Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Postpartum period

My Last Little One

It all started just one year ago.

February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

henry_glass_february_2_2

wp-1486067795806.jpg

img_3796

img_20170211_135356

birth-announcement-2

birth-announcement-3

16716325_10102190025807916_6435756549801601017_o

img_3899

img_3902

img_20170217_095854

image-20170222_145134

img_20170223_145838

IMG_3961

IMG_4045

17917276_10211104053150694_6151360946178878502_o

IMG_4210

June 2017 3

IMG_4850

IMG_4222

Chef Henry 9 months

IMG_20171231_134852

Sharon and Henry 11 months

I may have said something cute today like, “Where has the time gone?”

But quite honestly, I think we felt every bit of the last 364 days. Between typical newborn stuff, the milk allergy, all that teething, several iterations of Cry-It-Out, several rounds of colds, and one wicked spell of diarrhea, I’m relieved to know that the worst is probably behind us. (Knock on wood.)

From the moment he came home with us, it has felt like our lives have accelerated twofold. No more stopping. It’s more like, Rest, while you move.

A few days ago, when Henry was losing his mind because I put him down and turned away, I asked Doug, “You sure you don’t want another one?”

“Uh, yeah.”

So happy birthday and thank you for being my Last Little One.

Pieces of Parenthood # 4: Good-bye Old Friends

A woman’s best friend in pregnancy isn’t ice cream. Or pickles. Or brownies. Or whatever other non-sense popular media tells you.

No. Her best friend is stretchy pants.

And I was lucky enough to have two best friends.

 

 

They weren’t yoga pants.

They weren’t maternity pants.

They were actually Victoria’s Secret Pillowtalk Pajamas.

These pants were truly made of magic and grace. Magic, because they transformed from Smalls to Ex-Larges, right along with me. Grace, because they didn’t make me feel like any of these changes were inconvenient for them. They moved out of the way. They said, Oh, excuse me for not accommodating you more quickly. Here you go. 

I wore them so much they frayed at the bottom hems.

I wore them mostly around the house.

I admit, I may have worn them to the gas station.

Maybe also Target.

Maybe.

***

I’m now about 8 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight (which means I’m 37 pounds lighter than my last days of pregnancy. Woot.) One more inch off my hips and I’ll be back in my pre-pregnancy pants and a whole new section of my wardrobe opens back up.

When it’s all stacked and folded like this, it feels like a geological record of the last 21 months of my life.

 

So I say good-bye.

Good-bye to all the postpartum clothes that have served me in all the hard In-Between Phases of transformation.

All those months of looking in the mirror

and not seeing myself at all

and then not really seeing myself

and then not quite seeing myself

and then kind of seeing myself

and then

quite suddenly

seeing that first glimpse of the the version of me that I used to be

I Wore a FitBit for the First Year Postpartum: Here’s How Much Sleep I Lost

Over the past year, my blog post about my changing heart rate throughout pregnancy and the resulting increase in total calories burned per day has become the most heavily trafficked blog post on this site.

So I figured I’d tackle postpartum sleep loss next.

Because, guys, postpartum sleep deprivation is no joke. (Except when it is.)

So, here we go.

Last Days of Pregnancy, Labor, and Immediate Postpartum Period

I gave birth on February 2nd. You can see that in my last days of the pregnancy, I was sleeping around 6 or 7 hours at night (not pictured: the six or seven times that I had to get up each night to pee). I was also taking a nap in the afternoon since my daughter was in daycare and I was wasting my maternity leave by being way beyond my due date. (That wasn’t really part of the plan… But hey.)

Note: Dates are in descending order. That’s the only way FitBit will let me view the data.

Pregnancy Labor Immediate Postpartum Sleep

The last time that I had some solid sleep before giving birth was Wednesday, February 1st. That night, I finally went into labor around midnight (at 41 weeks, 4 days).

It looks like the next time that I slept was on the day that I gave birth.

Do not be fooled. I was completely incapacitated after giving birth and losing 1200 ccs of blood. The same is true of February 3rd. I was lying in a hospital bed, trying to recover, but not really sleeping.

The next time that I actually fell into a light sleep (definitely not REM or a deep sleep) was February 4th.

That’s a full 72 hours without sleep.

