Please stop telling me to enjoy every moment

Dear experienced mothers*,

Please stop telling me “It goes by so fast! Enjoy every moment.” You stop me in the supermarket, on my walking trail, at the Y, in parking lots, at family reunions, in my living room to tell me this. I know your intentions are good. I know the sight of a little baby and new mama brings a swirl of wonderful nostalgia back to you. But this small sentence is utterly meaningless and detrimental.

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Let’s break it down. It goes by so fast. Let me tell you something: a new mother who is battling 100 different daily worries and fears about the health and happiness of her baby, herself, and her family is taking it one day at a time. And that day lasts foooooreeeever. We are exhausted. We are touched out. We are in need of a shower, some baby-free conversation with our partner, and a nightcap. We’d like this day to go by a little faster, thank you very much.

Next: enjoy every moment. This request is a) insulting and b) impossible. You try enjoying every single moment for the next 5+ years of your life, then add a crying baby to the mix. New moms are still humans. We have a full range of feelings that stretch from pure bliss to pure hell. Demanding that we enjoy every moment makes us feel like BAD MOMS when we lose it from time to time. Because as much as I LOVE my daughter, and LOVE being a stay at home mom, there is a part of every day where I wish I was someplace else, sans baby. And that’s ok.

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There is a very strange fog that settles over moms throughout the years- I imagine its the same fog that is already taking the place of my labor’s pain in my brain. This fog makes other moms forget how freaking hard those early weeks, months, or years are with a new baby, and replaces it with a golden haloed memory of endless baby giggles and coos. If you are in that fog, let me remind you: being a new mom is 93% vomit and crying and and tired singing and sore nipples and WORRY (my god, the worry) and 7% snuggles and giggles. Is it worth it? Yes. Is it hard? Yes.

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What we truly need, and is sorely lacking, is more encouragement and empathy. This is a thankless job we’ve signed up for. We want to know we’re not alone in this new world of chaos. We want to know that you’ve BEEN where we’re standing, and have come out the other side of it a little more haggard but still smiling. Here are some better things to stop and tell/ask me.

If it is a passing encounter:
  • Keep up the great work!
  • Your baby looks so happy and healthy.
  • Way to go, mama!
  • How old is she/what’s her name?/she looks so strong!
If we have a few minutes to talk:
  • How are you feeling today?
  • I remember X being hard for us, how is X going for you?
  • My favorite part of being a new mom was X. What’s yours?
  • Do you have a good support community?
  • Are you getting enough help? I wished I’d had more of X when I was a new mom.
  • How old is your baby and what is she going through right now?
*I have never had a father ask me tell me this before, only other mothers.
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Run Run Runaway

I ran away from my baby this morning. Apart from labor, it was arguably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I literally ran out the door and didn’t look back, screams echoing out of the house as I went.

I’ll back up a little bit. We waited until 9 weeks to introduce a bottle to Juniper, instead of the recommended 4-6 week mark. Now she’s old enough to know she wants the real thing and won’t take a bottle. In my head, there was a logical reason to waiting: I wanted to establish a good breastfeeding relationship before introducing a foreign boob substitute. In my heart though, I knew I was putting it off because I didn’t want anyone (or anything) to replace that special bond we had. I wanted to remain her sole source for food– and for comfort.
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I use breastfeeding as the first fix for anything that’s upsetting her. Hungry baby? Breastfeed. Fussy baby? Breastfeed. Tired baby? Breastfeed to sleep.  Bonked her head? Breastfeed to comfort. Unexplainable crying? Breastfeed. It’s a move that was born out of love, but has since become a bad habit. It shuts Trevor out from being able to calm his child, and it tethers me to her 24/7.
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So we decided to get serious about our bottle training. When Juni started fussing for her mid-morning meal, I handed her to Trevor and tried to keep busy as the fussiness turned to crying. And the crying turned to screaming. I cranked the music, mad-cleaned the kitchen, and did everything I could to distract myself from my primal inner dialogue of OH MY GOD MY BABY IS BEING TORTURED AND NEEDS ME!!!! Finally, after my third attempt to kidnap my baby from my husband, Trevor lovingly kicked me out of the house and told me to go for a run. I ran.
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It wasn’t until about the mile mark that my shoulders dropped, my jaw and fists unclenched, and I felt like Tess again instead of just Mom. I breathed deeply. Juni would not let herself starve. No one was torturing her. She was being held and comforted by her dad. She was going to be just fine for the next 30 minutes.
I got back home a little while later feeling infinitely better. I’d been able to give my body some time away from the baby to move and breathe and not be needed. Trevor got a chance to play solo parent for a window of time. And Juni got the chance to figure out how to suck on a bottle, which she finally took to after tiring herself out from fighting it.

