Why I’m being a little more selfish these days 

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 3.09.08 PMIt had been five weeks since our son was born, and I had a hair appointment with my favorite stylist coming up. I’d made it last December thinking this would be a good way to get myself out of the house. Glancing at the calendar that week, I remember thinking that it seemed rather ambitious to leave for a three-hour stretch so early, but I kept the appointment, probably because rescheduling it seemed too complicated and my hours of free time kept slipping away anyway.

Suddenly it was the morning of my appointment and I was rushing around the house like a madwoman looking for my jeans (not leggings, my maternity leave uniform), my keys and my (non-diaper) bag. I had pumped the night before and had a bottle ready, I had requested an Uber, I was ready too. Or so I thought.

Yes, I kept the appointment, likely because I needed to prove something to myself–that I could “escape” the nest and things wouldn’t spontaneously combust and that my husband would be fine and the dog would be fine and my little one wouldn’t starve.

By the time I sat down in my stylist’s chair, eager for some me time and a freshened up look, tears started welling in the corners of my eyes. I tried to keep it together but my heart felt so heavy. I missed my boy.

What I was struggling with that morning and what I continue to struggle with now as a new mama is the tension in keeping up with caring for my newborn and household and caring for myself. I felt a little guilty sitting in my hairdresser’s chair–especially when fielding texts from my husband who was on a maiden voyage bottle-feeding our child–but by the time my appointment ended I felt calm, and a little giddy.

I had carved out my first tiny chunk of me time, and it was working its magic on my weary body and soul. I came home so excited to be with Jack, after days feeling overworked and overtired. As any new parent knows, the physical and psychological challenges of looking after a baby are weighty. Parenthood is a privilege–and a joyful one–but it is incredibly stressful.

What motherhood requires 

Motherhood, in particular, requires a giving up of self unlike any other I have encountered in life. It starts with pregnancy, when a tiny human grows in your body over the course of several months. As your belly grows to make room for your growing child, you begin to alter your life to make room for your growing child. We moved out of the city, bought a house, cut back our commitments. A happy and also uncomfortable time, pregnancy is a practice of making room for new life.

This “making room” continues in delivery. Giving birth is a momentous, miraculous experience full of pain, wonder and joy. Your body is under an intense amount of stress–stress that will leave your body forever changed. The moment you first hold your baby in your arms, the aches in your body seem to ache less, and your heart begins to ache more because the love you have for your baby is bigger and deeper than anything you’ve ever felt. But the aches are still there, lingering in the background, reminding you of the powerful thing your body just did.

As your body tries to heal, you’re now on deck all day, all night to meet the needs of a tiny, helpless child. You’d read articles and heard advice from friends on “the importance of self-care” and though you swore that you’d be different, you surrender completely to selflessness that mothering requires.

You’re still you, and yet… your baby will always always always be a part of you. He has stolen your heart forever.

In defense of selfishness 

Most of the time I feel as though I could spend an endless amount of time with my son. Time with Jack brings me so much energy and joy. And yet … there are moments when I am downright exhausted by the constant demands on my time and the lack of control I have over my day given I am breastfeeding on demand, whenever baby shows signs of hunger. I feed him 8 to 12 times a day and sometimes it feels as though we are perpetually bonded–leaving me very small pockets of free time to take care of household tasks and my basic needs (eating, showering, sleep). I call these my “windows of opportunity.”

These pockets of time are few and far between and often cause me to make hard choices between keeping our home afloat and doing something for me. Doing something above and beyond meeting my basic needs, like a hair appointment, pedicure, going out to lunch, yoga class or writing? That’s even more rare.

Any time I have an opportunity to escape the house I feel a little bit lighter and a little more grounded. I will admit that I also have a bit of anxiety being away from my son, but for the most part taking time for me makes it feel like I’m getting the equivalent of a long lunch break in the midst of a hard day. I return energized and eager to care for my son–my attitude is better, my itch to “accomplish” has been scratched, I am more loving and feel sane.