Believe it or not, this was an improvement from my first birth, when I went about 96 hours without falling into at least a light sleep. (Wednesday, August 14th, 6:00 a.m. to the night of Saturday, August 17th)

Yeah.

First Week Postpartum

Even with having the help of my husband and mother, on most days during that first week postpartum, I was getting about 5 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, but only in frustrating 1-hour increments.

Week 2 Sleep

Why?

There were plenty of times during the day when I could have let my mother do the feedings and caught up on sleep.

But honestly, during that first week, I just couldn’t fully power down. I can’t pinpoint one reason. Was it my fluctuating hormones? Was it racing thoughts? Was the stress of recovering and adjusting to life with a second child?

Sure. It was all of these things. It was probably also the additional stress of feeling like, Oh my God, why aren’t you sleeping! Everyone has everything taken care of! Use your time wisely!

Not the most restful thoughts you can have.

So I was exhausted. I hurt everywhere. The afterbirth cramps were intense. I was still bleeding a lot. Breastfeeding was (once again) complete hell and I was dealing with the emotions of stopping completely. The baby was eating every 2 hours and we were figuring out that, just like his sister, he was allergic to dairy. The house was in disorder. The other child was feeling left out. My husband was trying to keep the ship running.

And every night, from midnight to 6:00 a.m., it was just me and the baby. Although it was emotional and beautiful in its own right, it was also incredibly exhausting.

This is when intense sleep deprivation began to take hold. Not only was I unable to sleep because the baby was eating all the time, but my body began to realize that it had lost its placenta (no more all-is-right-and-good-in-the-world levels of progesterone for me anymore).

This week, by far, was the absolute worst for me. 

Some things you cannot do when you’re getting this little sleep:

  • Have a coherent conversation
  • Drive
  • Make decisions
  • Basically, anything beyond mother-infant survival is way too challenging

At the end of this week, my mom (who had mercifully been staying with us after the delivery) returned home. My husband and I looked at each other like, What now? How are we going to get some sleep and not lose our minds?

We made a compromise.

Second Week Postpartum

We decided that my husband would take the evening feedings that happened before midnight. I would get the feedings after midnight. I would try my damnedest to get some sleep before my first night feeding. In addition, on the weekends, my husband would take all of the night feedings so I could get some restorative sleep.

And because he was extra awesome, he allowed me to tag him in when I told him that I was seriously losing my mind. Because, quite honestly, sleeping like this is simply unsustainable for weeks on end.

Week 3 Sleep

Things you still should not do when you’re sleeping like this:

  • Drive
  • Make important decisions
  • Make plans (for anything)
  • Read (you won’t remember what you read)
  • Shop (you’ll forget what you bought)

Third Week Postpartum

By some miracle, our baby started to shift towards only two night feedings by this point, leaving me responsible for just one feeding since my husband took the other one. This is not a common occurrence, so if it happens for you, just express your undying gratitude to the Universe. Seriously.

By this point, I had mostly recovered from the pain of childbirth and postpartum blood loss. I had more energy and was able to independently take care of household responsibilities like dishes, cooking, laundry, and vacuuming.

This dramatically improved my mood. I mean, obviously, right?

If you’re getting this much sleep, driving might be possible, but honestly, it’s really best to only drive if you’re getting at least six hours of sleep every night.

Week 4 Sleep

Fourth Week Postpartum

After about one month after birth, we started to find our rhythm with taking care of the house, the new baby, and the preschooler. We were still doing night feedings, but they were becoming more manageable.

I need to emphasize at this point that my increase in sleep by four weeks postpartum is a direct reflection of my husband’s willingness and ability to step into his role as an equal caretaker. Without his help, I would still be getting minimal sleep by this point.

So hats off to you, Doug. You kept me from losing my mind.

Week 5 Sleep

So when did the baby sleep through the night?

Okay, first, if you’re trying to make friends with other new parents, don’t ask this question.

But I’m game for it. So…

“Sleeping through the night” was a process for us. Our baby slept ten hours in a row for the first time when he was two months old.

BUT…

… it was just a one-night reprise from the continuing pattern of night feedings that stretched on well past four months. At five months, he started to want to put himself to sleep. No more rocking or holding him while he got drowsy. Odd, but I acquiesced.

