Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: self-care

Playing Video Games While the Kids are in Daycare

Final Fantasy VII Characters: Red XIII, Barrett, Cait Sith, Aeris, Cloud, Tifa, Cid, Vincent, and Yuffie.
Final Fantasy VII Characters

Summer is usually the time that I write more, but I’ve ended up using the past two and a half weeks just immersing myself in the healing power of Doing What I Want to Do.

This past academic year was rough. Extremely rough. I took six graduate classes in one year while teaching full-time. And I presented at three conferences. And then there were the two kids.

I don’t mean this to sound like I’m so Amazing Because I Do So Many Things. It was actually kind of stupid of me to over-commit myself to so many responsibilities. If I learned anything from this past year, it’s this: Although my mental breaking point has risen dramatically since I had the kids (surprise! surprise!), IT STILL EXISTS.

In mid-June, there I was. Dissolving into tears at a Saturday Morning Breakfast when a friend asked, “How are you doing?”

How am I doing?

Does it matter?

I’m dying inside. 

I haven’t had more than thirty minutes to think about something besides responsibilities in over SEVEN MONTHS.

I don’t do anything besides chores, work, school, chores, work, school. 

Well, yes, I exercise, but I get up at 4:00 a.m. just to do that. 

I haven’t seen adult TV since April. Period.

I haven’t done anything creative, FOR ME, for ten months.

I think that’s what has hurt the most. I’ve been holding onto a list of Things to Do that is about 100 items deep, and every time I knock enough of the things off the list and edge closer to a moment when I can do something that I want to do, SOMETHING ELSE FOR SOMEONE ELSE TAKES ITS PLACE.

Well, that’s just motherhood, hon’. Get over it, part of me thinks. You can do something for yourself in fifteen more years. 

And so the fight goes on.

This is the headspace of Mother of Two compared to Mother of One.

I truly don’t know how my mom survived being Mother of Five.

She didn’t drink. She had no vices that I could see. Her weapon was optimism.

I still don’t know.

***

So this is what burnout looks like.

Dusting off the ole’ PS 2 (purchased in 2001…) and playing Final Fantasy VII from the beginning, this time checking off the acquisition of each and every damn Enemy Skill, leveling up the characters beyond what they need, and grinding away at enemy fights with high AP.

Burnout is reveling in the complete obliteration of fake monsters, which you’ve already beat at least five times before, mind you, (even if it was years ago) that cower with your use of Beta or Bolt 3. It is actually mentally and physically enjoyable to watch yourself knock out Boss after Boss in a few major magic attacks–when you’ve spent the entire academic year grinding away, teaching the same classes over and over again, wondering if you’ve yet told that joke to this current roster of students.

Oh, they laughed, so nope, that joke was still new to them. But you are so very tired of yourself. You don’t find yourself clever or interesting anymore. Teaching has become a bit of an out-of-body experience where you actually–while verbally giving instruction–imagine a reality in which you are finally completely ALONE in a cabin, high in the mountains, with nothing but silent snow falling all around and six more books in the Wheel of Time series to read.

That’s burnout.

That’s what I’ve been coming back from over the last two weeks.

***

In mid-May, I came across this blog post about the level of burnout that working moms feel, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

However, it’s conclusion was this: Hey, Moms. Be vulnerable and let people know that you can’t do it all. Be real and don’t pretend that it’s all okay.

Um. Thanks. That’s not helpful.

I’m real all the time about how things are going. A month ago, an energetic co-worker saw me in the office’s kitchen and cheerfully asked how I was doing.

I said, “Running on fumes.”

“Awww, poor thing. Sorry to hear that.”

Which, yes, is somewhat nice to hear, but it doesn’t do much. And I’m certainly not expecting acquaintances to solve my burnout problems. I might also hear or “Eck, that sucks” or the murderously infuriating, “Well, this time goes fast, so don’t waste these moments!”

But it’s not helping to be vulnerable and real with people about the stress that I typically carry when I’m working full-time and taking care of two little ones.

That’s because the problems are systemic. When you live in a country that PITIFULLY supports parents, you end up with high levels of stress and burnout among working parents. (Not just working moms, hello.)

The 40-hour work week sucks for parents because you’re probably spending an additional 3-4 hours each day just caring for kids. And when you’re done with that, you just want to sleep. So really, between working and caring for kids, you’re putting in 60+ hours.

AND THEN HERE COMES THE WEEKEND.

