I do not like to be good enough. I do not like to be just okay. Last summer, my family rented an AirBnB. It was wonderful, truly the best vacation we had ever had. I… More
Mourning in the Cracks and Crevices
As a parent, mourning becomes a completely different experience. I come from a large Mexican family. When I say large, I actually mean gargantuan, colossal, massive. My mother makes up one of 13 living siblings, and between them and their spouses, there were scores of grandchildren made, and from us grandchildren there have been even more great grandchildren. I cannot speak for all Latino families, but I can speak for mine when I say we mourn demonstratively, sometimes loudly, sometimes dramatically, and preferably together. We really love to be together.
When I was 9, my white paternal grandmother died and the house was quiet and I was told not to cry from well meaning comforters. When I was 10, my Mexican maternal grandfather died and to this day I remember the wailing of 50+ people that could be heard half a block away from the front door. I have always favored how my Latino family mourns. I believe in crying a lot. Loudly. Shaking. Then remembering a good memory, laughing hysterically, eating a piece of chicken and a tortilla with chilé— and then crying again. Staying in bed, with the duvet up to your chin, listening to sad songs, with a box of tissue and a hot cup of coffee within reach, and turning up the volume and crying when it gets to the really sad part of the song.
But mourning while parenting cannot look like this, because you have to mourn in the cracks and crevices of your day. It looks like getting the news your cousin died, falling into a pile on the floor, and then your child asks you to wipe their bottom. It looks like recalling the memory of when your cousin tried to get gum out of your hair when you were 8 and she ended up going through every item in the pantry (peanut butter, mayo, oil— even garlic powder…) at midnight and you smelled like barf, causing you to laugh… and then just as you well up with tears, a child needs a snack. It looks like you escaping to a corner of the kitchen to cry quietly, and then 2 of your children begin to fight and the ability to patiently diffuse their argument turns into yelling and sending everyone out of the room because you are just feeling too much to do what you need to. As a foster parent it looks like overseeing that visit for a child and their parents and trying to act positive and create small talk when your heart is breaking thinking about your cousin’s children who are now without a mother— forever.
There is no feeling every bit of the feels that you need to feel. There is no spending the entire weekend bawling your face off. There are no hours long, kid-free car rides in the middle of the day. There are only those little slivers of quiet between all of the other people who need you. And so, the way I mourn has had to shift. It has had to change. My expectation of a satisfying cry looks less like hours of red faced, ugly crying and more like looking at a picture and shedding a few silent tears while rocking a baby. It looks more like telling your children about the person so dear to you who died and letting them see you cry a little while you make dinner. It means getting misty eyed while pushing your child on the swing and acknowledging the hitch in your throat, and then taking a deep breath. It looks more like saving the breakdown til you’re in the shower and everyone is tucked in for the night.
And while it may not be as demonstrative as my mourning from child-free days. It doesn’t make it any less real. Any less mournful. Any less tragic. Any less terrible. Any less sad. It’s just different.
(I have purposely not shared anything about the passing of my cousin in public for several reasons, one is her family’s privacy, secondly is I do not personally want pity or condolences, rather prayers for her children and family left behind. Thirdly, I never, ever, EVER want clicks at the expense of someone else’s tragedy. I am sharing this expressly with the hope that I can offer perspective to others who may be mourning while parenting and having a hard time making that shift).
It’s Okay to Disappoint Your Kids this Christmas
I’ve seen some funny memes about kids changing their Christmas list the week before Christmas once all the shopping is done, and I have giggled as I have scrolled past. But I wanted to share why I think it’s okay for your kid to be disappointed on Christmas morning.
I cannot recall a single Christmas where I received what I really wanted. And some people say that because they don’t remember— no friends! I REMEMBER not getting what I wanted. Why didn’t I? My dad was (is) the pastor of a small church in a small town. My old man made a wage below the poverty line for my growing up years. Thankfully he was wise with money, and my mom was frugal from also having grown up poor, so we had food on the table (beans and rice are where it’s at!) and clothes on our backs (thank you thrift stores!), and indeed, there were always presents under the tree and in our stockings, but it was never anything I asked for or anticipated. Why? There wasn’t enough money for those sorts of things.
When the Amazon, Target, and Walmart Christmas toy ads came this year, I got so excited for my kids to flip through— knowing full well they wouldn’t get a single thing under the tree that they loved in those catalogues. I told them “have fun imagining! You can picture what it would be like to get those things and play with them, enjoy every sweet moment of wondering what it would be like, because I can’t afford to get any of those items for you.” Now, could I afford all of those items if I really wanted to? I suppose, that depends on your definition of affordability. I will not take money out of my savings account that I’ve worked so hard on to provide us with backup in case of an emergency. I will not go into debt for a Christmas present. I will not neglect to buy presents for our reunified foster children’s families in order to buy my children that big ticket dream item.
But most of all, the reason I won’t be buying my kid a Nintendo switch or a Barbie dream house is this: it’s good to want for things. I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables to my kids, and a quote that stuck with me was one from Anne to her beloved friend Diana while visiting Diana’s very rich Aunt Josephine. Anne says, “There are so many things in this room and all so splendid that there is no scope for imagination. That is one consolation when you are poor— there are so many more things you can imagine about.”
