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My triumph over post-partum trauma and a giveaway

I’ve mentioned a few times that this pregnancy with baby #2 has been emotionally challenging.

And sometime during the blur of activity since moving into our new house, the grip of fear and dread I had about this second baby all but vanished in a single day, and I’m left with a healthy sense that yes, this will be hard and also, that I can do it.

Here’s how that happened.

At a pre-natal appointment, I cried while telling one of my midwives about how hard it’s been to feel burdened and emotionally flat about being pregnant this time around. What did it mean about the baby? About me? About our future relationship? About whether this was a good decision in the first place.

My wise and wonderful midwife had this to say:

You might try connecting with and talking to the baby when you’re feeling that way. You could say, ‘I’m having a lot of difficult feelings right now. And you’re also welcome here.’

The reminder that both my crap feelings and the baby could co-exist and that they are separate entities was radically helpful, especially in battling my whole freak out about the fetal origins thing.

I also talked with my midwife about how afraid I was of those first few months with a baby—since they had been so difficult with J.

She recommended that I sign up for a post-partum/birth trauma workshop with Gena McCarthy, a local nurse and therapist who specializes in supporting women through the challenges of birth, post-partum and motherhood.

I signed myself up and a couple weeks later, spent 3 and a half hours in a room with 6 other women who had difficult birth or post-partum experiences that they wanted help working through.

I have to admit, during the workshop, I kept thinking there would be some sort of magical moment—some radical revelation that would swoop down and save me. The radical revelation never came, but I did feel relieved to know I wasn’t alone—other moms were still struggling with a difficult time in early motherhood that had long since passed.

It was helpful to hear Gena’s explanation of how these types of fears we have—the ones that feel deeply lodged and almost irrational in their strength and persistence—are often the result of trauma. And trauma lives in a part of our brain that is non-verbal. So rational and verbal approaches to healing trauma aren’t usually very effective. What is effective, she said, are approaches that tap into our limbic system—a region of our brain that we share with other mammals and reptiles that is largely concerned with things like emotion, memory and our instinctive fight or flight response.

Apparently, the workshop was supposed to help us tap into this part of our brains, where we could begin to move through some of the fears that were lodged there.

During the workshop, we talked, we did a guided visualization, we journaled, we made collages, and I walked away from the workshop thinking, “That was nice, but I doubt it helped much.”

Later that night, my partner, A asked me how it went. As I recounted what I had talked and thought about, I noticed that there was none of the background fear and anxiety lurking like it normally did. I was talking about how hard those first few months were with J, and I had this understanding of why, and this healthy compassion for myself, and I didn’t feel overcome with dread about what was coming. It was a simple and radical release.

That’s how it is now—I know I’m going to have to go through all of that post-partum time with a new baby again. And surely it will be lovely. And surely it will be hard. But I’m not irrationally afraid of it anymore. I hadn’t realized how much my fears were keeping me from settling into the whole idea of baby #2 and being pregnant, but since they lifted, I touched down. Here I am. 35 weeks pregnant. I’m tired and excited and hopeful and swollen and everything is going to be okay, except for when it’s not, and then we’ll just figure it out.

Naturally, I’ve become a big fan of Gena and her work, so I wanted to share it with you. And, ws luck would have it, she has another workshop just like the one I described coming up on April 28 in Berkeley. She also does private sessions in person or on the phone, so you can connect with her regardless of where you live.
Healing Birth Mother Renewal eFlyer_4-13
Now that you’ve read my story of post-partum trauma triumph, I’d like a drumroll please. Because today I’m joining the ranks of bloggers everywhere who offer tantalizing giveaways!

Gena has extended the generous offer to you, fabulous readers: $15 off of her upcoming workshop or $30 off a private session, which can be in person if you live in the Bay Area or over the phone if you live anywhere! The workshop is $75 and private sessions are $130, so you’ll get a good solid discount. If you’d like to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below and be sure to include your email address in the section of the comment form that asks for it. And for those of you that are particularly keen to win, if you’re a subscriber to the blog (just enter your email address in the handy form in the upper right hand corner of this blog page) or if you “like” my Facebook page, those actions will enter you into the drawing a second or third time! I’ll select one lucky An Honest Mom reader at random next week and then email you with the good news.

And please, share this post with anyone who you think might benefit from Gena’s stellar work. Here’s to unburdening moms of birth and post-partum trauma everywhere!

The revolution begins: your not-so-perfect moment photos!

I had to share a few of the great photos that you, dear readers, have been sharing on my Facebook page this week in response to my photographic challenge. The challenge, in short, was to take a picture of one of the not-so-perfect moments in your life–feeling bored in traffic, scrubbing dirty diapers late at night, celebrating the end of a big day in the midst of a messy living room. The only real constraint: you can’t clean it up all perfect and squeaky clean. No tidying beforehand or fixing hair or making things look any different than they just are.

