A Farewell Letter to my Pre-baby Body

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Not a scary vein in sight...

As published in Romper.

Dear Pre-Baby Body,

I took you for granted, pre-baby body. I poked and prodded you and stuffed you with junk food, and every time, without fail, you’d bounce back like a Slinky. But after kids, my body is about as pliable as twice kiln-fired clay. It bloats. It sags. It pooches. It stays poochy. A 9-pound human form filling one’s abdominal cavity has a way of causing permanent change, in a way that a dorm meal could never hope to do.

I thought you’d always be here. I figured you’d never get wrinkles, or sag in weird places, or get bulges. You’ve never been super-skinny, or super-fit, and you never had a taut butt; most of the time, it was so flat that I was constantly at risk of flashing my butt crack out of the top of my sagging jeans. Nonetheless, I thought you’d always be there for me, with your smooth if not less than perfect form.

In high school, everything hurt me: boys, school, mean girls. But nothing affected you. You held firm, even with my regular diet of Cherry Coke, individual pizzas and Skittles. I barely exercised. If laziness was a sport in high school, I probably would’ve gotten a varsity letter. But still, my weight and my waistline remained untouched.

In college, I practically lived on cafeteria slop, alcohol and Cheez-Its. I’d beat you up night after night. I gained weight and lost it again. You got mad at me. You even made me sick sometimes. But I always bounced back. You always forgave me.

Then I got pregnant, and you disappeared. So I’d like to send you off with this goodbye letter.

Before I got pregnant, I could jump without wetting my pants. Hell, I could even run. I never had to worry about peeing myself while laughing at a funny movie, because you were oh so wonderfully un-leaky. But those days are gone now.

Before I had my babies, my breasts didn’t so much hang as sit firmly on my chest. There wasn’t a prominent blue boob vein to be seen. The nipples weren’t the least bit purple or stretched out or cracked, and they pointed straight out instead of down.

Of course, once I got pregnant, my nipples turned purple within the first few months and they never fully returned to their pre-baby state. So thanks for that, body.

Remember, pre-baby body, how I used to groom you so lovingly? I’d start by treating you to a long, steamy shower, with every delicious-smelling body product imaginable. Then I would shave your legs, using real shaving cream instead of lather from a pube-covered bar of soap. And speaking of pubes, remember how we used to trim and then shave those, too?

I took you for granted, pre-baby body. I poked and prodded you and stuffed you with junk food, and every time, without fail, you’d bounce back like a Slinky.

These days, of course, I’m a lot more busy. I have kids. Long, leisurely, grooming-filled showers are a thing of the past. If I shave my underarms every few days, that’s pretty much as good as it gets. I hope you don’t mind, body, but after all, it is winter. We can totally rock leg hair and no one will notice, right? And if man buns could become a trend, why couldn’t long pubic hair? Pubic buns, anyone?

Remember, too, pre-baby body, how I used to give us pedicures every couple of weeks? Our toes were always so adorable. I still have that oversized makeup bag full of nail polishes I used to use, only now those polishes are pretty crusty and don’t see much use.

My bones ache. I’m tired, and not the kind of tired that sleeping until noon on a Saturday can fix. I’m tired to my core. Sleeping in will Never. Happen. Again.

Nothing is the same since you left, pre-baby body, but I don’t miss you. You see, my purple nipples have fed and comforted each of my children on countless long nights. That fat bulge on my hip makes a perfect baby seat. My hair doesn’t need to smell like coconut conditioner, because it smells like me and that’s comforting to my kids. And my feet aren’t cute, but they still do a passable job stepping around Legos on the floor.

Goodbye forever, pre-baby body. You’ve served me well, but I don’t need you anymore.

Fondly,

Samantha

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I Tried to Induce Labor Using Methods I Learned Online

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Heeeeeeelp meeeee, induction techniques!

As featured in Romper.

Castor oil. Nipple stimulation. Have sex while little hands play tether ball with your bladder. There’s so much advice for inducing labor to be found online that it was impossible not to want to try them out. In my experience, natural methods to induce labor often read more like a schedule of activities for a torture chamber than tasks I’d willingly tackle. Why don’t pregnant women just wait until their babies are ready to be born and not hurry Mother Nature along? I wondered in my pre-pregnancy state. I pondered what the big deal was about waiting an extra few days, or even a week or two, for my baby’s birth.

