Last night I got home after work and had one of those rare nights when you handle all the shit. With much assistance from your spouse if you’re lucky like I was last night.
I did the dishes. I mopped the floor. I made those brownies that had been staring at me from the just-add-butter-and-eggs box for months. I did yoga, and while in downward dog noticed dust bunnies under the couch which I promptly swept up. Then I went upstairs and read to a kid hubs had bathed, and folded my three baskets of clean laundry.
I was feeling like hell yeah, it feels good to knock shit out that needs to get done instead of putting it off. I planned to make a borderline sanctimommy post in the morning.
Then the morning arrived.
I put on my nice red power dress, still feeling myself from the night before.
My 3 year old saw me putting on the dress and remarked it looked like her Angry Birds towel.
Not yet knocked fully off my high horse, we prepared to head out the door for work and daycare. If only I could find my keys. They were NOWHERE to be found, and I needed to be at work in a hurry to do my weekly radio interview over the phone.
In the midst of my frantic search that included lots of begging my child to PLEASE step out of my way, I suddenly noticed the silence.
I looked up to find my daughter grimmacing in her favorite spot to poop in her Pull-up, behind the rocking chair. I didn’t have time for this literal shit.
With minutes to spare before my radio interview, I plopped her on the potty, emailed the d.j. to call my cell, and somehow found my keys in the mothereffing kitchen trash that was now in the big bin in the garage READY TO BE TAKEN AWAY FOREVER. Why were my keys in the trash? I. Don’t. Know. Maybe cuz life doesn’t like sanctimommies, even borderline ones.
The poop wasn’t happening after all that, so I threw her Pull-up back on (no time for clothes), and put her in front of True and the Rainbow Kingdom.
I huddled in the far corner of the living room to take the call. Mercifully, the cell reception held, and True worked her magic.
My daughter went to daycare a few minutes late, and I arrived at work in my red Angry Birds dress like “Come at me, bitches. You don’t know the morning I’ve had. I have keys in my purse, brownies on my counter and pride in my stomach I’ve been forced to swallow. Bring it.”
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.
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.
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’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.
“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.