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.
Castor oil. Nipple stimulation. Have sex while little hands play tether ball with your bladder. There’s so much advice for inducing labor to be found online that it was impossible not to want to try them out. In my experience, natural methods to induce labor often read more like a schedule of activities for a torture chamber than tasks I’d willingly tackle. Why don’t pregnant women just wait until their babies are ready to be born and not hurry Mother Nature along? I wondered in my pre-pregnancy state. I pondered what the big deal was about waiting an extra few days, or even a week or two, for my baby’s birth.
After more than 40 weeks of pregnancy with my first child, however, I suddenly was in a more understanding (and bloated) position. I couldn’t go five minutes without feeling like my bladder was bursting. The kicks felt like the baby was trying to launch a field goal into my spine. Sleeping and eating were difficult because the baby was taking up so much space in my body, making me acutely uncomfortable. Once I passed 40 weeks and started maternity leave from work, I was ready to try “natural” induction techniques. I believed my body would eventually go into labor on its own, but I selfishly didn’t want to wait anymore.
Since I’d enjoyed frequenting my online pregnancy and baby communities from my first positive pregnancy test until the time I was overdue, I once again turned to the internet for advice on inducing labor. I loved how the baby boards were full of supportive women who understood a pregnant mom’s circumstances, and were available at all hours to commiserate with aches and pains and indigestion complaints. More importantly, many of them had been there and done that, including labor induction. So, I did what any woman in my position would do: I tried to induce labor based on advice I’d read online.
Method #1: Squatting And Stretching
These variations on the popular walking technique to induce labor caught my attention on my online baby boards because of how easy and safe they seemed. I also loved that they were slightly more interesting than just walking. I remember being mesmerized by a video of a woman trying to dance and squat her way into labor at more than nine months pregnant. Because I’d waited until I was just past 40 weeks and finished with my last day at work before maternity leave, there was basically no more walking around the house or neighborhood for me. So I turned to the next best piece of advice: squatting.
I’d “squat walk” my way to the kitchen to get a snack. I’d squat my way around the neighborhood. I’d bounce and stretch on my exercise ball in front of the TV every chance I got. These exercises did bring on more intense and frequent Braxton Hicks contractions, and made me feel like the baby was scooting slightly lower in my belly, but did not fully induce labor to start. At least, not immediately.
I went into early labor in the middle of the night a couple of days later, and it was unclear whether the squats and stretches scooted the onset of labor along any sooner.
Method #2: Nipple Stimulation
While pregnant with my son, I experimented with nipple stimulation to try to make my very early labor progress quicker. I’d read this technique on several different online pregnancy boards, and in various internet articles. I was horrified at first because the thought of pinching leaky, crusty, tender nipples made me squeamish. Once very mild and far apart contractions started, though, I decided to give the technique a try while in the shower to help progress labor.
Online articles I’d read on nipple stimulation explained that rolling or kneading nipples releases Oxytocin, a hormone that can cause uterine contractions. This process usually takes place when breastfeeding after birth, and helps the uterus return to pre-pregnancy size. The techniques warned that the contractions caused by nipple stimulation could be intense. Still, I decided to give it a try because I was already past my due date and ready for birth.
Within a minute or so, I managed to bring on a stronger contraction than I’d had. But after a few more minutes of nipple stimulation and a few irregular contractions later, I stopped and stepped out of the shower. I felt nipple stimulation just wasn’t comfortable and sustainable for all that long. Was I supposed to wait in the shower until it worked?
When all was said and done and I had a baby in my arms, I felt like nipple stimulation did definitely prompt some increased contraction action, and studies I read claimed nipple stimulation can make some labors quicker overall. Maybe if I’d “stimulated” a little longer, I could have shaved some time off my 35-hour labor. I didn’t keep going with the stimulation, though, because it wasn’t a practice I felt I could comfortably sustain for long.
Method #3: Evening Primrose Oil
Flash forward four years later to my ninth month of pregnancy with my second child, my daughter. This time around, I started my maternity leave a couple of weeks sooner, and was ready to start inducing labor at 39 weeks. I’d read about evening primrose oil in my online birthing communities, and how some pregnant women massaged the oil from the capsules into their cervixes to ripen it as part of their daily routine. Some women claimed to have gone into labor hours after inserting the oil, so I figured, why not?
When a friend offered to give me the remainder of her bottle of unused evening primrose oil capsules, I was intrigued. I broke up a capsule and put the oil on my cervix each night of my 39 week of pregnancy. A few days in to the practice, subtle contractions began and lasted on and off for two days before I went to the hospital and gave birth an hour-and-half after I arrived. Did the evening primrose oil make a difference? Hard to tell, but it certainly didn’t hinder the process.
Method #4: Mexican Hot Chocolate And Eating Pineapple
I read in various online articles and baby boards that eating pineapple could possibly ripen the cervix through stimulating lipids in the cervix. More interestingly, some women on my baby boards swore up and down that Mexican hot chocolate was a sure-fire way to jump start labor. We happened to have a fruit bowl in the fridge with pineapple in it, and some Mexican hot chocolate in the cupboard. I figured, why not give them a try?
On the second day of strong on-and-off contractions with my daughter that never seemed to get close enough together to warrant a trip to the hospital, I washed down the pineapple with the steaming hot chocolate. Several hours later, following a night watching fireworks (it was the Fourth of July), I was at last hit with heavy and undoubtable labor. My daughter was born just 90 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.
Did Taking The Internet’s Advice Work?
Having tried a number of natural labor induction methods over the course of two pregnancies, I’m still not clear how effective any of them were. Sure, nipple stimulation caused a few strong contractions, and I went into active labor hours after drinking hot chocolate and eating pineapple, but I’d also been in early labor for two days by that point. Maybe it was the obscenely loud neighborhood fireworks that provided the final push — now there was a recommendation for my baby boards!
The lesson I took away from my labor induction experiences was simply: do what feels right to you and follows whatever medical advice you believe. There might not be a magic switch to turn on labor, but several natural techniques could be helpful to try, too. At the very least, fireworks and a cup of hot chocolate are a decent way to pass the time waiting for baby’s arrival. I mean, it worked for me.
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.