Weekly Update

A Letter to the New Mama

My sister just had her first baby; and so, I feel the sisterly need to share a little wisdom.

Dear Mama,

Yes, you! This is your new name for the rest of your life. At first it will be cute, then it will be annoying, and then it will go back to endearing. No matter what media, society, friends, enemies or anyone else tries to convince you of, you are perfectly capable of your role as a parent.

Regardless of how that baby exits your body, you are a champ. I personally believe they should give out trophies. “A FULL GROWN BABY EXITED MY BODY” will be the inscription. Better yet, a license plate. Instead of, “Save the sea turtles,” it will say, “Save my sanity.”

Parenthood lie #1: “It’s the most natural thing ever! Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time!”

I found this in my photo archives, around the time I had Alice. I have nothing else to say.

I’m here to tell you that there is nothing natural about the birth process and it feels like a very bad idea (see photo above for further proof). This is on my list of things to talk to God about when I croak.

Once the baby is out of your body, society has determined that while a pregnant body is adorable, a postpartum body is not.

This is BS. Your body is amazing. You literally grew this child from one to TWO TRILLION cells. Then you pushed the full grown baby out of a 10cm hole. It is nothing short of a miracle. So, yes, your body might have changed a bit. Maybe irreversibly, but also, beautifully.

Next on the agenda?

Food. Not for you, silly. THE BABY. Remember, everyone has shifted their opinionated focus from your pregnant belly to your child and how you are parenting them.

There are two options. Breast milk & formula. Whiskey is no longer advisable, unfortunately. Both are great AND your kid will turn out fine whichever way you go. The decision you make will not change your greatness as a parent. By the time your kid goes off to kindergarten, no one will know whether your kid was breast fed or formula fed. And quite frankly, no one will care.

Instead of pregnancy horror stories, people will now share breastfeeding horror stories. The time they got a huge golf ball sized clot in their boob that someone had to massage out and it hurt like the dickens. Or the time they filled their freezer with extra breast milk only to learn that their baby refused to drink it. Or when their child grew teeth and literally bit their nipple off. (Just kidding. I don’t know if this one has actually happened but it was my greatest fear. I can’t google it for fear of what I will learn.)

As you’ve noticed, since becoming pregnant, everyone has an opinion about your life as a parent. What parenting style are you going to use? Free Range? Crunchy? Attachment?

I prefer a combination survival of the fittest and leave me alone parenting.

I could go on and on about all of the dilemmas you will face and be judged over. Cloth diapers or disposable? To work or stay at home? Whether or not to bribe with fruit snacks. How you potty train the kid. To sleep train or not. Co-sleeping?

The great news is that you are now the parent. You get to make the decisions. It’s not up to the opinionated mass of humans who creep their way into the crevices of your brain.

Parenthood lie #2: Everything will be okay because you are the expert on your kid.

WRONG. Whoever coined this phrase couldn’t have been a parent.

According to my five year old, I am NEVER right. As the expert on my children, I cannot explain why they are so weird. I do not know why they do the things they do. I am not an expert, let me assure you.

It is terrifying when you leave the hospital and they load you in the car with your baby, calling, “good luck!” as they slam your door. I wanted to zombie crawl back up to the postpartum floor, plaster my face to the window at the nurses station, and creepily ask, “Can I live here forever?”

After a bit of time, you will learn to read your babies cues. And by this, I mean, you will learn to read their screams. At least that’s what they say. Personally the best I got at cue reading was, “My child is crying. Something must be wrong. What something is, I have no idea.”

The good news is that even though you have absolutely no clue what you are doing with your baby, you are the expert on YOU. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to be a martyr to be a good parent. Your kid will be happier if YOU are happier.

So if your boobs don’t have it in them to breast feed, don’t. If your house is overtaken by an explosion of baby crap and you don’t have it in you to clean and organize all of it, don’t. Get as much sleep as you can. Find people you trust to give you a break when you need one and watch that cute kid of yours. If people offer help, take it. Find mom friends who are honest- who aren’t going to feed you BS about how perfect their child is and what a clean house they live in.

Stop beating yourself up for not being enough. You. Are. Plenty.

When the baby arrives, you will be engulfed in a massive life change. Your life went from doing normal adult things to obsessively tracking how many wet diapers your little genius baby produces. Your life will be dictated by a schedule of when the next feed is due and naps. You’ll find yourself in a dark room, holding a baby who will only go to sleep if you do squats on repeat for 90 minutes. And you’ll wonder, “how did I get here?”

I can repeatedly tell you how magical and life changing it is once you have that baby in your arms. How one second you’re you and the next you are a completely different person. But until you have that baby in your arms, you won’t get it.

Even if your baby cries all day, at the end of it, you’ll stare at that little terrorist sleeping peacefully in the crib on your chest and nowhere else and wonder how you got so lucky.

