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Parenthood

One year

September 15, 2017

I expected this, of course — hoped for it, even — but it’s hard to believe that one year ago, September 1st, Kaia was born. Pink, crying, delicate — a precious gift of a girl who I couldn’t imagine as the feisty, silly, energetic light of our lives she is today. Last year, I could never have fathomed how much life would change, how much Alex and I would change, or how many highs and lows were in our future. But here we are as changed people with changed lives with so many highs and lows behind us and it means, perhaps more than anything else, that we survived. We all did.

This year was full of challenges that rendered me sinking, drowning. There were days I was sure I couldn’t handle another second of screaming or another night where I’d lie awake, holding a child until 6 in the morning when it was finally my time to get in my one blessed hour of sleep. Tears were shed — lots of them. There was frustration, and fear, and sadness. There were arguments hissed at 3 a.m., moments where it took every single ounce of will I had within me to not yell at my husband, moments where I just knew for certain that I had ruined an innocent child’s life just by simply deciding to become a mother. Some days (for example, the ones where I didn’t work for three straight hours to get my overtired infant to sleep) I managed to get my head slightly above the deep water I was in, but just as I thought I might be able to grab a hold on to the life ring that was always just out of my reach, there was loneliness, and isolation, and pain, and so much damn responsibility on my shoulders alone to pull me right back under.

So, I did what any human does when shit is going down, when it’s live or die: I fought. I churned up so much water around me that I likely just made everything worse. It never took very long after all of that fighting to become utterly exhausted and simply give up and give in to whatever was going to happen. It was in those moments of stillness, of not fighting, of not trying that I was instantly buoyed upward. Kaia would laugh, she would smile, she would screech, she would look at me with her big blue eyes and stare right into my soul, and suddenly I was breathing again. Finally, after I spent enough time catching my breath and recovering from my near-drowning experiences, I finally figured out that in order to make any progress in motherhood, I needed to swim. So, I started swimming like hell, and I haven’t stopped since. Swimming often means “acting as if,” it means having no expectations, it means not taking things seriously, it means laughing at life’s absurdity. It means making decisions even when I don’t know what I’m doing. It means being a leader in the moments where I’d feel more comfortable being a follower. It means trying my best, failing, and then trying again.

Nobody said it was easy. Nobody had the heart to say it would be this hard.

Motherhood is hard work, there is no denying that. But simply being a mother — a caretaker, a protector, a loving supporter to Kaia? That’s effortless. She just makes it so easy. Kaia is feisty, and determined, and never lets any obstacle stand in the way of accomplishing her goals. She is social, and funny, and lights up every room she enters. There is not a single other person like her that I have ever known, and at just one year old she is the most inspiring, influential, magnificent human I have ever had the honor to meet.

No one ever told me that parental love was the sweetest one out there. This is a love that is quiet, powerful, and invincible. It asks no questions, defines no boundaries, and rests easy just as it is. For this, I would so absolutely anything. For this — for Kaia — I’ll never stop swimming.

We made it a year. It’s a drop in the bucket that feels so monumental.

I don’t doubt our ability to tread the waters of new toddlerhood, body surf the turbulent seas, to float on glassy waters, and swim to whatever shore appears to us next.

Parenthood

It’s better to be authentic than good

August 1, 2017

I heard them for no apparent reason when I was 5, when I was 15, when I was 25. I heard them for reasons including having conversation with a 4-year-old about superheros, talking to a seven-year-old about school, and simply holding a baby. I heard them from friends and family and coworkers and strangers, the words: “you’re going to be a good mother.”

If a child repeatedly hears they are worthy of love and respect, they’ll believe it. If a man repeatedly tells his family that his wife is terrible, they’ll believe him. If someone repeatedly reads Brietbart articles about how Mexicans are stealing jobs from qualified Americans, they’ll believe it. If a person is repeatedly told that, if nothing else, they’ll be a good parent, they’ll believe it. It’s called the illusory truth effect, the tendency to believe information after repeated exposure. Naturally, I’m not immune to this cognitive bias. And, naturally, I did somewhat internalize the idea that I would be a good mother simply because I heard it so often.

I understood, of course, that there was no evidence to suggest that I’d actually be a good parent (caring about the thoughts of a 4-year-old does not a good parent make), but there was also no evidence to the contrary. So, in many ways, these words became something I built my identity around.  In my young adulthood I could say, for example, that I was female, a US citizen, a geek who minored in Geology, a horrible artist, and a decent baker. I could also say that I would probably make a decent mother. I was as certain of this as I was certain that I was a brunette.

Imagine my disappointment when I finally became a mother and learned that it is far easier to be a “good” one when parenting your nonexistent children hypothetically. It took far longer than I’d like to admit for this realization to truly sink in: what was presented to me as “good” by those around me either reflected who they were or what they felt as parents, or who they wish their parents were when they were parented. The overall message was that there is an ideal type of parent, ideal things to do, ideal things to focus on. There were ideal things to feel. There were also things one should not do, lest you be the worst parent in the world.

As it was told to me, a good parent did and felt these things: they became different people very moment their child was born, they took to motherhood like a fish to water, they never changed anything about their lives or living arrangements to accommodate their children, they always felt fulfilled, they never had moments of anger or sadness, they never needed a break, they never wanted to put their child down, they obsessively worried about and sheltered their children. Of course, a good parent also had babies that slept through the night far before they were 6 months old, were always happy, were chubby, and didn’t unintentionally throw a wrench into mom’s plans to take a shower or pee.

Suffice it to say, when I think about or continue to hear these messages, I often feel like I am failing. I often feel like I am not living up to the “good mom” expectation that was always had of me. And, really, I’m not. No one who told me that I would be a good mom could say that I actually am with the same conviction. After all, a good mother was never someone who, among other things, occasionally cried in the kitchen while making the baby breakfast or who wanted a break from the person she tried to conceive. I know that I haven’t met expectations when I tell my mom about how I am excited about going out to dinner with my husband in September without Kaia, and I get raised eyebrows. I know it when a friend says she thought I was more of an attachment parent than a RIE parent, and that she is surprised. I know it when, after admitting that I am sometimes overwhelmed by the demands of parenthood, I get condescending responses that include “you should have expected this” or  “you said you wanted a baby” or “yeah, you can’t just do whatever you want when you want to anymore, welcome to life.”

