Motherhood chose me before I knew I was ready.
After a summer traveling Central America with my soon-to-be husband, we arrived back to the US with golden tans and an unplanned souvenir growing within.
We scrambled to move into a place of our own, get jobs, and prepare for an exciting yet frightening new chapter. When the logistical chaos calmed, I became excited about building a family and molding the idea of what kind of mother I wanted to be.
My bright fantasies dropped when I spoke to my boss about maternity leave.
We lived in North Carolina at the time, and because I hadn't been with the company for over a year when Oliver was born, I took the non-FMLA 12 weeks. Baby Ollie was a month early and dropped in weight. I had to nurse him every two hours, which meant that I had to set a timer for every two hours and in between nurse him for thirty minutes on each breast; do the math, that meant I slept for an hour before getting up for the next nurse. I became a zombie.
The new life completely blindsided me.
I was the first in my peer group to have a baby and felt isolated without kindred companionship. All mixed with constipation, bleeding, soreness, fear, anxiety, leaking, and clogged milk ducts-- I was overwhelmed.
The dread of returning to work layered thick. I jumped from bonding with my baby to figuring out a schedule conducive to returning to work. But as any mom will tell you, babies don't do consistent schedules--ever.
I began to hate the idea of going back to work. I saw it as a thorn pricking my time with Oliver, and it became so painful that anger bloomed.
I started to articulate the reasons for leaning toward refusing to go back to anyone that would listen: childcare distrust, lack of interest in my job, and a severe worry around my fragile infant getting sick or hurt. But it didn't make financial sense. So finally, after countless conversations and scenarios (I even tried to nanny with a newborn in tow–it was ugly), I begrudgingly went back to work.
If I only had more space and time to enjoy him and see him grow to be bigger and stronger, leaving him wouldn't have been as hard.
If I only had more space and time to bond with him without the pending strain of returning to work so soon, I would have felt more ready.
But I didn't get more space and time. My new morning routine entailed rising hours before my time to clock in to nurse, pack, and spend at least a half-hour holding, staring, and crying over my baby to only drop him off in the infant room and run to the bathroom stall to cry more. It was a dark time.
I look back now on my emotions running rampant during those early months in motherhood transition. I wonder how it impacted my son.
I wince at the worried thought of Oliver absorbing a second-hand emotional load.
It's been nearly ten years since I journeyed through the hardship and loneliness of first-time new motherhood. The uproar of the Paid Family Leave Act churned up my story. And I'm able to look back on it and reflect from a perspective of hope and change for the better.
Lack of time and space for mother and baby to bond and look forward is not only hindering us now but in our future as well.
Scientists have found breast milk as a gateway to pass on stress. Researchers found that babies who drank high-cortisol breast milk tended to be more fearful and harder to soothe. Not only was my stress orchestrating the negative spiral of anxiety, I may have passed along these negative emotions to my baby.
Yes, having a new baby is overall stressful. Still, we must consider the systemic pitfalls of our maternal welfare, namely a too short paid family leave, adding to the natural stress of new motherhood?
Are we building an anxious generation to follow our own?
Other countries successfully conduct a more supportive introduction to new parenthood, and there are positive results. Research has found an association between longer maternity leave and a lowered risk of PPD, with women taking less than six months of leave being at an increased risk for the disorder (Chatterji & Markowitz, 2004; Dagher, McGovern, & Dowd, 2014).
When I read this research and World Health Organization recommendations pointing to longer leaves, I wondered how my early years in parenthood would differ if we just had a bit more time.
The "what if things were different" train is a dicey one, and I'm hesitant to jump on. But when I do, I realize I wouldn't change anything about my son, but I would completely transform my experience at the beginning of our story together. I deeply regret obsessing about my decisions at work and allowing the stress of those thoughts to rob precious bonding time.
Work, money, stress, and fears were all distractions aggressively pulling me away from what mattered most–enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of first-time motherhood.
I can't relive the past, but I can advocate for change to paint a more supportive picture for our future.
Join and learn more at www.chamberofmothers.com and paidleave.us.
I was born in the house of desire.
