Motherhood Has Made Me Much More Sensitive

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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.

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I Tried to Induce Labor Using Methods I Learned Online

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Heeeeeeelp meeeee, induction techniques!

As featured in Romper.

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

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

The Experiment

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

Method #1: Squatting And Stretching

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

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

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

Method #2: Nipple Stimulation

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

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

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

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

Method #3: Evening Primrose Oil

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

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

Method #4: Mexican Hot Chocolate And Eating Pineapple

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

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

Did Taking The Internet’s Advice Work?

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

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

I Trust My Body More After Labor

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Trust me, that head was not comfy coming out…

As featured in Romper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

IMG_0026-ed7b936d-4146-457f-b8bb-ba0e1e0350f6
Apparently, belly pics were alright with me, just not ultrasound pics…..

As featured in Romper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, something incredible happened. She smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I 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

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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.