Like most rewarding experiences, parenthood is a lot of work. It is draining, never ending, crying on the kitchen floor kind of work. It is exhausting, hair pulling, cringe worthy, down in the trenches kind of work.

It will make you question everything you’ve ever known. Undoubtedly, it will bring you to your knees.

Some days you’ll wonder if you made a mistake. You’ll debate about if you have it in you to put them up for adoption.

This is the section of the letter when I’m supposed to tell you it’s worth it.

It’s worth it.

I wish there was a way to capture accurately why this is. Because as we all know, mathematically it doesn’t add up. If you bring out a balance scale, it might tip heavier on the end of poop explosions and temper tantrums.

One day, your kid will smile at you for the first time. Holidays will regain the magic they held when you were a child. You will witness so many firsts. You will be reminded that life truly is a miracle.

You will sit in awe as you watch them take their first step. Annunciate their first word. String together their first sentence. You will watch their personality blossom. You will learn things about yourself that you never realized until you watch them mirror your phrases and routines.

The days will be long, but the years short.

One day you’ll realize that their cute potbelly disappeared and that they no longer have dimples on their hands. You’ll notice with a start that your “baby” is no longer a baby.

And somehow, just like that, you will have survived the phase of parenting a baby. You will look back and wonder how you did it. You’ll wish you had given yourself a little more grace and a little less beating yourself up over cluttered countertops.

You will have mad respect for your younger, sleep deprived self who kept moving forward because it was the only way to go.

Buckle up, mama. It’s going to be one heck of a ride.



Weekly Update

Avery Marie 5.0

I remember snippets. It was a cold day. I think there was snow. I hadn’t been feeling quite right. I figured I was fatigued or had a bug. But just to be sure, I stopped at a CVS to pick up a pregnancy test. It was three weeks after Chad and I married and barely a week since we had returned from our honeymoon.

“This will probably be something I laugh about after I take it and it comes back negative,” I thought as I waited in line for the cashier to ring me up.

The next snippet in my brain flashes to watching the pregnancy test turn positive in our apartment bathroom in downtown Minneapolis. I shouted to Chad, “uh… you better come here.”

Instead of thinking, “wow, I’m pregnant,” I thought, “Dang, I must have a brain tumor” (a very rare reason pregnancy tests are positive when in fact the woman is not). Chad of course believed that the pregnancy test couldn’t possibly be right, so we stopped at Target to pick up five pregnancy tests and red Gatorade.

Five positive pregnancy tests and half a Gatorade later, the statistics were clear enough for Chad to be convinced that I was pregnant, and a state of shock set in.

Avery’s pregnancy was not an easy one. It was full of nausea, vomiting, and fainting spells. I lost 10 pounds in the first trimester. I fainted in the heart transplant meeting at work (yes, it is super embarrassing to faint in front of a group of cardiologists).

I fainted on the bathroom floor in front of a very concerned Chad. I insisted I hadn’t fully passed out as he hurried me to the Emergency Department. “Well do you remember when I slapped your face?,” he asked.

I was incredulous. “No. Why would you do that?”

“To wake you up.” This is what happens when you put an actuary in a medical situation.

Needless to say, I was anxious to give birth by my due date. But consistent with her feisty and stubborn personality, Avery arrived nine days late.

As I lay laboring in the hospital bed, I wondered out loud, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m ready to be a mom. What if the baby hates me?” My midwife looked down and smiled, “You will be a great mom. Your baby will love you and you will love her, just wait and see.”

I had assumed that once Avery popped out, I would be filled with eternal joy and everything would make sense, and we would live happily ever after. I expected her birth would be peaceful. There would be soft lighting, classical music and tears of joy.

Instead, I lay writhing on a hospital bed, buck naked, while a team of 2 doctors, a midwife, the entire c-section team, neonatologist, and NICU team watched, aided by very fluorescent lights for their optimal viewing pleasure.

I added to the zen by glaring directly at the doctors and loudly asking, “Why is there a finger up my butt hole?” To which the doctor apologized, “Sorry ma’am, I’m trying to prevent you from tearing.” What a chivalrous guy. Classical music and soft lighting my a**.

I was told that the baby was in trouble and I had one last shot to push her out before they were going to rush me to c-section. I somehow mustered enough strength and was soon greeted by a very blue creature.

In my nurse brain, I classified the situation as bad. I watched as they attempted to intubate her three times, with her sats dropping into the 50’s. Fourth time was the charm, and they sped her out of the room with Chad following closely behind.

After I was stitched up, the room cleared. It was just me and my postpartum belly which was disappointingly not flat at all. A timid aide poked her head in the door to ask if she could get me some toast.

I was pretty sure I was a mom now, but I didn’t see a cute, cuddly baby anywhere in sight. Toast in this moment didn’t make sense. I wanted my baby, not toast. So I declined.

Two hours later I was wheeled to the special care unit to meet Avery. Luckily her intubation was short lived and she was able to breath on her own once they suctioned a mucus plug out of her lungs.

