On the heels of my Ten Reasons I’m Dreading the Holidays post, I thought it only fitting that I also write a positive list of ten things I try and do to not only survive the holidays but actually take pause and ENJOY them. It’s SOOO easy to get caught up rushing from one thing to the next and before you know it the lights and tree are coming down and you never got your snowy walk with hot chocolate or sitting for five minutes by the tree. I find the end of the holidays sad enough without having to feel like I missed out on the few little things I really wanted to do. I hope some of these help you, and please comment and share tips you find helpful to not only surviving but enjoying the holidays!
- Prioritize prioritize prioritize! It helps me to actually write down a list of things that are important to me, even the silly things. I love to sit with a glass of wine by the tree, and it’s shocking how easily it is for that to not happen. So take a minute to think about what is important to YOU and write it down. Then make a point to let some of the other things go so that you can make the important things happen. It doesn’t matter what it is, taking a walk, getting coffee, going to see holiday lights, petting the cat, what matters is it’s what YOU and your family want to do.
- Let go of the perfection expectation. I know it sounds like a cliche but this one is a biggie and ties into prioritizing. It’s also sooooo hard for me! I want the house to be perfect, the meals made, to be on time to every event. I hate being late, and when it matters I’ll make being on time happen. But, having baby twins taught me a lesson in humility. I cannot control everything, try as I might. I’m admittedly a control freak, so being a mom has really taught me that I have to let go sometimes. Sometimes we can’t leave the house until I’ve changed diapers AGAIN, or maybe they’re sleeping in today, or despite pinning every single easy cinnamon roll recipe known to mankind and buying ingredients far in advance, we eat leftovers for breakfast. But it’s ok, because while I might not have succeeded in making a holiday breakfast, my husband and I did sit and play with the babies while having coffee together, and we chose that as our priority.
- Say. No. This one is without fail my Achilles heel, and has always been a battle for me, even before babies. I so want to be able to do everything, see everyone, make everyone happy and just be Superwoman in general. But again, lessons I’ve learned through motherhood also include the realization that I cannot be everywhere and do everything, and now when I try I’m not the only one who pays the price. My babies pay the price as well, they get worn out and stressed and when I’m worn out and stressed too, it’s a recipe for anything but happy holiday memories. And saying no can be especially hard if you have people who might not understand why you can’t do it all. Even those who have children can forget what it’s like to have super little ones. It’s just harder with kiddos! Trust me you’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just HARDER. So remember you’re not letting anyone down by saying no to things. You don’t have to say no to everything, but don’t feel bad when you choose to decline.
- Take breaks at events! This is easy for me right now since I’m breastfeeding my babies, it’s an excellent excuse to go hide in the guest room and let all three of us reset for a few minutes. No matter how much you love your group, that many people can be exhausting especially on little ones. (If you watched my last video post I talk a little bit about frazzled kids, click here if you haven’t watched it yet). Oh and lock the door when you do, just trust me on that one. If you’re not nursing, and don’t need to do a diaper change but still need to step away for a moment, don’t be afraid to do so. And honestly you don’t owe anyone an explanation, but feel free to say whatever it is that helps you feel ok to walk away a moment and no you don’t need to take Auntie Nosy with you unless you really want to. It’s ok to take a moment! Hide in the bathroom if necessary!
- Remember you and your spouse are a team. I think this one is SUPER important. I don’t know about you all, but holidays always seem to turn into a competition among family members of who spent more time with who. First of all, my husband and I decided that especially since we have kids now, we have to put our little family first. No more running around to seven different houses in one day. That stunk before kids! We also realized how easy it is to take out frustration on each other. Vehement accusations of ‘Your mom said’ and ‘your sister did’ help NO ONE. We decided on a ‘safe word’, (no not something bondage related!) but something we can say to each other to pour water on the fire and lighten the mood when things get heated. Sometimes in marriage you do have to remind yourselves that yes, you do still like each other and are both on the same team. Not every moment will be glamorous and full of happy feels, but it’s really important to remember you’re not mortal sworn enemies and that the person who currently seems to be infuriating you is still the one you fell in love with. Honey does go further than vinegar, especially for resolving spousal disputes.
- Remember it really is about the memories not the gifts. I know it sounds cheesy, but this is especially true for us right now. My husband is headed to medical school, we have one year old twins, we are currently living with my parents, suffice to say we aren’t packing the cash right now. I’d love to shower our families with gifts but it’s just not feasible at this time. And while I’d also love to make everyone cute jars of cookie mix or soup, I also quite literally don’t have the time. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. When my husband and I first started dating in college, we decided we wouldn’t do gifts, we would do something together instead. It works GREAT for us. That might not be the solution for you, and that’s of course ok, but for us it’s been huge. We go on a coffee date together or take a walk instead of frantically trying to find a Christmas or birthday gift. Since family members don’t always get that, we’ve had to (lovingly!) explain we do not want to participate in gift exchanges. Just because they can and we can’t doesn’t mean they’d understand that, or understand that while we want to, we just can’t right now. So we make memories for gifts. Now I’m not saying you cannot ever do gifts! Just try to remember that’s really not what it’s all about and take the pressure off yourself.
