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.

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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

Introduction

When it comes to parenting, I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.  As I’m writing this, my toddler is running around in nothing but her underwear.  I just bribed her with Skittles to let me cut her nails.  The baby is snuggled up watching cartoons on the dog’s bed – sorry American Academy of Pediatrics, screen time happens.  My sink is full of dishes (again), there is a literal mountain of laundry waiting to be folded and put away (at least it’s clean), and the dust bunnies in the corners are big enough to sprout limbs and hop away.  I don’t have all the answers about raising kids.  I don’t have some magic bullet philosophy that is going to solve all your parenting problems.  I still can’t quite figure out HOW TO DO ALL THE THINGS.  Also, I curse a lot, so sorry in advance.

Here’s what I’ve learned since becoming a parent: nobody else knows what they’re doing either. So when a new parent has a question about breastfeeding, or sleep schedules, or the red bumps on their baby’s ass, I bet you can guess who they’re likely to ask: Google.  Congratulations mamma, you’re about to fall down the rabbit hole.  From your Google search you’ll be sent to Baby Center forums, mommy blogs, attachment parenting websites, sleep training websites, and MAYBE an actual credible source.  Misinformation runs rampant and assholes treat personal philosophies like facts.  Maybe you’ll find a good answer to your question, but more likely you’ll come away more confused than ever.  In the worst-case scenario, it will make you feel like a shit parent who is doing everything wrong.  Suddenly your baby’s diaper rash means that you may have passed Ebola through your breastmilk and you’re calling all your family members to find out who’s been to Africa recently.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Google.  I may or may not have googled the phrase “how to get a book published.”  But let’s try to save Google for finding the best local Thai food and not learning how to raise our kids.

Here’s where I come in: the non-expert.  Like I said, I’m not here to sell you on any system or strategy.  I won’t tell you that you need to follow my program or else your kids are going to be irrevocably fucked up.  Which begs the question: why should you listen to me?  For starter’s, I’m one of you.  I’m a mostly-stay-at-home mommy to two spectacular little girls.  In my non-mommy life, I’m a Labor and Delivery nurse, Lactation Consultant, and graduate student.  I’ve been taught how to find, evaluate, and implement the ideas proven by good research.  We call this evidence-based practice.  I’m here to save your sanity by wading into the crazy muck of internet parenting advice and pulling out the gems of actual scientifically proven answers.  I also relentlessly question and annoy the people in my life who are experts in their fields.  Just facts here people, no bullshit.20170629_190057-COLLAGE.jpg