After more than 40 weeks of pregnancy with my first child, however, I suddenly was in a more understanding (and bloated) position. I couldn’t go five minutes without feeling like my bladder was bursting. The kicks felt like the baby was trying to launch a field goal into my spine. Sleeping and eating were difficult because the baby was taking up so much space in my body, making me acutely uncomfortable. Once I passed 40 weeks and started maternity leave from work, I was ready to try “natural” induction techniques. I believed my body would eventually go into labor on its own, but I selfishly didn’t want to wait anymore.

The Experiment

Since I’d enjoyed frequenting my online pregnancy and baby communities from my first positive pregnancy test until the time I was overdue, I once again turned to the internet for advice on inducing labor. I loved how the baby boards were full of supportive women who understood a pregnant mom’s circumstances, and were available at all hours to commiserate with aches and pains and indigestion complaints. More importantly, many of them had been there and done that, including labor induction. So, I did what any woman in my position would do:  I tried to induce labor based on advice I’d read online.

Method #1: Squatting And Stretching

These variations on the popular walking technique to induce labor caught my attention on my online baby boards because of how easy and safe they seemed. I also loved that they were slightly more interesting than just walking. I remember being mesmerized by a video of a woman trying to dance and squat her way into labor at more than nine months pregnant. Because I’d waited until I was just past 40 weeks and finished with my last day at work before maternity leave, there was basically no more walking around the house or neighborhood for me. So I turned to the next best piece of advice: squatting.

I’d “squat walk” my way to the kitchen to get a snack. I’d squat my way around the neighborhood. I’d bounce and stretch on my exercise ball in front of the TV every chance I got. These exercises did bring on more intense and frequent Braxton Hicks contractions, and made me feel like the baby was scooting slightly lower in my belly, but did not fully induce labor to start. At least, not immediately.

I went into early labor in the middle of the night a couple of days later, and it was unclear whether the squats and stretches scooted the onset of labor along any sooner.

Method #2: Nipple Stimulation

While pregnant with my son, I experimented with nipple stimulation to try to make my very early labor progress quicker. I’d read this technique on several different online pregnancy boards, and in various internet articles. I was horrified at first because the thought of pinching leaky, crusty, tender nipples made me squeamish. Once very mild and far apart contractions started, though, I decided to give the technique a try while in the shower to help progress labor.

Online articles I’d read on nipple stimulation explained that rolling or kneading nipples releases Oxytocin, a hormone that can cause uterine contractions. This process usually takes place when breastfeeding after birth, and helps the uterus return to pre-pregnancy size. The techniques warned that the contractions caused by nipple stimulation could be intense. Still, I decided to give it a try because I was already past my due date and ready for birth.

Within a minute or so, I managed to bring on a stronger contraction than I’d had. But after a few more minutes of nipple stimulation and a few irregular contractions later, I stopped and stepped out of the shower. I felt nipple stimulation just wasn’t comfortable and sustainable for all that long. Was I supposed to wait in the shower until it worked?

When all was said and done and I had a baby in my arms, I felt like nipple stimulation did definitely prompt some increased contraction action, and studies I read claimed nipple stimulation can make some labors quicker overall. Maybe if I’d “stimulated” a little longer, I could have shaved some time off my 35-hour labor. I didn’t keep going with the stimulation, though, because it wasn’t a practice I felt I could comfortably sustain for long.

Method #3: Evening Primrose Oil

Flash forward four years later to my ninth month of pregnancy with my second child, my daughter. This time around, I started my maternity leave a couple of weeks sooner, and was ready to start inducing labor at 39 weeks. I’d read about evening primrose oil in my online birthing communities, and how some pregnant women massaged the oil from the capsules into their cervixes to ripen it as part of their daily routine. Some women claimed to have gone into labor hours after inserting the oil, so I figured, why not?