By six months, his eating schedule got all screwy and he started to develop a middle of the night feeding again. And we had had enough of it. He was a huge baby. There was clearly no need for him to be eating in the middle of the night. He was healthy. He wasn’t teething. Coupled with the crushing reality that things were not going to resolve by themselves, we made the decision:

It was time to Cry It Out.

It took three nights, but it was the best decision we made. Hands down. He dropped the night feeding and learned to tank up in his first and last feedings of the day. No one was worse the wear.

What did your average sleep look like throughout the year?

Here is what my average number of hours of sleep looked like from February 2017 to December 2017 looked like in summary, with some annotations to help make sense of what you’re seeing.

Sleep in 2017

Sleep in 2017

Keep in mind a few things:

1.) I had lots of help.

2.) I had a pretty long maternity leave (at least compared to most women in the U.S.)

3.) I did not breastfeed.

4.) I committed myself to working out in the morning because it improved my mental and emotional state. This meant that I would get up at 4:30 a.m. on most mornings to exercise before the kids woke up and before I had to get ready for work. Yeah, it was hard, but it made me feel so much better. So I made adjustments to help commit to this goal, like going to bed way early (like 8 p.m.)

5.) There were plenty of bouts of illness, teething, and unexplained fussy nights that were peppered throughout the year.

6.) Our baby did not have acid reflux or prolonged colicky periods or other conditions that made him unable to sleep for long periods of time. With the exception of the dairy allergy, he has been very healthy.

***

Postpartum sleep deprivation is real and it’s tough.

No way around it.

If you’re reading this while you’re pregnant with your first child, don’t despair. There are some things that you can do to prepare yourself for the realities that await you soon.

1.) Establish clear expectations about care-taking responsibilities with your partner.

Talk openly. Talk honestly. Agree that no one really wants to lose this much sleep, but damn it, you’re in this thing together. Tag each other in when you’re down for the count.

2.) Do not be too proud to ask for help.

You cannot do this alone. You will need help. And lots of it. You are not Superwoman and there is no glory in trying to be. Few, if any, will know of your struggles to simply get through the day. Every woman who has been through this understands the pain and exhaustion that you are experiencing. They are, quite often, thrilled to help.

3.) When it gets tough, remember that you’re not doing it wrong.

You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just plain hard. No one has an easy time of this, and any woman who says it was not that bad is airbrushing reality.

4.) Ask those who are close to you to let you know when they think you’re not okay.

Losing sleep can bring you to the edge of psychosis. If you go days and days without sleep, you will start to lose your grip on reality. And from your perspective, you may not realize that you’re not fine anymore. If you cannot achieve restorative sleep even when you are provided the opportunity, it is probably time to seek help from your medical provider.

5.) Buy ear plugs and a sleep mask. You’ll need them for daytime sleeping.

Sleep_mask

6.) Coffee.

I mean… obviously.

coffee-cup-1797283_960_720

Good luck on your postpartum journey, Friends.

It’s a crazy way to live and in the hard moments when your head is warm and fuzzy and everyone around you is so blissfully unaware of how LUCKY they are to have slept more than four hours last night… it feels like it will go on forever and you will forever be stuck in the vicious cycle of Never Enough Sleep.

But you won’t.

Press on.

Please let me know how it’s going for you in the comments below.

YouTube is Our Third Baby

In the last few months, I’ve started getting the You guys thinking about having a third? comment more frequently. Maybe because several of our friends have just had their third–or fourth–baby.

Um, no.

Emphatically, no.

This is it.

The baby has finally started sleeping a glorious, GLORIOUS, twelve hours at night straight, partially thanks to the four nights of Crying It Out that I stomached. Nothing worse than listening to your baby screaming at full volume for 40 minutes while you paw silently at the door, on the verge of tears yourself.

He’s okay. My God, he had seven, SEVEN!, bottles today. He’s not hungry.

He’s okay. He’s 6 1/2 months old.

He’s okay. He’s 22 pounds. 22 POUNDS! He’s a Monster Baby, for the love of God.

He’s not going to die.

He’s just really, really pissed.

He’s got the eat-sleep association.

You’re not a bad mother.

Oh God… Will he EVER stop crying? Is this damaging his vocal cords?

Repeat that several more times on the first night.

But he did. By the fourth night, Done.