The warm home where longing is born on loop and why women know the
tug, pull, burn, crush
and the way it crawls up our bellies to our hearts, to our throats
more truly than those of men and so we are blamed for desiring,
wanting too much, dreaming the impossible, nonsense, where' the logic,
can't get no satisfaction
because the male centered world we live in has forgotten (or hidden?) the truth:
The uterus is the beginning.
The life-maker herself.
The womb & act of creation.
All wild things spring forth from here including babies
every other screaming flame and packet of seeds calling us on and on into becoming. Whispering more. Hook and anchor into the same true self.
Do not be ashamed of her wisdom and frivolity. Do not be stoic in your wanting.
The uterus knows.
Read More about Elisabeth and her work with mothers here.
Parents worldwide are holding dear to their children and sanity; by the thousands, we are flocking to local and national parks in search of some understanding from Mother Nature. Here in California, we are following in John Muir’s footsteps who wrote: “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communion of life and death, their joyous inseparable unity.”
While we may have prolific hopes for our family hikes this fall, in actuality they often turn out to be quite a struggle. Toddlers beg to be held and the older kids yearn for their favorite toy or device left back in the car. Here are a few tips and tricks that have reshaped my family’s hiking routines over the last few years to make our family time in nature less stressful and more enjoyable.
My kids are 5 1/2 years apart. When I was pregnant with Eleanor the most common question I pondered and was asked, "Do you think they'll play together?" weighed on me. When our lives merged together the age gap wasn't an issue because they had separate lives: Oliver was in school and Eleanor was at home; they had different friends; they had different interests. But COVID changed their time apart, they are constantly together now. I grew tired of keeping their activities separate and desired more of a bonding learning experience. We started a morning learning lesson together and it quickly became our favorite time of the day. Here are the kid-approved activities that have cultivated more learning and connection between my kids, and I hope they'll serve yours in the same way.
The quarantine has made me reevaluate a lot of my relationships and crave deeper connections. We've stepped away from situations that produce casual conversation, like school drop-off and grocery store greetings; for the past months, if I am in a conversation with someone it has required a significant amount of forethought and planning-so the conversation better be good. They have been good. I have intentionally placed more effort in making my conversation more fulfilling for me and my conversation partner. I have been expanding conversation topics and digging into pieces that are revealing and inspiring. I am coveting the conversations with my girlfriends now more than ever.
Strategize 20 Minute Attention Pockets to Prevent Tearful Blow-ups and Build More Connection with your Kids
You can give a child the entire toy aisle of Target and they will still want your attention. Attention seeking is one of the top motivators for negative behaviors. Right now, parents worldwide are preoccupied with pandemic-stricken news and an oversaturated struggle to tackle work and life balance leaving children frustrated and longing for attention.
When I started brainstorming ways to tackle negative attention-seeking behaviors, I sought out Nicole, founder of Meetings and Motherhood. We come equipped with years of experience balancing work and child-rearing at home backed with degrees in Child Development and on-the-job counseling with emotionally struggling children. We’ve come up with 5 opportunities to build in 20-minute attention pockets throughout the day to proactively address negative attention-seeking behaviors in your home. Let’s dive in!
How to Build a Long-lasting Working Mom/SAHM Blended Mom Tribe: Guidelines found through new and decade-old mom tribe interviews
In the mama world, there’s a debate going on. I’m here to squash it. It’s about mom tribes. The most essential component of mothering success and sanity. Many moms theorize that it’s impossible to have a blended working/SAHM mom tribe. Nope, not true. Here are 6 guidelines to build your tribe and sustain it for decades, yep-decades, I interviewed mom tribes that have been together for a WHILE.
Monday morning drop-offs. There's no amount of caffeine, uplifting kids tunes or Pinterest-worthy lunch menu items that can stave away the case of the drop-off blues. You get into the weekend flow with slow mornings and leisurely activities then BAM! back to Monday.
I've just reintroduced the drop-off routine with my second and it is tough. I know that nearly 10 minutes after I'm gone her tears have dried and she is dancing around and eating berries (proof in text pictures), but the drop-off is HARD. To wrap myself in comfort on the car ride away, I have come up with a few mama mantras to conjure a positive spin on my day. Here they are:
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash
In the back of a rental car whizzing through France, I wrote the passage below. We were on a trip with my mother-in- law and after days of awkward interactions and hiding behind a self-made wall of negativity I had blamed on her, I realized I had built this wall and it was ugly. Ugly for me and my kids to see. It hit me like a ton of bricks: I had a control issue and it had tarnished my relationship with my husband’s parents and my parents. Writing how I saw control and how I wanted to abolish it was incredibly cathartic.
I have never been a control freak but when I had my first baby the need for control was palpable. I had to know everything and make every decision. Control hardened me. Now that I’ve seen it all I can do it try to combat it, try to be more open and see the hardships that have grown from it. Control does not make me a good mom.
I want to be a good mom. After I had my son, Oliver, I aspired to fit an unattainable mold of a good mom; I wanted to be as caring as Mother Theresa, with the grace of Princess Diana, the body of Jessica Alba, and the wisdom of Oprah–everyday, all the time. I read parenting books, hand-made countless cognitive inspiring baby activities, prepared the most wholesome baby food; I worked my ass off to show my husband, my family, on looking strangers and my son that I was created to be the most incredible mother to ever live.
I was one dimensional.
I was exhausted.
I was losing myself.
After having my second, Eleanor, I realized that I was trying to do everything and be everything for my children, and now with two I couldn’t keep up. I still try to be everything for them, but I have taken a step back and thought of a way to feel more successful as a mother EVERY DAY.
I realized all my exhaustive efforts were fueled by an abstract motivation-Good Mom. But what is that? When I began to question my motives I yearned for a definition, something tangible, maybe even a check-list to anchor me down when I began to spin out of control grabbing for the vision of mother idol that had been built in my mind by my husband, my family, books, friends, tv shows, social media, child development courses, and comparisons with other mothers. I was creating a vision based off all my external influences and had neglected my own voice of mother’s intuition, so I stopped spinning, sat quietly and asked: What is important to you? What will validate you as a good mother? I lived in this question, wrote, pondered and only discussed with myself. I derived a short list. I found three things that I committed to do every day that will fulfill my definition as a good mom.
But first, I made rules for my short list.
Rule #1: The action must be attainable every day.
I wrote down, “Uphold a clean room and household” and quickly erased it. I actually marked it out with a bold red marker. I decided that I couldn’t do that every day and cleanliness is not an action that contributes to my definition as a good mom. I also envisioned myself trying to live up to this self-imposed expectation and immediately became cranky and stressed. This definition should free you from these feelings as its motive is to keep you connected to your true mama essence, Ommmmm.
Rule #2: The action must connect with your own personal values.
The reason for building your own personal definition of a good mom is to make you happy. I decided my definition had to align with my values as a person; otherwise, I’d just feed into the external vision of motherhood that drove me crazy. I question: What are your values? How can your definition grow from that? What do you want to look like as a mother, everyday?
Rule #3: The action must be simple and take 5 minutes or less.
Life is busy for everyone. Not just for moms, but especially for mom. I decided the actions which make up my definition must be simple and take five minutes or less. This way I can commit to doing them at least once a day, possibly more than once.
Ok-so here’s the definition I prescribed myself to be a good mom.
1. I will look my kids in the eyes every day.
2. I will read to (or with) my kids every day.
3. I will feed my kids at least one green thing every day.
Check, check, check. Done. Voila- I’m a good mom. I have committed to fulfilling these three things every day. Of course, I will continue to pack a healthy lunch, dive into hour long Pinterest searches for enrichment activities, have heart to heart conversations, give them embarrassing hugs after soccer practice, and wash behind their ears AND if I have an off day and my work is overwhelming and my husband is on a business trip and our dog has shit all over the house and I haven’t washed my hair in a couple days, I CAN commit to accomplishing my short list thereby going to bed every night (after an easy day or hard day) satisfied because I have fulfilled my own definition of a good mom.
I want to add a brief caveat: my short list is NOT set in stone. It is flexible and open to be revisited. But a prerequisite is to go through the laws and abide by those prior to redefining.
I’m writing this because I may not be the only mama in the world needing a code to settle into a heart-centered vision of motherhood. Maybe creating a short list will help another mama? Either way, this article has been beautifully cathartic for me. I appreciate a platform to share.