Saturday, July 30, 2011

Redefining What It Means To Be Perfect

Shortly after I gave birth to my daughter and second child on the 4th of July, my aunt shared that her youngest daughter and child had just turned 20 years old. While it was no surprise that my cousin was having a 20th birthday, the news, as I held my newborn, took my breath away for a moment, as I asked myself, “Wait, is that how fast our children grow up?” I remember my cousin when she was 4 and came to Easter dinner at my grandparents house in her pink outfit with a white hat. Looking at my newborn, I was suddenly and already grieving the loss of her childhood. And looking at my son, a fiercely independent boy around the corner from his third birthday, I already regretted the moments when I was not my best self – especially in the latest heat wave that hit New York. Generally, I have a lot of patience and compassion for children. But in the heat, I’ll be the first to admit I am a cranky witch always on her last nerve.

Still, my aunt sharing that her youngest child was no longer a child had me rethink the moments that I caught myself about to snap at my son simply because I was so hot I couldn’t think straight. My aunt then shared with me the wisdom that comes with time and perspective: essentially that as parents, we all wish we could take back the moments when we weren’t the best parents, but, she said, life isn’t perfect and neither are we. We can only give ourselves the grace to know we always did the best we could at that moment in time and let go of the rest. Thankfully, our children love us unconditionally and forgive us; they rebound from those moments simply because they’re grounded in the knowledge that we love them.

Yet I also caught myself getting stuck on the word and phrase that I so often hear women use to describe those moments they aren’t proud of: mainly, that we aren’t perfect. I hear this a lot – in those “Mommy wars” conversations, about leaving our children to go back to work and how “perfect” or “good” mothers feel guilty for not being with their children, but also feel guilty because they enjoy their work and want to do something for themselves that leaves them satisfied. I hear it get used when women feel they need a break from their work, children and even husbands – and that if they were perfect they wouldn’t need to.

The idea of what a “perfect” parent is is so subjective it’s meaningless. Perfect in itself doesn’t actually describe anything. Does it mean you never yell at your kids or get frustrated when you need to be at the subway stop in a matter of minutes, but your toddler is stopping to inspect every rock and stick on the sidewalk? Does it mean that when you do yell or are less than respectful to your child you also apologize and teach your child that you are as equally human as they are and that it’s okay to make mistakes or that we sometimes act in ways we’re not proud of as long as we also do our best to be responsible for the repercussions of our behavior?

Or in terms of having a perfect marriage – what does that mean? That you never fight and always are rational or that you do fight and allow each other to get angry because at the very least it means you’re communicating and grappling with the more complex aspects of what it means to share a life with someone?

Essentially, the idea of perfection just becomes another yardstick of ideal we use to measure ourselves up against and beat ourselves up with. As I reflected on what my aunt said of her own parenting, I decided she was right: all we can ever do is our best in that moment – whether it’s as a parent, a spouse, an employee, a neighbor or whatever. There will be moments we learn from and want to do over and even wish we could take back. But why not either leave the idea of perfection out of it – or redefine the notion of what it is to be perfect? Maybe we could instead practice self-acceptance, and even go so far to suggest that we’re perfect as we are – and are not. Instead of having being perfect be the goal, maybe we could instead have it be the starting place.

In each moment, we can only do our best, and sometimes doing our best looks different than it did the moment before. This is where I noticed a degree of grace begin to emerge as I thought all these things through. Me doing my best with my son in a heat wave just days after I had given birth to his sister? Well, I had no right to expect from myself what I am normally capable of. After I give birth doing my best essentially means I don’t get out of my pajamas, I drink plenty of fluids, rest, and am excited to see my son when he walks in the door from his play date. The idea of perfection in many moments isn’t even relevant – but allowing ourselves some compassion always is.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Experience with Cosleeping and Occasional Bedsharing

When my son was born I didn't know much about cosleeping or bedsharing. In fact they were terms that I was unfamiliar with. I knew people who slept in the same room with their babies as well as others who slept in the same bed with their babies. I just never associated a term with either practice and, I never thought much of it. It was one of those things that some parents do and others don't. It didn't seem like a major decision to me. My mom tried cosleeping with some of her children and found that she and the baby slept more soundly when sleeping in separate rooms and relying on a baby monitor. After hearing her experience, I decided to skip the bassinet in my bedroom and just put my son in a crib in his own room. I know. I can't believe I ever felt that way either.

(Just so we're on the same page: Cosleeping and Bedsharing are two separate terms. Cosleeping is sleeping in the same room as your child. Bedsharing is sleeping in the same bed as your child. Bedsharing is always considered cosleeping since you are obviously in the same room if you are in the same bed. Cosleeping is the broader term that includes bedsharing, but also sleeping on separate beds in the same room.)

When my son was born we didn't have completely ideal living arrangements. We lived with my parents. It's wasn't the best arrangement but we were grateful to have it. My parents cleared out the bedroom right next to the one we were staying in and converted it into a nursery for our son. We had a crib in there but also a twin sized bed that my parents had no room for anywhere else. That twin bed ended up being the place I slept the most often as well as being the place I breastfed my son the most often. I ended up cosleeping most nights for the first year or so of my son's life. I had a baby monitor, but it was easier to sleep in my son's room with him and not wake up my husband who worked very early in the mornings.

My sister-in-law has a daughter 6 months older than my son and has had wonderful success with bedsharing. After hearing how much easier nighttime feedings were and how much she enjoyed snuggling with her daughter all night long, I decided to try it. I didn't sleep at all. I was so worried I would smother my son with blankets or roll over on top of him. I was mostly worried that my husband who is a violent sleeper would elbow his precious face or something of the sort. I tried it on several occasions with a similar result. I was so stressed about protecting my son that I didn't get any sleep. When my son had a mild case of RSV as an infant, I had to hold him in an upright position all night long. (He slept on my chest while I was propped up with pillows in a reclining type position) This was definitely an opportunity to keep trying the whole bedsharing thing, but despite bedsharing for 2 weeks straight, I never seemed to manage getting any sleep. I gave up on bedsharing and decided it just wasn't for me.

