One of my best friends in the world gave birth to a baby girl this week. I am full of joy for her and her husband, and their lucky daughter. There is so much happiness in seeing wonderful people bring a new life to a world that needs more wonderful people.
There is a warm lump of baby sleeping on me at the moment. Charlotte Pearl arrived on July 28. She is an awesome baby (aren’t they all?), and her first six weeks with us have gone smoother than I imagined (knocking on wood. One should never say these things out loud).
I’ve written out the story of her birth, but for now it’s available by request only. Here’s what I’ll say about it: I had the unmedicated VBAC of my dreams. Her birth story is almost boring it was so perfect.
What I do want to share are the lessons of my second pregnancy and birth. Because in our culture, most of us know very little about pregnancy and birth until we are pregnant. And many times, that’s too late. I learned so much during my first pregnancy, and even more in the time since my first was born. And most of it is information that all women should have before becoming pregnant. So, that’s what I want to talk about. Hopefully this isn’t too jumbled – it’s tough to think and write with this foggy, sleep-deprived, post-partum brain.
1. You have choices in prenatal care providers, far beyond whatever ob/gyn you have been seeing for annual visits. Research. Ask around. Think about what you want. Make changes. Advocate for yourself and your baby. If something doesn’t feel right, change it.
For my first pregnancy I went to a large ob/gyn practice. I saw a different doctor every time. I waited in a crowded waiting room. At every visit I was given something new to worry about: my iron levels were low, I wasn’t gaining enough weight, I was measuring small, fluid was low, baby was small, on and on and on. My baby was breech the entire pregnancy, and no one ever talked to me about ways to get the baby to flip, or any of my options. Appointments were brief, there was no conversation. At 37.5 weeks they wanted to bring me in for a c-section immediately because, they claimed, baby was measuring small and was still breech. I wrote about that birth experience here.
This time around, I knew I wanted nothing to do with that model of care, and sought something different. I wanted a practice that fully supported VBACs, that would take their time to talk to me and learn my story, that wouldn’t look for things to make me scared about. I found exactly what I was looking for at Capital Region Midwifery. This group of midwives is phenomenal. They listened to my history, they were nothing but supportive of my desire for an unmedicated VBAC, the staff knew me, I formed a relationship with the midwives, appointments involved un-rushed conversation about what was going on, and there were usually only one or two people in the comfortable waiting room of their office, which is in a big old Victorian house.
2. So much of your birth experience comes down to the team that surrounds you. This relates to
the above, of course – your care provider determines a lot about your birth experience. But so does the hospital (or the not-hospital), your partner, and any other supporting players.
I knew I wanted to work with a doula this time, and we hired Johanna D’Aleo. We took Hypnobirth classes with Johanna during my first pregnancy, and her level-headed, knowledgable, grounded, loving presence was one I wanted by our side. We met with Johanna several times before I went into labor – talked about our hopes and fears for the birth, about VBACs, and about our past experience. She gave us advice as we prepared, we practiced relaxation techniques, and got to know each other better. Her presence during labor and birth was calming, steady, and reassuring.
Likewise, my amazing midwife Maureen was a warm, calm presence during labor and birth. Nothing was ever uttered to make me feel nervous or scared – only words of encouragement and assurance.
Patrick was, of course, an amazing birth partner. He knew exactly what I needed, and was a quiet, steady, strong support. I labored for about 14 hours and spent many of those hours standing with my arms around Pat’s shoulders, head bent, swaying. He never complained about standing that long, about my weight hung around him, or anything else. (Well, we both complained about the frigid temperature of the hospital room, but that’s about it.) He was perfectly loving and encouraging during the most challenging moments. He announced that we had another baby girl, and seeing him cut the cord was an awesome moment.
The hospital we chose (Burdett Care Center) was supportive of natural birth, and followed all of my birth wishes – from dimmed lights, to laboring in the pool, to a long bonding skin to skin time with my baby. For the most part, I interacted very little with anyone other than Patrick during labor. The Hypnobirth techniques worked for me, and I was in my own head and body, relaxing down through contractions, leaning into Pat, swaying and moving as I needed to. No one encroached on that. The midwives, Johanna, and the nurses hung around the perimeter and let me do my thing unless I needed them or they needed to tell me something. The baby and I were monitored per the hospital’s VBAC policy, and while that was occasionally annoying I was glad someone was keeping an eye on how the baby was doing.