Without further ado:

Here is a nice photo of my daughter mid-fit
I took this trying to stop a crying fit with the power of the iPhone.
My photo revolution. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I am still in my pajamas. D would rather be doing something else.
Here’s “I don’t know what’s on the counter or if I’d even like it, but I’m gonna stand here and scream till you give it to me” (aka “why didn’t you put me to bed 15 minutes ago?”)
Here is a neither good nor bad moment that occurs many times a day every day.

I have been overjoyed from the tips of my dirty toes to the top of my frizzy head by all of your photos. Thank you. Thank you.

p.s. I’ll keep collecting and posting these, so keep sharing away over on the old Facebook.

Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What becoming a mother looks like for T at 3 weeks post-partum

Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.

I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”

How are you managing with that epic challenge?

What I thought motherhood would look like

Other than a couple brief moments of rocking a swaddled newborn to sleep, I just started having some moments of, “now THIS is what I thought being a mom was going to be like.” And J will be 2 and a half next month. Do tell, what were the images you had in your head of what being a mother looked like? And what do they say about the whacked out ideas (or not?) our culture has about “motherhood.”

Also, here’s a link to the “Becoming a Mother” video series I’m producing.

Momma mojo

For the last month or so, I’ve been enjoying one of those wonderful periods when I actually feel like I know what I’m doing mom-wise. I’ve also been getting pretty consistent sleep and have 12 hours per week that I’m not taking care of J, so that helps too. We’ve hit a stride and have some systems that really work. I don’t feel nervous these days when we’re at the playground and J tries to snatch something away from a baby. I know how I’ll handle it. And it works.

J feeling his mojo

When he’s standing up on the chair at our kitchen counter, I tell him that if he doesn’t get down, I’m going to take him down. And he usually listens to me and gets down on his knees. I’m not going out of my way to distract from or try to avoid his experience of being disappointed–I’m just heading straight into it these days: “The fire-truck drove by. Are you sad you can’t see it anymore? Sorry you’re sad, little weasel.” I feel like I’ve kinda stepped into my parenting mojo. It has not always been this way, as evidenced by this post. And I’m sure that this feeling will go the way of the dodo soon enough, but for now, I’m gonna bask in it a little bit.

So the mojo. I feel like it has come, in large part, from taking on the mantle of being the person who interprets the world-at-large for J. We were having this whole meltdown when I would drop him off at daycare a few months ago when I got this image in my mind of myself as this huge umbrella. I’ll explain. J is going to this place that is obviously not our house and I am leaving him for a time and he’s freaked out about it. And its my responsibility to think to myself, “Self, is this a scary place for J to be? Am I worried about him?” If the answer is yes, then I should get him the hell out of there. The answer, in fact, was “No. I’m not worried–this is a really safe, loving place and I trust these people to take care of him.” So I decided to put an umbrella over the situation for him and show him how much I believe that its a safe, good place. I gave him kisses and cuddles and then smiled and waved and left, even though he was still crying. At first, this definitely jangled some of my attachment bells, because I don’t want him to feel abandoned. And honestly, I have no idea if he does or not, but showing him in my body language and behavior that I believe this place I’m taking him is good totally helped. Often, he walks right up the steps himself and looks genuinely happy to be there and gives me a kiss and says goodbye. There were and still are some days when I have to leave him crying. But I love him up, put on a brave face, and then go elsewhere to deal with the emotional fallout from walking away from your crying kid. I think when I used to give him 85 hugs and look searchingly into his eyes with concern, it sort of sent the message to him that he should be worried, because I looked worried too. So that’s been a game changer, recognizing that I’m showing him, through my gestures and expressions and behavior if something is okay or not, scary or funny, exciting or worrisome. It feels good to own up to the fact that whether I acknowledge it or not, he’s always looking to me to see what’s up.

What that whole daycare drop-off experience really helped me to see is that I’m the decider. And there’s something incredibly relaxing about taking on that responsibility. I’ve had many a day with him where I feel totally sloshed around in his stream-of-consciousness reality and suddenly find myself digging in the garden for snails when I know he really should have gone down for a nap 15 minutes ago. Since stepping into my role as decider, I had to face down my own fear of his reaction. He might cry. He might tantrum. Turns out, though, that since I started having really clear, passionless boundaries with him, “No, you can’t have my fish oil capsules,” “We’re not going to the kindergym today,” “It’s time for a nap,” he gets upset sometimes, but way less than I would have imagined. I think he’s actually starting to learn that the world is finite and not the way you want it sometimes and that it’s a bummer but also something he can handle. It’s been a huge relief for me to give up the ghost of trying to save him from that disappointment. And I can choose to do things his way or walk at his pace or wrestle on the bed or wear sunglasses and eat yogurt, but I need to choose myself if that’s what we’re going to do, rather than being constantly tethered to his ever-changing whims.