The truth is, I’ve taken to motherhood like a fish to deep space. I nurse my kid 3 times in 3 hours all day long, and honestly, sometimes I don’t want her attached to my body. Sometimes I miss being able to do things like pee without having to say “It seems like you’re upset that I put you down. I know that you would rather I stay here with you. I know that you don’t want me to go, sweetie, and I promise I am coming back.” Sometimes I miss being able to wear a real bra. Sometimes I miss going out alone with my husband. Sometimes I am frustrated or even downright angry. Sometimes I cry so much that my eyes are red and swollen well into the next day. Sometimes I put Kaia in her “yes space” and go into the backyard for a few moments of complete silence. Sometimes I feel lonely and unfulfilled in my role as a mother. Sometimes I lie awake at night asking the universe to please magic me into someone who is better than I am. Sometimes, for as much as I love the life I have now, I do miss the old one.

What is really boils down to is this: I’m not a “good mom,” at least according to the definition of many in my social circle. You know what I am instead? Human. Authentically so.

I would rather be authentic than some arbitrary portrayal of good. If I give myself permission to be myself, I also give my daughter permission to be herself. I don’t have to smile when I want to cry. I don’t have to wear her when I want a break. I don’t have to say that motherhood is easy for me to prove to her that I am in control or elevate my social capital. I don’t have to pretend I don’t want to be alone with my husband ever again for her to know that she is deeply, unconditionally, and forever loved by me. Janet Lansbury suggests in her book Elevating Childcare: a guide to respectful parenting, that we be our real selves so our children can be their real selves. And I absolutely I want to be my real self so that Kaia can be her real self, too. I want her to truly know me, I don’t want her to know me, mother on a pedestal. I also want to truly know her, not some watered down version of her that doesn’t include all of her feelings, thoughts and expressions simply because I communicated and demonstrated to her that they were unacceptable.

I would rather be the mom who showed her daughter that it’s okay to feel the way you feel. I would rather be the mom who taught her kid from the very beginning that feelings aren’t good or bad, they just are. I would rather be the mom who modeled self-care. I would rather be the mom who showed her child that perfection is unattainable. I would rather be the mom who communicated with her words AND her behavior that her child is enough. I would rather show my daughter (who is very likely going to be someone’s mother) that mothers are people, and even when everything changes in your life when you become a mom, everything also kind of stays the same.

By allowing myself the freedom to stay authentic, I remove the feeling of wrongdoing. There is nothing wrong with getting frustrated, there is nothing wrong with wanting more out of life than the role of being a mother, there is nothing wrong with wanting time alone with your spouse, there is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed. I’m not less of a mother because of these things. By allowing myself the freedom to stay authentic, I also increase my happiness. I’m happier when I recognize that crying is simply an expression of a feeling rather than an indication that I am a bad parent. I’m happier when I recognize that going out alone with my husband is simply part of what I need to do to sustain my mental health. I’m happier when I recognize that putting Kaia down in her “yes space” is a way for her and I both to have some independence. I am happier when I forget about being good — whatever that means — and focus on just being a mother who loves her kid, who loves herself, and who is doing what she needs to do in order to keep both parties satisfied.

I’m better this way.

It’s better this way.

Whatever parenting philosophy we subscribe to (except the anti-vax thing — that’s just harmful), whatever we feel, whatever our experience, whatever we need to do to keep ourselves grounded, whatever we need to be the best parents we can possible be — it’s is all good (baby, baby).

 

Parenthood

Kaia is 10 months old!

July 17, 2017

Bittersweet is the best way to describe how I feel about the fact that my baby is nearly a toddler. The further away I get from the first moment I looked into her eyes, the more pronounced that feeling becomes. I realize, however, that the further I get from that time, the closer I get to the exciting things coming our way. Pretty soon we’ll have a child who can stand unsupported, who can walk, who can eat smoked turkey on Thanksgiving, who can pet the cat without having her parents say “gentle” over and over again. Well, okay, maybe the cat thing is pushing it a little.

Now that we are getting closer to her birthday, we have planned a cake smash and a playdate party with other babies/toddlers for late August, and I’m thinking about what kind of cake I’ll be making for our low-key family celebration on September 1st (chocolate cake with a peanut butter buttercream frosting sounds right up Kaia’s alley). I get all weepy just thinking about these things, so I try to keep my mind focused firmly on the present and how I can keep her from picking up the white fuzz from our rug and putting it in her mouth.

Kaia’s personality has really started to bloom as of late, and I feel like I learn more about her with every passing week. She is willful, determined, independent, brave, and social, and I love to watch her interacting with the world. I’m pretty sure that my own child is my spirit animal. I spend much of my time these days laughing because she is hilarious, and everything she does — from the way she furiously turns the pages of her books to the way she attempts to twist herself backward in shopping carts — endears her to me even more.

At 10 months, life is about keeping up with an increasingly active baby, preventing her from injuring herself on a nearly constant basis, finding every soft food imaginable to feed her, dealing with some pretty intense teething, and becoming acquainted with the new ways she expresses herself.

Kaia at a glance:

  • Has 5 teeth, with two or so more coming in
  • Can often be found clicking her tongue
  • Eating like a champ! Her favorite food these days is toast with peanut butter, though some honorable mentions include apple, banana and cheerios
  • Arches her back and tosses her head backwards when she is frustrated
  • Is cruising more and more
  • Seems to have a firm grasp on the word “no” and usually won’t even try to do something again once she has been told not to
  • Loves the books “The Pout-Pout Fish,” If You Take a Mouse to School” and “I Like Myself”
  • Holds her own cup and drinks from a straw
  • Can usually be cheered up with a game of peekaboo
  • Slaps her hands on everything, especially when she is eating
  • Is very social and loves to interact with other babies and adults
  • Frequently takes 1.5-2 hour naps
  • Throws herself forward onto the floor when she is upset
  • Fascinated by drawers and doors
  • Likes bubbles
  • Has a fondness for empty bottles
  • Bounces up and down when she is excited
  • Goes for gold with her gymnurstics routine. She climbs up my body, twists and turns, planks, and otherwise does everything but stay still while nursing

Life with a 10-month-old is hilarious, unpredictable, challenging, and a whole lot of fun. Some days are hard, some days are remarkably easy, but every day I get to spend with her is so precious to me. I’ll never be able to predict the ways in which things will change as the weeks pass, but I can say with certainty that it is bound to be interesting!