For anyone who may think maternity leave is a “break” from work, I hate to break it to you– it’s not. It’s actually trading one job for another that is *probably* more demanding and stressful than your first AND you’re on call all day and night! Now, don’t get me wrong, this work is incredibly rewarding, and I certainly signed up for this gig willingly,  but raising a child is indeed werk, werk, werk, werk, werk.

With parental leave policies in America being incredibly gendered, and quite frankly, behind the times (Dads and other partners NEED more time off), the majority of care-taking work can easily fall solely on the shoulders of a child’s birth mother. I am lucky that my husband works for himself and is more available to support us than he might otherwise be if he had a corporate gig. Yet even with a present, supportive spouse, I still feel the pressures motherhood demands.

Recently I had a string of several tough parenting days. I was hit by a cluster-feeding that I couldn’t get ahead of the night my husband left for a weekend trip. I barely slept that evening–and neither did Jack. My mom was coming to visit the next afternoon and by the time she walked in the door I felt I’d reached my breaking point. Exhausted, I handed off the baby to her and headed to bed.

Even though I was dead tired, I couldn’t sleep. I was irritable and feeling jealous of my husband who was elsewhere, enjoying time with college friends. Then I started feeling down about myself–I thought perhaps I just didn’t have what it took to be a good mama. Why couldn’t I handle this? I should be stronger! I shouldn’t complain! I got in a cycle of negative self talk that could be described as “parental imposter syndrome.”

Then I finally fell asleep.

A couple hours later I woke up, rejuvenated and refreshed, and I realized  in order to be a good mama, I needed to do something that I often didn’t like to do–I needed to be a bit selfish. I needed to ask for help so I could take time to recharge. Thankfully I had the foresight to invite my mom over and she was a huge help to me that weekend. With her presence, parenting on my own did not feel like a burden but a blessing. Thank God for doting grandmas.

How I’m prioritizing self-care now

It started with a paradigm shift. In an effort to my maximize my time management, I wrote and rewrote my priority list the other day.

First draft looked like this:

  1. Family
  2. Household upkeep
  3. Self-care

The I switched the order:

  1. Self-care
  2. Family
  3. Household upkeep

When life/parenting gets out of control, when my my attitude is bad, that’s a  warning sign that I’ve not prioritized self-care. I know I can’t be the best, most loving mama if I put that last. It’s like the old example airline attendants use–I can’t help others unless I put on my oxygen mask first.

In this case, the oxygen is doing something just for me, something that could be considered selfish.

These days I’m keeping it simple and I try and make a point to do one thing a day that is for me. Not just basic care–showering, eating and sleeping–that I make sure to fit in! It has to be something special.

It could be a trip to Target, yoga class, a phone date with a friend or an extra long snuggle session with my dog. I keep my expectations low, and I am flexible with what works for me in the moment and what will give me the most satisfaction. Today’s treat? Finally (!) finishing this blog post.

I know I’m in a pretty intense season of life and I’ve been really itching to share more with you on this blog, but it is hard to make time to write when there is so much else to do. I am trying to remind myself that this season will pass and my son will one day sleep through the night, but until that time comes, I’m taking things one day at a time and doing a little bit here and there while trying to soak up as much as I can from this special time with my boy.

Some days I’m ready for time to speed up, but most days? Most days I’m content to snuggle my son in my arms for hours on end.

Friends, did you have to give up any hobbies when you first had a major life change–had kids? New job? New home?  How did/do you make time for self-care?

Snuggles, spit ups and what’s surprised me most about motherhood

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks. This probably sums up parenthood or at least life with a newborn pretty accurately. You have good intentions: you make plans, get excited about said plans, and then? Baby has other plans. Your plans go out the window.

Fixin’ to eat dinner at 6? Think again. Dinner’s at 9 and it’s cold stir-fry eaten standing up in the kitchen, staring off into space with a side of cheez-its because you forgot to eat lunch today (again) and you’re still hungry.

