Saturday, January 26, 2013

taking a mommy break

I was fairly apprehensive about the prospect of taking care of two kiddos at home alone once hubby returned to work.  Could I handle all the work that entailed...especially on less sleep?  How would I deal with a preschooler who was used to demanding all my time and attention while attending to the constant dependency and needs of a new baby?

I have to say, however, that things are going better than I expected.  This is why I generally follow the life principle, "Expect the worst and that way, you may be pleasantly surprised!"  (I wish I were more of an optimist but unfortunately I'm usually not.)  Anyway, although Burrito has had some bouts of jealousy and such, overall she is proving to be an excellent and helpful big sister who says multiple times a day, "Ohhhh, he's just the CUTEST baby!"  I have come to greatly appreciate the little things she does all day to help out.  She hands me things when I'm nursing and can't reach them.  She keeps an eye on her little brother while I clean up after a diaper change.  She offers to throw away a dirty diaper.  She sings to her crying brother.  She really is a blessing.

And taking care of Bean is going better than expected as well.  He is a ravenous eater so that has taken some getting used to.  I was prepared to feed him every two hours--but not every hour or hour and a half!  But he's a pretty good sleeper at night and has been since he was born, for the most part.  Even though I am not getting as much sleep as I would like, I am getting way more than I expected, so life is good.

Nevertheless, there are times each day when the walls begin to close in, when I wonder if I will ever again have a life outside of nursing and changing diapers 24/7, when I wonder if there is a world outside my little nest, when I begin to feel that even my body does not belong to myself right now.  Although I rarely left the house the first few weeks postpartum, I am learning that there is some real value in making mini "Mommy escapes" once Daddy gets home from work.  I am so blessed to live in a town where this is possible.  I can venture out for an hour or less and refresh my spirit so many ways in our town.

Sometimes it's just a trip to the grocery store or drug store and a reminder that there are other grown-ups in the world.  (I remember when Burrito was a little baby, how I would find reasons to visit our tiny grocery store in North Dakota almost daily.)  But my favorite little Mommy escape last week was an hour spent visiting the library and tramping down the street in gorgeous 40 degree temps to visit one of my favorite bakeries in town, Great Northern Foods.  I got a great big piece of their amazing chocolate torte, a treat for Burrito, and some wonderful multigrain rolls.  Books and good spirits were refreshed when I returned home to a son who was ready to eat...again!  (Perhaps he is to be a foodie as well?)  I'm so grateful to live in a place where I don't have to drive a hour away to shop or do something fun...just another reason I love living in the Flathead Valley.

What about you?  What is your favorite Mommy escape?

Friday, January 18, 2013

10 Things I Wish I Had Known about Having a Baby--Part 2

Yesterday, I started a post on 10 Things I Wish I Had Known about Having a Baby. Here is the rest of that post:

7. Don't expect life to carry on as before, just with a cute baby in tow.  Expect life to change forever.  Before I had my daughter, I had this crazy idea that I would do my job with a cute baby in tow.  I guess I thought she would be happy and content all the time and I would just cart her around and there would be no inconvenience whatsoever.  I pictured her napping quietly in my office while I visited with people or typed away at a sermon.  Yeah.  Right.  I did try to work from home or with her in tow a lot, but it wasn't anything like I pictured.  Babies need attention.  A lot of attention.  Unrelenting attention.  They cry, poop, scream and everything in between all day long, at inconvenient times.  If you're going to take baby along to work or work from home, you're going to have to adjust your hours, hire a nanny, live near a grandparent or something.  You're not going to be able to be Supermom and do it all.  Maybe this is why Hillary Clinton once wrote a book reminding us of the African proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child."  We all need a little help.  Even stay-at-home moms (as I am now) need some help...somebody to rock the baby or entertain the preschooler while we start supper or clean the floors.  If we believed before that we could do it all, having a baby will forever humble us and deprive us of that notion.  With my second baby, as I've come to accept that I need help sometimes, I've found a lot more peace.  And I've also found a lot of gratitude for the friends and family God has put into my life. 

