Sometimes, life is hard. Life is confusing. Life just kind of sucks. But I've learned over time that listening to myself is often the prescription I need for the illness of trials.
No one prepares you for life with kids. They don't come with manuals, equipment or warranties. And even if someone were to slap you across the face with raw parenting stories, it would do next to nothing as long as you've never had children.
I feel like I was force fed ideas, theories, horror stories, glory stories, tips, tricks & anything else you can think of about parenting. I thought I was ready. Two kids later, I've learned a thing or two and now it's my turn to share. We'll start at the beginning.
1. Conception. I had been married for nearly two years before marrying my now husband. The last six months of that marriage, I hadn't used birth control. Low and behold, no baby. I married my current husband and had been trying to conceive for 6 months and finally got pregnant. Prenatal vitamins, hips in the air, sex all the time...you name it. Guess what. You will either get pregnant or you won't. Is it exhausting? Yes! But before being hard on yourself or thinking that your body is "broken", take that stress and let it go. This is probably one of the top reasons your body won't let you conceive. Once it's out of the picture, the inner wheels start turning. If that isn't the case for you, then by all means, look into other options. But please, do not beat yourself up. I've learned that things come to us when they are ready to. And sometimes we aren't ready for them to arrive quite yet.
2. Exercise/Don't Exercise During Pregnancy. Sure, exercise is awesome for you! I would always encourage women to be up & about during pregnancy. I was very active with both of my children in the womb, yet my first pregnancy was a breeze and my second was a bit harder. I was much more active the second time around, and yet I was hooked up to cardiac monitors, told not to drive and had shooting pain that took me to the floor many afternoons. Be active, but don't over do it. Enjoy your pregnancy without the stress of trying to be Barbie when you're done with it.
3. Epidural/Natural Birth/Cesarean Section. I took 10 weeks of natural birthing classes before having my first child. I knew the exercises well and I was faithful to the program. I labored 18 hours, endured a bloody show and dilated to a 4 before things got serious. After using the restroom, bleeding, shaking and nearly fainting, I prayed. Well, my husband prayed for me. I was pretty bent out of shape and couldn't even mutter my date of birth when I was asked for it. When he was finished, he asked me flat out: "Are you doing this so you can say you did it and be a hero or are you doing it because it's actually better for the baby?" This was when I realized that I was trying to force my normally 102 pound frame packed with 50 extra pounds of baby, water and who-knows-what-else weight on it to give natural birth so I can feel like this woman.
But you know what? I already am that woman! I had carried this child around for 9 months, eaten more protein than I knew what to do with so his brain would develop properly, taken prenatal vitamins that caused me nausea, laid awake every night with heart burn that I never knew could burn so badly up my esophagus that my ears felt like exploding, and worked 8+ hour shifts at a stressful job up until just before my birth. I decided the best thing for me was that wretched epidural. But I later discovered that it was anything but wretched. I had labored so long that the pain of the needle was non-existent. I relaxed in my bed, able to speak, able to laugh, able to understand and grasp my surroundings so that I could enjoy my baby when he got to me. That was an experience I would not trade for natural birth. My sister in law has a different story. She labors for 2 hours, and 17 minutes into her stay at the hospital, her bar-of-soap baby slips out of her cervix and all is right with the world. Natural births are 100% right for her. I have another friend who debated between natural birth and an epidural. When it came down to labor time, she ended up needing an emergency C-Section instead. It came as a shock to her and she wasn't prepared, but it was better for her and better for the baby. Nothing else matters. She said her recovery was awesome, it didn't hurt to use the restroom, she could resume sexual activity with her husband quickly after, and life in that department was just plain good. So the bottom line is, there are good experiences and bad ones with every method. Do what's right for you and what's right for the baby- but for the love of birthing women, don't do anything just to be a super hero during this special time in your life.
