Mind The Gap!

MIND THE GAP

“Mind The Gap” This is a phrase that was introduced in 1969 as part of the London Underground to alert passengers of the space that exists between the subway platform and the train.

But what about the gap that exists between expectations and reality? I call it: “The Disappointment Gap.” The larger the space between expectation and reality, the more potential there is for disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong… Expectations are important tools that help us move through our day-to-day lives.

We need to go to bed in the evening, with the expectation that our alarm clock will go off on time the next morning and get us out of bed to start our day. It’s helpful to have the expectation that our water heater will be working so we get to have a nice, hot shower. We have a set expectation about how long it takes us to drive to work, and that allows us to know when we need to leave in the morning to make it in on time. And so on, and so on.

But have you ever had days where these very basic expectations were not met?

The alarm never went off – or if it did, you groggily hit the snooze button and slept right through it! Your teen switches things up and takes a morning shower, and your husband runs the dishwasher at the same time, and now your shower is anything but nice and hot. You hop in your car and start your morning commute, only to get caught in terrible traffic because there’s an accident miles up ahead.

If we went to bed the night before knowing our morning routine was going to be so disrupted, we probably wouldn’t sleep very well. We might even have a sense of dread about getting up the next day. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine calling in “sick” before hitting the hay, just to avoid all the unmet expectations that are sure to ruin our day.

Expectations are important, even necessary, to function daily!

But there are a few life experiences where having set expectations can cause long-term disappointment. The life experiences where the gap between expectation and reality has the most potential for causing long-term disappointment are: pregnancy, birth and parenting. Take a look at these three examples to see what I mean…

PREGNANCY

EXPECTATION REALITY
I’ll have a tiny, cute, little baby bump. EVERYTHING is huge – my belly, my arms, my face, my butt, my feet, etc.
Maybe I’ll have a little morning sickness, but not too much. Unless I’m sleeping, I’m puking my entire insides out – All.Day.Long.
Exhausted? A little bit…  I mean, it’s hard work making a baby! I shouldn’t be allowed to drive or operate large machinery. I’m a danger to myself and others!
We’re fully prepared to welcome this little person into our lives. We’re becoming a family! (Happy sigh.) How did this happen? I’m not ready for this – are you ready for this? We either have to remodel or move. And we’ll need a bigger car.

BIRTH

EXPECTATION REALITY
I will have an unmedicated, zero intervention birth. I ended up with a very complicated labor and and a Cesarean Birth.
I will breathe my baby out – I’m going to have an orgasmic birth experience! WTF?! This hurts! This hurts A LOT!!! Breathing? It’s not working, people!
I’ve had an easy pregnancy, and I’m in great shape. I’ll probably have an easy, fast labor. I’m really looking forward to it! My labor was really, really long. I was so exhausted and had no idea it would be so hard. I pretty much hated it every minute of it.
I’ve done my research and written my Birth Plan, so I know how my birth will play out. My birth looked nothing like what I’d written in my Birth Plan!

PARENTING

EXPECTATION REALITY
Our baby will sleep through the night at 8 weeks postpartum. At 12 months, we’re still getting up at least twice a night to settle our baby down.
Breastfeeding will be easy – it’s the most natural thing in the world! OMG – this is so hard! Fingertip feeding, SMS kits, nipple shields… Who knew?
Parenting is instinctual and I’ll know what to do… Most of the time. How do people do this? I’m supposed to know what to do? Well, I don’t.
Having a baby will bring us so much closer together – becoming a family will be wonderful! I feel like having a baby blew up our relationship! It’s driving us apart.

These are extremes and I’m not writing this to scare anyone about pregnancy, birth or new parenting – far from it! What I’m interested in sharing is how your expectation and reality of these life-changing transitions can be two very different things.

And, more importantly, the farther apart your expectation is from your reality the more likely you are to feel disappointment, disillusionment and – maybe even a sense of betrayal.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me it would be like this? Why was I so unprepared?”

I think many who work with expecting families are concerned that if they speak openly and honestly of the challenges that might be a part of the pregnancy, birth and new parenting experience they will frighten families.

But my experience has been completely the opposite.

I think when families have a realistic idea about what to expect, overwhelmingly they are grateful for the information that best prepares them for what might happen.

The realities expressed above are just examples of the extreme. In real life, the gap between expectation and reality might be far less. But, the actual distance between expectation and reality is not the heart of the issue.

The real issue is whether or not you’ve allowed your brain to even consider other outcomes for any of these experiences.