8. (This is a biggee.)  It's not your fault if the baby won't stop crying.  Oh the anxiety that arises when baby won't stop crying.  Especially with my daughter, I would get twisted into knots trying to figure out the crying, trying to stop it, wondering why I couldn't.  With my son, I'm at least a bit more easy-going.  I'm older and wiser (although I sometimes do still freak out...I'll be honest).  I've mostly come to realize though that babies just cry.  A LOT.  They are acclimating to the world outside the womb.  Their little brains are still developing.  You and they are still getting to know each other.  They literally feel like they are starving a lot of the time as they go through rapid growth spurts.  As their digestive system develops, they have frequent painful gas.  It's tough to be a baby.

But it's also tough to be a new mommy or daddy.  You feel like you should be able to know how to calm the baby down.  But when you have fed them, burped them, changed them, rocked them, checked for anything causing pain, swaddled them, and you still don't know why the baby is crying, it's helpful to set them carefully in their crib, take a step away and take a deep breath and remind yourself that it's not your fault if the baby won't stop crying.  Sometimes you just won't know why they are crying.  Maybe they're just in a bad mood.  Maybe they are missing the womb.  Who knows?  Go easy on yourself.  You're a good mom...a good dad.  You'll get through this.  Do the best you can and accept that you will not always be able to calm baby.

9. Trust your gut.  Ok, this is one that I was told, but it's important enough I still want to include it.  My Mom told me this when my daughter was born.  She told me that God had chosen me to be my baby's mom and hubby to be my baby's dad.  She said we should trust that God would give us the wisdom and the resources to make wise decisions for our baby.  We would receive lots of conflicting advice from people.  Some of them would be adamant in what we should do.  But we just needed to pray about decisions, talk together and come to our own decisions on what was best for our baby.  I have clung to this advice all through parenting.  And I have tried to also apply it to a gracious attitude towards others' parenting styles and methods.  Every baby and family is different.  Every kid is different.  What works for one kid may not work for another.  So much of parenting is trial and error anyway.  So, have confidence in your parenting abilities.  Don't feel like a failure if you do things differently from everybody else.  God chose you to be your child's parent.

10. Having kids may be tougher than you could imagine, but it is also infinitely more wonderful than you could imagine!  I was really apprehensive about having kids.  My husband wanted to have kids...and I did too, but he was willing to push me to make that leap of faith.  I grew up in a broken family and had a lot of worries about repeating past patterns.  I worried if I would even be a good mother.  I thought I wasn't maternal.  And yet...when those little munchkins were born, something happened to me.  I was pulled out of myself, out of my own navel-gazing into a love that was so much bigger than I was.  I'm not that touchy-feely of a person.  But these little people have changed me...for the better.  They've widened my heart, helped me to be more mellow, taught me more about service, given me confidence that I can care for children and do it well.  They've been so much more of a blessing in my life than I ever could have anticipated.  Having kids is hard and demanding and all the rest of it.  But it's also really wonderful and I'm so glad that I didn't miss out on experiencing parenthood.

So...that's my list...What about the rest of you parents out there?  What do you wish you had known before you became a parent?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

10 Things I Wish I Had Known about Having a Baby--Part 1

When my first baby was born, I probably could have written a book on the number of things I didn't know about baby care, postnatal recovery, etc.  With the birth of baby number two, there is a much less steep learning curve, but, particularly since one is a girl and one is a boy, there have still been some things that I wish someone had explained to me ahead of time even now.  There's nothing like on-the-job training but I'd also like to spare any moms-to-be the rude awakening of at least some of these unrealistic expectations if I can.  I am a firm believer that we all do better when we have realistic expectations.  Realistic expectations help us avoid perfectionism, reduce depression and have coping strategies in place when tough times come.

So, without further ado, here is my top 10 list of Things I Wish I Had Known about Having a Baby before I had said baby.  Some are from my first baby and some are from my second.

