Sanctimommies

As a child and teenager, my drive for perfection was reflected in my cleaning habits, academic pursuits, and my insatiable need for acceptance. As a young adult it was represented by my self-righteous attitude toward the standard American diet, disgust with large corporations (not to mention “the man”), and my insatiable need for self-improvement. If I had become a mother in my early twenties, I fear that I would have met the definition of “sanctimommy”, albeit a reserved one.

 

A sanctimommy, as defined by the Urban Dictionary:

“A mother who is sanctimonious about her parenting choices. Looks down at and/or judges parents who don’t make the same choices.”

 

Of course this is only speculation. Regardless of age, I feel it’s customary for most people to have pre-conceived notions about being a parent, ideas that are inevitably shattered by sleepless nights and endless reality checks involving the trials and tribulations of raising a human being. It’s possible that having a child would have humbled me into a more empathetic and less extreme viewpoint at a younger age. On the other hand, I had relaxed many of my neurotic tendencies only shortly before getting pregnant. I am inclined to believe that the wisdom of getting older, at least in my case, has played a role in my current parental expectations.

A younger version of myself would have scrutinized the ingredients in baby formula with a “tsk tsk”. And while I still believe that companies themselves could do a better job providing healthier formula options, I don’t feel as if I have any place to judge the mothers who buy these products. I now know the truth: breastfeeding can be really fucking hard, and for some families, it simply isn’t the most realistic or ideal choice. This is only one example, but the overriding theme is the same: a parent cannot be characterized as good or bad based on something as arbitrary as their baby feeding preferences.

Finding the gray in former black and white fallacies has helped me become a more balanced and reasonable person. My brain has always been wired to favor details, never mind the big picture. With unremitting anxiety since adolescence, I liked the cut and dry promise of certain outcomes. If I just eat a 100% organic non-GMO whole foods diet I will never get sick! And if I never get sick, I might never have to die! Because who likes uncertainty and who wants to admit that no matter how much “clean” produce you consume, you can still end up with the types of cancers that kill smokers and alcoholics? Or that your parental choices could result in unfavorable, even disastrous outcomes for your child?

I suspect some sanctimommies view their choices as correct, because they need to feel in control. They need to believe that if they parent in an XYZ fashion, everything will go according to plan (or if not, at least it won’t be their fault). I’m sure others are just plain petty.

But don’t we all have our own opinions about the “right” way to raise a child based on our own values and experiences? What’s the difference between judging someone’s approach and being straight-up judgmental?

According to a Psychology Today article written by Gregg Henriques, PhD:

“Someone is being judgmental when their judgments are power-driven, unempathetic, based on their own idiosyncratic values or tastes, overly based on other people’s character, and are closed, shallow, and pessimistic, and ultimately have the consequence of making the other person feel problematically diminished.”

From a biochemical perspective, the brain prefers to categorize things into simple categories. Boobs: good. Bottles: bad. It requires less energy to take a stance and fight vehemently for it than to constantly hover in between conclusions or accept that most things are not that simple. Stereotypes, for example, provide a neurological shortcut. A mom on welfare? What does your brain envision when you read that phrase?

I like to imagine what a judgy sanctimommy would think if they could see me right at this moment. Just picture it: it’s an overcast day, about 1:30 in the afternoon. I am sitting outside on a blanket. (Ivy has already rolled herself off.) She’s sitting in the grass, playing with a package of Ramen with a pacifier in her mouth. So many speculations, so little time!

                Oh look! That poor baby is being ignored by her mother! She’s probably on Facebook, wasting time connecting with strangers when she could be using this precious time to appreciate the little angel right beside her. She probably sets her baby in front of the TV during the day, so she has more time to paint her nails while watching her soaps. I bet her baby cries a lot, probably because she feels neglected. That must be why she has a pacifier shoved into her mouth. And Ramen? Who eats that garbage beyond college? She clearly has no respect for healthy foods. I bet she uses formula. And what’s this? Her baby is STILL in her pajamas? I can only assume she’s been too “busy” on her computer to take the time to dress her poor child. And oh my! 1:30 in the afternoon? Shouldn’t that baby be taking a nap? She looks tired. Her mom STILL hasn’t even put her back on the blanket so that she might enjoy the comfort of her company and warmth. I don’t see any other children around. Psh! Only child I bet. How selfish! That little darling won’t have any siblings to play with. I bet she’s a stay-at-home mom, because she’s so lazy. She’ll probably send her kid to public school someday, because she clearly doesn’t love her child enough to homeschool her. What a shame…

Of course, this is a ridiculous exaggeration, (I hope?) but the sentiment is there.

I was recently considering the implication of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs in relation to parenthood. A psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow proposed this theory in a 1943 paper. The basic premise of his theory is that human needs must be met in a hierarch-type fashion:

In other words, if you can’t afford to heat your apartment or you don’t feel safe in your neighborhood, you probably aren’t stressing out over the trace pesticides in your baby’s applesauce. The ability to fine hone parental preferences to the tune of a sanctimonious life is born of entitlement.

It’s childish to boil down a parent’s worth by analyzing whether or not they let their children have screen time or eat processed foods or (gasp) don’t baptize their babies. It’s the adult version of snubbing someone for wearing Route 66 instead of Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s the type of thing privileged people get to waste their time giving a shit about.

Sources:

https://www.learning-theories.com/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs.html

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/onlyhuman/2008/04/neurology-of-stereotypes_24.cfm

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201305/making-judgments-and-being-judgmental

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Parental Battles: The Introverted Mom Vs The Extroverted Dad Vs The (?) Baby

I’ve been shy from the time I was a young child. Most of the cousins on my dad’s side of the family are several years older than me. While they left for college and planned their weddings, I was reading Tiger Beat and cold calling crushes. I remember being overwhelmed at large family events, feeling intimidated and hyperaware of my youth. Fast forward to me at 30 years of age, and I still dread many social events. I often find extended eye contact to be horribly uncomfortable, even with people I am close to. My adult explanation for my shyness is to say “I am an introvert”. As a grown-up,  instead of burrowing my head into my husband’s chest to avoid interacting with others (which would be hilarious), I find an exit when I need one or simply sit inside and read while he entertains guests. When you look at an online quiz with a list of introverted traits, it does a damn fine job of describing my personality. Here’s a sample from Psychology Today:

1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.

2. I often prefer to express myself in writing.

3. I enjoy solitude.

4. I seem to care about wealth, fame, and status less than my peers.

5. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in-depth about topics that matter to me.

6. I’m not a big risk-taker

7. I dislike conflict.

8. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself.

9. I don’t enjoy multi-tasking.

(https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/quiet-the-power-introverts/201103/quiz-are-you-introvert-or-extrovert-and-why-it-matters)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is my husband Derek: an adventurous soul who is a grandiose storyteller and more often than not, the life of the party.

In general, this ying yang chemistry works itself out. Opposites really do attract.

