Motherhood Has Made Me Much More Sensitive

kids
Aren’t they cuddly, though?

 

As published in Romper.

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.

I didn’t understand that once I had children, separating myself emotionally from heart-wrenching and even heart-warming moments would no longer be an option. Motherhood has made me so much more sensitive.

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.

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 Cared What My Baby’s Sex Was

Jos
Ain’t she cute, though?

 

As published in Romper

“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.

My Confession: Parenthood is Terrifying

baby jos
She’s a cute little scary beast….

 

As published in Romper.

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.

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

 

baby pic
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.