Christmas as a Parent or Thank You, Mom

If you still believe in Santa Claus, stop reading this right now. 😉

Since I’ve become a parent, from day one, the depth of my love and appreciation of my own mother grew by leaps and bounds. I began to understand all that she sacrificed and did for us on a daily basis. All the little things: putting shoes on thirty times a day; washing all the loads of laundry; making our Halloween costumes from scratch each year.

And now that I am Santa, along with my husband, I appreciate my mom on Christmas more than ever. Every year, she wrapped every single present for my two sisters and me. (I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in the whole Santa’s gifts are left out unwrapped. That just feels so WRONG.) She put thought into each gift, even the small ones in our stockings. One of my favorite Christmases was a white Christmas. I was probably around seven. It was the year I got both Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and a trick bike. These two gifts show that my mom was paying attention to me. I was a little bit girly, a little bit tomboy. I felt like Santa (my mom) really knew me.

She made a special breakfast each Christmas morning.

She hid a piece of special jewelry inside an ornament that we had to find.

But most of all, she believed. She really believed in the magic of Christmas and the spirit of giving.

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Here is Mom (Tutu) making Santa beards with Mae last Christmas. 

Now I know how late she must have stayed up some of those Christmas nights (because while my father was there, she did it all). She probably barely got any sleep. And I never knew it.

I think there are so many rules for parents, especially mothers, these days. So many expectations. I guess I’m thankful to know how to do Christmas. She taught me so well. Christmas is magic and love and giving (and some chaos in between).

Thanks for all those late nights and early mornings, Mom. I remember them. I hope I can do as good a job as you did.

23-24 Weeks Pregnant

Because with the second pregnancy, you’re never really sure how many weeks pregnant you are. I’m around 6 months pregnant is all I can tell you. Don’t make me do the math. The baby’s due date is April 13th; the planned c-section should be around April 6th, and Mae came two weeks early, so it could happen in late March.

I’m feeling really good. After the thyroid trouble in my first trimester, when I felt like I was walking through cement every day, the second trimester is glorious. I’d say the main difference in this second trimester compared to with Mae is that over night I went from barely pregnant to about the size I was in my third trimester. I was silently smug about how I didn’t get super big with Mae, and I think this baby is going to give me payback on those feelings. I think he is going to be pretty BIG. Jimmy, my husband, was almost ten pounds. Mae was only seven pounds. We shall see what this baby boy brings.

I am really at peace with my decision for a planned C-section. I’m not looking forward to the recovery phase, but I knowing how this baby will arrive into the world ( at least somewhat). I also learned from the OBGYN practice that I switched to this time that I have a slightly rare pelvic shape that is super flat, so barely any curve for the baby to get under. This has made Mae’s birth make so much sense! It also confirms my switch to this practice. I think, too, with Mae I thought a vaginal birth was some rite of passage into motherhood. Now I know that’s not the case at all.

I might also be feeling wonderful about this pregnancy because we just found out that Jimmy is getting 6 WEEKS of paternity leave! His work is changing its policy as of January 1st. When he called to tell me the news, I had to sit down on the floor. I was so overwhelmed with relief that I just started to weep. I can’t explain how good it felt. I didn’t even realize how much worry I was carrying about him having so little time off since he is in a new job. Every woman deserves to feel this reassurance. And every partner deserves to bond with their child in those first weeks. We are beyond grateful. I want to know who to thank and who to kiss and who send a letter to.

I think the second trimester has also triggered my bittersweet feelings about Mae no longer having her spot as an only child. We are cherishing this last Christmas with just her, and just the ease that we get around with as a family of only three. We are also excited that next Christmas we will have an 8-month old chunky boy. It’s hard to imagine!

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Mae playing with the same stuffed Santa and reindeer that I played with as a child. The year on the reindeer tags is 1977. 

I snuck her into our bed the other night (something I never do). She’ll be three in February, but she is and always will be my baby. Everyone says that your love just multiplies, so we will be bursting at the seams because I love this little girl so very much. And I’m holding tight to these last few months when my lap is only for her.

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Oh, and we’ve picked out a name for baby boy! But I’ll leave you in a bit of suspense on that one. 😉

 

Reactions to Pregnancy After PPDA

I’m lucky to have amazing friends and family, people who do not accept the stigma of mental illness. And I haven’t had anyone question my choice to get pregnant again after my frightening postpartum period last time. I’ve received mainly two reactions to this pregnancy from friends and family, and while I understand both reactions, I want to push my friends and family to fall into Option 2.

  1. Some friends and family completely ignore my past experience and assume this postpartum period will go just fine. I think they assume this because  I am aware of the issue and knowledgeable, I can stop it from happening. I hear comments like “It will be so different this time!” Yes, I hope it will be, but we can’t know that. I’m an advocate for women, so I should have all the tools, right? If you’ve gone through a postpartum mood disorder, at least in my experience, you felt completely out of control. There was little you could do. I know this feeling, and I know I will do all that I can to prevent it, but I also know women with the best of circumstances (money, support, “good” babies), and they still experience a postpartum mood disorder. Biology is a strong factor. I often make the comparison of if I’d had a debilitating heart issue after giving birth, wouldn’t most of my friends and family be concerned about my health? Wouldn’t they assume that it could happen again even if we take all the necessary precautions? I think it’s a fine line and people aren’t sure how much is too much in terms of their involvement. I understand that we still don’t know how to talk about mental health. But when people try to ignore my past experience or brush it off, it frustrates me and makes me feel alone in my current experience. I want people to ask me how they can help. I want people to ask me how I am feeling. #askher I’m open about my postpartum anxiety, and I give my friends and family permission to be the same way.
  2. Others have definitely stepped up in terms of asking how they can be part of our postpartum plan and helping us out more. I have a co-worker who I am close with and I know experiences his own anxiety. He asked outright and with concern, “How is your anxiety?” He asked me the same way you would ask “How is your knee?” if you had an injury. I appreciate this concern and honesty. I think the response I’m looking for is someone to acknowledge that I was taken to the edge of insanity last time, and that we can’t ignore that this time, so we might as well talk about it. And we must accept what we can control and what we can’t. I think if anyone knows me well, they know I value authenticity and honesty. I think that’s what I want in people’s responses to this pregnancy and postpartum period.

A Letter to My Son or Pregnancy in 2016

The same week Trump was elected, a man in Georgia was executed, and two weeks before our dog died, and a month before that my dad was hospitalized for the third time for mental health issues unknown, and this is also the year Prince died.

It’s been a shit year.

Except, we are having a son.

What do I know?

I will love you, fiercely.

Your father will too. And I can only hope you are as kind and thoughtful as he is.

I know you have a smart and funny sister.

And that you will still be given more opportunities than her. You may look in the mirror one day and think “person,” but she will almost always think “girl,” which means “other,” which is the way most will see her even when they try not to. This is our country’s way.

When you take off your shirt on a hot North Carolina August afternoon, without a second thought, to run around our large back yard, she may look at me for permission. Not from anything I’ve told her, but she will ask me with her eyes for permission because of what the world is teaching her.

There is so much I can’t control.

Still, I call my father once a week to check on him, even though the conversation will suck me into a dry, tired heap of a person.

And I keep showing up to teach, chipping away at my students’ privilege and my other students without any privilege, who have been taught to demand nothing of me, to ask for nothing, to take scraps of education, and I must not let them accept so little. I must show up every day to show them what they deserve, and it will leave me tired and weary and inspired.

And I will tell your sister that she is brave and smart and strong. That we don’t strive for pretty, but beautiful. Pretty is the surface; beauty is all the layers of us, inside and out, and when we look deep enough, we can find beauty in everything.

And I will tell you—what will I tell you? That all of these issues are not your sister’s problems or your mother’s or your friend’s problems. They are yours, just as much if not more. They are yours, whether you asked for them or not.And I will help you navigate this world the best I can, but I’m still figuring it out myself.

Thoughts on Having a White Son 

White privilege is constantly on my mind after the election. I am more aware of my race on a daily basis than ever before. Because it is my privilege as a white woman, to not have to think about my race as I navigate the world. I do not have to think about my whiteness when I walk out of the door to drive to work. But I have been, more and more. For instance, I can pull over my car on the side of the road to take a photo of the sunset I get to see each morning on the way to work. And I don’t think much about others questioning my actions. I assume I’m safe for the most part, standing on the side of a highway. This assumption is an extreme privilege.

As I process the election and prepare for my spring courses, I’ve been reading new essays and re-reading Ta-Nehisi Coates. Because I have also found out I am having a son, a white son, and he will have the most supreme privilege that society grants humans. And I keep thinking how differently the mother of a black son must feel. I cannot fully understand it, but it is a different “galaxy,” as Coates explains it.

My son will live in a reality in which “there are little white boys with full collections of football cards, and their only want was a popular girlfriend and their only worry was poison oak” (Coates). 

I won’t worry about what he’s wearing and how it will be perceived by the world, because white boys aren’t profiled for wearing polo shirts and Sperry shoes. There are laws of the “other” that he will never have to learn, which are “essential to the security” of black boys’ bodies. 

There is a control over his body that he will feel that even I don’t feel. As a woman, I think about what I wear in certain situations, what men might take as an invitation. I think about the path I walk to my car and how to avoid what seems like a threat to my body. 

But as a white mother, I cannot fully understand the fear of a black mother:

“Added to the natural fears of every parent…is this other knowledge of how institutional racism works in our country…the condition of black life is one of mourning” (Claudia Rankine).

And as Rankine goes on to explain, while I can temporarily attempt to feel this suffering, I cannot “replicate that daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black.”

And so I am beginning to think about and process how I will raise a son aware of his privilege, and how I will model for him that awareness and kindness are not enough, but we must speak up and act too. 

Finding Out the Sex (Not Gender)

We didn’t find out if Mae was a boy or girl until she arrived in this world. And we loved the surprise! One of the happiest moments of my life was Jimmy announcing “We have a daughter.”

We decided to find out the sex of this baby for two reasons:

1. We thought it would be good for Mae to expect a sister or brother and begin to picture that reality.

2. We thought it would be fun to do it differently.

And we are excited to have a boy, but for me that truly just means he has a penis. That’s it. We found out this baby has a penis. 

We didn’t find out that he will like to play rough or play with trucks or even that he will like girls one day. Those are all things that he will get to find out.

I will say it is strange and wonderful to say the word “son.” I will have a son. A new word in our family’s world. 

So we have a baby with a penis, people! He looks healthy. And we will love him. That’s the news.  Now what should we name him? 

Mom-centric Pregnancy without Apology

Having a Mom-centric pregnancy

I’ve been questioning my lack of investment in this baby. It’s so different this time, but I’ve accepted this way, the mom-centric way, is healthier for me and maybe how more moms in the U.S. should think about pregnancy.
It’s not that I care less about this baby, but I’m not focused on any expectations or things I can’t control, which is just about everything. Last pregnancy, I already had a detailed spreadsheet about all the tasks and things.

What can I actually control and what’s worth my energy? Taking care of myself.
But almost everything in our society tells women to focus on the baby, the nursery, the birth, the next thing. And this means I have to say a lot of “I don’t know” to people because I’m just not thinking much about those things. I don’t relate to the traditional pregnancy path. 

Have you thought about names? Nope.

Are you breastfeeding? I don’t know.

Where will the baby sleep? Probably a lot of places.

But if you ask me “how are you caring for yourself?” I can answer that.

I’m seeing a therapist.

I’m talking to friends.

I’m reading books, for pleasure, not books on pregnancy.

I’m cherishing time with my daughter.

I’m taking baths (actually right now).

And this is not to say I’m a self-care expert. I’m really bad at it, but I’m putting self-care before anticipation of the future.

And whereas before now, I felt a little ashamed or embarrassed that this time I wasn’t focused on the baby, I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m owning my mom-centric pregnancy. I actually think maybe I got pregnancy right, at least for me, this time. Pregnancy is a time to rest and get yourself centered, to let go of expectations. It’s so different from last time that I thought this feeling must be wrong, but I think it’s actually pretty healthy.