Would it be the coolest thing to watch your kid open the gift of their dreams on Christmas morning? Yes. Would my kid think I was the best mom ever? Yes. Will that toy matter in a few months or years? Probably not. But what will shape them is a little yearning. Wanting for something, I really think, builds a measure of character. I’m not saying we should deprive our kids of fun or good things. We have plenty of good books, bins of hand me down Lego, Barbies, and paper and crayons to last us a lifetime. We get burgers and fries from In-N-Out once a month, we have frozen pizza and movie night every Friday, and occasionally take part in family Mario Kart tournaments on our used 10 year old Wii. There is plenty of fun, plenty of things to do, plenty of time spent creating good memories for our children. But I’m just not going to put myself in bondage to the hot holiday toy of the year, because it’s okay to go simple— on purpose even.
This is not some lofty message about how you should make your kids care less about presents at Christmas— because my kids love getting presents, just as much as I loved getting boxes of hot cocoa packets and instant coffee, and Pic-n-save sun catcher kits when I was a kid on Christmas. This isn’t a message about making your kids suffer because you had to— because my kids get much nicer things than I did at their age. This is not a message about being mean and a Scrooge to make your kids suffer— because we love Christmas here. This isn’t a message to say except experiences are better than tangible gifts—because both are a blessing. This is not a message to berate you if you got your kids that big ticket item— because I still want that Baby Alive my parents couldn’t afford to get me and you’re gonna be your kids hero on Christmas morning.
This is just to say, don’t feel bad if you couldn’t afford to make your kids’ Christmas list dreams come true. Don’t feel bad if you couldn’t get everything in time. Don’t feel bad if you just thought that toy would be loud and annoying in your house so you refused to buy it. It’s okay for them to strive for things. It’s okay for them to want things they can’t have. It’s even okay for them to be disappointed and learn how to deal with that while they are young. Those are the things that make us work harder for what we want when we are older. You’re doing a good job, in an especially exhausting time of year for parents.
Merry Christmas week to you and yours. I hope that whether you and you family get everything on your list, or whether it’s less than expected, you get a little extra time together this week, and get to munch on some chocolate or cookies before 9 am on Christmas morning. 😉💜
Why the heck am I doing this?
Early yesterday morning, after Milkman and I were awake 11 times through the night between the 6 children in our home, I kissed him and left for an eye appointment. While I was there, he got everyone ready for the day, fed, and read Bible with them. I couldn’t come home after the appointment because I needed to get diapers from target (in 2 sizes because we don’t know what size fits this baby best), and a bunch of other random newborn stuff. I got home, the kids were handed off to me so Milkman could work, and I had to find out how to homeschool 3 older kids while handling a newborn, nursing toddler, and preschooler (the answer by the way is not well, and with the assistance of a baby carrier, and Cocomelon). Then came calling 5 doctors to find anyone who takes the state insurance so this baby can get a checkup and getting the runaround and then a “no” after each one. Lunch and Naptime were total and complete disasters, trying to keep everyone quiet while Milkman had a video call for work, and then somehow get 3 children who all need to be held or sang to or breastfed or bottlefed or a mix of the above in order to sleep. Then came cooking beans and rice for our small group later in the evening, dropping baby off for a visit with parents (did I mention the social worker gave me the wrong address? New town, no clue where to go, and lots of traffic= complete meltdown for me and 10 minutes lost with the parents which is beyond upsetting). Drove back home, finished cooking, tried desperately to clean something, picked up baby from visit, rushed out to small group, came home, we put 6 kids to bed (a feat, let me tell you), and then I realized I hadn’t done my lesson prep for the week. The preschooler can’t fall asleep without me by the door so I lesson prepped in the hallway on the tile floor while Milkman did laundry (first time we ever washed a diaper with the clothes, that was fun for him to cleanup), and washed bottles. We both finished our tasks around 10:15, got ready for bed, showered, and fell into bed at 11.
I cannot tell you the amount of times I asked myself yesterday “why the bleep am I doing this?!” Why did I think I could handle fostering away from family and my supports? Why did I willingly take on a 6th child that is a newborn and therefore will not be sleeping at night? How did I forget the time and travel that comes with foster parenting? Why did I think I would be able to handle all this? What if I can’t do this? Should we have said no? Why do I even want to foster?
The short answer I would have given you while homeschool lesson planning for 3 grades at 9:30pm on cold tile floor last night is: I don’t know. I don’t know why we keep doing this. This is crazy. We must be actually out of our minds to keep doing this. The longer answer comes in the quiet moments when I have a chance to take a breath. I’m doing this because there is a need, and we have the means to fill this need. I’m doing this because we need more foster parents who are not looking for a free kid, and want to see families reunified. I’m doing this because we aren’t guaranteed an easy life. I’m doing this because I believe I have a moral and spiritual obligation to do so. I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing this because life is already crazy, so what’s a little more?
This is hard, and while not unfamiliar with difficult things, I am out of practice with all of the difficult things that come with foster parenting. I know that in a couple weeks, Milkman and I will hit our stride and our schedule will find a new normal, and we will adjust to even less sleep than the minimal sleep we have survived on for 9 years, and we will have a better handle on life.
But right now? Right now, I’m going to vacillate between “I absolutely cannot do this” and “I am so glad we are doing this”, not just daily, but sometimes hourly, and even minute to minute, and that’s okay.
Two Challenges to Foster Parents
Last Saturday I did my very last foster care training panel with my old county. I started paneling over 3 years ago, while pregnant with my 4th and fostering the most incredible little boy. (Foster parents who have had multiple placements and been doing this a while, you know that one placement that you cannot stop thinking of, worrying about, and praying for long after they’ve left? That was him.)
I got on this panel and became a foster care ambassador with our county because that little man’s therapist had connected with us during his placement and we talked a lot about reunification and foster care (oh wait, those are the same things… 😉🙃 who’s feeling snarky today? I am!) She told me about the foster care training programs that she ran for our county and told me that there were panels that would present in front of each new crew of prospective foster parents consisting of a foster parent, a reunified parent, and a former foster youth (FFY). That panel became one of the most mind blowing and life changing things to happen to my foster care journey.