(Can I just say, sure, you love your baby. But man, you REALLY, REALLY love your baby when he doesn’t bother you from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.)

So no.

Two is enough.

family

***

In the first two weeks postpartum, I went over the numbers in my head and made a list of reasons for or against having a third child. Yeah, yeah. We said we’d only have two, but LOOK AT THIS FACE!!! Oh my God. Babies are incredible. I could totally do this again.

But then, we’d be looking at a minivan.

And I’d be 37? 38? 39? And pregnant? I remember how I felt being 35 and pregnant. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier. This body has been through enough. (And you’re welcome, Offspring.)

And another three years of full time-daycare ($33,000 total at today’s rate)?

I think it was the cost of daycare that was really the deciding factor.

***

We were talking the other night about just how much “free time” we had before children.

I mean, duh, right? Of course we had more time. In some ways, it was great. Coming home from work and relaxing. Nice. It was “the life.”

Of course, we did other things. I wrote a novel. Doug volunteered extensively for our church, cooking meals for 100-200 people weekly. We hung out with friends. A lot. And it was fantastic. We went out to eat. We entertained.

We also worked more than our fair share at our jobs. I worked about 50-60 hours per week at four (yes, four) jobs. Doug often worked more than his required 40.

But from my perspective now, I look back and think, God, imagine what we could have accomplished for this YouTube channel if we had started doing this before we had kids. 

But that was years before YouTube’s currently capabilities and reach.

So here we are.

Instead of having a third baby, we have a YouTube channel.

It’s got his hands and my eyes.

It really is a combination of all of our talents together in one creative outlet.

We’re so proud.

Things I Don’t Miss About Being Pregnant (a.k.a. talking about big bellies and peeing)

I was sitting on the couch the other day, working on my laptop, and I pulled my legs up to the cushion and crossed them and thought…

Whoa… Been a while since I’ve been able to do that.

Six months postpartum and 28 pounds lighter–and just now starting to realize that I’m starting to really move past the physical limitations that pregnancy put on my whole body.

From the second trimester until now (October 2016-August 2017), I haven’t felt comfortable with/haven’t been able to…

  • lie on my stomach (duh)
  • lie on my back (heavy uterus on my spine)
  • hunch forward (it cut off my air supply)
  • sit with legs crossed (belly in the way)
  • sit with legs closed (again, the belly)
  • sit much, period (weight of belly would pull me forward)
  • stand in place for a period of time (low back pain)

Now, think about your day. Think about how much time you spent in any of these positions.

Now, take that time away and replace it with either walking or lying on your side. Because that’s how I basically existed for most of Week 40 and 41.

Miserable.

img_20170201_173926

41 weeks, 3 days

I remember in that last trimester being horrified that my boobs were literally resting on my belly.

And worse, my belly was resting on my thighs.

From my neck to my knees, I just felt like pure belly.

I did not find this reassuring or comforting or magical or any other variation of positive.

I just felt e-nor-mous.

Now that I’m six months postpartum, I’m starting to regain a lot of my old physical self. I can do kickboxing for an hour and running for forty-five minutes. My legs and feet aren’t so swollen that I don’t recognize my legs.

And, hey, I can pee. Normally.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been about a whole year of altered peeing.

At first, it was frequent peeing because of hormones.

Then, it was frequent peeing because of more amniotic fluid.

Then, it was frequent peeing because, geesh, my bladder was completely smooshed under the weight of the baby.

And then, it was my organs moving back into their original places and my brain readjusting my expectations of how long I can go between peeing and then being amazed when, wow, I haven’t peed in two hours and I’m still okay! And, look at that!, I didn’t pee myself when I sneezed!

Woot.

At six months postpartum, a woman’s body (particularly hormones) start returning to pre-pregnancy levels, making it much easier to shed the baby weight. I’ve started to really notice this in the last three weeks. While it took me 5 weeks to lose 1 pound when I was between three and four months postpartum, I’ve now started to drop about 1 pound every two weeks.

To which I say, ” ‘Bout time.”

img_3806

4 days postpartum

 

IMG_3956

2 months postpartum

IMG_4825

6 months postpartum

17 pounds left to go.

Bring it.

The Tough Nights (a.k.a. Don’t Ask If the Baby is Sleeping Through the Night)

Listen to this post here: 

Or read for yourself here: 

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all got our stories.