- Breathe. Seriously though. Try to pause and literally tell yourself to take a breath. For me sometimes that five seconds of stopping and purposefully breathing while possibly staring at the snow can make or break my survival of an afternoon.
- Don’t eat what you don’t want to. I love food. My husband loves food. We are hardcore foodies in every sense of the word. But we also are pretty diligent about what we eat and what our children eat. Now I’m not suggesting you put yourself under a strict law of never eating something you don’t normally, but don’t eat that gluten filled cake even though you know you’ll be sick later because you’re afraid of hurting Grandma’s feelings. I’m glutenfree, and every year without fail people ask me in shock, ‘you’re STILL gluten free?!’ Yes, indeed I am, and still stomach ache free too. It took me forever to not feel bad about not eating things people thought I should because I was afraid of causing offense. But put bluntly, if someone is making you feel bad because you don’t want to get sick, THEY are the ones causing offense! I’m not suggesting you ask everyone to accommodate your dietary choices, but don’t expect yourself to accommodate theirs either.
- Leave the event when you need to. Go home! Just because the party is five hours long and your kids are done after two doesn’t make you a bad person.
- This is pretty much a reiteration of the above suggestions. Basically, decide what is best for you and your family and stick to that decision. Don’t feel bad about it, or let anyone else make you feel bad. For example, if you decide that staying home and watching Pooh Bears Christmas is better for your family than going caroling tonight, that’s ok. Again, it doesn’t make you a heartless Cretan. It makes you wise, and prevents you from resenting whoever it is that wanted you to go. Alternatively, if you decide to go caroling make sure you’re doing it because you really want to, not out of guilt, and know that while it might be cold your kids will be ok. Bundle them up and sing loud!
Alright mamas, I want to hear from you. What do you do to help yourselves enjoy the holidays and stay sane?
As I have said frequently, there is nothing like parenting to change your most carefully laid plans. It is astonishing how easily these tiny little humans change everything, and challenge literally everything that you thought you knew. Being a parent requires flexibility, humility and patience, and trust me that your beautiful little beings will work their completely unconscious hardest to make certain they teach you these lessons every day. Being a parent can be so overwhelming, here you are with this fragile new life doing everything you think is the best for them and questioning EVERYTHING you do. And then things seem to not be working, doubt enters your head and you are assaulted with a million different opinions as to what you’re doing wrong. Why won’t my baby sleep like that/eat this way/play like that?! Why aren’t they crawling/walking/talking yet? Well, there are no babies who are exactly alike. They each will develop in their own way on their own schedule. I CANNOT STRESS THAT ENOUGH. Just because one baby crawls at 7 months doesn’t mean there is necessarily anything wrong with the other baby who crawled at 11 months.
Two things that frustrate me intensely about our culture are the curve expectations placed on children and the competition that exists (even subconsciously!) among us mothers. When my twins were about 5 months old a friend nonchalantly asked me how far behind the curve twins normally are. While I’m certain she meant no harm, it sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Were they too behind?! Should they be doing more?! And please understand, I absolutely advocate intervention in serious cases of developmental delay, but the facts are that acute delays are not the norm and most of the time your baby is just fine.
So what if your baby started sitting up two months after your friends baby did?! Maybe your kid will talk first. Maybe they won’t. Chances are though that your baby is doing great, and that sweet little human is going to do things when they’re dang good and ready. A friend posted that her son was FINALLY accomplishing a milestone and my heart broke for her. Clearly something or someone had caused her to feel he was behind. Which he isn’t, at all. He’s simply doing things as he is ready. This should be celebrated, not judged.
Why do we push our babies and children so much?! You know, I am without doubt all for educational enrichment. I read to my babies, they listen to a wide variety of music and languages and I choose many toys based on their educational value. But I also let them chew on the books, listen to happy silly songs, and play with brightly colored rolling ducks. We dance and wave our arms and make silly noises. I believe teaching JOY is equally as important as learning the alphabet. They are learning every moment whether you are teaching them or not. But what are they learning? That they are competent and smart? That they are capable of learning anything they want and can actually enjoy doing so and become confident in the process? Or are they having it pounded into their wee heads that they aren’t learning enough, or as quickly as they should? That their friend is better/faster/smarter?
I don’t like the competition I see so often (especially on social media!) among mothers on whose child did what first. Of course I think every mother should see her child as amazing, (I talk more about that in this post, click here). But as possibly new and insecure mamas, we do not need to see our friends bragging (even if they don’t mean to cause harm!) about how their child is so superior and advanced and thus question if our own babies are doing ok. A friend posted a while back that after her baby had his pediatric checkup their doctor said her five month old was “basically functioning at the level of a year old baby” and that the doctor called him “Baby Thor”. This made me have to work with my head that my also five month old babies were doing alright since their doctor did not call them baby thors and they were definitely not functioning at a year old level. I call this type of thing “brag shaming”. And I’m sure this mama didn’t mean to, she was genuinely proud of her son as she should be. But I’d like to offer this for consideration. Be proud of your wee ones. But be sensitive to the fact that your seemingly innocent post about how advanced your kiddo is might make another mama question if her also absolutely perfect baby is doing ok.