Parenthood

Home

July 7, 2017

When we first moved to Washington, we lived in a shiny high rise on 1st Avenue, a short walk from Pike Place Market. I loved the view of the water from our balcony, the contagious roar of the Seahawks fans you could heard from the stadium during a football game, and the smell of salty air. It was something we never wanted to give up, and so for the next several years we lived in shiny high rises with water views, never more than a mile from our previous location, and for most of it, in apartments that were approximately the size of a matchbox. We were just so happy to live in the center of Seattle, and never questioned that the city was where we belonged.

We swore each time we flew into SeaTac airport that nothing could beat knowing that just over Lake Washington, and just south of Lake Union, all of our belongings sat in a tiny apartment in a glistening building riiiight over there. From the ground, the sight of the skyline was equally comforting, and for me, driving into the crowded city was like taking a Xanax during a panic attack. Whether we were returning from a hike, or backpacking, or camping, or a daytrip to Whidbey Island, or even an afternoon shopping in Tukwila — Seattle was comforting. It was predictable and familiar, it was home.

Being home meant watching the sunset over the Olympics, using flashlights to transmit messages via morse code to random people in hotel rooms at the Westin, walking to work, walking around on weekends wearing inappropriate shoes to find a tucked away restaurant with mediocre food and really good drinks, or venturing out on a quiet weekday with a friend just to grab breakfast at a french restaurant downtown, and somehow finding ourselves on a hike miles and miles from the city at 3 PM. It meant knowing that if you take the exit for the convention center and make a left at the first light, you can beat all of the traffic on the ever-popular exit ramp for Seneca and get to where you’re going a little faster. It meant knowing that It’s damn near impossible to make a right onto Union from 2nd Avenue without being rear-ended or side-swiped by a bus or two. It meant knowing that avenues run north to south, and streets run east to west, and never being lost. Sometimes I really miss it. Sometimes I feel like I am grieving the loss of home.

We moved out to the suburbs in mid-May, and nowadays you can find us sipping scotch in the yard, strolling with the baby down the street before bedtime, and doing very suburban things like not spending 5+ minutes driving out of a parking garage when taking the car anywhere, driving a quarter of a mile on a Friday evening in under 1.5 hours, and becoming acquainted with things like block parties, neighborhood watches, and backyard chickens.

Like many urbanites, our decision to move was prompted by welcoming a baby into our family. There is more space for her to play here, less noise (which is to say it’s totally quiet), and it’s less of a hassle to do basically everything but get to work and go to the doctor. It was a change we wanted, a change we chose, and yet when we packed up and drove the miles to our new place, the change was jarring. Being a Seattleite was the very last thing that tied me to my old life. It was always there as my secure base whenever navigating the new terrain that is parenthood and a dramatic shift in my identity became overwhelming. I changed a lot when I became a mother, but where I lived stayed the same, and familiarity was essential to me.

Just recently I sat in our yard on a waterproof blanket, in the shade of a tree, with Kaia who was tearing apart leaves. Even though I didn’t have my bearings, and was just beginning to come to terms with the loss of my connection to my pre-baby life, I felt it deep in my soul, the understanding that this place is definitely my home. It’s where this version of myself belongs. I don’t know how to get to a single place without the use of Google Maps, I’m asleep before the sun sets, I don’t know shortcuts to get to where I want to go, I’m pretty sure that shining a flash light into someone’s house would end with police at my doorstep, and I don’t even know if a French restaurant exists in this town — but this home means so much more to me than familiarity, flashlight communication, and a breakfast of Chausson aux Pommes.

Now, being home means being in the place where my daughter will take her first steps. It’s where she will one day call me mama, where she’ll giggle and play, where we will return after trips to feel at peace. It’s where I’m going to send her off for her first day of kindergarten, and maybe even her last day of high school. It’s where she crawls over to me as I put away laundry, it’s where I play Ella Jenkins on repeat and hug her tight under the midday sun, it’s where we read together, and eat together, and laugh together. It is to her what Fair Lawn, Bethesda, Athens, and Seattle were and are to me: the place that holds the memories of my past and the promise of the future. I point out flowers, and pretty houses, and schools, and kids riding their bikes, and I tell her that this is where she is going to grow up, that this place is her home. And I know it is one of many she will come to know over her lifetime.

I’m lucky to have had Seattle to call my home in my mid-late 20s, and I know that I am luckier to have Bellevue as my home in my 30s, which will arguably be one of the most important, significant, magical decades of my life. I’m going to make many happy memories here, just like I did in Seattle. One day, this, too, will be my old life. Someday, when I’m no longer sitting on waterproof blankets under a tree at 2 PM with a child crawling all over me, when I hear the very last bell ring on Kaia’s very last day of school, and when I’ll hug her for the last time in what could very well be years, I’m going to say goodbye to this. I’m going to lose my last connection to my childrearing years, and the word home will once again be redefined.

It is through that realization that I find I am not saying goodbye to the old me, but rather, hello, to the new one. I didn’t consider that to truly move forward, it often means letting go completely from the life you once knew to be fully prepared to grasp on to the life you will come to know.

The truth is that I miss the old versions me, I miss Seattle, I miss the many places I have called home. But I’m excited to have the opportunity to embrace the new me, to find new places that will become home, to find new places to miss. What I have been internalizing as an end is really just a new beginning. I think it was just so hard for me to see it that way when becoming a parent truly does mean making sacrifices, and “to sacrifice” means “to surrender.” Like many new parents, I was so focused on what I was surrendering and so terrified of it all that I often lost sight of what I was gaining. And it’s true that there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

I think I am finally ready to move ahead and to embrace my new beginning. There is no better place to start as I am right now, right here, somewhere I’m so glad I get to call home.

Hello, hello — always hello — to the future.

Parenthood

Kaia is 9 months old!

