Newest Mommy-blog on the Block

I’ve racked up a few titles so far in my professional career: registered nurse certified in inpatient obstetrics, certified breastfeeding specialist, internationally board-certified lactation consultant (which is pending because that test is graded slower than my toddler tying her shoes.).  Here’s a title I never thought I would hold: Mommy-blogger.

I’m not the world’s best parent… I think I’d generously place myself in the top-billion.  But I have tons of stories about being in the trenches as a mostly-stay-at-home mom.  I know the questions parents have, how they typically try to answer them, and the vast amount of bullshit “information” they have to sort through.  I’m a self-proclaimed bookworm who reads peer-reviewed research for funsies.

In a moment of temporary insanity, I decided to write a parenting book.  I’m aiming to blend real-life parenting situations with evidence-based solutions in a format that is accessible to everyday non-nerds.  Sounds great, right? Well, I only have one chapter done so far.

I have a long track record of secretly starting projects so that nobody knows if I don’t finish or, even worse, I bomb spectacularly.  I decided to start this blog as a way to keep myself accountable, but also as a way to preview material, gain feedback as my writing progresses, and share my experiences with the writing and *knock on wood* publishing process.  Thanks in advance for being my test audience and personal cheerleading squad.  Welcome to No Bullshit Mama!

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2018: Keep It Simple, Stupid

You may have noticed that I haven’t written in a while, about a month and a half to be exact. When I started this blog, I had just had the idea to write a book. It’s a dream I’ve always had, I was just starting to feel good again after a shit-filled nine months of dealing with my perinatal mental illness. I felt like I was finally happy, finally strong, and ready to do EVERYTHING. The material started pouring out. I started the blog and the Facebook page hoping to involve my friends and grow a little following.

Then my kids got sick, I got sick, we went on vacation,the kids both got sick again for vacation, and all three of us got sick again for Christmas. My feelings of depression and anxiety returned. I stopped writing. I struggled to get my school work done, and I received the lowest grade on a paper I’ve ever gotten. My to-do list keeps growing with nothing getting crossed off. My house is a mess. I’m overwhelmed by all the shit everywhere. Once again, I felt like I had dropped every ball I was supposed to be juggling. I started to resign myself to the fact that I was never going to have my shit together.

So I’ve been crying a lot. Crying because I feel so overwhelmed. Crying because my baby’s birthday is coming up and I’m still grieving losing her infancy to PMAD. Crying because I’m generally a train wreck. I was crying at work on NYE and having a group therapy session with my coworkers (I love you guys), and a friend told me she looks for the silver lining in dealing with anxiety. Why did God give this illness to me? I’m not a religious person, but I decided to try it. For the New Year, I sat and really reflected on my year. I tried to receive the message.

The message fell on my head like a ton of bricks. PUT DOWN THE BALLS. Stop the juggling act. Slow the fuck down. To borrow from my 12-step friends,keep it simple, stupid!

This is something my friends (ahem…Carrie), my mom, and my therapist have been trying to tell me for a long time. But here’s my secret, I’m a closet overachiever. I thought constantly moving on to the next goals and being the best at everything, all while making it look like I wasn’t trying very hard, I thought that was bringing me happiness. I thought that if I could just get back to managing it all while making it look easy, that’s when I would be back to my old self. But now I realize the overburdening has to stop! The universe has been trying to tell me for a while, and I’m finally going to listen. When the pain gets great enough and all that.

Stay tuned in for my journey to simplicity. Thanks and love you all!

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Don’t Tell Me How Fast It Goes

I’ve been out of sorts for a couple of days. My husband was sick, followed by both of my kids being sick (including a massive amount of vomit during Thanksgiving dinner), the baby teething AGAIN, and finally, running over a screw.

My husband filled the screwed tire enough to be functional, and after dropping my older daughter off at preschool I made the trip to Pep Boys. The gentleman at the counter was in his fifties, with partially graying hair, a scruffy beard, and the blackened and cracked fingertips you get after decades of working with your hands. He must have seen I was having a bad day (LBH, a blind man could have seen that), and he teased me for not knowing the model year or mileage of my car. Then he said something I didn’t expect. He looked down at my baby and said, “Man, I miss when my kids were that little. I really, really do.” He proceeded to tell me about his kids who are now grown, and his grandkids that come to visit. He’s got three yorkie-poos now to try to fill to massive five bedroom house that he lives in with his wife.

