Merry Christmas!

Yes, yes, I am late. But I have a good excuse. Probably the best excuse ever:

I had a baby. On Christmas Day.

Yeah, bet you’re feeling pretty bad about giving me the gears about being late. While you were busy eating and opening gifts and merry-making, I was completing one of the biggest work outs of my entire life.

I tease, it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I’ll tell you about it one day, but at this point, I’m a little hesitant to spill the messy details about my childbirth experiences. However, we will talk about something that women are a little hesitant to talk about (at least in voices above a whisper) when it comes to labour and delivery:

What I recommend taking to the hospital in your birth bag

A caveat here: I am in Alberta, Canada which may affect what I would put in my bag compared to you. Also, I’ve never had a cesarean section so I wouldn’t know what you’d need to bring for that. This is just my list of what worked for me.

  • Pretty socks. Yup, this is the first on my list. If you’re delivering vaginally, you’re going to have your feet up in everyone’s faces. For some people it doesn’t really matter and we all know that the nurses probably aren’t thinking about your feet when you’re delivering, but I felt more comfortable having my feet covered. And when you’re as vulnerable and exposed as you’re ever going to get, a little comfort makes a difference. Also, socks will be nice for when you’re walking around the hospital room floor. Keep in mind that these socks may get soiled with blood, amniotic fluid, pee, and anything that else that can be expelled from your body so don’t get too attached to them.
  • ID, Insurance info, & medical information. This stuff is pretty obvious but a nightmare to forget. In my province, when you get passed a certain point in your pregnancy, your OBGYN will give you your medical records from your pregnancy to keep on you at all times. This will make sure that no matter where you deliver, the people around you will know what they need to make sure you deliver safely.
  • Nursing supplies. This includes a nursing bra (only if you plan on wearing a bra under that hospital gown) and a nursing pillow. This is contingent on if you plan on nursing or not, which the hospital will really, really, really recommend (to the point where I felt like I didn’t have any other options). Whether you plan on nursing or not, stashing a couple of those little pads that soak up colostrum is a good idea since you may be a little leaky.
  • Baby supplies. This includes a going home outfit, a diaper or two, a receiving blanket (if you’re nursing or if it’s cold when baby is delivered), and a car seat. Most hospitals won’t let you leave without a car seat that they check. My first delivery, I didn’t need to bring diapers since the hospital gave me a giant stack when I left (and they provided diapers while I was there as well). However, for my second, the hospital had switched to cloth diapers so they weren’t just giving them away. I may or may not have just taken one cause I didn’t bring any disposables myself. For safety sake, I’d bring one if I were you.
  • “Bottom” supplies. I don’t know why they use the term “bottom” but I guess it’s more polite than any other words. Anyways, these are the most important things you can bring in my opinion. You are going to be sore and miserable and having these will help. My hospital provided me with 1 pair of mesh underwear and pads for while I was there, but I felt better with my own stuff. I had bitten the embarrassment bullet and purchased Depend underwear and I’m not joking, they are the best purchase I have ever made. They don’t look sexy, but I don’t have to throw out a bunch of cloth underwear that barely fit over what’s left of my pregnancy belly after a sneeze that left my pants looking like a crime scene. I also had a bunch of pads that I could put into the underwear, but they weren’t that necessary. Another thing I had for my traumatized bits was a witch hazel spray. I couldn’t tell you if it actually does anything, but the cool mist feels like rain from heaven. The last and one of the most important things is a peri-bottle. It’s just a water bottle that you use to pour water on your downstairs to help you pee. My hospital gave me one, but if yours doesn’t, you need to find one. It helps you relax (the same way hearing water running makes you feel like you need to go to the bathroom), it helps clean up an area that can’t be touched, and it eases the sting of urine on torn/stitched up tissue.
  • Books/Music/Stuff to do. You’re going to be at this hospital for a while. Most of them like to keep you for 24 hours after the baby is born and most of it is for observation. Of course, resting and taking care of baby are part of what you do, but it feels like a long time to just be sitting in a hospital bed. Don’t bring much, but a book wouldn’t hurt.

That’s it. That’s all I brought to the hospital. My husband did bring his own bag, but I didn’t use anything from it and the last thing I wanted to be responsible for when I was in labour was a bag of snacks for him to chew on. As for things I wouldn’t bring?

  • Pyjamas or a pretty robe. You’re going to be in a hospital gown (or nothing) most of the time and if anyone judges that when they come to visit…well, they’re already in a hospital, might as well give them a bloody nose. Besides, you’re going to bleed all over it. Trust me.
  • Shower supplies. While you’re going to want to shower, you’ll want to do it in your own house. Hospital showers aren’t made for comfort or relaxation. Bring a washcloth if you like, but I’d wait to bathe until you got home. Plus carrying the extra stuff is no fun. And you just gave birth, you don’t owe the world a pretty face after what you’ve just endured.