June 20, 2017

I’ve been trying to deny the reality of this situation: our little newborn baby is just a few months away from toddlerhood. She is in her last single digit month, and there is something about it that is exceptionally bittersweet.  Of course, I’m excited to see what the world has in store for her in the future, but I’m sad that I’ll never get to see her just as she is right now ever again. I think I have to find a way to stop blinking because she is changing so fast, and growing up at lightning speed.

But, as always, I feel like we’re in a really good place 9 months in. We’re having a lot of fun. Alex and I are feeling more confident (the person who isn’t driving actually sits in the passengers seat now rather than in the backseat with Kaia), and Kaia is in this sweet spot where she is able to move herself around and crawl, but she can’t actually walk, bolt into the street, or scale the shelves of the refrigerator. We get all the perks of having a mobile baby, but none of the anxiety that comes along with having a child that can run away from you. I’m pretty sure this level of mobility is all I can handle without living in a state of full-blown panic! In the next few months I’m either going to need to be medicated, find a way to baby proof hardwood floors, buy her a padded suit, or have her live inside of a bubble.

Kaia has now been outside of my body for about as long as she was inside of it, and I can only vaguely remember life without her. I know that I had fun when I was childless, but having a child and watching her grow, and learn, and laugh, and smile — I’m having more fun these days than I think I ever did. I know without a doubt that I am happier. I’m certain that there is nothing better in life than the way she smiles when I look at her, how she crawls over to me just to sit on me, her little arms stretching up when I go to lift her, and how she looks at me when she is unsure of something or thinks something is fun.

These are the days. Life is good with our not-so-little 9 month old.

Kaia at a glance:

  • Fits into 9m and 12m clothes, depending on the brand.
  • Is pretty tall — around 30 inches! She’s definitely related to us.
  • Has 2 teeth with another two (possibly 3) on the way!
  • Expresses herself more and more. When she’s upset or frustrated, she’ll throw her head back in protest. When she is happy or excited, she’ll bounce up and down.
  • Often stands supported using one hand, or using her elbows while she is holding a toy.
  • Stood unsupported for a second or two.
  • Takes a step or two while holding on to furniture or our legs.
  • Can now stand in her Zipadee-Zip.
  • Imitates sounds.
  • Is becoming more and more interested in eating solid foods, but still doesn’t really like chunks of food if she is being spoon-fed.
  • Developed a pincher grasp and can now pick up lint from the floor and food from her high chair tray with no problem at all.
  • Is visibly excited when she sees food coming.
  • Explores things using one or two fingers.
  • Fascinated with the cat’s ears.
  • Thinks it’s hysterical when the dog jumps around in in circles.
  • Hates her carseat 75% of the time.
  • Loves to turn the pages of her board books.
  • Needs a toy to play with while being changed.
  • Really doesn’t enjoy having her face wiped.
  • Her favorite books are “Is Your Mama a Llama?” and anything by Todd Parr (she loves to look at the pictures).
  • Her favorite toys are stacking cups (which she mostly just chews on), and shape sorters.
  • Loves when I sing
  • Smiles at everyone who looks at her.
  • Responds to her name.

I’m not sure what the next month holds, and I can barely fathom how different she will be a few weeks from now, but I’m soaking her up in this moment, enjoying her little personality, and in awe at how far she has come.

Parenthood

Parenting, in GIFs

June 10, 2017

When Kaia simultaneously puked down my shirt and blew out a diaper

How I feel when Kaia laughs, squeals, and screeches

Weighing my response to a person who comments on how much Kaia weighs

How I feel when turning on Craig David makes Kaia stop crying

When Alex is getting Kaia from her crib in the morning

Realizing that I need to meet with a friend, nurse, put the baby down for a nap, and prepare a meal within a span of 2 hours

How I’ll always feel about my parenting skills

Trying to make it from 3PM-5PM on a particularly crazy day

Giving a new mom (solicited) parenting advice

My reaction when someone says breastfeeding is the magical postpartum weight loss solution

When Alex asks how long Kaia’s naps were

My reaction when a person without kids tries to give me parenting advice

When someone addresses me as “mom”

How I feel every time Kaia eats anything

When Kaia is getting her vaccinations

The story of my life as a nursing mom

When Kaia has been awake for 1.5 hours and we’re debating whether or not to go to lunch

How I feel whenever anyone tells me how beautiful/funny/smart Kaia is

When people will. not. stop. staring. when I’m breastfeeding in public

My reaction when another mom brags about how clean her house is, how much weight she lost, how her baby never cries, how she never orders in food, and how she is basically better than anyone at being a mom/wife/person

When I’m spending 20 minutes baby-free, in public, and no one knows I am a mom

When someone rings the doorbell during Kaia’s nap

After handling the diapers of a tiny human who eats solid food

When someone scares Kaia and makes her cry

Putting Kaia to sleep at night

When someone questions the decisions I make for my daughter

How I feel when I’m carrying the baby in one arm, holding three bags on the other, and I unlock and open a door

When a stranger tries to touch Kaia

In the suburbs, trying to fit in with other moms like

When the assembly instructions for baby gear make no sense whatsoever

How I feel when I’m holding Kaia

Walking through life as a mom like

How I feel after giving birth

Parenthood

Kaia is 8 months old!

May 19, 2017

I don’t quite understand how Kaia managed to age 8 months in the 45 minutes she has been living outside of my uterus. Wasn’t she just in there kicking my ribs and having dance parties at 2 AM? I’ll never know why I blink and all of the sudden find that she is two pounds heavier and two inches taller. But I do know that instead of being kicked in the ribs, I’m being accidentally head butted by a nursing infant, and I’m definitely, mercifully, asleep at 2 AM (at least for now).

Things have gotten both more peaceful and more chaotic now that Kaia is 8 months old. She is on the move, standing with support, and seemingly always on a mission to find ways to injure herself, or scare and/or amaze her parents. Now that she is not interested in staying still for any amount of time, I’m always playing safety net and killing her joy by preventing her from diving off the couch, crawling off the bed, or rolling off of her changing pad. I’m thisclose to covering the floor in pillows, putting the mattress on the floor, and never using a changing pad again out of fear for her life — you know, just typical new mom stuff.

Kaia is so much fun to be around. She is funny, and determined, and happy. I get so much joy out of watching her interact with the world and the people around her. I’m so proud of her, and watching her develop new skills is  awe-inspiring. Her laugh is the most wonderful sound, and her smile lights my life. She has only been with us for 8 months, but I feel like I have known her forever. Motherhood just keeps getting better. Harder in some ways, easier in other ways, and better, always.