For over a year, I sat next to one FFY who pleaded with foster parents to take teens, and I sweetly smiled and nodded, while internally thinking “not me, but yes, those people should definitely do that!” About 14 months after the first panel where I sat next to her, we said yes to a teenager. See what I mean about a life changing experience?
On this panel, I gained newfound empathy for those parents struggling with addiction, for those in a familial cycle of child abuse, for those who didn’t just lose their kids once— but multiple times. I gained an incredible insight on FFY who had awful experiences with foster parents, those who wanted to be loved and accepted but gave their foster parents hell for fear of being hurt, and those who never found their forever home. I often felt in those panels, where I was a Johnny One-Note beating the drum of reunification, that I was the weakest link, because nothing I could have said would have mattered as much as the stories of the other two panel members. They were the ones who had experienced very real and serious trauma.
As I’ve shared, we moved away from our county, but I continued to panel via Zoom (which was such a blessing!) When we completed our training in our new county, I was so saddened that they didn’t have a similar segment in their training, as I can’t imagine anything being more impactful in training than to hear from 3 experienced key parties in any foster care situation.
I was informed a couple of weeks ago that my former county had changed their rules and I would no longer be able to serve on the panel since they were not including non-county residents in the trainings. My heart dropped. The one last tie I had to my former county’s DCFS system was to be severed.
And so, this last Saturday, I served my last panel, and once again I was amazed at the stories my other two co-panelists shared and what they had lived through. I was overwhelmed once again at the heartbreak that causes the need for foster care and the heartbreak it in turn causes.
As it was my last panel, I was given the opportunity to share any last remarks on being a foster parent. While I’m just one foster mama, with no special talents, I wanted to share those last thoughts with you, in case anyone might find them helpful.
1. You aren’t just fostering a child. You are there to be a resource to an entire family. If you cannot support reunification until rights are terminated, then you aren’t fulfilling your role as a foster parent. Is it easy? No. Is it scary? Yes. Frustrating? Mhm. Appalling, mind blowing, overwhelming, angering, and exhausting? Check, check. But seeing a family reunified at the end of it is infinitely worth all of that pain and drain (and before my adoptive parents come at me, yes I’m grateful for you too, but that is so often the emphasis of foster parents, that we aren’t talking about that today!)
What does supporting the whole family look like? Making sure sibling visits happen if their siblings are elsewhere, keeping in regular contact with their parents and giving updates, advocating for their parents to get services and transportation. It means pushing when the social worker says they can’t find a parent, it means asking for extra visitation support for parent and child to make the most of their time together, it means at a minimum, telling that child every night that their parent loves them.
2. My very last uttered sentence on the panel this weekend was “Please take a teen.” The same words I heard from the incredibly brave FFY panelist I sat next to on more panels than not. Maybe you’re like Rachel in 2018 nodding and smiling outwardly at that statement right now while internally screaming “fat chance, Rach!” Okay so maybe you feel a teen isn’t right for your family right now, but step a little further out of your comfort zone. Maybe be willing to do emergency placements if you’re only adoption minded to help dip your toes into a different mindset, maybe it’s take an elementary age kid if you only take tinies. Maybe it’s to take a special needs kid or a child from a different religion from you. Stretch yourself, and stretch your family. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I bonded more quickly with our teenager than I did with any other placement. I didn’t think being a 33 year old mother to a 17 year old and a grandmother to her baby would have ever been something I was comfortable with— but it changed our lives and it changed theirs, because I get to be in their lives forever, a privilege which we didn’t get with all of the littles who left before.
I am very sad to be mourning yet another severed connection to the place I called home for 34 years, I am sad to not have the opportunity to hear and learn from other reunified parents and former foster youth, I am sad to not get to tell new foster parents about the tragic beauty of reunification. But man, am I ever grateful for the last 3 years I had, because without that voice to my right telling me to take a teen, we might never have said yes to our daughter and grand baby.
I hope that wherever you are in your foster care journey, you are ready and willing to support whole families and stretch yourself!
On Protecting Children’s Privacy in the Days of Parenting Influencers
This was written in 4 parts and shared on my Facebook page (fb.com/sherocksthecradle), and I am consolidating it here into one post.
Its been a minute. Wondering where I’ve been? Buckle up, this is a post in 4 parts, because it’s long, and in 2021, we need to read bite sized things, or we get bored in a hurry. (This doesn’t even have beautifully edited pictures, so. Probably not worth reading, right?😉)
A year ago, I gave birth for the 6th time, was transitioning and reunifying our foster placements (a teen mama and her baby), trying to survive without help (hello early days of the pandemic), and working through serious postpartum depression and anxiety. (And when I say working through, I actually mean drowning in and feeling like my life was ending.) At this same point in time, our landlord on the farm we were living on decided to raise our rent by hundreds of dollars (leading us down the path that would cause us to have to leave our hometown, family, church, and support networks and move hours away to a very different place). The US, tired from being locked down and growing restless, turned to protests and cries for social reform, so that even trying to escape my current reality by turning to mindless social media scrolls, I was bombarded with calls to do more than I already was. It was a combination of all of these things that caused me to shut down, and my relationship with social media came to a halt.