Only it’s not the “weekend” anymore. It’s 24 waking hours of taking care of your kids, or at least keeping them safely occupied.

And if at any point in this post, you’ve had the thought, Oh please, move on, hon. This is your responsibility–You are proving my point.

Being real and being vulnerable about these issues doesn’t help because too often society says that parents (in particular, moms) should not only selflessly accept their responsibilities–they should revel in these most sacred of moments, when the children are small. Because that is what GOOD MOTHERS do. They find endless amounts of fulfillment and life satisfaction simply in seeing their children thrive.

If that’s what a good mother is, then I’m doomed to be a Mediocre Mom.

As much as I love my kids (and I really do), I cannot pretend that neglecting myself for months on end doesn’t have its consequences.

Right now, the consequence looks like this:

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Of course, it truly does help when you hear your two-year-old says this:

***

Okay, truthfully, that’s not all I’ve been doing. I’ve definitely needed time to myself, but I am still very much me–and there’s part of me that just cannot be tamed, I guess.

We have finally filmed a video on knife sharpening for our YouTube cooking channel, which we have been planning to film for the past ten months. I’ve laid it out. It’s edited. It’s mixed and almost produced.

There’s also another project that I’ve been quietly working on, which I’ll debut in a few weeks, if not earlier.

More to come.

And, hey, thanks for reading and not judging.

Hopefully, I’m not scorched in the comments for “being real.”

2018 Year in Review: a.k.a Why Doing Nothing is Sometimes Everything

While I normally LOVE to be productive and useful, the past few days, I have done little else besides completely veg out.

This is what I do to myself: I do ALL THE THINGS. For months on end. (I won’t even list them out. I’m sure you have your own list of ALL OF THE THINGS).

And while I’m doing all of those things, I think in the back of my mind, When I finally have some time to myself, I’ll do X or Y. (And X or Y is usually a second-priority item from ALL OF THE THINGS that I just don’t have time for).

And then I hit a wall.

And then I do NONE OF THE THINGS.

(Are you like that? I can’t be alone in that.)

I don’t do skirts or pantyhose. Or makeup. I “sleep in” until 5:30 or 6:00. (Sad? Meh. It’s tolerable.) It’s the fluffy pink bathrobe around the house (most of the day, at least). In this week before Christmas when I’m not teaching, without a shred of guilt, I send my beautiful children to daycare.

And I am finally alone.

And what do I do?

Let’s start with what I DON’T do.

I don’t think about upcoming presentations or writing that I could be doing. I (mostly) don’t write. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s simply because after so many months of giving pieces of myself to everyone else, I’ve got to have time to turn inward and fill my own cup.

Instead, I watch movies and shows. I read books. I listen to podcasts or read articles that I’ve been meaning to read for months. I exercise when I want to. I send the cards, I dole out the Christmas bonuses to every lovely daycare teacher that deals with our kids, and I stuff the stockings.

In fact, I kind of love that part of Christmas. Because it gives me time to think about the people in my life for whom I’m grateful. It takes a village, right? Damn right, it does. And I want my village to know that I’m grateful for every blessed day that they take care of my kids so I can continue to pursue my own goals.

I also get the few gifts that we’ll give our kids. (Don’t tell them, but it’s a few small games, some Play-Doh, hand puppets, and some winter clothes.) We don’t really do many gifts at Christmas. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts. Seriously. What’s the point? Instead of gifts, what we’ve said we’re going to do for each other is give the other person a solid day of not having to take care of the kids from sunup to sundown.

(Merry Christmas, BG. Love you.)

Love my kids.

Love ’em.

But I also enjoy such privileges like, I don’t know, setting my own agenda. Or making a decision based on what I feel like.

Guess what I discovered over the past few days while my kids have been at daycare?

7:00 a.m. is the perfect time on a winter day to go for a run. The sun is just starting to come up and the frost is still crisp on the fallen leaves. It’s light enough to easily spot patches of ice, but the sun isn’t high enough yet to blind you. And in that perfect light, your breath comes out in fluffy white puffs, momentarily adorning the air.

And I love lying still on the middle of the living room floor, eyes closed, no damn phone in my hand or notifications calling for my attention, for a solid 30 minutes.

And laughing about South Park’s Buddha Box.

And crying with PBS’ newest version of Little Women.

And thinking about Black Mirror’s Hang the DJ.

And reflecting on how much the kids have grown this past year.