So despite thinking I wouldn't sleep well if I coslept, I still ended up cosleeping (sleeping on the twin bed in my son's room) the majority of the time during the first year of my son's life. When we moved out of my parents house and into our own place, our son was about 18 months old and started climbing out of his crib. We made the switch to a toddler bed and he LOVED sleeping in his big boy bed and also loved his own room. He never asked us to stay in his room with him and he also never asked or tried to come into our room. He slept in his own room by himself and enjoyed it. We didn't shut him in. We slept with the doors open and he had every opportunity to join us in our room, but never chose to do so.

Fast forward 2 years and now that I have a 3 and 1/2 year old, he only wants to sleep in our room. This all started when my husband got a new job and started working nights a few times a week. I initiated the bedsharing and told him that since Dad was gone, he could sleep in my bed with me. My son told me no! I couldn't believe it. My first night in years having my husband gone all night and I was going to have to sleep alone. I was finally able to talk my son into just laying in my bed to read bedtime stories and he decided bedsharing might be fun and that he would stay. We both discovered that we quite like bedsharing! Now that he is older, I don't have the same worries I had when he was a newborn. I especially love snuggling in the mornings before getting out of bed. It's the best way to start your day.

Since that time, my son has decided he likes sleeping in my bed. We bedshare quite often. He also discovered that he doesn't like sharing the bed when it's too crowded (when Dad is home) and prefers sleeping on a crib mattress placed on the floor in our room on those nights. I am constantly surprised with the changes that take place in my life as my child grows. I never thought I would start bedsharing at 3 years old. I also never realized how much I could love it! Now most nights, my son sleeps in our room with us. He either sleeps in our bed with me when Dad's not home, or sleeps on his own little bed in our room. He has started to prefer that and honestly, so have we. The only downside is that my husband doesn't get to experience the bedsharing part. He has a few times, but when my husband is home, my son prefers to have a bit more space and wants to sleep in his own bed (next to ours).

I know there will be a time when he decides that he prefers his own bed and his own room, but in the grand scheme of things, that day will come all too soon. I'm going to cherish my bedsharing days while I still can. When he decides he wants to sleep in his own room, it will be his decision. Until then, he is always welcome in our room, and in our bed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Traumatic Birth - Call For Submissions From Solace For Mothers

I found Solace For Mothers only a few months ago.  Having had a traumatic birth, I couldn't believe it had been almost four years before I found this amazing resource.

Solace is a place for mothers to discuss their traumatic birth, and everything that comes with it in a safe environment.  For most women that have been through a traumatic birth, it is hard to talk about what happened for fear you will be told that you are making things up, or that you should just be happy your baby is healthy.  So instead, you keep it all in, and each day it eats at you a little bit more.

The trauma from birth can have more effects than just the physical.  There are emotional and psychological effects that are longer lasting than the physical and get pushed under the rug because they aren't on the surface for people to see.  My grandma once told me that she still has some issues from the birth of her fourth baby, and that was over 45 years ago.

The support from this community is invaluable, and speaking in a safe place can help you feel even a little bit in control.

Solace For Mothers is looking for mothers willing to share their stories to be published in book form.  One of the hardest parts about birth trauma is that most feel alone and don't think anyone else has ever been through this.  This book can be one of the ways to help women feel like others understand how they feel.

If you have been through a traumatic birth, please consider submitting your story.  The format for the story, and the phone number to talk to a counselor if you are having trouble writing your story, can be found HERE.

The awareness for traumatic birth needs to be raised, women need to realize they aren't alone.  If your story can help that, truly consider submitting.

Love Songs and Lullabies Winner!

And the winner is....

#5 - Brenda!!  I've emailed you to let you know, get back to me within 48 hours :)

Thank you to all that entered, and to Emma for donating such an awesome product to us!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tattling: The Post I Will Read In 3-5 Years And Have A Good Laugh At My Own Expense

I love kids. I have always loved kids. Kids are joy pure and simple, they are fluffy clouds, rainbows, unicorns, and kittens all rolled up into little humans... Even though they don't always act like it. When they don't act like it I can put up with defiance and sass mouth, I have all the patience in the world for doddling and never ending random questions, but if there was one trait that I could genetically engineer out of every child everywhere it would be tattle telling.

Maybe it's the fact that I am not really into rules. Maybe I just like it when people mind there own dang business. Whatever it is, the constant whining drawn out calls that 'so and so did something' make my skin crawl. They make me want to scream. Make me want to banish otherwise perfectly lovable & awesome children to a deep dark pit never to be heard from again. Seriously.

Every child I've ever met has come into this phase at some point and for years I have been very carefully observing what makes these tattle tales tick in order to minimize, if not totally eliminate it from my son Oliver's development.

Will it work? Most likely not, I highly suspect that tattling is just one of those perfectly normal developmental stages that we must do our best to accept, but my sanity is so totally worth the try.

I may be completely wrong here, but I feel like constant tattling (and I am talking serial tattling here, like the kid at our swim class who complains when everyone isn't swimming in the right direction.) is sometimes a sign that kids are struggling to understand concepts and develop skills (i.e. Boundaries and problem solving), while the common adult reactions to it (in my case the exasperated brush-off) are often unhelpful in meeting those needs to learn and understand.

I've also noticed that tattle telling has two phases. First as children start to learn about and try to understand the rules and boundaries in place for them, and second as children are learning to navigate social interactions with peers on their own.

In the first phase, the worst tattling offenders always seem to be the children receiving the most verbal correction and direction from the adults around them. Usually because they have the most rules to follow. It's been my experience that these children are often more worried about doing things 'right' then just doing things and having fun. It has also been my experience that this worry extends to everyone around them & they end up mirroring the constant verbal correction they get from adults in the form of tattling.