The one outlet I have held close throughout the twists and turns of motherhood has been to write, and so many of my readers have bolstered me through that process, offered thought provoking commentary, and encouraged me. Suddenly, the one place I felt safe to share my thoughts seemed hostile, unknown, and scary. My postpartum anxiety (PPA) began to color so many things that I held near and dear in an ugly light. My anxiety grew so wildly one night that I was awake for an entire night, unable to stop scrolling through the madness and unrest that my feed had become, and the next morning I told Milkman, I needed a break. I deleted the Facebook app off my phone for what I thought would be a week long respite.
That week turned into weeks, and then into months. During (and after) that break, I started to look at parenting posts in a different light (both my own and others) and everything I had thought about parenting blogs began to change. After the 3 month mark of my social media hiatus, I told Milkman I was going to delete She Rocks The Cradle. It was a long conversation and ultimately, he asked that I not delete it until I was in a better place mentally, which I think was wise counsel. I knew, however, things would need to look different if I decided to come back to it.
I was largely tempted to delete SRTC out of a concern that surfaced after reading posts that other bloggers had shared displaying intimate details of their kids’ lives that made me uncomfortable. I started asking close friends if what I was finding so distasteful about other mom bloggers and influencers (gosh I hate that term!) was evident in me. They assured me it was not, but as we all know, friends are not always the most objective folks to go to when you’re asking them to point out flaws because, they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
I just couldn’t shake the fear that if I wasn’t careful with what I wrote, I could end up like many of these other parenting bloggers, and teeter over into the realm of exploiting my children in the name of “sharing my parenting journey”.
Now, you might be saying, hold up, hold up, Rach! What kind of mom bloggers are you following that you are concerned about child exploitation?? And I’ll assure you, I’m not referring to anything creepy or nefarious on the dark web— they are the same blogs and influencers you follow, too. So what do I mean by this?
We spend a lot of time advocating for our children’s autonomy. We spend a lot of time concerned about consent for our children when it comes to their bodies. We spend a lot of time talking about how kids cannot give informed consent for a myriad of things, whether that is a romantic relationship with an adult, getting their ears pierced as babies, getting a circumcision, or the current hot topic of whether children can give informed consent to receive a certain dose of a new medication. These are all excellent things to debate, and (with the exception of agreeing that underaged humans having romantic entanglements with grown adults is not ever okay), many of us will fall on a one side or another of these debates and that’s okay. It’s healthy to discuss these things, it’s how we grow and learn, and more importantly how we can be a voice for children and protect them.
So, if we can discuss children’s lack of ability to give truly informed consent when it comes to a skewed power dynamic, I began to ask myself the following question: can my children really give informed consent to me as their parent who is in charge of them when it comes to the things I post about them on social media (be it on my own personal profile, or here on SRTC)? And this was something that I just couldn’t seem to say yes to. Not only do my children have no clue what social media even is, there is also a power dynamic between parent and child that would make it difficult for them to give a true and fair informed consent.
If you’ve been around here a while, you are aware that I do not share my biological or foster children’s faces or real names. This has always been an area of importance to me, as I have been leery to leave a large digital footprint to haunt them as they become adults. Even with these precautions, as I reviewed the topic of my children’s privacy and informed consent, I grew anxious, wondering if things that I had shared in the past bordered on the line of “too personal”. I ended up deleting a post of mine that has gone viral every year since I have posted it, and that post is the reason that many of you began following me. I decided, no matter how many followers it may bring me, if it has even a hint of sharing too much of my child’s private life, I just don’t have a right to post it.
I’m sure at this point, many of you are bristling, whether you share a lot about your kids on your private socials or have more of a public platform, you’re probably thinking that I am over-thinking this topic. That’s fair. I’m going to be totally transparent with the fact that I have been struggling with PPD/PPA pretty seriously for a year now. I’m in therapy, I have close friends I regularly check in with regarding the state of my mental health, and Milkman is always here to both support and challenge me in this area of my life. When dealing with anxiety, there are many things that seem to be a lot more menacing than they are, as I’m reminded each week when I get my pre-therapy check-in questionnaire that asks if I feel like something terrible is going to happen and I fill in a bubble on a scale ranging from hardly ever to every day.
But I’m here to say, that after a year of reflecting on this topic, I’m still feeling pretty strongly about it.
So how do you maintain a parenting blog and not share about your kids personal lives? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
Long ago I realized that I would never be successful at monetizing my blog, it would never be a career, and it would never expand past the fantastic little following I have here. About this I was certain and it’s for a couple of reasons:
- I never picked a real specific niche for SRTC. I’m not fashionable or cool, so the best dressed mom and kids sector was out. I’m overweight so fit mom sector was out. I don’t like to get on airplanes, so there went travel mom. While a firey reformed Baptist preacher’s daughter, I don’t seem to appeal to many Christian women, and so on and so forth. I have historically written about whatever I wanted to, whether that is homeschooling, chronic pain, breastfeeding, formula feeding, fostering, food, or marriage, and unless you have a specialized area of interest, most people aren’t on board with following my chaotic life.
- I am unwilling to use my children to schlep a product or make money. Yes, in the past I have done campaigns and talked about products I used on my kids, but these were unpaid, I never shared their personal details, and frankly, at this point in my life, I wouldn’t do that again, because I’m disinterested in using my children as a means to get money, products, or followers.
And this is what brought me almost a year ago to reach out to my close friends and ask “does it seem like I am I selling my children’s privacy in order to get more followers/product/attention?” Once again, the answer was an overwhelming and resounding no, but going forward, I feel even more sensitive to this than I had been in the past.
This leaves me with two choices: let SRTC die (which wouldn’t be difficult, considering I have neglected this space for a year), or when talking about parenting, focus on how I parent, rather than the people I’m parenting. I’m still not totally sure what I’ll do. Facebook has changed so much from the early days of when I was posting here. It’s nearly impossible for posts to get traction when you refuse to pay to promote them, and I ain’t about that pay for likes life, any more than I’m about that share the intimate details of my kids’ lives for likes life.