3. You have choices, you make the decisions. It’s been eye-opening to learn how much many medical professionals rely on fear to control patients and limit the patient’s choices. Before I knew better, I didn’t know what choices I had – and certainly my OB wasn’t interested in informing me. Every woman owes it to herself to become informed before and during pregnancy, and every woman and baby deserves excellent care. There are tons of great books and websites out there, and plenty of amazing midwives and doulas who have made it their lives’ work to give women positive and empowering experiences.
4. Hear only the messages you need to hear. What I mean is: if you want a natural birth, make sure you’re surrounded throughout pregnancy by people that support you, and send messages of support. Whatever your birth goal is, you don’t need to hear from people who say you can’t do it. From the pregnancy fitness class I took to my midwife to my friends and family – it made such a difference to hear constant positive messages, success stories, and encouragement. No one ever told me that my VBAC goal was impossible, or that it was silly to try for an unmedicated birth. That support did away with any lingering fears I had.
I am so grateful to have had the empowering birth experience I dreamed of. I wanted so badly to experience a full labor, to birth my baby, and to have that baby immediately put on my chest. My VBAC was a success in part due to luck – a healthy and well-positioned baby, my own health, and no need for interventions. But it was also largely due to finding the right people to support me.
I look back on Charlotte’s birth and feel nothing but joy, pride, empowerment, and love. It was amazing, and I’m still in awe that it happened the way it did. I am so grateful. The only regret I have about the experience is that we didn’t have someone there to take photos or video, other than a few iPhone photos from Johanna. At the same time, that birth space was sacred – maybe it’s best that we have just our memories and our story, unfiltered.
Pregnancy is full of unknowns. For some people, the hardest unknown is the gender- and they find out if they are carrying a boy or a girl as soon as they can. For me, the hardest part is the unknown end-date. I thought I had a better guess this time around, since I knew Evelyn had been 2 weeks and 3 days early. Everyone seemed to think this baby would be at least 2 weeks early, too. It’s still possible, and anything can happen (I’m 38 weeks today, that’s 2-weeks-until-due-date….), but I’m trying to just accept that this baby will arrive when the time is right. I’m trying very hard to seek out my zen. I’ve spent the past several days anxious about getting things done, making lists, frustrated by my physical limitations and lack of energy because I just want to get it ALL done NOW. It’s been hard to sleep – not just because of discomfort, but because my brain won’t rest. I vacuumed the living room at 8:00 yesterday morning, minutes before I had to head out the door to work. I’ve been up late organizing and cleaning, which is silly, and I need to let go, but that’s easier said than done. What I know I should be doing is relaxing. Indulging in guilty pleasures like TV and magazines and ice cream. Going easy in these late pregnancy days without feeling like I should be doing something else. But that slow down is so hard, especially when I’m so good at thinking up a zillion things I should do before this baby arrives. So now to focus on these moments before life changes again, and to find peace in the unknown. Trying to slow my brain and my body. Resting. Waiting. Throwing away the lists.
I have a vivid memory of one of our first days home with Evelyn. She was nursing, of course, as she did every 2 hours, feedings that usually lasted almost an hour. I was recovering from a c-section, operating on very little sleep, and – to be honest- feeling a bit like we’d ruined our lives with this tiny gorgeous creature. I truly couldn’t imagine why on earth anyone would ever have a second child after making it through this once.
And, alas, here we are – less than 2 months away from welcoming another tiny gorgeous creature into our family. I learned a lot in my first weeks and months of motherhood – and I’m hoping some of those lessons make this time around a little bit easier.
Babies cry, and wake up all night long. It’s normal, and doesn’t last forever.
People who have gone through it forget, and others seem to believe that babies’ sleep patterns should match adults’ sleep patterns. One of the biggest sources of stress for me was the sleep thing, and mostly because other people kept asking me “How much is she waking up at night?” and “Is she sleeping all night in the bassinet?” I wish that I’d just tuned all of that out and accepted that my baby slept when and where she slept, end of story.
She slept best in our arms, in the wrap carrier, or next to me on the bed. Occasionally in the swing. This idea that she had to sleep in the bassinet was hard on all of us. She didn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time until she was 8 weeks old, and then her sleep habits changed every couple of weeks – sometimes longer stretches, sometimes less. I spent the first months keeping track of where and when she slept, scribbling notes at 3 a.m., feeling like a failure if she slept for short stretches or in my arms. It made the whole thing far more miserable than it had to be. This time around, I’ll be more willing to accept my baby’s sleep needs, and do what works for us. I won’t keep notes, or even look at the clock.
The best advice we got on sleep was for mom and dad to divide up the night, so we could both get some sleep. I would go to bed early, and Patrick would stay up with her, bringing her to me for feedings, but taking care of diaper changes and soothing. I was able to sleep a little, and they had time to bond. Around midnight he’d bring her to me, and he’d sleep downstairs while I took on all the baby duties until morning. We will do this again (with the added complication of a 3 year old sleeping nearby), although I need to find some ways to feel less isolated during my shift – there were times when being alone and awake for hours in the middle of the night was a struggle.
Release all expectations.
Before having a newborn living in the house, most of us only see them in photos, when they are curled up and sleeping sweetly (like that photo at the top). Life with a newborn appears to be very glowy. Even those things you learn about in birth class or in books before baby arrives seem so simple.
In my experience, it wasn’t simple. Those sweet sleepy moments were real, but they were surrounded by a lot of other moments. Don’t get me wrong, new parenthood is so lovely in many ways. The soft weight of a newborn sleeping on your chest is one of the best feelings in the world. But. There’s also a fair amount of crying (from everyone), a major lifestyle adjustment, and a general sense of bewilderment. It’s impossible to imagine or prepare for in advance, really.
I found that any time I clung to expectations about how things should go, I had a much harder time when they didn’t go that way. Whether it was breastfeeding, leaving the house, doing laundry, or taking a nap – as soon as I let go of my own expectations about what would or should happen, a weight was lifted. Taking things moment by moment and adapting to whatever needed to happen was a much easier and more enjoyable way to go. I’m hopeful that knowing and embracing that from the beginning will make the newborn months a bit easier.
Babies just want to be held.
Probably every new parent is made to feel guilty at some point for how much their baby is held, and how much their baby wants to be held – especially in the arms of mom or dad. Whether the ‘spoiled’ word is used outright or implied, most of us hear it at some point.
Too bad for the guilt-trippers. I don’t regret a single moment of holding my baby. There were times when I wished she were more okay with being put down, but I learned how to use a couple baby carriers, which freed up my hands and helped immensely. I also learned that we’d all be ok if I put her in the crib for a few minutes while I used the bathroom. She never “learned to like it” – but I became more okay with it when I was ready.
Those comments I got about putting my baby down just made me anxious. I wanted to hold her. It physically hurt to hear her cry. And 3 years later, she loves hugs and snuggles but is certainly not addicted to being held – so I don’t think any permanent damage was done.
I read a genius piece of advice about having a list of things that people could help with. I never did that, and we only accepted help when it was forced on us. Silly, silly new parents.
Lots of people will say “let me know if I can help” — be ready to take them seriously. Accepting help isn’t a sign of weakness or incompetence! When Evy was a newborn, one grandma cleaned our floors and vacuumed, both grandmas brought us meals, a friend visited from out of town and cleaned the house, friends stopped by with fruit and bagels and ice cream and juice. It was all a big help, and I am so thankful for what they did without being asked.
This time around, I might be a little more direct with asking for help, so get ready. This myth that we can care for a newborn and also keep the house clean, the yard maintained, laundry done, ourselves fed – it’s just not true. It’s one of the many reasons we all need our village.
Communicate my own needs.