All parents have heard this, or some version of it, from strangers. There are songs written about it. At a week postpartum I heard “You’re Gonna Miss This” and “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” back to back and cried my fucking eyeballs out for an hour. Sometimes this sentiment annoys me, sometimes I just mumble back, “Yeah, it goes so fast,” and keep it moving. But today, I couldn’t let it go. Maybe it was the warm look in his eyes and the sincerity in his voice. Maybe because I don’t usually hear this from men. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t slept more than two straight hours in over a week, still faintly smelled like vomit, and my postpartum depression and anxiety was rearing its ugly head. I definitely wasn’t enjoying motherhood at that moment, I’ll tell you that.

As the day went on, I tried to put a name to what I was feeling. I was snapping at my daughter, I was annoyed with my husband for no apparent reason. I was pissed off at my mom for being sick. Like how dare she, even though it was my virus-ridden family who had shared the love. I was angry. More than that, I was furious. But it wasn’t at any of them.

All those blissful moments these strangers are recalling when they look at my kids and lament about missing the baby years, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have those. But in the background of those beautiful memories, there is an ugliness too. When I looked down at my gorgeous newborn girl as she smiled her first smiles and laughed her first laughs, I felt joy in that moment. I felt that upswelling of maternal love so strong that it fills every cell of your body, and you think it could lift you straight off your feet. But immediately after, the darkness would creep back around the edges. Deep down I was profoundly unhappy during what should have been the “happiest times” of my life. I had joyful moments, sure, but they never lasted. My memories that should be in technicolor are all tinged a shade of gray.

I also have memories many new parents don’t have. I remember having thoughts constantly running through my head like a recording I couldn’t stop. “You’re terrible at this. You’re never going to be good enough. Everyone else can manage, why can’t you? Your kids would be better off with someone else. Look at how much work your husband has to do because you can’t hack it. You’re dragging him down. You should just disappear.”

I remember waking at night and seeing visions of my baby dead and blue in her crib. I was so terrified to check on her that I laid there crying until she made a sound, and then cried some more out of relief. I remember each panic attack. I remember the sound of my baby crying feeling like lightning bolts straight to my brain. The night before I got help, I remember holding my screaming baby, and sobbing, and thinking “I know how women hurt their babies” while I stood paralyzed with fear until my husband took her out of my hands.

I’ve thought so many times how I can’t wait for the fucking baby years to be over. I want to sleep. I want to put the kids to bed and have time to hang out with my husband, or put clothes away, or write, without dreading the inevitable wake-ups to come. I want to feel like myself again. I want to shower, and eat something other than toddler leftovers, and go to yoga. I want to be free of obsessive, intrusive thoughts.

This being said, I’m getting better. With lots of help from family, therapy, a support group, and medication, I am finally climbing out of the darkness. But it’s kind of like surviving a hurricane. Now I’m left to clean up the wreckage. I’m grieving what I lost in my daughter’s infancy. It’s immensely sad to know you missed out on this amazing stage of your kids life, throught no fault of your own, and that nothing you do will get that back. It’s sad and it fucking hurts like hell. If I stop to think about it for too long I end up a teary puddle of mush on the floor.

Today, instead of feeling sadness, I’m mad as hell. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and punch through walls. I’m furious at all the things that have been stolen from me. PPD/A stole my daughter’s babyhood from me. I want to rage at the world…why me?!!! When I stumble across an adorable video of my daughter as a three month old, or some stranger looks at her lovingly and tells me how fast it all goes, it guts me. Because I am acutely aware of how fast it all goes. She’s almost one, it’s almost over. And I missed it. I’ll never have that blissful time that he had with his babies. And even if I have another baby and don’t have PPD/A, I’ll still never get that with her.

I’m still not sure how to come to terms with it all, so I guess I’ll check back in when I have the answers. For now I’ll write. And I’ll make a therapy appointment. And I’ll talk to my fellow warrior moms who can relate to my anger at this Godforsaken bitch of a disease. But please, if you ever see me on the streets, I’m begging you. Don’t point out how fast it all goes. I already know.

How to Plan Your Disney Vacation

It started innocently enough: my husband and I were talking and the question comes up, so when do you want to take the girls to Disney? I’ve always wanted to see the Magic Kingdom all decked out for the holidays, so I suggested, “How about we go this December?”  This, mamas, was my first mistake.  Because this conversation happened a mere 6 months before we expected to take this vacation.  Seems like a lot of time, right? Nope! Hahahahaha suckers, in Disney time you’re already behind.