When a friend offered to give me the remainder of her bottle of unused evening primrose oil capsules, I was intrigued. I broke up a capsule and put the oil on my cervix each night of my 39 week of pregnancy. A few days in to the practice, subtle contractions began and lasted on and off for two days before I went to the hospital and gave birth an hour-and-half after I arrived. Did the evening primrose oil make a difference? Hard to tell, but it certainly didn’t hinder the process.

Method #4: Mexican Hot Chocolate And Eating Pineapple

I read in various online articles and baby boards that eating pineapple could possibly ripen the cervix through stimulating lipids in the cervix. More interestingly, some women on my baby boards swore up and down that Mexican hot chocolate was a sure-fire way to jump start labor. We happened to have a fruit bowl in the fridge with pineapple in it, and some Mexican hot chocolate in the cupboard. I figured, why not give them a try?

On the second day of strong on-and-off contractions with my daughter that never seemed to get close enough together to warrant a trip to the hospital, I washed down the pineapple with the steaming hot chocolate. Several hours later, following a night watching fireworks (it was the Fourth of July), I was at last hit with heavy and undoubtable labor. My daughter was born just 90 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.

Did Taking The Internet’s Advice Work?

Having tried a number of natural labor induction methods over the course of two pregnancies, I’m still not clear how effective any of them were. Sure, nipple stimulation caused a few strong contractions, and I went into active labor hours after drinking hot chocolate and eating pineapple, but I’d also been in early labor for two days by that point. Maybe it was the obscenely loud neighborhood fireworks that provided the final push — now there was a recommendation for my baby boards!

The lesson I took away from my labor induction experiences was simply: do what feels right to you and follows whatever medical advice you believe. There might not be a magic switch to turn on labor, but several natural techniques could be helpful to try, too. At the very least, fireworks and a cup of hot chocolate are a decent way to pass the time waiting for baby’s arrival. I mean, it worked for me.

My Friends Gave Me The Best Advice On Taking An Extended Maternity Leave

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Can you blame me for wanting extra time with this cutie?

As published in Romper

My job has always been an important part of my identity. OK, maybe not my first job as a teen working the concession stand at a movie theater, but everything that came after. Even while shoveling popcorn, I was committed to offering great customer service and a smile. When I got pregnant with my first child, quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom wasn’t an option on the table. We needed the money, and I wanted the satisfaction of using my skills outside the home and to contribute to society through working. I literally worked until the baby popped out and took the minimum maternity leave. For my second baby, however, I received some important advice from friends to take an extended maternity leave and enjoy some extra time with my baby. And honestly, it was the best advice I got from my friends.

With my first pregnancy, I took the 12 weeks for which I could receive pay under California state law, and not a day more. I didn’t realize that I could receive additional paid leave for time needed to rest and prepare before the baby was born. Under state law, I was entitled to up to four weeks of disability leave before the birth of my baby as needed, according to the State of California Employment Development Department.

Before I fully understood state law during my first pregnancy, I was working as a newspaper reporter. I planned to work until the day my son was due. However, my son was due on a Friday and I typically worked Tuesday through Saturday, so I decided to continue working until the day after my due date. I wanted to save every day of my 12-week leave for after my baby was born.

 Pregnancy and parenting a newborn are hard enough without having to try to navigate complicated state and federal maternity leave laws, but that’s exactly what I was doing, and badly. By the last few weeks of my pregnancy, even walking was uncomfortable, with the baby weighing heavy on my bladder and my muscles aching. Still, I trudged out out to crime scenes to report on them, and up and down the courthouse stairs to cover trials for the newspaper. I received a lot of questions and comments.

“Still working, huh?”

“You must be due any day now.”

It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

Somehow, I made it through my last day of work without going into labor. As if my body knew it needed to hold on just long enough, I went into labor in the early morning Sunday, just hours after I finished my last work shift.

The 12 weeks of maternity leave after my son’s birth came and went quickly, but I was grateful that I had that much time home with my son. I knew of many new moms who worked and only received six weeks of disability pay as they didn’t qualify for Paid Family Leave or another paid leave program. Therefore, some of these parents could only afford to take a six-week leave. Others couldn’t even afford the partial pay, and returned to work a week after birth.