How we’re doing

Things are going so well over here. We seem to be out of the terrible sleep trenches which has really made all the difference. Lately, parenting is really about finding balance between our needs and Kaia’s needs and less about sheer survival. I’m still not quite sure how to manage my time in such a way that I can make dinner, attempt to feed Kaia, and attempt to actually get in a few bites myself before we start the bedtime routine and put her to sleep. Alex and I have been eating after Kaia is in bed for the night (after 7 PM), and while this works pretty well for the sake of having a meal that isn’t interrupted by needing to entertain a baby, I’m starting to stress out about the idea of family dinners and trying to get her to eat what we are eating. The struggles we have these days are about practical, easy-to-solve matters that just seem like a much bigger deal than it probably is because we are so new at this. It’s a relief to have such superficial problems.

We’re finally starting to get into the groove of going places with Kaia without fear that we’re somehow going to destroy all of our lives. While we are still concerned about sticking to a general schedule, extending an awake time before nap because we’re not home or we absolutely need to do something at her usual nap time isn’t anything we stress over any more. Now that Kaia can sit up for long periods of time without wobbling or falling, we can go to restaurants and put her in those little highchairs (that used to give me so much anxiety), and little things like going out to eat really help us to feel like real people rather than just parents. We still have to work on actually sitting in the front of the car together while we are driving (one of us is always sitting in the back with Kaia just in case she starts to get really miserable) — but, ya know, baby steps.

Our favorites this month

  • STILL the Pack n Play (now used for safe supported-standing)
  • Stroller toys
  • High Chair
  • Sassy Wonder Wheel Activity Center (a high chair toy)
  • OlaSprout training spoon

How Kaia is doing

Kaia is now crawling and standing supported! One evening she was scooting around on her knees, and the very next morning she was making a beeline for the dog. About a week later she grabbed onto the couch and pulled herself to a stand which I was so not expecting for at least another few weeks, and I was so impressed. Since then she has attempted to stand without using her hands to hold onto anything, though she definitely doesn’t have the balance to accomplish this quite yet. She never gets frustrated, though, and keeps standing right back up and trying again.

She has also started teething! Her two bottom teeth have erupted which hasn’t seemed to make her too miserable. She hasn’t had a fever, been drooling, had disrupted sleep, or been incredibly fussy, so all seems to be going well. It looks like her top teeth might emerge pretty soon, and we’re hoping that goes just as smoothly. However, the biting while nursing has officially commenced, and it’s both hilarious and horrifying. It hurts (obviously), but she is just so cute, I can’t be too upset over it. I feel like I get bitten the most when I’m mistaking her cues that tell me she is done nursing for distraction, but hopefully I’ll figure it out before any blood is shed!

Stats

Still not sure about a weight or a length these days, but we imagine she is close to 17 lbs. She’s looking pretty big these days! She is still in 6-9 month clothes, and some 6-12 depending on the brand. She has an appt with her doctor in a couple weeks, so we’re interested to see how long she is and how much she weighs these days. Until then, I think I’ll go ahead and keep denying that she’s no longer a little tiny baby.

Likes

  • Sophie the giraffe teething ring
  • Stacking cups
  • Spending time outdoors
  • Watching the dog run around
  • Trying to touch Em and Aries
  • Occasionally sucking on a pacifier
  • Standing
  • Crawling
  • Little details on toys (the ears on Sophie the giraffe, the tiny spinners on her Sassy Wonder Wheel, etc)
  • Time for Bed (her current favorite bedtime book)

 

Dislikes

  • Staying in the same place for over a certain amount of time
  • Sitting still when she could just as easily be crawling
  • Being changed (especially without a toy)

Firsts

  • First time crawling
  • First time standing with support
  • First time in a restaurant high chair (it’s really not as scary as I imagined…)
  • First attempt at standing unsupported

Sleep

Before teething came into the picture Kaia was getting 8-10 hours of sleep before waking to nurse. On one occasion she slept from 7pm-6am before nursing, and then went back down until 8am! Now that teething is a thing she has been getting 6-8 hours before waking to nurse, and will usually go back down until 6am or 6:30 (and sometimes 7, which is pretty cool). She is a pretty great sleeper in my book, and has come SO FAR in this department. I can’t believe there was a time where she didn’t sleep without being held. That’s just so crazy to me now that she rolls right over after being put down and is out like a light. I’m so thankful for the sleep, but Alex and I both say that we miss holding her as much as we used to!

Eating/Drinking

Kaia has been eating more food, though is still getting the majority of her nutrition from breastmilk. We’re still doing mostly purees, and despite knowing infant CPR, I’m just not ready to give her finger foods without Alex around. She absolutely loves sweet potato, will tolerate applesauce if it has a little cinnamon in it, and seems to be a fan of blueberry. She loves avocado (and mashing the avocado everywhere), but is a little skeptical of banana. I’m looking forward to introducing mashed sweet potato to see what she thinks of the texture, and have been thinking about trying some other fruits like strawberries. Now that she is moving some of her finger individually, I’m curious to see what she would do if given some rice or ground beef on her tray.

Up until a week or so ago we were using a ZoliBOT straw cup for Kaia, though she only ever took a few sips, and very infrequently at that. The water was hard (even for Alex and me) to suck up through the straw, so I bought her a Tommee Tippee straw cup which she can actually drink from. She got about an oz on her first try which I was so impressed with, and I feel a little less like I’m completely failing in some area of motherhood that basically everyone else succeeds in.

I’m always trying to remember that this stage is experimental and about teaching and learning skills — not about eating and drinking like an adult or surviving on solid food and water. That helps to lower my anxiety about whether or not I am screwing her up for life a bit, though it’s hard sometimes. I do feel like I need to offer her more food and water (sometimes I skip a day or two depending on how interested she is, etc), but I’m really just trying to honor her needs and wants.

Parenthood is hard, guys.

Things I want to remember

  • How she screams with delight when Em and Aries come near her
  • How she laughs hysterically when Em does typical dog stuff like sit or lay down on command
  • How she lifts her arms when we’re about to pick her up
  • Her squeals when we pick her up
  • The way she smiles and laughs when Alex comes home from work
  • How she will crawl to Alex or me when she wants to be held by one of us
  • Her fondness for Alex’s watch and how she somehow manages to change settings and set alarms with the sporadic movement of her fingers
  • How she leans forward and cranes her neck to look at people/things when she is in her stroller

Life is getting interesting now that we’ve got an active, mobile baby on our hands. I can’t imagine what toddlerhood has in store for us, but for now, I’m just enjoying what little time I have left with this infant of ours. It’s hard to believe we’re close to double digits, and creeping ever closer to her first birthday. This month, especially, I’ve just wanted time to stand still.

Parenthood

On not “bouncing back”

May 2, 2017

I was looking at pictures of Kaia as a newborn, a form of self-torture akin to reading “If I Could Keep You Little,” and it brought me back to the early weeks of motherhood when I’d spend hours snuggling my sleeping baby, stare at her face and breathe in her smell, completely astonished that I created her, and ate every meal with one hand. I have so many fond memories of that time — of the warm weight of Kaia on my chest, of her lifting her tightly-clenched fists over her head whenever she woke up, and of the chirps and squeaks she’d make during tummy time. While those early days were some of the happiest days of my life, there was quite a bit of sadness thrown in, and when I see pictures of myself from that time, I can remember it like it was yesterday.

In the early days, I was running solely on oxytocin, coming to grips with my new reality and a new dimension added to the definition of who I am — calling myself someone’s mom. I found myself flabbergasted each time I nursed Kaia, each time I held her, each time I pushed her in her stroller, when it would hit me that she was my daughter, she was not going anywhere, and this was now my life. For the next several months, after the initial shock wore off, I am not ashamed to admit that I felt nearly as low as I did when I had depression. I wasn’t upset about being a mother, and I didn’t regret making a decision to have a child — and yet, I was deeply unhappy. Most of my unhappiness stemmed from the dramatic shift in my relationships with the people I loved. Alex and I, mostly in our tiredness, all but completely stopped speaking to each other. The person who I had considered my best friend for nearly 10 years, the person who I used to talk to for hours at the end of the work day, didn’t feel like my best friend anymore. Some of my close family members seemed to stop caring about me at all. They would text or call to ask about Kaia, never once taking the time to ask how I was feeling or how I was doing. None of my family members came to visit me and meet my daughter. My friends without kids disappeared into thin air. When Alex returned to work, I would go a week or more without talking to a single other human face-to-face. I didn’t listen to music, which always had the ability to make me feel better, for months. Along with the loss of a majority of my social support, I lost myself, too. There was a stranger living in my body, and I didn’t recognize myself. I looked in the mirror and saw someone 20-25 lbs heavier than they were pre-pregnancy, I would stand up and walk only to feel excruciating pain, I was always dizzy, my eyes were red and swollen due to my nearly-constant crying, and I looked and felt completely empty.

In 2011, a study conducted by Dr. Julie Wray found that it can take one year for a woman to recover from childbirth. This is certainly much longer than the 6 weeks most often cited, and in my case, is far more true to my reality. Eight months after Kaia’s birth, I am only now beginning to feel like myself again. I’m starting to remember who I am outside of being a mom, outside of being eight months postpartum. It has been a few weeks now that I have been able to take steps without searing pain. Only recently have more people asked about how I am doing instead of asking only about Kaia — and talking about myself has helped me remember that I am a real person. Since Kaia started sleeping a few weeks ago and I got more time to actually speak to Alex before we went to bed, I feel like I have my best friend back. I’m definitely not near my pre-pregnancy weight and still 20-25 lbs heavier than I was (depending on the day — ha!), and while some days I am hard on myself about that, I’m feeling better about what I’m working with (my worth isn’t defined by the number on the scale or the hoard of clothes I possess that no longer fit), and starting to care about putting in the effort to look like myself again. My non-parent friends have started coming around more often, and with that, conversations that don’t involve children have started becoming part of my life again — and that. is. so. important. I am starting to feel passionate once more about the things that used to matter to me like mental health research, my thesis, therapy, writing books, writing in this blog, and photography. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to feel like myself again.

Beginning in elementary school, I was inundated with messages that told me it was shameful to look or seem like you had ever given birth. I heard men shame the bodies of pregnant and postpartum women, and listened as they said that all their wives did after having a baby was sit around, get fat, watch daytime TV, and give up their dreams. They used a woman’s accomplishment, their pain, their inability to push themselves to the limits because of silly little things like putting their child first or potentially hemorrhaging to death as weapons against them. Women in my life boasted about how they were back in their old jeans two weeks postpartum, or how they never stopped socializing, or how they never stopped doing the things they loved, or how they changed absolutely nothing about their lives to accommodate their new motherhood or their infant, and they wore these things like a badge of honor. I started to feel like there was no other choice but to have that same experience or else I was somehow less of a person, less of a mother, less of a woman. I thought I had to pretend like nothing ever happened by the time I was wheeled into my postpartum hospital room, have a dinner made from scratch on the day I came home from the hospital, socialize with my friends the next week, and fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes by 3 months, maximum, postpartum. Looking back, I feel a little ridiculous for ever taking those messages to heart and for even thinking that there was a possibility that all evidence that I had grown a human for 42 weeks could simply be erased so quickly. I feel more ridiculous for believing that I somehow owed the erasure of my pregnancy, my painful labor, the changes in my brain, the changes in my body, and the changes in my life to the world.

There has been no bouncing back over here, just a whole lot of adaptation. I had to adjust to my new physical limitations, adjust to far less free time and learn to incorporate my hobbies into my life once more, adjust to my changing relationship with Alex, adjust to life with a new human being in my household which meant navigating new waters in friendship, and eating more sandwiches than cooking hot meals. There was also that whole exclusively breastfeeding thing I had going on which made me ravenously hungry and contributed to my inability to lose weight at warp speed. My life changed dramatically, and I’m not ashamed.

Comparison really is the thief of joy, especially in motherhood. There is no use in comparing myself to my best friend with two babies that slept through the night by 12 weeks, or the friend that lost 40 lbs in two months, or the friend that was able to run 6 weeks postpartum, or the person who continued with business as usual hours after coming home from the hospital, or the woman who declared that she could never understand why people thought having a newborn was so hard. Those are their experiences and their realities — and those experiences are okay and those experiences are valid. But this is my experience and my reality. It isn’t a test, or a failure, or a wrong answer. It just is — and it is okay and valid, too.

Some days are easy, some days are hard. Sometimes I don’t mind that I have had to change my life so drastically when it feels like Kaia is my little best friend, or when I look at her face and feel like I’ve looked into the face of god. Other times I cry because I haven’t had a chance to read a book, or I cry in a fitting room because I just don’t look the way I used to. I’m still adapting and adjusting, and I feel like that’s just what motherhood is all about.

What has been helping me most lately is getting out of the house more often, making plans for the future, and attempting to dive back into my work, my hobbies, and the things I am passionate about. While standing still for a long while is what I most needed, what I need now is forward motion. I’ll never be the same again. I’m Deena with more facets. The wonderful thing, though, is that I don’t want to be the person I used to be. I desire more than anything to become so comfortable with the person I am now that it feels so natural, like I had never been anything different. I want to do it all again when more children enter my life. The person I am meant to be — the person I want to be — is the person that accommodates those children and the journey I had to navigate to bring them here and raise them. I am starting to feel like myself again simply because I am learning that my self has changed, and this is just who I am. I don’t want to bounce back. And even if I did, that’s just not realistic.

Parenthood

Kaia: 6 month update

March 12, 2017

And just like that, we have a 6 month old. It’s exciting to have made it through 6 months of parenthood, breastfeeding, and life with a baby. Aside from meaning time is going by way too quickly, each new stage brings on a new set of anxieties. Four months was all about the sleep regression, five months old was all about getting out of the sleep regression (this never actually happened), and six months old is all about starting solid food. Yes, our baby who is barely coordinated will soon be eating actual food. THINGS WILL BE IN HER MOUTH, no big deal. I cannot believe that we are here, and that we all survived without any injuries or mental breakdowns. Parenthood thus far has been quite the learning experience, and truly the best thing that has ever happened Alex and me.

How we’re doing

Alex and I have really gotten into the groove of this parenting thing. Kaia’s rough “routine” has really made everything easier on us, so most of what is going well for us has everything to do with her. She can usually stay awake for about 2 hours now before things really start to go downhill which makes doing “normal people” things like going out to eat, leaving the house even if Kaia has been awake for over 20 minutes, and driving longer distances less scary. We recently had lunch outside of the house for the first time since she was born (we reeeeeally don’t like to rock the boat, as you can tell). Kaia joyfully screeched the entire time, and an older man spent most of it glaring at me and covering his ears. I feel like we experienced some kind of parenting rite of passage as we ruined the ambiance of the Johnny Rockets (outside seating area) at the mall food court by bringing a little human. We finally joined the ranks of people who are hated on airplanes, in libraries, in restaurants, and basically in public wherever childless/childfree people are, and I was proud. I was proud to ignore guilt, to move past the fear of things not being completely perfect, the anxiety of not being able to control everything, and to get out there and just start living again.

While things are going well, I’m admittedly a little sad to have reached the 6 month milestone because no one in my family has met her yet. 6 months of life, and she still hasn’t met half of her family. Obviously, when you have a brand new baby who hasn’t had all of their vaccines, bringing them on a plane is really not a smart move.  After that, the whole cross-country flight, 3 hour time change, and baby sleep (or, really, not sleeping) thing made the idea of heading over to New York AND Florida seem really intimidating, and honestly, just incredibly annoying (especially now that there is baby gear to haul). A two or three hour flight wouldn’t be anything terrible, but this long cross-country trip can go wrong in so many hilarious ways. Is it possible to lose more sleep? I’m really not sure I want to find out as I sit in a hotel room on the East Coast! I’m sure we’ll get there one of these days, we just need to find a time that works for both of us and get brave enough to make the attempt.

Overwhelmingly, we are doing well. We seem to be in the sweet spot of having a little bit of a clue as to what we’re doing, but because Kaia isn’t mobile, and still loves nursing more than anything else in the world, things are still relatively calm in the Fort household.

Our favorites this month

  • Mei Tai carrier
  • Foam floor tiles
  • Water wipes
  • Indestructibles books

How Kaia is doing

Kaia is as happy, funny, and amusing as ever. She is starting to get her move on, and can always be found leaning over to grab whatever she is interested in, or spinning around on her floor tiles to find the toy she wants to play with. Pretty soon she is going to be crawling, which is crazy to think about. She is screeching a lot, laughing more and more, and is so active while nursing. Unless she is falling asleep, she nurses while holding onto her feet, kicking, grabbing my face/hands/shirt, and generally not being still. I hear this morphs into “gymnurstics” down the road, which I’m sure will be quite amusing. Recently she began to listen to stories and look at pictures in her books without being super distracted, and it seems like she is interested in what’s going on. It’s actually one of the sweetest things I have witnessed, and it makes me excited to think of all of the years we have together to read, go to the library, and learn new things.

Kaia’s symptoms associated with her dairy allergy disappeared (mostly), but then reappeared when I accidentally introduced some traces of dairy back into my diet. It can be a little complicated to keep up with a dairy free diet, I’m learning. Since then, I’ve been very strict and careful about not eating dairy, but things haven’t gotten any better which means eliminating soy is my next step. That is going to be even harder, but it’s worth the effort, and I’m hoping that this will help her return to “normal.”

Stats

Kaia is a string bean. She’s tall (not sure exactly how tall anymore because she is so wiggly when she is being measured), but only just over 14 lbs. She is growing and following the growth curve, but, admittedly, I’m a little insecure about her weight. Upon telling some people her weight, I’ve had responses that include “wow, she’s too tiny” and “she needs more food,” which is a bit frustrating and disheartening. Unlike moms with chubby babies, I can’t be the “valedictorian of breastfeeding,” or get told that I’m doing a good job. Instead, I face a lot of criticism, shaming, and “concern” for my baby. Healthy apparently equals chubby. I’m trying to remember that every human — even the baby humans — comes in different shapes and sizes, and it’s all okay. I’m doing anything wrong by having a tall, thin baby. Kaia’s growing and healthy, her doctor is not concerned, and that is really all that matters.