1. Regular childbirth is much much much (did I mention MUCH?) easier to recover from than a c-section.  I did know this one, but I think I focused so much on the natural aspect of childbirth (no medication!) with my first child that I didn't leave myself as open to the fact that I might need some medical help and that the chief objective of having a vaginal delivery is much more important than doing it hospital or drug free.  With my second baby, I was blessed to have a team of doctors who understood how best to help women have VBACs and although they certainly would have recommended a c-section if it became medically necessary, they would never do it to get to their golf game.  They had so many strategies up their sleeve to help women succeed if at all possible.  I did use some medication with baby number two.  The pain was to a point that it was unmanageable but the rest the medication gave me ultimately helped me succeed at getting a VBAC.  The recovery period has been rapid following normal childbirth, whereas with a c-section, my recovery took a full 8 weeks.  I also have been better able to bond with the baby, have regained energy and strength faster, and have managed to avoid the deeper depression and exhaustion that characterized my first postpartum period.  I was tempted in the midst of the exhaustion and pain of the pushing stage to just tell the doctor to give me a c-section so I could be done.  I'm so glad I didn't and I'm so glad she didn't rush to that option.

2. With that said, you can't control birth and it doesn't really ultimately matter how your baby is born.  You will love them no matter what.  Yes, vaginal delivery is better for most women's bodies and for their postpartum period, but at the same time, we are not God and this never becomes clearer to us than when we go into labor.  My first delivery was everything I hoped it would not be...nightmarishly long followed by a c-section...but even though I had a rough start, I fell in love with my daughter.  All of the pain and discomfort to have her were worth it.  Some women are unable to have vaginal deliveries, for various health reasons.  And all births are different and unpredictable.

After my daughter's birth, I had to come to a place of accepting how things had gone and that even though I had a "birth plan," birth does not really go according to plan.  It's best to know all your options, plan loosely and focus on the the fact that you are about to receive a tremendous way or another.  Knowing all your options enables you to have a "tool kit" to reach into.  The wise old nurse who did our childbirth classes this time told us, "If your pain gets out of control, that's when it's time to think about changing something."  That's when to reach into the tool kit and pick out a new tool...a new position, a new pain coping mechanism, a medication, maybe even a c-section if necessary.  Being too rigid in birth can only set you up for disappointment--or even depression.

3. Be prepared for some weird postpartum bodily stuff.  Everybody tells you about the baby blues and postpartum depression, so you probably won't be too surprised if you burst into tears at the drop of a hat.  But no one had told me about the world's longest period (lasting 4-6 weeks postpartum), the night sweats, or the rapid and sudden weight loss that can occur within a few days after birth (especially if you are nursing). Nursing and night sweats take the weight and fluid off fast.  If you gained a little extra during pregnancy, it won't completely restore you to pre-pregnancy weight, but you could lost 20-25 pounds in the matter of days.  With my first pregnancy, this scared me to death.  I thought perhaps something was wrong with me!  Be prepared for some potential anxiety, shakiness, and feeling pretty weird with that kind of rapid weight loss.  Be prepared to eat plenty of protein and calories if this happens; you will need them!  Your system should stabilize in a few days to a couple of weeks.

4. Nursing can be painful at first--sometimes very painful--even if you are doing everything correctly (take that, Le Leche!:-)).  Some women are just more sensitive than others and it does take a little time to toughen up.  It bothers me a lot when Le Leche members tell people that nursing should not hurt if you are doing everything right and if baby has a proper latch.  This is true a month or two down the road once you have toughened up and acclimated to nursing.  But it might hurt a bit or a lot at first, even if you are trying your darndest to get baby latched properly.  The pain is typically when the baby first latches on but if you have gotten blisters, it can last throughout the nursing session.  So, yes, address the baby's latch, but be patient with yourself and with the pain and soreness.  If nursing is important to you (and there are a ton of benefits to health and bonding), try giving nursing 4-6 weeks.  Generally, problems resolve by then, baby learns to suck properly, soreness begins to ease, and skin toughens up.  Also, make use of a lactation consultant if you can, use cloth nursing pads (much less abrasive than the disposable ones), and try lanolin or natural nipple cream.  Finally, if you experiencing cracking or blisters, soaking the affected area in warm salt water after nursing is soothing and helpful in promoting healing.  This was a life-saver for me the first time around!

