A beautiful day at the beach with my smiling kids. But let me zoom out a little and give you the fuller picture.
I cropped in on this shot because there was a teenager just behind my son showing us the business with her legs spread open. Fortunately, she was wearing a bathing suit. But still.
Maybe I’m feeling extra protective of her because she lost her cell phone and asked us if we’d seen it before breaking into hysterical sobs. My husband and I helped her look and let her borrow his phone to call her mom.
Cuz when you’re a parent, you’re a parent, and not just to your kids.
We’d brought beach chairs, but probably used them for 15 minutes total. There were kids wanting us to take them down to the water. There were sand throwing fights to break up, and little sisters knocking down sand castles and big brothers tattling on little sisters. There were snotty noses to clean. There were people needing to pee. Mostly me.
There was hydration to think about, and sunscreen to keep applied. There was sand in every tiny crevice and caked in hair. So much sand.
Fellow parents in the sandy trenches were having similar experiences. A mom trying to relax on her stomach for a second had handfuls of sand on her butt and a smart-ass son telling her “Mom, you got some sand on you.”
I remember when my husband and I would come to the beach to chill. To read. Maybe even to doze off.
Those days are gone. But, we did get a workout in lugging those chairs and all the other stuff back to the car while hollering to our kids, “Just walk! Keep walking! That’s all you have to do”.
I take in these sunny, fun-filled days and moments of togetherness with such appreciation. They’re wonderful snapshots to tuck in the memory album.
That’s right. Some hairy ass legs. With a haggard, grown-out pedi the icing on the cake.
But look deeper. Those wolf woman legs…those yetis of suburbia…those “maybe I can pass them off as a feminist statement” gams, are in EXERCISE pants.
Cuz I didn’t have time for shit last weekend, and certainly not shaving. I was about to head out of town for a baby shower I was helping organize. The kids were all up in my Koolaid demanding breakfast and care and love like kids do.
But, damnit I like yoga. It helps me feel good, and it’s good for me. It clears my head. And we parents need to make time for ourselves when and how we can.
If we wait til everything is perfect before we take care of ourselves, we will be doing us a disservice. Besides, is anyone watching us anyway? We’re all too preoccupied with our own personal maintenance to care about anyone else’s.
So I pulled my exercise pants (not even legit yoga pants, cuz these were the ones on sale at Grocery Outlet) over my hairy ass legs and went to yoga.
Hear me roar, yoga class and world. A roar made more primal by my hairy ass, wildebeest, sexy AF legs.
Before having kids, I was kind of a badass. I wouldn’t say I had a black heart, but my heart might have been singed a little bit around the edges. I didn’t know that motherhood would change me, turning my singed heart soft and red, maybe even with cute little sequins. Motherhood has turned me into a big old softy.
My first career out of college was a court and public safety newspaper reporter. In that role, I reported on some gnarly incidents and trials, like murders, brutal assaults, and crimes against children, without so much as blinking. I quickly became emotionally “hard” because I had to be. I had to protect myself from becoming too involved in the stories I covered for my own well-being.
My emotional toughness extended well beyond the courtroom walls. I prided myself on not shedding a tear at weddings, and even funerals if the person who died wasn’t especially close to me. I just didn’t allow myself to experience the full emotional impact of situations that pull at the heartstrings. I thought of other things instead and gave permission to feel removed from the circumstances I encountered.
From the minute we smell our newborns for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget.
As a parent, I empathize with every other parent out there. Although I’m not directly experiencing the panic of losing a child in the grocery store and the knee-weakening relief of finding the child again, or worse, I can’t help but put myself in that parent’s shoes. Every news story, each TV commercial with a slightly sappy premise, and every song on the radio speaks to me differently now. And they don’t even have to be about a child for me to dissolve into a pool of sniffly tears.
NOW THAT I’M A PARENT, I SEE THE CHILD IN EVERYONE.
Now that I’m a parent, I see the child in everyone. I realize that the lonely old man in the airline commercial waiting for his grown children to come visit him was once someone’s child. The fact that the man is old becomes secondary to him being lonely, and in him, I see my own 5-year-old son when his best friend at school won’t play with him. I see and feel the unifying emotions at the core of people, instead of just their superficial outer shells.