But…

Sometimes Derek struggles to understand my limitations, I imagine because they are so foreign from his own.

As an introvert, all social interactions come with a certain level of exhaustion. Now that I’m a stay-at-home parent, I have a baseline fatigue from which I have to draw the remainder of my reserves from. So while Derek is excited at the notion of several days of social events or extended trips, I feel tired just looking at the calendar in anticipation.

As suggested by the list above, I do cherish one-on-one interactions. I also enjoy a good party with close friends on a semi-regular basis, but it’s important that I space out my social obligations. Introverts thrive when they’ve had a chance to recharge their batteries before diving into the next shindig.

Being an introverted parent is a mixed bag. I hate small talk. I’m not a fan of having to stop and talk to strangers about Ivy’s name, age, and stage of development when all I want to do is pick up some peppers so I can go home and make dinner. On the other hand, there are occasions in which I have to disappear from an event to go breastfeed or put Ivy down for a nap. Sometimes I’m sad to leave the festivities, but often I like having an excuse to go someplace quiet for awhile. Being easily overstimulated is another hallmark of being an introvert.

What about hanging out with another human being ALL OF THE TIME? This can be draining too. Lately Ivy has been taking longer, more predictable naps, and this helps a ton! Having just a short while to be alone makes all the difference in my mood and patience level. In addition, the fact that neither of us expects enthralling conversation out of the other accommodates my intrinsic tendencies as well. Our most complicated chats involve “bah bah bah” and exuded dolphin calls.

Overall, being an introvert and spending endless hours with an infant I adore (with more excuses to leave/avoid other social situations) has been a fairly natural adjustment. I think the shock of parental obligations has been a bit more jarring for Derek simply because he’s such a social butterfly. When we have to skip out on certain activities or leave a party early to put a baby to bed, Derek’s constitution is more compromised. He hates to sit at home and miss out on all the fun. Meanwhile, I’m a homebody who loves to go to bed at 10pm and looks forward to putting my yoga pants on the second I walk in the door.

I like to watch Ivy as she interacts with others to try and guess whether she’ll be an introvert like mom or an extrovert like dad.

She seems to be weary of most adults that she doesn’t know well (1 point for introvert?), but she’s also at a clingy age. When I’m in an edgy mood, I secretly appreciate the moments in which she won’t smile for people on command.

“Won’t you show me a smile baby?”

-Ivy gives them a blank stare.-

I think Just like her mom and have flashbacks of my dance line coach encouraging me to smile during practice. My inner monologue was: Why?! We aren’t performing, and I’m really not excited to be here! I’ve been a non-conformist for years, you see.

But whenever other kids or babies are in the room, Ivy tends to light up and want to engage with (or basically scream at!) them.

(1 point for extrovert?)…

So I guess the jury’s still out.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/introverts-signs-am-i-introverted_n_3721431.html

http://www.medicaldaily.com/brain-introvert-compared-extrovert-are-they-really-different-299064

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/quiet-the-power-introverts/201103/quiz-are-you-introvert-or-extrovert-and-why-it-matters

Joys (Lies) of Parenting and a Few Things They Got Right

I am too tired to be blogging right now. Each night, once Ivy is asleep, I have to choose between going to bed ridiculously early or utilizing those precious moments for a mental break and/or something social/productive. Some (many) nights, it’s Dr. Mario on NES, a gloriously mindless yet mindful activity. Tonight, I’ve decided, the time has come to write. I just finished reading an awesome memoir (Hunger by Roxane Gay), and reading well-written books always reinvigorates my passion for documenting my own thoughts.

“Let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start”…

Why am I so tired? Shouldn’t my 7 month old be “sleeping through the night” by now?

Ha!

Myth/Half-Truth #1 – Babies will sleep through the night by 6 months

Capable of sleeping through the night? Perhaps. Actually doing so? Statistics be damned! Ivy did sleep for 11 hours straight one magical night. It gave me so much hope for our future, but it did not stick. It has never happened again. Most nights, she wakes up two or three times. Some nights, it’s better, and some nights are just terrible. I haven’t found the energy, patience, or emotional fortitude to properly “sleep train” her. I do have rare moments where I can stand to let her cry for 5 or 10 minutes at a time before going in to soothe her, but overall, I just can’t take it. The stress of listening to Ivy cry supersedes my love of slumber, and so the sleep deprivation saga continues.

Myth/Half-Truth #2 – You are never ready to have a baby

Sort of. It’s true that you can never possibly understand the overwhelming nature of parenthood until it swallows you whole. BUT. There are BETTER times to have a baby. Putting pressure on someone to get pregnant when they are still “on the fence” is a great disservice to that person and society. Being a parent is quite literally the opposite of a cake walk. Having my first baby at 29 felt just about perfect to me. I spent my 20s living it up and experiencing the joys of being a broke college student (and post-grad). I found the strength to leave an abusive relationship and overcame disordered eating. I found someone who treated me well. We had a few good years to start building a home together before deciding it might be about time to bring another human into it. But even after coming to the conclusion that I was ready, when baby was actually HERE, I wasn’t so sure anymore. I felt woefully unprepared, emotionally and physically. Therefore, I’m sure having a baby at 21 was something I could have handled, but for me, waiting was definitely the way to go.

Myth/Half-Truth #3 – “It gets better”

I mean, yes…but also, no. It gets different. If we have to boil it down to simple statements, then yes I suppose life is generally easier after the newborn stage which is its own unique version of hell. A hell where you give every ounce of yourself to this being that you are so obsessively attached to, without receiving so much as a smile in return for your suffering. However, I’m starting to wonder if some of this eventual ease is more accurately described as tolerance. When you first become a parent, everything is so scary and overwhelming. After a month or two, you may start to feel some semblance of confidence, but there are so many different challenges along the way to upset whatever progress you think you’ve made. (Sleep regressions/teething anyone?!) When Ivy was still a newborn, more than one older woman said to me “Oh, don’t you just wish they could stay like this forever?” Horrified at the notion, I thought How much worse is this going to get?!?!

Myth/Half-Truth #4 – Breast milk is nature’s perfect food.

OH really? Well then can someone please explain to me why my daughter spent the first few months of her life barfing all over everyone and everything? She was formula fed for a very short time before my milk came in, but after that she was exclusively breastfed until right around 6 months. I tried just about everything that was scientifically and (via internet mom chat forums) anecdotally recommended to tame her spit-up sessions: a dairy and soy free diet (for me), a wedge for the head of her crib, special bottles with vents, extra burping, probiotics, chiropractic care, feeding less but more often, letting her sleep in her bouncer (shhh…parental sin), holding her upright for 20-30 minutes after meals (super fun in the middle of the night by the way). But alas, the barfing continued. Apparently, babies are born with immature digestive systems, so it’s normal for them to upchuck all the time. Was Mother Nature drunk when she created this recipe? If a baby is meant to be nourished by said substance, than said substance should probably stay in baby’s tummy where it belongs. I mean, really. It seems to me that evolution should have figured this mess out by now.