Likes

  • Same as last month, plus…
  • Nursing in the bedroom
  • Being on her changing pad
  • Having her picture taken
  • Playing with tags
  • Feeling her ears and hair
  • Sucking on a wet washcloth while in the bath
  • Shiny things, particularly soda/sparkling water cans
  • Cellphones (to try to chew on, of course)

 

Dislikes

  • Same as last month, plus…
  • Having things taken from her
  • Having things hidden from her
  • Not having the ability to reach or get to the things she is interested in
  • Nursing in the living room during the day
  • Being in one place for too long

Firsts

  • First time eating out with mom and dad
  • First time touching our pets
  • First real belly laughs
  • First time grabbing non-toy objects to explore
  • First time facing forward in the Lillebaby

Kaia’s favorites this month

  • Tags (the larger the better)
  • VTech Touch and Swipe Baby Phone
  • Garanimals My First Doll
  • Indestructibles books

Sleep

Shortly after last month’s update, Alex and I decided it wasn’t cool that I was losing so much sleep while he got decent enough rest. We started taking one hour shifts with Kaia so we all could get some sleep. Alex would rock her for one hour while I slept, and I’d hold/nurse her the next hour while Alex slept. On all but two occasions this month, she only slept while being held.

Lately, I have found myself holding her for 2-4 hours at a time in the middle of the night. She stays latched almost the whole time, and I’ve gone with the flow because it has given me a bit more rest. I’m not sleeping during this time, but I’m not fully awake either, so it saves me from having to wrestle with my insomnia in an attempt to fall asleep before Alex’s shift is up, and also helps Alex to sleep a longer stretch.

The lack of sleep we’ve been dealing with has really started to take a toll now. Alex and I both have frequent headaches, and I get a migraine 1-2 times a week which renders me a complete mess. Having so many migraines truly feels unsustainable. the pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound makes it so hard to parent. Things are definitely getting harder around here on the sleep front, and we fear that there is no end in sight.

We’ve tried to help her to sleep independently, but to no avail. We’ve tried earlier and later bedtimes, longer and shorter wake times before bed, longer and shorter wake times between naps, and have established a bedtime routine. We have tried fleece, cotton, and terry pjs, lighter and heavier weight Zipadee-Zips, and different room temperatures. We’ve experimented with putting her down after holding her for 10 mins, 20 mins, 30 mins and 1 hr. We’ve used white noise and blackout curtains for many months, and started to sleep on the couch just in case our opening the door to go into our bedroom is what causes her to wake for the first time at night.

She seems to be having a problem connecting her sleep cycles, so it doesn’t seem like anything we’ve tried was going to help anyway, and we’re not sure there is anything we can actually do to help her. I think sleep is going to continue to be our biggest challenge going forward.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Eating

Kaia is still exclusively breastfed. She nurses every 1.5-3 hours, and has been doing a lot of snacking lately. She has also become more distracted while nursing, and pulls off the breast frequently to look around. If she does stay latched, she’s constantly grabbing my hands, face, and shirt, often while making sounds. Nursing is a lot less relaxed these days, but a lot more entertaining.

Now that Kaia is six months old, we do plan on starting solids soon (maybe this week). It took us a little while to finally decide on the high chair we wanted, and we’re still coming around to the idea of actually giving our baby solid food to eat. Neither of us is anxious to get started immediately, and I wish we could wait another month or so longer before making the leap! Kaia is not yet sitting unassisted, so we may delay introducing finger foods (starting baby-led weaning) until she can, and may delay it further if she is just not showing interest in picking up her food to explore. We will start with purées and see how she does. I’m so nervous!

Things I want to remember

  • How she’s so active when nursing
  • The way she laughs when having her picture taken
  • Her sounds of frustration (or boredom, or…something?)
  • How she purses her lips and puffs her cheeks when she makes her sounds of frustration (or boredom, or…something?)
  • How she extends her arms when she is being picked up

Six months have absolutely flown by. It’s definitely bittersweet. Somehow, every month with her is better than the last. I do wish sometimes that time would slow down, but if it must continue to pass, I know that there is no other little girl in the world that I’d rather have by my side. Happy half birthday to our little bear. Kaia, you are so loved.

Parenthood

my hierarchy of needs: new mom edition

February 18, 2017
Physiological

  • Sleep of any duration
  • Caffeine
  • WiFi
  • A fully charged iPhone
  • Enough space on said iPhone to store another few hundred photos without deleting apps, other photos, and/or increasing my iCloud storage capacity (again)
  • Netflix

Safety

  • At least 3 hrs of total sleep per night
  • Therapy
  • The ability run all of my errands by foot
  • A walking path cleared through baby toys in the living room
  • Turning on both the night shift and zoom settings of the iPhone for maximum screen darkness while scrolling through Feedly during a nighttime nursing session
  • Baby gear that can be easily disassembled or collapsed when not in use
  • A clear enough head to distinguish the brake pedal from the accelerator, my finger from a vegetable, and the cry of a baby from the meow of a cat

Love & belongingness

  • Living with the best baby in the universe
  • Having a wonderful, supportive husband (who also happens to go out of his way to buy me vegan chocolate)
  • Speaking to another adult in person during the day
  • Social media
  • Receiving GIF texts from my sisterfriends
  • Blogging
  • A vast internet-based support system of like-minded moms
  • Getting a big grin from the baby when I walk into the room

Esteem

  • Making the baby laugh or smile
  • Showering
  • Brushing every last knot out of my crazy postpartum hair
  • Painting my nails
  • Hearing the words “you are a good mom”
  • Remembering what I ate for dinner last night
  • Replacing at least one cup of coffee or can of soda with a glass of water
  • Leaving the house
  • Narrowly avoiding spit-up being deposited straight into my bra
Self-actualization
  • 4+ hrs of uninterrupted sleep
  • Not becoming anxious when the sun sets
  • The ability to speak coherently
  • Feeling alert and well rested
  • Drinking more water than coffee
  • Eating a meal that wasn’t prepared in an Instant Pot or by a dude in a sandwich shop
  • Remembering what happened between 10:39 pm, when I fell asleep on the couch, and midnight, when I woke up in my bed
  • Daring to think I could actually raise two children