I was able to take 12 weeks of leave because of disability leave after the birth, followed by the six weeks of Paid Family Leave, which I qualified for as someone with a job who was contributing to State Disability Insurance. When I returned to work, I did little more at first then stare at the album of baby photos I brought as my eyes welled with tears. It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

 Pregnant for a second time, I initially planned to take 12 weeks again. However, a few conversations with friends and coworkers changed my mind. One coworker at my same company who’d recently given birth took a full four months, including some time before her baby was born. I was intrigued. I’d heard of similar experiences from other friends inside and outside the office. You’ll never get this time with your baby back again, they’d say.

I did some research and found that in addition to my 12 weeks of paid leave, I was entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Although six weeks of that 12-week leave would be used consecutively with my state Paid Family Leave, that left me an additional six weeks of unpaid leave I was able to take. I decided to take four of those six weeks of unpaid leave, for a total of 16 weeks. But I elected to not take the full 18 weeks allowable under the law as I didn’t feel our family could afford to be without my income for that extra time.

When my work supervisor asked when I wanted to begin my maternity leave and how long I’d be taking, I was anxious to say I wanted to start two weeks before my due date and four months after the baby’s birth. She seemed surprised, but OK with it. She had no choice but to accept my decisions, legally anyway. That’s because she was required to hold my job for me, or something comparable, during my leave due to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

At eight-and-half months of pregnancy, I was more than ready to take some time off work and enjoy some rare alone time. At the advice of my friends, I didn’t feel guilty about keeping my son in preschool for those couple of weeks and sitting home catching up on crappy daytime TV while I washed and folded baby laundry. I was resting and relaxing, and my body and mind needed the break.

 My daughter was born a couple of days before her due date, and during labor I was able to pay attention to my early contractions that lasted several days, timing them and monitoring them closely. After my daughter was born, I didn’t feel as rushed as I had with my son when the days and weeks flew by and were jam-packed with visitors. Instead, I took my daughter to the park and the store in the front carrier. I let my eyes linger over her sweet little baby features and made time for snuggles whenever possible. The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

 

The last month of my leave was unpaid, but my husband and I saved money beforehand in preparation. In the end, I felt the few weeks of unpaid leave were well worth the money lost because of the extra baby-bonding time and moments to myself before birth. Once again, we were fortunate that we had the means to support ourselves without my income for a short time. And after I’d gone back to work after both babies were born, my husband took several weeks of paternity leave so that he had time alone with the babies as well.

 My friends had been right. I wouldn’t be able to get back this fleeting time with the babies once it was gone. They’re little once, and for such a short time. My job could wait, and thankfully, it did. My boss didn’t give me any grief about my leave, and I was able to pick up where I left off after a short catch-up period. Fortunately, my boss has young children of her own, so she was fairly understanding as I got back in the swing of work.

Returning to work, I was refreshed and fully healed. I had a solid breastfeeding routine down, and was ready for adult interaction and the challenges of the workplace. Thanks to some great advice from friends, I was able to find a work/life balance that worked. Without their advice, I would have probably taken another less-than-adequate maternity leave, not fully understanding state and federal leave law and stressing out about my job.

All said, I wouldn’t trade a day of the chubby baby snuggles that came with my extended maternity leave.

I Trust My Body More After Labor

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Trust me, that head was not comfy coming out…

As featured in Romper

I’m kind of a control freak. And an anxiety basket case. It’s a toxic combination, and one that did not help me to trust my body in anyway when I was pregnant. With a history of my periods flowing unpredictably and a lack of coordination, my body was a stranger I didn’t trust. But it was labor, with its chaos and mess and unpredictability, that helped me learn to trust my body. And honestly, I trust my body more after labor in a way I never did before.

My distrust of my body started young. I was an uncoordinated kid who had trouble with simple physical tasks others sailed through, like walking along a curb edge or climbing a jungle gym. Because these tasks were hard for me, I feared them. I was afraid I’d trip over my feet and fall down while running, and I clung tight to the swing on the playground instead of jumping from it like the other kids because I didn’t trust my body to land upright.

