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I become a three-year-old mom today

Three years ago today, this happened:

photo by our doula, Candace Palmerlee

The marking of this day feels more significant than any other, which has surprised me. It looms over my own birthday or wedding anniversary. I anticipate its arrival as the walnuts ripen and with the little showers of shell crunching down from the squirrels that frequent our tree. I can smell its approach in the dry autumn air. And then, starting on September 8, the day I went into labor, I follow my birth log that our doula wrote for us.

10:25am Contractions every 2-3 minutes.
11:00am Long lull in contractions, perhaps 25 minutes without one, contractions resume ever 5-10 minutes apart when laying flat on side.
11:45am Nurse changes to Jacki, the “radical natural birth nurse.”
12:00pm Vaginal exam, 7cms, 0 station
12:40pm Walk on roof garden

I love marking the time, reading these facts and remembering what it felt like in my body that day. The quality of the sunlight, the anger that possessed me when we had to wait and wait in triage at the hospital, the sound of our yoga ball squelching around and around on our hardwood floor in the middle of the night. I’ve never *sensed* an experience more than this one. And I savor the details that my body remembers.

I live in such a brainiac world that there are few experiences that require me to be deeply feeling inside my body. That is why I love birth so much. It eventually demands everything–every pre-historic moan, every trickling bead of sweat, every deepest-darkest thing you didn’t even know you had. And there’s a joy in that animal darkness. And there’s fear in the joy. It just tunnels in like that to the place where everything is all mixed in with everything else.

I often tell people that having a child has expanded my emotional territory in all directions. There are moments of quiet happiness beyond knowing, and despair that can sweep me out to the furthest reaches of myself. I never knew I was so big until I started becoming a mother. And that bigness and depth and expansion all crescendo-ed at birth.

No wonder I make so much room in my life to remember it.

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.

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 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.

It IS the longest shortest time!

In those newborn days, as I was beat about the head and shoulders with glassy-eyed smiles and it-all-goes-by-so-fast proclamations, I finally broke down and recorded my first video blog. I didn’t know what planet everyone else was living on, but it seemed like some of the slowest time I’d ever waded through in my life. I must admit that in the months since then, there are times when I’m looking at 3-month-old J pictures that my very own brain thinks it actually IS going by quickly. Here’s the shocker: BOTH things are true. Thanks to a link that was included in a comment on THIS VERY blog, I discovered The Longest Shortest Time. And with a title like that, I knew that this is my kind of gal.

On intuition vs. experience

I thought I was ahead of the curve when I opted to read less how-to parenting advice and use my maternal instincts more. But for things like newborn sleep, toddler tantrums, my instincts have failed me royally. Turns out that in situations like these, nothing replaces the sage advice of a skilled expert.

Resources I mentioned
For baby sleep:
The Weissbluth sleep book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Our post-partum doula, Denise Macko
For toddler tantrums:
Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD (rent it at a local video store or Netflix)