Here’s one from me.

It was the first day post-maternity leave that I had to be in the office at an 8:30 a.m. meeting.

Before this, my work tasks had been very flexible. I did a lot of stuff at home and only had to come into the office a few times. (And I totally yoga-pantsed it.)

But on Friday, May 12th, I had to be in the office. At 8:30 a.m.

So of course the night before this was also the first night that the baby was sick.

It was the first night that Doug was completely spent and the baby needed me to hold him all night long to sleep.

Beginning at 1:00 a.m.

crying baby

Photo credit: Brandon Baunach, http://www.flickr.com

What if I told you that my first thought when I heard him crying in the night wasn’t, You poor thing, are you okay?

What if I told you it wasn’t my second thought? Or even my tenth thought?

It was probably more like my thirtieth thought.

After, Oh my God, what is your problem? 

After, Look, we’re not doing this all night. We’re just not. I’m serious.

After, What the f**!?! Go to sleep!

After, I swear to God, if you wake up one more time after I put you down, I’m going to make you scream it out.

After, Why tonight? Really? You could have done this any other night. But now? Really.

After, I’m serious. I’m so f***ing serious.

And on and on.

After eight times of rocking him to sleep and trying to transfer him to the crib over the course of an hour, I relented. I let go of the plan that I was going to get up at 5:00 a.m. to exercise. I let go of the plan that I would even get one hour of sleep before work started.

I just let it all go and embraced the exhaustion.

If I was going to be tired, I didn’t also have to be stressed and resentful the whole day about being tired.

So when I handed the baby over to my husband at 5:45 that morning, I didn’t yell or swear. I just told him what the night had been like and asked him to stay home with the baby while I took the three-year-old to daycare.

Grocery shopping? Okay. I’ll do it. And I’ll pick her up from daycare. I said.

Give.

And would you stay home with the baby while I go to work?  I asked.

Take.

I showered. I made my coffee and drank it while I put on enough make-up to cover up the night. Then I dressed my daughter while she was still waking up and still like a wet noodle. Then, I coaxed her into eating her vitamins and drinking her milk. I put her lunch and my lunch together and made formula for the baby.

I loaded F’s lunch bag, her backpack, my work bag, my lunch bag (but not H’s bottle bag or H’s diaper bag since he was staying home). (If you’re keeping track, it’s usually six bags in and out of the car. Seven on Mondays and Fridays.)

I drove fifteen minutes south to her daycare.

Then I drove twenty-five minutes north to work.

I got off the Interstate with another car.

We both followed the same route until it was clear we were both going to the same university. We parked next to each other. I looked over and saw that the driver was a guy, probably my age. He sprang out of his car holding only a set of keys.

Just. A. Set. Of. Keys.

The nerve.

I saw very plainly in that split second what it takes for me to get to work now versus what it took for me to get to work before I had children.

Now, the morning is a whole orchestrated production. A delicate ballet of exercise, showers, wake-up calls, second wake-up calls, third wake-up calls, Oh-my-God-get-out-of-bed-already! wake-up calls, vitamins, lunch bags, baby bottles, Get-your-shoes-on, Go-potty, Get-your-shoes-on, diapers, Are-your-shoes-on, teeth/hair-brushing, For-the-love-of-God-get-your-shoes-on!, breakfasts, carseats, strollers, kisses, conversations with teachers, punctuated with a deep, satisfying sigh that yes, finally *I* can go to work now.

***

I wasn’t at peak performance on Friday, May 12th, but I pulled through. I recovered.

Thankfully, most nights have not been like that lately. Most nights, he sleeps through the night. Sometimes, he has a night feeding. And then he goes back to sleep.

And by the way, don’t ask if someone’s baby is sleeping through the night.

Unless you know them pretty well.