It’s clear that parenthood molded me into this mushy, sensitive person, but how? I believe that loving someone as vulnerable as a baby, who fully depends on you as their parent or caregiver to protect them from any and all harm, helps a person better appreciate the fragility of life.
From the minute we smell our newborn for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget. In turn, we know that the parent we are learning about in any given newspaper story, or the fictional parent we’re reading about in a novel, must experience that same unique brand of love we feel for our children.
IF WE’RE GOING TO RAISE CARING YOUNG PEOPLE, WE BETTER DAMN WELL BE CARING OURSELVES.
I believe parenthood does us a service by making us feel so deeply, and bringing children into this world and raising them is the act of uncovering our inner empathy and leaving it raw and exposed, again and again and again, every single day, for the rest of our lives.
There’s a reason why so many of us parents’ guilty pleasure is ugly crying while binge watching This Is Us. Feeling strong emotions not only is good, it literally feels good. Feeling is about living fully, experiencing every bump and curve in the road and sitting nothing out. Life is full of emotions, and nowhere is this so acutely demonstrated than in parenthood, through a baby’s adorable first laugh or the joy and heartache of your last child leaving the house for college. It’s a roller coaster ride of feels, and there’s no “chicken” exit once we have children. We’re stuck on the ride, like it or not. But I feel we are better because of the ups and downs of parenthood.
I thought I was strong before I had kids, because I didn’t cry and kept my emotions on the back burner. I now see that heightened emotions are an advantage of parenthood. Not only does being sensitive make us more alert to our children’s emotions and able to comfort them, it helps us be more aware of the emotions of everyone we encounter. This heightened sensitivity helps us be better people in general, even if that’s as simple as buying someone who seems to be having a bad day a cup of coffee.
If we’re going to raise caring young people, we better damn well be caring ourselves.
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.
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.
“All that matters is that my baby is healthy.” These were the words I said when I was pregnant for a second time because they felt like the right thing to say and because it seemed like the things everyone who was expecting a baby said. Except, for me, those words were a complete and total lie. In fact, I found out just how much of a lie my “all that matter is that my baby is healthy” comment was when I cried during my own gender reveal ultrasound with joy and disbelief after finding out I was expecting a girl. Having a healthy baby was by far my number one priority, but my baby’s sex mattered to me. Truthfully, I cared whether I had a boy or a girl. And since I’d already had my boy, now I wanted a girl.
Admitting this feels un-politically correct for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that so many people try for years to get pregnant and sometimes never succeed. So the fact that I’d gotten pregnant relatively easily both times, and that I was fortunate to have normal pregnancies, made admitting that my baby’s sex mattered to me that much more difficult.
Another reason admitting I cared about my baby’s sex felt wrong is that a baby’s sex doesn’t necessarily determine his or her gender. Sex, of course, refers to the biological differences between males and females, while gender is often defined as a person’s role in society or by the way they self-identify. I could end up with a boy who identified as a girl, or vice versa. And in my internet baby and pregnancy communities, hardly anyone dared to show a preference for a boy or girl baby. I watched with morbid fascination, like observing a snake swallow a house whole, when the occasional woman dared to confess that she really hoped she was having a boy or girl.
The angry replies would pour in:
“You’re lucky to have a baby at all. It took me three years to get pregnant.”
“You get what you’re meant to get.”
“What matters is that you have a healthy baby.”
I’ve always been close to my mom. We’d gossip and share confessions. So I wanted a little girl to share that special bond with.The responses were even more volatile if someone with multiple children or who already had children of both sexes expressed a sex preference. Someone said, “You’re so blessed to have children already. You have one of each. Why would you care whether your next baby is a boy or a girl?” But even so, I wanted to have a girl. I couldn’t help myself. My truth was hard to admit even to myself, especially given the response such feelings were met with by many other mothers to be. I felt guilty having a preference, and ashamed of these feelings.
When I was pregnant with my son the first time around, I really didn’t have much of a preference for whether I was having a boy or a girl. I knew I wanted to have two children, so I figured I’d think about the baby’s sex the second time around. I was elated to learn I was expecting a boy. I happily folded all of the adorable baseball and animal onesies I received at my showers. I hand-painted jungle decor for my son’s bedroom. I was stoked.
