Six months and counting

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One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, has this expression she often uses: “The days are long, but the years are short.” This idea has always resonated with me, but after six months as a new parent, it holds new meaning.

Just a month ago my days began at 2 a.m. for a feeding and diaper change, followed by a 4:30 a.m. feeding and a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. (These were preceded by an 8 p.m. bedtime for my little one, followed by an 11 p.m. feeding.) All in all, that’s a lot of time spent nursing and not much sleeping.

Days spent caring for baby are indeed long–longer, certainly, than life before baby and pregnancy, which I sometimes miss (I’m looking at you, eight hours of unbroken sleep). Yet when I look back on these past six months with our son Jack, I still find myself in awe of how fast they flew by and how much I wish time would slow down.

When I meet other mothers and we get to talking about how fast children grow, they look at Jack and say to me, “Enjoy!” And I’ll tell you what I tell them: I am. I am enjoying every moment. Jack’s presence in our lives is an incredible gift.

Jack and ErinEach month has had its ups and downs but I think this new stage–six months and counting, I’ll call it–is my favorite thus far. Now Jack is entering the sweet spot between baby and boy. He’s sitting up with ease, eager to interact and noticing so much more of the world around him. He’s trying out solids, on the verge of crawling (but thankfully not there yet) and still loves to cuddle. Every time I hold him close I count it as a blessing from God. This feeling of being loved and needed, of loving deeply and holding my son close while knowing I need to be held just as much–it’s life-giving. I’ve never felt more content than when I’m holding this little boy in my arms.

Of course there have also been tears. More tears than I’d like to admit, or that I ever expected–tears of sadness after dropping Jack off at daycare for the first time, tears of worry after we started sleep training, tears of utter exhaustion in my office cubicle … The truth is, nothing can properly prepare you for the way becoming a parent will test you, stretch you and shine light on all the flaws and insecurities you harbor. As a mother, I’ve surprised myself in the ways I’ve become more flexible and easygoing or stepped up to the plate when the occasion called for it. (And I’ve also crashed and burned and needed to call for backup. See this post.)

So after six months, what have I learned?

In the face of conflict, seek connection.

Unfortunately, going back to work and Jack starting daycare was a trigger for me for postpartum anxiety. Up until that point, I had experienced ups and downs on maternity leave, but it paled in comparison to the heartache I felt leaving my son for the day those first few days (actually, that first month) of daycare. I wasn’t terribly confident in my decision to go back to work full-time–and if I’m really honest, I still struggle with it on occasion–but I need to work to provide for our family’s wellbeing, so it’s not really up for debate. I was lucky to come back to a job I love and an incredibly supportive supervisor. Even so, I had a hard time adjusting to my new normal.

So did my son. In his first few weeks, Jack struggled to take bottles at daycare and started waking up regularly at night to nurse after months of sleeping well. Because of this I worried about him often, and the frequent night-waking started taking a toll on my body.  I constantly felt run down and on the verge of tears. If weren’t for my fellow working mamas who listened to me vent or helped me troubleshoot problems and assured me I wasn’t crazy via text, I’m not sure I would have made it through. They are goddesses who have done it all before and are eager to offer support whenever I’m facing a conflict–and let’s face it, there’s a lot of conflict in parenting–so we’re pretty well connected these days. They are a true Godsend, a lifesaver that lifts up my heart whenever I feel it sinking.

New and veteran mamas out there, remember this: you are not alone. Your village of fellow mamas is here for you.

Give yourself permission to slow down, simplify and shift some responsibilities. 

Earlier this year we had a series of trips and family obligations that filled up our weekends so much that we weren’t even having fun anymore. As a result of these busy-bee weekends, my husband and I would enter the work week unprepared and unhinged … and without groceries or clean clothes.

After three weeks of last-minute takeout and laundry fiascos, we came up with a solution–we instituted a family travel ban. This meant no more back to back outings without downtime. We needed rest, we needed Sabbath, we needed time to get organized and importantly, catch up on chores.

When you’re juggling work and caring for a little one, keeping up with regular housework is hard nearly impossible. Life gets so harried. But you’ve gotta eat, and wear clothes, and be able to find your keys so you’ve gotta make room for cleaning.

So, we gave ourselves permission to slow down, and we simplified our weekends. Gone were the days of trying to cram workouts and church and brunch plans and errands into one day. Instead, I focus in on one or two things that really matter to us–like visiting my folks in the suburbs–and stay close to home the rest of the weekend so we can tackle the backlog of household chores.

My mom, who worked full-time since I was in first grade, did the same thing. She used to joke about the maid not having made an appearance at our house in a while (meaning herself), when things got really busy during the week.  She’d catch up on the weekends, and I’ve followed in her footsteps, well, with one tiny exception:

I. Don’t. Do. It. All.

That’s right, I don’t do ALL the cleaning, nor does my husband. We hired housecleaner to help us twice a month and I can’t tell you how much that helps.