4. Breast Milk Versus Formula. This one really gets me. I, as stated above, was driven to be super mom. Breast milk it was, no exceptions! Plus, I was anxious to shed the 50 pounds I had gained over 9 months time. Slowly, but surely, it came off one lousy pound at a time. My son had reflux like I'd never seen. He threw up buckets. I cut dairy out of my diet and it helped. But he still left a sour stench of vomit on every piece of clothing we owned at any given time of the day and it just plain drove me crazy. He is such a mild child and has never been one to complain, so I didn't know how uncomfortable he had been until 6 months ago- when he was 2 1/2 years old. I had only nursed him 11 months. What was the deal? He had developed serious health issues, many of which were the fall out from untreated GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). Pneumonia? Check. Sleep Apnea? Check. Asthma? Check. Check, check, check. Upon further evaluation, an x-ray revealed he had a thick layer of scar tissue around his esophagus from the acid burning it on the way down...and on the way up. My breast milk was HARMING my child. No matter what I removed from my diet, no matter how much or how little I ate, no matter what the lactation consultant told me, it was hurting him. I remember tasting it once, and it was as if I was drinking straight acid. It was like nothing I had ever tasted in my life. Imagine a bottle of cow's milk being left in your hot car for months at a time and then drinking it. That's what I think of. It was horrible. Fast forward 2 years and my newborn baby daughter is here. My breast milk was causing her so much pain that she would tense up and scream until she turned purple. I switched to formula. Same result. I switched back to breast milk. Nothing changed. When I would pump, my milk was green and grey, not the normal white. She ended up being diagnosed with GERD, had visits to the hospital and was put on medication for months because of stomach issues she'd developed. Again, my breast milk harmed my child. I finally tried another formula and it was not perfect, but it was better than the other 4 or so I had tried previously, and it was heads above the breast milk I was producing...for free. The funny thing is, my second child, who was back & forth between breast milk and formula (until exclusively fed formula) got sick less in one year than my first child who was exclusively breast fed did. My point? Don't let anyone tell you one is better than the other. Do what's best for you and the baby. People will tell you there is proof that breast is better than bottle, but I have first handedly discovered that science doesn't always win.
5. Losing Weight. I was so depressed to not be able to fit into my jeans immediately after giving birth. I had this idea that the baby would come out, and every pound I ever gained would just slip out with it. How wrong I was! Losing the weight is hard, and it takes time. Don't rush it, or you will either be depressed at your failed attempts to shed the extra poundage overnight or you will resort to unhealthy weight loss options. I specifically remember at one point thinking, "Forget it! I am obviously not losing an ounce so I am going to eat whatever I want." I completely threw in the towel. I was eating more food at one sitting and eating more fat than ever before. Guess what? I lost 10 pounds almost immediately. I was dumb founded. My little brain didn't realize that my baby liked that fat and was nursing it right out of me. The more fat I ate, the fatter my baby got and the skinnier I was. Bingo! My point? Relax. And take your time. The weight comes off eventually. But don't beat yourself up about it.
6. Baby Blues/ Postpartum Depression. I guess this topic is a bit taboo, although I'm not sure why. My postpartum depression lasted about 2 years with my first child. Yes, TWO YEARS. I was sick, sad, in tears, and very much a living zombie (is that an oxymoron?). I was also angry. I blamed others for my unhappiness. I was not myself at all. The memories of the days immediately following childbirth are dark, grey, and quiet. They are lonely. They are sickening. How could I enjoy this baby if I cannot get myself to get out of bed or when I have a steady stream of tears flowing down my face as my husband closes the front door behind him as he leaves for work? Life was not the same for me, yet everyone else went about their lives as usual. My husband still had to work, my mom still had to teach class in the mornings, my dad traveled. My other siblings were married and had their own daily routines. Life was spinning around me but I was going no where. The baby would cry and a jolt of nervous electricity would shoot up my body and strike my heart so badly that all I wanted to do was run and hide from the one thing that was keeping me in my state of depression. I wanted to eat spicy foods again, I wanted to sleep for at least 6 straight hours, I wanted to go places in the bitter cold winter air without worrying about my baby being uncomfortable. I wanted to drive without hearing a shrill scream in the back row from a child who hates his car seat. I wanted to stop calling Aetna to set my hospital bills straight from the long 24 hours I endured there.
All I wanted was company. I went from working with adults all day to being at "home" with an infant I thought I knew how to deal with, but ultimately knew next to nothing about. I wanted someone to sit on my couch and talk with me for a couple of hours. Someone to hold my baby while I took a short nap. Someone to babysit while I cleaned or cooked or went out with my husband. Thankfully, my mom lived close by and played all of those roles, but there was only so much time one person could spend with me. Looking back, I wish I would have not been so reclusive. I wish I could have stepped up and spoke out and asked for help. Asked for someone to visit, to help me clean or possibly bring me a pick-me-up. I'm not the type of person to do those things, so naturally, I didn't. But many times we assume a person with a baby needs their space, and many women do. But I can promise you that not one of them will shut you out if you stop by unexpectedly and offer some help, a meal or a chat. And if you were/are anything like me, be brave and say something. That 2 years of PPD could end up being 2 days instead.
7. Belly/Back Sleeping Babies. I had one belly sleeper and one back sleeper. Both survived. Be careful of the advice you hear and take, because the advice you take now, may be the advice they tell you to stay away from in 5 years. Babies run the risk of suffocation when sleeping on their stomachs. Babies also run the risk of aspiration (vomiting, then swallowing it, often choking and sending particles into their lungs) when laying on their backs. And let's face the facts, babies just don't stay on their sides when you position them that way. Check on your baby as often as you feel necessary, but know that there is more than one position for a baby to comfortably sleep in without you having to worry much.