Allowing your brain to consider different possible outcomes – unexpected or even undesirable – will not make them happen. But even just considering them provides a buffer if your expectations are not fully met. The gap between expectation and reality has been bridged – even slightly – and your level of disappointment will be lessened, for sure.

I’m one of the most positive and optimistic people you’ll ever meet… I believe in working toward everything you’re hoping for with your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences! 

But I also strongly believe in knowing what lies ahead. Feeling prepared for the different ways your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences might play out and not feeling tied to a set of expectations can go a very long way in closing The Disappointment Gap.

And then you’re freed up to be curious, present, and in the moment as these life transitions become reality for you. When you’re able to be here – now – and not mourning the experience that should have been or worrying about the experience that is yet to come, you’re more open to the transformation that can happen as you move through these experiences.

And – BONUS! – you just might learn a thing or two about resilience.

Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

The changes that are coming your way as you embark on starting a family are monumental. These changes happen at the speed of light and all at the same time. Being a resilient parent will help with you cope with all of these changes you’ll face in your new role. It will help you adapt as an individual, as well as a couple, to the sometimes minute-by-minute, changes that occur as you’re learning how to parent your newborn, toddler, child, tween, teenager and adult.

I’ve said it before – parenting is not for the faint of heart, and it never ends! It’s hard work and oftentimes, it’s the not-knowing of what exactly lies ahead that makes it so challenging.

If you can allow yourself to loosen the reigns on this experience, and begin doing so as early as possible in your pregnancy, the gap between expectation and reality will not be so far apart. And instead of feeling the pain of disappointment, you can bask in the joy of satisfaction: satisfaction in all that is messy, imperfect and normal about real life.

Overcoming the normal challenges of real life builds resiliency. And the satisfaction of “bouncing back” or being able to “weather the storm” builds confidence in your ability as an individual and as a couple to navigate what it is to become a family.

And that helps to make The Disappointment Gap simply disappear.

If you’re expecting a baby or are newly parenting and you feel like working with someone who will set you up with realistic expectations about pregnancy, birth and parenting check out my Parent Coaching page and get in touch! I’d love to have you in one of my classes, work with you one on one, or schedule some long-distance sessions with you and your partner. I’m committed to closing The Disappointment Gap and building confident and resilient families that thrive!

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

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.

All The Single Ladies (And Gentlemen)

beyonce

This is a shout-out to any Mommas or Poppas out there who are doing this thing, parenting, on their own.  

By themselves.

I’ve been single parenting my four kiddos for the past week (with an entire village of helpers at the ready, mind you!) as my husband sat in a hospital bed with a bowel obstruction from a previous surgery from twenty years ago. It has been a challenge to say the least…

The hospital is a 25-minute drive from our house (if there’s no traffic) and for most of the week, I was dropping off the kids to school, then driving out to spend the day with my husband, then driving back to do the school pick-up, take them to their various activities, have dinner with them and then head back out to the hospital after bedtime to hang with my husband until passing out at home between 11 and 12 at night – only to get up and do it all over again.

There have been so many wonderful offers of help – food at the ready, and many, many people willing to shuffle kids from one place to the next. But as many of you will understand, at some point it’s just easier on me and the kids if I’m there to meet them at the end of their day, reassure them that their Dad is going to be okay, and try to bring a bit of normalcy back into their lives when everything else seems so topsy-turvy. When I texted a friend to exclaim that I didn’t know how single parents did it, she reminded me that this past week carried with it the added stress of having an ill spouse who’s in the hospital. And while that is true…

Honestly, it gave me so much more appreciation for all of you who are doing such intense, hard and important work on your own. I’ve written about it here. At least I have someone (laid up or not!) who gets how hard it is to raise children, appreciates my efforts and tells me I’m doing a good job – especially on those days when I’m certain I won’t be winning any parenting awards.

I’d write about the latest evidence for not winning that award right here, but Things One, Two, Three & Four wouldn’t appreciate it very much! Suffice it to say, that my children have been feeling the strain of this past week as much as I have. But I had nothing left to give them when they needed it. I was, shall we say, less than compassionate.

And although I didn’t actually say this, my thoughts during the various meltdowns that were happening all around me over the past couple of days were, “Are you effing kidding me right now? Take whatever stress you’re feeling and multiply it by five and you’ll be approaching where I am right now…” I’m not proud of this reaction. At all. But it’s real, it’s honest, and it’s only a tiny little fraction of what my single parenting heroes go through on a daily, no-real-end-in-sight, basis.