Myth/Half-Truth #5 – It’s only a matter of time before you get back to your old self

Except the part where that person doesn’t exist anymore. There’s no such thing as becoming a parent and staying whoever you were before that monumental moment. Of course you’ll still enjoy most of the same things. Some of your hobbies will wait for you to find the stamina to take them up again. Others will jump ship when they realize they’ve been replaced. But nothing will ever be the same ever again. Your schedule and priorities will likely change and your worldview will be altered, for better or worse. In the adoption of this new role, you will inevitably become a different version of you.

A couple of things “they” got right:

Even if you hate kids, you will love your own

This is very true. In fact, you might find yourself disgustingly in love with your child. There have been several occasions when I was beyond relieved to have put Ivy down for a nap or bedtime, so I could finally have some “me time” only to find myself scrolling through pictures of her and watching videos of her doing something mundane (to the average viewer of course, FUCKING ADORABLE to me! 😊 )

Having kids is insulation for the future

I believe this to be true. It’s not so much that I worry about who is going to take care of me when I’m older, it’s more that I like the idea of having an emotional touchstone. I can’t imagine what the grief of losing a parent will feel like, but I have a sneaking suspicion that having a child of my own will help lessen the burden. I find comfort in the idea that it might feel a bit more like passing a torch rather than watching a torch burn out completely.

A is for Apple, B is for Baby, C is for Cat, and D is for Depression (Whoops! I mean Dread. Dammit! I mean Dog!! )

Loving a little person with your entire self is exhausting. Also, the part where your sleep cycles are constantly interrupted doesn’t really help put any pep in your step. I feel like I was a ball of stress before Ivy was born, and now the volume of my stress rivals the world’s largest ball of twine.

Plans that used to be fun often fill me with dread these days. It’s as if my current existence revolves around making sure my kid has a good day because A. I can’t stand it when she’s crying (I instinctively pull her right out of a person’s arms when she starts) and B. When Ivy has a good day, then I’m more likely to have a good day. When she doesn’t nap well, it has a domino effect of making each attempt at sleep harder and harder as she gets overstimulated. Basically, she’s hyperactive and insane and sometimes has a meltdown. It’s not fun to witness, and it means she’ll likely sleep shitty that night, which means mom sleeps shitty too.

I recently traveled with Ivy for the first time where we spent a night away from home . She did really well…except for the part where she hardly slept and I got 2 total hours of sleep that night. Since then, I’ve been in a shitty mood, and I attribute these feelings with the fact that when my sleep deprivation reaches a certain peak, it creates an energy crisis that makes some version of depression inevitable.

In addition, I’m bored as shit with our daily routine. Cleaning the house, doing endless loads of laundry and dishes, and caring for an infant leave a lot of room for rumination (AKA dwelling on thoughts). I used to work at a library, which I enjoyed for the first year of employment. After that, the dull tasks of checking in and shelving books started driving me mad. If my mind is not forced to be engaged in activities that require thought, things get very bleak very fast.

I wish the solution was to put Ivy in childcare and go back to work, but I hate that option too. I wouldn’t make enough money to offset the cost of daycare, and I’d feel guilty and sad to hand Ivy over to a stranger on a full-time basis when we can afford not to.

I don’t eat as often as I’d like to or should, because I don’t have the energy to prepare anything or go anywhere. The advice to “take care of yourself” by well-meaning folks is easy to say, difficult to implement when you’re too tired to make yourself a sandwich.

I spend too much time being isolated (with Ivy). Derek doesn’t generally get home from work until about an hour before Ivy’s bedtime. He gives her a bath and reads her a story, and then I attempt to nurse her to sleep. After that, I often try to squeeze in a little “me” time, but sometimes I’m so depleted, I just go to bed at 8pm. Since Derek works full-time, I’m the one getting up with Ivy whenever she stirs in the middle of the night. I do get the occasional break during the week (when I know I NEED the distance to not completely lose my shit) and for a few hours every Saturday and Sunday. But more often than not, I’m with this kid 24-7.

My best metaphor for depression is a dragon, a huge beast that you are too weak to fight off. He blows fire down your path of escape, and in your altered state, you somehow have to navigate your way out. If you’ve met the dragon several times before, you might have some skills tucked away to help you win the battle. Once this monster has his claws in your psyche, you can barely summon the motivation to try when you feel so small and hopeless. And yet, you know if you just lay down and accept its presence, you’ll turn into ash.

I can’t imagine how I’m going to deal with grief someday. It seems like daily living is hard enough to trudge through with any continuous grace.

In essence, if I have a bad day, I just tell myself Oh well, tomorrow will be better. It usually is, but when it’s not, I’m like…Shit, am I going to have to fight that goddamn dragon again? And now that I’m a mother, the stakes are even higher, because I have to protect my baby from the fallout. Ivy deserves the best version of myself (and so do I, goddamn it!) but it’s hard when the cards are stacked against us.

Chronic Pain + Child Rearing = Whose Idea Was This Again?!

As stated in a previous post, I suffer from fibromyalgia. My symptoms first started about 10 years ago, right after I (finally!) left a very damaging relationship (for good). So you see, childbirth was not my first flirtation with trauma. Hence my insistence on sticking with one kiddo rather than taking a gamble on a second attempt at a “normal” birth experience. I have been in survival mode for awhile now. Switching back over to a martyr model is a bit like picking at old scabs. Only in this instance, the scars are worth it and more meaningful. Ivy is more deserving of my affections. Regardless, the self-sacrifice of parenthood takes a heftier toll because of my past and the illness it brought forth.

Fibromyalgia can be so much more debilitating than a Lyrica ad projects. Treatment is a total crapshoot. Unlike taking an antibiotic to treat an infection, trying to find the right medication(s) for taming chronic pain can be quite the feat. Personally, I prefer to steer clear of Big Pharma for multiple reasons. Most notably because I believe that the side effects often create even more issues and sometimes are worse than the illness itself. Many if not most of the medications used to treat fibromyalgia are not suitable for pregnancy or breastfeeding anyway. Basically I’ve always preferred massage, Extra Strength Tylenol, hot showers/heating pads, and most of all sleep (ha!) as my go-to treatments for getting back on my feet during a flare.

What is a flare? My illness is always in the background, sort of hovering. But every once in awhile, it likes to remind me who is in charge (especially if I’ve had a decent period of feeing fairly normal again). This is when it reaches a certain level of intensity in which I no longer have the luxury of ignoring it. The hallmarks of fibromyalgia include fatigue and pain (sometimes in specific areas, sometimes all over). But beyond those, there’s numerous ways that a broken nervous system can affect you: anxiety/panic attacks, random bouts of depression, brain fog, gut issues, and a lower threshold for sensory stimuli (to name a few). Do you know what else can cause these symptoms?