Am I suggesting that children don't need clear and consistent rules and boundaries? Of coarse not. But maybe they do need less of them, and maybe we as parents could find more creative ways to teach these rules then simply spouting them out every time our children come close to our boundaries. Because if *I* find it ridiculously annoying when children spout rules at each other at every infraction, imagine how annoying it is for Oliver to hear it from me.

In developmental phase two of tattling this constant correction and rule spouting leaves children with few examples or tools to use in social situations with peers. In a difficult situation the only thing a child may know to do is recite an enforceable rule, yet many children have never been granted any authority with which to enforce the rules, nor any leadership or problem solving skills to find solutions and are left with only the option to run straight to the nearest adult.

So basically I have developed a 'nip tattling in the bud before it even starts' plan that involves not only giving my son more freedom from unnecessary rules, but also changing the way I teach him our family rules to promote confidence, decision making and problem solving, and do my best not model rule spouting and telling to him.
Like I said earlier, I am not in any way suggesting that this might actually work. For me it is simply worth the extra effort to ensure I am giving my son the tools and confidence to solve problems in his own way.

1: set up reliable routines 
In eliminating the need to spout out rules and repeat myself over and over again, I have found that most all 'rules' can be replaced painlessly with routines. 'Don't leave your toys out' and 'Wash your hands before you eat' don't really have to be rules if you lead by example and just do them as part of a reliable routine. I have talked about using routine to set boundaries with young children before, and as Oliver grows I find myself relying on them more and more.

Not only do reliable routines allow us to teach good habits and work with our children to learn important skills without conflict or power struggles, they also have the added benefit of giving kids control and confidence. Oliver can and often does initiate several of our routines by himself and has recently started asking us not to help him as he starts to take pride in what he can do for himself.

Does every routine get executed exactly how I would want it to? No. Is Oliver always an enthusiastic participant? No. Does that really matter? Not one bit, It is worth it that he is learning self motivation and ownership/pride of a job well done.
I hope this will help him tackle tough situations on his own in the future, but at the very least I will have avoided modelling to him the kind of 'rule spouting' that tattling seems to mirror. 

2: focus on the feelings
There are some rules that are more serious then a fun routine. In our house they all fall under one of three main rules; respect yourself, respect others, respect your environment. but while things like 'no hitting' are most definitely rules in our house I try my best to avoid simply telling my son not to hit. I much prefer to focus on developing empathy and emotional maturity then having Oliver follow hard and fast rules. In stead of 'No hitting' I am more likely to say 'ouch, Oliver that hurt when you hit me and made me very sad'. I firmly believe that this will help Oliver when he is negotiating difficult situations with peers by giving him the words to stand up for himself and make his feelings known, as well as the empathy and compassion for others.

This can work in a variety of situations positive or negative and is something I try to focus on daily. 'Oliver, it scares me when you jump on the furniture, I don't want you to get hurt' or 'it makes me so proud when you treat your books so nicely'

3: give options and alternatives: 
Instead of constantly correcting a child's behavior with negative words or simply reciting rules, I try to add positive language to the conversation and create an environment where I can say 'yes' more then 'no' to build upon confidence, pride in accomplishment, and model problem solving skills that they can then take with them when they start striking out on their own and interacting with peers.

Instead of 'hang up your coat and put your shoes away' I try 'where would you like to hang your coat? On the hook or in your room?' and then let them do it themselves. Or combine this method with the focus on feelings with 'it scares me when you do that, it's dangerous, would you like to jump on a cushion on the floor instead?'

More open ended options and alternatives can be overwhelming for some children, but they are also a great way to promote creativity and problem solving. 'you and your friend are having trouble sharing that toy. Can you think of something else you can do together?'

Sometimes I hear myself saying these things and I feel silly, especially when the results aren't immediate. But then I think about how amazing it would be to hear Oliver model this type of language instead of tattling and it feels totally worth it.

4: relax and let things go 
Is it really so important to me that Oliver always uses an 'inside voice' when we are inside or always says 'please' and 'thank you'? These are both traits that I would like to teach him of coarse, but is it really worth it to me to interrupt otherwise positive moments to correct his behavior when he doesn't?

Sometimes the 'please' and 'thank-you's are implied by the sweetness of his tone.  Other times they are omitted because he just isn't in a very good mood. Sometimes inside games get really too exciting for an inside voice and sometimes it is necessary to be loud to fully express big emotions.

Either way, it's ok to let the rules go sometimes and just be in that moment as it is. Whether the child notices these letting go moments or not, I still think it is a good skill to model for them. Not everyone is going to have the same rules, not everyone is going to follow them all the time, and in the midst of a happy moment, so long as no one is  getting hurt, there's no need to worry about it.

In the end will these steps help to minimize the tattling in my future? I would like to think so. I would certainly never turn my child away if he came to me for help but giving him the tools to solve his own problems is also very important to me so at the very least I won't need to intervene in every single tiny injustice he perceives and hopefully I can find within myself the patience to approach each tattling as a teaching moment.

What do you think? Have I missed any key elements to tattle telling? Do you have any tips for promoting confidence and problem solving in your children? How do you react when your children tattle on other kids?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In Praise of First Time Parenting

First time parents are often considered a joke. Everyone rolls their eyes a little when the see a new pregnant couple over loaded with the latest and greatest gadgets out of the pricey baby store. People laugh even more when they hear how excited and/or nervous new parents are about everything their little angel does. And when babies get sick/eat something questionable/do something the least bit dangerous? Well, only new parents get really worried and uptight about it.