 

So this Christmas, I’m happy to Bow Out, Sign Off, and Check Out.

And be happy to do None of the Things.

Hoping you all find your own Time and Space and Peace.

Sharon

Postpartum Weight Loss Reality Check

Someone, somewhere started this saying, “Nine months to put it on, Nine months to take it off.”

Ha, I say.

Nine months?

I wish.

For both of my pregnancies, it took a solid 15-18 months to get it all off.

And it took the magic of intermittent fasting to get the last 10 pounds off.

First, disclaimers. Everyone is different (duh) and I’m not a medical professional (obviously).

But here’s what I experienced.

Basically, the experience of pregnancy and birth puts your body into metabolic overload.

Chugga-chugga-choo-choo!

Then, after birth, your body continues in its highest gear for a period time, before it completely powers down. It takes a while for your body to figure out it’s new normal metabolism. We’re talking months. Even if you’re eating well and exercising.

I’ll detail it out here:

Birth – 6 Months Postpartum: The Engine Slows to a Crawl

  • Birth – 1 month postpartum
    • Exercise: Moving self through the house
    • Diet: Eating whatever I was hungry for–and I was hungry a lot
    • Lost 10 pounds

It’s too bad that I was too sleep deprived to fully appreciate how quickly I lost weight in that first month postpartum. Pretty sure I’ll never lose weight that quickly ever again in life.

  • 2 months – 5 months
    • Exercise: Walking, light aerobics and weightlifting, 3-4 days per week
    • Diet: Eating whatever I was hungry for–and I wasn’t hungry as frequently
    • Lost
      • 2 months postpartum: 3 pounds
      • 3 months postpartum: 1 pound
      • 4 months postpartum: 1 pound
      • 5 months postpartum: 1 pound

I started keeping track of my measurements around this time.

Why? I’m sure some of you are asking. Why would you do that to yourself?

A few reasons. First, any change in my measurements gave me motivation to keep going–especially since I started out with six inches to lose from my hips.

  • 6 months
    • Exercise: Light jogging and weightlifting, 5-6 days per week
    • Diet: Keeping intake to 1600-1700 calories per day
    • Lost 0 pounds

Undoubtedly, six months postpartum was my peak dissatisfaction with body. I mean. Really. Lost 0 pounds.

When the dust settled and my body figured out that it wasn’t carrying another human being anymore, my metabolism settled on a nice comfortable rate of losing 1/4 pound per week. It wasn’t the rate that wanted, but at least I was moving in the right direction.

7 months: Second Gear

  • 7 months
    • Exercise: Medium-impact aerobics and weightlifting, 6 days per week
    • Diet: Keeping intake to 1600-1700 calories per day, eating more protein
    • Lost: 2 pounds

At 7 and 8 months postpartum, I had recovered enough (Kegels, ahem) to get back into my higher intensity aerobic training. It was a gradual ramping up of intensity, being careful to avoid injuries. This higher intensity training helped to kick start my metabolism again and begin the path back to my previous fitness level.

8 months – 13 months: Figuring Out How To Keep the Engine Going

  • Exercise: Running and heavy weightlifting, 6 days per week
  • Diet: Aiming for 1500-1600 calories, eating more vegetables and protein
  • Lost
    • 8 months: 3 pounds
    • 9 months: 2 pounds
    • 10 months: 2 pounds
    • 11 months: 1 pound

Over time, I saw my metabolism slow again. At 11 months postpartum, I was still 10 pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. And I just wanted to be done with the whole thing.

Nevertheless, I just couldn’t stomach counting calories at all anymore. I had been pretty laissez-faire about it from eight months postpartum onward, but at this point, I just cringed at the thought of keeping any more tallies of calories. Instead, I would just eyeball what I was eating and try to keep meals in an acceptable range.

My husband recommended adding more protein to my diet. So I added some peanut butter to my oatmeal. I didn’t change anything else. Just added the peanut butter.

  • 12 months
    • Exercise: Running and heavy weightlifting, 6 days per week
    • Diet: Not counting calories–added peanut butter to daily oatmeal
    • GAINED 3 pounds

It turns out that adding the peanut butter was not such a great idea. So I went back to my old routines.

  • 13 months
    • Exercise: Running and heavy weightlifting, 6 days per week
    • Diet: Return to old diet without the peanut butter
    • Lost 2 pounds

This is the month when I was ready to do something drastically different. ANYTHING different.

