Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Week 12: Destiny or Chaos?, a.k.a. The Deep Questions

Regardless of how you define “life,” at 3 months old, a baby has officially been a growing organism for a whole year.

From this:

fertilization

To this:

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In 365 days.

A. Ma. Zing.

This child was conceived four months after a miscarriage. We could have tried sooner, but, you know. Closure. Time. Space. All of these things are good and healing.

Because I was charting my basal temperatures every day for months before all of my pregnancies, I had a pretty good idea of when I would ovulate.

I thought.

Day 14 is ovulation day for a “typical” 28-day cycle. Mine was usually Day 16, but sometimes, it was as late as Day 22. This meant that I had short luteal phases, which can make it difficult to get pregnant or to keep a pregnancy. (I often had a nine-day luteal phase, and sometimes as low as six days. Not good.)

When we conceived our first child, it was Day 18. So, based on past experience, we decided to aim for Days 14-18. You know. Cover all our bases.

Right?

But Days 14-18 of that particular cycle landed right smack in the middle of our “vacation” to the D.C. area. 

I put vacation in quotation marks because we were traveling with a 2 1/2 year old.

So, yeah, it wasn’t really a vacation that was very conducive for baby-making. But that was the timeline.

So be it.

Three days before we left for that trip, our daughter went to bed early and this beautiful window of an hour with nothing to do opened up.

It was Day 11. In the 22 months of data that I had collected, I had never ovulated before Day 14. But whatever. Let’s just have a good time, we thought.

As it turned out, that was my ovulation day.

We officially started “trying” on Day 14, but of course, nothing we did at that point would have gotten us pregnant.

The best laid plans sometimes, right?

***

It would be easy to write this story as destiny. That because our baby is so beautiful and perfect, we were just meant to have sex days before we had planned. God just knew that we needed to get together then in order to make this beautiful baby. Or something like that.

Believing in destiny is all well and good when it’s going your way.

But for all the healing that believing in destiny can do, it can just as easily bleed you dry.

When we miscarried, were we just meant to have sex at the wrong time?

Was that destiny?

Or is destiny just a comforting idea that we hold on to when it helps us?

If there is no destiny, is it all just chaos and luck?

Or do we call it chaos so we don’t need to acknowledge the real consequences of our actions?

Although I’ve been thankful for this child that made his way from cell to zygote to blastocyst to embryo to fetus to baby…

I sometimes wonder about the two pregnancies that didn’t get this far. What would they have been like? Were they boys? Girls? One of each? Did they have chromosomal problems? Would they have been perfect if my body could have held onto them? Would they look like my two living children, who both look more like their cousins than they do their parents?

What alternate course of events may have played out if those pregnancies lasted?

Destiny?

Or Chaos?

When it comes to conceiving a child, it feels like a bit of both.
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A Birth Story in Songs

When the right music finds the right moments, what we see and feel is carved even more deeply into our memory.

Cognitive psychologists have studied this. In long-term memory, what we tend to remember with the most clarity in the long run are the most unusual and emotional moments of our lives. Because of its ability to mirror or even amplify those emotions, music can be an anchor that fastens those memories in place for the duration of our lives.

As I labored this past February during the birth of our second child, the right music found the right moments over and over again.

I don’t think it was coincidence.

To be honest, I made music playlists for each of my births and loaded them with songs that I would like to hear.

But as anyone who has experienced labor will tell you, ain’t no one DJing your birth when the shit hits the fan. In my first birth, we barely touched the playlist once I was in active labor. It just played on. And whatever order I had chosen when I was willy-nilly loading the songs was the order that they played.

I honestly only remember one song from one moment of my first labor. It was the song playing when our daughter was born, “I Will Be Here,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. It was a sentimental Christian ballad that I added to the playlist on a whim, and one that I didn’t even particularly like anymore. Sure, it was a sweet song. It reminded me of those first vows that we said at our wedding eight years earlier.

But it wasn’t really a birth song. And it certainly wasn’t the one that I would have chosen.

So it was surprising to me just how many times the right music found the right moments in this birth. For me, the music felt like another birth attendant.

The songs held my hand.

The songs urged me one.

And sometimes, the songs were the screams from my own heart.

Someday, I’ll share with you a written version of this birth story. I’m thinking about releasing it as a free Kindle Single, if I can make the time this summer to do that.

But for now, let’s go on a ride.

Let’s give birth.

With songs.

February 2, 2017

 

Early Labor: 3-4 centimeters

3:00 a.m.

Contractions every 3-4 minutes. Standing, hips swaying. Eyes closed.

I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” Bonnie Raitt

Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power

5:00 a.m.

Contractions every 2-3 minutes. Lying on my side on the bed. Leg, dangling off the side to help the baby turn into position.

Landslide” Fleetwood Mac

Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

7:00 a.m.

Contractions every 2-3 minutes and requiring controlled breathing to cope. Lying on my left side, gripping the headboard of the bed. Eyes sometimes open, sometimes closed.

Society” Eddie Vedder

Society, have mercy on me
I hope you’re not angry if I disagree
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you’re not lonely without me

Active Labor: 5-7 centimeters

9:00 a.m.

Contractions every 1-2 minutes. In the birthing tub. Blue light in the water. Legs floating. Head leaning back on the edge of the tub. Holding Doug’s hands as he sits behind me next to the tub.

Hypnotic, oscillating moments of weightlessness and heaviness. Baby pushing between pelvic bones, twisting in each contraction.

A lot of groaning.

“Teardrop” Massive Attack

Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word
Fearless on my breath
Gentle impulsion
Shakes me, makes me lighter
Fearless on my breath
Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my breath

Transition

A.K.A Climbing the Ladder and Wrestling with God:

7-10 centimeters

10:25 – 10:55 a.m.

Forty-five second, double-peaked contractions every other minute.

This part… Oh, this part. I will write about this in detail later. It was thirty minutes of my life that I will never forget because it is the second time in my life that I encountered God.

“God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” Moby

Stalled: 10 centimeters

11:30 a.m.

Contractions every 1-2 minutes, but no urge to push. Although completely dilated, my water still hadn’t broken. Back in the tub for pain relief. I pressed my face into the edge of the tub and cried.

Doubt. Such deep, deep doubt.

“Last Man” Clint Mansell

12:00 p.m.

Contractions every 2-3 minutes. When my midwife checked me, she told me that the baby still needed to come down farther. I tried a number of different positions but nothing helped. I asked her (okay, screamed for her) to break my water.

That worked.

“Redeemer” Paul Cardall

Pushing

12:55 p.m.

This is another part that I will write about in much greater detail. For right now, just know there was a lot of screaming.

I mean… Yeah. A lot of screaming.

“Press On” Robinella

Life is filled with bitter music
Breeze that whistles like a song
Death gets swept down like an eagle
Snatches with our shoes still on

Press on

“Welcome Home” Radical Face

All my nightmares escaped my head
Bar the door, please don’t let them in
You were never supposed to leave
Now my head’s splitting at the seams
And I don’t know if I can

“Holocene” Bon Iver

And at once I knew I was not magnificent
Huddled far from the highway aisle
Jagged vacance, thick with ice
And I could see for miles, miles, miles

“The Wound” Gospel Whiskey Runners

The road is long and dusty and alone
I’ve got not place to rest, no place to call my own
My eyes have seen the glory of your love
And I won’t turn back this time
No, I won’t turn back this time

“Work Song” Hozier

When my times comes around
Lay me gently in the cold, dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her

Birth

1:27 p.m.

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“You’re All I Need to Get By” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Like the sweet morning dew, I took one look at you,
And it was plain to see, you were my destiny.
With my arms open wide,
I threw away my pride
I’ll sacrifice for you
Dedicate my life for you

“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” Jim Croce

Every time I tried to tell you
The words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you in a song

Postpartum Hemmorhage

1:35 p.m.

“Do You Realize” Flaming Lips

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

2:10 p.m.

I asked Doug to take a picture of Henry’s face so I could see him up close.

When I saw the picture, what I thought was,

Yes.

That’s exactly right.

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Week 10: The Baby Weight

You know how you feel when you wake up one morning and you see an enormous zit right in the center of your chin?

You think, Ick. This isn’t how I look.

Maybe you meet someone for the first time on this day that you have this huge zit on your face, you end up thinking, Oh, please don’t think this is the way that I always look. I usually look a lot better than this.

When you’re in the bathroom washing your hands and you look up in the mirror, you think, No… That’s not really me.

That’s how I feel about the baby weight.

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***

At two months postpartum, the uterus is done shrinking. You’ve lost the baby, the placenta, and all the excess fluids. And what remains is officially “the baby weight.”

In this pregnancy, I gained 45 pounds.

Pregnancy books will reassure you not to worry. A lot of women lose up to 25 pounds in the first few weeks!

Ha. Ha.

I’m only down 23 pounds.

Wait… Wait…

Damn it.

Trust me, it doesn’t feel so stupendous when you’re still carrying around another 22 extra pounds.

***

The first pounds are always the easiest.

After the birth, I was already down 12 pounds.

At two weeks postpartum, my body went into flush-the-system-out mode and I started shedding pound after pound. Sure, it was mostly water weight, but God, it felt good every other day to look down and see my weight another pound closer to my pre-pregnancy weight.

This is awesome, I thought. Keep on going!

Then at four weeks postpartum, my weight stabilized. I started walking 30 to 40 minutes every day and I enjoyed that. It improved my mood, for sure, but it didn’t do much for dropping more weight.

Then, at five weeks postpartum, I noticed that most of my maternity pants weren’t fitting very well anymore.  (Okay, one pair of leggings got a huge snag in them and I had to throw those ones away, but nevertheless.)

A good sign, I thought.

So I went to Macy’s and grabbed a few pairs of black stretchy athletic pants. Sweatpants? Perhaps. Yoga pants? Sure. Running pants? I was open to it. Whatever made me feel like I somewhat possessed an inkling of the figure that I had before this pregnancy.

Now, you have to remember, I had no idea what size I was anymore. I hadn’t worn anything but maternity leggings, yoga pants, pajama pants, and dresses for the past six months.

Staring at the sizes, I thought, Okay, be liberal here. Get a size above what you think you are. 

So I did. And I got the size above that one.

I pulled on the smaller size first. When the waistband hit my thighs, I thought, Oh, sweet Jesus…

I should have stopped there, but I thought, Go ahead and see if the second larger size fits.

Another bad idea. I got them up over my hips, but really, who was I kidding? My entire midsection was shaped like a shitake mushroom.

Defeated, I went back out and picked up the next larger size.

At least they’re on clearance. And I’ll be able to use my 20% off coupon that I got in the mail.

“Sorry,” the cashier said, “You can only use that offer on sale and clearance items.”

“Isn’t this a clearance item?” I asked

“Oh, actually this is a Last Chance item.”

“Oh good God,” I said.

“I know, it takes a while to know the different kinds of sales.”

“Yeah, I don’t speak Macy’s.”

“Will you be using your Macy’s card today?”

“Sure.”

After I swipe my card, I see a screen of available offers come up. Oh! There’s the 20% off one!

“Look at that!” I point it out to her.

“Oh, yeah, that won’t work,” she says as she folds my pants and puts them in a bag.

“Why is it being offered to me if it doesn’t work?”

“I mean, you can try, but it won’t work on this item.”

I try. It doesn’t work.

“Well, that’s just cruel,” I say.

“Yeah…” she agrees. “I keep telling them they need to fix that glitch.”

***

I’ve lost the baby weight before.

Okay, all but the last five pounds. But still.

I remember that it took until ten months postpartum for my thyroid to stop going completely bonkers and for all the cardio kickboxing and portion controlling to finally eat away at that stubborn extra layer week after week after week.

I remember telling my husband that I wish I had been kinder to myself at two months postpartum, when it felt like I should just stop caring. The rationale went something like this: You’re not getting much sleep, but at least you can look forward to eating all day.

Another part of me cared tremendously about seizing opportunities to return to my pre-pregnancy physical condition. And when I fell short of my own expectations, I would get upset at myself.

Today, the rational side of my brain tells me, Your body is amazing. You just sustained another life for three-quarters of a year. You gave birth to a healthy baby (without tearing!) and lost 23 pounds in eight weeks. Give yourself a break. 

***

It is hard to keep this all in perspective, but I try.

I tell myself that people don’t usually stare at the big ol’ zit. While we think they’re looking at all our flaws, they’re usually looking at the whole package of who we are. Smile. Confidence. Congeniality.

In the meantime, I’m doing the daily work of exercise and portion control. It’s hard. Especially when I need to get up at 4:00 a.m. to exercise. And all my exercise clothes are tight. And I’ve gone two weeks without any change in weight or inches.

The truth is, exercise improves my mood. So even if I don’t lose weight, I know I’ll keep doing this.

But I’ll still have to acquire a transitional work wardrobe while I’m dropping the weight.

And that means a lot of time in fitting rooms, learning to love myself through this.

Week 9: Maternity Leave, In Pictures

12:50 a.m.

Bottle # 1

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I don’t usually do this feeding, but Doug is too tired tonight. So I do it.

4:30 a.m.

Exercise

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Now, that Henry is waking up at 6 or 6:30, I’ve been getting up at 4:00 or 4:30, just to ensure that I have a whole hour of alone time to exercise. His naps are still too unpredictable to put much hope in fitting it in later.

Laundry Load # 1

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5:30 a.m.

Today’s supply of formula

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This is when I realize that we’re just about out of Similac Soy, which is what he can eat that won’t give him diarrhea or constipation. I would buy six containers on Amazon like last time, but Amazon just increased its Prime listing to $31.50 (as opposed to $27.99, like before) and now only offers the $27.99 price through Prime Pantry. That’s a big deal for me because I can’t get that price unless I’m able to fill a “box” to make the shipping worth it. And six containers of Similac only fills 12% of the box.

So now I have to go to the store.

Horror of horrors.

It will be Henry’s first trip to Target. Yeah, it’s true. I’ve managed to avoid it this long by leaving him home with someone else or sending someone else to the store for me.

But it’s probably time.

So we’ll need a stocked diaper bag. And I’ll cross my fingers that he’s able to sleep through the entire trip.

5:40 a.m.

Breakfast

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Steel cut oatmeal, raspberries, and dark chocolate chips. Always have a little chocolate in the morning.  It’s good advice.

Pack Child # 1’s lunch

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She doesn’t realize how good she has it.

Dish Load # 1

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(I refuse to hand-dry all that plastic.)

6:30 a.m.

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Bottle # 2

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Sometimes, This Is How You Have to Shower

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Halfway through brushing my teeth, the baby is giving an ear-piercing scream. Why? Who knows. I abandon brushing my teeth and spend the next 35 minutes going through the list of things to calm him down. He finally sucks down the last ounce in his bottle and passes out. I swaddle him and put him back in his crib.

7:20 a.m.

Coffee # 1

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For ten glorious minutes, I sit down with coffee and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition.

8:00 a.m.

Child # 1’s Daycare Drop-off

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With some stern words after ten minutes of asking nicely, Felicity has dressed and vitamin-ed herself. When we’re in the car, she says, “Please can I have Shake My Body“? (Technotronic’s “Move This.” I know. This is completely my fault.)

8:30 a.m.

Target

(a.k.a. Why I Hate Shopping with a Newborn)

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The car seat occupies basically the entire cart and you have to cram your stuff in the space around it. (Nope, you can’t put the car seat on the top of the cart, near the handlebars. This is a big no-no.)

I’m sure someone is thinking, “Put him in a baby carrier!” That doesn’t work for me because every time we go out in the car, he falls asleep and ain’t no way I want to wake a baby from sleeping. Not gonna do it. If I can avoid having a cranky baby at the end of the day, I will do anything.

9:15 a.m.

Coffee # 2 + eggs

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10:30 a.m.

Bottle # 3

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Diapers

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Yes, I’m cloth diapering again. For now. We’ve both agreed that we’re going to quit earlier this time, probably once he completely transitions to solids and fighting the solid-poop smell takes too much effort.

11:00 a.m.

Walk

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Getting out of the house is pretty important to my mental sanity. Even if it is just for a short walk. This was a good week since he was able to fall asleep in the stroller. Sometimes, it’s just screams.

12:00 p.m.

His Nap # 3

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My Nap # 1 (a whole 30 minutes)

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When he first starts stirring, I ignore it. No, I think. He’ll go back to sleep. Then, he starts crying. I run to try to salvage the nap. I sneak into the room, slip a hand into the crib without him seeing my face, and give him “the disembodied pat-down” to try to calm him.

Nope.

Damn it.

12:45 p.m.

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Because he chomps on his hands with his formula-coated mouth, “Cheesy Hands” needs a bath. But first, I need to pry open his Death Grip to get the soap between his fingers.

It takes time.

Laundry Load # 2

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It’s all ready to fold and then…

Crying.

2:00 p.m.

Bottle # 4

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2:30 p.m.

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Today is a hard day to get him to nap by himself. After several attempts to get him to sleep in the bouncer, I settle in for an hour and hold him. I watch Frontline’s “Divided States of America.” It’s excellent, of course. I love PBS. I’m glad we donate to them. After an hour or so, I manage to slip him onto the sofa on his back without completely waking him up.

Good enough.

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3:45 p.m.

Dish Load # 2

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I leave the bottles for a thorough scrubbing later, with the rest of the day’s bottles.

4:00 p.m.

Dinner preparation

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This is the pretty part of the dinner. The rest is scrambled eggs and some oranges.

Yep.

5:00 p.m.

Bottle # 5

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5:45 p.m.

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Today was a great day for her. She even washes her hands when she comes in the door without the All-Out Meltdown. She impresses me with the sentence, “Be careful. It’s delicate.”

Who is this kid? Can we keep her?

6:30 p.m.

Dish Load # 3

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7:30 p.m.

Nap # 5

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Today is an interesting day. He decides to go to bed for the night at 7:30. He doesn’t wake up for his next bottle until 2:00 a.m. Nice stretch, but can’t we have it from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.? Maybe next week.

8:00 p.m.

Trash Night

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A few stories, a trip to the bathroom, (“No, you don’t need any more water.”), and some snuggling. Don’t let her fool you. She’ll leave her room at least three more times before she falls asleep, just to make sure that no one is doing anything fun. In her mind, I know she thinks we’re downstairs enjoying episode after episode of Paw Patrol while she’s doing nothing but boring sleeping.

9:00 p.m.

Making Memories

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(Not pictured: Nine diaper changes. Do you really want to see that anyway?)

***

Obviously, maternity leave isn’t a vacation. It’s not all baby smiles and cute clothes (although those are nice…)  It’s also not like other medical leave. You don’t have weeks and weeks to take it easy and recover. If anything, it’s like a marathon that you run for months.

When I go back to work full-time when he’s about three months old, it will be the first time since January when I’ve had eight straight hours completely to myself. (Kind of.)

Eight hours to think by myself.

Eight hours to not be a mother.

Time with your children is valuable. Time with your baby is priceless.

But as all mothers know, so is time by yourself.

Week 8: Is There Room for Motherhood in Feminism?

A few weeks ago, a friend emailed me a link to a blog post by Samantha Johnson, called “When I Became a Mother, Feminism Let Me Down.” She argues that while feminism prepared her to break barriers and pursue any dream she desired, it did not prepare her for motherhood.

Motherhood was not considered to be one of those many dreams of feminists. Feminism has railed so hard against the culture of homemaker/breadwinner that now, there doesn’t seem to be much of a space to stand inside of feminism while you are a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom, for those unfamiliar with the lingo).

Johnson writes,

We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept. We do this through the promotion of professional progression as a marker of success, while completely devaluing the contribution of parents in the home.

Ouch.

But I have to agree.

Before having a child, I saw myself as a successful product of feminism. I had a Bachelors and a Masters degree. I had a full-time job at a university. I had presented at state and national conferences in my field. I had married a man who was also a feminist. He was the cook in our marriage, for God’s sake.

Check, check, check. And kicked-ass-while-doing-it, check.

By societal standards of success, I was doing very well.

Our culture is very good at instilling the idea that for anything important, you should engage in some kind of education or training. But the subtext underneath all of this required preparation for a career (and the pride from all of my accomplishments while engaging in that career) is that no preparation is really needed for motherhood.

Either because it’s so easy that anyone can do it? Or perhaps there’s nothing much that you can learn before actually becoming a mother?

Both of which any mother can tell you is far, far from the truth.

In my twenties, I had privately viewed the work of mothering as not as difficult as the job for which I had worked so hard to be prepared. On an arrogant day, I might have even been so bold as to believe that mothering also wasn’t as important or valued.

My logic went like this: Millions of women are mothers, but how many women can say they teach English as a second language? And if I was doing something “less” than my what I could with all of my capabilities, wasn’t that a step backward in life? How much time would I have to take off from work before I could jump back in? Would I still be able to travel and present at conferences?

Would I be as proud of myself for being a mother as I was being a teacher? Would “mother” be a title that I would use to introduce myself to others at parties? And if not, why not?

And then I turned 30.

Tick. Tock.

***

Having a child changed our lives for sure, but our changes haven’t mirrored some of the national trends.

Unlike many American women, I didn’t have to quit my job to stay at home with the baby. We live in Ohio, where the cost of living is still very reasonable and the commutes are not bad. We make enough money jointly to be able to afford daycare (even though it’s still extremely expensive).

But I can’t deny that I’m not reaching for the stars anymore. I’m doing my job but I have to admit, I bristle at the thought of working evenings and weekends. And gone are the days when I would fuss and fret over a task until it was “just so.”

Unh-uh. Ain’t nobody got time for that anymore.

Sometimes, I think about the trajectory of my career now that I’m in the middle of “small-child-dom.” It would be nice to do something a little different than what I’ve been doing for the last twelve years… but good health insurance.

Ah, to rise so “high”, only to be stymied by family responsibilities and health insurance.

“High” is in quotation marks, of course.

That’s exactly the problem. The modern vision of what it means to “succeed” never, ever depends on having children–although plenty of “successful” people have kids. Children are definitely part of the vision that we have for a modern American family (and if you don’t have kids, people definitely notice and make comments, regardless of the reason).

But when was the last time that you watched a movie where a character was being portrayed as “successful” and that character’s success depended on their role as a parent? (See the bachelor version of Nicholas Cage in The Family Man.)

Usually, the plot of the movie is that the character needs to discover that, hey, being a parent is actually a hell of a lot more important than the job that makes you money (See Adam Sandler in Click!).

***

All of this reminds me of a recent episode of the podcast, On Point with Tim Ashbrook. In the episode called “A Scathing Critique of Contemporary Feminism,” author and writer, Jessa Crispin explains that feminism has gotten away from one of its main goals–to change systems of oppression. Instead, it has become a movement that seeks to elevate women further and further into the upper echelons of systems that have benefited mostly men. Instead of changing the system, feminism has inspired some women to not only join the system, but rise higher and higher inside of it. While it works out fantastically for those women (what company doesn’t love to brag about how many women it has in upper management?), it leaves the rest of us in the dust.

Or perhaps more fittingly, either unemployed or underemployed.

Her commentary gave me a lot to think about.

In the feminist view, what is “success?”

How do we talk to our children about what it means to be “successful?” And what changes do we need to make in our own minds about what success is so that we may instill a different understanding of success for the next generation?

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Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended

In Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch is a group of monk-like men who devote themselves to defending the icy wall that separates the Realm from demonic Whitewalkers. In their oaths, they make this pledge:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

Being a mother of a newborn is a bit like being a Brother of the Night’s Watch.

Not completely. But a bit.

It’s sold to you as important, noble, and life-changing work. And it feels like this for a time, while it’s still fresh and new.

But after a time, you feel like you actually have a lot in common with the Brothers of the Night’s Watch, sent to the end of the world, isolated, doing the work that must be done, the work that safeguards and ensures that humanity goes on, but that no one else will do.

At one time, you looked forward to the night hours that other mothers had once told you were so dear and precious. They talked about those hours as if they had been part adventure, part battle, and part romance.

But then, you find yourself standing in the midst of this long-awaited dream, bleary-eyed, weary, frustrated, resentful, and just downright sad.

And in that moment, it feels like you have been duped. It feels like you have fallen for a grand prank, as if you’ve been traveling toward some oasis, only to find that once you got there, there was nothing but sand to drink and no one to share your frustration with but the stars.

I imagine that it’s a lot like how Jon Snow felt when he realized that the other men who were travelling to the Wall with him were criminals who were being sent there as punishment.

jonsnow

So fueled by your euphoric and powerful love for your child, this feeling that you’ve been doing incredibly important, albeit invisible work, transforms into something quite different.

Loneliness. Singularity. A feeling of forgottenness.

While everyone else has moved on with their lives, there you are. Ever rocking. Ever feeding. Ever diapering and holding. Traveling in a repetitive loop of time. Frozen.

It weighs so heavy on you.

It feels like it will never end.

It feels like this will forever be the rhythm of your life.

***

When we came home with the baby just six weeks ago, I called those hours between midnight and 6:00 a.m. “The Night Watch.” They were the hours when it was only me and him. My husband and daughter were sound asleep. So was my mother, who had come to help us in those first few weeks.

And then there was me and Henry.

And six hours.

And three feedings.

For about a week, the Night Watch had three feedings, around 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 a.m. And then it shortened to two feedings, around midnight and 3:00 a.m.

Last week, as Henry turned six weeks old, it shortened even more. We noticed that he would sleep for five and a half hours in one stretch, usually between 11:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

This was exciting. Because it opened the possibility of me being able to seriously regain some sleep. My husband and I agreed to share the responsibility for the two feedings. Since I’m much better in the morning and he’s better at night, I took the early morning feeding and he took the late night feeding.

A few days passed like this.

It was sooo great.

In bed at 9:00 p.m. Up at 5:00 a.m.

Refreshed.

And I got so much stuff done.

Between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., depending on when Henry would wake up to eat, I could (usually) accomplish the following, always in a different order.

  • Exercise (low-impact kickboxing or walking)
  • Packing Felicity’s lunch
  • Feeding/changing Henry, putting him back to sleep
  • Getting Felicity dressed/ fed/ dropped off at daycare
  • Shower
  • Breakfast/Coffee
  • Wake up Doug

And then it occurred to me.

And now my watch is ended.

There will still be those awful nights of teething and illness when he can’t sleep more than a few minutes at a time. And sometimes, his sleep will be messed up and he’ll want to eat at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.

But for the most part, it’s over.

There is no more Night Watch for me.

Just like that.

And now, I can hardly remember how long those hours were. My memory tells me that I felt so tired and heavy. I remember pulling myself out of sleep and moving through the night, bare feet on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor, digging my hands into the pockets of my robe. Pouring the formula into a bottle, microwaving it (which you should never do… right?), and then trudging back up the stairs (had I actually walked down them? I can’t even remember…).

But the sensations are gone. I cannot recreate them.

And so, those tired moments have become uncoupled from the exact cause of what made them so difficult: the actual feelings of utter exhaustion.

What was once so horrible in the moment has already become a fond memory.

One, I’m sure, I’ll recall next year with longing and misty eyes.

Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work

Not.

It’s no secret that parental leave in the United States blows big time. Until now, the most our government has been able to approve is the Family Medical Leave Act (1993), which guarantees that employees won’t lose their jobs while they take up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave related to family responsibilities, which can include giving birth.

Go us.

Hard-line Republicans would say that government has no business in providing paid leave to its citizens, regardless of the reason. That’s simply not the role of government. We don’t want to become a “nanny-state,” do we?

And why should workers be paid when they’re not working? Says the hard-nosed capitalist who views human beings solely as workers, completely divorced of any human attachment that might decrease their productivity.

In her book, “O

(Sorry, just needed to spend 40 minutes feeding and soothing a baby. Ahem.)

In her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte describes capitalism’s “ideal worker” as

“…freed from all home duties, [he] devotes himself completely to the workplace. He is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He is rarely sick. Never takes a vacation, or brings work along if he does. The ideal worker can jump on a plane whenever the boss asks because someone else is responsible for getting the kids off to school or attending the preschool play… So tied to the job is the ideal worker that he works endless hours, even if it costs him his health and his family” (p. 77).

Obviously, there is no room in this ideal worker for care-taking. Also, this ideal worker is decidedly male.

Maybe we should neither be surprised or dismayed by this. After all, we have a capitalist economy. But pure capitalism won’t survive, my friend. Pure capitalism is calculating, cold, and ultimately cruel. If we all adhere purely to capitalism, there would be no more room for care-taking of any kind.

As long as we don’t see our country longitudinally, we’re fine. As long as only the present matters, we’re fine.

After all, pure capitalism can make a generation great.

But the generation that came before and the generation that comes after will suffer for it.

As long as our country doesn’t need to a future, capitalism is splendid.

But back to parental

(Sorry, had to rock a screaming baby to sleep once again. Also, I had a bowl of Grapenuts with one hand while holding the pacifier in the baby’s mouth with the other hand. Also, Terminator Genisys is playing in the background. I’m missing a lot of the plot points, but it doesn’t seem to matter. And for as much as I like Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, I’m not crazy about her in this movie.)

Let me summarize my rambling, because this was supposed to be a post about the lack of parental leave in this country.

What I’m saying is that our country’s capitalistic view of screw-your-need-for-parental-leave-there’s-nothing-in-it-for-the-company is dangerously short-sighted.

But, in fact, there is something in it for the company.

A future, healthy, educated workforce to do their future, highly-skilled jobs.

People like this don’t just grow out of the ground.

They start as babies. Cared for by tired, invisible, and underappreciated hands. Mostly by mothers who have either dropped out of the workplace or are pausing their careers as they take time off to give birth and provide care.

They start as children. Educated by underpaid, overworked teachers.

They end as old people. Cared for, once again, by tired, invisible, and underappreciated hands. Sometimes by their children. Sometimes, by nursing homes, where the care-takers make a few dollars more than minimum wage.

This care-taking is work, even if it is done with love.

It’s work that is done behind the scenes.

It’s work that creates the pedestal on which the Ideal Worker stands.

Now, excuse me, the baby is crying again.

IMG_3958

Sometimes, this is how you have to nap. (Moving your hand is *not* optional.)

Week 5: The Hospital Bill Arrives (A.K.A. Why You Can’t Shop for Health Care)

One of the major talking points of Republicans about their plans for replacing the Affordable Care Act is that…

“It will encourage Americans to shop around for their health care.”

To which I say…

Bullshit.

“Shopping around” for health care isn’t a thing in the United States.

You cannot shop around when you don’t know the prices ahead of time.

I mean… Duh.

(You also cannot shop around if there is only one hospital in your area, as is true for all Americans who live far from larger cities.)

If we’re “consumers” of health care, shouldn’t we have the same amount of information that we have when we are consumers of cars or computers, or even breakfast cereal?

But we don’t.

We often don’t know how much our health care costs until we tear open the bill that finally comes to our mailbox weeks later.

Surprise!

***

Before we had this baby, I tried to figure out about how much it was going to cost us out-of-pocket.

You know. For budgeting.

For planning our Flexible Spending Accounts.

You know. Because we want to be responsible. Because we want to make sure we’ve saved enough money to cover our health care costs.

We’re not in poor health. We don’t have pre-existing conditions. We’re fairly young. We’re gainfully employed.

Republicans should love us. Any plan put forth by them should definitely benefit us right? We’re kind of what they had in mind for good American health care “consumers.”

But the truth is you can’t blame “consumers” for the complicated mess that is the health insurance industry, nor can you blame them for the high costs of health care. You can’t tell Americans to just save their money and choose wisely.

I tried that approach and it didn’t work. Not because I didn’t try hard enough, but because the system is not designed to be transparent to patients.

The patients are an afterthought.

***

Our health insurance provider had some estimates for the costs of giving birth in the two main hospitals where I live. These costs were based on their negotiated rates for medical procedures with those hospitals.

But they were just estimates.

So I called the hospital’s pricing line, staffed by the billing department, for a more precise answer.

Ha. Ha.

First, no one picked up the line. It went straight to voicemail. Over and over again.

So I left a message.

Someone called me back the next day.

When I asked the billing department’s representative about specific prices for having a baby at their hospital, he said that he couldn’t give me any prices.

The pricing line. Couldn’t give me any prices.

So I got specific. I told him that I would be giving birth in the birthing center that is attached to the hospital, where I would be rooming in with my baby 24/7. So we wouldn’t be using the nursery. Would we be charged a fee for the nursery? I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s available to you.”

“So how much will the nursery cost us?”

“I can’t quote you a price on that. It all depends on your insurance and how long you stay.”

“But don’t you have average prices for average stays? Anything?”

“We have a price sheet you can look at, but it’s not going to be inclusive of all of your expenses.”

“I’ll take whatever you have,” I said.

So he referred me to this pricing list, published on the hospital’s website. Why he didn’t give this to me at the beginning of the phone call, I’ll never know.

hospital-claim-2

Indeed, these charges showed up on my insurance claim for the birth.

hospital-claim_ink_ink_li

But so did this mysterious $3500 charge. And a boatload of other charges that are all labeled “Ancillaries” and have no identifying characteristics other than a medical code that only medical transcribers can interpret.

hospital-claim-3_ink_li

I mean, really. Don’t I deserve a little more information than this? If we’re going to pay $1800, I’d kind of like to know what it pays for.

So I wait for the hospital bill to show up. Maybe they have more information than my health insurance company.

Not really.

IMG_20170306_134632

From this bill, I can see that the ambiguous $1850 charge on my insurance claim is actually for the “Recovery Room.” But the other charges?

Who can tell?

The underlying message here is,

Please just accept this price. Your insurance company and the hospital have already decided on a negotiated rate and it’s really just best that you accept this price, pay it, and move on. See how expensive this birth was? You’re lucky that your insurance company is paying so much. So just suck it up and pay. There’s no free lunch, Friend.

***

I’m not the only one who has a problem with this.

“Childbirth is the number one reason why people go to the hospital,” reports Vox’s Johnny Harris in this well-researched video on this very topic. He finds that prices for uncomplicated deliveries in the United States vary from $1189 to $11,986.

I have to admit, I am slightly jealous that their out-of-pocket expenses were only $841.

But who am I kidding? Many, many Americans now have deductibles as high as $6000 now, making my $1000 deductible seem enviable.

The truth is that knowing the costs of this birth would have been helpful for me and my husband, but it didn’t break our bank. We earn enough money jointly that we can absorb a financial blow like this.

But what about the millions of Americans who can’t save $5000 to have a baby in a hospital?

What about those Americans who are “too rich” to qualify for Medicaid, but not rich enough to afford any kind of useful health insurance plan? One that doesn’t deter people from seeing the doctor simply because of the cost?

So politicians, quit telling people that they should learn how to make wise choices so they can save for their health care costs.

And quit telling people that they should “shop around” for their health care costs. 

Not only is it demeaning, but often it is completely impossible.

Postpartum Levels of Sleep Deprivation

*In the fashion of the “DEFense readiness CONdition

DEFCON 5

When: Immediately post-birth – Day 5 or Day 6

Description: You’ve just labored for God knows how long, so you’re already physically exhausted. But you are riding on a hormonal high because your baby is out and in your arms. At first, you believe that you will be able to rest as soon as everyone leaves your hospital room.

Only, they don’t ever really leave. For very long, at least. So what you end up with are minuscule catnaps that amount to no real rest. You close your eyes and try to drift off, but your brain doesn’t really power down.

You pray that once you return home, you’ll be able to sleep. But then, new stressors await you at home, no matter how many people are there to help out. Your life is in flux. The baby warps the fabric of time and space and requires your concerted attention for figuring out how to move through the day in order to keep everyone alive.

And then you’re processing the birth experience, remembering everything that happened. The horrible. The beautiful. The painful. The moments you never, ever want to forget but are already slowly falling through the cracks in your memory.

Then, there are your plummeting postpartum hormones. Your constant need to mop out all the fluids pouring out of you. The postpartum hunger as your body prepares to breastfeed. The afterbirth cramps that continue to pulse in waves.

All of this adds to your mounting anxiety and despair that you will literally never power down again. Although you desperately close your eyes and tell yourself, This is it. Everyone is taking care of everything. I can sleep—You still don’t sleep.

Your mind wants to fall asleep, but your body won’t follow suit.

DEFCON 4

When: Days 7-14

Description: You sleep in one-hour increments around the clock, totaling about 5 hours. You do not reach restorative, REM sleep, but the sleep is deep enough for your brain to put a period to the last segment of time that you were awake. It’s not that you never find the opportunity to sleep. Your body just physically won’t completely let go of consciousness for whatever reason.

Your need for round-the-clock self-care continues, along with your round-the-clock eating which coincides with your baby’s feedings. Your postpartum hormones are still swinging up and down, making you unpredictably emotional.

Sometimes, you just need to cry at 2:00 a.m.

Every time you wake up from a one-hour nap, you feel that you’ve taken a few steps away from full-on psychosis. But after a few hours, when you hear yourself talking, you think, Is that me? Did I say that? Do I sound weird to other people?

You cannot make decisions and you hope no one asks you to do so. Your cognitive processing is at an all-time low. Your head feels warm and fuzzy.

Stupid things make you laugh.

You utter the words, “Oh, sweet, sweet exhaustion.”

DEFCON 3

When: Day 15 – Whenever the baby has only one night feeding.

Description: Small 1-2 hour chunks of sleep at night + 2 naps, totaling 5-6 hours.

You are doing two or three night feedings each night, but it feels like six. Up and down. Up and down. Up, up, up. And down.

But there’s a good side. This is the first time you really achieve restorative, REM-sleep. You begin to dream regularly again, although sometimes you wish you didn’t. Nightmares of losing your baby or discovering your child dead in his crib haunt you.

This is also where chronic sleep deprivation sets in. When you wake up from a good chunk of sleep, you feel restored. It’s deceptive. You feel like you can do anything. Grocery shopping! Daycare drop off! Make my own breakfast! Yes, I can do it all!

But by the sixth hour that you are awake, you are completely spent. This time, your body wants to sleep, but your mind doesn’t. That familiar warm, fuzzy feeling in your head returns and you feel your eyes start to involuntarily close. It happens at predictable intervals, too, because all the sleeping in one-hour increments has trained your body to power down with or without your permission.

1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. is when you feel it. Like clockwork.

1:00 p.m. is not so bad because the baby usually wants to sleep.

But 7:00 p.m. opens a previously hidden door to hell.

Everyone is home now. It’s dinner time. Maybe you have to cook. (Or maybe you just assemble salads and sandwiches, like I usually do.) The daily dishes mount in the sink. The mail comes in. The baby is in the prime “witching hours” of fussiness. He cries, but won’t really eat. He’s asleep, then awake 10 minutes later. Then, asleep. Awake. Crying. Refuses the pacifier. All you want to do is slink away from everyone, miraculously unnoticed and unneeded and bed down in your dark room with the cool sheets to soothe the building heat in your head.

God forbid, one of you gets sick.

That’s when the shit really hits the fan.

DEFCON 2

When: Transitional period of one nightly feeding/waking – no nightly feedings/wakings

Description: This is arguably the most frustrating period of sleep deprivation, simply because you’ve had a taste of the good nights. At this level, you have a bit of an expectation that you will fall asleep and stay asleep for a good six or seven hours. Sure, you’re not technically as sleep deprived as you were during DEFCON 3. But after several days of solid sleep, you begin to believe that your baby has finally dropped the night wakings.

And then it happens. The old familiar 2:00 a.m. wail.

Devastation.

DEFCON 1

When: Whenever your baby has no more nightly feedings or wakings

Description: Besides occasional nights when your child is teething or sick, your child is sleeping through the night and so are you. You begin to forget the horrible sensations of being sleep deprived. Sure, you remember that you hated it, but you truly start to forget the actual sensations of constant sleep deprivation. Sometimes, you tiptoe into your child’s room to watch him sleep so peacefully.

You actually miss waking up in the middle of the night to comfort him.

And then you start thinking…

Hey, maybe we’ll have another?

Nature has a sick, sick sense of humor.

sleep deprivation.jpg

Week 4: Gentle Sleep Training

Now that I’ve used the words “sleep training,” let me disappoint you.

I’m not in favor of trying to “train” your newborn to sleep.

I don’t think newborns are “trainable.”

Newborns are gonna do what newborns are gonna do.

However, the words “sleep training” are the words that everyone uses when trying to figure out how to get their babies to sleep longer.

So what exactly am I in favor of?

Training yourself to recognize and follow your newborn’s sleep patterns.

***

When our first child was about one month old, I found an amazing book that forever shaped our decisions about how we structured our days with a baby.

baby-sleep

I don’t rave about many baby products.

But let me RAVE about this book.

This book removed the mystery about how babies decide when to fall asleep and how their sleep patterns change as they grow throughout the first year.

It’s not a book based on a parenting style or a fancy technique.

It’s based on science. It’s based on human biology.

The Overall Takeaway: If you soothe your newborn to sleep after he/she has been awake for 90 minutes, he’ll fall asleep and stay asleep for a nap.

Dr. Polly Moore, a sleep researcher and scientist, based her advice in this book on the “basic rest and activity cycle,” which states that human bodies function on 90-minute periods of rest or activity. For example, our attention, alertness, and sleep cycles follow these patterns.

At roughly three weeks old, newborn babies start to establish 90-minute periods of wakefullness. As long as the baby is getting enough to eat and isn’t suffering from other physical ailments, you should be able to see these patterns emerge as early as three weeks.

You can’t train your newborn to stay awake for 90-minutes or to nap for long periods of time. However, you can pay attention and learn how your newborn wants to structure his sleeping patterns. By learning your child’s tired signals and making sure he gets all the naps that he needs during the daytime, you are helping him to reach the Holy Grail of baby-dom: sleeping through the night.

You can do this by taking a few days to log your child’s sleep. Like this:

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Many of these periods of wakefullness last for 90 minutes. However, some don’t. The night feedings usually only last 30 minutes to one hour. Long enough to eat, burp, have a diaper change, and fall back asleep.

What’s important to see in this list of times is that this three-week-old’s naps are already beginning to follow the body’s rhythms. (Note: Forty-five minute naps = Half of a 90-minute increment and three-hour naps = Two 90-minute increments)

Of course, sometimes naps are cut short because the baby didn’t get enough to eat and wakes up to be fed. Or sometimes, he has a huge poop and wants to be changed. But the older the baby gets and the more established his sleeping habits become, the less likely the baby will cut his naps short in order to eat or be changed.

***

Last Saturday, we realized that our baby was starting to establish these 90-minute periods of wakefullness.

I remember reading years ago when we were caring for our first child that the first few weeks of a baby’s sleeping habits are unpredictable. I learned that babies sleep a lot in the first few weeks and that they can pretty much fall asleep anywhere. And stay asleep no matter what is happening around them.

Until last Saturday, I didn’t realize that we had drifted into the zone of 90-minute periods of wakefullness.

I didn’t realize that our baby had started to become unable to block out the noise and stimulation around him.

While our friends came over for breakfast, he remained awake. And awake. And awake. Until about 11:30.

Then, he lost his shit.

Screaming. Inconsolable.

We took him out in the stroller and he gave us the thousand-mile stare. At a fork in the road, my husband turned back to go home while I continued on for a longer walk.

Big mistake.

Henry started downright wailing. He screamed so hard his face turned crimson and went completely silent as he tried to scream without taking in oxygen. He coughed and choked to bring more air into his lungs.

They were the saddest screams I’ve ever heard.

I rushed home, but it was the longest quarter mile ever.

Because we deprived him of sleep that morning, he was completely out of whack for the rest of the day. He couldn’t stay asleep. He screamed and nothing helped. By 10:00 p.m., even my husband had written him off and pronounced that there’s nothing we could do to help him.

I took our son and sat in the glider. Then, I placed him on the ottoman in front of me. I let his hands clutch my fingers while he screamed and screamed.

Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes.

I tried all the usual soothing techniques as he sputtered and gasped for more air to continue his wailing.

Then I returned him to the ottoman and rocked him again. This time, his screaming slowed and his eyes rolled back in his head, the way that newborns do.

He had passed out.

***

That night, I reread Polly Moore’s book and realized that we had crossed into new sleeping territory now that Henry is a month old. Now, he’s having trouble blocking out sound and light and stimulation. Now, he needs quiet. He needs a lack of sensation to stay asleep.

We followed the 90-minute wakefullness cycles the next day.

Wow. What a difference it makes when your baby has those needed naps.

***

What I learned from this book is how to determine the best windows to put my baby to sleep. I learned how to recognize emerging sleeping patterns. I learned how to best accommodate my baby’s needs for sleep, including the importance of napping rituals throughout the day that will help a baby establish solid sleeping patterns later.

For us, this means that we don’t take our baby out during his nap times.

Which basically means, he stays at home 90% of the time until his awake periods extend to three hours (around 6-8 months). If we go out, we’ll keep him in the car seat and put on a white noise maker so his naps don’t suffer too much.

It’s a restrictive life, for sure. But he’s not going to be this young forever. I’m willing to make changes in my life for a few months.

For us, establishing good sleeping patterns early on–as we did with our daughter–rewarded us exponentially later on. Our daughter slept through the night regularly (with the exception of teething and sick days) at three and a half months. When she started daycare at five months, it only took her a week to adjust to the new environment and resume her champion napping abilities amidst other crying infants.

***

Every rule has an exception. Here are two cases when the 90-minute wakefullness rule doesn’t pan out as predictably into regular napping patterns.

Babies who are suffering from medical conditions: like acid reflux, food allergies/intolerances, etc.

Babies who are in the midst of a growth spurt: All babies go through growth spurts and they are notorious for throwing all routines into chaos. Naps suffer. Babies wake up from naps early and have trouble falling asleep. They eat too much or too little. They cry. Nay, they wail. They turn into monsters for several days. In fact, we’re going through one right now. From 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. last night, he was awake, asleep, awake, asleep, hungry, pissed off, asleep, awake, screaming. You get the point.

But when this growth spurt is over, he’ll be pleasant again. And he’ll show us his newly learned moves.

***

There’s a lot more that I can say about how babies change in their sleep needs from birth to the end of the first year, but I’ll let Polly Moore do that for you.

As I said before, there are not many baby products that I am willing to rave about to the point of spending my valuable time actually writing about them…

But this is one of the rare few.

If you’ve got a baby at home, check it out. Seriously.

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