I was about to get a whirlwind education in Disney Planning for Dummies.  Now I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on all you unsuspecting mamas who think you can just *scoff* show up and let the magic happen!  I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.  Sings in a Maui voice: You’re welcome!

How to plan a Disney vacation in 27 easy steps:

  1. Decide to go to Disney, and haphazardly search around the hotels and resorts.  You finally decide when and where to book about 5 months in advance.
  2. Realize this five-day trip is going to cost more than a week in Europe.  Have a mini-stroke.  Consider running off with your husband to Italy instead.
  3. Spend an hour going through Disney’s booking website only to have it crash at the last moment.
  4. Call a customer service agent who is very sweet but the slowest human being imaginable. In your head, you imagine the sloth from Zootopia.  Give her all the same information you just spent an hour entering online.  Finally, you’re done and confirmed.  I’m going to Disney World!!!!
  5. Ask friends and family for dining recommendations, only to find out that nothing they’re suggesting is available.  Reservations start filling up six months in advance.  Your dreams of going to Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey’s, and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for a princess-laden buffet are shot to shit.  You can start panicking now.
  6. At this point, you are completely overwhelmed.  You know you need to make reservations somewhere before your family is forced to live off of popcorn and giant turkey legs, but you haven’t heard of any of the available restaurants.  How in the name of sweet baby Rapunzel are you supposed to research and decide on all these restaurants?!
  7. Like a beacon of light from the heavens, a friend tells you she knows a Disney travel agent.  She graciously helps you make reservations.
  8. She kindly suggests that you let her help you with the entire booking next time. Oh, and she likes to start 7 months in advance.
  9. She cautions you that all of your tickets aren’t linked to your account, which you will need to fix to choose fast passes.
  10. Start researching your fast pass choices.  Read all the travel-themed mommy blogs.  This time you’re going to be prepared! (lol)
  11. There are a few considerations: the geographical location of each ride, typical attraction wait times, when and where your meal reservations are, when and where the shows and parades will be, what your kid will actually want to do, what characters do they want to meet (if only I got into fucking Akershus, I wouldn’t be wasting two fast passes on princesses!!!!), is mercury in retrograde, is your husband going to need to stop to take his morning shit at 9:30 sharp or can he hold it until AFTER Peter Pan?
  12. Side note: Why is Peter Pan the most popular ride in Magic Kingdom? I can’t for the life of me figure it out. My daughter does not give one single fuck about Peter Pan. I give maybe 1/2 of a shit.
  13. Set a must-have list for fast passes:  Frozen in Epcot, Avatar in Animal Kingdom, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and yes, Peter fucking Pan.
  14. Log on exactly 60 days before D-day.
  15. Realized you never fixed the issues with your tickets.
  16. Let out a string of expletives that would make poor old Walt roll over in his cryogenic chamber.
  17. Log out and reload the website. Uninstall and reinstall the app.
  18. Get distracted by life and finally call customer service again a week later.  Everything can’t fill up in a week, can it?
  19. Have you been paying attention, of course it can!
  20. Your tickets finally show up, but it’s too late. You are SOL again, my friend. All the in-demand fast passes are unavailable.
  21. Scream angrily at the Disney gods. Especially Zeus and Hades.
  22. Rock in a corner while singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” in a psychotic sounding whisper.
  23. Begrudgingly pick from the fast pass sloppy seconds.
  24. Realize that no matter what the bloggers say, you were never going to plan a *PERFECT* vacation that hits all the must-do attractions in the most efficient way possible.
  25. Accept that micromanaging every minute just isn’t your style.
  26. Proudly say, “Fuck that noise, I’m going to have an amazing Disney vacation even if we have to wait 75 minutes for a 5 minute trip through Arrendale!” Start scream-singing “Let It Go!” in a power-ballad Elsa herself would be proud of.
  27. Remeber you get more fast-pass choices the day you’re in the park, and this time you are going to be ON YOUR SHIT!

Congratulations, the planning is done!  Now all that’s left to do is arrange to have time off from work, find a dog sitter, book a ride to the airport, pack for yourself and two kids, and survive the flight to Orlando.  Welcome to the happiest place on Earth!