And you know what? Your baby is only little once. While I FIRMLY support and believe in practicing involved parenting and actively teaching them, our culture has placed such a rush on growing them up fast and forcing them to become competent little humans as quickly as possible. (And I’m well aware this isn’t just our culture). I absolutely will teach my children respect, how to focus, self discipline, social decorum and how to behave politely as the situation may demand, but I will also let them shriek and run, play with abandon, and cry on my lap. They don’t need to practice algebra at two and play Mozart by three. If they end up doing so, great. But I’m not going to ruin their childhood by pushing them until they’re miserable. I was chatting with one of my piano student parents the other night and she shared that her daughters school wants to place her in the gifted program, and while they want to give her more, they’re not going to push her past what she wants to do. I have SO much respect for them. This child, she is balanced, she is wicked smart, she is motivated and driven, she is HAPPY. She has focus, confidence, and empathy well beyond her years. And her mother is wise in giving her as much as she wants without ruining her thirst for knowledge by shoving too much down her throat. This child is one of my best students. Never once has she said “that’s too hard” or “I can’t”. She’s happy and focused and a delight every lesson.
If a child is taught to love learning, without fear, and views new concepts as exciting and not scary, they’re far more likely to be motivated to push themselves to do more, to do better, in confidence and on their own, without having us ride them and make them miserable. A child is born looking at the world in wonder. We have a tremendous responsibility to teach them about this world without destroying that starry eyed fascination. It took a little while for my babies to crawl. Could I have done more tummy time, or pushed them harder so they would crawl faster? Absolutely. Did they crawl when they were ready? Of course they did! I now have speed demons blasting all over everything, my son just the other day went fearlessly four wheeling over rocks by the river. In my opinion the extra tears and stress of lots of tummy time wasn’t worth it. We did tummy time of course, but only as long as I could read to them and keep it a mostly happy experience while we did. I did not deem the frustration and intense tears to be worth them crawling a few weeks earlier.
Of course we cannot prevent all frustration. Not every learning experience will leave them filled with happiness and wanting more. But I believe that if they have this foundation of confident joy filled learning, they can handle the not so glorious moments.
I was homeschooled growing up. A tremendous sacrifice my mother made for her children, and a gift I will be forever grateful for. While ensuring I had a balanced education, she allowed me to pursue subjects I was passionate about and patiently allowed me to conquer those I was less than interested in as I grew. For example, for a while I was obsessed with phonics. I completed more phonics workbooks and projects than most people do in a lifetime. Math, on the other hand, was not my favorite. But she experimented until she found what I connected with, a way to learn that didn’t scare the pants off of me or make me feel stupid. And we did do tests, she prepared us for this real world of college testing and scary expectations. But because I had that foundation of joy, that love of learning, I was able to face the scarier real world and conquer it.
I firmly believe this concept also applies to emotional growth and understanding, but I’ll save that for another post.
In closing, my dear fellow mamas, please don’t allow our social media and culture to make you question your baby or yourself. We are all doing the best we can, trust in your child and allow them to bloom on their own schedule. They’re only little once, celebrate these moments and don’t allow fear to rob you (and your child!) of the joy of watching them grow and thrive according to their own personal schedule.
Being a new mom is exhausting. (To put it mildly…!) Crying babies are stressful, and as I explained to my loving patient husband after multiple times of yelling at him for no reason as my babies cried, us women literally have a physiological reaction to our babies wails. Our milk lets down, we sweat, heart rates elevate and our natural biological response is to respond to our babies. Thus, when our baby is crying and we cannot figure out why, it is obscenely stressful. We are programmed to answer our offsprings needs, and when they are young they have one way of communicating their needs, and that is crying. You can safely assume that if your baby is crying, they have a legitimate need. They’re hungry, scared, cold, perhaps something hurts (colic anyone?) but they will not cry to manipulate or because they are selfish. A baby cannot be selfish or manipulative, they simply do not have that extensive of an understanding of the world.
When I brought my twins home, I did not plan at first on co-sleeping (read more on that in a previous post, click here). That decision changed the second night of their being earthside, and it is without fail one of the best parenting choices I have made to date. As I said in that earlier post, the minute I would set my babies down they would scream as if they were on fire. Now, I understand why. Thankfully I had my own parents loving example to follow in attachment parenting and thus when things ‘weren’t working’ with my wee ones I was confident to change them. Let me elaborate. Have you heard of the fourth trimester? I hadn’t. The fourth trimester is the months that follow a baby’s birth. No one, not my nurses, not my midwife, not the pediatrician for darn sure, NO ONE mentioned to me anything about this fourth trimester business. Let me try to explain this succinctly. Up until birth, your baby had zero unmet needs. They weren’t hungry, they weren’t cold, they weren’t afraid, absolutely nothing required them to communicate their needs. Suddenly, that all changed. In a split second they went from a warm dark place where they were quite literally connected to you, to a bright, cold, foreign space where not only are they no longer attached to you, but they get hungry, they get uncomfortable, and you know what, THEY DONT UNDERSTAND. They have no way of grasping what has happened. Suddenly things hurt, they’re alone, and it’s terrifying. So they do the only thing they know how, they CRY.