I wanted/needed an attitude adjustment as I was leaving the hospital last night, as things were not looking good and the possibility of surgery was beginning to look like a reality – which would mean another full week of hospital living for my husband, and another full week of single-stressed-out-parenting for me.

I got that attitude adjustment by remembering and honoring all those who single parent Every.Damn.Day, with or without the added stressors of life that inevitably happen to each of us from time to time. I have renewed respect for all of you who are doing this work on your own. I honestly don’t know how you do it – or do it as well as you do. You’re amazing! Keep up the good work and please let me help you out every once in awhile. Because I get it, I really do. At least I get it a little bit more than I did a week ago…

If you are single parenting, where do you go to find support? Do you think those around you actually “get it” – how hard you work every day, all day, to do this important work of parenting? What do you wish those of us who have a co-parent knew about your experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

PS: It appears as if the particular stressor that has happened to our family this week might be about to end. Overnight, a little miracle occurred and it appears as if my husband will be able to avoid surgery. He might even be home before the weekend is out. Thanks to all who have been supporting our family this past week. All of us were less stressed than we would have been without you!

And, given the title of this post, readers will expect this: A little music from Queen B to get your Friday off to a good start!

On The Night You Were Born…

writer

Last week, I wrote about wanting to clone myself because I have so many things I’d like to do and just not enough “me”s to get it all done! I just want more time to help women process their birth stories, is that so wrong??? But because cloning is not possible, I’ve tried to do the next best thing and ask a small beta group of Mommas to test out my “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”

Today’s guest blog post comes from one such beta tester, Jessica Hardin. Her beautiful birth story is written as a letter to her now 5-month old son, George.

I’m honored that Jessica shared her story with me, and now with you. If you’re interested with help in processing your own birth story, please take part in this quick 4-question survey for your FREE download. If, after you’ve gone through this exercise and you’re wanting to share your birth story with me, I’ll follow up with a personalized email reflection.

Here’s what Jessica had to say about going through this experience of writing her birth story and my written reflection back to her: “Thanks for your thoughtful response – even 5 months later it’s still nice to hear these things. I’m happy for you to run the story. I enjoyed writing it and without your encouragement, I may not have.”

Reframing birth stories is something I’ve been doing for almost two decades. I feel it’s one of the best ways to help women give meaning to the transformation that happens during birth. I’d love to help you reclaim this experience as your own.

Grab a cup of something delicious and read on. And thank you, Jessica for sharing your birth story! Eventually, it will live here on a new page, “Real Birth Stories,” as an expansion of offerings here at Birth Happens.

Jessica’s story begins with an induction process called a “membrane sweep” performed at her clinic appointment. We get to read about her early labor at home, trying to figure out when to go to the hospital.  With the assistance of her doula, Megan, her midwife, Linda, and the continuous love and support of her husband, Greg, Jessica continues to labor without medication. It’s not until late in labor through the challenges of pushing that her own physical and emotional limits are tested. Jessica’s story is shared here as she’s written it, word for word. I love this birth story – it’s raw, real and provides insight into the struggle between expectations and realities of birth.

“When you were about two weeks old we read the book, On the Night You Were Born. I cried, you ate. This story felt real – on the night you were born the whole world changed. At least my world.

On the night you were born I felt scared. I felt loved. I felt supported. I felt powerless. I felt weak. I felt strong. I felt present in a way I had never been before. You were in my body one moment, and then you werent. I felt as if I had to push through flesh, flesh that had no opening for you to come. I didn’t know how to, but I did.

The night you were born started the night before. You were due on January 8th. We went to see the midwives, they suggested sweeping my membranes and scheduling an induction because it took about a week to get on the schedule. I agreed, I was afraid of an induction so I agreed to the membrane sweep. I expected it to hurt, it didnt. I texted our doulas, they told me not to get my hopes up.

Your Dad and I had a day together. We ate at Pok Pok, eating my favorite – the boar collar, too spicy for your Dad. We came home, trying to get all the oxytocin flowing – Dad gave me a massage, we watched movies that made me cry and laugh – we ate more delicious food. We walked to the brewery nearby and bought a growler. At this point, you were just theoretical. Birth would start, but I didn’t thinking imminently. Then around 10 pm, I started getting crampy. I thought that when people said that labor started at night it meant I would be able to sleep. But that’s not what happened.