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Consider This Your Trigger Warning for “This Is Us”

***trigger: discusses miscarriage and infant loss***

I’ll admit it, I didn’t understand the whole “trigger warning” thing.  I’m not one of those people who made fun of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” or made jokes like “these special snowflakes can’t get their feelings hurt.”  I just didn’t get it.  How could something you read or simply hear about affect your mental health?

After watching This Is Us last week, I get it. I totally get it.

This Is Us is a heavy-handed emotional drama that, although it can stray into the cheese-fest category, I love.  Judging from my friends list, its audience is mostly other women.  Last week we followed one of the characters through a downward spiral into alcohol and drug abuse, which was intense, to say the least.  Then, at the very end, he is just about to ask for help, things are looking up, and BAM. “Kate lost the baby.”  Motherfucker.  Just when I think we’re about to end this crazy rollercoaster ride on a high note, we take a monumentally fucked up turn.  We are confronted with a favorite character’s miscarriage.

It was like getting sucker punched in the gut.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about the show, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my own story.  Consider me triggered.  I had such a strong emotional reaction because I’ve had a miscarriage.

It’s happened to 20% of all women who’ve ever been pregnant, but it’s not something we talk about.  We keep pregnancies under wraps until the second trimester specifically so we don’t have to tell people if we miscarry.  Being unexpectedly faced with this subject that carries so much unresolved emotional baggage really rocked me.

I found out I was pregnant when my oldest daughter was about 15 months old.  I was excited, but I was also apprehensive about having two kids so close in age.  I was dreading the terrible hyperemesis that I knew I was in for.  I was planning, wondering, and dreaming all about this new little baby.  I was imagining my older daughter playing with a little brother or sister.

It’s an unwritten rule that pregnant nurses don’t take care of people who are losing babies.  When I got to work a few days later and saw my name assigned to a patient whose baby was not going to survive, I should have asked to be moved.  But I didn’t want to out myself at only five weeks.  I spent the day taking care of an amazing woman who I will never forget.  I helped deliver a baby who lived only briefly before passing away in his mother’s arms.  A room full of care providers all prayed with this mom and her baby, and in his last moments I felt a peace that I’ve never felt before or since.  And I’m not a religious person.  While caring for this woman, I couldn’t help thinking about the tiny baby growing in my own belly.  Then, the situation abruptly became a medical emergency for the woman, and my focus changed from helping to facilitate this bonding and grieving to making sure we had a surviving mother.

The next morning, I woke up and I was bleeding.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Google quickly informed me that odds of carrying a healthy pregnancy after having first trimester bleeding were greatly reduced, so thanks, Google.  My doctor said that I should come to the hospital if I started to hemorrhage but otherwise to be seen in the office on Monday.  This sounds harsh to an outsider but coming from the medical perspective, it really wasn’t.  I knew that if I was miscarrying there wasn’t anything anyone could do.

By Monday, when I went to the office, there was no longer any evidence of a pregnancy.  It was something called a “chemical pregnancy,” where sperm and egg meet and it’s enough to detect on a pregnancy test, but it was never going to develop into a baby.  I was actually told, “We don’t even count this as a miscarriage; years ago before pregnancy tests were so good you wouldn’t have even known.”  I love the doctor who said this, and I know he said this in an attempt to reassure me.  But it didn’t make me feel any better.  I had thought I was pregnant, with all the emotions, hopes, dreams, and fears that go along with it.  But now I felt like I had no right to grieve.

I went out for dinner that night and drank a margarita the size of my head, then I pushed it away and tried not to think about it again.  Soon after I was lucky enough to get pregnant with my younger daughter, and I was catapulted straight into hyperemesis survival mode.

My feelings about my miscarriage were so tied up with my patient’s loss that I actually didn’t begin to grieve it until I returned to work after having my “rainbow baby.” (And yes, she is my rainbow baby, even if my miscarriage didn’t count to the medical world.)  I helped take care of another mother who was having a loss, and I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t even my patient, I had literally just walked into the room to help another nurse.  I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened to me, and how sad it made me, and how I had never let myself feel that sadness.  I shared about it in my postpartum support group, and I cried some more, and my friends rallied around me with hugs and similar stories.  I talked about it in therapy.  And I realized that, no matter what I was told, that I had the right to feel these feelings.  My chemical pregnancy counted.