While I think there are a lot of things that new parents worry about that parents with a lot of experience don't (like maybe my baby will never sleep/stop crying/walk/talk, etc.), new parenting has it's place in the grand scheme of things, and I think that new parents are not the joke they are made out to be. After all, new parenting actually has some pretty good results to its credit. Eldest children have higher IQ's than their siblings. They also tend to hit milestones sooner. Eldest children and only children also tend to be very responsible and independent. (There are, of course, exceptions!) Does this mean that eldest or only children are in any way superior to subsequent children children? Absolutely not! Eldest children are also punished more, tend to be perfectionists, and have their foibles just like all children do. But what this does prove is that first time parenting works just as well as experienced parenting does.

Perhaps this is because, for most parents, all parenting is first time parenting. Every time we welcome another child in our home, we become new parents once more. We are new parents of two (or three, or four, or six, or seventeen!) children. We are new parents to a girl or a boy or simply this girl or this boy. Yes, we don't have the same worries. Experienced parents may have an easier time realizing that they will survive the sleep deprivation, crying fits, tantrums, illnesses, etc, but even experienced parents worry about the job they are doing and the new experiences they encounter. (Tandem nursing, three or four kids all with different needs who are asking for help, whether every child is getting the attention they deserve, the list goes on and on for the "new" experiences that subsequent parenting brings). Each child also brings his or her own challenges to the picture. I often hear from experienced mothers, "My son never did "x!" I don't even know where to begin! or even "My eldest twins never did "y!" You'd think I'd seen it all, but this?"

Every day, if we let ourselves, we wake up new parents with fresh insights, worries, and approaches. Our children almost insure it by developing into the new, fresh, ever-evolving, little people they are every day. If we allow ourselves to be forgiving of our "first" time mistakes as parents, I think we'll find that we can also have much to praise about ourselves (if only for our ability to survive). Just keep your connection to each of your children strong and your love (and forgiveness) of both yourself and others transparent and you will get it right the first time, every time.

Lots of love to every first time parent out there!

Thanks for reading.

Back To Basics Parenting

Being a mom is so much harder than I thought it would be.

As soon as my brother was born (I was three), I fell in love with babies and children.  I started babysitting at 11, and even when I wasn't babysitting, I was around babies.  I would take the fussy kids during church so their parents could listen, I was always holding at least one baby or playing with kids, and I knew I wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember.

When I actually became a mother, I realized that babysitting partially prepared me for being alone with my child, but in no way did it actually prepare me to be a mother.  I was always able to give the kids back, and I can't do that with my daughter.

One of the biggest challenges I have had with parenting is find out what works for our family.  Since parenting is all about what works for you and you instantly find new things and change old things, it can be exhausting.

So I came up with a way to keep my life less stressful while parenting in a way that is comfortable to me!

(Someone might have thought of this already, I truly don't know).

I call it Back To Basics Parenting.

I have a few perfect tried and true ways to parent that I always come back to when things start to become dicey with new ideas.

I try to stay as close to Gentle Parenting as I possibly can, and some days, I end up putting myself in "time out" more than once just to calm myself down.  There is only so much whining a person can take.

1.  I always come back to trying to not say the word "no" unless I need to really get her attention.  I'm still working on this one, saying no is just so easy but after hearing that for every little thing, it loses its clarity and meaning.  I can tell by how she reacts to it when I say it how often I have been saying it lately.  If she looks at me in shock and wonder, she truly grasped the meaning and I have only used it when absolutely necessary.  If she giggles and keeps doing it, it has completely lost all meaning.

2.  Quiet time!  She is four and hasn't really napped consistently since she was 2.  She will nap maybe twice a week, but if I'm not careful, she will nap at 6:30 at night.  So every day, we have quiet time.  We put in a movie that she picks, and we have to lie down through the movie.  It doesn't mean she will nap, but if she is tired and most times lying on my chest, she will sleep.  And even if she doesn't, I get an hour and a half to recharge without going off my rocker (mainly only if it is a bad day).

3.  I love doing crafts, I have been doing them most of my life, and I want my daughter to have the same love of homemade that I have.  Everyday I try to do at least one craft or make one food with her.  It could be anything from drawing some pictures or playing with playdough to baking a cake or brownies.  I learn a lot about her and we have a lot of fun during this time.  Plus, when we bake, we love to lick the bowl clean ;)

4.  Having a bedtime ritual was something we never did.  My daughter hates to sleep, and has fought going to sleep since she was about eight months old.  Some nights it would be three or four hours of fighting and screaming before she would finally fall asleep, and even then, it was really restless sleep.  My husband used to work until midnight and our daughter hated going to bed without him, so it felt pointless to have a "bedtime" before then.  When he started working days instead of nights, we started a night ritual of getting our pajamas on, reading a book that she picks, saying our prayers, and then going to sleep.  She knew when it was bedtime and stopped fighting us as much.  Lately I have been really slacking with this since my husband is back to night shifts, and I really need to get back into it.

5.  On the days where being cooped up is getting to both of us, we try to go outside, even if it is just out onto our porch. Nothing like a good dose of Vitamin D and fresh air to calm you down and make you feel like you can go on for a few more hours.

6.  Try to talk to an adult (other than my husband) once a week!!  This one may seem odd, but only talking to my husband and my daughter every day mas me feeling more cooped up than normal.  Having a real conversation with someone can bring me back to earth and recharge me for another week of toddler speak.

It isn't much, but these are the things that I can come back to to not only recenter myself but find out if what I was trying to change was working.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Will I Tell My Daughter About Labor and Childbirth?

I have thought a lot about what I will tell my daughter about labor and childbirth.

In my first pregnancy, I was grateful to the women in my life; my mom, my step-mom, and my aunts. From them, I had heard nothing about labor or childbirth that left me scared of it. My mom and step-mom essentially agreed that migraine headaches or a toothache, like an infected dry socket after Wisdom teeth pulling, were far worse than labor and childbirth. I appreciated this view, as I told my midwife when she asked if I was scared of giving birth, because I didn’t have any fears about giving birth. I had had both migraine headaches and an infected dry socket after my Wisdom teeth were pulled. And because of this, I felt like I had passed some sort of pain threshold test that was supposed to predict how I would handle labor. Add in the fact that I spent my first pregnancy going to a daily yoga class and walking my dogs an hour a day, and I also felt like I was in strong physical shape and had enough stamina for labor. I didn't think labor would be that bad.