The cramps progressively grew until morning. Dad went to sleep. Id lay down, doze off for 20 minutes then awaken from the cramps. Get up, pace the hallway, breathing more loudly every time I woke up. At some point, I started having to move my body differently, swaying, stopping when I was walking. I woke your Dad––probably around 3 am, maybe later. I walked the hall, heaving breath with rhythm. At some point, I started throwing up. Id walk the hall, stop at the sink, heave into the sink and with each heave came some of my mucus plug, dropping on the floor in the kitchen. I remember hearing that vomiting was goodfor labor. I showered, and then repeated the whole sequence. Repeat. Repeat. Dad and I talked several times about calling the midwives, when was the right time? We didn’t know. We finally called the midwife on call, she asked me to rate my pain. In hindsight, this seems so silly – 10 doesn’t happen till much, much later – for me when I was pushing you out – I thought I was 6 cm. I didn’t know any better.

***

You’re next to me now, in a buzzing bouncer, ready to eat, kicking and punching the air. My heart swells thinking of the night you were born, and the beauty that is you now.

***

Just after sunrise our doula, Megan, and her student, Claire, arrived. They had coffees, and fresh attitudes. It felt like something new. We labored in the house a bit, then we decided to go to the hospital. Megan advised on how to manage the car ride – she packed some puke bags, told me to face backwards. I did. It was hard. We arrived and I had contractions while waiting to go up to labor and delivery. Laboring in public – all of a sudden being seen – didn’t matter at all. All that mattered was coping, keeping the contractions moving, manageable.

We were checked in quickly to a suite – I was nervous about getting a room so I was relieved. The windows were big, the room was grey-bluish. I remember feeling like, “Okay, Im here to do this.” The nurse seemed nice, but not like a participant in the birth.

I changed, arranged some food, drink, and bags in the room. I found out I was 6 centimeters. I felt like I had accomplished something by laboring at home for that long. Then I waited. It was normal for contractions to slow down when you arrive at the hospital, right? The contractions continued but didn’t get any stronger. The nurse strapped a monitor to my belly – the fabric around my belly made the feeling of contractions worse. The doula had kept track of time so told me if was time to take it off, even though the nurse hadn’t returned. I was grateful to be relived of it, to be free to move around.

Time passed, it was still light out. There was a number of interactions with the nurse and the midwife, and the midwifery student. The one I remember most clearly was about the monitor. The nurse wanted to keep me monitored the whole time, the midwife said it was unnecessary. I was grateful that the midwife interceded.

The tub was set up, it was calming, soothing. I labored in the tub. Things plateaued. In hindsight I see this time as a time to recoup energy, to rest. At the time it made me nervous that I wasnt progressing.As it got darker, I was also worried about being exhausted. I hadn’t slept, or eaten, I was afraid of what was to come. I walked, and talked – to your Dad, the midwife, and the doulas – should I get an epidural? What if I didn’t have the stamina to make it through to the end?

I decided to get an IV of fluids in the meantime while I sat in the tub as a way to generate some energy. I was eager for things to progress and worried about what was normal – I was worried when things didn’t keep moving at the same pace. I was so worried I couldn’t rest as much as I would have liked.

I got out of the tub when the fluids were done. I decided to be checked again to see how much I had progressed. I was 8 centimeters.

To get things moving, our doula Megan advised us on positions and then things started grooving. I used the bar, I knelt on the labor bed, I cried, I yelled, I panted. I worked. The anesthesiologist visited––he liked to talk to patients even if they weren’t planning on having an epidural, just in case. I remember holding on to the top of the bed, kneeling, panting and looking at him from the sides of my eyes. He told me I was doing great and he hoped I didn’t need the epidural. I felt strong.

I remember most vividly kneeling on the bed, facing the top of the bed, holding your Dads hands, or forearms. I breathed, loudly. At some point I started to think of you, the thought of meeting you made me cry. I cried out loud, overwhelmed with emotion and the physicality of our bodies working together. I locked eyes with your Dad. He was present, the most present I’ve ever seen him. He looked into me, intensely, with empathy,, with admiration. He was right with me – my steady mirror – showing me I was strong, letting me be weak, tired, and scared all at the same time. I cried more. I felt I could do this. This was birth. This is what I imagined and prepared for. I felt prepared, crazy pain, intense consuming emotion. I felt supported and rhythmically connected to you. I felt support.

Then I hit 10. The midwifery student checked. 10. I did it! It felt anticlimactic. I did all this work, now I had to wait. The room flipped, the bed changed, the pediatric machines came out of the cubbie. The pediatrician arrived. The midwives stayed––they had only been checking in before this point. Two nurses stayed. Then I was there. Waiting. No more contractions, just waiting.