I suppose I am sharing about this not for some validation or earth shattering revelation, but because this is what I’ve often done on SRTC. Shout my thoughts into the void— even when they aren’t pretty or packaged nicely. Even when they seem unfinished, unedited, or unpolished. Even when they aren’t popular or share-worthy.
So for now, maybe I’m back. At least a little. When time, raising 5 children, homeschooling, keeping a house, nursing 2 kids, running a business (yes, I also started a business amidst the pandemic, and I’m proud to share it’s doing well and bringing so much joy! I’m on Instagram @sherockssocial ), juggling food allergies amongst us all, dealing with chronic pain, completing house projects, trying to eat well, exercise, and hit my 50 book reading goal for the year all allow me a moment here or there to post.
In the meantime, thanks for being patient with me while I figure these things out, and I hope to try to continue to share things that might be helpful in your parenting journey, without exploiting the privacy and digital footprint of my kiddos.
***As an addendum, I want to make it clear that while I currently hold to the conviction that using my children for likes, sponsors, product, or pay is not a path that I feel comfortable with, and while I may even find it unwise for others, I have benefitted from many mom bloggers, particularly early in my parenting journey, who did (what I would now label as) over-share about their children.
It’s not easy to be counter-cultural, it’s not a comfortable place to be, and I hope I have not been offensive as I’ve shared what’s been brewing in my head for the last year.
Also, as a clarification, when I use the word exploitation, I use it in its dictionary definition of “the action of making use of and benefiting from resources”, when those resources are your children. I do not mean to say that mom bloggers and influencers are using their children for evil purposes, just that they are using their children for their own benefit rather than the benefit of the child when they over-share about their kids’ personal lives, quotes, or journeys. ***
Nursing is Water
I may not talk about it a whole lot these days, but breastfeeding is still a topic that is close to me, it’s important to me (and even more so to my babies), but having nursed and tandem nursed over 8 and a half years straight, breastfeeding has become like water to me.
“Uhhhh… okay. What’s that mean, Rach?”
I’ll explain. In the beginning of my breastfeeding journey, in 2012, breastfeeding was all encompassing as I tried to figure it out. I mean really just figure out the mechanics of how it worked. My mother nursed me for a matter of months, I was the baby of the family, so I didn’t have people to ask, and my sense of modesty meant that no one ever saw me nurse and couldn’t correct me if I was doing it wrong. I remember begging Milkman in the middle of the night to go to the store for formula as I howled in exasperation while nursing my first baby, and him saying we could talk about it in the morning. It went on like that for at least a week’s worth of nights, though it seemed like months at the time. I was constantly texting my friend who had 2 kids before me and asking her breastfeeding questions. I remember thinking she was this senior bastion of parenting wisdom because she had TWO kids (which now seems funny since I have had 12 from newborns to 19!) I sought out breastfeeding blogs. I read The Leaky Boob, Badass Breastfeeder, Nurshable, I Am Not the Babysitter, Baby Rabies… I was out to find out why all these people could nurse and not hate it.
One day, Milkman came home from work to me in my jammies, as I sat in our tiny 1960’s mobile home rental with my newborn at my breast and I had dried tear streaks running down my cheeks. I had been struggling with postpartum depression, so he came over to me with concern in his eyes and asked if I was okay. I looked up at him and said “I love this.” He looked quizzically at me and I said “I love nursing my baby. I love being a mother. I didn’t do anything today but nurse, and it’s okay.” He hugged and kissed us both, and that day was the turning point in my outlook on nursing. Nursing went from a drudgery every time, to a chance to sit and be still with my baby. To soak in his baby scents and smiles, to hold his body right next to mine and make him grow. I became– dare I say it?– obsessive about nursing and all things attachment parenting. I wore him, nursed him on demand, stopped worrying about sleep schedules (though not about lack of sleep, because let me tell you, that was a journey unto itself and a story for another day), and fell headfirst into the abyss of what we called “crunchy attachment parenting” (Maybe this is still a thing people care about?).
If nursing was a religion, I was a missionary. I was there to study, to be educated, to educate others. I was now the mom whose friends were texting pictures of their latches at 3am and I was there to help them, just as my friend had done for me. I was the nursing resource in my birth groups, the cheerleader, the one trying to put salve on their worries and encourage new moms to keep going and to trust their bodies and trust their babies. I couldn’t scroll past a single nursing question in any group I was in without dropping my two cents. I invested so much time and emotional energy into nursing, that I am SURE I was obnoxious to others, though I always had the purest of intentions. I look back and I really think I felt I had to be this fount of knowledge anytime nursing came up, because in my head, I could help save a nursing relationship that was going south, since I lived to tell the tale of my own frustrations and worries when I was a brand new mom.
And that’s the thing. If nursing had come easily to me, I probably wouldn’t have cared as much, living on my little cloud, a hippie goddess with milk flowing like rain and not understanding the struggle. But I DID struggle. I struggled with so many rounds of clogged ducts, mastitis, a medical emergency that separated me from my newborn baby, pumping to keep my supply up, nursing through pregnancies when my milk was dry and my breasts ached and screamed, 9 months of ductal thrush, and so VERY many sleepless nights with a baby at my breast and the glow of my phone from Facebook mom groups to keep me awake. I fought hard for my nursing journey, and so when I would read the struggles of another mother, I wanted them to rise above and conquer them like I had done.