 

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know below.

Also, since I’ve just had a sweet new little baby (his nickname is Eggs), I’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus from this blog for the month of January. Fear not, though! I’ve got a couple of dear friends who have volunteered to keep this place active while I’m away. I look forward to reading their stuff!

A Year Without Control

My little peanut is a whole year old today! I can’t believe how much has changed in the last year since he was born. He turned my whole completely upside down and I wouldn’t have it any other way (at least today. Some days are harder than others). I remember this time last year, I was at my parents’ house playing some games and hating that my baby hadn’t arrived yet. Though really, what I was hating was the fact that I thought Monkey was going to be arriving on December 10th, but I was proven more and more wrong with each day that passed. It was yet another thing I couldn’t control, which was a sore subject for me.

Control was something that I prided myself on having. After a whirlwind of teenage years that still haunt my parents, I’d finally learned how to control my own life. My bills were paid on time, I had great relationships with my family and my husband, and I worked at a job that I was good at. I was even taking control of my future by finishing up my third year of university.

As soon as I got pregnant, all control vanished. Before we found out I was pregnant (only days before I would find out), a job came up that would effectively end my university career. I was working part-time without benefits and I knew that, if I were to be pregnant, I’d need the health benefits and the better maternity leave. But we’d been trying for months and if I took the job without the pregnancy, then I felt like I’d be dropping out of school (in my last year) for nothing. I had two days to decide if I was going to apply. It felt like the universe was split in two and one version of me decided to apply for the job while the other version decided to wait it out. I couldn’t predict even a week into the future. All I saw were ‘what ifs’.

I took the job, thank God, and found out that we were having a baby. I was over the moon and while I felt guilty that I was starting a new job already pregnant, I was so thrilled that everything had worked out. I started the job, which was challenging in ways I hadn’t expected and everything was exactly how I wanted it…for 6 weeks. At 13 weeks pregnant, I had a bleed. There are few things as startling as waking up in a pool of blood when you don’t expect a period for another year.

We never knew what caused the bleed and Monkey never showed any signs that he was in distress, but it was just another moment where I had no control, even of my own body. I remember lying in the hospital bed wondering if my body was fighting with itself to get rid of the baby and I wished that there was something I could do to get it to stop. But I had to lie on a bed and stare at the ceiling. There was nothing else to do.

I forgot that I didn’t have control again by 20 weeks. I’d spent the entirety of this pregnancy “knowing” it was a girl. I’d always dreamed of having daughters, especially since I became more interested in gender politics. I imagined conversations about body positivity, gender roles, and being proud when she chose pink or blue or orange because she chose it, not because it was forced on her. I thought about perfect names and how I hoped she’d share her father’s slim figure (yes, in direct conflict with my body positivity speech) and maybe have his light hair. I hoped she’d have my smile, but not my penchant for teeth grinding. I wondered if she’d love to read and play the piano like me or love painting and action movies like her dad.

Then the ultrasound technician pointed to a fuzzy screen and said “boy.” I was devastated. How I had forgotten that there is more than one way for this to go, I’m not sure, but here I was. And I didn’t feel like anyone understood. After chatting with a professional (ah, PPD…), I know it’s about more than just control, but I was told in no uncertain terms that I had no control over the situation that day.

It took some time for me to come to terms with the fact that my life was going to be more ships, snails, and puppy-dog tails and less sugar and spice and everything nice. Then I got to realize that my little boy’s gender didn’t mean that he was going to be the rough and tumble, get into everything, messy little person (he is all of those things). It was a long process, where I had to grieve for the future that I had decided was for me and fall in love with the future that was coming no matter how I felt about it.

Once I got to that point, I think I learned a little bit about how I had less control than I wanted. But I also hoped that it was a bargaining chip with God. Well, I didn’t get the girl I wanted so I’d better get the baby on the due date that I decided. Turns out, that’s not how it works. Not at all. I wanted the baby to come before December. But November came and went. So I decided that I wanted him to come December 5 since 5 is a big number in my family. That day came and went. Then I decided December 10th was the date because that was the due date that I’d counted out (I was at the conception event, after all, so I should know when baby was going to make his entrance). Nope.