Most new parents are so focused on the baby that they let their own needs go untended. It’s nearly impossible to avoid this for the first few weeks. But this time around I want to be better about recognizing my needs, and talking to Pat about how to meet those (the same goes for his needs too, of course).
When Evy was a month old or so, Pat was outside doing yard work. I was so jealous that he was outside, doing something that wasn’t childcare. I was at that point where I felt like all I did was nurse, change diapers, walk around the house, and I was ready for a break. Turns out, he didn’t really want to be out there – he was back to work at that point and wanted to be with the baby as much as he could.
After a (probably tearful) conversation where we both revealed what we needed, he stayed inside with the baby until the next feeding while I raked and cleaned up the garden beds. It was amazing how rejuvenating that hour was.
One of the hardest parts of parenthood is finding time for self-care and interests outside of parenting and work. It’s something we still struggle with. But we’re at least aware that we both need time for ourselves, and we work with each other to make it happen when we can. I’m hoping we can keep that up during our transition to a family of four.
Breastfeeding is hard, but it gets easier – especially with the right help.
You can (and should) learn about breastfeeding in advance, but it’s impossible to really prepare for. We took a 3-hour class on breastfeeding and I still felt blindsided by the actual experience. I didn’t think it would be so emotional, or challenging, or take so much effort. I’m lucky that I had a good friend who had recently gone through learning to breastfeed, and helped me to understand that it would be hard in the beginning, and then get easier. I’m lucky that a new mom friend encouraged me to go to a La Leche League meeting. I’m grateful that Patrick was so incredibly supportive (even though we were both unprepared for this physical division of labor – after running a pretty equal household for years, that was hard to adjust to).
I really had no idea how all-consuming breastfeeding would be for the first couple of months. But I’m grateful I was able to do it (and continued to do it for 2.5 years). This time I’m feeling prepared to accept whatever the experience brings.
My sanity-saver during my first maternity leave was outside time: walks, time in the yard, sitting on the patio to nurse or eat lunch. It was one of the great things about having a spring baby (except for the weeks after she was born when it rained non-stop). We were both happier with some fresh air, and the exercise helped me through some of the tougher moments.
Be with other moms and babies. Talk to other moms, even if their children are older.
One of the major differences between this pregnancy and my first is the community of moms I’m a part of now. These are moms I met through La Leche meetings three years ago, moms I met through daycare, friends who have also become parents, and moms I’ve met through a wonderful local moms group that began on Facebook.
My early parenthood experience was made better by the women I met in LLL meetings. Those women helped me with breastfeeding, commiserated over life with a newborn, and welcomed me when I felt like I couldn’t even speak a complete sentence. The moms I know now help me feel less alone when I’m overwhelmed, reveal that we all struggle, help me focus on the joy even when it’s easier to feel stressed, and bring humor to this crazy thing we’re all doing.
I’ve also become more open to the experiences of our own moms and aunts and grandmother. Being a mom is a powerful connection. Baby showers used to be about passing on wisdom and knowledge of motherhood, welcoming a woman into that fold, reminding her that she’s not alone. We’ve lost that a bit as the focus has shifted to gifts and themes. It took me years to recognize that this community of women and mothers is an important thing.
With this pregnancy, I love hearing Pat’s grandmother talk about her pregnancies, I love having our moms feel the baby kick, I welcome their (non-judgmental) input on things we struggle with, and I love feeling like I’m a part of this incredible lineage of moms who have walked this road before me (even if they think some of my parenting choices are nuts)!
It might be one of the most important things a new mom does for herself: connecting with other new moms, as well as other experienced moms. We aren’t alone, but the village isn’t as available as it used to be – we have to go out and build it.
It’s all worth it.
This lesson isn’t hard to remember. Everyone says it, and it’s true: For all the difficult parts of parenthood, the boundless love and joy is unlike any other. I’m full of gratitude for this life, and I can’t wait to bring another little one into our family, to grow this love, to see Pat become a dad again, to see Evy as a big sister – I’m full of anticipation for all of it. Just don’t ask me if the baby is sleeping through the night and we’ll be just fine.