And our culture expects this scared little human to be ok sleeping alone in a crib/cot/bassinet and new mamas are left questioning what on earth they’re doing wrong because their new little charge won’t sleep or stop crying! Mamas, you are doing NOTHING wrong! Your baby is crying because it wants YOU. They want to feel safe, fed, and CONNECTED. Your uterus was a lot more welcoming than the softest blanket on earth could ever be. There is nothing wrong with your baby because it looks to you for protection and nourishment 24/7. And the nicest, warmest, softest cot can not replace your beating heart and the smell of your skin, no matter if it sways, vibrates, sings or flies. You are truly the only thing your baby knows. That baby does not need to learn independence right now, independence is born out of confidence and confidence is born out of knowing their needs will be met. And they learn that their needs will be met when you answer their cries. No, you won’t be able to prevent their crying altogether. And some times you may have to put your baby in a safe place so you can pee, or cry yourself for a moment. Babies want to be touching you constantly, and yes it’s exhausting! And sometimes you just need to take a second and BREATHE. And they may cry. But setting them down briefly, that is different, that is an exception! That is not training them that their needs are insignificant.
In addition to cosleeping, I started wearing my babies. And things became infinitely easier. They slept on me while I made dinner, or did grocery shopping. And no, they didn’t stop crying altogether. They didn’t magically fall asleep every time. But because I was holding them, at least I knew that I was trying to answer their pleas for help. I wasn’t ignoring their cries, even if I couldn’t always prevent them. I wasn’t teaching them that their needs didn’t matter. When a baby cries and is ignored, they learn they don’t matter. They learn their needs will not be met. I fail to understand how that is a recipe for raising a confident human being.
It is infinitely frustrating to me that this concept of teaching our babies to function without mama is portrayed as necessary to being a ‘good’ parent. Human babies are born more dependent and helpless than any other species, and yet we are the only species that tries to force them to be ok without their mamas so early. And in doing so, many mamas are left feeling that they are failing, or that something is wrong with their baby because they won’t succumb to this cultural expectation. I cannot tell you how many times I had someone tell me, ‘eventually you have to let them cry’, or ‘you’re spoiling them, they won’t ever sleep alone’, or my favorite as someone told my husband, ‘stop babying them’. Stop babying them?! They’re BABIES for the love of all that’s holy! I hate the blame game that is played, somehow in our culture it becomes the mothers responsibility to teach their child that they don’t need them. Yes, you read that correctly. Mothers are expected to teach their babies that babies don’t need their mothers. And no, it makes zero sense.
It wont last forever. One day your tiny little cling-on won’t want to be attached 24/7, you will pee in peace, and they will sleep in their own beds. And they will do so when they are ready, and armed with the confidence that they are safe. As painful as it may be to consider the fact that one day my babies won’t need me as they do anymore, I want my children to grow up to be confident people who know who they are and go into the world empowered, people who can make a change in their world because their own is a solid one and they are strong in knowing who they are. And I personally believe that teaching them that who they are matters, that it is ok for their needs to be met, is crucial to them developing into confident, kind, empathetic strong human beings. It is hard to see another persons needs as important if you never believed your own needs to be important.
So mamas, hang in there and hold those babies close, don’t feel like a failure because they won’t sleep without you, or because they cry when you go out of sight. Be confident and know that although it’s hard (especially some days!) you are teaching your baby that they matter, that they are important, and that will never be something you regret.
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In preface to this post, I want to reiterate my firm belief that every mama and baby are different. What I chose for mine may be radically different than what you chose. Not only is that ok, I think it’s tremendously important. I will never judge you for your choices just as I expect to not be judged for mine. Or, as I’ve said before, human nature is to judge. I may judge in my heart but I’m keeping it to myself as should we all. Unless a child is in danger, what mamas need from each other is SUPPORT. To be able to share our learned wisdom and mutually benefit. I have chosen this path for my family because I strongly believe it to be the best one, as I am certain that is how you have chosen yours. I pray to be able to share perspectives among one another without shaming, I know I have drastically changed decisions in the past thanks to other mamas sharing their knowledge with me. I am an opinionated, naturally minded mama. And proud of it. Be proud of yourselves mamas, and I hope you enjoy part two of our birth story. The tale of a stubborn naturally minded mama who managed to infuriate nearly everyone on the pediatric floor of the hospital we birthed at. Without further ado, I give to you Day Two in the lives of Harry and Arabella.
The rest of November 8th is a fuzzy blend of blank spots and poignant memories, a sea of haziness with bright stars shining through. I don’t remember what I ate, I remember being voraciously thirsty and not being allowed to just guzzle liquid, instead I was spoon fed crushed ice and given small sips of orange juice (nothing has ever tasted better!). Immediately after the twins were born the barrage of unwanted requests for procedures on the twins began. No, we don’t want the eye ointment, no we are not circumcising him. (Not circumcising was a surprise decision we made late in the game, if you’re interested as to why we chose no circumcision for our son I’d be more then happy to share, comment below or send me an email).