Want to go for a family walk with your dog and try out your new stroller? Once you’ve set everyone and everything up, baby will have an epic spit up and you’ll be back in house cleaning baby and the stroller and before you know it, it’s dark out and the opportunity to walk has passed.

Other parents I knew warned me through sly smiles that I, the perpetual planner, was about to get a reality check once baby showed up. In fact, I’m about to get interrupted by my crying little buddy so hold that thought.

::: Feeds, changes and snuggles baby :::

OK, I’m back.

Life lately is a pattern of feed, change, play and snuggle baby to sleep on repeat, then squeezing in chores and emails and texts and showers and eating (and mindlessly checking Instagram—note to self: cut back on that) while Jack naps, which can be anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours long. All the while, time passes. Hours melt into days and days into weeks and suddenly it’s been a month and my baby boy has grown and changed before my eyes.

Tiny Jack who used to fit into newborn onesies and sleep all.the.time is now wearing three month onesies (at one month old?!) and is awake and lucid for much longer stretches. I can’t wait until he gives us his first social smile, until he crawls for the first time, until says his first words and yet I want time to sloooow down because sooner or later I’ll have to go back to work. Honestly, I’m dreading it.

Maternity leave has been such a gift, and I’m savoring every moment I can, grateful to bond with my son mornings and afternoons when I’d typically be at the office. There is nothing quite like holding Jack tight and breathing in his baby smell while rocking him to sleep in his room. It feels like a tiny bit of heaven on earth.

To my parent friends: You were right, of course. My best laid plans are often undone by my son’s “plans.” I did get my reality check but I’m surprisingly OK with it. Motherhood has helped soften my rigid desire for order and allowed me to embrace chaos. The chaos didn’t surprise me—because you warned me about it—but there were plenty of other things that did surprise me about parenting a newborn, perhaps the biggest being the incredible range of emotions I’ve felt since giving birth to Jack.

A pastor friend of mine once told me that once you have children all your highs are higher and your lows are lower. Hey Pastor Hardy—you were right. I get it now. Not only am I more emotional due to hormones, but the fierce, mama bear love I have for my son is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Also I get frustrated a lot more than I once did, sometimes for no particular reason, just EVERYTHING because being a parent is so damn hard.

I get sad too, really sad. Sometimes I cry for no particular reason, or when I remember Jack’s birthday, which was terrifying and traumatic and nothing short of an act of God.

The first night Jack slept at home, actually the first few nights, I “slept” next to his crib, on the floor, waking up every few minutes to check if he was still breathing. I think I finally wore myself out enough to fall asleep only to be woken up by his hunger cries. I was so exhausted but so relieved he was alive I ran on adrenaline those first few days. My heart was so full of gratitude that my baby boy was safe at home with us.

Jen Hatmaker has a lovely blog about parenting, “I wish someone would have warned me about these BIG FEELINGS,” that I read hungrily and eagerly at the start of motherhood journey thanks to a tip from a fellow mama.

In it Jen writes, “I wish I would have known how new babies make all feelings MORE (and this from a girl who was already fairly high on melodrama): more thrill, more love, more anguish, more adoration, more fear, more gratitude, more doubt, more crazy. … A newborn takes your heart and mind, squishes them into pulp in her fat little baby hands, and turns you into a woman face down in despair over a Subaru commercial.”

Me too, sister. Me too. Those BIG FEELINGS? Yes, that’s exactly what surprised me the most about becoming a mother.

There have been, of course, other parenting surprises, both delightful and distressing, along the way.

Distressing:

  • Baby cues are super hard to read, it turns out
  • Learning to breastfeed correctly nearly drove me insane
  • Trying to get anything done—laundry, eating food, showering—is near impossible with a newborn, and even when you get said task done you’re too exhausted to really appreciate it
  • I often wonder how anyone even takes care of a baby and works at the same time and it gives me major anxiety
  • I wonder if I’ll ever lose the baby weight and this new little pooch around my waist and if I’ll ever be able to do crow pose or attempt a handstand again and it gives me major anxiety
  • I wonder if my child will grow up safely and think of all the possible ways he could die and desperately wish I could stop worrying because that’s what my mom used to do (Mom, I get it now!) and that also gives me major anxiety.

Delightful:

  • Parenting baby is fun! I GET to sing and read books every day (two of my favorite hobbies)
  • Baby coos, baby expressions, baby snuggles = the best
  • Baby is the most adorable creature in the world and I could look at him all day
  • Also, other people(!) want(!) to visit baby and see pictures of baby on the Internet
  • My adorable dog gets along with my adorable baby, thank God
  • My son is a good sleeper… for now
  • I’m falling in love with my husband over and over again as I watch him parent our son.

But *the most* delightful surprise about motherhood, for sure, is how much love is in my heart, in my home, right now. Being a mother is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and it’s also the most rewarding. I’m incredibly grateful for the privilege.

Fellow parents/caretakers out there: What surprised you most about parenthood when you first brought baby home? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Jack’s birth story

image000000Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid–these were the love stories I learned as a child, thanks to Disney and my mom, who brought me to the movies. When I think about love idealized on the big screen, at least, according to Disney, it seems so shallow in comparison to the big love my mom has for me, the big love I have for my new son.

I believe that a birth story is one of the most powerful love stories we have to tell. 

Becoming a parent is a pivotal moment in one’s life story: your child is born and suddenly you are responsible for protecting and caring for this tiny human being, keeping it alive and well day in and day out. This is equal parts frightening and beautiful and transformative and humbling because the love we have for our children—deep, fierce, unconditional love—brings us face to face with the fragility of our human existence.

My son’s birthday was quite possibly the most terrifying day of my life. Because of this, I found it hard to celebrate, hard to write this story for a while.

I was blessed with an incredibly “normal,” complication-free pregnancy, though getting pregnant was a challenge for us. In more ways than one my son is, as all children are, a miracle.

When I first discovered I was expecting, it was 3 a.m. on a Tuesday. I was standing in our apartment bathroom with a positive pregnancy test in hand, wobbly with disbelief. I looked in the mirror at myself. Was this REALLY it? Was I becoming a mother?

I was. A few days, a few tests and a doctor’s appointment later, my husband and I were sure we were expecting, and we held this quiet joy in our hearts as we waited until it was safe to announce more broadly baby’s impending arrival.

Flash forward to January 29, two days before our baby’s due date. It was 8 a.m. and my husband and I were supposed to be getting ready for church. I’d been unable to sleep the night before so I’d stayed up late reading a book. I’d planned on hitting the snooze button on my alarm at least a dozen times.

Then a wave of pain hit me, a cramp-like tightening in my belly I’d never felt before. (I’d been having Braxton Hicks contractions throughout my pregnancy and kept asking my doctors how I’d distinguish them from the real deal. “Oh, you’ll know,” was their refrain, which was not comforting at the time.)

“Babe–I think this is IT!” I shouted to my husband, confident the acute pain that struck was indeed a real contraction.

We were definitely skipping church that day.

I spent the rest of the day in bed with the dog, letting slow and steady contractions wash over me like waves. By the time they were close enough together to call the doctor it was 3 a.m. on Monday.

By 4 a.m. my husband and I were in the car, him–speeding towards the hospital, me–drafting a text to send to a friend who’d agreed to help with our dog. I was low on sleep but amped up on adrenaline, giddy as a youngster on Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to meet our son.

Once at the hospital, we checked in and were led to our birthing room. After morning broke, we texted family to update them on our status. My contractions continued to grow in strength and number and my husband held my hand and comforted me as I breathed through the pain (hat tip to my colleague who loaned us The Birth Partner).

Hours passed and the pain reached its peak–it was time for an epidural, the prospect of which terrified me. I took the shot shaking and in tears, relieved and grateful as the medicine kicked in. After the shot, there was still some time to wait until labor. My husband and I napped on and off throughout the afternoon and held hands thinking about what the future would be like with our new son.