Because I doubted my own physical abilities, those around me started to doubt my abilities as well. “Be careful! Watch your step,” my parents would say to me all the time. On hikes, my dad would automatically reach for my hand to steady me when the terrain got the least bit rocky. Even when I had younger siblings, it was me he worried about. Because I was uncoordinated. Because my body wasn’t to be trusted.

 I have also been terrified of vomiting since I was a young child, a disorder known as emetophobia. This phobia caused me to spend a good deal of time monitoring my body for signs of illness, as though this would somehow help me control my body and its wellness. And my distrust of my body only manifested in other ways as the years progressed.

When I finally got my long-awaited period at 15, I bled so heavily I soaked through a pad and turned my pajama shorts scarlet red one night. My heavy periods, which were also irregular, caused me to have an iron deficiency. A few years later, my anxiety at heading away to college exacerbated my nervous stomach and I never wanted to stray too far from a bathroom in case I felt a gurgle. My body was not to be trusted.

When I finally went into labor, my body pushed aside my fears and took over. I’d always feared losing control, but to my surprise I felt relief that my body knew what to do when I didn’t.

When I became pregnant with my son in my late 20s, I was sick, terrified of throwing up (even though I somehow avoided it with both of my pregnancies!), and just overall pretty miserable. Sure, I was awe of what my body was creating. I loved feeling the little nudges that later turned to punches. But ultrasound pictures and feeling baby kicks from outside my tummy barely hinted at the miracle of humanity brewing in my belly.

 I studied up on labor in my baby books, determined to be as in control of the birthing process as possible. I attended birth preparation classes and packed my hospital bag with cute underwear and candles. I packed a photo of my cat, because I clearly had no clue what I was doing.

My body, the same one that bled profusely, the one I worried couldn’t balance on a curb, had created human perfection.

When I finally went into labor, my body pushed aside my fears and took over. I’d always feared losing control, but to my surprise I felt relief that my body knew what to do when I didn’t. My contractions started out mild and far apart, and grew consistently closer together until it was time to head to the hospital. Right after the nurses threatened to send me home from the hospital because I wasn’t dilated enough, my water broke and I was admitted to the hospital. My body was on my team. An epidural provided pain relief, but still my body knew what to do. After a long night of labor, I pushed out the most beautiful baby boy I’d ever seen, cone-head and all. He was perfect. My body, the same one that bled profusely, the one I worried couldn’t balance on a curb, had created human perfection.

 My daughter’s birth four years later was a surprise unmedicated labor because I didn’t have time for an epidural. I didn’t brush up on any “natural” pain relief techniques for her labor because I was so sure I’d have an epidural again. But my daughter was born an hour and half after I arrived at the hospital, though, so an epidural wasn’t possible. I bleated like a goat in agony. I pleaded and begged for drugs. Anything. I couldn’t possibly endure a natural labor. This was not what I wanted. My body couldn’t handle it. Still, it could. My body took over, pushing my baby down and out in violent and effective contractions. I screamed and begged and pushed my baby out. She was big and chunky and healthy and beautiful.

 

I’d never trusted my body, but when it really mattered, it was behind me. Working for me when I gave up. Creating perfection in snuggly little baby form.

 The way my milk came in to feed my babies and the quickness with which my body healed after my labors only reinforced my newfound respect and appreciation for the work it could do. My body, like so many women’s before me, knew just what to do to protect the gift of life.

 

My body has earned my trust, and I’ve learned to be less nervous, to take more risks with physical feats. Yes, I’m not the most coordinated person on the planet. I have a nervous stomach. Sometimes I have heavy periods. But I’m totally and completely capable, thanks in part to a strong and able body that lets me dance, hug, exercise, and maybe most impressive of all, make babies.

I Thought Sharing Ultrasound Pictures Was Silly, Until I Had One I Had To Share

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Apparently, belly pics were alright with me, just not ultrasound pics…..

As featured in Romper

It seems like all of my friends’ pregnancy announcements often include a shrimp. Not the kind that’s tasty with garlic butter, mind you. I’m talking about shrimpy little fetuses in the early stages of gestation. Yes, countless pregnancy announcements often include ultrasound pictures posted to social media. I think babies are the cutest things ever, don’t get me wrong But that’s where I draw a distinction: Babies are cute, not little shrimp-like fetuses smaller than a fingertip. And I have to admit that I thought sharing ultrasound pictures was silly. That is, until I had one I wanted to share.