A lack of quality sleep ☹

The newborn phase was particularly harsh. Recovery from childbirth, less sleep than I thought was possible for a human to survive off of, and breastfeeding in numerous awkward positions all contributed to the worst neck pain I’ve ever had. I couldn’t turn my head all the way in one direction and one night my eyes went blurry from nerve pressure. When I laid down, my neck would throb through my pillow. It was beyond terrible.

So having fibromyalgia and caring for an infant (who does not sleep well!) is a double whammy that I’m trying to adapt to. I am saved by the knowledge that we are done having kids, so I will never have to relive this time again. In addition, I just keep telling myself One day at a time…I just have to do whatever I need to do to get through today. It’s kind of working, I guess. I’m not terribly depressed, just depleted as hell.

I feel a special kinship with my baby. Her nervous system is immature while mine is defective. When I’m tired and we are in a crowded loud place with bright lights,  I   feel overstimulated. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to not have the power to leave that type of situation. As a result, I am hypersensitive to Ivy’s cues when she’s had enough and feel more inclined to help us escape whether or not it’s socially acceptable on any given occasion. “Wait! I didn’t get a chance to hold that baby yet!”  And you’re not going to today. Sorry, not sorry.

Some days a migraine leaves me throwing up while Ivy cries in her crib. Other days, we take a 2 hour nap together, and life seems a little brighter for a bit.

In a nutshell, chronic pain makes you want to drop out and shut down. Unfortunately, taking care of a baby does not allow that sort of thing.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on…

Babies are Boring (Or Efforts to Stay Sane Without a Job)

I feel like there is this idea out there, particularly among the average non-parental Joe, that being a stay-at-home parent must be awesome! Some beautiful fantasy scattered with delusions of babies who take naps at regular times while you cozy up with a book or gladly play with their toes on a blanket while you finally teach yourself guitar. You know, because you just have SO MUCH free time. Well here’s the thing.

Kind of… but not really.

There are some pretty awesome days in which the above is my actual reality. Especially as Ivy has gotten a bit older (and in fact, discovered her toes), I definitely have more moments to myself these days than I did when she was a newborn. Still, each day is unpredictable and any moments of consistency are short lived.

Most of my days are filled with a slew of monotonous tasks. And for a long while, most of my “me” time was leaving baby with Derek, so I could go shop for groceries (barf!), take a shower (oh boy!), or put laundry away without attending to a crying baby intermittently. Super exciting stuff guys. [I should clarify that an uninterrupted shower for a new mom is actually very exciting. I just don’t think that activities involving basic hygiene are a fair substitute for personal time.]

Since we are living off of one income, my options for daily entertainment are a bit limited. Many a house projects are put on the back burner and impromptu store adventures for anything other than dish soap or baby wipes are few and far between.

I have never been much of a self-motivator. I have my moments (like posting blog posts on a semi-regular basis – yay me!), but overall, I struggle with sticking to things long term: meal planning, exercise plans, learning new skills, etc. I was always a pretty stellar student and a busy body at work. Give me a project, a challenge with a definite outcome or deadline, and I’ll deliver! Being a stay-at-home parent is “work”, but it’s no substitute for what a good job ought to deliver: opportunities for personal and professional growth and a steady sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Of course, being a parent on a macro-scale is chock-full of purpose and fulfillment, but there is a stark difference between the self-satisfaction of providing weight loss education to a grateful pupil (I’m an RD) vs changing Ivy’s nth diaper for the day.

My strategies for staying sane without a job (with the exception of #7, these tips are also applicable for staying sane while working a shitty job):

  1. Make plans with other people and put them on my calendar. Accountability works. I have signed up to volunteer with a group, attended a weekly kickboxing class, and periodically invite friends over for dinner. Making commitments means I’m locked in.
  2. Continue to carve out time whenever possible to squeeze in activities that make me happy (like making jigsaw puzzles or watching stand-up comedy specials!)
  3. Make an effort to discover new interests and pursue new experiences to discourage my brain from turning to mush and prevent my zest for life from fizzling out. When in doubt, seek out new music or methods of effortless learning, such as listening to educational podcasts.
  4. Treat free time as precious moments. I used to watch a TON of Netflix. It was sort of a problem. Luckily, replacing our living room TV with an aquarium and trying my damnedest to keep Ivy’s screen time to a minimum is helping me have a much healthier relationship with television. Lately, I am way more picky about what I spend my time watching. Most days, I don’t watch anything at all. Of course I still waste a lot of time on Facebook, but I have a cute baby to show off, okay?! Lay off!
  5. Get out of my head and branch out into the world. Go on regular outings, daily if possible. Now that the weather is getting nicer, we’ve been taking a lot of walks. The library is always good for free entertainment, and there are plenty of parks to explore.
  6. Try to live a healthy lifestyle overall, but eat junk food and stay up too late with friends from time to time without feeling guilty. Physical health sacrifices must occasionally be made for the sake of mental health gains.
  7. Remember how much I dreaded the obligation of going to work and be grateful to have these (semi-) carefree days with my daughter. I have my whole life to work, and I intend to go back to the grind by the time she starts kindergarten. Carpe diem.

“But trust me on the sunscreen.” – Baz Luhrmann

Just “Let Her Cry” and Other Unsolicited Advice

When you have a baby, everyone including their grandmother (especially their grandmother) loves to tell you how you should raise your child. Why not let your baby cry herself to sleep? Put jelly on a pacifier to encourage her to take it? Give your baby some cereal now that she’s 4 months old? Or at least a taste of ice cream? And oh by the way, you aren’t going to breastfeed the child until she’s 2 or 3 are you? Because you know some weirdos do that kind of thing and it just ain’t right.

Each of these statements are based on actual conversations. They all have a few things in common: they were offered without my prompting and are mostly based on outdated ideas. The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. Beyond that, they recommend the continuation of breastfeeding after the introduction of solids up until at least one year of age and for as long as mutually desired after that.  In addition, to reduce the risk of SIDS, parents are encouraged to sleep in the same room as their infant for at least the first 6 months, and ideally up to a year after birth. So how exactly do you let a baby cry herself to sleep when she’s lying right beside you at night?

Thanks, everyone. I know that most advice comes from a place of concern. But also, no thanks.

People love to judge parenting styles. I’m not immune. It’s really easy to have certain opinions when those views clash with what your personal beliefs are. I used to turn my nose up at the concept of parents letting their children’s sleep schedules dictate their days. That is of course until I became one of those parents.

Older generations in particular seem to be overly concerned about “spoiling” children.

 

Spare the rod, spoil the child. (Remember that old gem?)

 

In reality, babies are born with the most immature nervous system of any primate. As a result, they also happen to be dependent for a longer period of time. Crying is their primary means of communication. Feeding a baby “on demand” versus on a schedule is not an act of “spoiling” but instead teaches the infant that they can rely on having their needs met.  This helps foster healthy attachment in children.

