Recently, I attended a work training about how to be a mandatory reporter of child/elder abuse. I’m a registered nurse and an employee of the county health department, so I must report any instance of child or elder abuse that I see or have reasonable suspicion of. It’s a duty I don’t take lightly and one I hope I never have to perform.
There’s another reason I don’t spank my children. It’s because one of my character defects is being reactive. I’m afraid that if I let myself spank them, I’d take it too far in anger. Possibly cross the line into child abuse. And THAT terrifies me beyond measure.
My children inspire the most intense emotions in me. It’s like everything is amplified – love, fear, joy, and yes – anger. Nobody can make me see red faster than my sweet darlings. I’d wager most mothers would say something similar!
I think the similarities end in the reaction. Sometimes when my children upset me, my first instinct is to hurt them back. That’s my anger problem jumping in. It’s such a primal, toddler-like response: You hurt me, so I should hurt you back.
Except the problem (one of many) with that way of thinking is their perception. My boys wouldn’t be able to make the connection of, “Oh, I did that thing that made mommy mad, so she spanked me and I shouldn’t do it again.” They’d think, “Mommy just hit me and it really hurt.” They wouldn’t learn any lesson or change the behavior; all they’d know is mama got mad and hit.
It’s taken me awhile to recognize why I wanted to “hurt” my children in retaliation. First I had to get past the insane amount of guilt and shame (WTF is wrong with me for even thinking about hurting him???). And truthfully, I’m not completely past that. Especially because there have been times when I haven’t hurt my children, but I know I haven’t been as gentle as I should – grabbed an arm, picked them up roughly, etc. I still beat myself up about those times (which still happen – I’m definitely not perfect).
I’ve done enough work on myself that I can now notice the urge as it’s happening. Like today in Target, when Jack was throwing a fit and elbowed me in the throat four times (I now understand why people talk about throat-punching people/things they don’t like. That shit hurts). With every blow to the throat, I thought my heart was going to explode in anger. I could feel the urge to give an “eye for an eye” rising. I had to say the words, “Stop. Breathe.” in my head. I had to walk around, wailing toddler in my arms. I had to speak to him in a flat, calm voice (I’ve read that is a technique for helping children calm down, but forcing myself to speak in measured tones helps me calm down too). I told him he needed to calm down – the message was for me, too. And then when he smacked me again, I had to give him to his father and spend a few minutes alone. I was too far gone in the stress response (plus I legit felt like I was going to throw up because of the throat punches).
My “techniques” aren’t anything special. But, I’m proud of them. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I used to either lash out in anger or hold it in, stewing about it until I eventually exploded. Sometimes I still hold things in for a little bit, but I’m pretty good about talking about them before it blows up into a bigger issue. I’m very much a work in progress.
Mamas, what do you do when your babes test your patience?
When I first started staying home with Jack, the shower became one of our daily activities.
Our morning routine was breakfast, drop off big brother, run, and shower. Jack is an excellent running partner, and has become an agreeable shower buddy. It took awhile, but he doesn’t smack me in the face anymore for putting his back under the shower stream.
Showers weren’t a part of my original Stay-At-Home-Mom plan (because I totally had one of those, right). Using up all that water just to entertain a toddler would be pretty wasteful. But, after running with a stroller for several miles under the Texas summer sun, you kind of require a shower. Like, bad. So that first day after we ran together, I plopped him in the shower with me. I got clean, he had fun, and my house wasn’t destroyed. Win-win-win!
Since running helps me keep my sanity (which can be in short supply when home alone with a toddler), it and the shower became a regular occurrence in our weeks. After awhile, I started to see some real benefits to showering with a toddler.
Enjoy a shower again!
Showers are one of the first things to go when you have small children. The risks of death, destruction, dismemberment, or just general mayhem are not worth the benefits of clean pits. Solution: bring the toddler with you! You’ll never wonder what your little angel is destroying and/or eating, because he’s right there. Throw a few toys in the mix, and you should be able to have a decent shower. Bonus points: if you time it for after a meal, you can clean two people with one shower!
My son is hysterical in the shower. He makes the funniest faces when water sprays his face (I may or may not be involved in this). He has tried to punch the shower stream for getting water on him (true story). Pouring water on Mom induces fits of giggles.
The benefits of skin-to-skin are well-documented for newborns, but I believe older babies/toddlers benefit as well! Jack is always on the go, so I cherish the times he wants to cuddle. In the shower, I’ll hold his chest against mine and let the water fall on his back. He’ll put his head on my shoulder or press his silky-soft cheek against mine. We’ll stand there like that for a minute or two, and it’s so relaxing for both of us.