It continued to be a battle. No you cannot give them that/no you cannot take them to the nursery we want them in the room with us. That one made me hugely popular, (not), especially when I followed my babies to the nursery for the car seat test, which we acquiesced to as they wouldn’t let us leave without it. I was up until 2:00am the day of my babies birth due to my refusal to be apart from my newborns. I regret nothing. My husband and I did have a beautiful morning together the following day, while it was periodically interrupted we had a few moments to just sit there alone, the two of us with our new family, soaking in the moments and trying to realize what had just happened. (Which is something I struggled with for a while, if you haven’t read it yet I shared my heart in my battle with PPD in a previous post, click here to read it).
My husband was my brave knight in shining armor, standing up for me and our babies against the surprisingly aggressive nurses on the pediatric floor. I missed my labor and delivery nurses soooooo much once they transfered us. Having never been hospitalized I had this naive notion that I would be able to relax for a day or two, snuggle my babies and just eat. Ha. Reality was that I wasn’t fed, no one brought me even liquid, they kept coming in every 15-20 minutes to wake and poke my babies and yell at me (literally!) for not writing down every breastfeeding session. Had I not been holding my babies and letting them nurse almost constantly I would have understood their concern. But as my babies were nursing nearly non-stop and frankly I was starving and foggy and stunned, I decided writing down “still nursing” every thirty minutes was not worth it. Eventually I got so irritated with their attitudes I admit I refused to out of spite. Yes, you can safely assume I was not their favorite patient. I wouldn’t do the tests, I wanted to change my own babies diapers (why is that weird?!) and I just wanted to go home. So I did. I demanded an early release and the minute we informed the staff we wanted to go home that day, wouldn’t you know everyone suddenly disappeared.
No one answered our help button, and our room went from resembling a chaotic train station to a vacant ghost town. My poor husband had to track down what felt like hundreds of people to sign and deal with the voluminous amount of paperwork required to effect our release. It literally took all day, we didn’t leave the hospital until after 9 that night. I have never felt so judged and shamed as I did with the looks and comments we received as we headed home with our wee ones in their giant car seats. I did get to avoid the usually mandatory wheelchair ride out of the hospital as the nurses were so angry at me they were busy fuming and messing with the babies. We also had to agree to a mandatory weight check appointment with our pediatrician the following day, (an appointment that nearly destroyed my breastfeeding journey, watch my video on my feelings on the breastfeeding support that new moms receive by clicking here).
But eventually, we were headed home and yes, we must have checked that our babies were still breathing every thirty seconds. My family had gone home a little bit before us and never have I ever walked into anything as welcome as the paradise they made. My mother had prepared an Italian feast, wine awaited us, candles were lit everywhere and it was warm and peaceful. A radical change from the hospital environment we had just left and desperately needed comfort for this exhausted and struggling mama. I sank into the soft warm blankets and snuggled with my cuddly (and to my relief, happily accepting of the babies) cats, stared at these beautiful tiny new faces that had just come out of my BODY, and breathed deeply.
I still wasn’t prepared and had no idea how to deal with the influx of attention that happens when you have a baby. Everyone, EVERYONE wants to see you, well not you, the baby/babies. In hindsight, I plan on a lockdown next time I have a baby. I don’t believe birth is a medical crises but I DO believe it is something which absolutely requires, and deserves, time to adjust and heal from. But I’ll write more on that later.
In conclusion, I want to encourage you mamas to not be afraid to stand up for and demand what you feel is best for you and your baby. I know it was the right thing to come home early, it wasn’t easy, but we made it happen. Maybe it would be different next time, and such is birth. And had my babies had medical needs that required attention, obviously I would have stayed. But they didn’t. What they needed was me to be able to give them my all, and I knew in order to do that I had to get home where I would be cared for and feel safe. To get where I could bond with them and they with me and my husband.
Best laid plans inevitably change. Especially where children are involved. And that is ok. But never be afraid to stand by your decisions. Mamas almost always know best, and unless you plan on bunking in a snowbank with your newborn, I’d say you should have faith in yourself. You did make that human. Roll up your sleeves, mama bears, these are our cubs, and being with mama is really the main thing they need and truly all they want. Stand by for my next posts on the fourth trimester, postpartum recovery and my opinions on coping with the “Everyone Comes out of the Woodwork Invasion Phenomenon” when you have a baby.
In advance to sharing this story I want to thank my husband, without you and your love I could have never made it through this. You’re truly my rock, the love of my life. My parents, for your unending and limitless love and support, my sisters for their also unequaled love and support and being my cheerleaders. Tria, for the meals and foot rubs, and Hayley, for photographing this truly once in a lifetime event. I am so blessed. I may give birth again, but (thankfully) it will never again be my first time.