5. Be prepared for the amount of time you will spend nursing--at least 8-12 times per day for at least 30 minutes each time.  Baby will eventually get more efficient at nursing.  He or she will fall asleep less and get more focused.  And your body will adjust to providing baby the proper amount of milk.  But initially it is a huge time commitment.  Not only that but your little baby liposuction machine will be sucking fat out of your body so fast that you will have never been so hungry or thirsty in your entire life.  Drink a full glass of water as often as you can and get multiple high-energy snacks throughout the day (trail mix, yogurt, cheese sticks, granola bars, cookies, apples and peanut butter, bagels and cream cheese, etc.).  A depleted mom is not a happy mom.  Early on, I find myself looking at my job as two-fold: feed baby all day and feed myself all day.

Although baby will eventually become more efficient at nursing and will drop feedings little by little, for as long as you are nursing, it is still a big commitment of time and energy.  I was totally unprepared for this with my first baby. Nursing is a supply and demand game, so a person has to do it regularly to ensure enough milk supply.  This means feedings can very rarely be put off without consequences.  Yes, you can have a dinner date with hubby and leave a bottle for the sitter.  But if you don't nurse or pump every few hours, one way or another, your supply is going to start dropping.  Finding a way to combine nursing or pumping with work schedules is one of the most challenging things a modern mom has to do.  And in our culture, there are many times it's well nigh impossible.  It was a huge challenge for me to nurse and work with my first daughter--and I had a very flexible schedule.  I can't imagine how women with more rigid schedules manage to do it!  Still, if you can do it, it's worth doing.  My daughter had almost no sickness in the 17 months I nursed her.  My newborn did not catch the colds that we had in the house right after he was born.  And the benefit to bonding is outstanding.

If you can't manage nursing, though, no guilt!  We all have to think and decide what is best for our families and if it is killing you to nurse, it might be time to stop.  Again, a depleted mom is not a happy mom.  Being depleted affects the baby too.  No child care decisions are perfect and we all do the best we can.  The best thing we can do for other women is support them in the difficult choices they make about such a wide range of baby-care decisions.  Being a mom is tough and all of us need more encouragement, not more criticism.

6. Baby boys eat more.  A lot more.  After my son was born a month ago, I was shocked at the constant feeding he wanted to do!  I mentioned to my friends that he wanted to eat every hour, oftentimes.  Their response was, "Oh, that's boys!"  Apparently, everyone else was aware that boys eat a ton more than girls and often go into marathon nursing sessions.  Nobody bothered to tell me though!  I was prepared for the more regular every 2-3 hours feedings my daughter did.  Nope.  Most of the moms of boys that I've talked to since Bean was born have said their sons did the same marathon nursing sessions.  Now I know!

To be continued tomorrow....

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

the birth of mr. bean

It's really shocking how long it has been since I posted.  This pregnancy turned out to be really difficult, all nine months of it.  I feel like I spent the better part of the past year lying in bed and of course everything (housework, playing with the Burrito, cooking, and blogging) kind of slid.  I struggled through exhaustion (even in the supposedly golden second trimester), much more nausea, a lot of pain and contractions... Not fun.  I even had a couple episodes of bleeding--one so early that it was pretty scary (although it turned out to be nothing of consequence).  The scary times reminded me, though, that in the midst of what was a very uncomfortable pregnancy, I truly did want this baby. 

About a month or so before Bean arrived, I began having more and more irregular contractions.  Some felt like Braxton Hicks; some felt like something more.  Although the contractions were usually not time-able, they were intense enough that I would often have to lie down for hours while my belly squeezed over and over again.  Some bleeding around this time made me think baby was coming soon but after a visit to the hospital, I still had a month to wait.  Every day, it was exhausting paying close attention to my body and trying to figure out if "this was it."  Baby was very low and I swear he was bouncing on his head somedays!  Ouch. 

With my daughter's birth, I had no prelabor symptoms that I remember.  The start of labor was very clear.  Not so this time.  Time continued to pass and continued to pass and we even considered doing a scheduled c-section if I went overdue. 

A couple of days before Bean was due, I woke up to use the bathroom and noticed what felt like a stronger contraction.  However, I had been disappointed many, many times before.  I shrugged and figured this was probably the same and would peter out just like the others.  Besides, all the books said, "While in early labor, go back to bed if it's nighttime.  Get some rest before it gets hard to do it later."  So I went back to sleep. 

About 2:30 AM, I woke again to use the restroom and noticed what felt like time-able contractions, 5 minutes apart.  I felt a couple of them and then woke my husband to ask him to begin actually timing.  A few minutes later, I said, "You know, I would feel more comfortable if you would finish packing my hospital bag."  We timed for about an hour and the contractions were coming pretty consistently.  So we called the doctor.  She asked if I could walk or talk through the contractions.  "Well," I said, "I've built up a lot of endurance in the past month, so theoretically I could, but I really think that maybe I should come in."  The next call went out to the family who would be watching Burrito for us while we went to the hospital and the mom hurried over to pick her up.  Just after she pulled in the driveway, I was sitting on the bed, felt that teensy "pop!" and my water broke!  I found myself beginning to feel a little anxious.  The contractions were already getting fairly strong and I knew this would make them a lot stronger.  Nausea hit (which I knew was a sign of going through transition) and I headed into the bathroom to throw up. 

At this point, labor began to get intense.  My husband loaded up the car while I tried to get myself together and we took off for the hospital.  It's about a 20-25 minute drive there and while we drove, my contractions got much stronger and closer together.  I began to wonder if I would make it to the hospital on time.  I even felt the urge to push...which seemed awfully soon since it had taken me over a day of labor to feel the urge to push with my daughter.  By the time we arrived at the hospital, my contractions were 2 minutes apart and strong.  I could barely get out of the car and into the wheelchair.  And this former home birth lady was begging for an epidural!  The pain was just out of control by this time. The only thing that brought any relief at all was pushing (although I was not yet doing organized pushing).

It seemed to take hours and hours to get my pain medication (which turned out to be a spinal anesthetic) but my husband assures me it was not that long.  Once I received the medication, I was able to relax within about 15 minutes.  I rested for a couple of hours and that felt great!  Nurses and the doctors told me I could push whenever I wanted (because I was fully dilated and effaced by the time I arrived at the hospital!).  I didn't want to.  I wanted to lay down and enjoy the comfy medicine.  Finally, about 7:30 AM my doctor came in and gave me the tough love.  I'd been asking for another medication before this one wore off, not wanting to get to out-of-control pain again.  She told me there was no point in doing that because I was ready to push and it would just delay things.  She told me it was time to get to work. 

Thus began two really tough hours.  I experienced a lot of self-doubt and memories of my labor with Burrito.  I remembered that this was how it had felt, how long I had pushed and how I had not been able to do it.  I was really worried that this would happen again.  Maybe I couldn't do it.  I kept thinking to myself, "Maybe I should just ask them to do the c-section.  I obviously can't do it."  Because, let me tell you, they give you pain meds., but they wear off quite a bit when you get to the pushing stage!  It was painful and one of the toughest workouts I've ever done.  But my husband, the doctors and nurses didn't give up on me.  They kept encouraging me, pushing me to keep going and believing in me. 

The moment when I felt Bean crown was one of the most amazing moments of my life.  I knew in that moment that I was going to be able to do it.  I knew that he was coming and I was avoiding a c-section.  I knew that he was probably just moments away.  Sure enough, within a couple more pushes he was out and laying on my chest.  It was about 9:30 in the morning...just 7 hours since labor had begun in earnest.  I couldn't believe it.  My baby was here.  He proceeded to coo in the most adorable fashion for about a half an hour.  Amazing.

I am so grateful for the doctors and nurses who knew how important it is to try to avoid surgery, if at all possible, and who worked so hard to get me the delivery that I wanted.  I also learned that a little medication, used judiciously, can be a very helpful thing in labor.  Not all medical interventions are wrong.  The best possible world for delivery is a good hospital, like the one we have here in the Flathead Valley, where both natural techniques and medical interventions are available.  Having all the tools at my disposal set me up for success in delivery and made sure both baby and I stayed healthy and well-taken care of.

Although I'm suffering the usual bouts of emotions and tiredness after having a baby, my physical recovery is going so much better without having to have a c-section.  And the support of my community of friends, family, and church family has greatly improved my state of mind and body as well.  As time goes by, I find myself bonding with Mr. Bean more and more every day and the whole difficult pregnancy begins to fade far into the recesses of my mind.  Going through the discomfort and difficulty was totally worth it...because now I have Mr. Bean.
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