8. Staying Home Versus Working. They Are Both Work. I went back to work when my oldest was 9 months old. My husband was a stay at home dad. (Not a common situation.) I loved going to work, getting fresh air, getting paid to do my job well, and not getting pooped on all day. I had been promoted to Supervisor at a radiology clinic and loved what I did (most days). Having time to miss my little man was great. Upon coming home from work, I fed him, bathed him and put him to bed while my husband decompressed. I picked him up when he wanted, played with him and loved him unconditionally, to the point of spoilage. To me, life was good. After a year, we joined the Army and our roles reversed yet again. I stayed home with my now toddler and was unexpectedly pregnant with our second child. Being a stay at home mom with a newborn versus a 15 month old is quite the change of scenery. He was more ornery and strong willed than I remembered him. He had preferences for things and he was a picky son of a gun. He challenged me to no end. I flat out didn't like him. We were approaching enemy status. For months and months I complained about being at home, I looked online for jobs, looked into daycare, and thought long and hard about leaving my job of being at home. It wasn't for me. I wasn't domestic. But not long ago, all of that changed. I suddenly got a hold of what I needed to do. I needed to stop resisting my life at home and accept it, love it. I got on the floor and did puzzles, trains, action figures. We read books, did "school", played outside. We went to the grocery store and Costco just to get out of the house. I didn't let having a newborn baby stop me. I strapped her into my front carrier, stuck my toddler in the front cart seat and off we went. The zoo, the mall, you name it. Cabin fever was not going to infect us. We had friends over for dinner, arranged play dates, drove to the park. I realized that filing paper work and helping calm an angry individual was just not the same type of work that I was doing at home. And to me, it wasn't as important. I was investing all of my time and energy into raising my baby birds so that one day, they could fly away from the nest and do good things in the world...the type of things I tried to do my entire life before having them. Before, I worked because I had to. We needed an income. But I also loved it. Then I stayed home because I had to. I had a newborn. But we also needed to save the money we otherwise would have spent on daycare, eating out after late nights at work, and the time we would have spent being stressed that our house was always a mess with laundry piling up and cilantro wilting away in the refrigerator. If I had to work again, I would. I would do anything for my family. And what's right for us is not necessarily what's right for you. Or the next guy. But either way, you are doing well. And you are doing your best, and it's enough.
9. Letting Your Husband Help You. Sometimes it feels like husbands hurt more than they help. Diaper on backwards, bottle lid not screwed on all the way, started the laundry without detergent in it, wet towel on the floor after the shower, you name it. But weren't we all that way once? We learn, we grow, we change into who we are. Every day we are changing. And no, your mission is not to CHANGE your husband. But to change your attitude towards him. One piece of advice I will never forget is to never turn away your husband's help. If he offers to carry the car seat, gladly hand it over. If he wants to open your door, let him. If he dresses the baby in purple polka dotted pants and a hot orange onesie, leave it. Nothing will hurt his feelings faster or make him want to help you less, than when you criticize him for not being "perfect". Well newsflash, you aren't perfect either so when you get to that level, let us all know. Until then, let him help you. You'll be grateful you did.
10. Put Your Phone Away. I realized the times my children are most antsy/naughty/naggy are when I am using the computer or my phone. It's gotten so bad that I sometimes feel I have to sneak away to the computer, or hide in my bathroom to use my cell phone. Kids know when a distraction is among them. And instead of batting your children away so you can text a friend or play Angry Birds, appropriately cut out "you time" in your schedule to do those things. Yes, you'll need to take phone calls, send texts, compose emails...and your children need to learn to be patient and respect when you are busy- as long as its importance is warranted. Somehow they know when you mean business versus when you're in an intense game of Temple Run. I try to remember it this way: This is my job. My husband is not allowed to sit at his desk, play games, lounge around watching movies, and do a whole lot of nothing all day, so neither am I. I think about things I can do to effectively pass the time so I can tell my husband (or proudly keep to myself) that I worked my butt off being at home. I want him to know that his hard earned dollars are being spent wisely when I grocery shop. I don't want him to walk through the door at 5:15 pm and see that Cars 2 is playing on the TV...for the 4th time that day. I want to be able to tell him I honestly worked hard here at MY JOB. I want the house to be orderly, dinner to be ready, kids to be cared for, bills to be paid, and other tasks to be accomplished. Again, I am not domestic and this job has come very UNNATURALLY to me. I have had to work very hard to learn to plan a menu, shop on a menu, cook (I hate all of those things by the way), do laundry, pick up toys a million times a day, feed my kids healthy foods, balance doctors visits, and still find time to patiently bathe my kids, put them to bed and give my husband the attention he needs when he gets home. It is legitimately HARD WORK. And some days you just need a break. There is no reason to be super mom when you're tired, sick, or just don't feel like it. Make a to-do list and spread things across a week or two's time so you can slowly accomplish things. But vacuuming, dishes, and laundry will never be nearly as important as spending time with your children will be. And your phone and computer won't get lonely, I promise.