Then I gave birth to my son. My labor followed the pattern of my mother’s in that my son was born six hours after the first contraction.

And I discovered my mother had lied to me. Labor, it turns out, hurts. It hurts a lot. I felt betrayed. I had had migraine headaches that had made me want to drill a hole in my head to relieve the pressure. And even if the time I spent in labor was actually shorter than most migraine headaches, I can’t say it was easier to deal with.

Labor and childbirth were the hardest things I had ever done. I will say that part of the euphoria of holding my newborn in my arms also came from the knowledge that I had done something so unbelievably difficult – and I had done it at home, in a tub of water, with no drugs to relieve the pain (though honestly, my labor was too fast that even if I had wanted drugs, there would have been no time) and suddenly I had a confidence in myself I didn’t know was possible. I felt like if I could deliver a child, well, I could do anything.

I still told my mother she had lied to me. Her response? She said, “Oh honey, I didn’t do it like you. I had a local before delivering you.”

I called her a name I can’t repeat on the Internet. Since when did having a local count as natural childbirth?

So I started thinking about what I would tell my daughter about labor and childbirth. I didn’t want her to be scared. I wanted her to feel empowered, but I also didn’t want her to get in the middle of it and suddenly feel betrayed or blind sighted. I decided I would tell her that labor and childbirth did hurt, but the pain was manageable, and she wouldn’t get a labor that she wasn’t capable of handling.

Yet even knowing this for myself, I found myself in my second pregnancy, nervous and a little scared of labor and childbirth. I knew, again, my labor would follow the pattern of my mother’s, that her second labor was somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours. My cousin had just had an hour labor; she said it felt like a train. My mother had never said a word about the pain.

I thought about how much my six-hour labor hurt and tried to imagine what a train barreling through my pelvis would feel like. During my next midwife appointment, I was embarrassed to admit that now I was scared to death to give birth. My midwife told me I was not alone, that many women are more scared the second time around – exactly because we have an idea of what to expect and how much it can hurt. She told me about her own labor that was three hours long. She said that just when you think you can’t do it any longer – it’s over.

She was exactly right.

My second labor again followed my mother’s, with the exception that my water didn’t break before hand. But my first contraction was one that slammed me and thirty minutes later when my midwife walked in the door, she confirmed that I was at 9 centimeters.

Not even an hour later, I told her, “I don’t think I can do this much longer.” She said, “You’re not going to have to.” Within ten minutes, my daughter was born and placed on my chest. I have never been so glad to see someone in my life.

And indeed, this will be what I will tell my daughter about second labors, that just when you say, you can’t do it any longer, it’s over. I will also add in that just because you’ve been through it before, you have no idea what it’s going to be like the second time around – even if other people try to tell you. For my cousin, her hour labor felt like a train. My labor and the process of pushing my daughter through my pelvis felt like birthing a tornado – not a seven-pound baby girl. I might even tell her that other people tell you you forget the pain, but that I haven’t – or maybe you do and they just don’t tell you when you forget the pain.

But I will tell her, that while I am eternally grateful that I never have to give birth again, giving birth the two times I did were the most profound and amazing experiences of my life – and that it was honor to give birth to both my children. Though this part she might not understand until she goes through it. Until she does, it might just sound like I’m being an overly sentimental mom.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Finding Joy in the Journey

It's hard not to constantly anticipate the happiness you expect to experience when you finally get that positive pregnancy test. As a couple trying to conceive (or TTC) it can be in the forefront of your mind. "If I could only get pregnant, then I'd be really happy." Of coarse it's something to look forward to and anticipating a pregnancy is part of the fun (and part of the heartache) of TTC. Now, I know I will be excited when I am able to have another baby but I soon found my self consumed with wanting a baby and focusing on how happy my life could be instead of how happy it is. I decided to focus the past couple of weeks on finding joy in the journey and finding happiness in my life right where it is.

It all started with conversations at work. I have a co-worker who is an early twenties bachelor living at home with his mom. He has minimal living expenses so he loves to spend his money on designer clothing and he drives an expensive car. (Seriously just thinking about his car payment makes me sick.) On a Monday morning we have our usual "What did you do over the weekend?" conversation where he tells me all about the latest parties he attended or girls he is interested in, etc. This particular Monday he comes in talking about how he went to a friend's lake house and went boating. Then he goes on to talk about how happy he would be if he finally had a boat or an ATV or motorcycle. I literally started laughing. I told him how lucky he is to be able to have all the nice things that he does! He just can't seem to be satisfied unless he has all the trivial, material possessions he could ever want. I just don't get it.

After work I was relaying the conversation to my husband, still shocked that he could really feel like his happiness depended on acquiring toys, and it hit me. I am guilty of that same mindset. It occurred to me in that moment that I've been too focused on wanting another baby, I haven't stopped to smell the roses myself. Sure it's one thing to look at the life of my co-worker and see how easy he has it and wonder why he could ever want more, but to look at my own life that way? I don't have all the material possessions that he does, nor do I want them. But I do find myself from time to time waiting to be happy. I'm waiting for a baby to be happy.

I can't keep looking at what I don't have in my life and expect to be happy once I have it. Of coarse material possessions and longing for another child are two very different things, but the idea that I won't be happy until I have what I want is the same. I don't want to wait to be happy. I'm ready to be happy. This is a lot easier said than done. Especially since I have struggled with depression throughout my life. On more than one occasion I have reached a point where I have actually sought medical help from a doctor for my depression but then I always end up chickening out and never even start the prescribed anti-depressant. (Note: Everyone is different. There is nothing wrong with needing or taking a medication for depression. It's just not something that ever felt right for me.)