One drawback to the shower
Any breastfeeding mom will tell you that seeing a boob will remind a nursling that he/she NEEDS to nurse. NOW. And the older the nursling, the more insistent he/she is. There were a few times our shower ended abruptly because Fuss McGuss just could not handle being around a bare boob without nursing. I didn’t want to be stuck in the shower for an undetermined amount of time, so I wouldn’t let him latch. He’d pound my chest, yelling “Nuh!” I’d answer calmly, “We’re not going to nurse right now.” Repeat until I could get all the soap off us and turn the shower off. This usually occurred when the shower was close to naptime, so that may have played a role. But just beware – if you shower with a breastfed toddler, there is a good chance he’ll want to nurse!
I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff lately about how breastfeeding advocates shame mothers, mothers shame mothers, businesses shame mothers, healthcare providers shame mothers. It’s frustrating. I see a lot of this:
“That doctor made me feel bad for formula-feeding.”
“The server gave me the dirtiest look when I started breastfeeding in the café; it made me feel I was doing something wrong.”
“That sancti-mommy lectured me about using formula. It made me feel horrible.”
“My sister (who breastfed) said I was weird for breastfeeding my 3-year-old; it made me feel terrible.”
“That chick said I’m not a real mom because I work outside the home; that made me feel like shit.”
“It made me feel so awful when that mom told me bed-sharing was dangerous.”
“My doctor made me feel like a terrible mother when I asked about taking antidepressants while pregnant.”
These are just a few of the infinite number of ways parents could be shamed. Basically any decision we make as parents is probably going to be questioned by someone. When someone objects to what you’re doing, or says you’re doing something wrong, it can often lead to feelings of shame. But it doesn’t have to.
Do you know what I see in the statements above? A whole lot of refusal to take responsibility for how you feel. A whole lot of letting someone else tell you what your success should look like. A whole lot of letting some jackass decide that you should be ashamed of what you’re doing.
Here’s a way to stop the mom-shaming. Instead of pointing the finger outward at that mom, that breastfeeding specialist, that doctor, that other person – how about pointing the finger inward at yourself? In other words:
STOP GIVING OTHERS THE POWER OVER HOW YOU FEEL.
If you own your decisions, know they were the best for you and your family, and have the confidence to stand by them, nobody can make you feel ashamed. Nobody can make you feel anything – you get to choose how the actions of others affect you.
I’m not saying to never feel anything, or just to brush that dirt off your shoulder like it’s nothing. That’s not going to happen. Shit happens; we react. What I am saying is that when you start to feel ashamed of a parenting decision, take a step back and analyze it. Did I make this decision because it was what was best for ME, or MY family, or MY baby? If the answer is yes, then you have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed. Example time!!
Was switching to formula the best decision for you and your family? Then the next time someone says you’re harming your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.
Does seeing the research on breastfeeding make you feel like a bad mom because you didn’t breastfeed? Don’t let it. Increasing risk of something does not equal harm. Infant feeding decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are so many variables to consider; risk reduction is just one of them and not necessarily the deciding factor for everyone.
Do you enjoy full-term breastfeeding? Then the next time someone says it’s tantamount to child abuse, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.
Do you feel pressured by medical professionals to wean because [insert reason here]? Tell them you are the child’s mother and you know what’s best for your family.
Does safe bed-sharing allow everyone in your family to get more sleep? Then the next time someone declares you’re going to kill your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.
See a pattern here? Own your decisions. If someone questions it, tell them to back off in whatever manner you choose (I’ve illustrated a more direct approach; some of you may prefer a more nuanced, less foul-mouthed response).
If I sound harsh, it’s because I’m so frustrated and saddened. I see so many beautiful, strong, amazing women question themselves because of the words of others. I see what amazing mothers they are; I just wish they did, too.
Who cares what other people think about how you care for your family! The only “right” answer in parenting is the one that works for your family.
Don’t let the actions you take as a parent, define you as a parent. You are not a breastfeeding or formula-feeding or bed-sharing or cloth-diapering or [insert label here] mom – you are a mom who loves her children and makes the best decisions she can, based on the information she has at the time.
Taking back power over how you feel isn’t easy. It’s taken me years to recognize that I didn’t have to let anyone make me feel bad and put that into practice. It’s something I struggle with almost every day.
Also, it will be different when the power balance is off. For example, it’s easier to shrug off a stranger’s disdain than it is to speak up against negative comments by someone in a position of “authority” – like a doctor.
If it’s someone you know and care about (such as a family member or close friend), it may be even harder because of the fear of hurting the relationship. But think about this: you can speak your truth gently and with respect; if the person you love reacts negatively, that’s their issue – not yours.