I lost hope then. All my Facebook posts for the next four days were full of anger and frustration stuffed into jokes so people wouldn’t condescend to me. And then, exactly 1 year ago, I went into labour. And this was the one thing I knew I had no control over. I knew it was going to hurt and, boy, did it ever. I went to the doctor and told them I had no birth plan, that I was along for the ride. Oh, except that I was definitely getting an epidural. If I could control anything, I was getting that freaking needle. And, turns out, I was allowed to control that part.

My pregnancy taught me that 9/10 times, I am not in control. My vision for how my life was going to be, how my son was going to be, is not what I got. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t love what I have. I’ll never know if my vision would have been better, but I trust that it wouldn’t have been. It’s a lesson I have to learn daily because I have a little boy that wants to explore and make messes and laugh loudly. I also have an unplanned little one on the way, who is firmly in control of a large portion of my body. So I’m not in control anymore. Or I’ve relinquished the illusion of control that I thought I had. I mean, I still pay my bills. I still have a great relationship with my family and my husband. I don’t have a job anymore, but I work very, very hard with my little Monkey. I have control over the little stuff. And I’m okay with that. The big stuff is too much work anyways.

When You’re Doing it Right

Last week I wrote about feeling inadequate as a mother and I’ve been unsure how to follow it up. I don’t want to negate how I was feeling because when those times of pain and frustration pass, it’s easy to say “Oh, well that was a bad day. I don’t really mean that.” But we do mean it when we are in the thick of it and we are allowed to feel the way we do. By passing it off as irrational, we diminish the feelings of those people who are in the middle of feeling like they are failing. If we were only pretending to feel that way or only felt it for a couple of hours while they are feeling it day in and day out, we can make them feel worse.

Not that I’m saying that we are supposed to hate ourselves as we parent. If you are feeling like a failure every day, if you feel like your boat is sunk and all you have left to do is drown, please reach out to someone. I hope you know someone who is in a similar situation to you, who understands how you’re feeling. It’s so much easier to reach out to someone who’s arms are muscled from bailing herself rather than someone with smooth, skinny arms who has a boat with a single hole that is already being patched up by a well-oiled attractive person.

And that’s part of why I wrote the blog post that I did. I admit to failing daily. It doesn’t make me less of a mom, even though I feel like it all the time. My little one is functioning, seems pretty happy, gets his nutrition, and is becoming a kind, curious little monkey. And I get credit for that. Just like you.

We give our kids a lot of credit for who they are and what they do. Monkey is so good with shapes and he’s not a year old yet! Monkey has been so gentle with our dog! Monkey gives us no trouble when we try to feed him solid foods! We forget we have to teach them literally everything. Think back to when your little one was first born. What could she do? Monkey was healthy and full term so the features he was born with from the factory were: breathing, crying, sucking. I had to teach him to nurse (which didn’t end up working. A story for another day), to fall asleep, to focus on things. He got older and I taught him how to hold his head up, how to laugh, how to use his vocal chords to do something other than crying.

I forget that sometimes. That I get to take credit for the good things. Monkey is good with shapes because we play with shaped blocks together. He’s gentle with our dog because we have taught him gentleness. He gives us no trouble with solid foods because we let him try everything we eat and he gets great joy from mimicking us. It’s easy to take credit for the bad stuff. Monkey had a bad night last night because I tried to comfort him during a night terror when I should have let him be. Monkey hasn’t learned to walk yet because I don’t put enough time into teaching him (I’m dreading the chase a little bit). But you have to give yourself kudos for the good or else you’ll go crazy.

So I think that you’re doing it right today, even if it’s a monster of a day, even if nothing seems to be going right, even if someone in your life is criticising your parenting tactics. Go ahead and take responsibility for some of the bad habits your little one has picked up, but remember that he or she has learned the good stuff too. And while you may be bailing water, take heart in the fact that you’re still afloat. You have done great things today.

When You’re Doing It All Wrong

It has been a hard day. Scratch that, a hard week. No, you know what, this year has been the most challenging year of my life. I’ve got to break it down here for you, you’re reading a mom blog written by a woman who isn’t even sure she’s cut out to be a mom. So I guess we are both in a weird place, eh?

So here I am confessing the thing that we are not supposed to say: motherhood totally sucks. And I’m worried that it’s just me that feels this way, like I’m missing that part of my DNA that makes this whole thing fulfilling. In this world of social media where people only seem to post the most beautiful parts of motherhood (myself included), it’s really hard to feel like anyone else is in the same boat as you.

I am in this boat. And it feels like the boat is slowing sinking. I spend an entire day bailing out water only for it to refill when I sleep at night and it’s more water than I bailed out the entire day before. And I’m not even doing this alone, which makes me feel even more guilty about how I’m feeling. There are women out there parenting alone. There are people out there with children that have special needs or are just challenging in general. But here I am bailing water in a boat with a million holes and, in a month, I’m upgrading to two boats.