While I am certainly no expert, I was able to make a few changes in my life that certainly helped elevate my mood and helped me to be happy. The first was finding a support system. When hard times hit, I need someone to lean on. I need someone that can empathize and at least be a shoulder for me to cry on, but at the same time not enable me to just wallow in self pity. The most significant support system I have is my friend going through a similar situation. I can text her anytime and vent about another negative pregnancy test or that sometimes I just don't want to try anymore and she gets it. It's really nice having someone who can understand my situation and who shares some of the same feelings I have regarding TTC. A friend or friends who "get it" can be found just about anywhere. This blog, twitter, facebook and other social media sites are great for connecting people. I know a lot of people who would feel lost without their "tweeps" or twitter friends. I have felt that way a time or two myself.

The next thing I did find happiness in my life was to schedule a weekly family night. This was the easiest and most beneficial thing I could have done. On a random weeknight, I said to my husband and son "It's family game night. What should we play?" This turned into a weekly event and something we all really look forward to. My son especially loves getting to have a special night just for playing games. He is only 3 years old but has already started planning for future family game nights. He planned a treasure hunt and we were all a band of pirates trying to find it. Creating memories like this has been priceless. It's been so fun to put more focus on family fun time. We spend a decent amount of time together as a family, but having a special, scheduled game night has been something that has drawn my family even closer together. It's the best night of our week.

The next thing I did to find joy is look for more opportunities to serve others. I just started with my own family and slowly expanded from there. Everyday I wake up and the first thing I think of is TTC as I take my basal body temperature. It's hard not to be consumed with wanting another baby when the first thought every single morning revolves around trying for another baby. So now when I wake up and take my temperature I think about what I'm going to do to serve others. While I wait for that thermometer to beep, I plan something to help someone. Whether it's making plans with my handicapped Uncle, taking my SAHM friend's kids to the park so she can have a break, or making a special breakfast for my husband, I try to think of new ways to help people.

Another thing that helps me to be happy is setting personal goals. I especially love this one. I am big on goal setting. It helps me evaluate my life as it is and look for things I can do to improve myself. The goals I set are a wide variety of goals from saying something positive about myself each day, to making healthy eating decisions. Then I use a dry erase marker and write the goals on my mirror. I usually have between 3-5 goals for the week and I see them everyday. Sometimes it's a goal to try out a new recipe, make a new friend, or speak kindly to my husband. It can be about anything. It has helped give me something worthwhile to focus on instead of only thinking about another baby. And if I improve myself along the way, it's even better.

While my life is far from perfect, and I am no expert on happiness, I have enjoyed the small changes I have made to find more joy in life. It's a never ending struggle to stay positive. I know, for me it's something I will always have to work at, but it's worth the effort.

Enduring challenges of any kind can take the focus off just how happy and fulfilling our lives already are. What are things you do to help you remember to stop and smell the roses? During challenges in your life, how do you remain positive? What do you do to ensure your own happiness?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Love Songs and Lullabies Review and Giveaway!

My family loves music, but love anything that we can sing to.  My daughter is getting to the age where she loves musicals and remembers most songs after hearing them only once.  I had been looking for a lullaby CD that we could listen to while going to sleep that was both calm and songs my daughter would love, and finally, we found it!

Emma Wallace has released a new Lullaby CD and it is absolutely amazing!!

Filled with songs that most people already know and a few written by Emma herself, sung by Emma, whose voice is beautiful (and I don't enjoy many female singers because they are too airy), and my daughter was able to fall asleep to calming music that she had heard and enjoyed before.

The songs are both the classics, yet changed so that they fit the style of the CD and the beauty of Emma's voice. Most nights that this CD played, I found myself drifting off with my daughter because they melted the stress away and led to such relaxing sleep.

There are 11 tracks, seven of which are written by Emma, and they are my favorite.  Beautiful songs to help sooth hurts, calm fears, and help with an amazing night of sleep.

The best party, I received an extra CD to give to one of you!

Basic Rules:

  • This giveaway is open only to US and Canada (So sorry to the readers in other parts of the world!)
  • You *must* complete the mandatory entry or the other entries don't count
  • Each entry must be its own comment
  • As always, please make sure to leave your email address, or have your email on your public profile so we have a way to contact you if you win
Entries (each number is ONE entry):
  1. (Mandatory entry) Go to Emma's site and listen to one of the previews. Let me know what you thought of it :)
  2. Follow @theconnectedmom and @iamemmamusic and tweet about the giveaway.  (Limit 2 entries per day.  Make sure to put both twitter handles in the tweet so it counts)
  3. "Like" The Connected Mom on Facebook (If you already like us, it still counts)
  4. "Like" Emma Wallace on Facebook (If you already like her, it still counts)
  5. Subscribe to The Connected Mom's monthly email newsletter (coming soon!). You can find the subscription box on the right sidebar
  6. Follow us publicly through Google Friend Connect
This giveaway will be open until July 25th at 11:59pm.  The winner will be drawn on July 26th via  I will email the winner, and you have 48 hours to get back to me or I will choose another winner.  Good luck, and hope you win!

I received this Lullaby CD to review, the views expressed are my own, and no other compensation was given

Monday, July 4, 2011

Waiting for the Right Time: Lactational Amenorrhea

So, when are you going to give your toddler a new baby brother or sister? When do you think you'll try again? Are you planning on having other children?

I know that people mean well when they ask these kinds of questions. I know that they are just excited and want to know more about how we plan to shape our family. However, these questions just aren't relative to our lives right now because I have had no fertile cycles since my son was born almost two years ago. I am in the midst of lactational amernorrhea. This means that I have not had a regular period since October of 2008. So, when am I going to give my toddler a baby brother or sister? Um, sometime after my body decides it's ready to support another child.