As a new parent, it’s virtually impossible to be unaware of the various methods of sleep training that exist. A few bleary-eyed Google searches at 2am can make you an expert in no time. One of the most common approaches is to let the baby “cry it out”. There are different variations of this philosophy, but they all involve ignoring a baby’s cry for a certain length of time. It’s considered to be one of the fastest means of “teaching” a baby how to self-soothe and is often favored during periods of desperation.

Arguments for and against the “cry it out” method run the gamut from Letting a baby “cry it out” causes brain damage to Don’t worry if your baby cries until they throw up. They might even think it’s fun! (I wish I was kidding…)

It is unclear what causes a baby to stop crying during these efforts. Have they actually learned the art of self-soothing? Or have they simply learned that no one is going to respond to their cries, so why bother?

Of course, human temperament can have a lot to do with the type of effect such an approach might have. Some infants may come away unscathed. Others may experience psychological damage. Unfortunately, we lack the research necessary to gauge the extent of possible repercussions and the foresight to estimate what kind of outcome to expect for any given child.

A recent study did not find the “cry it out” method to increase cortisol (stress hormone) levels, attachment, or behavioral issues one year after the experiment took place. However, the youngest infants involved in the study were at least 6 months old. My daughter is only 4 months old.

I completely understand how seductive a decent night of sleep is. Especially for the working parent, at some point, it may be non-negotiable in order to function. In addition, disrupted sleep can contribute to depression and exacerbate health problems. A parent needs to be able to take care of themselves in order to take care of their children. Fo’ reals, I support the notion that you do what you gotta do.  I am pro-choice. I support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. However, I don’t believe that I myself could go through with an abortion except in the most extreme of circumstances. This is how I feel about letting a baby “cry it out”. To each their own, but I myself don’t think I have the stomach for it.

Of course, I might feel different in another sleep-deprived month or two. But that’s another story…

Sources:

Blunden, S. et al. (2010) “Behavioural sleep treatments and night time crying in infants: Challenging the status quo”. Sleep Medicine Reviews.

https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Through-Night-Revised-Toddlers/product-reviews/0060742569/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_hist_1?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=one_star&reviewerType=avp_only_reviews

https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Reaffirms-Breastfeeding-Guidelines.aspx

http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/24/health/cry-it-out-sleep-training-ok/index.html

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/20/peds.2016-2938

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-raise-happy-cooperative-child/201207/can-you-spoil-your-baby

Baby, Since I’ve Been Loving You… I’m About To Lose My Worried Mind

I feel ya, Robert Plant.  Anxiety has always been an unwelcome guest in my brain. It shows up unannounced at random ungodly hours, expecting me to make it coffee and listen to it blabber on about a myriad of irrational scenarios. “What if, what if, what if?!?!” it demands. Sometimes I lack the energy to have perspective and buy into its conspiracy theories. “Holy shit, you’re right!! What if?!?!” These “what if” stories are always colored with the right shades to peak my interest. Anxiety is a damn fine businessman. It knows which topics are most relevant to me at any given moment.

As a child, the stars of my “what if” tales were me and my parents. The most terrifying thing I could think of as a child? What if something happens to my parents? The most terrifying thing I can think of as a parent? What if something happens to my child?  Having a child is unlike any other experience. I’m not sure it’s possible to love another person so intensely, so unconditionally without effort. As a teenager, I thought it was profound that love songs promised a bond so deep that a person would be willing to give their life for another. Prince, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garbage, Jann Arden, and other songwriters all promise the same refrain: “I Would Die For You”. Now, it seems to me that this phrase is less profound and simply more matter of fact when it comes to parents and their children. It’s a cliché sentiment that infiltrates our culture for good reason. Most, if not all parents, will have multiple moments in which they compromise some aspect of their own well-being for that of their child.

I’m not thrilled with the person I become while stranded in anxiety’s eccentric web.  In fact, I really don’t like this version of myself one bit. I become uncontrollably controlling. My desire to protect my child turns into telling other people how to spend their time with her. Oh, never mind. I’ll just stay home with her. A babysitter might not know how to comfort her at some point, and oh man, the world might come crashing down! It’s not that I think my interactions with Ivy are perfect. It’s that I feel very “mama bear” and have a hard time cutting this metaphorical umbilical cord. When she cries, every cell in my body aches to respond immediately. One of my best friends beautifully summarized one of the most awful conundrums of being a new mother: you crave time for yourself but you can’t stand being away from your baby.

Absolutely.

Biology doesn’t want you to be at ease. As far as the life cycle is concerned, your purpose has been fulfilled. You have brought new life into this world. As is par for the course, you will now feel immense pressure to make sure that this tiny human’s every need is tended to. And if you dare lose your patience or put your needs first, guilt will be happy to greet you there.  I can’t speak for everyone, but this has been my experience thus far. It feels as if it stems from a place of pure instinct. These overwhelming feelings of needing to keep my daughter safe and content have come naturally to me. Rational thought seems to have little to do with it. Though, it’s also likely that my overactive *amygdala makes these feelings more dramatic. It’s hard to tease out how I might feel if I wasn’t a natural born worrywart.

(*The amygdala is the primary brain structure involved in the processing of fear.)

When Ivy was first born, I had an identity crisis. I needed to grieve the life that I was leaving behind, so I could move forward with the new life I would build. Ideas of how I would fold my baby into my life disappeared into thin air. Suddenly, she was running the show, and I was just along for the ride. So far, my grand parenthood puzzle seems to be how to balance the happiness and needs of my child with my own happiness and sanity.

Elevators scare me. Solution? Avoid them whenever possible. Anxiety is horribly uncomfortable. You do whatever you can to quell it. However, it is neither healthy nor realistic to spend every minute of every day with my daughter “just in case” something happens. And even more compelling is knowing that something terrible can happen even if I’m right there in the room with her.

In The Gardener and the Carpenter, psychology professor Alison Gopnik argues that the act of “parenting” in order to create a certain type of adult is a new phenomenon. She argues that this pressure to do X, Y, and Z in order to produce a certain type of adult is doing more harm than good. She compares “parenting” with “dieting”. The more books that are written that tell us how to raise our children or how to eat healthfully, the more unhappy and unhealthy we become. The science we have on the subject seems to suggest that it’s more important to create a safe and loving atmosphere to allow children to become whoever they are going to be.

Amen to that.

However, it’s hard to ignore these modern parenting philosophies among cultural norms. Even though I agree with her attitude, I still stress myself out over the basics. To sleep train or not to sleep train? Is Ivy gaining weight fast enough? Meeting her developmental milestones on time? When should we move Ivy into her own room? How damaging is screen time and how can I entertain myself while trying to keep a baby entertained? Where do you draw the line between self-sacrifice and self-preservation?!