And I love being mom to a little boy. Although I didn’t expect or raise my son to have stereotypically “boy” interests or act like a stereotypical boy, he loved superheroes and cars. He liked to talk and read and play more than he liked to cuddle. My son was, and is, super fun, funny, thoughtful, and ridiculously smart.
My son was my everything, but he wasn’t my mini me. I got pregnant with my second and last child when my son was 3. And before I found out I was pregnant, my husband and I tried to have a girl. I used ovulation detector strips to try to time our sex for just before my ovulation. Admittedly, my desire to have a girl was entirely selfish. I’ve always been close to my mom. We’d gossip and share confessions. So I wanted a little girl to share that special bond with. I wanted long hair to play with, and someone to dress in gaudy accessories. I wanted someone my experiences would resonate with. Someone I could offer comfort and encouragement to, because I’d “been there, done that.”
My son was my everything, but he wasn’t my mini me. Even as a little boy, his life experience was already very different than mine. He and my husband share a special bond, and just seem to “get” each other. I wanted the chance at that kind of connection. And even though I wanted a girl, I doubted I’d ever have one. In fact, the first few months of my pregnancy, I was absolutely convinced I was having another boy. I just felt like a boy mom. And maybe I was protecting myself from disappointment by not getting my hopes up for a girl.
Truly, the most important thing was having a healthy baby and I’d have been happy with two boys completing our family, because no matter what our baby’s sex, we decided we were stopping at two kids. It felt like forever, but finally we were at the doctor’s office for our ultrasound that would likely determine the baby’s sex. I watched with bated breath as the ultrasound technician moved the wand over my slippery belly.
“It looks like you’re having a… girl,” she said.
I was a woman who’d once been a girl, and being a girl felt like such a unique and special experience to me. I asked her to say it again to be certain I’d heard her right. She was. I couldn’t believe it. I broke out in an ugly cry. I was getting my girl.
Until the dam holding back my tears broke loose, I don’t think I fully realized just how much I’d wanted a girl. Sure, she could be an athlete who likes to roughhouse and loves the color blue. Or she could love pink. She could be the president of the United States one day. Being a girl doesn’t define who she is. But still, her sex mattered to me. It mattered because I was a woman who’d once been a girl, and being a girl felt like such a unique and special experience to me. From having girl friends, to eagerly awaiting my first period, to getting dressed up with makeup for nights out in high school, I loved being a girl and I wanted a girl to relive that journey with. A girl to bond with and swap confessions.
As a 1 year old, my daughter loves to snuggle and gravitates to dolls instead of dinosaurs. But she loves to wrestle with her brother and can hold her own. She has blond hair like my husband did when he was a baby, and she’s not my mini me. But she’s my little girl, and we do have a special bond. In the future, who knows how she’ll chose to identify — or even if she’ll like being referred to by feminine pronouns. But right now, she’s my little girl. And that really, really matters to me. Being honest with myself that I cared what my baby’s sex was was difficult, but important because it’s a truth of parenting for me.
If I’d had two boys, I would’ve considered myself happy and fortunate. But I also would have felt disappointment and would have mourned the loss of the daughter I’d never have. And that’s OK. I have my daughter, and though she’s young, the experience is already every bit as fulfilling as I’d hoped. She’s my girl, and that makes me so happy.
Parenthood is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It’s also knee-knockingly, heart-poundingly, sweating-until-my-shirt-is-soaked-throughterrifying. Expecting my first baby, my head was in a cloud of all the possible names we could choose and the cute little onesies we had to look forward to. I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know the thing no one tells you at your baby shower, the thing no one warns you about as they’re wheeling you to the delivery room. The thing no one says until you say it out loud, alone, in your first real minute to breathe: that parenthood is scary.