Giving birth to my twins has without question been the single most remarkable event in my life. Writing this post was undeniably difficult, where to begin, what to include?! Sharing my birth story is like pouring out my raw beating heart for all to see, while I am proud of this story it is hands down the most personal event I have ever shared. Bringing my twins into this world is the greatest honor I have ever been given, and I hope to do justice to the day they came earthside in sharing our story. One thing I have promised to always do in sharing my motherhood journey is to be honest. I hope with all my heart in sharing my stories that I can touch and encourage the hearts of every woman in their own journeys. This will be Part One of our tale of birth. So, without further ado, I present, the Birth Story of Harry and Arabella.
Everyone always told me that as my pregnancy neared its end I would be ready to do anything to get those babies out. They were right. Towards the end I became so uncomfortable, I couldn’t eat, drink, sit, lie down, or pee. EVERYTHING was just plain frustrating. My belly was a constantly moving soup of sharp elbows and knees, and I was astonished anew every day that they hadn’t actually punctured my bladder with their tiny limbs. I had been having Braxton Hicks periodically for what felt like forever, and my loving husband was always quick to pop me in a warm bath if I felt things were getting too intense. I worked literally up until the day before I went to the hospital, no I do not recommend that. My hearts desire had been to give birth at the lovely birth center we lived nearby, but thanks to Colorado law I had to give birth at a hospital as multiple births are not legal in birth centers. For my next one, I want to do either home birth or birth center, but these being my first and being twins my husband and I prayed and determined to go the hospital route. I firmly believe that birth is as much about the baby’s journey entering this world as the mama’s, and I knew that the best choice for them was to do the hospital this time, even if it meant giving birth in a sterile cold operating room (more lovely laws).
We had determined to be surprised at birth as to what the babies genders were, and managed to not find out until the week before they arrived when a heartless nurse spilled the beans. (I say heartless because after she blew the big reveal to me without my husband even being there, she laughed and said ‘oops’). Don’t ever blow something like that to a very pregnant, hormonally charged exhausted woman and then simply laugh it off, it’s a very, very bad idea. I was so upset I made my husband call and inform them I never wanted to see that nurse again. They actually kept her away from me from there on out. (Maybe I was scarier than I thought).
My doctor had informed us early on that if the twins didn’t come before 38 weeks they would induce, and as we arrived at the weekend before the big 38, I told my body the time had come. The Friday before the twins arrived, they informed me at my OB appointment that I was nearly 5 cm dilated. Halfway there?! Whoa, was all I could think. The next day, Saturday, we took a walk around our neighborhood and I finally felt no fear as my contractions began to increase in regularity. I still felt little pain, but I could tell things were speeding up and my husband called our doctor to see if they thought I should head in to the hospital yet. Due to me being so dilated, they answered with a big fat yes and suddenly things started to feel more real. We called my parents and told them it was time, and once they arrived we loaded into our cars and headed to the hospital. We had packed our hospital bag earlier that week, and I felt like I should be doing more/feel more ready, but there was nothing to be done. My contractions kept petering out and I tried all manner of things to ensure they kept accelerating. I knew one thing, I did NOT want an induction if at all possible.
We arrived at the hospital and checked in, I was hooked up to the contraction monitoring device and atttempted to relax on the very uncomfortable bed. I had the absolutely most LOVELY nurses on my delivery team, I know God sent them to me. Wherever you are ladies, know you’re in my heart and prayers for always. I was far too excited and nervous to sleep, and they sent in the nurse to discuss the plans for the following morning. They suggested pitocin but I was very against that (and very thankful later that I hadn’t!). The other option was to break my water if it hadn’t by morning to get things moving. After prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided that we would do that if it hadn’t broken by the morning. At first, the doctor wanted to wake me at 4:30am to break my water but my amazing nurse reminded me this was MY labor and I chose how it would go. So I chose that if we did break the water it wouldn’t be until after 6am. 6:00 came and went and my contractions were still the same so we did break my water, and it was very hard to break I will add. (Ouch!)
After my water broke (holy Toledo is that liquid HOT) my labor changed instantaneously. In a matter of moments I went from having contractions to HAVING CONTRACTIONS. Everything smelled bad including my poor husbands coffee which he hastily disposed of. I threw up into every nearby receptacle and refused to allow my patient spouse into the bathroom with me (labor is not exactly a dignified affair but I was not about to let him see me do anything nasty that I could avoid). I was hooked up to what felt like a million devices and couldn’t move much if I had wanted to. Also to my surprise I wanted silence, none of the calming music I had spent hours compiling for my labor. A nurse came in to check me and announced I was fully dilated and ready to push. And suddenly I was not ready to do this, not ready to push or to have my babies born yet at all for that matter. My surreal little bubble of expectant joy popped and I was reeling in very unexpected terror. My husband was by my side the whole time, encouraging me, holding my hand or hair back as need be, and I vaguely remember telling him repeatedly I couldn’t do this. Y’all, transition is no joke. My loving family was there too and I also remember being worried sick that I was going to scare my poor sisters out of ever having children. My plan had been to have an all natural birth, we had practiced and taken all natural childbirth classes and I had watched countless birth videos in joyous wistful tears. I thought I was prepared for birth. I was not. But the thing about birth, there are no take backs. Ready or not, that baby/babies are going to come out of you one way or the other.