Enough already! I’m running 3.5 miles three times per week! I’m eating healthy! I’m tired of just dropping 1 or 2 pounds a month!

This is when I heard that one of my friends (Thanks, Cate) was doing intermittent fasting. She said that for two days per week, she was restricting her calories to 500 calories. On the other days, she would eat normally.

Oh brother, I thought. That can’t be good for exercising.

“You can exercise,” she told me, after I asked.

“Really?”

“Yeah, look it up.”

So I did.

What’s really funny is that I had been reading The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara for several months–but I stopped reading just before I got to the section about intermittent fasting.

Secret Life of Fat

There are different ways to do intermittent fasting, and eating 500 calories two days a week didn’t really fit in with my need for daily consistency.

But there was a version that would work great for me: Fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours.

For me, that would mean skipping breakfast. Then eating lunch and dinner.

The idea behind intermittent fasting is to extend your body’s natural fat-burning mode, which happens when you sleep. While you sleep, your body consumes its energy from the day before. When it runs out, it starts burning your fat reserves. As soon as you start eating, your body stops burning fat and starts working on the food. If you can keep your fast going for a few months hours, you give your body a chance to burn more of your fat reserves.

And if you exercise in the morning on top of intermittent fasting?

Powerhouse.

14 months – 18 months: Intermittent Fasting = Quick, Permanent Results

So here’s what happened to me:

  • 14 months
    • Exercise: Running and heavy weightlifting
    • Diet: Eating in an 8-hour-window, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., no calorie counting, aim for lots of protein, good fats, and vegetables.
    • Lost 4 pounds
  • 15 months
    • Exercise: Running and heavy weightlifting
    • Diet: Eating in an 8-hour-window, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., no calorie counting, aim for lots of protein, good fats, and vegetables
    • Lost 4 pounds

And I’m still going. At almost 18 months postpartum, I’ve returned to my pre-pregnancy weight–and I’ve lost an additional 2 pounds.

If you’re thinking about intermittent fasting, I will say that the first week is probably the hardest. I was extraordinarily hungry until I would eat at 10:00 a.m. But drinking water helped. After a week or so, my body had re-adjusted to a new normal and it’s not nearly so hard to make it to 10 a.m. now, several months later, as it was then.

Not only did I lose weight, but I think that the fasting helped to reset everything in my body.

Read: PMSing and periods have been pretty tame and I haven’t really been sick at all–even though my petri-dish children have given me plenty of chances to travel into the depths with them.

Furthermore, allowing myself to feel hunger for a period of time helped me realize that I was still thinking about hunger from a pregnant mindset. During pregnancy, hunger = nausea. And when I was pregnant, if I allowed myself to go hungry, I paid for it with wanting to throw up.

But not anymore. Now, I can feel hunger again, without the nausea.

More than anything, I’m just thrilled to be back at my old weight, wearing my old clothes, feeling like my old self. It definitely didn’t come easy.

So if you’re out there, trying to lose the baby weight, I’m with ya, girl. It sucks. It really sucks.

My advice to you when you first get into (or back into) exercising: Embrace humility.

No one looks great exercising when they’re first starting out.

And it’s not about “looking hot” anyway, right? You’re over that, right? You just had a baby come out of you. Remember how crazy that was?

Tell yourself you’ve been through harder things then this.

High five to you for hangin’ in there.

I think you’re amazing.

 

bump-pictures-2

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41 weeks, 3 days: Totally done.

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Two days postpartum (No Kate Middleton here. I think she has some special line in her genetic code?)

 

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4 days postpartum

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Two weeks postpartum

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2 months postpartum: Beginning of exercise, still in maternity clothes 

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6 months postpartum: Down to my old yoga pants.

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15 months postpartum: Wearing my old jeans. Jeans, I say!

 

 

Week 20: What If I Told You…

That I am selfish?

That holding my sick baby for the entire night doesn’t feel that rewarding?

That for several months when my teaching load was light, I didn’t pick my daughter up from daycare until 5:30, even though I had finished everything for teaching and grading by 3:30

That I love my kids, but I’m at my best when I have a break from them

That some days are nothing but chores and work from sunup to sundown

That there are periods of several days in a row when the only thing that I get to “do for myself” is drink a cup of coffee in the quiet stillness in my cubicle before it’s time to teach

That I don’t like that

That I miss The Weekend

That I miss binge-watching TV for hours on end

That I wanted a child, but I didn’t want to be a “mom.”