The following are some tips for taking back your power. It’s things I’ve learned through mothering, working as an IBCLC, going through the 12 Steps as an alcoholic, and just life in general.
Grieve your losses. If you wanted to breastfeed more than anything, but formula ended up being a better option for your family, it’s ok to be upset. Grieve the loss of breastfeeding. If you got no support, or really shitty breastfeeding support (like someone saying the latch looks fine even though you’re in pain) – be angry! Do something to work through that anger, though – don’t bottle it up (no pun intended). Take however long you need to grieve, but try to work through it in healthy ways.
Find a mantra. I personally like saying, “Well, that’s just their opinion” if someone says something negative about me. It’s true – it is that person’s opinion – but I don’t have to accept their opinion as my own. Find something that will help you put emotionally charged situations into perspective.
Be confident. This can be really hard. I don’t think I became confident as a mommy until my first son was 3 and I was pregnant with my second. Even so, I still question my abilities. But if I can honestly say that yes, I am doing the best I can, then that is enough for me. If it’s enough for me, it’s damn well enough for the rest of the world.
Be the change. If you catch yourself judging another mom, stop and think. It can be hard to see people doing things differently – after all, I picked my way because I thought it was best. But what’s best for me, may not be best for another mother/family. And that’s OK. Next time you feel yourself start to be a Judgy McJudgyPants, stop and say, “You know, I’ll bet that mom is doing the best she can. It’s different than what I would do, but I’ll bet it works for her.” Change how you think.
Toughen up. You’re going to encounter Assholes – the ones who deliberately try to make people feel bad because it makes them feel better about themselves. Often, you can’t reason with an Asshole. At that point, pull a Jay-Z and brush your shoulders off. Assholes aren’t worth your time or your emotions. BUT…
Don’t assume everyone is an Asshole. Maybe I’m being too Pollyanna, but I really think that most people say stuff out of a desire to help, not to be a jerk. Perhaps they say it the wrong way, with the wrong tone, at the wrong time, or they shouldn’t have said anything at all. Assume that people come from a place of love or concern for welfare, and you might be surprised at the positivity that comes your way.
Awhile ago, I saw a HuffPo piece called “An Apology Letter to My Second Child.” My second child was about a month old, so I was like, ok, I’ll bite. It was one of those funny/cutesy posts where the writer apologizes for all the awful things that happened (brother peed on you, didn’t do your baby book, etc.) but then declares she won’t apologize for loving you less. Slightly Hallmark cliche, but sweet nonetheless. It got me thinking, though…
…and I need to apologize to my first son. So, here goes:
I’m sorry I don’t remember much about your first few months.
Jack will do something adorable, like “shout” at us or make a funny face. I’ll remark, “I don’t remember Colt doing that; did he do that?” And my husband will inevitably reply, “Yes,” with only a hint of an exasperated sigh. I was in such a fog of exhaustion and untreated postpartum depression that I honestly don’t remember most details of his first 3 months. I took a crap ton of photos, so it’s not like it’s a complete blank. But those random moments of looking into his eyes, smiling at his coos, nuzzling my nose into his hair and breathing in his wonderful baby smell? No memory. Makes my heart ache a little.
I’m sorry I was afraid.
I was afraid to bedshare, because I was certain I’d kill him. I was afraid to babywear, because I read one random story about a baby suffocating in a Moby wrap. I was actually afraid to be alone with him at times, because I didn’t know what to do with him! I wish I’d educated myself more. Bedsharing has been a lifesaver with Jack; I get so much more sleep and I know I won’t kill him because I do it safely. I wear him in a wrap often – sometimes, it’s the only thing that calms him down! Again, I educated myself on the safest ways to wear an infant. I can’t help but wonder a bit that if I’d bed-shared (gotten more sleep) and baby-wore (less crying/stress), I might have more memories of Colt’s first few months.
I’m sorry I was so stressed and cried a lot. Most of what I do remember about the first few months is how panicked I felt – especially while home alone. Bryce went back to work 10 days after he was born, he worked 12+ hours a day, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have any friends that lived nearby. Basically, I was too isolated while learning this crazy new job of mother. Plus, there was the untreated postpartum depression. I’d gone off my depression meds before trying to get pregnant. During Colt’s pregnancy, I had no symptoms of depression, so I didn’t think after pregnancy would be all that bad. HA. I had several risk factors for PPD, but ignored the signs when they showed up or lied to health care providers. I mentioned to Bryce once or twice that I thought I needed help, but did it kind of casually and never followed up. I should have told him I’d had fleeting thoughts of what life would be like if I was gone (how would Bryce raise a child alone?) and that I was afraid I could possibly hurt the baby.
With Jack, it’s been 180 degrees different. Bryce took a month off before going back to his laidback, 9-hour-a-day job. I have a car and an older son who loves to go do things. I’ve got several local friends I see regularly. I started taking my depression meds at 36 weeks, so it would have time to build up in my system before delivery. No sadness, anxiety, or unworthy feelings (unless I forget to take my meds for a few days!). I feel so much more relaxed. I’m sure part of it is just the fact that I’ve done this before. However, I think a large part of it is different circumstances (Bryce’s job situation) and that I worked hard to reduce my risk of PPD this time around. If things get bad this time, I will ask for help. If you have any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, please don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!
I’m sorry I went back to work because I thought being a SAHM wasn’t enough. I took a full-time job when Colt was 4 months old. Part of the reason was financial; we were barely scraping by on just Bryce’s salary (damn student loans). Another part was me wanting to use my newly earned Master degree. But there was a part of me that felt being “just a mom” wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t fulfilled as a person. In reality, my disease was rearing up. I used to only find my worth in my work and felt like I wasn’t complete without validation from outside sources. This was my disease talking. I’ve since worked through that and I no longer need someone/something to tell me I’m worthy; I’m enough. I’ll be going back to school when Jack is about 5 months, but not because being home with the boys isn’t good enough.
I suppose this is the part where the touching “I’m not sorry I…” comes in. I’m reluctant to add it – mostly because of the Hallmark cheese factor – but also because I don’t want to devalue what I just wrote. I loved Colt then, as I do now. There’s no doubt about that. He made me a mother. I am grateful that I learned from my early motherhood experiences, so that I could make different choices later. Colt is a bright, independent firecracker who tells me he loves me about ten times a day, so I know I didn’t ruin him in those early dark days. I just wish those early days weren’t quite so dark.
Today is my sobriety birthday. 8 years! Originally I thought I’d do something lighthearted; other awesome things that are 8 or notable stuff that happened today.
But then I had a shitty stressful day. ON MY (SOBRIETY) BIRTHDAY. Here’s the rundown:
Packed up both kids. Drove to grocery store. Unpacked kids. Halfway to store, realized I’d forgotten my wallet. This was me:
Packed up both kids. Drove home, found wallet. Finally back to store. Grocery shopping with two littles is never relaxing, especially when the almost-4-year-old chatters nonstop and the 6-week-old wakes up halfway through and screams for lunch.By the time I got home, got everyone fed, put the baby down for a nap and got the groceries put away, my nerves were shot.
And I was like, What. The. Hell. It’s my (sobriety) BIRTHDAY. I should be relaxing or doing something awesome – not feeling like a stretched-out rubber band that’s two seconds from breaking.
But after eating a bowl of popcorn and watching a few episodes of Agents of Shield, I realized this stress was exactly the right way to celebrate my (sobriety) birthday. The morning was shit, so what did I do with the afternoon? Not get drunk, not make bad decisions, not react and reach for something to numb the frustration. Instead, I ate a favorite food, watched a good show and gave myself time to relax.
Sobriety gave me the ability to do that. Sobriety also gave me the ability to still be a somewhat decent mother when my patience is so thin, it’s transparent. What better way to celebrate my (sobriety) birthday than to utilize the most precious gifts this day have given me?
So apparently all my uterus needed was a firm but loving lecture about letting go, because my son was born the day after I posted my missive. Looking back, I was probably in early labor all day Sunday. I’d had contractions all day, but nothing too regular and nothing painful.
Things felt different on Monday morning. I had one of The Signs that labor might be imminent, which was very exciting. All morning, my contractions were about 4-6 minutes apart, but not painful. Still, something told me to skip my workout and just kick it. I made sure the hospital bag was completely packed and my labor playlist perfected. I was ready.
Contractions started getting a little more painful around noon. Nothing big, but a noticeable change. I had an OB appointment at 3:00, so I figured I’d wait until then and see what they said. I had to meet Bryce at 2:30 to drop one of the cars off for service; by then the contractions made it a little hard to drive.
At the appointment, I was a little disappointed to find out I was only dilated to a 2. However, the nurse practitioner said she could feel the bag of waters. I figured that was a good sign, and she said it was up to me whether I went to L&D now or later. This was at 3:45, and I decided to go home and wait.
After my appointment, the contractions started coming every 3-5 minutes. And they got progressively more painful. I spent some time in the shower, on my exercise ball, on all fours. Around 5ish, I decided we needed to go in. When the L&D nurse checked me (at around 5:30), I was dilated to a 4 and she said my membranes were “bulging.” Time to be admitted! Which meant a half hour’s worth of stupid questions in between increasingly worsening contractions.
I also couldn’t get the epidural until they admitted me, took blood and got the bloodwork back. Son of a bitch. I had originally planned to do a natural birth, but at one point I looked at Bryce and said, “Fuck it, I want the epidural.” He nodded, eyes big and terrified. Good move. Unfortunately, it took so damn long to do all the paperwork stuff that I think it was about 7:00 by the time it was placed and the drugs flowing.
I was doing ok with the contractions. I focused on my breathing and when one would start, would chant in my head, It’ll be over soon. I think I had back labor, because my lower back and hips were in agony. I just prayed that the epidural kick in before my water broke. I was seriously terrified of what the pain would be when my water broke, because I remember how horrendous it was with Colt. When my water broke around 7:23, I was still feeling everything…sigh.
The nurse checked me then, and I was an 8. That’s when shit started going down, according to my husband (I was too focused on the intense, crushing pain in my back/hips to notice). He said about 6 nurses burst in and one started gloving up in these special brown gloves. Then the doctor ran in and pretty much jumped into his gown and gloves. He was a little surprised, because with Colt I didn’t start pushing until I was dilated to a 10.
At some point during this, they put my legs into the stirrups and it was time to push. This is when I was losing my head. I began screaming with each contraction because it hurt more than any pain I could have ever imagined. My husband said he’d never heard anyone scream so loud. At one point, I yelled that I couldn’t do it and honestly thought I was going to lose it.
Thank God the OB was a good one. He calmly and gently told me, “You can scream if you want, but when you do it actually makes the baby move up a little, makes it harder. It’d be better if you held your breath, grabbed your legs, put your chin to your chest and just pushed.” Something made me stop and trust him (even though this was the first time we’d met; my regular OB was on vacation). I quieted down and said, “Ok.” I did everything he said, and Jack was born about 3-4 pushes later at 7:33. In less than 4 hours, my body had gone from barely dilated to baby. I guess it’s true – when the baby is ready, he’ll come!
In a way, I got the natural birth I thought I wanted. The epidural didn’t numb anything except my left thigh, and that occurred after the birth. Now that I’ve done natural birth, I don’t think I want to do it again. That was pretty damn intense. And painful. More power to the mamas who do it and feel like warriors afterward, but I’m just happy I made it through without completely going crazy! He was 8lb, which helped (his older brother was 10lb 3oz, so 8lb seemed small!).
We didn’t get immediate skin to skin, which was disappointing. They said he was floppy at birth, so they took him to get examined while I was stitched up. But once he was placed in my arms, I didn’t care that it wasn’t right away. He was soft and beautiful and absolutely perfect, and I’m madly in love.
I want to commend you for a job well done. For just about forty weeks now, you’ve nourished what is undoubtedly a beautiful baby boy. From all the pictures we’ve seen, he’s grown well and all the necessary bits are intact. You’ve done splendidly.
However, it’s time to let go.
You can’t have him forever. He’s going to keep growing and you can only stretch so far! It’s already getting pretty cramped in there, according to the rest of my abdomen. Bladder is especially insistent that her days as a trampoline come to an end soon.
It’s time to move into phase 2: expelling your precious cargo. Now, I know this requires more physical work than you’ve been doing. You’re going to have to use those muscles you’ve been working on for about 20 weeks now (yes, I’ve noticed your many, many sessions of Braxton Hicks, especially the ones when I was trying to sleep – your dedication has been commendable). You should have Olympic powerlifting levels of strength by now, so it really shouldn’t be too physically demanding for you to squeeze him out. I’ll even help (I’m sure you’ve noticed my own grueling workouts – all those lifting sessions were training for labor).
You held on too long with Colt, and remember how that turned out? I had to come at you with a Foley bulb and Pitocin. I really don’t want to have to do that again. Don’t make me use interventions! I know you have it in you to do it on your own.
I promise you, we will take good care of that sweet baby once he is out of you. He will be loved and cherished by everyone who is anxiously waiting to meet him – me, his daddy, his big brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and of course anyone who is on social media. He will go straight from you to my chest, where I will hold him close and help him transition to this scary new world.
Are you holding on because this might be your last baby? Does it sadden you to think your Big Job in life might be done for good? I get it – I have similar feelings. But remember, there was a time we thought this baby might not happen. You never know what will happen in life!
So please, dear Uterus, let my baby go. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done so far, and we’ll work together to bring him earthside.
P.S. No need to worry about how well he’ll be nourished outside of you. The Boobs wanted me to tell you they’ve got this. Judging by the amount of wet spots on my shirts lately, I have to agree with them.