So there I was, the room spinning around me and the nurse came in to talk to me about an epidural. I thought you could only have those before you were ready to push but apparently not. Baby B was still transverse, and the nurse gently explained to me that while the baby could turn while Baby A was being born, if they did not the doctor would have to reach up and manually turn her if possible (at which point she said I would be feeling that death was a good option) or they would have to put me under emergency general anesthesia and I would miss Baby B’s birth entirely. I talked to my husband and we determined to do the epidural. I was in full blown ready to push mode at this point, so let me tell you sitting still while having a needle placed in my spine was anything but enjoyable. Different hospital staff kept trying to talk to me to my immense irritation, at this point I was barely holding on and the last thing I wanted to do was think let alone answer a question. Sorry if I was a jerk guys…(my husband insists I wasn’t, but he loves me). Eventually the epidural was placed and began to take effect. Dear kind anesthesiologist, I appreciated you, your respect and your gentleness to me that day more than you could know.
I was wheeled into the cold and extremely bright operating room, husband at my side. Leaving the rest of my family behind was scarier than I thought it would be as I headed into the unknown. During birth I wanted my mom there and my immediate family so badly it hurt. Thank God for my supportive husband, he was like a rock every moment. We wheeled into the OR and my team transferred me to a cold steel bed under some enormous bright lights, I vaguely remember noting the large group of masked people (18 to be exact!). There was my team, a team for each baby, and apparently some medical students as well. My dear nurse was by my side holding my hand and she prayed with me. Someone said it was going to be okay and asked if I was ready and she said ‘it’s going to be great! We prayed!’
The team I had was amazing, knowing my disappointment over having the gender surprise ruined to make up for it they took bets on who would come out first, boy or girl. My husband was assigned the task of counting my pushes, and I began to push. And I pushed and pushed. They had me feel Baby A’s head as he crowned and it was so wrinkly I was highly alarmed. They reassured me it was absolutely normal. Apparently I pushed for an hour, and then the doctor told me she was going to give me one last chance to push before she did an episiotomy as Baby A’s head was stuck. I remember thinking, oh eff no, that baby is coming out NOW. And come out he did! The doctor proclaimed him to be the boy, I remember hearing him cry and saying ‘oh he’s crying that’s a good sign!’ They immediately began to check for Baby B and determined not only was she still transverse but she was going into distress. I am so thankful for my doctor, she remained calm and even delayed Baby A’s cord clamping as much as physically possible per my request. She did have to manually turn Baby B, I remember seeing her hand move around on the inside as I looked at the outside of my stomach, talk about weird. There was shouting, the doctor asking ‘what’s in my hand what am I grabbing’ to the person running the ultrasound machine. It was determined she had grabbed a head and she pulled that baby down and I pushed her out. What felt like a lifetime was two minutes. My son, Harry James, was born November 8th at 12:00pm weighing in at exactly 6 pounds and my daughter, Arabella Rose, was born at 12:02pm weighing exactly 5 pounds. I was very foggy by this point and don’t remember much but my doctor saying ‘sorry mama’ as she scrubbed me out and stitched me up. (I’m thankful for that scrubbing, I avoided any uterine infections!)
They wiped my babies down (I had requested no baths, save that vernix!) wrapped them and put them on my chest. I know I was crying but I still felt so numb, so surreal. There were tiny humans on my chest?! Where did they come from?! And I became SO COLD. I was shaking like I’ve never shaken before. They wheeled me back to my room where my babies were put back on my chest and what felt like millions of hot towels and blankets were piled on me, and lots of other family came in. I love family, but was I thankful my nurse kicked them out. Next time I give birth I have determined to allow myself a little bit to adjust before company. I remember being so overwhelmed and just wanting to sleep (thanks a lot epidural). I do know however that I made the right choice. Thanks to the epidural I may have been foggy but I was AWAKE for my little girls birth. I still have a goal of going all natural next time, but I still believe that what’s important is babies arriving safely and mama surviving.
I did eventually warm up and stop shaking, the rest of the day was a daze of looking at these two tiny doll like figures with piercing beady black eyes. My perfect little babies.
To be continued…Part Two of our birth story will be up on the blog Thursday!
As I’ve mentioned before, my mother is Italian, and I come from a loving, high energy and very effusive family. No emotions on lockdown when I was growing up, (nothing has changed in that). Open expressions of love and feelings were never prohibited, and I’ll say with amusement that my energetically open, affectionate and readily communicative style of living was definitely something for my sweet husband to adjust to. But despite having grown up with such love and depth, I wasn’t prepared for the beyond intense, past all consuming feeling that is being a mom.
I don’t think anything, or anyone, can actually prepare you for the insanely, crazily beautiful, soul devouring, complete passions igniting, space vacuum roller coaster of love that is being a parent. You feel things you never imagined you could feel with an intensity you could not have imagined possible. You would jump in front of a speeding train for this tiny human, and every emotion in your body is woven tightly into their every breath.