 I thought you were imminent. I thought it was over. Birthing classes didn’t really focus on pushing, and I had heard things like it was a relief, or it was like passing a bowel movement. I thought the hardest part was over.


I don
t really remember when it started. I remember sitting on the toilet and lots of people staring at me. I remember being foggy, confused, anxious, and vulnerable. The pain was a sensation I didn’t know how to cope with. I was waiting for a physical feeling that was clear, but I didn’t have clarity – I didn’t understand the physical sensation. It was noise. If contradictions were rhythm, pushing was cacophony. It was overwhelming sensation.

I started to lose that feeling of support. There were many voices directing me telling me how to push, how to vocalize. In hindsight, I see there might have been some personality differences between me and some of the staff. At the time, I just thought something was wrong with me. The new midwife student was too directive, the new labor nurse was the same. In hindsight I wished I had cleared the room, but I was too foggy – too otherworldly.

After sometime on the toilet, I was moved to the bed. Im not sure how long I was there – faces all around me. Telling me only to push with contractions (I couldn’t feel the contractions even though I didn’t have any drugs), and to use my voice differently. I was yelling, like as if I was in acute pain – they wanted me to deep belly yell – yell in a way that moved your body. I couldn’t feel rhythm, only noise.

At some point they gave me oxygen, they were worried about you. They monitored your heart dropping. They were going to put a monitor on your head, but they didn’t. The midwife said we might have to have interventions – a vacuum extraction or forceps delivery – I wasn’t exactly scared – but flooded. I had never considered these interventions. I was terrified.

Whatever it took to make the experience over is what I wanted. There were lots of voices, coaching but I couldn’t listen. Then I heard the midwife – she said we had two pushes or we would have to bring in the OB. She put her hand on your head and for the first time, I could feel where to push. I pushed. I pushed with no agenda, no sense of what next, only to feel. Feel something directed. She said she had to do an episiotomy. She apologized, saying she only did a couple of these a year. It was because of the way you were coming out. You crowned. They asked me if I wanted to feel your head. I didnt. They asked again. I refused again. I couldn’t bear the thought of curling my body around to touch your head, I couldn’t stand to be in my body.

It burned, like fire, I asked for help. I could feel the desperation in my face. I had to wait until the next contraction. I cried, I felt like pleading – as if Megan would be able to fix it. I remember saying, “Help!” Then the moment passed and I could push again. A few more pushes – pushes that consumed me. Linda, our midwife said, “If he comes and he isn’t crying well hand him over the pediatrician.” I was so afraid you would arrive and be damaged, hurt.

Then white noise. You came out, and there was a warm rush, a gush. You cried. White noise. They put you on my chest, they didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl. They chicken-winged you while you were on my chest. A boy. Your chin quivered. Your cry pitched. Your chin continued to quiver. I stared at you. Still connected to me. I was afraid to move you, for fear of what tugging on the umbilical cord would feel like. Your Dad was over my shoulder. Linda shushed you. I felt like I had no idea what to do with you. A baby, my baby. Quivering, crying. I asked why your nails were so purple. I was worried from the start. Megan helped you move to my breast and within minutes you latched. I watched as if I wasn’t in my body. Quietly inundated. Legs still spread, but the sensation was over.

The next hours are even more blurry. There were injections, I pushed the placenta out. The midwifery student showed it to us -it was purple, red, large. They inspected it. They gave us a little while before repairing me. They stitched me up. It hurt, I squeezed your Dad. I remember feeling like a helpless puppy, looking at him for sympathy. He gave it, and told me he was proud of me. They took you, weighed you, checked you out. You were perfect. Linda talked to me after. She said, “Most women, 85%, experience pushing as a relief. The others sense it as the worst pain they have ever experienced.” She said, “That was you.” I felt validated. Not alone.

Then the room cleared. It was quiet, just us three. It felt empty. Another nurse came, she helped me dress. I was confused by simple questions. She put me in a wheel chair. I was bloody, my legs bloody, my fingernails dirty, meconium stuck to my torso. I was covered in birth. She wheeled me through the halls with you in my arms. I felt so proud, so different.

We arrived in the postpartum ward and I felt so overwhelmed by the experience – surprised with how scared I was, how much I felt I had hit my limits as a body, as a human. I told your Dad I wouldn’t do this again [days later I recanted and started planning our next baby]. I was shaken, and still frightened, like I had touched the line between life and death, like I didn’t know if my body was safe.

