Trying A New Angle

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Today at the pool, I went to take a picture after I heard the sweetest little “Watch, Mama!” from my toddler on the cusp of boyhood. It was bright and I couldn’t see my screen, so I just aimed in Michael’s direction and snapped a few pictures. When I looked at them later, I realized that I had somehow put the front-facing camera on by mistake and I was bummed that I didn’t capture that moment. I was about to delete this picture until I realized- I actually did capture that moment. I captured my face as I watched my beautiful growing boy and his awesome Dad having a blast and making a memory. My eyes look tired from so many long days and nights, but they look even more happy. My newest “hairstyle”, the product of being a full-time+ career woman and a mother of two boys less than two years apart, is a mess but it is telling of the fact that I have other ways I would rather spend my time.. The bags under my eyes and laugh lines on my forehead might be there a little bit earlier than I would like them to be, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world because they are indicative of the immense joy and heartache that comes with being a wife, mother, bosslady, and woman. I wouldn’t trade a single moment that caused those wrinkles or eye bags for the world. To me, this is the ultimate portrait of me as a mother: a little worn down, but so filled with joy with every passing moment. The days are long, but the years are short, and I will do my best to stay joyous through it all so that this is the smile that my boys see for every “Watch me, mama!” they throw my way.

Pee First, Mama

“Mommy street cred” That’s a thing, right?

It turns out that having two kids somehow makes me a trusted source of information on motherhood, which I find hysterical, because its not like I know what the hell I’m doing either. Since I’ve made it a point to forcefully insert myself into the lives of every new mother that I know as a way to help them create the village that they don’t know they need yet, I guess I’ve sort of embraced this responsibility, though.

So that brings us to the inevitable question that every one of these amazing women eventually asks: “What is your best advice for new moms?” I love this question and I love being trusted enough to have this asked of me. My advice? I have so much. Find your village. If you don’t have a village, create one. Be confident. No one knows the right way to raise your child except for you. You’ll get so many opinions whether you want them or not. Accept it all. Process it all. Be informed, then make a decision and own it. If you change your mind down the road, own that too. You don’t have to apologize. Be gentle on yourself. We are all honestly just figuring this out as we go along. Do what you need to do to keep you, your partner, and your child sane, safe, and healthy. Be direct. Tell people what you need. If you’re nursing, tell your partner, your mom, your best friend that you need their unequivocal support. You need them to hold you accountable, but you also need them to not bully you if you decide that your breastfeeding journey is over. Get out of the house. It is hard in the beginning- the logistics are intimidating- but you’ll figure it out. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Go somewhere safe- a new mom meetup, a breastfeeding support group, Babies R Us, the park down the street. Just do it. If you need to sleep, sleep. If you need to cry, cry. If you’re overwhelmed, put the baby in the safety of their crib and step away for a few minutes.

My best advice? Pee first. Yeah, its a funny answer, but it is essentially all of the more long-winded, flowery, fuzzy-feeling advice that I usually give boiled down into two words. Let me explain.

One of the most pivotal days in my motherhood journey so far has been the day that I realized that my kiddos will be just fine if they fuss or cry for a few moments before I can get to them. As long as I’m sure they aren’t sick, hurt, or in danger, they’ll be alright. They’ll be OK if I don’t pick them “UP!” for a few more minutes so I can take a few sips of my coffee while it is still hot. Tantrums can simmer for a bit while I stuff that freshly toasted piece of bread into my face. They can fuss a little in the safety of the pack n play while I take a quick warm shower. If someone wakes up and needs to be fed in the middle of the night, they’re won’t starve if I run to the bathroom and pee first. I am going to be stuck there feeding them for a while, after all.  No, I won’t neglect my screaming child if there is a legitimate, immediate need, but it has to be OK to take care of myself too.

Pee first. Its the essence of self-care. Take care of yourself so that you are well enough to take care of your babies. Take a shower. Take a nap. Accept help. Make peace with the mess.

Pee first. Don’t make yourself sick from being run-down. Don’t allow yourself to be overlooked. Its been all about you for 10 months, and now it is suddenly “not about you at all”. Except it is. It is so much about you.

Pee first, Mama. It’s the least you can do for yourself.