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I’m not sure if we will ever get to a place where she takes a bottle happily, but we did break out of some parent role comfort zones today. And all three of us are better off for it.

Slow Living

It’s been about 4 months since I quit my marketing job to focus on being pregnant, getting our house ready, and ultimately to be a stay at home mom. B.C. (before child), I worked 8 am – 6 pm. Life was busy and rushed and squeezed into short pockets of time between work and emails and social media check ins. I longed for days when I could catch my breath.

photo.jpegThese days, the “only” thing on the agenda is keeping a 2 month old baby happy and alive. For the first few months after I quit, I found it so much harder to slow down to this new pace of life than I expected. I felt unaccomplished and idle and GUILTY. The guilt of not going off to work in the morning when Trevor did would gnaw at me day and night. What was I worth if I didn’t have a paycheck for proof? I would create a mental list of everything I was doing throughout the day so I could defend my joblessness in case anybody ever asked me to (they never did).

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I worried constantly abut being a good enough Wife/Mama/Feminist/Friend/Daughter/. I worried until there was no more room inside me to worry. Through practice and patience and counseling and talking through these changes, I’m finally at a place where I’m really appreciative of this life shift. I’m tethered to a 14 pound feeding machine, and I have a LOT of time on my hands to think. I check in with myself on a daily basis. I give myself compliments on the hard work I’m doing being an awesome mama. I go days (DAYS!) without checking my email. I use social media only if I want to. When my worry or anxiety takes over, I meditate. I ask myself the simple but powerful question “What do I want?” and try to answer and honestly and act accordingly.

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What I measure my success on these days are big little things like, am I being kind to myself? Am I judging myself less often? Am I getting what I want/need? Through this process, the guilt has lifted. I’m living in the moment more than ever before, and worrying a lot less about figuring out how long my Stay At Home Mom career will last or what I’ll do after. For now, I’m living slowly. And it’s just where I need to be.

Self-care for New Mamas

It’s 3:30 am and my pajama top is soaked with baby vomit. I’d been nursing Juniper in bed this morning, half asleep, and forgot to slow her down and burp her. Because my letdown is fast, she guzzled the milk, I kept half-sleeping, and she spit up the entire contents of her tummy on top of me, volcano-style. I started crying.
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I started crying because it was 3:30 in the morning and I was exhausted. I started crying because the Mom Guilt is strong, and I felt like I should have known better. I started crying because even with Trevor right beside me, I felt really alone in that moment. I started crying because I wanted to be rocked back to sleep and taken care of. I started crying because this parenting thing is HARD. Period.

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The Birth Story of Juniper Lee

I’m writing this with my one week old daughter snug against my chest. It’s so hard to believe she is the one who was in me all those 9 months, and worked with me through birth. A couple disclaimers: 1) There is no “easy out” in labor- each woman’s path, whether it’s an epidural or c-section or an at home birth, has its own unique price to pay. There is no comparing two experiences, and I don’t think I had it harder than someone who chose or ended up with a different kind of birth. This was just the path that was right for me. I am humbled by the power of any woman who gives birth. We are fucking warriors. 2) I want to preserve these memories, so I left it uncensored. Some parts are a little gory. Here’s our story:

My contractions started at 8:30 PM on Valentine’s Day. I had had some practice contractions a couple days before on my due date, so I wasn’t sure if this was the real thing or just a warm up. We stayed up to see if they’d progress, and sure enough they started getting stronger. Around 11:30 PM my water broke! It broke in a big burst just like the movies. Trevor and I took a few moments of laughing and crying and kissing, knowing that our daughter would be born the next day or soon thereafter, then called our midwives to give them a heads up. Knowing we had a long path ahead of us, I sent Trevor to bed, made myself a cave-like fort in our upstairs bathroom, and hunkered down. I set a goal for myself to stay in there alone from midnight to 6 AM- partly so Trevor could get sleep and help me more later, and partly because I wanted time by myself to understand the contractions and get a feel for them. I dozed on and off between contractions when I could, finding that I was more comfortable when I stood up for them, leaning against the sink and swaying slightly. It was getting hard, but I was able to use imagery from rowing to get through them. As I’d feel each contraction start to build, I imagined I was at the starting line, at the top of my slide, oars in the water, gearing up for a Power 20.  It was hard, but still thrilling. I was timing my contractions and they were about 6-7 minutes apart. I made it to 6 AM, and was ready for backup.
 
I woke up Trevor and we headed downstairs together. One of our midwives called to check in and said she’d be over shortly. Trevor tried to get me to eat some breakfast, but I could just barely nibble on some muffin and almond butter. I had done a good job of staying hydrated through the night, but knew I was going into labor on zero sleep and zero food- not ideal! Our midwife stopped by to check in- then said she was going to leave us alone to snuggle and labor by ourselves until we wanted her and another midwife to come back. She said they would be there quickly whenever we wanted them, but we’d “know” when it was time to call. That scared me, because after 7 hours of labor at that point, I thought things were already pretty bad! I couldn’t imagine what was lying ahead. She left us, and I continued to labor in the living room, always standing for my contractions.
Trevor would help me through them when I wanted him to, with me standing and leaning into his shoulders, swaying slightly. Sometimes I didn’t want to be touched though, and he’d finish up some last minute household stuff and started setting up the birth tub. We put on some music, which helped more than I thought it would.  
Looking back, this was my “favorite” part of labor. The contractions were hard, but I still felt semi-in control. I was even singing to the music in between contractions. “Gold” by Matt Hartke and Maggie Peake stands out as my birth song. I remember singing it to Trevor, snuggling up close and smiling. I was so grateful he was my partner through this. Whenever he would kiss or nuzzle me, a contraction would come on fast and hard. The oxytocin produced between us helped my body progress faster- one of birth’s mysteries I’m still amazed by.
 
Around 9 or 10 am, I started “figuring out” labor…I called my midwife and said something like “So- I’ve been laboring in the most comfortable positions…but if I wanted this to go faster, should I go towards the positions that make the contractions a lot worse?” Yup. I started alternating between standing contractions, squats, and sitting wide-legged on my birth ball. I was determined to get this over with- at that point the novelty of labor had long worn off, the pain was real and intense, and I was ready to be done. I tried to relax into the contractions and really feel them so I’d progress faster. Each “good” contraction brought a gush of blood- my mucus plug coming out, along with the rest of my water breaking. I was laboring in total silence, still trying to remain in control. I scribbled in a journal, “I’ve figured out the puzzle of labor. I must go boldly into the RED.”
 
At 11 am, I begged Trevor to call the midwives to come. The contractions were awful. I couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t taking over more so my conscious self could slip away. I started getting shaky and feeling like I wanted to throw up, so I had some hope that I was in transition stage and birth would be imminent (ha!). Our midwife Robin came by noon, helped me work through contractions using sounds (thank god! why did I think I had to be quiet?!) and checked the baby’s heart rate about every 15-30 minutes. After about an hour of her being there, me begging her to “HELP ME!”, she checked my cervix for the first time. She was impressed and said I was 7 cm, doing amazing and progressing very fast for a first time mom. Trevor was thrilled- and I was devastated. I thought for sure I had to be all the way dilated by then. The pain was so intense, and I was getting really scared.
 
Our other midwife, Brenda, arrived shortly thereafter. They confirmed I was in transition phase. “Great!” I thought, “I’m headed into ‘Laborland’ and won’t have to be as present for the rest of this.” I’d read about Laborland- that place where time and space do not exist, where you’re floating in and out of contractions and letting your body take over. Well, “Laborland” never arrived or even existed for me- or perhaps I’d romanticized it. I was fully present through the entire birth, fully myself, fully aware of every ounce of pain. The birthing tub was set up by then, and I had been “saving it” for when I really needed help coping with the pain. This was it, so I got in. At first the warm water felt wonderful, relaxing, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I had my first contraction in the pool- it did nothing to stifle the pain. This is not what I had read! I needed some sort of relief, and I wasn’t going to get any. At that point I was begging my midwives to help me, shouting at Trevor not to touch me, or telling him to touch me in a VERY specific way and not to talk or breath or do anything except what I instructed him to do when a contraction would hit. (He took this like a champ.) I kept my breathing low and lips loose to try to get this over with.
 
Around 2 pm I started feeling “pushy”- shortly thereafter I went through my first contraction when an urge to push RIPPED through my body. Again, I felt deceived- I had heard so many birth stories where pushing came as a relief. It turned me into an animal instead. I made the most guttural noises and literally begged my body to stop. I remember one of the first pushes and the only sound I could make was a long, low “NOOOOooooooooo!” A few of these contractions later and they checked my cervix- I was stuck at 8 cm. The midwives told me I had to try to NOT push in order to help move the remainder of my cervix out of the way and make pushing “easier”. Some contractions I could do it, most though my body took over and pushed anyways. It was pure torture- looking back on that time in labor feels the most traumatic. My body felt like it was literally being ripped in pieces, I was fully conscious for it, and all anybody could do to help was say “Yes, it is hard AND you can do it.” I realized no one could do this work for me- it was mine alone.
 
It worked though- soon after I begged to be checked again and I was fully dilated, ready for the last phase. They told me pushing should be easier now. It wasn’t. Each contraction was pure hell. My body was being tortured and I was sure there wasn’t anything that could be worth this. I told Trevor between contractions that we were adopting the rest of our family after this. He laughed- but I was completely serious then. I remember looking at my midwives and asking them “Women do this more than once? WHY?!!”
I took some contractions outside of the tub, standing and leaning into Trevor like I had at the beginning parts of my labor. As the contractions came to a close, my knees would buckle. The midwives had me reach inside and feel my baby’s head at one point, so I could “learn how to push” and bring her here faster. I was begging them to be done, asking how many more contractions were left. “Will she come with the next contraction?” I’d ask. “No, not yet- but she’s getting closer” they’d tell me.
Her head felt heavy and close, so I got back into the birth tub and onto my knees. I did a couple contractions like that, then felt something “pop” out. I thought it was the head- but it was only some membranes! I was dismayed but also determined. I continued pushing HARD.
 
Finally, finally, an enormous few pushes, an enormous gush and she slid out of me. They told me to reach down and bring my baby up- I did, sat back, and gaped at her! I couldn’t say or do anything but barely hold her and look back and forth between her and Trevor. She pinked up right away and starting wailing, “telling her birth story” as our midwives said. She was, and is, perfect- just under 8 lbs, beautiful, ours.
 
Besides a small tear and a couple stitches, I was completely healthy. Juniper was completely healthy. We had a successful, unmedicated home birth with a team we love. It went exactly as planned. And yet, it was NOTHING like I had planned. The concentrated, raw intensity of each contraction cracked me open from the inside out and rebirthed me as a mother. Time is already doing its healing- a day after labor, I viewed our story as a traumatic experience. Today, a week later, I am starting to see the beauty in the pain. I’m grateful for the changes it’s brought in me. I have no doubt that this was meant to be our path- and that I’m capable of so much more than I ever knew.
Happy 1 week, Junebug– you were so worth this.