Eventually, I’d come across an ultrasound picture that I felt was so adorable, I had no choice but to break all of my self-imposed rules and put that blurry little black and white face out for the world (or at least all my Facebook friends) to see. But it took me a looooooong time to get to that point. While pregnant with my first child, I felt that ultrasound pictures were nice to enjoy in the comfort of your own home Just you and your significant other, oohing and ahhhing at the majestic little creature brewing in your uterus. Maybe you even text a photo or two to your parents. But I felt that should be the extent of it.

There is just something so intimate about an ultrasound picture, especially one in early pregnancy. That baby is not yet recognizable as a baby, and most of the image is taken up by your actual uterus. Even later in pregnancy, baby features look warped in ultrasound pictures.

 Ultrasound pictures are a fun souvenir from a procedure that serves an important purpose: to determine your pregnancy is progressing normally. And I was admittedly super excited for this souvenir when I was pregnant with my first baby. My husband and I squinted at the image on the screen at our seven-week ultrasound, beyond ecstatic to see the little shrimp with the flickering heartbeat. We headed home with our glossy ultrasound photos clutched in hand, and texted our moms pictures of the images.

My husband’s mom responded with some appropriately nice sentiment. “Oh, how beautiful. I’m so excited to meet her or him.” My mom, however, was less politically correct.

“What am I looking at exactly? Can you call when you have a chance and explain these pictures to me?” But even after my explanation, she remained unimpressed. “I guess I see it,” she said. “I wouldn’t exactly call it cute just yet. But I’m sure when she or she is born, the baby will be adorable.”

Then, something incredible happened. She smiled.

Miniature baby sex organs, unidentifiable as they may be, are also frequently displayed all over social media in ultrasound pictures. “Look, you can see the hamburger! It’s a girl.” Baby genital pictures aren’t normally socially acceptable, but somehow, in an ultrasound image, they are totally Kosher.

At the time, it felt like my mom and I were alone in our opinion that ultrasound pictures were better kept private. Ultrasound pictures not only graced countless birth announcements, but many parents-to-be even framed ultrasound photos to hang in their nurseries. I attended a baby shower where, I kid you not, there were framed ultrasound photos on display. My vow was to never post an ultrasound picture on social media. My husband, not bound by the same vow, did post one 3D ultrasound picture of our son on Facebook when we found out he was a boy, genitalia not included.

 When I was pregnant with my daughter, I continued my vow to not post ultrasound pictures on social media. I did pay for a special 3D ultrasound session towards the end of my pregnancy because I wanted to to double check she was a girl and take one last peak at her before she was born. And as the ultrasound tech slid the wand over my the goo on my belly, we could make out chubby baby cheeks and even hair on her head. She was sleepy, and I rolled around to try to wake her. She moved her little hands and wiggled her pudgy toes. I had to admit, she was adorable. Even though I couldn’t make out the details of her features. Even in an ultrasound.

I broke my promise to never post ultrasound pictures to social media that day. I had to.

Then, something incredible happened. She smiled. We knew she was in the dark and didn’t know we were looking at her. But still, she smiled and the ultrasound tech caught it on camera. Even in utero, she was more than a blurry black and white image. She was a baby with emotions. Or gas. But she was a baby. Our baby.

 I broke my promise to never post ultrasound pictures to social media that day. I had to. I had to post the ultrasound photo of my baby smiling. And you know what? I don’t regret it. Not one bit.

 

I now have a new understanding of those parents who post ultrasound pictures to social media. Even those who frame the ultrasound pictures to display in the nursery. They are proudly sharing a glimpse of a person they would soon love beyond measure. The best shrimps we’ll ever have.

I’m A Mom With Urinary Incontinence & This Is What It’s Like

 

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I was probably wetting my pants as this picture was taken.

As published in Romper.

On my way to write this story, I shoved a piece of paper towel in my underwear because I didn’t want to get them wet. And after giving birth to two kids, the simple act of walking is too much for my bladder. I suffer from urinary incontinence, and this is what it’s like.