You were with us, but I felt I didn’t know what to do with you. Luckily, you slept. It was probably after 10 pm when we were settled into the postpartum suite. I was still foggy. The nurse helped me pee, I passed a clot. I cried because I was scared as the warm mass dropped. I was scared. I bled in bed, I passed another clot. I was afraid. I had lost a lot of blood. I slept. Dad woke up with you when you woke. The next morning they gave you to me and you ate. We were together.

The postpartum room felt sweet. I laid in bed, food came, pain meds came, you were right next to me. I learned that I had lost a lot of blood, which helped explain my confusion. I learned my uterus was boggy– it slowed down because the labor was long. I was in pain from lacerations, I couldn’t move my core. I bled. I slept. It was hard to move. But you were there, quiet, interested in eating and sleeping on my chest. I felt complete in the bed – I didn’t need anything but help being with you – food, clean cloths, a shower, the loving and proud gaze of your Dad. We settled in.

For days and weeks after I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had felt inundated, embarrassed that I was scared and unable to dynamically feel through the pain of pushing. I felt embarrassed that I needed help. For feeling helpless. I didn’t feel like the rock star of the birthing stories I had read.

For the next few weeks I felt I couldn’t talk about the birth without crying – both from shame, pain, and fear. The fear lingered. Meeting my ends felt like being on a different plane, one that I didn’t consent to. I wanted to feel like I succeeded, like I rocked it. But I didnt. I just did it – ugly, dirty, beautiful, and blissful. Bliss in the sense of out-of-body-ness, sappy loveiness, complete sensation. Flooded, inundated, sensation.

The birth continued for months – recovery was manageable but a daily physical reminder of the trauma of birth. The episiotomy meant I used a sitz bath for a few months. I managed my body carefully, with food, baths, and eventually exercise. Caring for my body made caring for you hard.

But with the help of your Dad, and others, it was possible.


If I get to do this again, I will try to remember that even if I feel I cant cope, I am still birthing. I can still move through it. The unknown is part of the process of bringing life into the world. I will remember that rest is a gift, not something to worry about. I will remember to trust myself.”

2016-05-01 14.35.30 HDR-2

PS – Here’s a video clip of the reading of “On The Night You Were Born” Jessica refers to in her birth story. Enjoy!

Traveling WITHOUT Children

Traveling

It’s 5:03 am Chicago O’Hare time and I’m trying to find some free Wi-Fi that actually works. I passed a Starbucks on my way to the gate and I can imagine my chai tea latte (extra hot!) in about an hour, when the place finally opens.

I’m able to sit and write uninterrupted for the next couple of hours and I’m amazed at this list of things I don’t have to do:

  1. Listen to Thing #1 complain pretty much non-stop about how bad the Wi-Fi in this place is “I can’t even stream my music, Mom!”
  2. Argue with Thing #2 that even though he thinks he “didn’t sleep on the plane at all!” he actually did – I saw him, and I know he’s tired, I’m tired, we’re all tired
  3. Navigate the obstacle course that is Thing #3 ’s collection of markers, colored pencils and fashion design books strewn all over the floor
  4. Chase after Thing #4 as he swings on the bars attached to window ledges and asks over and over and over again, “When’s it our turn to get on the plane?”

Traveling without children isn’t something that I get to do very often. And so it’s still a bit of a novelty to me. When you have four kids, traveling is usually quite the production!

You know your family is “big” when you take up two full rows on the plane. The first thing we always do is decide who’s sitting next to whom. This is not as easy as it sounds.

My hubby and I usually do some form of Rochambeau to determine who’s sitting with the littles and who’s sitting with the teens. It’s obvious who loses this game as one of us ends up having to come up with as many adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs as we can, to then listen to the resulting Mad Libs story at a deafening volume you can hear over the roar of the airplane’s engines.

We bring electronics people, I’m not going to lie. Apple products are some of the world’s greatest inventions when it comes to traveling! We download movies onto the iPad – but we have to figure out what Things 1 & 2 will both want to watch vs Things 3 & 4. It’s hard to find movies that all of our kids ages 16, 14, 10 & 7 actually like and are willing to watch again for the umpteenth time.

Plus – there’s only so many movies that can fit on a portable electronic device, so we can’t just rely on movies as our main tactical maneuver for traveling bliss. Oh, no. I have to make sure that each one of them has a book, but it has to be the right book: long enough to last most of the trip – without weighing 15 pounds! But I can’t forget all the other books: coloring, work, sticker… whatever will distract and entertain.