Before I started nursing my son, I knew almost nothing about breastfeeding. In fact, I was even a little scared of it because I had never personally known anyone who nursed their children. (Apparently, I had some relatives who did nurse their children, but it was before I knew them or I didn't grow up around them.) My plan when I was pregnant was to try nursing and I hoped it would work, but I didn't really expect it, too. Especially since I didn't really have anyone in my day to day life that knew anything about it. If it worked, I was sure that I'd wean my baby by the time he was a year old.

Then, I became a mother and not just any mother, the mother to my son and all of his needs, emotional and nutritional. In fact, I sometimes think that God might have created my son's cesarean section, colic, reflux, severe food sensitivities, inability to sleep, and head cyst surgery (at the age of ten months), because without that kind of incentive I would never have chosen to research and do the things I do now (like co-sleeping, healthy, organic eating, extended nursing, cloth diapering, even chiropractic care!). These are aspects of our relationship and our lives that I treasure and that I am thankful to my son for leading us to every day! He has made me be a better mother than I might have been to an "easier" child.

And two years later, we're still going strong with no immediate plans to do weaning at any pace other than the one my son is currently setting. Is it weird nursing a toddler? Nope. Not for us. It's a mutually content relationship and I think that our nursing relationship, like our bed sharing relationship, fulfills his need for security and anyone who knows my toddler can attest that he is one independent and secure little guy. He's even dropped quite a few nursings and is sleeping a little better at night, so I know that the inevitable weaning will occur.

Yet, my period has not returned. If someone had told me five or six years ago that extended nursing would keep my monthly cycle at bay for years, I would have said, can I start now? Because, well, periods aren't very much fun. However, I'm finding more and more that I miss mine. I miss what they stand for. Even though I'm not sure our family is ready for a fourth member quite yet, I miss having the option of making that decision. As a woman who is now thirty, I worry about how much time I might have left. I'd like to have two more children, but if my fertility does not return soon and it takes us awhile to conceive a second when it does . .. well, I may have to rethink that plan.

I know that this is the point when many of you are wondering why I do not night wean my almost two year old son and then start weaning during the day. I know that is an option, but at this point, I respect that our son is only asking for what he still psychologically (and even physically) needs. I see it as very similar to my choice last year (when he was almost one) of accepting his night waking and sleep sharing as normal. I decided to trust that when he was ready, he would sleep through the night, and although that has not happened yet, I fully believe that he has come a long way and it will happen when he's ready (like walking, talking, and all of his other milestones). Weaning will be the same. What I'm trying to do is to trust my body as much as I have trusted his. It's a hard thing to put your faith out there and trust, but I think it is necessary in this case. I have placed my trust in my body and God before and I feel like I should again. I could try to take fate into my own hands and force him to wean, and know that my fertility will likely return shortly thereafter, but that would be no guarantee (as every woman who has had to "try" to get pregnant knows, that I would actually get pregnant when I wanted to. What is guaranteed is the child I already have and his needs. It is possible that I might not get pregnant until when our natural nursing relationship would have ended anyway.

Last year, when his sleeping patterns involved waking up seven to eight times a night. I kept a copy of Dr. Sear's The Baby Sleep Book next to my bed and whenever I felt myself doubting, I would pick it up and be assured that my son would sleep eventually. This year, I've replaced that book with Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley. Before reading that book, I had no idea that I was "ecological breastfeeding," I was just nursing my child when he seemed to want and need it. According to that text, my fertility will likely return any time, and will certainly return before he is four, and considering the thoroughness of her research, I believe her. Until then I wait.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

17 Ways To Entertain Yourself In The Last Weeks of Pregnancy

As I’m currently in my 38th week of pregnancy, I am discovering new ways to distract myself. It can be easy to obsessively read all the articles in pregnancy books, or online sites like Baby Center, Dr. Sears, or Mothering about how to know when labor is near, how to know if you’re in labor (even if you’ve already been through it), how big your baby is, etc. But at some point, you will start to lose your mind, as you think that every little twinge or Braxton-Hick contraction is the beginning of labor and you are almost done being pregnant.

In my first pregnancy with my son, he was born 2 weeks and 5 days early. It never occurred to me that labor was approaching, as I so rarely heard of someone delivering more than two weeks before their due date. So, I never felt like I was in the pre-labor waiting stage. It can be easy to expect the second pregnancy to go like the first, and forget that being pregnant with a completely different child is a completely different experience. In some ways the second pregnancy is harder than the first, because we think we know what to expect or we assume we know how it’s going to go. Except as I’ve learned this week when my second baby wasn't born (despite being the same size as its brother at 7 and half pounds), we don’t. In general, anytime we have expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment. So to expect we have some clue about what’s going on or we know when baby is set to arrive can make the rest of the pregnancy hard when our expectations fail to happen.

The trick?

Surrender to the not knowing.

Except that surrendering is easier said than done; we often don’t think we have expectations or assumptions to let go of when we do, or until they hit us on the head. Letting go takes practice. Buddhists spend their entire lives practicing letting go of their attachments, cravings, desires, expectations, etc, so we can obviously allow ourselves some growing pains as we try to surrender our own expectations about our pregnancy, labor and birth. I mean, we’re pregnant and hormonal and cravings are just part of the process – we can’t be expected to give them all up.

I find that while I am trying to learn to surrender, it helps to distract myself from my own last few weeks of pregnancy doing any number of things. So I made a list of some of the things that I’ve been doing and some suggestions for my fellow mothers wondering if their pregnancies will ever end. (They will. I promise. It feels like we’ll still all be pregnant at Thanksgiving, but we won’t.) (At least I hope not.)

1. Go to Yoga. Yoga teaches you to go inward, tune into your body and focus on your breath – all things you’re going to need in labor anyway. It also increases flexibility, strength, helps ease the aches, relaxes you, and reminds you to honor your body however it is in that moment, which, as we know, changes moment to moment when you’re pregnant.