The other thing I’ve been getting all mojo-ey about lately is a statement that I learned from a Magda Gerber book that I just listed in my Toddler page, “I’m not going to let you do that.” Hallelujah. It’s just the best damned statement in the world as far as I’m concerned. It’s clear. It’s direct. It’s what I mean. I don’t have to get into some weird, murky, moral conversation where I try to explain to him why we don’t grab other people’s nipples. And again, it’s just as much about re-wiring myself and stepping into my parent power. POW. I’m not going to let you do that, because I’m the parent and I can take your hand away from that little girl’s nipple and pick you up and take you somewhere else. Ahh, the simple elegance of stepping into my own parenting oomph and confidence.

 

 

On becoming a mother

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I recently assisted a childbirth class as part of my doula certification. On the last night of the class, all of the couples took turns talking about their fears, how excited they were, what they’d learned. One woman said something to the effect of, “It’s crazy that we’ve prepared so much for and have so many feelings and anxieties about a journey that is, essentially, one foot long. I mean, the baby only has to get from here (gesture to belly), to there (gesture to crotch).”

I was struck how funny and truthful and earnest they all were, and how it seemed that we were all in awe of the same thing—birth as a rite of passage. You’re on one side of that fence your whole life, and then you’re pregnant and know you’re gonna have to cross it. And then, by the grace of god and medicine and your own body and the support around you, you reach the other side. It’s endlessly mysterious and inspiring to me. And it’s just nuts. There’s this baby on the inside. And you have no earthly idea what its actually going to be like until it comes out. And then it’s there. Sheesh.

I decided to pursue my endless fascination with this whole process by having a couple of conversations on video with two women who volunteered from the group – one when they were around 38 weeks, just weeks or days away from having their babies, and one when their babies were a few weeks old. A sort of video time capsule, as it were.

Here’s a glimpse of the chat I had with T before she had her baby. (Turns out, we recorded this conversation 6 days before she birthed her baby boy.) My next post will be a little video time capsule from chat we had last week, when the wee babe was a month old.

On judging other parents

I met a friend for beer the other night. It felt pretty momentous. She was the friend I vaguely referenced in an earlier blog post with whom I’d had a schism.

my artistic rendering of "friends meeting for beer after schism"

Our schism was about our children, and our different styles of raising them. And after a couple of emotional conversations, several weeks of emails and both of us taking some time to get perspective and lick our wounds, we met for beer.

It was such a relief to see her again—as if a strange magical spell that had turned her into a monster had blown away. And there she was. Just my friend, with her bright face and her wavy hair and the purposeful way she walks. As we talked about what had happened and how we both felt about it, it struck me that we were doing something pretty impressive. We disagree and are making different choices about certain hot button parenting issues: to cry-it-out or not, co-sleeping, daycare. And rather than just using the old to-each-their-own, who-am-I-to-judge approach, we’re actually having the messy conversations that naturally come when two people that deeply believe in what they’re doing and disagree choose to talk about it.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had many a time when we had to circle back around and remind the other one about how something she said was really hurtful and clean up the mess. But we’ve also shared some incredible insights and have developed a strong mutual respect and fascination for each other.

This is something I really want to create space for in this blog. Everyone is allowed to be judgmental here. Since we all already do it anyway, I think we could actually use it to our advantage. I think that we’re all (well, everyone but the super-evolved-Eckhart-Tolle types) judging each other all the time, even when we claim not to. And while it IS true that every child is different and we all need to find our own way of parenting, I think that sentiment is often used to glaze over and avoid a perfectly fascinating, provocative conversation. Because we want to be kind and because we understand the risks of our judgement, we’re skirting around the issue and cheating ourselves of some really valuable connections.

It’s scary to be judged. Because let’s face it, this parenting gig has the highest stakes ever. And we all know that, and we try really really hard to do what’s best for our kids. So when someone even mildly expresses that they think we’re doing the wrong thing, they can push that terribly zingy button in us that says, “STEP OFF! I’M DOING THE EFFING BEST I CAN. I BET YOU’RE SCREWING UP YOUR KID TOO.” And I think that zingy button is really covering for this fear: “Am I actually making the wrong decision? Am I doing something that is hurting my child or my relationship with her?”

When my friend and I have talked about our differences of opinion, we’ve definitely hit the zing button. Many times. And the thing that has allowed us to keep talking even though we’re hurt or scared is that we both feel and know that we care about each other.

So.

I, for one, want to break out of the everyone-has-to-parent-in-the-way-that-feels-best-to-them conversation silencer. Because while I DO believe that everyone has to parent in the way that feels best to them, I ALSO believe that there is much to be gained from allowing ourselves to disagree in a caring way. And to follow our curiosity about why different people do things differently. Maybe in being more transparent about our judgments with other parents we care about, we might not get so polarized and snippy and, well, judge-y with each other.

As my friend said that night over beers, what would happen if we were allowed to say, “You know, I will never raise my kid the way you do, but I’m totally curious about why you do it that way.” GOOD EFFING QUESTION.

Who would you like to have this conversation with, and what would you talk to them about, if you knew they would still like you when all was said and done?

On pregnancy and birth

I’m all awash in thoughts of birth and pregnancy because I just finished assisting a birth class for the doula/childbirth educator/lactation consultant extraordinaire, Janaki Costello, and every couple of days we hear from a new couple who has just had their babe. I’ve been talking with one of the moms from the class who is, today, 7 days after her estimated due date (EDD) and who has been challenged with frightening pressure to have an induction much earlier than she expected. And nothing about her un-complicated, textbook pregnancy has changed. Other than going past her EDD.

Even though this photo was taken a month before I was full term, it accurately expresses the following: "Why the hell won't my body go into labor?!"

Her experience rings so true with my own–J was born (a beautiful, healthy 8lbs 2oz) 13 days after my EDD, and the pressure I felt to induce and my exposure to terrifying-dead-baby-scenarios skyrocketed in those few days. Why wasn’t my body going into labor? How did my perfectly healthy and complication-free pregnancy suddenly look like a train wreck to my OBs office on the day I passed the 40 week mark? And didn’t it make any difference at all that I passed my non-stress test with flying colors (meaning that they tested the baby when I was 40 weeks and 5 days and everything looked healthy and great)?

I’m all for making a decision informed by a variety of things, including statistical evidence, but I know there are many ways to talk with a 41 weeks pregnant lady about reasons for considering an induction other than, “Well, you don’t want to have a stillborn baby, do you?” As you might imagine, body-gripping worry and fear just don’t create ideal conditions for life in general, let alone helping a woman’s body go into labor on its own. Wow. I digress.

Anyhoo, talking with this 7-days-after mom has renewed my desire to create a pregnancy resource page, with some specific information for women who go well past their due dates. And I’ve already started page on birth too. So this one’s for you, 7-days-after mama. I’m cheering for you and your capable uterus.

On taking care of myself

Before I became a mother, I was grotesquely good at taking care of other people. I credit my naturally empathetic, sensitive nature, my incredible-caretaker mother and my co-dependent upbringing. In the months before I got pregnant, it dawned on me that my constant tracking of other people’s emotional and physical needs could be an asset as a mother. What didn’t dawn on me: it would also be my downfall.

In my first few days post-partum, I sank right in to tracking J’s every need and even making some up.  When I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to make sure that A, my partner, was getting enough sleep and staying generally well fed and happy.
In return, I became completely desperate for A to take care of me with the same obsessive empathy. The result of this whole dynamic was bad. I felt used-up, pathetic, un-loved and despondent. A felt confused and somewhat mistreated and underappreciated.

Add all that to the typical sleep deprivation of the first few months and the hormone roller-coaster, and we were all pretty screwed.

Things have stabilized since then. We all sleep more. I think A understands more about my plight during those first months. And I see how I my strengths in caring for others have created a huge blind spot. I am the blind spot.

In all of my endless scanning for how everyone is doing, the person I most often pass up is myself. And when I finally do notice my own need for help, I’m usually pretty far gone. Desperate, really.

So I’ve been working on that.  I regularly hear something my therapist said to me in those first few disorienting months post-partum:

Do you know what every new mother needs?

A mother.

So the project of becoming a mother to J has also turned into becoming one for myself.

Last night, I was feeling pretty crappy and sad and vulnerable from a recent schism between me and a friend. So I came home a little early from work thinking, “Hanging out with J and A is just what I need right now.”  The minute I opened the door, I started taking a supremely judgmental inventory on all of the things going on that were making my life worse:

A was being a super lazy dad and watching TV with J.
A had not fed J dinner or started getting him ready for bed yet.
A obviously does not care about me at all.

I managed to keep all of these things to myself and ask, “Has J had dinner yet?” And then I just sat down and rested my head on our dining room table and tried to limit the damages of the horror story going on in my head.

In the end, A took care of dinner and bedtime for J. I ate ice cream while watching a show on the couch.

At some point after that, A asked if there was anything he could do for me. My mind spat, “OF COURSE THERE IS, YOU IDIOT.” And I managed to get my mouth to say, “Will you go get me a glass of wine, the leftover Stilton cheese in the fridge and those big round crackers?”

Chalk this night up to victory.