I know things have gotten better in some ways, but in so many other ways I believe new mamas are left to hang dry in our culture post birth. I was blessed to have an incredible support system of husband and family and it was still the most grueling experience I’ve ever had. Everyone says your life changes the moment your baby hits your chest. That wave, that feeling of joyous uninhibited love didn’t happen as suddenly for me as I fought through postpartum depression for a while after my twins arrived. PPD is a tricky beast, I found myself experiencing this completely overwhelmingly intense soul consuming love for these two tiny beings while simultaneously feeling terrifyingly emotionally dulled and vacant. I remember waiting for the wave to hit me after they handed me my babies, but all I could think was, where did these things come from?!
My room was filled with people within an hour of my twins being born. Well meaning family but it was too much. Thank God for the nurse who kicked everyone out for me so I could rest and try to wrap my head around what had just happened. (Standby for my full twin birth story post next week) In hindsight, I’m giving myself permission with my next kid to not see anyone for a while after birth. My life at the time my twins were born was pretty high stress, I was teaching 7 days a week and looking back I realize that is partly why I wasn’t able to identify that my feelings of depression were more than environmentally triggered. I believe the trickiest part when fighting a mental battle is how easy it is to lay blame for the situation on anything physically present, especially yourself.
You fill out a zillion forms after your baby is born scanning for the ‘baby blues’, but I, as I imagine most new mothers do, had no intention of admitting anything other than my joy at being a new mom. I had nothing to be sad about right, I had two healthy new babies! And in no way shape or form did I want anyone to think I was anything but completely capable of being their mom. I had literally waited all my life for this moment, no way was I admitting that I was anything other than fine.
As I’ve mentioned before, due to our circumstances I went back to work at three weeks postpartum. It was horrible, and I could (and will) go off on the ridiculousness that is ‘maternity leave’ in this country. My poor husband didn’t even get a week off. My parents stayed with us after the twins were born and I can truthfully say I wouldn’t have made it through without them. I was so blessed to have a mom who wanted to be there and support me in my new journey.
But despite my circle of support, going back to work that early meant many more people around me and my babies, and it would have been overwhelming no matter what but adding PPD to the mix meant I went into hard core survival mode. My goal every day was to get through hour by hour until it was over. I was completely shut down emotionally, but still had no intention of that showing so I put on a face and faked it like I’ve never faked it before. I could feel the precious moments with my babies slipping by and that made it so much worse. Every day I felt I was losing my long awaited time with them as I paddled desperately through my exhaustion and mental fog, and every day I felt more like a failure and more heartbreak over my lost time.
It is shocking how overwhelming it is to be a new mom. Not only do you have these tiny humans literally relying on you to SURVIVE, everyone has an opinion on how you should be doing it. Every day was like getting a fire hose of emotion to the face.
I wrote in a previous post that sometimes as a mama you are forced to pour from an empty cup, and I don’t believe there is ever a time where that is more true than when you have a newborn. This tiny human needs you, and needs you 24/7. You’re going through recovery from LITERALLY making and bringing a new life into this world, and you absolutely must dedicate everything you are to someone else. I mean, it’s hard to have time to PEE let alone heal and recover. You are completely and utterly the sole source of life to this tiny new being. No matter how supportive your spouse is, and no matter how much supportive family you have, I truly believe you will never experience any pressure in your life that is more intense than being a mom. Nothing has ever made me feel so tiny. And I had the support of my loving husband, parents, and sisters. Not all women are so fortunate.
Add to this new mom pressure the social pressures and expectations of family friends and work and I believe it is a recipe that can quickly end in disaster. I was expected to be social, see people and have them see my babies. It was like pouring acid on my nerves but I strapped both my babies on me in wraps and a smile on my face and I slogged through. I love this article (mothering the mother, click to read it) from the birth without fear blog, it discusses the horrible lack of postpartum and bonding time that is allowed to mothers in our culture. As it says, in many cultures women are given 40 days to do NOTHING post birth but heal and bond with their baby. And think about it, can you really imagine any task more intense than MAKING AND GIVING LIFE? I remember reading in one of my mama groups of a mother in my area who stayed in bed for ten days post birth doing nothing but being with that baby. I was green as a crocodile in envy as I told my husband about this. And she wasn’t just being lazy and having a vacation. Heck no. She was adjusting to having birthed an entirely brand new human! Yet spending that time with your baby seems so excessive in our cultures eyes. I will never understand why we treat birth as a serious illness that needs massive medical intervention but the need for postpartum recovery time is so often slid under the rug and dismissed.
My twins will be a year old next week, my PPD has improved significantly, it does eventually fade. I still fight guilt and cry for my lost moments with my babies, and I know there are things I will do differently should we have another child. I yearn to see a culture where birth is treated as a natural process and postpartum recovery is held on a pedestal of tremendous importance. Imagine yourself in that scenario. I wonder if I could have avoided or at least short circuited the PPD I dealt with. What would it have changed for you mamas? I hope sharing my story can one day touch some mama, more than anything I feel new mamas need someone who understands. Who can say, I get what you’re going through, and it’s not fair. One day I hope our culture changes and women can truly be there for each other in support like this, I hope our expectations of new mamas can evolve to where we see being a new mama for the serious matter it is, and as a culture respect it. I believe the health of our future depends on it.