Friends! (Especially parents!) If you haven’t experienced the life-changing magic of hiring a housecleaner, please give it a try. Life is too short to spend all your precious free time cleaning. Note: I absolutely recognize it is a privilege to be able to hire help, and we do budget for it over other things–such as eating out–because it makes a big difference in our sanity.

Ever since we did these three things, it’s helped us to enjoy the weekends again while feeling less overwhelmed during the workweek. It’s easier for me to revel in small moments with Jack, whether it’s a long walk in our neighborhood with Gus or just playing together in our living room floor on a lazy Saturday morning.

Above all, treat yourself with grace and loving-kindness.

Recently one of the writers I work with published a blog  that really spoke to me. It’s as if she had written it for me, a tired new parent, and I was so grateful to have that message that week. Pastor Janelle Hooper says,

We often think we need to be experts in it from our newborn’s first cry. Don’t get me wrong—do all you can to be ready for parenting with prenatal classes, books and babysitting. … No matter how much or little you prepare, there will always be ways in which your children and God surprise you.

If we can give ourselves a measure of grace knowing that we want what is best for our kids, and we promise to provide the basics of food, shelter and love—beyond that, is there room enough to say we are practicing all the other aspects of parenthood?

What would it look like if I approached parenting with the same mindset as I do yoga? Yoga, for me, is play. It’s something I look forward to every day. Importantly, it’s a form of exercise and self-expression I am continually working on. There is no end goal, but each time I step onto the four corners of my mat I strive to be a little better than before.

There are so many “shoulds” floating around parenting blogs and articles–you should breastfeed your baby, you should only use organic products, you should never let your baby cry it out, you should do sleep-training--many of which are contradictory. What these differing opinions indicate to me is that there is no one right way to parent. So why do we keep pretending that there is? What if becoming comfortable with parenthood is as simple as recognizing at the end of the day we’re all just doing our best and we may feel like we’ve messed something up but at least we tried?

As of late I’ve been working on a personal paradigm shift to replace the negative thoughts I’ve been having about parenting (I’m petrified of messing something up and ruining my son’s life) and instead giving myself the same grace I would extend to a friend (Just keep going. You’re doing great, mama!).

There are no perfect people and no perfect parents. If I can enter my role as mother each morning with the same mindset I have when I step on my yoga mat–the idea that I am always practicing, never perfect–I can begin to let go of the insecurities and doubts that cause me stress and just enjoy the fun of parenting. Because for all I’ve said about how hard it is, being Jack’s mama sure is FUN! Some of my best memories have come from these six months in life, whether it’s the Christmas-morning anticipation I get every day driving to pick up Jack from daycare or the way his smiles and laughter make my heart melt.

I’m still struggling with sleep.

Sleep loss is incredibly debilitating to your spirit (not to mention your mind and body) and this has been our family’s Achilles heel/biggest parenting challenge since I went back to work. Jack’s lack of sleep (and our own) has been a major source of anxiety and we can’t seem to figure it out. I have wanted to write about this so many times but it’s hard to put it into words.

I will say this: We have been trying to get Jack to sleep better. Key word here is trying. And lately it seems like it *might* be getting better. I’m praying hard for that. 🙂

In closing

Phew! Thanks for sticking with me through this long-winded post. It’s been a while since I wrote and I hope you enjoyed this family update!

Tell me: What are you celebrating today? What are your current struggles? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

From boyfriend to husband to father

The fathers we know and love have back stories, lives that were once free of the weight of parenthood. Before bedtime routines and bottles of milk and early morning wake ups, there were probably more late nights out with friends, bottles of beer and lazy Saturday mornings spent sleeping in (the same could be said of most mothers, too!). I talk a lot about motherhood on this blog, how it’s shifted my perspective and priorities and given life new meaning, but I haven’t said much about fatherhood. And although I can’t and won’t speak for all the dads out there, I can say this–one of the great joys of this year has been watching my husband Jay become a father. Here are a few things I’ve observed…

Fathers are feeling burdened, too

When I first met Jay, we were carefree college students: He was a fraternity guy and ultimate frisbee player studying to be an engineer. I was an English major and a sorority girl who worked at the school newspaper. Between the two of us, I was often the one who was anxious or worried, constantly chasing a deadline for feature stories for the paper or essays for class. Jay, on the other hand, was the laid back one, perhaps the least stressed person I knew in college. No paper or test or deadline could rattle him (it helps that he is one of the smartest people I know). He always knew how to help me relax when I was feeling overwhelmed.

Fast forward 11 years: Now we have a mortgage, a dog and a new baby, and we’re both grappling with the pressures that come with balancing the roles of provider and parent. I’ve watched how fatherhood, and the great responsibility it entails, weighs on my husband. For the first time the guy who never used to worry has … worries. And with good reason: there is a lot to worry about when you step into this role, to start, just making sure you keep your baby alive.

Then there is the inevitable, “Am I doing this right?” worry that accompanies parenting. There are a million and one ways to sleep train, and not enough evidence-based research to point to one right way, Jay pointed out the other day. The amount of resources and books and blogs is daunting.

Let’s not forget the challenging and confusing societal expectations around fatherhood in America. When I talked with Jay about the way women take on mental load of parenthood, he agreed and added that he thinks there are other mental burdens dads traditionally take on as well, especially when it comes to plans for household finances and yard work. While we’re committed to forging a more egalitarian marriage than prior generations, we inevitably fall into some gendered divisions of labor (mental and physical), but we’re aware of it and trying to do what works best for our family.

Regardless of how you split it up, parenting is a lot of work, and it’s emotionally and physically taxing. He probably wouldn’t say it but I’m so proud of how my husband has handled the new heft of fatherhood with so much grace. And even though there are more pressures and more worries, Jay’s still the one that helps me relax at the end of the day.

Parenthood has brought us closer together than ever before

After our son’s dramatic entry into the world, I was emotionally traumatized and physically drained. I needed more support than ever from Jay and at the same time we both had a new focus–a little one that needed all our support. Even though we were separated from Jack on those early days–he was floors away in the NICU–nothing would stop me from my quest to breastfeed our son. And Jay joined me in that quest.

At all hours of the day, Jay would help me into my wheelchair and we’d make the 15-minute multi-elevator trip to see Jack. When we got there, my husband would help lift Jack into my arms because I was still too weak to do so and encourage me when I got discouraged if Jack didn’t latch. Those trips back and forth to see Jack were full of laughter and tears and heartfelt conversation about our new son. We were both in awe of Jack and frustrated by how hard breastfeeding was (it hurts, it’s awkward and you have to do it all the time when babies are very little). It is thanks to Jay that I was able to persevere and pull off breastfeeding Jack after my C-section and Jack’s stint in the NICU.

What I didn’t know until later that week was that the whole time I was suffering, Jay was too–he had been nursing a cold and foot pain–but he never once  complained. Instead he accompanied me through my pain and held me when I needed it, because that’s what fatherhood required of him in the moment. When he’d admitted this to me later that week, after Jack was out of the NICU, I asked him to go home and take care of himself, to shower, take a nap and get the medicine he needed.

This dance of caring for each other and Jack and caring for ourselves has continued since we took Jack home. We are more open and honest with our aches and pains (emotional and physical) than ever before–and we each take turns being one another’s caretaker.

There’s no shortage of articles online about the ways becoming parents can put stress on a marriage. And there’s no question that it does. But I count myself as lucky because parenting has only brought us closer together. Our secret? It’s a willingness to be vulnerable with each other and accept help when it is offered. He lifts me up when I am weak, and I do the same for him.

Fatherhood is feeling left out, and more whole

When we  first got our puppy Gus, my husband took a short puppy paternity leave to feed, nurture and potty-train him. As such, the two have built up this incredible bond and are often inseparable at home. This sometimes made me feel left out but I realized that this doesn’t make my dog love me any less, Jay is simply his primary parent. We found other ways to bond and build up our relationship, and I just love how Gus brings so much joy to our lives.

Now that Jack’s in the picture the tables have turned and I am his primary parent. I know that this sometimes means my husband can feel left out and I see the pain this causes him. I think it’s especially hard because our son is so little and can’t do a lot so it’s harder for Jay to bond with him. On the other hand, the bond I share with my son from carrying him in the womb and breastfeeding him is very strong. A father can’t compete and shouldn’t–and I know Jay is building a different sort of bond with Jack just as I have with our dog.

Speaking of being left out: Dads don’t always get included in the baby showers or celebrations when new babies come in. I actually think that’s kind of a shame. I think we should change that. Babies are a life-altering, joyous gift and although fathers don’t carry babies in their bodies, they certainly carry them in their hearts. Why can’t we start including dads more in these celebrations?

We should include them because creating a family is a very special gift. I also know from Jay that our little family has brought new meaning to his life, a wholeness, a completeness that comes from being a family of four (yes, we include our dog, we firmly believe dogs are part of the family too!). I’ve seen how fatherhood has given Jay a new sense of purpose and delight. The love he has for Jack shines so bright, it is stunning.

A few final thoughts

Whenever our friends ask us about parenthood, these three words come up: hard, rewarding and fun! Having a little one is an incredible, life-altering adventure and there’s no one I’d rather do it with than Jay.

Here’s the best part: Each year as we age and grow, I love Jay even more deeply than before, from boyfriend to husband to father. Jay, even though we keep saying this has been the hardest year yet, I’ll take all the hard moments for the small, sweet bursts of joy we’ve shared together as parents. I love you, babe.

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.