They wheeled me up to an incubator and informed me that this was my baby. I peered inside. I saw a chunky, beat-up baby, with adorable fuzzy hair.

Cute, but blonde. Couldn’t be my kid.

The kind NICU nurse tried to teach me how to breastfeed. But, Avery just wanted to sleep and so did I. After an hour of futile latching attempts, Chad wheeled me back to our room, leaving fuzzy blondie behind. “See you in 2 hours!,” the NICU nurse called behind us. What a joke, I thought as I shook my head, I push out a baby and I don’t even get to sleep to recover?

Parenthood wasn’t what I expected. For me, there wasn’t an immediate joy or love.

It was around 3 months when Avery started smiling and interacting more, when my heart melted and I fell in love.

She patiently taught me that kids are resilient. That I don’t need to be a perfectionist to be a good parent. That formula isn’t the devil, and in fact worked just fine.

She taught me that peek-a-boo is hilarious (because the adult looks like an idiot), and to giggle like a maniac. She reminded me that it’s okay to cry when you’re sad, and to scream in delight with excitement.

The emotions of kids haven’t been dulled by societal norms. In fact, nothing about kids is really bound by norms. They march to the beat of their own drums. And that, is admirable.

We are coming up on Avery’s FIFTH birthday. She starts preschool on Monday.

She is no longer a pot-bellied toddler. Her legs are long and browned by the sun. Her sentences are no longer 3 words strung together, she speaks in rivers of words, effortlessly constructing stories (or bossing us around). Thank goodness she has maintained the same deep and infectious giggle of babyhood.

She has definitely acquired the first child personality. She stands with her hand on her hip and bosses us all around, while carrying on a conversation over her play cell phone.

She is sweet and gorgeous, courageous and cautious. She can negotiate like a terrorist. She’s firey. She’s stubborn in the best and worst way. The girl will go places, mark my words.

The midwife was right. I love Avery and she loves me. Maybe we followed a non-traditional path to get there. She patiently and stubbornly taught me who she is, and in learning who she is, I fell deep in love.

Happy Birthday, Aves!




Parenting Simulation Activities

So, you’re pregnant. Congrats! Now what? Here is a comprehensive list of activities you can do to practice parenting skills:

  1. Get up every two hours at night. Pull your boob out of your shirt or mix a bottle of formula. Watch horrible TV for 20 minutes while feeding your imaginary baby. Put baby back to bed. 3 minutes later, get out of bed. Try to sooth imaginary baby. Repeat x 20.   
  2. Rub melted chocolate into half of your baby outfits. Attempt to get the stain out. *In this simulation you are not allowed to eat the chocolate off of the outfit. That would be a fatal mistake in the real parenting world.
  3. Practice feeding baby food to a rock. Or a rabid dog. Both would be similar to what you will experience.
  4. Have someone scatter goldfish across your floor every day. Make sure they put them all over the house and in obscure locations. Then step on them or rub them into the carpet.
  5. When you go grocery shopping, throw one item out of your cart every 30 seconds. Pick it up. Put it back in cart. Repeat.
  6. Take $1,500 and throw it in the garbage. That’s to simulate paying for diapers.
  7. While eating dinner, wait 5 minutes between every bite of food you take. Sometimes for fun you can take 1 bite, pause for 30 minutes, and then return to your meal. At this point you can take 5 bites. But then your imaginary baby will wake up. Throw the rest of your meal away.
  8. Take a class on negotiating with terrorists.
  9. Have someone ask you the same question over and over for one hour straight.
  10. Before you leave the house, run up and down your stairs 10 times. Spend 10 minutes searching for a “lost” item. Put a coat on your cat. Try to herd the cat into the car. Once cat is in car, attempt to buckle into the car seat.
  11. Do laundry for your entire neighborhood.
  12. Bring a puppy to a restaurant. Make it sit in the high chair for the entire meal.
  13. Have someone interrupt every sentence you speak for the next 5 years.
  14. Sit in a rocking chair and rock for 24 hours straight. This will simulate length of time it takes to get baby to sleep and keep them asleep.
  15. Stop using half of your dishwasher to simulate amount of space required for baby bottles and baby things.
  16. Have hide 50 pacifiers throughout the house. Set an alarm for 3am. When it goes off, you must find one of the pacifiers in the dark. Alarms should also be set for 4am, 4:20am, 5am, and 6am. You must find a different pacifier at each of these time points.
  17. Every time you take a picture (of a person, place or thing), say “smile!” (while obnoxiously smiling yourself) at least 15 times before each picture. Take at least 100 pictures to try to capture one where your desired object is smiling.
  18. Shake a whole box of lucky charms into your car- make sure to get in the crevices.
  19. Sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” every time you are in the car for the whole car ride.
  20. Have someone respond “No” to you every time you ask them a question.  

I’d love to hear your own ideas!