Staying home with an infant can be boring, lonely, and isolating. And yet, when I imagine handing her over to someone else for the day, I am filled with dread. I am very lucky to have the option to stay home with my baby. If I had a career that I was passionate about, I am sure I would feel somewhat differently. But since my previous jobs were less than soul satisfying, it made more sense for me to take care of my own kiddo during the day instead of paying someone else to do it. Unfortunately, especially for the stay-at-home mom, it is very easy to view the act of “parenting” as a job with certain outcomes in mind. Although, my daily stressors don’t involve much personal growth. They revolve around making sure Ivy has enough milk, stimulation (Disney songs, anyone?), clean clothes, and naps (which she rarely does – the current bane of my existence). Somehow, my worries crowd out reason and allow me to expect too much out of myself as a mother in lieu of the other roles that I occupy, including the simple role of honoring my “self”. Sometimes you place too much emphasis on the details, because those are the only things you actually CAN control. In other words, I wish I could just calm the fuck down. Hopefully, these are just growing pains.

 Working from seven to eleven every night,
It really makes life a drag, I don’t think that’s right.
I’ve really been the best, the best of fools, I did what I could. (Yeah)
‘Cause I love you, baby, How I love you, darling, How I love you, baby,
My beloved little girl, little girl.
But baby, Since I’ve Been Loving You (yeah). I’m about to lose my worried mind, oh, yeah.

-Led Zeppelin

 

Sources:

Gopnik, A. The Gardener and the Carpenter. 2016.

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/ledzeppelin/sinceivebeenlovingyou.html

The Case for One and Done

Disclaimer: The term “only child” carries a lot of stigma in our country. This post is not meant to attack anyone’s decision to have a larger family. It’s simply an alternative view highlighting the merits of raising an only child.

Before Ivy (Hungry Guinea Pig Version 2.0) was born, I always assumed that I wanted children (plural). It’s fairly understood to be the status quo that if you have one child, there must be another at some point. This is reflected in the way our culture tends to respond to the announcement of your pregnancy: “Congratulations! Is this your first?” The obvious connotation behind that statement is that whether it’s your first or not, pregnancy begets pregnancy. I was never friends with any single children while growing up. Knowing someone without a sibling was even more rare than knowing someone whose parents weren’t divorced. It’s interesting to note that studies suggest that marriages involving fewer children tend to be happier, so there may be some causation behind that correlation.

There are stereotypes that go along with being an only child that I’m sure you can identify before I even type them out:  “Spoiled!” “Lonely!” “Future serial killer!”. Then of course there is the standard judgment toward the parents of an only child: “Selfish!” The same can be said of a couple who chooses to have no kids at all. Honestly, I find this accusation to be rather ridiculous. It’s a rude assumption on many levels, especially in instances where fertility or other complications make having another child very difficult or impossible. I can only assume that this attitude stems from one of the following places:

a. A person who loves being a martyr for their children is insulted by adults whose main identity does not rely on the failures and successes of their children.

b. A person who hates being a parent is jealous of the freedom that childless couples have.

c. A person who thinks that being a parent means you are part of a special club where you can talk down to people who do not have children “Oh, you think you’re tired?! You should try having kids!”

d. A person who simply doesn’t know any better relying on stereotypes to help them understand another human being (cultural influences).

e. All of the above

I had a less than stellar birth experience (Check out my first post). Once we arrived home with our brand new baby and the feelings of shock sunk in, Derek and I had to keep reminding ourselves (kidding at first), that we didn’t have to have any more children after this. Just saying it out loud helped us get through the day. I purchased a book called One and Only and read it while *cluster feeding my insatiable newborn. It was written by the mother of a single child who is also a single child herself.

(*Cluster feeding is a horrible breastfeeding phenomenon in which a baby insists on being attached to your boob for SEVERAL hours at a time in an effort to “tank up”.)

The basic premise of the book is that (stereotypes be damned!), research shows that single children fare just as well as children with siblings, and sometimes even come out ahead. From an article written by the author:

“…in hundreds of studies during the past decades exploring 16 character traits including leadership, maturity, extroversion, social participation, popularity,  generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability, contentment — only children scored just as well as children with siblings. And endless research shows that only children are, in fact, no more self-involved than anyone else. It turns out brutal sibling rivalry isn’t necessary to beat the ego out of us; peers and classmates do the job.

She then goes on to describe how studies also seem to suggest that solitude is not necessarily synonymous with loneliness and that it may even contribute to character building.

I started to convince myself that hey, I really can have just one! I wondered aloud How could people who have such terrible experiences go on to have more kids?!  Several people, including my own mother, assured me that nature would see to it that I would forget: “And that’s how the human race continues”.

Fuck that!

Never forget 11.12.2016 became the battle cry in our household. I told Derek to hurry up and get a vasectomy before we had the chance to romanticize the horrors of childbirth and caring for a newborn.

Of course when you say these things out loud, you feel like a real shit parent. We really do love our daughter to death (Nature knows what it’s doing). But with that love comes a lot of god-awful responsibility, guilt, pain, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and missed opportunities. I have had a few moments of feeling as if I might go completely insane (and she’s only 3 months old…)

At first I felt really guilty about our decision. I have two sisters who have enhanced my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. BUT when I really started to take a hard look at the pros and cons of having another child, it became very clear to me that “One and Done” was more than just a sanity saving mantra to get us through the day. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Pros

  • Siblings Really Are the Shit (assuming you like each other at least at some point during your lives).
  • More Kids Means More Love and (hopefully) Support. You can never have too many people in your corner, especially when times are tough.

Cons

  • The Times They Are A-Changin’: Climate change has quickly become one of the greatest threats to life on this planet. Having one child in lieu of several means keeping more resource-draining, polluting humans off the earth.
  • Health is Really Important to Me: I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that demands quality sleep and minimal stress. Also, breastfeeding in awkward positions and carrying around a fat baby all day really does a number on my neck and back. Sleep deprivation makes my natural predisposition toward depression and anxiety a little too sexy.
  • Cash Rules Everything Around Me: Kids are expensive. Being alive is expensive. I live in a country that doesn’t offer the kind of financial support to families that most other first world nations are privy to. Subsidized child care? School lunches? Universal healthcare? Free college? Nope! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, American! We work for what we get around here!
  • Mommy Dearest: I’m not materialistic, so I’ll never yell at Ivy for putting her clothes on wire hangers. However, I was a high-strung, neurotic nutcase before she was even born. Sibling rivalry? I’m not sure we’d all survive.
  • Quality over Quantity: Less is more to me. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I’d rather invest my time and energy into raising one human being rather than multiple. I do my best work when I’m not overwhelmed.
  • What about ME, dammit?! (Sounds a little selfish I suppose ;): I am not particularly interested in a kid-centric life. I would rather go dance my butt off at a concert than join a mommy group where we talk about which cloth diapers we like best.
  • Modern Medicine is Amazing!: But schedule a date to have another baby cut out of my body? No thanks! I don’t even like having my blood drawn.

Derek is planning to get “the snip” sometime this summer. The next time somebody asks “Is this your first baby?” I plan to smile and reply “And last!”