2. Get a massage, acupuncture, Reiki treatment, chiropractic treatment or whatever form of bodywork that works for you. It could actually help speed things along, and it can leave you feeling like a brand new person.

3. Spend an entire day in bed reading a book you’ve been meaning to read. My aunt told me to do this in my first pregnancy, and I didn’t because I was too busy listening to the nesting instincts that had taken over my body and possessed me to fill my entire freezer with soup. But within weeks after my son was born, I was sorry I didn’t. In this pregnancy, I insisted on a day in bed with a book. It ended up being my Mother’s Day gift and was far more luxurious than anything else I could have received.

4. Go outside and walk. Yes, it is the middle of the summer and hot. Yes, the only bearable time to be outside is at 5am, just as or before the sun is rising. But you know you’re not sleeping anyway and the air will do you good – as will the walking.

5. Make plans as if you were NOT about to go into labor any second. Much like a watched pot never boils, sitting around wondering if every little thing you feel is “it” gets old fairly quickly. Babies come when they’re ready, and it seems like they often come when we’re distracted and least expect it.

6. If you already have children, relish the time you have with them. Fill them up with your undivided attention, one-on-one playtime/interactions, new experiences, and so on. If they’re older, you can probably have some pretty cool conversations about what they think about baby coming, what it will be like, their concerns, or things they can do with the baby or that will help you.

7. Go to the movies. Or as my sister recommends, watch the series “This Emotional Life” on PBS.

8. Have date night with your partner/spouse

9. When strangers look at you and your belly and try to guess what the sex is from the shape of your belly, if they are correct, tell them that the sex is the opposite just to mess with them. (Do they really think the belly shape is an accurate indicator of gender? And if it were, would we all really be running out and getting ultrasounds?)

10. When people tell you how huge you are, correct them that the actual appropriate thing to say to a 9 month pregnant woman is, “Does your partner/husband know to call me when the baby arrives, so that I can bring you a lasagna or send over a housecleaner?”

11. Bake a pie. Don’t let all that summer fruit at the farmer’s market go to waste.

12. Start a new project, like a quilt or a novel or screenplay or something you’ve always wanted to do. Or learn something new - preferably something difficult that will require your entire brain to wrap your head around.

13. Get a haircut, pedicure, your eyebrows waxed, or whatever it is that has you feel like you’ve nurtured yourself.

14. Write in a journal. Write down your fears, hopes, concerns or thoughts about your birth. If you need a good hormonal cry or tantrum, go for it. The release will feel good. But when your husband tells you you’re just being hormonal, tell him to leave your hormones out of it.

15. You’re nesting anyway, so you might as well just go ahead and paint the kitchen, clean out the closet and filing cabinet, clean out the garage and have a garage sale.

16. Start a garden. Then if after you give birth no one brings you food, you can just wander out to the yard to eat.

17. Remind yourself to breathe, to trust the process of pregnancy, labor and birth, trust your baby, and trust yourself. Remind yourself that your experience is valid, whatever it is, and all of it is just as emotional and even spiritual as it is physical.

When my husband and I were trying to get pregnant with our son, we had a good friend who told us to relax, that our potential child had already chosen us as the perfect parents, it was just out in the ether waiting for the astrological alignment it wanted to be born under. I think he was right, and constantly am reminding myself that the same goes for waiting for the baby to be born. This baby chose us as parents and it’s just waiting for the right moment and the right astrological alignment to be born under, which means there’s nothing else for me to do, eat, or figure out. I just have to keep myself entertained in the meantime.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Price of a Broken Will

Some popular parenting books encourage parents to "break the will" of their children. The main method of doing this is to spank the child until he shows an attitude change. Some call it "shaping the will," which sounds less harsh. Whatever you call it, they claim this results in children who are obedient and submissive to authority. According to this philosophy, when a child has a strong will, it is a disadvantage. A "strong-willed child" might do things he is told not to do or challenge something an adult has said. Sure, these offenses may be frustrating. But are the consequences of a broken will really worth it just to obtain complete obedience? A strong will is invaluable, and very difficult to repair once it is broken.

First off, what exactly is the will? The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as "the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action" and "control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain one's own impulses." When we break a child's will, we are destroying her motivation and ability to control her actions. Sadly, these methods are most prevalent with "willful" toddlers who have not yet developed impulse control. So we take a person who developmentally has no impulse control, insist that she control herself, and enforce that by crippling her ability to do so. It just doesn't make sense.

And what is the price of a broken will? Maybe kids who exactly as they are told make for a less stressful life in the present, but how does it affect them in the future? I can speak to this issue from personal experience. I don't wish to blame anyone in my past. Most people were doing what they thought was in my best interest, but a combination of circumstances resulted in my having a weak will. Here's what a weak will looks like on an adult: I am a horrible procrastinator. I have a difficult time finishing projects I start. I fail to advocate for causes that I believe in because I fear a conflict. I act stubborn, but that's all it is--an act. Any time I face a real fight, I back down. This has caused me to compromise to my child's detriment. Once, afraid to challenge a doctor, I allowed my son to receive eight vaccinations at once! Within a week, he developed a reaction, but there was no way to tell which vaccination had caused it. I still carry guilt for that to this day. That's the worst consequence. The guilt. Guilt for things that have happened or not happened because of my weak will.

So should you tolerate disrespect from your children? No, but nor should they have to tolerate it from you. The best way to foster respect with your children is to model it. Respect your children, your partner, and everyone around you. Show them how it's done! Please, leave their wills intact. Maybe someday your son will face temptation from his peers to try drugs. Maybe your daughter will need to stand up against unnecessary birth interventions. When that time comes, you can be confident that you have raised an adult who can stand on conviction and say NO! To me, that's worth hearing a few dozen "noes" from a toddler.