The Washing of Hands

I’m feeling particularly centered and thoughtful this Sunday as we’ve begun attending a church in Cary. Now I’m not a Christian, but I’m opening up to spiritual possibilities. I like having a lesson on kindness or love to begin my week. We also love Ms. Pat in the nursery, so that helps a lot too.

This Sunday was about Pontius Pilate washing his hands of any responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion. Once again, I don’t know if I believe any of this really happened, but like most good literature, there’s an enriching interpretation to apply to my own life. What am I washing my hands of in my daily life? There are simple and complex answers to that. I am struggling with one of my four courses this semester. This one class just doesn’t have the basic skills to do much of what I’ve planned. I realize I keep pushing them forward and washing my hands of what they don’t know and “should have already learned…” But this isn’t helpful. Maybe I need to pause. Back up. Re-design the class and meet them where they are. This means a lot more work for me. What will I do? I have no idea, yet.

But that’s the simple “hand washing” in my life. The more complex turning away is when it comes to family. As some of you know, I have two sisters, both older. My sister who is closest in age to me hasn’t been a part of my life for years. After trying for decades to help her cope with a severe mental illness, I decided to protect myself and my family and step away from this relationship. It is in this situation that I don’t have any idea how not to “wash my hands.” I think of my sister daily. I love her, but most of the time she is not the person I love. She is usually some distorted persona of herself. And when she’s not well, which is much of the time, she tends to take out her frustrations on those closest to her; hence my desire to keep my distance.

This fracture in my life is probably the deepest and the most problematic. I’ve spent years living with a tangible guilt about being unable to help her.

I don’t have a neat conclusion or ending to this post. This is really just to say to you, my friends, that this is something I sit with often. This blog is about honesty in motherhood, but also in life. Mental illness affects 1 in 4 Americans, and I have a family member who suffers daily, who cannot keep a job and doesn’t know what mental state she will wake up in each morning. And I don’t know if I believe in the power of prayer, but I think prayer or thoughts are my only way in which not to “wash my hands” of my sister.

This is difficult to write about, to look at, to discuss, but that’s what is worth writing about–the difficult things. I encourage you to not turn away this week, from someone or something that would be easy to wash your hands of.

Are You Having A Baby? No, I Have One Already!

Mae just turned ONE! I WAS NOT READY, people.

She’s not walking yet, so she is not a toddler. I will not accept that term: toddler. She’s my baby.

I’ve learned that when your baby gets close to the one-year mark, the world begins to think you might have another one. What?!

Actually, I kind of get it. Kind of. Mae is finally sleeping through the night. She’s saying some words. She can feed herself. This is practically relaxing at a spa compared to her newborn days. I can see how some parents would become lulled into comfort and think “Why not add another one to the mix?”

But I haven’t forgotten yet. The labor. The colic. The exhaustion. The anxiety attacks. It’s all still pretty vivid. And I wonder if I’ll ever forget enough to consider having another child. Her first four months were the most stressful of my life. Period.

Of course, she brings me more joy than anything else now. Enough joy, that one baby fills me up just fine.

I also love my career. I’ve finally hit my stride again this semester. Last semester, my first after maternity leave, was just about survival. But now, I think I’m a better teacher than I’ve ever been, mainly due to motherhood. Life is crazy and I just finished both grading essays and making felt pages for a quiet book, but we are floating along for the most part. This morning, Mae woke up with an explosive diaper that went through everything, all the way to the sheets.
This was not stressful. It’s our normal. Shit happens. ;) But I can’t take any more shit happening.

This is all just to say: we are happy. She’s still a baby. Don’t ask me about another one.

Lessons from the First Year of Motherhood

Motherhood has taught me, and beat into me, many lessons in the past twelve months. Here are the ones my tired brain can remember:

* Don’t buy anything new. People are practically giving kid stuff away. Buy it used and then sell it again.

* Don’t have a baby in the winter. It’s a real disadvantage. Have a baby when getting outside is easy.