It’s just not good manners. I mean, really, it’s not a great topic for small talk. The only way that question is small talk is if the answer is clearly “yes.” And the likelihood of that is… meh…

A more likely situation is that you send the parent into a fury of jealousy as they imagine you sleeping on a billowy, undisturbed cloud of silence for eight, God, maybe even twelve! extravagant hours. Only to wake up to the luxury of you strolling to your bathroom and taking a hot, steamy, uninterrupted shower, and then magically emerging from the bathroom, just moments later, completely dressed to the nines and made completely over, from your hair down to your nails. And, lo, breakfast is already made. And it’s cinnamon rolls and waffles and bacon and sausage and the most delicious coffee you’ve ever had in your entire life–all 0 calories! And the only thing that you have to do is climb into your brand-new Mercedes and drive to work in completely, inexplicably empty roads and highways until you are work. Where everything is already done. And the only thing you need to do is drink more coffee and catch up on House of Cards, which you still haven’t gotten to see one blessed moment of and it’s driving you crazy (even though the reviews for Season 5 aren’t very good). But still. You binge. All. Day. Long.

Jealousy makes you crazy.

Do you really want to drive the person crazy?

***

Getting through the tough nights without completely losing your mind is an exercise in long-term thinking.

It’s easy to think, I really can’t do this again. I’m going insane. No. I’m not doing it. I refuse. He’ll just have to scream it out tonight. 

It takes some effort to reshape your thoughts into,

It’s not always going to be like this.

There will be an end to this.

You’ll live. Oh, you’ll be tired. Way tired. But you’ll live.

You’ve been through worse. Remember birth?

You’ve got this. 

I Heart Daycare (and some ramblings about feminism)

Some women tear up as they leave their children at daycare for the first time.

I practically skip inside.

Grin from ear to ear.

I. LOVE. DAYCARE.

Last Monday was Henry’s first day of daycare. Another daycare mom saw me taking him inside and asked if it was his first day. After I nodded, she jumped out of her van and gave me the biggest hug and said, “Isn’t it great!”

“YESSS!!!” I yelled.

“With the first one, you’re bawling about it and then the second, you’re just like ‘have fun!'”

She gets it.

It’s true. The first time we started daycare was much more involved and made me a little nervous. We spent about 20 minutes going through the list of critical bits of information that the infant teacher needed to know to feed, change, and soothe our baby to sleep.

She likes to be rocked to sleep while being held sideways. Like this. And try to put her down 90 minutes after she wakes up. We haven’t started solids yet. How do you heat the bottle for her? She likes it just lukewarm. Not too warm. If she starts crying and she’s not tired, she might be wet. Sometimes. Just check. You’re going to check every hour or so, right? Okay. She’s really pretty easy to take care of. 

But after two days, I’m pretty sure we thought daycare was a Gift from God. (Thank you, Ms. Cathy!)

It was like, Wait… We just drop the baby off at 7:00 a.m. and we don’t have to be back until 6:00 p.m. at the latest????

Game on.

Here’s some money.

Here’s lots of money.

I love you. Here’s some cookies.

Do you like Panera? I got you a gift card. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Thank you so much. You’re wonderful.

daycare

Daycare pretty much taught our daughter about hand-washing, drinking from a cup, and sitting in a chair for meals. They helped us potty train her. They taught her how to sit in a circle for storytime, how to cut with scissors, how to hold a crayon, and how to fingerpaint. They provided an atmosphere full of dress-up clothes, kid’s kitchens, and books, books, books. (We didn’t have to buy any of it! And I’m not responsible for cleaning up the toys!) They taught her how to walk in a line and take turns. They showed her that a room can be stunningly decorated with the artwork of little hands.

And oh so important… They introduced her to the concept of sharing.

They used the classroom to teach rules. They modeled politeness and respect for others. They reinforced the lesson that actions have consequences.

This does not make me sad.

It doesn’t make me feel like I’m not doing my job as a mother.

I don’t regret sending my kids to daycare.

I wholeheartedly embrace it. I even embrace it to the tune of half of my salary.

***

On the surface, it’s easy to see why some moms love daycare as much as I do. It gives women a break from the role of being a mother.

This is huge.

Mothers in particular are constantly carrying around a mental list of things to do that just grows longer and heavier with each child.

Daycare allows them to put some of that down.

And pick something else up.

But my love of daycare goes beyond that.

Daycare, I believe, is an expression of feminism.

For those of you who are completely turned off by the term “feminism”, stay with me for a minute. Because that word gets a bad wrap in some circles. Feminism doesn’t mean “man-hating” or “female victimization.” (I do not blame men individually for the culture and structure of our society. I blame patriarchy.)