These are the kinds of posts that I both love writing, and have been avoiding sharing in this space. But I’ve decided that I’m going to share what’s in my brain right now, and that happens to be a lot of stuff about this child, the child on the way, life right now and all the changes on the horizon.
You are three. You are spunky. Funny. Smart. Thoughtful. Bold. Stubborn. Laughing. Screaming. Running. Concentrating.
You make me better, you frustrate me, you make me laugh, you inspire me, you drive me bonkers, you fill me with love.
Your favorite things to do: sing, play in the dirt, read books, draw, paint, talk, dance. You are very serious about and committed to your favorite color, which has been blue since you knew what a favorite color was. (I admit: I enjoy the times when we have to correct someone who assumes you want the pink version of whatever they’re offering.)
You could listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Secondhand News on repeat all day. You tell people that your favorite songs are Fleetwood Mac, Lucius, and Hey Lolly (yes, two of those are bands and not songs. You’re figuring it out.).
You are fiercely independent when you want to be. And other times, you just need mommy or daddy.
This morning you told me that when you are a grown up you want to be a mommy. And a doctor. And maybe a lion (because you already have a lion costume).
You are full of love. You already love your new sibling, and talk about how you’ll take care of the baby, and tell us how the baby is part of our nightly family hug. Today you told me that there are four people in our family: mommy, daddy, Evy, and the new baby. You may reject that notion at some point, but right now I’m pretty amazed at your open heart.
You are happiest when you are around people, watching people, hugging people. Earlier this spring we tried to take you to a planetarium show. When the lights started to go down you got upset- not because you were afraid of the dark, but because “I can’t see the people! When it’s dark I can’t see the people!” When we took the train to New York City in November your favorite part wasn’t watching the Hudson River as we traveled south, it was watching everyone else on the train. You want to embrace the world in a giant bear hug (and we’ve been working on asking people before doling out hugs – not everyone is ready for your affection just yet).
A few months ago you moved from the toddler room to the preschool class at daycare, where you have soaked up everything. We love your teacher, who focuses on creating a community of “peace, love, and friendship.” You have learned how to write your name and you love to sign it on everything you can. At school you have grown flowers, watched caterpillars become butterflies, and helped take care of the class frogs and turtle. You are the littlest one right now, and that can be tough. But your teachers help you and the others, and you’ve made new friends and found your place, all while marching to the beat of your own drum.
You are so grown up and still so little. Sometimes we forget that you are still so little, and expect too much. But you remind us. You are three. You will be a messy eater, you will cry and throw tantrums, you will beg for dessert, you will take an hour to get dressed, you will not be rushed, you will experience everything in a big way.
I love watching you play, and seeing the places your imagination takes you. In the morning, we turn on the television while I brush your hair, and that 15 minutes of Daniel Tiger or Super Why is usually the only TV time of the day. Your imagination is so much better than anything you’d stare at on the screen. You play doctor, mommy, daycare, work, mail, superhero and restaurant. You put on shows. You take trips to Florida, you ride the train and the bus around town. You make cakes and dinners in the sandbox. You have a class of imaginary children that you are oh so in charge of.
My wish for you is that you always have the sense of self that you have right now. Hold on to your creativity, your independence, your spark. Your eyes actually shine with that Evy energy. I promise you, Daddy and I will do everything we can to protect that spunky spark that lights you up.
As with every stage and every age, I try to soak up every bit of You at Three. It feels even more amplified right now, though. Because soon my attention will be divided between you and your sibling. Our family is growing, our love will grow, there will be even more life and energy and chaos in our house. So, right now, I am doing my best to be present with you, to focus on what you’re like right now, to spend time being together. Things are going to change, and it will be both awesome and hard. But I know that both of our hearts will grow, that we both have so much love to give to our family.
Pinterest is running amok with ideas for activities to do with and for kids: projects for every season, instructions on how to play outside, toys to make from cardboard boxes, rainy day fun with masking tape, sick day activities, how to build magical forts of twinkling lights and reclaimed barn wood, crafts to make with/for kids for every holiday – from Easter to Bacon Day, 100 Things To Do Instead of Watching TV, instructions for making school lunches that look like van Gogh’s flowers, paint made from basically anything plus food coloring, and on and on and on.
