hope! Maybe the same will be true for my own children. Maybe they’ll also have a selective memory of their childhood and focus mostly on just how much I loved them, not on how often I failed to show it because my temper or my impatience got the better of me – and I lost it once or twice. Or more.

This is my hope for all of you Mommas out there who’ve had that moment of regret – that you weren’t “perfect” in your parenting today. And if today has been incredibly long, may tomorrow be easier, but not necessarily shorter. And may you and your children have beautiful and imperfect memories of your day-to-day together, and instead someday feel wistful and nostalgic for those years that went by too fast.

Does this ring true for you in your parenting? It does for me… I’d love it if you’d share your comments. And I found this super cool Amy Winehouse song that I don’t think has ever been released… But it seems so fitting to the topic, that I offer it to you here

One Is The Loneliest Number…

one-is-lonely

Being a mom is lonely…why is making mom friends so hard? I swear it’s worse then dating. Pretty sure I’m just going to throw in the towel on having a social life until I’m old and retired and can play wheelchair races with other loner stinkies down the nursing home hallways. Raise your hand if wine is your best mom friend these days.

This was the post I read the other day on an online Facebook page that I lurk on. By “lurking,” I mean that I’m a member, but rarely do I post anything. The group is supposed to exist as a means of support for today’s super-connected new Mommas. But when I read some of the responses to posts members have written, they feel anything but supportive.

I’m not bashing the Admins for the FB page. I believe they work hard to police any comments that are out of line with the quote prominently displayed on their banner: “Whatever you do, do with kindness. Whatever you say, say with kindness. Wherever you go, radiate kindness.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie) But when you have 15K+ members, it’s hard to keep up.

I believe that being a new Momma today is much, much harder than it was when I had my first baby 17 1/2 years ago. And the number one reason, in my opinion, is: Social Media.

Now, before you think that I’m going to tear into how “social media is the devil” and that we would all be “better off without our faces glued to a screen” – I’m not. I’m not much of a ranter, in general, but if I went on a rant about social media, it would make me a hypocrite.

I share rich and robust connections with people all over the globe… that I only know online. There are a few whom I feel incredibly close to – even though we’ve never met, or even talked on the phone! So, no… social media is not some sort of demon that we all need to try and exorcise from our lives.

Motherhood on its own is one of the toughest gigs around. But add a little social media to mothering and you’ve just made it that much harder. Here are a few reasons why I think this is so:

  • It’s too easy to sit at your dining room table and “connect” with other people online instead of getting out of the house as a new Momma to interact with people face-to-face. (Important to note that this can lead to all sorts of issues: increased feelings of isolation, increased risk of PMADs, a lack of conversational skills with someone other than your non-verbal infant, or your partner) 
  • A lack of conversational skills can make any attempts to connect with people in the real world seem super weird and awkward. (“Hi – do you want to be my new Momma friend?”) 
  • Interaction with others online only, means miscommunication is bound to happen! (“Did she just say that to me? I can’t believe she just said that to me!”) 
  • Engaging in interactions with others that are not face-to-face can be socially dangerous. (Not being able to read body language and facial expressions, means you might not understand the meaning behind the comment: they meant to convey humor or sarcasm, you interpreted it as mean and hurtful.) 
  • It’s also too easy to feel defensive about a parenting choice you’ve made and then go into attack mode if you feel your decision has been challenged by someone else – especially if they’re just a name and a profile picture on a screen. (Making parenting decisions almost always leaves you feeling a little bit uncertain and defensive. And we often will “say” things online that we would never say to a person standing in front of us.) 
  • People don’t usually share their parenting fails – or any other fails, really – online. (The virtual world is where most of us present only our very best selves, leaving out the not-so-glamorous details of our everyday life. This can lead others who might be struggling to believe that they’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough… to be able to do this Momma thing “right.”) 
  • While we all know that perfection is just an ideal, and not something that exists in reality, it’s hard to be okay with your imperfections when others are not willing to reveal any of their own. (This is what I like to call “The Curse of the Pinterest Parent.”) 
  • Despite all of this, we continue to persist in trying to make these online only “connections” with others – but we also continue to be surprised by the result. (Relationships that don’t feel very deep or authentic; relationships that end up being not very satisfying and leave us wanting something more…) 
  • It’s no wonder then that the current generation is one with the most connected group of people in history reporting the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.

Wow. How’d we get here? But more importantly, how can we get out of here?

The feelings of vulnerability that get stirred up during pregnancy are intense and very unsettling. Everything seems to be changing: our bodies, our relationships, our feelings about the world, our identities as individuals and as a couple – and there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where we can find sure footing.