This is still hard for me to talk about, and on any given day I’m still dealing with my emotions.  That’s why being confronted with this material unexpectedly sent me into such a tailspin.  But I think it’s a good thing.  We need to talk about it.  This happens to SO MANY WOMEN, and we need to talk about it! We need to know that it isn’t shameful and that we have the right to grieve.  We need to know that it’s okay to tell our friends and our families we lost a pregnancy so that they can support us. We need to know that it is not our fault; it’s a terribly shitty thing that sometimes happens but it’s not anyone’s fault.  Above all, no woman going through this should ever feel alone.

So am I going to tune in to the next episode, which is sure to have me crying my fucking eyeballs out right along with Toby and Kate?  You bet your ass I am.  Now that I’m prepared and expecting the subject of miscarriage, I’m going to tune in with an open mind and watch whatever I can handle.  I’m hoping that relating to the episode will help me along on my journey to catharsis.  Oh yeah, and I’m also booking my next therapy appointment in advance.

image credit: One Love Photography by Lindsay Carlsen

This Breastfeeding Specialist Says Breast Isn’t “Best”

I hate the phrase “breast is best.”  It’s one of those alliterative, simplistic phrases that strangers love to bestow upon new mothers like it’s the fucking Hope Diamond.  You know what it really is? A dog turd wrapped in tinfoil.  As cynical as I know I can be, I truly believe that these people have good intentions.  Elderly grandmothers aren’t walking around thinking, “Aww, look at that precious new baby! Let me go over there and make that mom feel like shit!”  But breast is not “best” for everyone.  Blasphemy, I know!  They might revoke my lactation credentials for this, but it’s the truth, and I promised no bullshit.  Here is a list of women for whom breast is not always best: women with insufficient glandular tissue, women with preexisting medical problems, women prescribed certain dangerous medications, women who have been the victims of assault, women who drove themselves to the brink of insanity trying to breastfeed through low milk supply, oversupply, cracked and painful nipples, mastitis, or any other of the multitude of problems that can crop up and they just can’t do it anymore.  Or…wait for it…women who just don’t fucking want to breastfeed!  Part of the beauty of the 21st century, mamas, is that you have autonomy over your own body.  If you just carried around a parasite the size of a watermelon and you’re not digging the thought of sharing your body with the cute little alien life form anymore, that’s your prerogative. We’ve got formula for that.

To say our society sends mixed messages to mothers about infant feeding would be a tremendous understatement.  I hear stories of my friends shamed for bottle-feeding their kids, just like I hear stories of my friends shamed publicly for breastfeeding.  “We encourage women to breastfeed their children because of the numerous health benefits of breastmilk, but breastfeeding is experienced in a social and cultural context (1). Incidents of breastfeeding mothers who are scorned for feeding their children in public places are reported frequently on local and national news outlets. This public outcry is a testament of American cultural views that breastfeeding is an unacceptable practice that should occur only in private spaces” (Spencer & Khaki, 2015).  So here is what society is really saying: breast is best unless you’re going to do it in front of me, in which case you’re a disgusting attention-whore, and you should just give that baby a bottle before I glimpse some mommy side-boob.”

I became a lactation consultant because after struggling through the early days with my first daughter who was a month premature, I made it my mission to learn everything there was to know about breastfeeding.  It was fascinating to me.  Our bodies create this life-sustaining fluid that is perfectly designed for our babies by thousands of years of evolution.  It becomes more individualized to each baby’s specific needs with every feed, demonstrating the beautiful connection between mother and child that happens on a microscopic level.

It was empowering for me to see, when I trusted my body, what it was capable of.  But I’m not so self-centered as to think that my experience applies to everyone (which is why I rely on research to shape the advice in this book).  I believe that women who choose to feed their babies this way should receive all the support they need to meet their goals, because as much as society loves to chime “breast is best” they don’t do much to help mothers succeed.  I also believe that women are intelligent, autonomous individuals who should be armed with accurate information and then allowed to make their own choices.  Whether you decide to breastfeed or bottle feed, make the decision that is best for YOU and YOUR BABY.  Leave all the advice and expectations your in-laws, your friends, and society has out of the picture.  Fuck that noise.  And please, I am begging you, never think of yourself as a failure for feeding your baby formula.  Babies thrive on formula too.  Let’s change the mantra from “breast is breast” to “mama knows best.”