They tell you motherhood is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but also the most rewarding. So far, I’ve seen the first part. It comes in waves. You feel like you might have a handle on what is happening, you’ve dealt with one hole that’s been causing you problems, but another leak springs and you’re back to where you started, or it’s even worse. But at this point, I’m struggling to see the reward.

They’ve lied to us. Don’t ask who “they” are, but it’s true. We are told how love is supposed to feel, that rush of emotions that fill you with bittersweet butterflies. They tell us when we are children about romantic love and love at first sight and how it’s all about feeling. It is not about feeling. I learned as a teen that love sometimes has feelings involved, but mostly, it’s a decision. Motherhood love is the same. It’s the decision every day to put this little person ahead of your needs, with no way of it being reciprocated. With romantic love, you are supposed to take care of each other and that magical “us.” There is no “us” between mother and baby. It is always baby, baby, baby, baby.

So the things I used to define myself by are gone. My days are filled with little to no adult conversation. My vocabulary is reduced to single syllable words, the most used being “no.” My house is always messy, not cluttered, but downright disgusting. I’ve put on weight (and not just because of the pregnancy). I don’t do the things that I used to love. The film buff has become unable to focus on anything that lasts longer than fifteen minutes. The video game geek plays Pokemon Mystery Dungeon because the game can be paused at any second. The voracious reader has read 10 books this year, when she used to be able to do that in a summer. The socialite has seen one person in person this week. The pianist hasn’t touched the piano in a year because Monkey doesn’t like how loud it is. The writer writes maybe 1500 words per week if naps are going okay and there’s not so much water in the boat that she’s drowning.

My energy is gone, but I have no idea where it went. At the end of the day, I’ve accomplished nothing. My house is no cleaner than it was the day before. My book is no more finished. My marriage is no more healthy, in fact it’s probably the opposite.

And I’m asked “Can you imagine life without Monkey?”

Of course I can. I remember the messy house that I could spend a whole day cleaning uninterrupted. I remember the excess time where I could focus on things I loved to do. I remember that stress was about getting all my schoolwork done or why somebody at work was being a jerk. Now my stress revolves around keeping another human being alive while not going crazy myself.

But I make the decision every day to be Monkey’s mom, not just biologically, but emotionally too. I make the decision when I’m crying because I’ve not slept enough, when he’s broken something dear to my heart, when I can’t stand the mess in my house, but I have no ability to fix it. And sometimes I make the decision because I know that I don’t really have any other choice. Not because I couldn’t live any other way, but because I’d have to live without everything else–my family, friends, husband. And I hate myself for saying that. My little ones deserve a mom who would choose them every time and every day because she needs them more than they need her.

But that’s not our reality. Our reality is that I would go back and tell myself to wait a year, two years before attempting to be a mother. But I guess there is hope in that I know I would never go back to tell myself not to do it at all. There’s also hope in that it physically pains me to think about Monkey hurting. That my biggest failure would be for him not to feel loved, no matter how hard it was for me that day.

So I guess what I’m saying is that the reward that motherhood promises us isn’t that rush of emotions. Because, for the most part, you are so exhausted that you can’t feel anything. Yes, Monkey is starting to figure out how to walk. Yes, this new baby kicks every time it hears Monkey giggle. Yes, Monkey tries to cuddle with the dog (even though they both have never been cuddlers). But the Hallmark moments with the inspiring music and the soft glow do not exist. You don’t get to enjoy them from the comfy spot on the couch with a cup of something warm in your hands. You watch them unfold part way through dishes or when you are trying to stuff something in your mouth because you haven’t eaten at all that day and it’s 3 pm or when your kid was supposed to be sleeping two hours ago and you need that nap just as badly as they do.

The reward, at least when they’re small, is the dreaded character building that hard times afford you. I know with all certainty that most of what I did today was done unselfishly and that makes me feel a little better. I know that Monkey isn’t going to remember the sacrifices I made and, in time, I hope I won’t either. The reward now is knowing that each act of unselfishness I do now will hopefully result in a caring, compassionate human being. I’m working towards the long term reward.

If you’re feeling the way I am feeling, I want you to know you’re not alone in feeling it. I’ve got no advice or assurances for you because I’m not convinced I’m the best person for this job. But just know that I am in the trenches with you. I’m bailing beside you. And I’m not judging whatever it is that you’re doing because I can imagine what your day has been like today. And I’m proud of you for making the decision to be a mom.