It’s one thing to make decisions for ourselves, but now we’re making decisions for our baby – and we really don’t want to screw this up! We’ve either had:  A) the greatest mother in the world, which is fantastic – but an incredibly tough act to follow! or B) the crappiest mother in the world, which is awful – and we’re desperate to not repeat her sins. Either way, there’s an awful lot of pressure to be the best parent EVER!

I’ve talked often about the need to find your parenting tribe . It’s not necessarily easy, but it is easily one of the most important tasks of pregnancy and parenting preparation. And even if you’ve already had your baby, but still don’t have your tribe, then I encourage you to get out there and find them – in person!

This might sound challenging – but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Go to where other new parents hang out. There are usually New Parent groups in most communities – check them out! Usually the first couple of visits are either free, or super cheap to attend, so there’s no real investment, other than your time.

These groups are usually run by a facilitator who can help the group learn one another’s names and provide some ice breakers or discussion topics for people to weigh in on. It might take a month or more of weekly hanging out for you to make a connection, and it may only be with one or two others, but it’s a start. And even if it does feel eerily similar to dating  (Noooooooooooo!), hang in there. Going out for coffee after or meeting up early to take a walk before the group starts can give you a little bit of time to get to know one another better and see if you’re a good “fit.”

Sign up for some sort of “baby and me” class – music, messy art, reading at the library – or just go hang out at the park. Parks exist for one reason only: so parents can gather, commiserate and let their kiddos run wild and so as to not destroy the house! (I realize there are lots of other reasons… This is just the one that saved my sanity when my kiddos were small.)

But here’s the part that might be hard for some of the Mommas in this generation to hear… While you’re hanging out, trying to meet other new Mommas – Put the damn phone DOWN! Interact with your baby and the world that surrounds you. Be present. Look up and smile at another new Momma – she’s probably feeling exactly the same way you are. Strike up a conversation – about how cute her baby is, or where she got the killer stroller, or how crappy the weather’s been lately…

But after the small talk, get real.

Real connection does not occur when we hide who we really are. Real connection with another human being only happens if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You don’t have to dump on your new potential BFF, but it’s also okay to reveal a little bit about yourself that shows her you’re human, you’re not perfect. This can disarm her and her natural tendency toward defensiveness as a new Momma.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might get shot down… And if you do? That’s okay, you’re just not a good fit. But what if she responds with,“I feel the same way!” Well, then my friends you’ve got the start of something beautiful – a new friendship that is based upon shared circumstances, similar parenting styles, and cute babies that you really hope will like one another as they grow up. The potential to make life-long friends is there for the taking as a new parent – it’s just going to require a little bit of effort.

But please, please don’t give up…

The Momma who wrote that FB post did something that others might have thought a little crazy – but I thought it was beautiful and brave. She opened herself up and expressed her vulnerability about not having many new Momma friends – and she did it online, which is very taboo. And do you know what happened? As of this writing, she’s received 73 really positive and encouraging comments from other Mommas who are looking to make real, face-to-face connections. She started an online thread for all of these other women to share their own feelings of loneliness as new Mommas and it looks as if there will be meet-ups happening all over the city!

My hope is that these women make connections with one another and begin building their LIVE tribe of new parent friends – those who will be honest with one another about the challenges of parenting, and willing to share their epic parenting fails. When we realize we’re not alone on this new parenting journey, it can be so helpful!  Because trying to do this parenting thing without your tribe is hard and one can be the loneliest number.

How are you feeling in this age of “connection?” Hooked-up and well engaged? Or lonely and in need of a friend? Where did you/will you find your tribe?

For an added bonus check out this video from Three Dog Night from 1969… It’s so good in all the bad ways.

On Motherhood and Feeling “Trapped”

trapped

Before anyone gets triggered by the title of this post, let me explain what’s been happening in my little corner of the world. I live in Portland, Oregon. A city that has, on average, almost 42 inches of rain a year. We’re used to the gray clouds and wet stuff falling from the sky. Heck, most original Portlanders (or those of us who’ve lived here 20+ years) don’t even carry umbrellas! We just suck it up and keep on moving. In comparison, we usually only get about 4.5 inches of snow.

But a week ago, over a foot of snow dropped in less than 24 hours and our beautiful city was covered in a blanket of white. When it became completely obvious that we would not be having school the following morning, I dug around in our basement for all the snow gear and the sleds and we hit our local park and its fantastic hill for 2+ hours of night sledding – the best way to sled in my opinion. The hills weren’t super fast yet, but it was magical!