Sources

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/opinion/sunday/only-children-lonely-and-selfish.html

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/complete-without-kids/201103/fact-or-fiction-childfree-couples-are-happier-couples-kids

Sandler, L. One and Only. 2013.

A Birth Story

I found the birth of my daughter, Ivy, to have been traumatic. I was hoping for a more granola experience as promised by the Business of Being Born DVD. However, nothing really went according to plan. I had been told to create a birth plan with the understanding that it was more like a “birth idea”. Basically, the experience of childbirth is a wild card no matter how low risk you were when you first got knocked up.

I started having contractions on a Wednesday night. I was unable to get any quality sleep that night, because the labor pains were too much. On Thursday, I continued having contractions. They were more mild during the day but started to pick up in intensity toward nightfall. I used a heating pad to weather the storm while hanging out at a good friend’s house. The conversation was a nice distraction from the regular waves of discomfort coursing through my uterus.

That night, while eating a midnight snack in between attacks, I felt a gush of liquid stream out of me.  Yikes! I knew what that meant. I woke up my husband, Derek, in a tizzy. “My water broke! I think we have to go to the hospital”. Turns out it was a false alarm. They completed a swab and didn’t find any evidence of amniotic fluid present. I was only 1.5 centimeters dilated (you have to be at 10 to push a baby out). We were given the option of walking the halls for an hour to see if I would make any progress by doing so. No dice. Pacing the maternity ward did nothing to hurry things along, and so, we were sent home.

No sleep that night either. The contractions were quite intense. I spent an hour sitting on the floor of my shower, letting hot water cascade over my pregnant belly until it ran out. My cat, Emily, was my doula. She followed me around the house looking concerned while I wailed out at random intervals.

The next morning I had a clinic appointment. I tried to maintain my composure while checking in. My façade was fooling nobody. “Are you okay?” asked the lady behind the registration desk. “Just having contractions” I quipped. “Well, that’s good!” she replied. “Yeah”…but I wasn’t convinced. After 2 nights without sleep and plenty of pain to boot, I was getting very discouraged. I had already decided that I hadn’t made any progress overnight. My contractions had been painful but not all that different from the evening before when we were sent home from the hospital. I started to cry, feeling rather hysterical, in front of my midwife. I explained that I hadn’t slept in 2 days. I was so confident that I would be in labor forever that I hemmed and hawed when she asked if I wanted to be checked again. “I really don’t think anything has changed.” “I would be very uncomfortable sending you home without at least checking to see where you’re at.” “Okay,” I relented.

“You’re at 3 centimeters, so I’m admitting you. We can break your water to try and hurry things along and get you an epidural so you can get some rest.” I explained that I had hoped to go without an epidural and would rather labor awhile to see how things went. She was understanding.

Once checked into the labor room, all dignity goes immediately out the window. There are regular cervix checks, unflattering mesh underpants with monster pads to be worn, and gushing “fluids” of all kinds onto the bed, the floor, my clothes. Derek was a rock during the entire experience. The only strike he gets was for constantly asking me “Are you having another one?” when a contraction would take hold. When you suddenly get very internal, have your eyes closed, and are breathing heavily…I should think it was perfectly obvious what was going on. In any case, once it was established that I was indeed “having another one”, he reminded me to breathe and was a comforting presence.

The whirlpool bath was my safe haven. My contractions were still very uncomfortable, but more manageable when surrounded by hot water, jet streams, and relaxing white noise. My left arm draped over the side of the tub where my IV hep lock had been placed. My right arm was terribly bruised from the 2 veins that were blown during previous attempts at placing said IV. I looked like a battered woman and certainly felt that way. As a child, the scariest part of childbirth in my mind was that you had to get an IV put in. Ha! An IV is like a pinprick compared to the hell of uterine contractions. Of course a prepubescent child could not possibly have any clue about things of that nature.

We were checked in around 10:30 in the morning. My water had been broken to speed up my contractions. After laboring for another 4 or 5 hours, I had had enough. I went onto my smart phone to do some research on the pros and cons of epidurals. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Pain relief wins! “I’m ready for an epidural,” I told my nurse with confidence.

The anesthesiologist brought me some forms to sign and my wonder drug. “You should still feel pressure, but you shouldn’t really feel your contractions after about 15 minutes.” “Okay!” I smiled, feeling very content with my choice to give up on my plans to have a “natural” birth. Sorry, Ricki Lake. I just don’t get it. I know the experience of childbirth has been purported to be magical for some women warriors, but I would never use that word to describe what was happening within my body. My innards felt like a battleground that I couldn’t run away from. Perhaps the fact that I hadn’t slept in 2 days and was making ridiculously minimal progress had something to do with it!

The anesthesiologist delivered on her promise. I felt the pain melt away and suddenly I had hope again…and an appetite! I had brought snacks for Derek and I but wasn’t able to bring myself to eat much before this point. Everything I brought (trail mix, crackers…) sounded disgusting to me. Instead, I had sipped on an Orange Gatorade for my “lunch”. I was put on a clear liquid diet after getting my epidural, but that was fine by me. I was really excited to drink chicken broth and eagerly awaited the arrival of my dinner tray while watching The Simpsons. It was about 7:30pm when my tray arrived. I happily noshed away on cherry gelatin and then attempted to “rest” (see: impossible).

After the epidural was in full swing, my midwife once again checked my progress. “You’re still at 3.5 cm,” she told me with a sympathetic tone. Holy shit! My contractions had gotten more intense since my water bag had been artificially broken. What the hell was going on in there if I wasn’t dilating?! After learning that all of that time and pain had been for naught, I was more sure than ever that an epidural was the only way to go at that point. I mean, seriously, how much longer was this going to take?

Forever, actually. Well, okay, only several more hours. But it FELT like forever.

Pitocin was started when the epidural slowed my progress. Ugh, the “P” word that pregnant women of all stripes dread. It’s one of the most common drugs used to induce labor or speed up a stalled labor. After 40 weeks, I had started to panic about when I would want to be induced. Up to 41 weeks in a low risk pregnancy is considered quite safe, but things get a bit murky between then and 42 weeks. I did a ton of research to try and come to the best decision, weighing the pros and cons of induction with waiting for nature to take its course. In the end, I didn’t have to be induced. However, that nasty drug still found its way into my IV sooner than I had hoped. Pitocin is also routinely given after birth to stop postpartum bleeding. I knew this and was fine with it. My goal was simply to avoid the drug during labor since it has a reputation of causing contractions that are more intense and closer together, sometimes causing fetal distress. Of course…this is what happened in my case.