(Does that make sense?)

That each day is a decision to live a spirit of humility and generosity (even though I sometimes want to be childish and self-centered)

That I constantly fail at this

That I lose my patience and yell

What if I told you that I’m not inherently great at mothering simply because I’m female?

That it’s a struggle to put the needs of others before me

That each day is a decision to let go of my desire to preserve my sleep, my time, my energy, my sanity

What if I told you that motherhood has made me more vulnerable than I have ever been my whole life?

That each day is a decision to draw my children close, rather than keeping them at arm’s length

because of my fear that they will sink their hooks so deeply into my being that they can unhinge me

What if I told you that I’ve grown two more chambers of my heart

And birth separated them from me

That they are now out there in the world, naive and not yet broken

And oh so exposed

That when they are crushed by the world, I will be too

What if I told you that before I became a mother, I thought that “moms” were minivans and bad pants and nonexistent sex lives?

That I thought that once I entered motherhood, it was all over

That once I became a mother, I might as well abandon anything that I wanted to do for myself for the rest of my life

And by that logic, I had to finish writing anything meaningful before I had any kids.

(Because they would just make it impossible to ever write again, right?)

What if I told you that before I gave birth, I had months of writer’s block

But once my daughter was born, I couldn’t stop writing.

That between naps and feedings and diaper changes, I wrote pages and pages and pages.

That sometimes I wrote at 3:00 a.m. after a feeding because I had another good idea

What if I told you that after I placed my time and energy and plans on the altar of motherhood

It gave me back far, far more precious gifts.

Strength.

Resiliency.

Wholehearted Love.

Joy.

Motherhood has knocked me down into the messy quagmire of life time and time again.

It has made me sob and ache and grovel and resent and rage.

But it has also made me a Badass.

It has made me skilled in the art of Forgiving

and Getting Back Up

and Moving On

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Artistry credit: Courtney Blair, http://www.patterndaily.bigcartel.com

 

 

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.

What Bleeding Taught Me About Trump’s America

Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.

It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.

Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.

To that voice in your mind, I say this:

Fight.

Fight like hell.

Fight for your life.

Fight for the future of this country.

Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.

This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.

It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?

Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?

Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.

Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.

I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.

Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.

Here’s what I wrote:

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Eerie.

To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.

But it doesn’t feel quite right.

It feels like you’re leaving something behind.

Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.

At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.

When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.

“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”

Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.

My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad. 

The menu falls against my face and I doze off.

But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.

My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.

I feel myself coming back.

The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.

I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.

It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.

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I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.

You. Are. Wrong.

That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.

It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.

When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.

But I kept bleeding.

The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.

But warm blood kept flowing out of me.

If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.

What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.

I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.

“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”

And I kept bleeding.

More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.

I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.

You forget.

I just had a baby.

I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.

No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)

So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.

What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.

Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.

***

The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.

But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?

All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.

After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.

But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.

I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.

It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.

Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.

This is when the shit hits the fan for me.

At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?

But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.

Then I see his face and it’s over.

The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.

I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.

These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.

One voice says:

You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!

Another voice says:

You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand. 

But the loudest voice of all says:

Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child. 

That final voice is right. I know it.

But, God, it still hurts.

I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.

That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.

I shudder.

I call for Doug.

***

But it gets better.

The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.

But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.

In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.

I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.

So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.

After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.

I do not do the dishes.

I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.

I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.

I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.

Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.

Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.

I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.

I start to crawl back to the living.

***

This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.

You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.

Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.

Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.

Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.

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And I think, we are going to be okay.

But not because things naturally become okay.

Far from it.

We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.

I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.

This is a struggle.

The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.

Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.

But when I read the news, do you know what I see?

Hope.

That’s right. Hope.

I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.

Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.

These battles are good and just.

But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.

Where is our attention and what are we missing?

Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?

White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?

Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?

U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?

Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?

Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?

When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.

Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.

Because we are fighting for this future.

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We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.

We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.

We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.

We are fighting for the future.

For life.

For love.

This world still smells like everything I hate

But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case

And all my friends, they feel the same way too

We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.

The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing

From the wound you left inside.

….

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.

Running

I started running this week.

Normally, I stay in the warm back room of our house and work up a sweat doing cardio kickboxing, yoga, or high-intensity intervals.