The next day, we hit the hill again for some more of the same. (Did I mention that I love sledding more than anyone I know – including my own kids? I’m always the last one ready to leave. As long as my feet, head and hands are warm, I’ll stay out in this stuff all day long!)

Well, I started talking smack at the top of the hill about how “I’ll still be sledding when I’m 70!” and how I wished the snow was icier “so we could go faster!” and I even asked a fellow parent to wax up the sled for me… My 7-year-old was ready to go home, but I convinced him to go with me for one last run.

I lined us up at the top of the hill, but my patience with having to wait for our turn was really being stretched. (Did I also mention that impatience is my worst character flaw?) In order to not have to wait another second and barrel down the hill NOW!, I made a rookie mistake and moved us to the far left, where no one else was sledding, and we went flying down the hill – and straight toward the 4-inch round metal pole that held up the baseball diamond backstop. (Oh, this is why there was no line…)

I tried to steer us to the right and away from the pole, but the sled wouldn’t budge. I thought about bailing, but my son hasn’t mastered the art of this technique yet and I was concerned he wouldn’t get off with me. So, at the last moment and in an effort to avoid having my little guy crack his head open, I did this sort of full-body twist and my left leg smashed into the pole. The pain was intense and made me catch my breath. But just like Mommas the world over, I immediately checked in with Félix to make sure he was okay – not a scratch, phew!

Then I tried to get up – whoa. I was able to put some weight on it, so I knew I hadn’t broken my leg, but I’d certainly injured myself significantly and we headed for home.

By the time we were coming through the front door, whatever initial shock that had allowed me to walk the three blocks home wore off and the tears started to fall. Then my son got upset because he knew it must be bad if I was crying. A week later, I’m still hobbling – the multicolored bruise on my leg is spectacular and extends from just above my knee to just below my hip.

But that’s not the only thing that’s been bruised.

My spirit is young and feeling as though my body can’t keep up with it hit me hard this past week. I really DO want to go flying down that hill when I’m 70! So, I ice the crap out of my leg, I elevate it, I take Arnica, and I try to heal so that maybe I’ll be able to do that someday. Yet, I still feel trapped by my body – unable to do a lot of the things that I would normally be doing. Initially, I could barely walk. But even a week later, I’m slow, I’m still in pain. I have to be patient and ask for help – not my strong points.

And I’m trapped inside my house as the roads and sidewalks are still covered with ice and snow because the temperature hasn’t gotten above freezing and none of this stuff is melting.

My kids are on day #9 of no school. I’m the one that would have been on the hill every single day this past week – if only I could. My kids are over it. They don’t even want to play in the snow. And I’m so sad that I can’t. So, I end up feeling trapped in my role of Momma (this is a community-wide sentiment if my FB feed is any indication!)

Not that I don’t love my kiddos – I do, madly. But there are so many things that fall to the back burner when I’m in Momma mode… like the maintenance of this blog for one. I’ve been busy this past month doing lots of work on projects that thrill me – including turning this blog into a (gulp!) actual website – more details on that later… But it’s super hard to sit and write when I can hear all of my littles in the background.

I’m used to having a few precious hours of quiet on a weekly basis so I can think and put a few words on the page. I’m writing today with headphones on and the music is kind of loud, actually. I have to do this to quiet all of their wonderful little noises, to drown out their petty annoyances with one another (everybody’s feeling the need for just a little more space), and to lessen the Momma guilt I’m feeling as I hope that their brains will not be permanently damaged by the amount of screen time they’ve over-indulged in this past week.

But I want to speak to one other way that motherhood traps us all…

In a way that is both expected and wholly unexpected in its intensity, I’ve realized that in saying yes to this thing – motherhood – that my own destiny is trapped to the destinies of my four children.

When one of them is sick, I’m sick with worry. When one is anxious, I need to be present and find the words (where do they come from, I often wonder) that will provide comfort. When there is heartbreak, my own heart breaks a little right alongside theirs. When they talk of their futures, I am both excited for them and painfully aware that this means they are always moving away from me… a little bit more with each passing day.

So, maybe it’s okay that we are all trapped together for yet one more day.

I will finish this post. I will fix them all lunch. I will unplug all of our electronic gadgets. We will read some Harry Potter, we will play some board games. We will probably still irritate the crap out of each other – but we will miss it. All of it. Won’t we?

Ever feel “trapped” in your role as a parent – how do you gain perspective on this and cope with the demands that come with the job? I’d love to hear your responses. Please comment and share.

LOVE – It’s The Secret Ingredient

turkey-soup

Turkey & Rice Soup (Several days later and still sooooooooo delicious!)

There’s a certain alchemy that can happen in cooking… It’s not just about putting flavors together and being satisfied with delicious results. Sometimes, if a recipe you’ve watched your Mom make too many times to count, a recipe that’s never been written down before, suddenly turns out *just* right, it’s possible to be instantly transported back in time to your childhood.

Here I am, at age four looking up at my Mom standing at the stove, careful not to have it turned on high heat yet because I’m so close to her hip. I watch as she’s trying to fit the turkey carcass into our big, fat silver soup pot. She uses the kitchen shears, a knife, sometimes just her fingers, to break the bigger bones up into smaller ones to fit – just so – into the pot. Mom never liked to throw out anything that still had so much to offer.

Here I am, a couple of years later, standing on a kitchen chair and asking, “Can I add the carrot and the onion and the celery? Please? I’m old enough. I can do it.” But I would have to wait a few more years before I got the job of chopping the vegetables into big chunks to help flavor the broth as it started to boil. How high the heat should be and how long the broth should simmer on the stove always depended on two things: what time my Mom began this whole process, and how much patience the rest of the family had to wait before eating.

Pulling the meat off the bones would have happened in earnest a day or two before – on Thanksgiving. But only after the crowds of people had left and after the kids had gone to bed. My immediate family always lived far from aunties, uncles and cousins, so our gatherings were always a wonderful mix of “framily” – those people whom we’d adopted, or who had adopted us for the holiday meal. I wonder if my Mom ever found enjoyment in discovering just how much meat there would be to add to the year’s batch? This was always the unknown variable… Would the soup be thin and mostly broth? Or more like a thick and hearty stew? It was dependent on lots of different things: how big of a turkey we could afford in any given year, the number of guests we’d invited, how many appetizers and sides they’d brought to share, and – how hungry my teenaged brothers were.

As a tween and teen, more interested in eating the soup than actually making it, I would salivate as the smells of turkey goodness filled our entire house. Only then would my Mom turn the burner off, strain the solids from the broth and pick through the remains once more. She would want a mostly clear broth seasoned to perfection before adding anything else. And then came my favorite part: adding the rice. “Plink, plink, plink!” The individual grains would splash and get sucked into the depths of the pot, only to resurface as the heat got turned back on and the broth began bubbling again.

I never understood how my Mom knew when to finish the soup so the rice was cooked just right. Confession: I always cheat on this part and use the rice cooker and add the finished rice into the pot right before serving. The rice turns out pretty close to perfect, but alas! no wonderful “plinking!” sounds. At some point, Mom would declare the soup to be “Finished!” And then add in the turkey meat and a jar or two of tomatoes. She’d give one last good stir to mix everything together and then ladle the soup into our bowls, while we sat at the long dining room table ready to gobble it all up (no pun intended…)

My Mom’s “Turkey and Rice Soup” might not be something you’d find in a fancy restaurant, or pay top dollar for – but the best food in the world rarely is. This recipe is so much more than just a delicious way to transform Thanksgiving leftovers. And this year, at first taste, and after 26 years of trying to re-create the experience, I almost wept (almost – I’m not really a crier…) as I was instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen watching as my Mom created something that over the years became a symbol of love, of comfort, of home to me.

That’s the kind of alchemy that I’m talking about. There’s a certain magic that you can actually taste in a meal that’s been cooked at home. Whenever my own children find something that I’ve made for them especially delicious and then ask me what’s in it, I list off all the ingredients and then say, “But there’s a secret extra special ingredient added! Can you guess what it is?” They’ve heard this from me so many times now that even as they roll their eyes, they still respond: “LOVE!” 

Yep, lots and lots of love. Heaping tablespoons and cups spilling over with love.

I’m not sure why this ingredient has been missing from this recipe over the years. Or, more importantly, how it finally found it’s way into my own soup pot this year some 2,264 miles away from my Mom – but I’m so glad that it did.

I feel like the last three posts I’ve written, have had more than a little bit of wistfulness to them, their unifying theme a longing to be closer to my family this year. I thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.

Typically, I write about issues that are of importance to pregnant, birthing and new parenting families. But one of the things that becomes more important over time, I think, is acknowledging that who we are as parents originates in how we have been parented. The families we are creating for ourselves now, find their roots in the families of our birth. Sometimes, and in some particular ways, we may choose to break away from that family of our birth to create our own, new definition of family.

But sometimes we look ahead and wonder if our own children will ever tell their children about how turn a tupperware full of Thanksgiving leftovers into something so much more.

Spoiler Alert: It’s all about that secret extra special ingredient.

Do you have any holiday recipes that have been passed down in your family that hold such power? Is the recipe written down? Or can it only be brought together through a lifetime’s worth of memories? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share them in the comments.

Becoming Mother – The Interview

stg-interview

I can’t remember how I found Sharon Tjaden-Glass and her book, Becoming Mother, but I’m very glad I did!

Becoming Mother is the book that Sharon wished had been written when she became pregnant for the first time: “I wanted the book that I eventually wrote. I wanted someone to be authentic with me. To talk about more than the physical. To go to the dark places. To show me what was hard and what was wonderful.” And Becoming Mother does all of this and more.

I recently sat down with Sharon via Skype and interviewed her about her book, pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences. The following are excerpts from that interview.

Barb: I found it interesting that you included your weight gain (and eventual loss) at the start of each mini-chapter of the book. It wasn’t focused on, or even called out – but why did you feel the need to include this as part of Becoming Mother?

Sharon: As women, I think we struggle a lot with body image and self-acceptance in American culture, and so this drives many of us to have that question in the forefront of our minds when we become pregnant: “What’s going to happen to my body? Will I gain a bunch of weight and never be able to lose it?”

The reason that I included the weight gain and loss in numbers was because I thought it would give pregnant readers realistic expectations for what that physical change is like. Of course, after having gone through the whole experience of having a baby, I understand at this point that the physical changes of pregnancy are not as monumental as the other changes. However, I wanted to meet pregnant women where they are when they first start reading this book.

B: That’s one of the things that I enjoyed most about your book – the focus on realistic expectations, the authenticity of it all. When you were newly pregnant, how realistic do you think your expectations were for after the baby arrived?

S: I wasn’t married to the idea that we had to take minimal time off, but I did know that it was important to me to keep the identity of my pre-mom self alive, even after the baby was born. Once she was born, we were more forgiving of ourselves in terms of going easy on not keeping up with the previous expectations. But we both held true to our commitment to “not totally lose” our previous selves.

B: In follow-up to this question, can you speak to that shift that occurs as a woman becomes a mother and her self-identity can become secondary to her new role as mother?

S: I sensed that it would be possible that I could “fall down this hole of parenthood” and lose my identity, not totally understanding that I’m a dynamic self and that I would always be changing, regardless of what happens in my life. Taking on this role as a mother has reorganized so many facets of my identity. It has also filtered how I see and experience the world. It’s impossible for me to tease apart “mother” from my other identities because it has affected all parts of my life. At the same time, I’m aware that I don’t want this role to “wipe out” my other roles, the other aspects of myself that make me who I am. Because I know that one day the all-encompassing role of “mother” will narrow and narrow as my child grows up. And soon they won’t need me in the same way that they need me now. So I want to make an investment in myself by cultivating those parts of me that will endure past this season of my life. Like with teaching and writing and maintaining friendships.

B: Early on in the book, you talk about  about “surrendering” as the first step in this journey. This is what I’m talking about! I’m not a fan of plans so much, but love the idea of surrendering to the process. Vulnerability during pregnancy is so intense – what do you think about this?

S: I think pregnancy is a constant reminder that you are not in control. And it serves a purpose. The further along you get in your pregnancy, the more control you lose: how much weight you gain, how sore and achy your body gets, your ability to stay asleep all night. Labor intensifies that message that you’re not in control. You’re in so much pain and there’s nothing you can really do about it. You can’t go backward. The only way is forward.

And then after the birth, it starts to click about how these physical limitations that reduce your control help your mental state. You’re much more pliable to giving in to what your baby needs. Whenever it needs you. Whatever you need to do, you’re open to it. It’s not so jarring after pregnancy and labor. Because you’ve been prepped for the past 10 months.

B: “On the hard days, I think – We have made a big mistake.” I so relate to this sentiment! In fact there’s been at least one day during all four of my pregnancies where I have not only thought this, I’ve said it out loud! It’s so important to normalize feelings of ambivalence toward pregnancy – even when it’s a wanted pregnancy. Did you ever talk about this with other pregnant Mommas? Or did you feel like you needed to stay quiet, not tell anyone how you were feeling?

S: I did, (talk to other Mommas) but always in a joking way. I think humor about these feelings helps bridge into those conversations about how tough motherhood can be. You hear it in conversations all the time—when mothers want to “complain” about something, they use two popular methods. 1) Use humor or 2) Use qualifiers: I love my son, but sometimes…

I’m really not the kind of woman to pretend that everything’s okay, especially to people that know me. People that know me and ask how I’m doing, they know I’m going to be honest about how I’m doing. So I didn’t feel like I had to keep up a positive face for everyone to reassure them that I was happy about being pregnant or becoming a mom. If I was having a hard time, I owned that hard time and shared it. The problem with this is that some people feel that your statement that you’re having a hard time is actually an inquiry, or a signal that you’re seeking advice. I’m not. I’m hardly ever seeking advice. And if I want advice, I preface my comments with, “I really want your advice.”

B: If only people understood this! “When I want your advice, I will ask for it. Thank you very much!” I always say that unsolicited advice is usually not very good advice, anyway…

You do a great job writing your birth story.  And while I’ll encourage people to read Becoming Mother for all sorts of reasons, in particular, reading your well-written account of one woman’s journey – emotional and physical – through giving birth is intense, profound and not without challenges. I know you’re pregnant again and want to know how you might be handling things differently this time? What has changed for you?

S: It (self-advocacy) was extremely challenging (the first time). Robbie Davis-Floyd talks about this very thing—the authority of knowledge in childbirth. That doctors possess more scientific knowledge about childbirth and so we often defer to their judgement. But on the other side of this, women often don’t give any weight to their own bodily knowledge, their own intuition about what’s going on. It cannot be trusted. And I definitely felt like this. That if I pushed my own bodily intuition too far that the doctor would lash out at me. I felt like there was a drive for the doctors to have “birth be this one way.”

We have changed providers and place of birth because of this tension with the doctors. I wanted to have a provider who would allow my birth to be what it will be, rather than forcing it to be something that it’s not.

B: Which would you say was harder for you: birth or breastfeeding?

S: Breastfeeding by far—because my body was not responding in the way that it should have. Some women have labors in which their bodies cannot get the baby to descend or dilate enough or fit through the hips. That’s how it was with me and breastfeeding. Always like trying to thread the frayed end of a thread through a tiny needle.

B: I love that image. It conveys so well the level of frustration you feel about something that ends up being so challenging when you think you “should” be able to do it no problem…

How about your relationship with your husband, Doug? How was the first year post baby on your couple relationship? Is there anything that you wish you’d known before that you found out the hard way?

S: I wrote about this in detail on my blog in my post, “When I Became Real to My Husband.” I think this demonstrated to me that loving someone did not depend on what you have to offer the other person. (This is a great read for an authentic, real look at the postpartum couple relationship – Barb)

I wish I would have known that it would take close to a whole year for sex to be really enjoyable again.

B: Right? All the books say “Six weeks! Six weeks!” Well, not my book…

Last question: What do you think about the great American myth of being Superwoman on the other side of becoming a mother?

S: Do you know Brené Brown? (Do I ever! She’s my future BFF – she just doesn’t know it yet…Barb) She talks about shame triggers, body image and motherhood. I feel like the myth of Superwoman in motherhood is just one more way to control and shame women. “Women are judged by their willingness to follow the rules and men are judged by their ability to break them.”

Well, Sharon Tjaden-Glass broke a few rules herself in that she wrote her book, Becoming Mother, even as she was going through her own pregnancy, birth and early parenting journey.

For Sharon, “Being creative isn’t something that I have to work at. It’s something that I am. I just have to make time for it. If I don’t make time for it, I feel blocked and unfulfilled.” And we are all the better for her commitment to staying creative and sharing her account of what it was like for her as she was Becoming Mother.

I want to thank Sharon for taking the time to talk with me about her experience and encourage readers who are pregnant now or know of someone who is, to consider this book as part of their overall preparation. It’s a well-written, honest account which provides realistic expectations (of which I am always a fan!) of what it’s like to move through pregnancy, birth and new parenting. You can purchase a copy of Becoming Mother here. And you can follow Sharon Tjaden-Glass on her blog here.

My Third Is Now Eleven. Wait – What?

Supergirl

It is my girl’s birthday today. She has turned 11 years old and I wonder, “How in the hell did that happen?!”

Last night, she feigned interest in listening to me read some Harry Potter to her younger brother, attempting some wacky dance moves instead. But she gave herself away when she shared, “I love it when you give all the characters different British accents!” (Well, how else are you supposed to read Harry Potter? I mean, seriously!)

After the chapter was over, I drew her in close and told her the story of her birth. You would think that given the fact that my whole professional life revolves around birth that this is something I’ve been doing with each of my children since they celebrated their first birthdays – but you’d be wrong. It’s not that I haven’t shared their birth stories with them, it just hasn’t become an annual birthday thing.

But even so, my daughter supplied the last line of her story which is: “I came out just like “Supergirl” And she did, with her hand and arm outstretched over her head, like she was flying through the sky. The memory of this makes me laugh now – but at the time, it wasn’t so funny. While a newborn’s closed fist is pretty tiny, let’s just acknowledge that in birth every centimeter counts, and I didn’t necessarily appreciate her grand entrance… although this has proven to be something that she’s quite good at.

This led me to wonder again about the topic of nature vs nurture. And I can’t help but think that the essence of who we are already seems just about fully formed before we even make our entrance into this world, grand or otherwise.

I think back to when Lucía was yet to be born. She was an eagerly anticipated baby and my pregnancy had been pretty smooth. Her older siblings were 6 and 3+ years and with one in Kindergarten and one in Preschool, I didn’t have much time to sit and dream about this little peanut growing inside of me. I was a very busy Momma already! Thankfully, I had a straight-forward pregnancy and I was boring and healthy throughout. Sure, she caused me some pretty bad heartburn (cum gastric reflux), but otherwise I was able to exercise well into my pregnancy and I felt great.

I had anticipated going past my due date with her, as I’d already done that 2x before with her older siblings. Apparently, all my babies all like to bake from somewhere between 40 and 41 1/2 weeks. (*Fun Fact- Did you know you can feel your baby’s hiccups best through the their back?) I knew from where I felt the increasing hiccups with baby #3, (due to my increasing sweet tooth!) that when I went to bed the night before my due date, it was with a baby in the best possible position for birth: head down.

During the middle of the night, I woke up, completely startled and awake, but by what? I didn’t have to pee (for once!), so I settled back to bed thinking that maybe it had been a bad dream. That bad dream became a reality when I realized the next morning that my baby had flipped overnight into a head up position – and that’s what woke me up!

I can’t even tell you how angry I was in that moment. “You have got to be kidding me!” I thought. I marched upstairs and grabbed a bag of frozen peas and promptly put it on what I thought must be her head. Then as they thawed, I switched out the peas for a bag of frozen corn, and back and forth – peas and corn, peas and corn –  all day long. But that wasn’t all! Oh, no! That night I propped myself up in this crazy position in bed with my butt waaaaay up in the air so that her head would be extremely uncomfortable compressed in my ribcage and – I waited. This was going to be an epic battle of wills.

I could tell this little person was not one to be trifled with, but neither was I! Sure enough, after a few hours, I felt a huge sea change happening and she settled back into my pelvis – head down. “Hah!” I thought, “Sometimes you have to teach them who’s boss even before they’re born!”

But, seeing as I’ve already spoiled the ending, you know that it was she who got the last laugh as she was born. I guess she showed herself to be a little bit of a boss that day as well.

And the two of us have had that kind of relationship ever since. It’s not bad, it just gets complicated from time to time. If we were dance partners, it would be to disastrous results because we both want to lead, all the time. I have come to find that this daughter who is so unique and absolutely her own person is also the one who is most like me – and as it turns out, parenting oneself can be mighty challenging at times.

She got a lot of my good stuff, but unfortunately, she also got some of my bad stuff,too.

She’s a lot of fun and really funny. But she’s also impatient and unwilling to ask for help. She is intuitive and one of the most street-smart and savvy kids I know. She’s compassionate to a fault but wants love and affection – on her terms only. I love her fiercely, but I’m only allowed to tell her that when she’s in the mood to receive it. She’s going to do big, big things with her life – as long as she doesn’t burn out in a blaze of glory first!

Lucía is but one of the four reasons I get to hold the title of “Momma.” She pushes my buttons – sometimes all at once! But she is also the one who teaches me the most on a daily basis about how to try and do this mothering thing better than I did the day before.

She is my Supergirl. And she is 11 today. How the hell did that happen?!

What about you and your babies? Do you think they are the same little people on the outside that they were when they were in utero? How much of who they are reflects nature vs nurture? I’d love to hear your comments about this! Please leave them here.

Parenting On The Playground – Hits & Misses

Playground

Yesterday, I came upon my 10 year old daughter in deep discussion with two of her schoolmates about the upcoming sex ed discussion that would be starting next week.

Now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts about this subject, you know that my kid is not going to hear anything new. Sex education is a topic of discussion at the dinner table on a regular basis at our house. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still embarrassing to discuss among your peers – especially if half of those peers are of the opposite sex!

One of the girls, though, was very distraught that this was happening. She had a letter from the school in her hands and was waving it about and crying out in a loud voice, “This is terrible! This is going to be awful! Why do we have to talk about this stuff, anyway? It’s just so gross!” At this point, I felt compelled to pipe up.