Reference

Spencer, B., & Khaki, A. (2015). Whose breasts are they anyway? International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproduction Sciences, 3(2), 75-76. Doi: 10.15296/ijwhr.2015.13

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Breastfeeding

Here’s something nobody tells you about breastfeeding: you probably won’t want your partner to touch your breasts, like, ever again.  You might as well hang a sign on them that says “BACK THE FUCK OFF” because your baby can’t read but your significant other sure as shit can.  Sometimes I think that’s the only way he (or she) will get the hint.

One author noted that women and men she interacted with often ascribed ownership of their breasts to either their husband or their baby (Spencer & Khaki, 2015). As in, “they’re the baby’s food now so my husband will get his playthings back when I’m done nursing.”  This was just an observation that was written up as an opinion piece, so not solid research, but she blamed society at large for this phenomenon.  Society sells us the idea that we can be a sexual woman, and we can be a mother, but never simultaneously (Spencer & Khaki, 2015). Think back to when Sex and the City portrayed Charlotte & Trey’s troubles in the bedroom. (Am I dating myself with that one? Shit.)  Other researchers have theorized that women and their partners have a difficult time mentally separating the breasts as an organ for sexual pleasure and an organ for nurturing their innocent children (Convery & Spatz, 2009).  It is an understandably difficult leap to make.  Looking down at your breast and seeing your beautiful baby suckling is a sight that fills you with love, joy, pride, and maybe even euphoria.  Ten minutes later you’re supposed to look down to see a grown-ass man taking up that same spot and feel turned-on?  For some women, it’s totally possible, even enjoyable.  For others, a resounding NOPE.

Breasts and nipples can also be super sensitive during lactation (Convery & Spatz, 2009), and so things you used to enjoy may really just not feel the same.  My personal hunch (please will someone hire me to properly investigate all my hunches) is that lactational aggression is to blame.  In my experience, the feeling of anyone but my baby touching my breasts causes a very physical reaction.  I feel my whole body tense up and withdraw.  Think to any skin-crawling, “nails on a chalkboard”, icky sensation you’ve ever felt and amplify that x100.  The best way I can describe how I feel is to say it’s instinctive, primal, and angry.  Lactational aggression is a maternal behavior that has been extensively studied in animals, but it is just beginning to be researched in humans.  Because obviously the behaviors of lactating macaques, rats, mice, prairie voles, cats, deer, lions, rabbits, squirrels, and sheep should all be studied before actual human women (Hahn-Holbrook et al., 2011).  But I digress.  One human experimental study, although it was limited by a small sample size, found that breastfeeding mothers displayed heightened aggression compared to formula feeding mothers and to women who have never had a child (Hahn-Holbrook et al., 2011).  One unwelcomed reach towards baby’s food supply and BAM, mama bear is ready to rip you to pieces.  Funny how a baby sucking on your nipple with the force of a Dyson doesn’t hurt, but your partner grazing your nipple with a pinky makes you want to punch them squarely in the face.

References

Convery, K. M., & Spatz, D. L. (2009). Sexuality & breastfeeding: What do you know?. MCN: The American Journal Of Maternal/Child Nursing, 34(4), 218-223. doi:10.1097/01.NMC.0000357913.87734.af

Hahn-Holbrook, J., Holt-Lunstad, J., Holbrook, C., Coyne, S.M., & Lawson, E.T. (2011). Maternal defense: Breast feeding increases aggression by reducing stress.  Psychological Science, 22(10), 1288 – 1295. doi:10.1177/0956797611420729

Spencer, B., & Khaki, A. (2015). Whose breasts are they anyway? International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproduction Sciences, 3(2), 75-76. Doi: 10.15296/ijwhr.2015.13

Let’s Talk About Social Media

Knowing full well that, despite my carefully cultivated Instagram feed, my life is actually a hot mess, I like to tell myself that everyone else on social media is also lying.  However, life is not always so simple.

We all have at least one friend who maintains a perfect social media presence.  She doesn’t hijack your feed, posting only once or twice a week.  But she somehow manages to “like” everything that all of her friends post.  I’m not convinced she sleeps.  When she does post, they’re expertly crafted tidbits of familial bliss.  Beautiful family photos, candid shots of the kids being silly, check-ins to exotic vacation locations.  Social media mom must have a background in design, because she posts Instagram photos that would make Joanna Gaines proud.  Every once in a while, she shares something self-deprecating about how hard it is to be a mom, or a picture of the kids being messy and getting into trouble, which keeps her relatable. I’ve got the formula pretty well figured out myself, although I can stray at times into oversharing and political grandstanding.  I would love to say that all of this is fake, but I know one of these moms who is exactly the same in real life.  She’s pretty, smart, sweet, funny, and has lots of actual real-life friends.  Her kids are wearing matching outfits in every picture with Pinterest-worthy hairstyles, and they are generally sassy and adorable.

Last summer, both of my kids had been sick for two days.  On the third day, I brought them out to the doctor.  I hadn’t showered in all that time, so I’m sure I smelled of B.O. and old breastmilk.  I had on dirty yoga pants and my hair in a mom-bun because why not live up to all the stereotypes.  My toddler was in a fancy-dress phase but screamed like the Exorcist if you came near her with a brush.  The combo of flower-girl dress and toddler dreadlocks she sported all that summer deserves its own chapter.  The baby had a poop-out in the car seat with no backup outfit to be found, so she was in nothing but a diaper by the time we arrived.  As I was directing my traveling circus into the “sick” waiting room, the dark and grimy side of the office reserved for germ-carrying outcasts, I glanced across the office and glimpsed my friend in the “well” waiting room.  Her hair was curled, she had make-up on, and I could just see the tops of two little Dutch-braided heads peeking over the receptionist’s counter.  My first thought was, “Come on! They really do look like that just to run fucking errands!”  I felt so low in that moment, I wanted to sink into the bacteria-infested “sick” waiting room floor.  I talked to her about it a few days later and she laughed it off, saying they were dressed up to go somewhere after the doctor.  But it didn’t shake my feeling of being less than.  She was the glamourous mom-on-the-go, and I was the one who would never have her shit together.

My amazing friend is the exception, not the rule.  The way I couldn’t help but compare myself to her IS the rule.  Enter the social comparison theory, which in a nutshell states that “when presented with information about other people, individuals tend to relate that information to their own lives and then use that information to make either positive or negative self-judgements” (Coyne, McDaniel, & Stockdale, 2017, p. 336).  Social media compounds this effect, as the information you are left comparing yourself to is often quite different from reality.  It’s easy to feel like shit when you’ve been up all night with a teething baby, your house is a wreck, and you’re scared to even look in the mirror.  You pick up your phone to try to zone out and have a little break from reality, and you’re greeted with a friend’s picture of herself and her kid smiling and laughing, well dressed.  Did I mention they’re in the middle of an impeccably clean, modern kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances and marble countertops?  You think you must be failing, because obviously this other mother has got it all figured out while you’re just limping along.  What you don’t know is that she’s been up all night nursing a baby succubus just like you.  But she chose a Snapchat filter that hides the bags under her eyes, and that clean kitchen is actually in her mother-in-law’s house.  “Research has found that people tend to put their “best selves” forward on [social networking sites], which may be one reason why online social comparisons are more likely to result in negative feelings towards themselves, as opposed to positive ones” (Coyne, McDaniel, & Stockdale, 2017, p. 336).  Comparing your whole, unadulterated, flawed, every-day self to the picture-perfect, Photoshopped versions of your friends is a recipe for low self-esteem, feelings of depression, and dissatisfaction with your life and your personal relationships (Coyne, McDaniel, & Stockdale, 2017).  A second study seeking to understand the effect of social media on new mothers also found that users often enhanced the way they presented themselves online to receive more positive responses. “Most popular Instagram ‘mummy’ profiles are the picture of inspiration, style, and care-free life.” (Djafarova & Trofimenko, 2017, p. 22).  It’s the “Joanna Gaines effect,” but much closer to home.

[I explain the “Joanna Gaines” effect in an earlier chapter, but the gist of it is the examples society gives us of the “perfect” mom creating undue pressure.  Don’t think I’m in any way dissing Joanna though, I frickin love her!]

References

Coyne, S. S., McDaniel, B. T., & Stockdale, L. A. (2017). “Do you dare to compare?” Associations between maternal social comparisons on social networking sites and parenting, mental health, and romantic relationship outcomes. Computers In Human Behavior, 70335-340. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.12.081

Djafarova, E., & Trofimenko, O. (2017). Exploring the relationships between self-presentation and self-esteem of mothers in social media in Russia. Computers In Human Behavior, 20. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.03.021