But time helps mature us, and the longer I was a mother, and the more children I had, and learning to formula feed my foster babies gave me a new perspective. It wasn’t my job to educate everyone all the time. So many of the people I invested time into, calling lactation consultants for, dropping off pumps, and answering questions for all night chose not to nurse. I had felt like I had failed them and I had failed their babies, but I begun to realize that it wasn’t my “fault” nor was it their “fault”, there was no fault to be had. It was simply their choice, not mine– and that was okay!
This did not make my dedication to nursing my own biological children waiver. I have been nursing without a break since my first child was born almost nine years ago. I have nursed through pregnancies and have tandem nursed every subsequent baby with their older and then younger sibling during this time. What was once a novel and magical occurrence, became something I did. Not something I loved because it was always cozy and special, not something I hated because my breasts were on fire and the baby fussed. It just became… like water.
Water is essential to our survival as humans. You can go without human contact, shelter, and food, for extended periods of time, but you can’t go without water. When it’s hot outside or you have over-exerted yourself, you might like water a little more than when its temperate and you’ve been sedentary, but you need it at both times. We seldom get overly excited about water (First world privileges), but we cannot downplay its importance. We don’t toast special occasions with water, and we don’t celebrate water. We often take it for granted, because it’s just… there. Water is everything, we need water to survive, water keeps us alive and thriving, but water is also mundane, flavorless, ordinary, and unexciting.
And in this way, nursing has become like water to me. Just like when I am thirsty after being in the sun and sweating and water seems like the best thing in the world to drink, sometimes, nursing is all encompassing, beautiful, and lovely. Just like when I am comfortable in my cool home and I’ve been sitting in a chair and reading for hours and I don’t feel thirsty, but I take a sip from my water bottle because I know that I SHOULD drink, sometimes, nursing seems like something extra that I HAVE to do. And most of the time? Most of the time, I keep my purple water bottle filled and near me, not taking particular joy or dread at sipping my usual 80-100 ounces a day to keep up my hydration to nurse 2 children every day, and most of the time I just nurse to keep my babies alive. Comforted. Safe. Calm. Quiet. Full. Satisfied. It’s not anything to look forward to or run away from. Not something I celebrate or downplay. Nursing is just water.
I Hate Postpartum
I hate postpartum.
I know, I know, we are supposed to relish every moment of motherhood, and love our bodies at every stage, and be amazed by ourselves, blah, blah, blah bull crap. I hate it.
First off let me clarify, because I hear a lot of people who automatically think the word postpartum means a mood disorder because we associate it with postpartum depression (PPD), anxiety (PPA), or psychosis. It doesn’t. It literally means the time after you’ve given birth, and while I have plenty of stuff to say about postpartum mood disorders, I really just hate a whole lot about what happens after giving birth. Secondly, I know it’s not like me to be a downer in this space, but in case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t been in this space for well over a month, because I have been so far in a postpartum ditch I haven’t been able to find my way out. My reappearance to write is really difficult for me, and to be honest, I’m only doing this because the therapist I’m seeing for postpartum depression and anxiety made it my assignment to return to something I find fulfillment in as I struggle to get a handle on my mental health. Writing is one of the few things that helps me process, so forgive me as this is some of the rockiest writing I’ve ever shared.
After being pregnant during a pandemic, being secluded from my support network of family, friends, and church, adding a teenager back into our home, deteriorating physically to the point of being in a wheelchair again, my husband temporarily being on furlough due to said pandemic, our landlord raising our rent a significant amount during the pandemic, trauma parenting an adult and toddler in the system, giving birth during a pandemic, experiencing the worst PPD and PPA of my life, all while attending multiple phone meetings with our girls’ support team, advocating, saying goodbye to the baby I had raised for 13 months and her mama that I raised for 5 months, and trying desperately to find a place to move since we can not afford the rent increase here, but finding nothing so just spending hours looking and packing… I. Am. Exhausted.
If I hated postpartum in the past, I have hated it all the more so this time.
As I was in the hospital being induced unexpectedly due to my baby girl having extreme decelerations during a non stress test, I thought “I don’t love being induced, but I could do it again.” As I had yet another failed epidural, I thought, “it sucks that my body hates epidurals, but I could do this again.” As I passed the 18 hour mark of my induction and still hadn’t progressed, I thought “I hate that my body still doesn’t know how to labor after 6 pregnancies, but I could do this again.” During transition on 12 units of pitocin as I went from 4 centimeters to 10 in an hour, as I was breathing through contractions, I thought, “I forgot how intense transition is and how much this hurts… but I would definitely do this again.” As I pushed out my tiniest baby ever, I thought “that was easy, I could totally do this again.” And then moments after she was in my arms, and I was being given shots to prevent another life threatening postpartum hemorrhage, and I was being cleaned up, diapered, and moved and poked and prodded, and the postpartum contractions started up, and I was shaky and weak, I thought “I hate this so much, I would be happy if I never, ever, had to do this part ever again.” And that feeling has stuck with me every, single day since I gave birth 2 months ago.
I hated postpartum with every nursing cramp that sent me into a dizzying pain (these get worse with every baby). I hated postpartum coming home to a house full of unrest, trauma, anger, and too many emotions outside of my own. I hated postpartum every trip to the bathroom as my body poured blood for 5 weeks. I hated postpartum as I tried to get back on my feet again physically. I hated postpartum hormones as anxiety crippled my body completely. I hated postpartum hormones as I went into a dark tunnel of depression and nothingness. I hated postpartum as I struggled to bond with my baby because I needed to be available to an entire team of people supporting our girls as they readied to transition and reunify, and I couldn’t connect with my own child. I hated postpartum hormones as they made saying goodbye to our girls so much more intense than I thought possible and as I felt totally conflicted from one moment to the next about how I felt regarding that goodbye. I’ve hated postpartum for making the process of trying to find a place to move to during a pandemic that much more frustrating.