At 4 p.m. it was time: working with the nurse and my husband, I began to push. At the top of a contraction, I’d take a deep breath, then hold it and push to the count of “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10,” repeating that twice. Though my pain was dulled from the drugs, labor was still incredibly challenging, physically, emotionally and mentally. Because I was recovering from a cold, holding my breath was a challenge and I often couldn’t make it the full ten seconds without coughing. I knew baby wasn’t making much progress, and I was worried.

Time passed. My doctors came in and out to monitor the labor.

The med student Dan came in and then ran right back out, likely scared off by my incredulous rage when he introduced himself while I was in the middle of a contraction–I mean, the nerve! He later came back to help.

As we passed the two-hour point my pain increased. The epidural was wearing off, and I was beginning to overheat. Baby’s status hadn’t changed much, but my care team kept encouraging me to push.

I hadn’t realized until I began to labor that I’d always expected I’d deliver vaginally. As the prospect of that, with time, began to slip away, I became more and more frustrated. Tears clouded my eyes as I pushed with all my might, desperate to make my dream a reality.

At three hours my doctor called it–I would have an emergency C-section. Delirious from a fever and from sheer exhaustion, I cried even harder at the thought of surgery. I was scared of surgery, disappointed in myself and worried I’d be separated from my baby boy too long after surgery after hearing what had happened with my sister-in-law (after her scheduled C-section, she’d been separated from her baby girl for two days).

The nurses whisked me away to the operating room while my husband put on scrubs before joining us. Tears welled from my eyes. I felt alone and afraid.

Despite my worries, my surgery was efficient and painless. Laying on the OR table, I listened as they extracted my son from my body, waiting for the joyful sounds of his cries.

I heard nothing.

My heart began to race.

A flurry of activity followed.

“My baby, my baby, is he OK?” I cried out, grasping my husband’s hand. I could hear the medical team as they began to perform infant CPR and my heart sank.

“Oh God, Oh God, is he going to be OK?” I sobbed, gasping for air. My husband comforted me, “Everything is going to be OK, babe. He’s in good hands.”

The medical team continued to work. I continued to cry. I was inconsolable. I had never considered this bleak possibility that my son wouldn’t live past his birthday.

Terrified and panic-stricken, I imagined coming home to an empty nursery.

It was almost too much to bear.

Then, hope: the sound of baby boy’s cry, the collective sigh of the medical team, kissing my son’s forehead. My baby was alive.

Our son was born at 8:05 p.m. on January 30, 2017, weighing 7 lbs, 3 oz at 21 1/2 inches.

My husband went with him to the NICU, where our son continued to receive medical care. I was wheeled away to a new hospital room, separated from both of them.

I didn’t even have a chance to take in what my son looked like. It didn’t matter. I’d known and loved him since he grew in my belly, nearly forty weeks ago. I prayed he would live past that moment when I kissed his forehead.

I didn’t get to see my son that night. My mother and dear friend came to comfort me while I waited in my room feeling anxious and afraid and praying my son would make it through his first hours of life. A couple hours later my husband came back to meet me with an optimistic report from the doctor and glorious pictures of our beautiful baby boy.

We named him Jack.

Thankfully, I was cleared to meet my son early the next morning, on January 31. It was 6:30 a.m., and I roused my sleepy husband and asked him to wheel me down to the NICU, my IV and catheter in tow.

Meeting Jack in person for the first time was . . . wonderful beyond words. In that moment, my heart swelled with a deep, fierce love I didn’t know was possible. 

We later learned that Jack had mucus in his lungs at birth that blocked his breathing, though the doctors were not sure of the cause. Jack spent his first night in the NICU hooked up to a CPAP machine, and eventually he grew strong enough to breathe without it. He was released from the NICU on Wednesday afternoon, and we were in the hospital a total of four nights and five days.

It took a long time for me to be ready to celebrate Jack’s birth. It was a traumatic experience that left me feeling, well, broken.

I’m so grateful God answered our prayers, that our son is alive and well today, that our love story will continue to unfold as Jack grows, day by day.

Thanks for sharing in our story.