Running and jumping are left in my past along with My Little Ponies, Barbies, snap bracelets, and my New Kids on the Block blanket. OK, I still have my New Kids on the Block blanket, but that’s neither here nor there. But urinary incontinence, or the involuntary leaking of urine, is not an affliction relegated to nursing homes. It’s not just the subject of cute little jokes having to cross your legs when you pee after birthing babies. For me, urinary incontinence is a devastating problem that has completely changed my life. It’s an issue I had to a minor degree before the birth of my first child, but that was made much worse by birthing my 8 lb., 14 oz. son five years ago. The Mayo Clinic defines urinary incontinence as an “common and often embarrassing problem,” one that ranges in severity “from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that’s so sudden and strong you don’t get to a toilet in time.”

In the hospital after birthing my baby, I realized as the epidural wore off that I had almost no bladder control. Every time I’d stand up from the bed, I’d empty my bladder completely and involuntarily. I was humiliated and loathed the lack of self control I was feeling, especially at a chaotic time when I was desperate to cling to any shred of control over my life. I told the nurses what was happening, but they brushed it off as “normal after childbirth.” Only, it wasn’t.

Within a few days, the incontinence lessened by about 80 percent, but not completely. I told my obstetrician about my problem, and she suggested Kegel exercises and cutting back on caffeine.

These solutions were easier said than done for a busy and tired new mom who relies on several cups of coffee to get through the day. Surgery to correct the problem was not a good solution, I was told, until I was done having children, because childbirth could damage surgery.

Everyday, I wear a maxi pad in my underwear. On the rare occasions when I find myself without one, I’m driven to desperate acts.

Then, four years later, the birth of my daughter again worsened my incontinence.

Everyday, I wear a maxi pad in my underwear. On the rare occasions when I find myself without one, I’m driven to desperate acts like reaching for a paper towel to put in my underwear. I slowly leak pee throughout the day. Small amounts when I walk around the office at work, more if I brave going on a brisk walk outside on my lunch break or sometimes when I wrestle with my kids. I try to keep my pads changed, but the dampness has caused discomfort to the point that I’ve reached for my daughter’s diaper rash ointment before. If I don’t change my pads enough, they can start to smell.

Even playing with my kids is difficult, because rolling around and lifting my kids can cause me to lose bladder control.

On occasion, exercise walks (the only kind of exercise I dare to do these days) cause me to leak so much urine that I soak through to my pants. I don’t always notice when this happens, or have an extra pair of pants to change into, and have left a wet spot on an office chair more than once.

The first time I noticed a wet spot, I was horrified and threw a coat I was lucky enough to have handy over my chair as I headed to the bathroom to clean up. Following the chair incident, I’d try to be sure my bladder was fully emptied before going on walks, which helped a little but didn’t eliminate the problem.

Another aspect of my bladder problems is that I have an urgent urge to pee as soon as there’s any urine in my bladder. This makes daily activities uncomfortable, and I feel like I’m always tip-toeing around, just trying to retain bladder control. Running or vigorous physical activity are totally out of the question unless I want to borrow my daughter’s diapers along with her diaper ointment.

Even playing with my kids is difficult, because rolling around and lifting my kids can cause me to lose bladder control. It’s typically not so much that I pee my pants as I dribble. Constantly. Unless I’m just sitting there. But what kind of life is that? Not a practical one.

I’ve even leaked pee during sex. So much for letting go and getting lost in the moment.

 This is the reality of urinary incontinence. It’s not pretty. It’s actually really gross and all-consuming. Incontinence hinders my ability to live life to the fullest, including my ability to be the mom I want to be. The topic is taboo, but shouldn’t be. There are so many of us moms who suffer from this problem in silence. I know how much we’d all benefit from the support of each other and the sharing of resources.

And frankly, I’m tired of keeping quiet. So tired, actually, that I’m going to do something about it. My husband and I are done having kids, so surgery is an option. So is physical therapy for urinary incontinence, which has become a recognized solution and treatment option.