“Ladies, ladies, it’s not gross! You’re at the point where learning about all of the amazing things your body can do is really important!” (I didn’t add that, personally, I think 5th grade is a little bit late. This discussion is a lot less gross for kids if you introduce it earlier…) My daughter rolled her eyes at me and said, “Mom, stop! You’re embarrassing me!”

So, I moved over to sit next to another Momma on the bench nearby. She knows where I stand on this particular subject and confided, “I’ve been getting an earful from these girls and I was hoping you’d come over to talk with them. That one is really freaking out!”

I turned again to the young woman with the letter still outstretched in her hand and asked her if I could read it. After skimming what seemed like a completely appropriate note home to parents about what will be discussed next week, I asked her name (obviously she’s not one of my daughter’s closest friends) and said, “Girlfriend, come here and sit down.” She did so willingly and I put my arm around her shoulder and pulled her in a little closer.

“You don’t have to be worried about what’s happening next week. The focus is going to be on learning how your body works. For all of the really embarrassing stuff, they’re going to separate the boys from the girls so you don’t have to talk about that stuff in front of one another. You don’t need to be worried about that, I promise.”

When I asked if her parents talked with her about this kind of stuff at home, she said, “No way!” So I told her that if she ever needed to, she could find me on the playground to talk. I could tell in her body language – she sat close to me, leaning in – that this two-minute exchange was welcomed and I know she walked away feeling a little less anxious about the week ahead.

My daughter, on the other had, was not so happy.

We got to the car and she started in, “Why do you have to talk about that kind of stuff on the playground?” I responded, “Because it’s not something to be afraid of talking about. We use sex to sell everything, and we’re exposed to it every day. But we never have any healthy discussions about sex or what our bodies can do, with people we can trust. You need to learn how your body works. Don’t think of this class next week being about a sexual part of your body, just think of it as if the discussion was going to be about how your brain works.”

She wasn’t having any of it today.

“Don’t you think that was embarrassing to her? Why did you ask her to sit down and talk with her about that?” I answered, “Because she seemed so anxious, honey. She told me this isn’t something her parents are comfortable talking about at home, so I wanted to try and calm her down so she wouldn’t be so worried about it. That’s all.”

And then, my girl started to cry. Big, alligator tears slid down her cheeks and I asked, “Sweetie, why are you so upset? I wasn’t trying to embarrass you, I swear it. It wasn’t about you at all.”

At this, she started crying even harder and saying she didn’t know why she was so upset. I held the space for her and encouraged her to tell me exactly what was upsetting her, so I could try to make her feel better. And finally, she said, “When you were talking to her like that, it made me feel like you weren’t mine. That you weren’t just for me.

Whoa. How do you adequately explain to your child that when you are in “mothering mode” on the playground with other children, that it doesn’t mean you are someone else’s mother? That even in those moments, you are completely aware of the boundaries that exist between you and someone else’s child?

My girl is the most socially savvy kiddo I’ve ever known. She’s been that way since she was a toddler. She assesses what’s up, attaches deep meaning to what she observes, she takes it all in. And she showed this to me again yesterday through this one simple statement.

I gave her the biggest bear hug ever and swore that this exchange between me and her schoolmate was not anywhere near to what she I and share. And that while her schoolmate has lovely parents of her own, this isn’t a subject she feels she can talk about with them. That it’s important for young girls to be able to learn and talk about their bodies without embarrassment or shame. And that if this means being available in that way for other young girls, than I’m willing to do that. But that no one, no one, takes the place of my children. That I was her Momma. I belonged to her, and she belonged to me.

Her little brother, of course, got to listen in to this entire discussion. The three of us got out of the parked car, popped into the grocery store to grab what we needed for dinner, and headed for home.

As we were making our way through the parking lot, I had one more thing to say to my girl.

“Hey, I’m really proud of you for digging deep to tell me what was really upsetting you. I know that it took you a little bit of time and a lot of courage to say what you did. And that’s a real sign of maturity. Being able to recognize and name your feelings is an important life skill that a lot of adults aren’t very good at. Nice job.”

And as we walked back to the car, she said, “Thanks Mom” and gave my hand a little squeeze.

Some of you may still be in the parenting a non-verbal baby at this point, but for those of you who have older children – tweens, teens, grown-ups – do you recall these moments where your child stopped you in your tracks and revealed themselves to you completely? I’m wondering how often this happened while you were in a car? It seems to me that the car, parked or driving, has the magical ability to get your child to open up in ways that just don’t seem possible in other places. Would you agree? Leave me your comments – I’d love to hear from you!