But nothing has been normal for the past three weeks.

running

Image from Shutterstock

***

Shortly after finding out that our baby had no heartbeat, it was time for all the Christmas festivities. My daughter’s daycare went on a break. No rest for the weary or the brokenhearted. Mercifully, my husband took vacation so that we could share the household chores while we waited for me to miscarry.

Christmas Eve.

Cookie baking. Church. Stockings. Christmas Vacation.

Christmas.

Cinnamon rolls, sausage, eggs, coffee. Gifts. Home Alone. Cookies. Salad. Pierogies. More sausage. Wine. More coffee. More cookies.

And then the long stretch between Christmas and New Year’s. Unstructured hours with a two-year-old. Read: attention span of two minutes. Snacks. Haphazard attempts at potty-training, (No peeing in your panties!). Obvious (yet interesting?) observations. (Mama have eyes? Mi-mouse have eyes? Daddy have eyes?) Repetitive songs (Daddy shark, de-de-de-de-de-de-de, Mama shark, de-de-de-de-de-de). Tantrums (No!!! Go away, Mama!).

The weather was miserable. Warm, torrential rains. Flooding. A deep gray settled over the sky for days. I looked out the window of our kitchen and shrugged. Figures, I remember thinking.

But there was also periodic laughing at our daughter’s new stretches of speech that didn’t quite coincide with the present situation. In Target, looking at the DVD, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, she said, Oh no! What happened to us?–perhaps asking why the Peanuts characters were screaming as they crowded together in a raft.

After the D & C, I rested. I cramped. I bled. I took the Motrin (I never could tolerate Vicodin). I stopped eating cookies and chocolate. I dumped the leftover bottles of wine. Then, I ate sweet potatoes, kale smoothies, salads, and chicken. I started going back to bed at 10:00 and started getting up at 6:00.

Daycare resumed on the Monday after New Year’s. After I dropped my daughter off at daycare, I breathed a sigh of relief. I got in my car, turned the music up, and drove home. I had one more week off before I needed to return to work.

Now, I can really take care of myself, I thought. I went home did some cardio kickboxing for 40 minutes. I felt better. I vegged out with The Office. I finished Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong. I ate broccoli and salmon and rice for lunch.

And then…

I decided I wasn’t done exercising. I decided to run.

And it. Was. Cold.

But I also didn’t care.

I borrowed my husband’s headphones. I put on a long-sleeved shirt and fleece-lined jacket. I turned on Pandora on my phone. I stretched.

Then, I went for it.

I knew better than to break into a sprint. So I jogged. I made it two minutes. I took a break. I jogged again. Two minutes. Break. Repeat. I watched the house numbers on the mailboxes grow higher and higher.

We live next to a huge, beautiful park and as I rounded a corner, its trees came into view. I picked up the pace. Then, I took a break.

Then, the hill.

I was going to do this thing. I was going to go as far as I could. I was tired of playing the Why me? script over and over again in my head. It was pointless and sucked up all my energy. It was time to start playing a new script.

I can come back from this. 

I won’t let this swallow the best of me.

I have been through worse. I have felt worst.

I can be a real badass when I decide to be.

Even if this happens again, I’m going to be okay.

***

In The Gifts of ImperfectionBrene Brown gives ten guideposts for wholehearted living. As I read through them, two of them struck me as the lessons that I’m learning right now.

  • Cultivating a resilient spirit: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness. (i.e., dumping the cookies, the wine, and the Why me? script)
  • Cultivating intuition and trusting faith: Letting go of the need for certainty. (i.e., having the willingness to try something new, even if I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it)

***

I pushed into the hill, taking deep breaths, pulling in the oxygen, pushing out the burning in my legs. I kept my eyes on the ground and told myself, one more step, one more, now to the next mailbox, one more step.

When I reached my limit, I was halfway up the hill. I knew today would not be the day that I got to the top.

And that was okay.

I walked the rest of the way up the hill, turned around, and made my way down.

I’m normally a cold person. I’m always seeking warmth.

But as I started descending that hill, I could feel the blood warming my fingers. I could feel the warmth everywhere. It was 20 degrees, but I felt warm.

And I had done that.

In a dark, cold season of my life, I had made myself warm.

Running is not my usual routine, and I probably won’t stick with it in the long run (pun intended). Maybe I’ll go back to kickboxing. Maybe I’ll start swimming (although I’ll need to find a pool to do that.)

I’m open.

But sometimes, to get out of a rut, to change the script, to start over, you need to do something different.

 

 

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