I’m going to devote time to doing Kegels, even though they’re a pain and even though I’m busy with my kids and work and life. I’m going to make dietary changes, as recommended. I owe it to my family to get better. But more importantly, I owe it to myself.

Five Reasons Pregnancy Sucks (And One Way It Doesn’t)

pregnant
If only the average pregnant belly was this cute….

Pregnancy sucks.

Many of us women feel this way, but there’s still a stigma in admitting it. It’s more easily digestible to say we love pregnancy. That we’re so in awe of the new life growing inside of us that we didn’t notice our cankles and Jolly Green Giant feet. That we’re a bundle of pure glowing light. Or something like that.

But why can’t we be simultaneously grateful for and in awe of the life we’re creating, while also loathing nearly every second of the process?

Here are five ways reasons a typical pregnancy sucks, and one important reason it doesn’t:

  1. We feel terrible.  We get that positive pregnancy test we’ve been waiting for, and we’re excited and nervous. I feel fine, we think. Maybe I’ll escape that dreaded morning sickness. If it does happen, I’ll just have a little ginger candy and some peppermint tea and be fine. Ha! Then six weeks rolls around and we get hit by a gravel-loaded truck of awfulness. Awfulness that is not limited to mornings and might very well last the whole nine months. We’re so sick we can barely function, yet we must somehow drag ourselves to work if we are employed, and carry out our other obligations, like caring for older children and chores. We can’t exactly call out pregnant every day, even though we feel plenty sick enough to. And nothing says fun like wrestling a hyper toddler into pajamas when we just want to go to bed and sleep for a year.
  2. We have “pregnancy brain”. You know that fuzzy-brained feeling we get after staying awake all night? When we can’t remember how to spell “the”? Welcome to pregnancy brain. No sleep deprivation necessary. Although, we probably won’t be sleeping much, either. It’s like every ounce of our body, including our brain, is preoccupied with making this baby, and there’s not an ounce of brain juice left for us. Just try to figure out how much to tip that server at the restaurant. No calculator allowed. I dare you.
  3. Our body is not our own. Pregnancy feels like an alien is living inside of us. A very angry alien that’s not permitted the small pleasures of sushi or wine. Our favorite pumpkin scented candle will suddenly disgust us. If indigestion never bothered us before, Tums will suddenly become one of our most important food groups. We can’t even eat lunch meat that we don’t nuke to bits in the microwave. Lunch meat. We not only can’t sleep on our stomach or our back, there’s a certain side that’s better to sleep on. Sweet dreams. Then of course, there’s the way that a baby moving in our abdomen literally looks and feels like an alien in there. An alien with no qualms about head-butting our bladder. Here’s hoping we don’t mind wetting our pants.
  4. Our bodies change permanently. There’s a reason for “mom jeans”. They’re designed to fit “mom bodies”. Our nipples might darken during pregnancy, our boobs will sag a little more, and they’ll never quite return to their pre-pregnancy state. Our stomach will be softer and protrude more after the baby’s born. Our hips might just “feel” different. Things move and shift. Exercise will help, but those “tiger stripes” as stretch marks are now optimistically referred to, might be here to stay.
  5. Pregnancy results in childbirth. That baby has to come out somehow, and the childbirth process will probably be incredibly painful. We can sugarcoat it all we want, an eight pound human coming out of the birth canal is going to hurt. Sure, there’s pain relief, but our labor might progress too quickly for an epidural. Or we (maybe you, not me!) might bravely decide against one. Women have been birthing babies forever, but our ancient ancestors probably fended off bears with their primal childbirth screams.

Of course, childbirth is also the reason we endure pregnancy, which leads us to the very important reason pregnancy doesn’t suck.

  1. Pregnancy results in babies. For those of us who choose to bear children and are fortunate enough to be able to become pregnant and carry these pregnancies to term, pregnancy leads us to our babies. When we’re in the throes of morning sickness, it’s easy to take our eyes off the prize at the end of the exhausting, uncomfortable journey. Before our babies are born, it’s difficult to fathom the enormous impact they will have on our lives or how completely we’ll fall in love with that little stranger. With one whiff of new baby smell and the kiss of a soft, chubby cheek, we’re forced to admit the annoying cliche rings true. It really is all worth it.