Feminism is about sharing power. It’s about making sure that everyone has a voice. It’s about making sure that when important decisions are made about policy (both in government and business), the people who are making those decisions don’t all come from the same background (White. Male. Native-born. Able-bodied. English-speaking.).

Millienials are the first generation to kind of get feminism. Not all of them do, but from my anecdotal observations, it seems like some of the assumptions that we had about gender and power are finally not assumptions anymore.

One of our former teenage babysitters told us that when she was catcalled in the school hallway, she turned around, went up to the guy, and told him in very clear terms,

“You don’t treat me that way!”

Baller.

***

When I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, we were taught in school to imagine our futures. What would we like to be when we grew up? Doctors, astronauts, teachers? Athletes? Superheroes? Dinosaurs? Robots? We were encouraged to let our imaginations run wild.

Like many women in their 30s, I truly do not ever remember an adult — teacher, parent, or family friend — telling me that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do. No one told me that I was expected to get married and have kids right away. (Although my grandmother did ask me when I turned 18 if I was interested in any good boys…)

I was like many of my female friends. In high school, we all worked hard and earned good grades.

We went to college.

We got good grades there, too.

Maybe we went to graduate school.

And we got good grades there, too.

We followed the rules. We were doing fine.

We got jobs. We didn’t negotiate salary (because that’s not what good girls do, even though they should, we just couldn’t imagine drawing a line in the sand. That’s not who we are.)

And then we had children.

And everyone looked at us and said, “Are you going to stay home or return to work?”

No one asked our partners if they were going to stay home.

And there you have it.

The message is clear. It’s your baby.

It doesn’t provide any economic benefit to this company. It’s even costing us productivity. Make up your mind. Do you want to work here or not? Six weeks is a lot of time for you to be gone. You don’t want to make that kid dependent on you anyway, do you?

What happened?

What about all the things that I could be now that I’m an adult?

Was it all just empty promises, fueled by good intentions and a dream of equality?

Because, I’m here to tell you, access to affordable (!!!) quality daycare is critical for keeping women’s voices at the table. (Side note: The United States was a hair’s breadth away from free universal preschool for all in the 1970s. Here’s what happened to that awesome, bipartisan bill.)

The tide is turning, though.

Almost all of the dads that I know assume as much responsibility for their kids’ lives as their mothers do. When they take care of their kids, they’re not “babysitting.”

I mean… duh.

They’re being dads.

When they take their kids to the grocery store, it’s not some miraculous event that comes around only once every few years.

My husband knows how to swaddle a baby better than I do. He was the one who made the baby food and showed me how to make smooth formula without all the clumps. He can change a diaper in the dark and he’s even yelled at me for making too much noise while he’s trying to put the baby to sleep.

Ah…

Hope springs eternal.

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.

fit-belly-and-tape-measures-1483641452sx4

***

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

IMG_4021

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

4:30 a.m.

Exercise

IMG_4018

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

IMG_4019

5:30 a.m.

Today’s supply of formula

IMG_4020

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

IMG_4023

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

IMG_4024

IMG_4025

She doesn’t realize how good she has it.

Dish Load # 1

IMG_4017

IMG_4027

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

6:30 a.m.

IMG_4029

Bottle # 2

IMG_4030

Sometimes, This Is How You Have to Shower

IMG_4031

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

IMG_4033

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

IMG_4034

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)

IMG_4035

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

IMG_4036

10:30 a.m.

Bottle # 3

IMG_4021

Diapers

IMG_4032

IMG_4037

IMG_4038

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

IMG_4042

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

IMG_4045

My Nap # 1 (a whole 30 minutes)

IMG_4046

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.

IMG_4047

IMG_4048

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

IMG_4049

It’s all ready to fold and then…

Crying.

2:00 p.m.

Bottle # 4

IMG_4021

2:30 p.m.

IMG_4051

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.

IMG_4052

3:45 p.m.

Dish Load # 2

IMG_4053

IMG_4054

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

4:00 p.m.

Dinner preparation

IMG_4055

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

Yep.

5:00 p.m.

Bottle # 5

IMG_4021

5:45 p.m.

IMG_4056

IMG_4057

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

IMG_4058

IMG_4059

IMG_4060

7:30 p.m.

Nap # 5

IMG_4062

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

IMG_4066

IMG_4067

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

IMG_4068

IMG_4069

(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 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.

%d bloggers like this: