Sometimes, being a good mom means asking for help. It is so tempting to think we need to do everything ourselves. I am one of those people who wants to be in complete control of my life and family. I like figuring out routines and knowing what will happen at any given moment. When my mom watched my 10 month-old son for an overnight, I put together a detailed schedule that she could follow to make sure his routine didn’t vary much. I have repeated this for every overnight since – with an amended schedule as he got older. However, even I remember two distinct times while parenting my son that I really could have used some help from someone else.
This sleep regression hit my husband and me so hard! Our son had been sleeping so well! He would reliably sleep 7 hours for his first stretch for over a month. And then, right around Thanksgiving, that gradually grew shorter until he was up every hour. We tried everything!
Nothing seemed to work! We would have a good night and try to mimic exactly what we did the day before…and then we’d have a horrible night. I remember pushing my little guy in the stroller for hours to try to get him to have a nice long nap during the day – and then complaining to my grumpy baby in the middle of the night that he was supposed to be sleeping well after all that napping.
My husband and I were so. tired. We needed a break. We needed someone to come in and help us wrap our heads around this lack of sleep. What we did was read a bunch of opinions and buy a bunch of stuff that was supposed to help.
In the end, he eventually started sleeping better at some point. I also decided to just accept waking up three times a night. That acceptance made it much more manageable. But if I could have gotten some more sleep before then, I probably would have been a much happier person.
This was such a difficult phase in parenthood that I don’t even like thinking about it! I was so stubborn and unable to accept that my little one needed something different. I was used to a specific routine – one that had worked amazingly well for months. So when my baby started to resist his afternoon nap, I tried to power through. I would rock him for over an hour. Outwardly, I was calm and loving. But on the inside I was brimming with anger. Just go to sleep! I would think to myself, over and over. I even rocked a bit too fast and rubbed his back a little harder than was necessary. I was at my wits end, thinking about all the things I had planned to do during that nap that just wasn’t happening.
I could have reached out. I could have asked some other moms what they thought was going on or looked into parenting resources. But I figured it was my job to sort it out by myself. I was the mom, after all.
There will be times in parenting that a little help can go a long way. I wish I had surrendered some of the control at those points in parenting. I would still be “mom” but maybe just a calmer, better rested mom.
Are you struggling right now? If so, please take a moment to think about ways that you could let go or let someone else help out. Remember – your needs matter, too, and you deserve a break just like everyone else.
A few days after my son was born, my husband and I needed to buy something from the drug store. I don’t remember what it was, I only remember that at first we assumed my husband would get it but then decided that he should watch the baby and I would walk the few blocks to the store. It was a beautiful August day. I let the warm sun soak into my skin and marveled at how nice it felt to do something so ordinary. Bringing home our son felt like all the pieces of our life were thrown into a bag, shaken up, and then scattered onto the ground. I felt completely changed and had no idea when normalcy would return. That walk felt amazing.
When I got to the store, I found what we needed and impulsively picked up a king-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups pack while I waited in line. (It took a few days for me to remember it was in my bag and finally get to eat it.) When it was my turn at the register, the cashier and I exchanged pleasantries and remarked at how beautiful the day was. She lamented the fact that she had to work. “By the time I get off work, it’s supposed to change to rain,” she sighed. I felt a bubble of desire to explain what I had been doing before my trip to the store – the baby at home who was either crying, sucking desperately from my sore nipples, or sleeping on my chest – but it seemed too surreal to mention in the fluorescent-lit store. How could I explain the combination of joy and exhaustion to this young clerk? Could she possibly understand what it’s like to have another being depend solely on you for survival? Were there even words in the English language to express how hard it was for me to be just a few blocks away from my new son even though I desperately craved a break?
I ended up saying nothing – just smiled and nodded at her wish to be outside. When I got home, I learned that baby boy had slept all of 5 minutes after I left and screamed the rest of the time I was gone. This started the struggle I have continued to have with leaving him with not-Mom. And I still don’t know how to explain to people without children what it’s like to suddenly be a parent and carry so much weight.
All families are different and responsibilities settle themselves in various ways depending on the individuals. However, the majority of the time, there is one individual who becomes the “default parent” and it is usually the mom.
The day my son was born, I tried to determine the emotion I felt. I knew people often referred to that day as being “the happiest day of their life.” But that didn’t seem right. To me, it was like an eclipse occurred. I was no longer the center of my universe but now this new person shared the space with me. And while my life has settled down for the most part and I can go for a walk by myself without feeling torn, I still cannot do anything without first considering how the act will impact my son. My heart and soul have grown to include another being.
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a Birth Without Fear conference in Burlington, VT. January Harshe started Birth Without Fear as a way “to let women know they have choices in childbirth.” It has grown into “an inspiration and support to women and their families through their trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth and post partum journeys.” January does an amazing job helping women feel beautiful and powerful just the way they are. She is a strong woman who uses her strength to bring other women up.
I have been very fortunate to have had many outlets to share my own birth story and to connect with other women who have given birth recently. However, that is rarely the case today. With the growing reliance on socializing through social media, we are missing out on real, face-to-face connections with our peers. The Birth Without Fear conference is a way for women to meet and hear first-hand that their stories are valid and that they have the right to want more out of the birthing industry.
My doula partner Rainbow Crabtree and I are a part of a group called the St. Lawrence County Birth Connection, which is working to make birth a more positive experience for women in St. Lawrence County. One of the ways we’re tackling this huge goal is by hosting an evening to share birth stories. On Wednesday, November 16th, Birth Story Share: Holding Space to Honor All Births will occur at the Presbyterian Church on the Park in Canton. Join us from 6:30 – 8:30 pm for a chance to share your stories and hear from other mothers. We will provide light snacks and childcare.
If we don’t talk to each other about what we’re experiencing, nothing will ever change. We don’t have to move mountains – we only need to be there for each other and provide the space for healing and growth. The more we share, the more the world will be forced to listen.
Few people today end up living in the same town where they grew up. We move states and countries away from our families for jobs, climates, and "livability". The distance from family can make holiday get-togethers logistically tricky and can be almost debilitating when a new baby enters into the picture.
We all know that new babies, while precious and heart-warming, bring a myriad of challenges from non-stop crying to exploding diapers to seemingly endless nursing. And with many spouses needing to go back to work after a week or two at home, the majority of newborn care falls on the mother's shoulders, regardless of how prepared she may feel for this new role.
Need I mention that our proud United States is tied with Papua New Guinea for the least supportive maternity leave laws? This leaves mom at home grappling with motherhood while knowing that she will likely have to go back to work soon if her household relies on her income to stay afloat.
Grandma, Grandpa, uncles, and aunts - what can you do to help when you are too far away to step in with laundry and meal preparation yourself?
Here are 5 ways a long-distance family member can help out:
1.) Send a care package with healthy snacks that can be eaten with one hand, light-hearted movies or tv series, lip balm and nipple cream, magazines, a HUGE reusable water bottle (preferably with a straw), assorted tea bags, and chocolate.
2.) Get a pizza delivered. No one ever says no to free pizza.
3.) Hire a postpartum doula. Many doulas (this one included!) offer gift certificates so loved ones can send a new family some support.
4.) Call, text, Skype, FaceTime, email, send a carrier pigeon - whatever your favorite way of checking in is, do it! If the new mom is stuck at home all day with a baby, she will welcome a friendly conversation. If you're concerned about waking a sleeping baby, send a text before calling.
5.) Check to see if they have a registry on Amazon or other websites for last-minute baby needs. Often accessories like a Moby Wrap or Sleep Sheep don't seem necessary until deep in the trenches.
Even if you can't be there in person, your thoughtfulness can go a long way in supporting the new family. And remember - thinking about it doesn't count in this case. Don't wait for them to have another sleepless night without help - do it now!
It has been an unusually dry summer here in the North Country. Every couple days the weather channel forecasts rain, but most of the time it has just passed us by. I keep waiting for the rain to come and haven't been watering my garden because it's going to rain "soon."
But my lettuce is wilted and my tomato plants won't grow without water.
The same can be said about taking care of our needs as parents. It's easy to put off self-care because there are more urgent matters to attend to and it doesn't seem as important as laundry and preparing dinner. But if we don't take care of ourselves, we'll wilt just like my lettuce. It might be such a gradual process that we don't even notice it happening. Slowly, but surely, we're getting too consumed in the mundane and losing our love for life.
What message does this send to our kids? It's more important to constantly care for others than to make sure our own needs are met? Or that moms don't have needs of their own? Either way, it's not a healthy way to view the world.
When we don't take the time to care for ourselves, it's harder to be the patient, loving parents that we want to be. We have shorter fuses and are less likely to want to play blocks or color with our kiddos. We're in survival mode and aren't able to see the joy in life.
So let's take those few minutes to read a magazine or get a pedicure. Call in reinforcements. Take a mental health day. Enjoy the sunshine. Go out for a cappuccino with a friend. Or just catch an episode of Fixer Upper during nap time. Water your garden and everyone will feel better.
Now if only I can get someone to weed for me...
I love children. Before I moved to northern New York and became a doula, I taught middle and high school students in Vermont. I babysat when I was young and always knew I'd become a mom some day. There was no question about it -- I had spent a lot of time working with young people and wanted one of my own. I knew this from the very beginning.
I was so confident in my parenting abilities that I (a serious reader and researcher) read absolutely nothing about infant care. I read a book about breastfeeding, but that was the only way I prepared myself for the arrival of my new baby. I figured it would all come naturally. I knew how to relate to kids; how hard could a baby really be?
Well, as I wrote in my previous blog post, I was greatly surprised. Getting to know a new person who is also figuring out how to just LIVE is a pretty overwhelming experience. Add severe sleep deprivation into the mix and you have a recipe for a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt. While there were many good days, the hard moments stand out very strongly in my mind.
But even in the most difficult phases of learning how to be a parent, when each new day started, I felt a sense of relief. We had survived another night. Instead of stressing over getting the baby to sleep, we could just go for a stroller walk to get a croissant. Or lie on the couch and watch a How I Met Your Mother marathon on Netflix. It didn't really matter what we did, but the rising sun made me feel like it would all be okay.
When I decided to become a doula, I wanted to take that sense of confidence that each new day brought me and give that to other parents. It is so hard to know what "good parenting" looks like these days with the overflow of advice and opinions that the Internet brings. But if we take each day at a time, it is much easier. Each new day brings the possibility of a new milestone for your baby and a great cup of coffee for you. We just need to have faith that all things will pass and that life really is about the journey.
When I was pregnant with my son, I spent countless hours researching pregnancy and childbirth. I knew how he was progressing inside of me and what foods I should avoid to keep my precious cargo safe. I went to prenatal yoga every week and did plenty of cat/cow to get baby in the best position. My husband and I not only attended a standard childbirth preparation class, but also a special partner class that covered numerous coping mechanisms and supports at a local yoga studio. A seasoned marathoner, I knew how to pace myself and help my body through challenges. I felt that I knew what to expect from labor and was ready to face it head-on, the way I faced all my other endurance performances. I was strong and excited to show the world my strength!
When it came time for me to give birth to my son, I was strong and did know many ways to handle the pain. I walked around the hospital, rocked on a birthing ball, slow-danced with my husband, and spent a lot of time in the tub. I am proud of my birth story and plan on sharing it some day. But my more important lesson was what came after the pain of labor ended and my eight-pound bundle of joy was placed on my chest. Amidst the rush of oxytocin that instantly made my little boy the center of my universe, I had a nagging voice saying, "Now what?"
See, I had spent so much time focusing on how to handle labor and birth that I'd forgotten to think about how I was going to become a mom. I had plenty of clothes, disposable and cloth diapers, ointments and lotions, blankets, and carriers. I knew where I wanted baby boy to sleep and how to introduce our pet greyhound to him. But I didn't know what to expect during those first hours, days, or weeks. I'd assumed that since I knew how to change a diaper I didn't need to take a newborn care class. "What's so hard about a baby?" I had thought.
The first night answered that question loud and clear. After I'd had my special dinner of a turkey sandwich and gin and tonic, lovingly smuggled into the hospital by my husband, I placed my baby against my chest for some skin to skin contact. We spent many hours nestled together as he tried to get his tiny mouth to fit around my nipple to eat. Once it turned dark, my husband went home and I was on my own.
I spent most of that first night walking around the tiny hospital room trying to comfort a very sad baby who couldn't figure out how to latch. Occasionally I had a nurse come in and arrange my body just so before shoving his head toward me. And he was able to latch that way, but he also cried a lot. I felt more than a little overwhelmed and wondered if there was a way that I could have prepared better.
When the sun rose for the start of a new day, I was happy to have survived my first night. Nursing got easier over time and I figured out how to swaddle him myself, so he felt cozy even when sleeping next to me. I was able to rest some too, which made a huge difference. But it was very clear to me that the endurance event does not end with the birth of a child - it has only just begun.
New Day Doula
Rainbow and Mary share thoughts on pregnancy, birth, and the parenting journey.