* Buy a nice camera. It’s totally worth it. Best purchase of the year.

* Keep a calendar and write down one memory from each day. It’s way easier than a baby book.

* When it’s 3 AM and the baby is crying and your husband is on your last nerve, drink wine and take that baby into the bath tub with you.

* When it’s 3:30 AM and the baby is still crying, call your mom and pour another glass of wine.

* Listen to your instincts.

* Listen to your instincts. (I realize that I repeated that one).

* Patience is a skill.

* You can live on thirty-minute intervals of sleep for a long time.

* Buy a hammock.

* Things end, even when it feels like they won’t.

* There are people in my life who will lift me up when I need them, again and again.

* Exercise balls are a blessing and a curse.

* Sleep is not underrated. It is the best thing in the world.

* Rock-n-plays should cost more. They are magic. (We are bronzing ours.)

* Just when you think you can’t love any deeper, your baby gives you a smile or learns something new, and you fall in love with her more.

Confessions of a Not-So-New Mom

My daughter is almost one, so I should be over this…but I’m not.

When other new moms tell me about their “easy” babies, I get slightly jealous, maybe even a little angry. I tell them I’m happy for them, and I am, but I also feel a pang of envy.

Of course, I’d never trade my baby for their babies. My baby has a dimple in her chin, has a mischevious grin, and loves books. I love my baby.

BUT, I still feel robbed of her first four months of life. I suffered from postpartum anxiety, and my daughter suffered from colic. Those months weren’t pleasant. They weren’t blissful. We all just tried to survive.

Of course, we had moments, very few and far between, but we had them. There is one that I always come back to. Mae must have been 8 weeks old or so, and she was just beginning to hold her head up, and out of nowhere, she pushed herself up while laying on my chest, pushed up her arms and held up her head and held my gaze for some long seconds, and it was as if she was saying “Don’t give up on me. Stick with me.” Then she went back to screaming at my boob.

I love talking with new moms. I love helping and supporting them. It’s actually something I get a lot of satisfaction from. I volunteer with Postpartum Education & Support, and I’ve become a touchstone for many women, and I love that.

But when I see a baby sleeping soundly in a car seat while the mother grocery shops, I still pause in awe.

And then I feel this guilt. Am I really comparing other children to mine? And it’s not that. Like most mothers, I think Mae is the most amazing person, but I  still  feel the loss of what I thought those first few months would be, and it seems as if some mothers get something close to what I wanted. It’s a lot to let go of, those high expectations that I had.

So while I wouldn’t change anything about Mae’s birth or newborn days (because they taught me so much about myself), I still find myself, at times, jealous of some women’s experiences.

The Trigger That Keeps Coming Up: Breastfeeding and Pumping and Permission

While many studies state that breastfeeding helps reduce postpartum depression, this is not the case if a mother’s intent was to breastfeed and she wasn’t able to due to milk supply, a baby’s latch, postpartum anxiety, medications, and the list goes on and on. When a mother is unable to breastfeed but planned to do so, she is 50% more likely to develop postpartum depression. I know in my own support group, breastfeeding is one of the topics we can’t stop talking about, like rubbing an old scar again and again. For most of the women I know, breastfeeding was one of the main triggers that caused anxiety. Breastfeeding also causes many mothers to get up all throughout the night, every night, on their own, so breastfeeding mothers are often more sleep deprived. Once I began pumping and my husband could feed our daughter during the night, my anxiety level decreased, a little.
When I talked with Sara, breastfeeding was definitely still a wound she was trying to heal. She’d spent two years trying to get pregnant, but didn’t spend “one minute of that time thinking about the future.” Then her entire pregnancy, she imagined horrible scenarios of miscarriages and disfigured babies. Her anxiety level was growing along with her daughter. However, she had a natural birth that was “great,” and she thought she just had the baby blues at first. But then the excruciating pain began for her: breastfeeding. Now I know that La Leche League will tell you breastfeeding doesn’t hurt, that it may feel slightly uncomfortable. I’ve talked with a lot of moms about this and I’m calling bullshit. Breastfeeding hurts, for many moms, even if it’s going well.

But it wasn’t going well for Sara. Her daughter had a tongue-tie. My daughter also had a tongue-tie, so I know what this feels like: imagine your nipples being scraped with sandpaper. That’s about what it felt like after being abused every two hours.

Even after the tongue-tie was fixed, the pain continued for Sara. Sara began pumping breast milk, and she continued to pump exclusively for nine months. She felt the pressure of “breast is best,” and put this above her own mental health. For those of you who haven’t pumped, to put it mildly: that shit sucks. You strap your breasts to a machine multiple times a day, which is nearly impossible to do because you have a baby, so your free time is just a little limited. Oh, and then you have to clean all the intricate parts of this contraption as well. Pumping is a part-time job in itself.

breast pump 2

The many parts of the breast pump.

breat pump parts

You must thoroughly wash all of these parts after each use…

But Sara continued to pump and refused anti-depressants due to the pressure she felt to breastfeed. She was having suicidal thoughts and this still didn’t push her to seek medication. She would spend days just “staring at a blank wall,” only able to care for her daughter but nothing more for herself. Finally, she began having such disturbing intrusive thoughts about her daughter’s “head cracking open” that she began taking Zoloft, one of the only anti-depressants approved for breastfeeding. Sara wondered if she was “going crazy.” Her brain would “start imagining things and I couldn’t stop it.” The first low dose of Zoloft didn’t work, but she still had to wait six weeks to make sure of this. Doctors have to wait and see how the drug works at its full capacity. Then her doctor upped her level and it was another six weeks of waiting without any change. Sara spent over a year suffering, and still at two years postpartum, Sara continues to heal and seek answers. Why did I breastfeed for so long at my own detriment? Why didn’t anyone give me permission to stop? Why did I need permission?

breast and doctor

I can’t imagine spending this much time in the pain of postpartum depression and anxiety. It took me six weeks to get help and medication, and another two weeks before Zoloft worked for me. Those two weeks, I was white-knuckling to get through the days. I just kept telling myself relief was coming soon, like someone stranded on an island. And what if relief hadn’t come soon? So many women have to wait for long periods of time due to the pressure to breastfeed or shame or medications not working.

“Breast is best” is often said as an absolute to new mothers, and it’s a chant that gets stuck in their minds, playing on repeat along with other anxious thoughts. Breast is not best when it causes severe anxiety and overwhelm. A relaxed mother and baby is best. Lactation consultants and doctors need to push mental health above all else since postpartum depression is the leading cause of complications after childbirth, not formula-feeding.

Tell A Mom: Childcare Mamas & Nannies

For moms who work outside the home, we have to entrust our children to others each day. I don’t know if this ever gets easy, but it’s gotten easier, because we have wonderful women helping to raise Mae.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Mae goes to an in-home daycare, and I miss her, but her nanny is one of the most conscientious and calm people I’ve ever met. And she does so much more than the minimum. She sends me photos of Mae throughout the day, and she is always observing Mae and picking up on any changes or developmental cues. She makes me a better parent. She also taught Mae how to clap!

On Mondays and Tuesdays, my mom (Mae’s Tutu) comes to watch her. Tutu drives 1.5 hours to our house to take care of Mae. When she walks through the door, Mae’s gummy smile takes up half of her face, and Arthur can’t stop dancing. We’re all pretty excited to see her. She radiates love and gentle nurturing for Mae all day. She also does some laundry, which is priceless. :)

So we have a village helping raise Mae and allowing me to teach my students. And even though I miss her, sometimes even ache for her on the drive to work, I am grateful she gets exposed to two wonderful women each week.

Anyone else thank her lucky stars for wonderful childcare “mamas”?

Here are a few photos of Mae during her days with her other caretakers.