I’m not sharing these things for sympathy or a pat on the back. I hate nothing more than friends, family, and therapists giving me a sad “there there” look with a outstretched lower lip. I don’t want pats on the back for making it through a tough time, I don’t want people saying “it’ll get better”. I am not sharing this because I’m triumphant on the other side and have some great wisdom to impart to you wrapped in flowery paper with a bow on top. I am sharing this because I’ve talked a lot of moms through PPA and PPD, and I gave them all the right answers, but having never been in it this deep, those were just nice words. I’m sharing because in case you’re going through this right now, I’m going through it too, so you don’t have to feel alone. If you’re feeling like your anxiety is a pool of battery acid eating you up from the outside in, then I want you to know I am feeling that too. That when the laughter of your children physically hurts your ears and makes your skin burn because you cannot handle any more sensory input, I have felt that way, too. And if you can’t stop crying for no particular reason, I am feeling that way, too. When you are staring into space and your partner cannot reach you because it feels better to shut down than to feel anything, you aren’t alone, because I’m there too. When you have a fuse so short that you explode over someone leaving their toys on the floor and have to retreat to your room to calm down, I want you to know it’s not just you. When you are smelling your baby’s head, doing skin to skin, nursing, staring into their eyes and all you see is a random baby, but not your baby, remember others have felt this, too, because I have. When you’re used to being the caregiver and fixing everyone else’s problems, but you can’t even get out of bed, you aren’t the first. If dialing the number for behavioral health feels like a 20 foot wave is barreling you over, keep dialing even if it feels like you’re the first person to fail this hard, you aren’t the first to feel that, and you certainly aren’t a failure. Because that was me, and I felt scared and like a failure, too.
Your postpartum experience is different from mine, because it’s your own. It’s your story. It’s your struggle. Mine struggles aren’t bigger or more important. Yours aren’t less important because you have less kids or different responsibilities. We may have differences in the exact details, but I need you to know that you have other mothers who have walked this road before you, are walking it alongside you, and others will follow behind you. I need you and I to remember that this is temporary, even when it doesn’t feel like it. That it’s okay to get help. It’s okay to talk to someone. It’s okay to take meds if you need them. It’s okay to be vulnerable to a therapist. It’s okay to tell others that you aren’t okay, because maybe they aren’t okay either.
So for now, reach out to the ones ahead of you, hug the ones alongside you, and once you’re out of it, help the ones behind you.
The Last Mile
I have never run a marathon, and I never expect to. But I imagine how I am feeling in this moment is similar to that last mile a marathon runner runs.
After 13 months, our girls are reunifying and moving out.
I am elated. There’s no other word for it. We have advocated and pushed and done whatever we could to help make this happen. There is no greater joy than a family being put back together and getting a fresh start in a new place. Parent and child are finally starting a new chapter of their lives together. Sure they’ve been living together here in our home, but now they are on their own. It’s the next big thing.
I am terribly sad. Sad is such a general word, but it’s the only word I can find. I watched baby’s first steps, heard her first words, took her on her first Disney trip, held her when she cried, kissed her booboos. I’ve received countless kisses and cuddles from her, tickled her til we both were in stitches laughing, watched her bond with Milkman grow stronger than with any other caregiver, and felt her sleepy breathing belly on my back in the carrier for so many naps. For over 13 months she has slept in my home every single night, and awoken every single morning to the sounds of her 4 (now 5) siblings. I’ve been greeted by her big smile and loud voice yelling “MAMA!” Every time I came out of my room in the mornings. How could you not be sad saying goodbye to a child who has been as close as your own for over a year? And her mommy? The teenager I have seen from a minor to a legal adult, the girl whom I have held many evenings working through things, the girl whose gorgeous long hair I have braided countless times, with whom I have laughed so hard we’ve almost peed ourselves and cried so hard we’ve emptied ourselves of all emotion. The teenager who moved out in a fury months after she came, the teenager who returned back to our family a few months ago. This teenager that I bonded with quicker than I ever bonded with a foster baby, is leaving my home forever.
I am relieved. Both for selfless and selfish reasons— yes, I am a human and I am sometimes selfish. I am relieved because we worked so incredibly hard to make this happen. I am relieved because families belong together. I am relieved because this is the next step. But I am also relieved because I am tired. I am tired of meetings, specialist appointments, so many therapies, so much paperwork. I am relieved because I haven’t had time to bond with my 2 week old baby because from the second I got home from the hospital I have been on calls and doing interviews for next steps and trying to calm storms and repair old wounds for a hurting soul. I am relieved because I haven’t been alone with my husband in months. I’m relieved because 5 kids will seem like a breeze after 7 kids. I’m relieved because I’m tired— I’m so so so tired of having to model perfect parenting 24/7. I’m relieved because my family needs a break from the constant trauma that has washed through our home for these last 13 months, and the behaviors that trauma results in.
I am grateful. I am grateful we said yes to a teenager last year after saying we wouldn’t do that while we had young children. I’m grateful we said yes to her and her baby when we thought we wouldn’t foster moms and their babies til we were much older. I’m grateful I bugged every provider, therapist, and social worker til we got the safety nets in place for these two to set them off on the right foot. I am grateful my children have grown in patience and selflessness, sharing their mama with so many others. I am grateful that I have been stretched— not TO my limit— but BEYOND my limits, til I thought I would break and shatter into a million pieces, but didn’t. I am grateful that my life has been forever changed by these two souls.