We try to take up two rows on the same side of the plane instead of side by side. We do this to avoid the looks of irritation from strangers who continue to a) get a kick in the pants no matter how many times we remind our kids to “Stop kicking the seat in front of you!” and b) get whacked in the head by a steady stream of our bags being sent across the aisle. 

And then there are the snacks. Holy crap! You’d think we were flying one-way to a deserted island somewhere with no hope for a food drop, based on the amount of food we bring along! Food is one of the best ways to keep kids on a plane happy though, so it’s got to be a good! I try to bring a mix of sweet and savory, with plenty of protein and nutritious stuff thrown together with a few “plane only” foods. These will inevitably get eaten on the first leg of the trip first and then the whining begins, “Why does he still have Oreos?” (Because your Dad has learned the art of delayed gratification, my friend.)

There must be gum available for takeoff and landing – not because it actually helps that much with ear pressure, but if I put a big enough wad in my mouth, I can distract every kid on the plane as I blow bubble after bubble while they laugh as it pops on my nose and cheeks.

Almost always, the flight attendants remark as we’re getting off the plane how well behaved our four kids are. And they’ve been saying this since the days when they were all under the age of ten. I’m not trying to be smug, here. The trick to successful travel with children is to remember: YOU’RE TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN!

You might get to read that novel from your book club or the latest O Magazine when you get to your final destination, but no way are you doing any of that on the plane! When I fly and I see kids really acting up it’s usually because THEY’RE CHILDREN, and their parents have forgotten this.

Traveling for hours strapped into an uncomfortable seat, with no legroom, a tiny little window that looks out into nothing, and where the only place to wander off to happens to be the world’s smallest toilet is hard enough on us adults! But when you have children with you it means you have to rally and be ready to parent every second of the flight – or at least until they fall asleep.

Sleeping children on the plane is always worth striving for! If they’re still nursing, it’s a little bit easier because they might end up sleeping the entire time – as long as there’s a nipple in their mouth! (Which may be the best argument for extended breastfeeding ever!) But if they weaned several years ago, you have to be prepared to help them make it through the flight and the best way to do that is to be as present as possible.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly exhausting! But it usually prevents most of the meltdowns that are likely to occur if you forget that you’re traveling with children!

I’m aware of how easy this is for me to write about today, seeing as I have none of my brood with me. But this is really just a reminder for me to pack well – as we will be traveling with all four of them, on a very, very long flight in just a couple of weeks.

And I need to be prepared.

How do you entertain your kiddos while traveling? Any pearls of wisdom to share about how to keep the littles distracted and happy for those of us who will be facing a big trip this Summer? (Hint – I’m talking about me here, and I could really use some new ideas before mid-June. Help a Momma out!) Bonus points if the idea doesn’t take up any room in the carry on bags. May you all have safe and relatively pain-free travels. Don’t forget – you’re parents, now.

I CAN’T Do It All! (And I’m OK With That)

Nope

I’m having a conversation online about how feminism might have screwed us. But before everyone gets all worked up, let me plead my case.

We’re supposed to be able to “do it all” but too many of us (all of us?) are finding that it’s impossible to live up to that ideal in our mothering, working inside and outside of the home, being a wonderful mate for our partner, etc.

In some ways, I feel lucky that my job (which is, after all, a calling and one that I absolutely love) allows me to appear as though I’m able to “do it all.” Even when that’s only an optical illusion. Let me explain…

I’m the one who drops the kids off every day to school and picks them up every afternoon. I’m able to hit those field trips that appeal to me (I’m no dummy!) and claim work commitments for those that don’t (again, no dummy!) My work is very part-time, but it allows me to have my cake and eat it too – a little taste of it, anyway.

Because I’m a contracted employee and never work enough hours to even be considered part-time, I have no benefits. And while my hours have always meant not paying for childcare, it’s also meant that I’m gone a lot during evenings and weekends. So, I end up missing out on the fun: soccer games, swim lessons, dance and acting performances.

Ironically, it’s my paycheck that allows our kids to take part in all of these extracurriculars. All the extracurriculars that I usually don’t get to take part in. Hmmmm… It’s clear to see that even in my very Momma-friendly job, I can’t do it all either! Sometimes, it ends up feeling like we’ve all been had.

It’s challenging to live in a time and place where raising the next generation is not valued in the same way as professional work. Many parents aren’t able to make decisions about how they’d like to raise their children that truly reflect their personal choices. Instead, they might feel bound to only consider what they can afford.

I’ve talked about it before. The fact that the US is the only developed nation without mandatory paid maternity (and paternity!) leave is a joke. Just at the moment when our families are feeling most vulnerable, when they’re most in need of a chance to catch up to this huge life change that’s been thrust upon them, they’re required to skip that break and instead, add a part-time or full-time job onto their already full-time+ job of learning how to parent a newborn baby!

And we seriously wonder why our numbers of women and men who experience a PMAD – Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder – are so high? Statistics tell us that one out of every seven women, and one out of every ten men will experience a postpartum mood disorder following the birth of their baby. Personally, I’m surprised these numbers aren’t even higher!

What can we begin to do about this?

Be real. If we’re being completely honest, none of us is “doing it all.”

Not one of us can say that we’re able to give 100% to our children, and 100% to our partners, and 100% to our jobs – let alone, 100% to ourselves. Math is not my strongest subject folks, but even I can read that last sentence and realize that you can’t give 400% when you’ve only got 100% to start with! It just doesn’t add up.

We need to give voice to this discussion by reading and sharing great posts like this one from Courtney Smith at Mother Nurture. But I’m wanting to add a different perspective to this conversation about making feminism work better for all of us…

Something happened a long time ago when little girls like me were being raised on the Enjoli perfume commercial. While I was being told that I could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man!” (a completely unrealistic claim, by the way) my male counterparts were not being raised with any messages that might allow them to redefine all that they could aspire to as grown men.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that a lot of men feel displaced in today’s culture. Now, I think women can often be too quick to respond to this with, “Poor babies, they’ve been dethroned.” And I can understand this reaction, as we’re still very much living in a “man’s world” in terms of who’s making policy, feeling fully supported in the workplace, receiving equal pay for equal work – I could go on…

But the voices of enlightened men, those men who are wanting to contribute, need to be a part of this discussion for any real change to occur. They need to be welcomed into what is still considered to be mostly “women’s work”- the raising of our children.

I can feel it emanating from the the soon-to-be fathers in my classes. They’re eager and excited about becoming Dads, but feel scared, uncertain and all too often, completely left out of the discussion.

We’ve pressed upon them how important their role is in helping the woman get through her labor and birth, but have we really considered their needs and feelings about becoming a father? Do we address these concerns when we see them in our obstetrical or midwifery clinic settings? As Childbirth Educators, do we truly support them in their role or send subtle messages that their experience is secondary and doesn’t matter as much as the mother’s?

It’s no secret that I hold a soft spot for the men in my classes – I care about them and their experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting as much as I do the Mommas! But most of the time, their uncomfortable displacement can get in the way of them truly being transformed by this experience if we don’t work to welcome and include them.

Women are already able to do pretty much anything a man can do in our society. Plus, they can co-create a brand new life, pass it through their bodies, and feed it the perfect food. For the first time, maybe ever in their lives, men realize all that women are capable of – and this can challenge their core identities.

When I ask expectant fathers what their goals might be for the class, all too often I hear, “I just want to do everything I can to make things better for her.” Which is sweet and wonderful – but what do you want to get out of this class? A sense of confidence? Knowledge of what a real baby looks like, so you don’t think the worst when your baby is blue, covered in goo and not breathing at the moment of birth? An understanding of how your relationship might be affected by this little person, because you’re scared your partner might end up loving the baby more than she loves you?

Their job in this whole female experience is to remain very stereotypically male – stoic, unfeeling, strong – when inside, they’re entire sense of who they are is being broken wide open. For most men, if we welcome them to fully participate in these pregnancy, birth and early parenting experiences, they’ll emerge on the other side of it all completely transformed.

In this day of shifting definitions of what it means to be feminine and masculine, can we not also redefine what our roles of parenting might involve? Can we encourage men to throw off the mantle of strength and posturing so that they can be soft and present to this experience which allows them to embrace the role of father for their newborn baby?

Because, really, it’s only through vulnerable and connected co-parenting that any of us have a chance of pretending we can “do it all.” Even when you have a committed partner in parenting, being able to do it all, still requires 400% effort – when combined, you only have 200% to give.

So, be gentle with yourselves. Be honest. Don’t believe the hype. And stop striving for an ideal – as a woman or a man – that’s never been realistic. Make “I can’t do it all!” your personal motto. And encourage others to do the same.

Are you exhausted by the societal pressure placed upon you to “do it all?” If you’re an expectant or new father, what has your experience been in feeling welcomed into this “world of women?” How has becoming a parent expanded your definition of “doing it all” into “doing enough?” I’d love to hear what this post brings up for you.