 

Ohana

One of the biggest challenges that I have experienced so far in my postpartum world is a lack of “community”. Anymore, families in the US are not brought up with multiple generations under one roof. Many families members, even of just one generation, often live scattered around the country (or across the world, in some cases). That old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is completely valid.  I have been raised in a society where there is an alarming lack of cumulative wisdom and sharing of birth/child rearing experiences, and that has had an unfortunate impact on my experiences as a mother so far. To further push the point, for those women who are lucky enough to have been raised in an extended family, there is still a certain sense of taboo surrounding the real, hard discussions about many issues encountered in these processes. This leaves many women – myself included – with a feeling of isolation. It makes many of us feel that our worlds have been completely flipped upside-down when we become pregnant and again when our babies are born, because we do not have a real-life knowledge base to compare our own experiences to. It makes us feel as though many of the very normal, natural things that we are experiencing are unique to us, which in turn makes us hesitant to share with others and further perpetuates the problem. I feel lucky in that I do have an incredible mother who has been 100% supportive and nurturing during my pregnancy and motherhood journey so far, but I also feel blessed that I recognized the lack of a larger knowledge-base to support my own experiences early-on, and was adamant about finding ways to create this sense of community for myself.

Being an active social media user, I first turned to the internet. Early in my pregnancy, before making the news public, I found myself on google searching for every idle thought and fear that flitted through my mind.

“Can I eat lunch meat while pregnant?” “If I don’t have morning sickness, does that mean that I’m not pregnant?” “When will I start to feel pregnant?” “Percentage of pregnancy ending in miscarriage” “How to tell if I’m pregnant with a boy or a girl” “Cute ideas to tell parents that I am pregnant”

It was truly out of hand. As I spent more and more time on google, I soon realized that it was fairly easy to skew the search results based on the way that I phrased the question. I found myself thinking “Wouldn’t it be great to compare my experiences with other ladies who are going through the same things at the same time or who have gone through this before?” I eventually found myself in a facebook group of about 600 other women across the world who had apparently arrived at the same conclusion that I had- we needed to create our own community. For whatever reason we all had this need. For me, I know, it had a lot to do with this: In my immediate family on one side, I was the most recent baby born (25 years ago!) and on the other side of the family, there had been 2 second cousins born, but they lived on the other side of the country. The information regarding their gestations and upbringing did not feel accessible to me. In addition, I was the first of our close friends in the area to get pregnant. I felt as if I did not have a peer group. The women of this new facebook group were all due around the same time that I was. Some were first time moms like me, others had one or multiple other children as well. I truly believe that the best thing that I could have done for myself early in the pregnancy was join this group. These women allowed me to ask the candid questions that I needed answered so badly, all while hiding behind the safety of my keyboard. They did not judge or laugh at me. They shared in my excitement and in my misery. The group dwindled down in size over the 10 months of my pregnancy, with some women unfortunately losing their babies early, some women just choosing that it was not an outlet that they needed any longer, and some women being kindly asked to leave because of passing unfair judgement or just being outright rude. By the end of my pregnancy, there was a solid group of about 50 women or so, who were (and to this day, still are) women who I consider my friends. We have shared in each others’ joy and sorrow, we have all asked “stupid” questions, and we have all shared our input on our fair share of “TMI” questions that you would only ask a close group of girlfriends who have their own experiences to base an opinion off of. We are all honest about our experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – so that we can collectively grow and learn from them.

After Little Man’s arrival, I also started to recognize the need to get out of the house and find other local women who were in the same place in their lives that I was. Much to my delight, I was able to join a “Mom & Baby Meetup” through the Doula group that I used to help aid in my son’s birth. Since joining, I have been blown away by the impact that these women have had on me as a woman and mother. The first time that we met, I remember being taken aback upon realizing that I could stay seated right where I was and breastfeed my beautiful baby boy uncovered, all while speaking candidly and honestly with these remarkable women. It was freeing. I remember feeling warm and fuzzy inside as we shared our birth stories. I remember genuinely choking up when I realized that, though our birth experiences and journeys to motherhood were all so different, we were all going through the same trials. I remember the relief that I felt when I realized that other new moms were having the same challenges that I was every day.

Whenever I am feeling like navigating postpartum life is near impossible, I just take out my phone and call/text/facebook any of my beautiful, strong-willed mommy friends for reassurance and validation. I am eternally grateful to these communities for helping me keep perspective and remember that I am not on this journey alone.

On a daily basis, I am forced to participate in a society that places very little value on the relationship between a mother and her young infant, but I find solace in the fact that I am doing my part to help reverse the vicious cycle. I want there to be an overwhelming support and sense of community for my friends as they begin their journeys into motherhood. I want them to have the option to use it to their advantage or to go about it on their own. I have vowed to my girlfriends that, as the pioneer mother among us, I will candidly share any/all aspects of my pregnancy, labor, and child-rearing experiences with them if they want to hear it. I want their pregnancies to come ready-made with the sense of warmth, support, and inclusion that I had to seek out.