My labor team was great with respecting wishes. I could have stood my ground and refused the Pitocin but at this point, I was putting all of my confidence in their knowledge and skills. I didn’t have the energy to argue, and I was getting very sick of being in labor by this point. The plan was to start me on a very low dose and to monitor my baby via scalp electrode (another doohickey I would have been happy to avoid…oh well). I was started on 2 units of Pitocin, and things were looking up when I had dilated all the way to 6 cm within an hour. After that, my labor stalled yet again, so they bumped up the Pitocin to 4 units. Every so often a few nurses would tag team the task of moving me from laying on one side to my other side. At one point, things got very serious and scary. There were some hushed, urgent voices to bring more people into the room. I could hear my baby’s heartbeat slow to an unusually low rate. I laid there feeling like absolute shit, barely able to move the lower half of my body and with an oxygen mask attached to my face. Suddenly a nurse said “Let’s get you on your hands and knees!” trying to sound reassuring, but more or less giving away the fact that things were not going well. Fortunately, once I got into a hands and knees position, her heartbeat normalized after a little while (though it felt like an eternity). The Pitocin had to be stopped since it was stressing my little peanut out. So once again, labor stalled…

I started to experience back labor that was horrendous, the worst physical pain I’ve ever known. I moaned, I cried, I held onto the bed railing as though it was the only object keeping me grounded during a passing tornado, and I dug my nails into Derek’s skin (poor guy). The only thing that made it bearable was a heating pad and strong counter pressure applied to my back by an OB nurse, an angel by the name of Beth. Her technique was fantastic. Whenever anyone else tried to step in, I wanted to scream. Although, Derek got the hang of it eventually. My baby was sunny side up, and the epidural did not fix the pain that went along with her malpositioned body. For the last 4 hours of labor, I had one repetitive thought: “Just cut her out of me!”

I had been in labor for days with no sleep and little progress to show for it. The back labor caused me to vomit profusely, all of the liquids I had happily slurped down just a couple hours prior, gone within a few minutes of heaving.

I was stuck at 9 cm for the last few hours. My midwife and nurses reassuring me that “You’re almost there. Just a little bit longer”. I never questioned their confidence. However, I did wonder how the hell I was supposed to summon the energy to push a baby out of me when the pain of my back labor combined with sleep deprivation made the idea completely out of logical reach.

Meanwhile, the back labor intensified and I never made it to 10 cm. My sympathetic midwife finally asked the question I had been waiting to hear “Do you want me to call in the surgeon?”

Jesus Christ, yes. I wanted that very much. Of course, when you fantasize about the type of birth you’d like to have, very few aim for invasive abdominal surgery. But it’s all relative. “How long does a C-section take?” I inquired, amazed at the notion that this hell was actually (finally!) about to end. “About 45 minutes”

Fucking Sign. Me. Up!

And so I was to have a C-section for failure to progress. More paperwork. Blah blah blah…serious risks…blah blah blah…where’s the damn anesthesiologist already? I said I’m fucking ready!

Being carted through the halls gave me flashbacks of watching ER. I was wheeled into a freezing cold room and given the spinal. “I feel like I can’t breathe”. “That’s just the anesthesia making it hard to feel yourself breathing. Your oxygen levels are fine. We’re watching them.” I felt fairly reassured but really did not enjoy the sensation and found it hard to not focus on my perceived hyperventilation.

My legs went numb and felt icy. The spinal spread all the way to my fingers, making them numb. “You got a good spinal!” I was informed based on my level of numbness. Well, that’s nice I guess…

Ivy Linn was pulled out (“born”?) at 4:37am, on a Saturday morning at exactly 41 weeks gestation. I heard her cry and my heart soared. She had passed meconium in the womb, so her nose and throat needed to be suctioned out. Because of the urgency of the situation, delayed cord clamping was not in the cards. Birth plan idea #? out the window.

She was brought over to my chest for some skin-to-skin. A wiry little thing at 6 lbs, 1 oz, she was pale with huge blue eyes that seemed to peer into my soul when I met her gaze. “Oh my God, I LOVE HER!”

I had prepared myself for whatever feelings I might/might not feel when I finally met the tenant of my uterus. I knew that some women fell instantly in love and others formed a bond with their babies more gradually, and I had given myself permission to not feel guilty if that were the case. Totally unnecessary preparation. I was totally in love…and terrified. Opening myself up to loving someone so much that it hurt put my anxiety into overdrive. I had racing thoughts and felt like I was on the cusp of a nervous breakdown. How will I ever sleep again? What if something terrible happens to her? Who is allowing me to be in charge of a human’s health and happiness? Ahh! Help!

My midwife told me in a follow-up visit that when they were putting my uterus back (um, gross!) that it was positioned in a “weird place”. I thought of the anatomy of a car whose engine was tucked away in an inconvenient space under the hood. Who the hell decided to put that there? No wonder Ivy was never fully engaged in my pelvis…and the contractions had gotten stronger but to no avail. I was advised to opt for a scheduled C-section on the next go-around (should there be one).

My baby blues were strong during the first few days. I had trouble talking about the details of the birth. When Ivy cried, I cried, feeling helpless. Eventually we discovered she was starving, because I wasn’t making enough colostrum to meet her needs. A nurse informed us that smaller babies often try to “catch up” by eating a lot. We were able to supplement with donor breast milk (awesome!) until our allotted stash ran out and we had to turn to formula. This made me feel like a failure as a woman. I couldn’t birth my own baby nor meet her needs. Even though I knew I was being unnecessarily hard on myself, the hysteria created by my hormones and insomnia prevailed.  One night during our hospital stay, Derek brought Ivy to the nurse’s station to give me a chance to sleep. Instead I balled uncontrollably.

Sleep was illusive during the entire hospital stay. There were bright lights streaming from the charting computer and call light system, crying babies and heartbeat monitors discernable from nearby rooms, and a constant parade of staff at all hours of the day. I was tethered to so many devices that finding a comfortable position was impossible. I had an IV in my arm, an oxygen monitor connected to my toe, compression pants that made me sweat, and a catheter.  If a nurse wasn’t coming in to check my vitals or turn off an IV alarm, then a pediatrician, person from environmental services, my midwife, visitors, a plebotomist, or OB GYN would be sure to pop by. Someone would disturb the peace at least every 2 hours. I slept a total of about 3 hours over the 4 days that I was hospitalized, getting more insane by the minute.

On the day before discharge my blood pressure was high for the first time since getting pregnant. I knew it was from stress and lack of sleep. I started to worry that they weren’t going to let me leave although I seemed to have been more worked up about it than they were. The next day, we were sent home to care for our human all by ourselves.

I was given instructions on specific symptoms to look out for. My hypochondria was all too happy to adopt its newest member. Over the next few weeks, I’d fret over everything. I was sure I had an infection and Ivy had hypothyroidism (due to borderline/inconclusive results that prompted a second blood draw).

I grieved over my loss of control, all of the disappointments between my birthing expectations and the harsh reality I was forced to endure. I recognize how lucky I am that we got our healthy Ivy out of the deal and as any parent or cliché sentiment can validate, it was all worth it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be lining up to give birth again any time soon…or ever.