I think we’ve made this childhood thing a bit too complicated, and a heck of a lot of work. Let’s all step back, put down the glue guns, quit making play sand out of organic free range corn starch.
Because kids are really excellent at childhood, if we just let them at it. Really – they don’t need us to be cruise directors.
My 3-year-old makes up worlds of her own without my help sewing props or creating sets or giving her animal masks I commissioned on Etsy. She makes intricate houses and cities out of blocks without me showing her a single blog post.
She is thrilled to do simple things like help me cook, clean, and fold laundry. Seriously – the kid loves to match socks. There’s really no need for me to craft elaborate matching games featuring foxes wearing washi tape mustaches. I know that some people enjoy all the crafting, but a toddler will be happy whether they’re matching a fox or a sock.
To be honest, my 3-year-old is usually plenty busy without me entertaining her. Seriously – Evy has so much to DO! I don’t mean structured activities or anything I’ve orchestrated – I mean just plain playtime. There are dolls to care for, play food to prepare, towers to build and destroy, pictures to draw, songs to sing, books to read, running and jumping to do – we’re not parenting geniuses, but the kid has no problem entertaining herself, and I have no plans to mess with that by rolling out an activity schedule.
And all the posts about “Things to Do With Kids Outside” and “100 Ideas for Outside Play”? Oy. I loved playing outside as a kid. Most of us have memories of endless afternoons spent in backyards, making up games, building forts, playing kickball – parents (maybe) watching from afar, but certainly not involved. I’m guessing our kids know how to play outside without referring to a Pinterest list. Really, they know what to do. No need to create hula hoop obstacle courses or make sidewalk chalk out of ice cubes.
We’ve gone and made it all too stressful and complicated. Childhood doesn’t need to be stage-managed. There are days when I read blogs and get pangs of mom guilt because I haven’t crafted 14 different sensory play experiences for my child. But she’s fine. The world is a sensory experience, especially for a little one. A kid’s imagination is more magical and more real than anything any blogger has come up with, believe me. There’s a lot our kids need us for, but when it comes to play let’s just take our seasonal handprint crafts and get out of the way.
Apparently I’m not alone in these thoughts – this post is great: I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical.
Great thoughts on this from Janet Lansbury, whose perspective on parenting has been very helpful to me: Stop Entertaining Your Toddler (In 3 Steps).
At a visit to the pediatrician, the doctor looks in her ear and asks if Cinderella is in there.
At another appointment, a doctor tells her that all of the stickers left are “boy stickers” and that she’ll go get “some princess and Barbie stickers.” (Both of these doctors were women.)
She’s asked if her favorite color is pink, they are sure she must love pink. (“No, blue. Blue is my favorite!” she says.)
It’s not that I think princesses or pink are bad, and I know that plenty of little girls love them – there’s a good chance she will one of these days, too.
It’s just that my daughter is so much more.
She loves being read to – Madeline, Harold & the Purple Crayon, The Snowy Day, Pete the Cat, Olivia, Lowly Worm.
She loves painting and drawing and building tall towers out of blocks and Legos.
She loves playing with her dolls, taking care of her “teeny tiny babies” and “cooking” in her play kitchen.
She loves dancing, throwing balls, playing train, helping me bake, telling stories, and dancing.
But not many people ask her about what she likes. (And believe me, she’d tell them. She has so much to talk about.) They just take a guess -and that guess usually has to do with princesses or Barbie. What message is she hearing?
I know that it can be hard and weird to make conversation with a toddler.
But I think we can all ask the children around us better questions, boys and girls. When you do, you’ll hear all kinds of awesome things come out of their mouths.
Ask them what books they like.
What do they like to play with at home? What do they play with at school?
What do they like to do in the snow?
Have they drawn any pictures lately? What colors did they use?
Our children are people, and they all like different things. They have stories to tell, things to share. I would never assume I know what an adult likes just because of their gender – our kids deserve the same respect.
(And, for the record, she took a Spiderman sticker that day at the doctor’s office, and wouldn’t take it off all day. She thinks spider man catches spiders…)