It’s scary for so many reasons. Because kids are so vulnerable. Because the world is full of bad people doing bad things, and you can’t stop them. Because, why is your kid making that weird nose when he breathes? Because you love them so, so much. Like so many expectant moms, I was admonished by well-meaning more experienced moms to enjoy my sleep while I could because the baby would keep me awake due to constant nighttime feedings and fussing. I imagined some sort of cute little colicky doll, like those crying dolls you took home in home economics class in middle school to “experience” parenthood. Instead of returning this doll at the end of the class, I reasoned, I’d trade in my fussy newborn after a few months for a sweet infant who slept like a dream. My worries would be behind me. It would be all over-sized hair bows and charmingly posed family photos from then on.
Wrong. Sure, I was fortunate that both of my kids were relatively good sleepers, even as newborns. But my days of restful sleep were behind me, because I’d be constantly listening for my kids’ little voices yelling “Mommy!” down the hall in the middle of the night. Somehow, my husband could sleep through their midnight noises but I could probably hear them sigh if they were spending the night at the North Pole.
I didn’t know then what I know now: that your babies are always your babies, and parenthood is scary.
Even now, all these years later, before heading to bed, no matter how tired I am, I check on my kids to make sure they’re covered with their blankets and sleeping soundly. But not so soundly that they’re dead or something. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to drive to my kids’ houses at night when they’re grown and living on their own to make sure they’re still breathing.
As a parent, I have new appreciation for what my siblings and I put my mom through. How we stayed out until 2 a.m. as teenagers, not knowing or caring that she always stayed awake until she saw our car headlights reflect on her bedroom window as we pulled into the driveway. I didn’t know then what I know now: that your babies are always your babies, and parenthood is scary.
My husband and I are solely responsible for our children’s well-being. Every choice we make about where to live, about where they’ll go to school, about whether to feed them cereal or waffles for breakfast, is crafting the blueprint for their lives. There’s no one telling us how to parent or enforcing our good parenting. It’s terrifying that there’s really no one to fall back on but ourselves when it comes to parenting.
As a former newspaper reporter assigned to the crime and courts beat, I considered myself pretty thick-skinned and unflappable. But that was before I had kids.When I lose my temper and curse at my husband in front of my kids, that’s no longer just damaging my relationship with my husband. That’s setting a bad example for my kids. I have to choose each day to be a good example. Sure, I have the freedom to be a terrible parent, but the responsibility to be a good one. that responsibility is daunting and terrifying.
We parents generally don’t receive much training for parenthood. With the exception of child development, teaching majors, or veteran babysitters, there’s little in the way of formal parenthood education. We have to learn parenting as we go, with maybe a little help from parenting books and articles we don’t have time to read. But no matter the knowledge we glean from the articles we scarf down through stolen moments in the bathroom or because we stayed up too late and will definitely regret doing so the next morning, one thing remains: Parenthood is scary.
And of course, this is a big world and there’s bound to be bad news coming in from somewhere at any given time. As a former newspaper reporter assigned to the crime and courts beat, I considered myself pretty thick-skinned and unflappable. But that was before I had kids. Once I did have kids, someone could practically mention the word “kid” and I’d dissolve into a bucket of tears. As a parent, every kid is your kid. Every tragic news story involving a child makes you think about your own child, and how the thought of anything awful happening to them would shatter your life beyond repair.
I feel a responsibility as a parent to not only take good care of my kids, but of myself as well. My two children are depending on me to stay in good health so I can look out for them. Just as our kids are at the center of mine and my husband’s world, we’re at the center of theirs. It’s scary to think about something happening to one or both of us. Who would take care of our kids? Who would make sure they’re tucked in at night and breathing? It’s scary that we have to give our kids the freedom to experience heartbreak from a not-so-nice “friend” at school. It’s scary that life is full of lessons they’ll have to learn by themselves, on their own, firsthand.
I feel that parenthood is totally overwhelming and we’re ill-prepared for it. There’s no denying it. Still, we trudge through as we have for centuries. And yet the human race continues and even thrives. We’re obviously doing something right. Maybe our anxiety about parenting is what keeps us on our toes and ensures we give our best effort to raising the next generation.
As a parent in my own right, I’ve learned to embrace the unknown. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I can do my best to take care of myself and my family today. I can love my kids so much that watching the news hurts, but still trust that they’ll turn out all right. Because for me, parenthood is worth every nail-biting, knee-knocking, armpit-sweating moment.