I am hopeful. I am hopeful for their future, that they will be successful in their reunification. I am hopeful they will stay in our family’s life forever. I am hopeful they will break old cycles.
We are on the last mile. The finish line is so close I can taste the rest at the end of it, feel it in my aching soul. I can’t wait for it to be here— but I am also so scared to cross the finish line, and everything to be forever different. This is foster care: where we take the bitter along with the sweet, where our family is ripped apart, so another can be made whole.
Go For the Drive
One year ago today, after saying yes 2 months prior and a lot of twists and turns, we became foster parents to a teenager for the very first time and grandparents to her baby. While little one has been here the whole time, we had an 8 month interruption with our teenager in the middle, but we are happily all reunited under one roof again.
I would like to go back in time one year ago to offer myself the following teenage parenting advice:
Go for the drive.
I’m an over-thinker, an over-talker, a constant fixer, a planner, a get-to-the-bottom-of-things kind of a gal. When there’s a problem, I want all the details and I want to right the wrong IMMEDIATELY. This is a good skill, a great skill even, and I’m grateful for my super Type A parents for passing these skills on to me, but these are not the solution to every problem when you are parenting a teenager. You need a variety of tools in your toolbox and I was using this one almost exclusively.
I spent a lot of time last year beating a nail with my only tool. This was sometimes the right tool and served my teenager well. This was at other times the wrong tool and exasperated my teenager, and pushed her from me. When we began asking the powers that be for permission to have our teenager return, Milkman and I had to do a lot of introspection. We talked about the things we looked forward to if approved, the things we were dreading, and the things we were scared about. We talked about things that were successful last time and the things that were not. I made a commitment to myself that I would not always try to fix every problem this time, that I would focus on the important things, and sort out the things that I didn’t need to bother with.
This time around there have been teaching moments, times to get to the bottom of things, times where we couldn’t let something hang, but there have already been many times where I pull out that hammer to nail out the problem, and I put it right back. I can’t fix every problem, and I don’t need to fix every problem. I can’t erase every tear, and I can’t undo trauma.
This means there are times when we sit and cry together. Other times, we come up with solutions together. But today? We went for a drive. No, not a drive where we had a soul-baring conversation, a drive where we got in the car, rolled down the windows, and blasted music— not unfamiliar to her Christian music or music from my generation— music that would make her feel freer. There was no talking, no nonchalantly trying to get to the bottom of a story, no analyzing, no fixing. Just the two of us, a car, wind blowing our hair everywhere, and loud, VERY LOUD music. We both felt better for it, and by the time we got home to 5 little kids and Milkman, we were smiling and lighter-hearted.
So, Rachel of April 18th, 2019, go for the drive. You aren’t going to fix anything by pushing someone to their limit. It’s okay to let things melt away on the open road sometimes. (Also, it’s gonna be tough, but the good days make it worth it, keep pressing on!)
Fostering in a Pandemic
This is an extra awful time to be involved in the child welfare system, whether you are a foster parent, a biological parent, or a foster child. I have heard of foster parents anxious about having to deal with in person visits and risk bringing illness into their own home. Other foster parents still seem more anxious about keeping babies and young children entertained for a virtual visit. And then there are the bio parents. Can you imagine if you were just weeks away from reunification and all your visits came to a halt? All that time spent working on bonding and making connections with your child totally coming to a screeching halt? And then of course for our most vulnerable kiddos, who thrive on routine, and then their school, therapies, and visits with their parents have to stop. The thing is, there’s no good solution. Continue as normal and we risk spreading this awful virus, stop everything, and we risk harm to the parent and child relationship. So as we face this new normal together, I wanted to share some encouragement for how we are handling things here at the Cradle Household in regards to fostering.
I got word from my perinatologist last week that our entire family is on strict quarantine, due to the fact that I am pregnant and have multiple immune system issues alongside being a diabetic this pregnancy. She stressed this meant that we could not do in person visits with anyone. I am not allowed to leave the house to go to the grocery store, my husband cannot be around people except to shop for our essentials. I was gutted for our Fosterling’s parents, though we had discussed that might happen soon anyway. The first thing I did was contact our county social worker with a couple of plans. I asked her opinion on feasibility and legality of the options I had in mind. She gave me the option to present it to each of the baby’s parents or for her to handle it. Because I have open communication with her parent’s, I thought it would be better coming from me, and we agreed if we came to an impasse, we would include the social worker in the communication.
Both parents were incredibly understanding, and we agreed to set up more regular communication, and chose Marco Polo for video chatting instead of FaceTime since in the past they have observed it is hard for a toddler to sit still for a long FaceTime visit. Marco Polo gives us the option of recording and sending videos back and forth at each party’s convenience, and it gives each of us the option of replaying videos to encourage that familiarity with baby and parent. We also have been sending more picture and video messages. We’ve always sent pictures here and there, but now, I’m making a more concerted effort to take multiple pictures a day specifically to send to them. Is it going to be a little tricky handling two different parents and their virtual communication with a very young child? Sure. But I cannot imagine being a parent and not having access to my child because of a freak virus that is overtaking the world. Is it going to be easy? No, but it beats having a child be a viral go between back and forth through 3 different households and possibly putting my and my unborn baby at risk.
These are unprecedented times. Your social workers are overwhelmed, their guidelines are changing just as rapidly as everything else in the world, and they may not have reached out yet because they are likely just as stressed as you are. Do your best as a foster parent to come up with a plan. Do your best as a foster parent to be a good communicator with your placement’s family. