My Friends Gave Me The Best Advice On Taking An Extended Maternity Leave

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Can you blame me for wanting extra time with this cutie?

As published in Romper

My job has always been an important part of my identity. OK, maybe not my first job as a teen working the concession stand at a movie theater, but everything that came after. Even while shoveling popcorn, I was committed to offering great customer service and a smile. When I got pregnant with my first child, quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom wasn’t an option on the table. We needed the money, and I wanted the satisfaction of using my skills outside the home and to contribute to society through working. I literally worked until the baby popped out and took the minimum maternity leave. For my second baby, however, I received some important advice from friends to take an extended maternity leave and enjoy some extra time with my baby. And honestly, it was the best advice I got from my friends.

With my first pregnancy, I took the 12 weeks for which I could receive pay under California state law, and not a day more. I didn’t realize that I could receive additional paid leave for time needed to rest and prepare before the baby was born. Under state law, I was entitled to up to four weeks of disability leave before the birth of my baby as needed, according to the State of California Employment Development Department.

Before I fully understood state law during my first pregnancy, I was working as a newspaper reporter. I planned to work until the day my son was due. However, my son was due on a Friday and I typically worked Tuesday through Saturday, so I decided to continue working until the day after my due date. I wanted to save every day of my 12-week leave for after my baby was born.

 Pregnancy and parenting a newborn are hard enough without having to try to navigate complicated state and federal maternity leave laws, but that’s exactly what I was doing, and badly. By the last few weeks of my pregnancy, even walking was uncomfortable, with the baby weighing heavy on my bladder and my muscles aching. Still, I trudged out out to crime scenes to report on them, and up and down the courthouse stairs to cover trials for the newspaper. I received a lot of questions and comments.

“Still working, huh?”

“You must be due any day now.”

It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

Somehow, I made it through my last day of work without going into labor. As if my body knew it needed to hold on just long enough, I went into labor in the early morning Sunday, just hours after I finished my last work shift.

The 12 weeks of maternity leave after my son’s birth came and went quickly, but I was grateful that I had that much time home with my son. I knew of many new moms who worked and only received six weeks of disability pay as they didn’t qualify for Paid Family Leave or another paid leave program. Therefore, some of these parents could only afford to take a six-week leave. Others couldn’t even afford the partial pay, and returned to work a week after birth.

I was able to take 12 weeks of leave because of disability leave after the birth, followed by the six weeks of Paid Family Leave, which I qualified for as someone with a job who was contributing to State Disability Insurance. When I returned to work, I did little more at first then stare at the album of baby photos I brought as my eyes welled with tears. It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

 Pregnant for a second time, I initially planned to take 12 weeks again. However, a few conversations with friends and coworkers changed my mind. One coworker at my same company who’d recently given birth took a full four months, including some time before her baby was born. I was intrigued. I’d heard of similar experiences from other friends inside and outside the office. You’ll never get this time with your baby back again, they’d say.

I did some research and found that in addition to my 12 weeks of paid leave, I was entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Although six weeks of that 12-week leave would be used consecutively with my state Paid Family Leave, that left me an additional six weeks of unpaid leave I was able to take. I decided to take four of those six weeks of unpaid leave, for a total of 16 weeks. But I elected to not take the full 18 weeks allowable under the law as I didn’t feel our family could afford to be without my income for that extra time.

When my work supervisor asked when I wanted to begin my maternity leave and how long I’d be taking, I was anxious to say I wanted to start two weeks before my due date and four months after the baby’s birth. She seemed surprised, but OK with it. She had no choice but to accept my decisions, legally anyway. That’s because she was required to hold my job for me, or something comparable, during my leave due to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

At eight-and-half months of pregnancy, I was more than ready to take some time off work and enjoy some rare alone time. At the advice of my friends, I didn’t feel guilty about keeping my son in preschool for those couple of weeks and sitting home catching up on crappy daytime TV while I washed and folded baby laundry. I was resting and relaxing, and my body and mind needed the break.

 My daughter was born a couple of days before her due date, and during labor I was able to pay attention to my early contractions that lasted several days, timing them and monitoring them closely. After my daughter was born, I didn’t feel as rushed as I had with my son when the days and weeks flew by and were jam-packed with visitors. Instead, I took my daughter to the park and the store in the front carrier. I let my eyes linger over her sweet little baby features and made time for snuggles whenever possible. The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

 

The last month of my leave was unpaid, but my husband and I saved money beforehand in preparation. In the end, I felt the few weeks of unpaid leave were well worth the money lost because of the extra baby-bonding time and moments to myself before birth. Once again, we were fortunate that we had the means to support ourselves without my income for a short time. And after I’d gone back to work after both babies were born, my husband took several weeks of paternity leave so that he had time alone with the babies as well.

 My friends had been right. I wouldn’t be able to get back this fleeting time with the babies once it was gone. They’re little once, and for such a short time. My job could wait, and thankfully, it did. My boss didn’t give me any grief about my leave, and I was able to pick up where I left off after a short catch-up period. Fortunately, my boss has young children of her own, so she was fairly understanding as I got back in the swing of work.

Returning to work, I was refreshed and fully healed. I had a solid breastfeeding routine down, and was ready for adult interaction and the challenges of the workplace. Thanks to some great advice from friends, I was able to find a work/life balance that worked. Without their advice, I would have probably taken another less-than-adequate maternity leave, not fully understanding state and federal leave law and stressing out about my job.

All said, I wouldn’t trade a day of the chubby baby snuggles that came with my extended maternity leave.

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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

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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

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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

 

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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.

I Have Kids, But I’m Not A Mom

 

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Who has time for this? Not me!

I have two kids, but I’m not a mom.

Don’t get me wrong. I love them to pieces. Like, I could sit there and sniff their heads for days love them. But I’m not a mom.

I strive hard to parent my two kids to the best of my ability, and to help mold them into thoughtful, caring little people. But I’m still not a mom.

Let me explain. I don’t define myself as a mother. I’m a person who loves to write. Who has a career I find fulfilling. Who chose to have children. Who loves her family beyond measure. Who has a strange addiction to bleu cheese. Who is way too into 90s R&B. Who screws up. All. The. Time.

I’m a person who has goals and dreams of my own beyond children.

My children are a huge part of my life, but they’re not my life. Admitting our children are not the center of our universe is hard to do in the society we have created, especially for women who are mothers. Society does not place the same expectation on men as fathers.

We as mothers are expected by society to be “mom” all the time. To sacrifice every comfort and indulgence in the interest of our children. To bake flawless goodies for school bake sales. To throw amazing birthday parties every year for each of our kids with Pinterest-perfect decor.Have a job? No matter! Stay up as late as you need to to finish those cupcakes. Of course, if being “super mom” makes you happy, and you like defining yourself as a mother, that is your respectable choice and right. But being defined as “Mom” is not for all of us.

Lets be honest. The only truly acceptable Facebook status updates for women who are mothers are professional-quality photos of our kids and grateful musings full of “#blessed”. And make sure in any and all photos your children have carefully coordinated outfits that appear to be handmade.

Our Facebook feeds are full of the status updates that are the most popular, and kid pictures are most popular. Just try to post anything else, and watch it be ignored. We are rewarded for being mothers, and punished for trying to be anything else once we have children.

Parenting magazines geared towards women are full of time-consuming craft projects and impossible to heed advice.We don’t have time to read those magazines, let alone do half of what they suggest! A stack of wrapped parenting magazines do make a decent drink holder on a nightstand, though.

Men, regardless of whether or not they are fathers, are encouraged and expected to have interests and hobbies and ambitions of their own. To take weekend trips with friends. To join clubs. To be leaders in the workplace. It’s a bonus if men happen to be great dads, too.

I believe not making my life all about my children will benefit them in the long run. They will have a well-rounded mother they can look up to as a role model, and not only because I’m a good mom. They, in turn, will grow up  as people who don’t feel pressured to define themselves in narrow terms.

We raise our daughters to be articulate and goal-oriented. We teach them they can be anything they want to be in life. But we don’t afford ourselves the same privilege. Our parents worked hard to raise us to be the amazing, multifaceted people we are. We owe it to them to not just be mothers.

We are women who happen to be moms, and so much more.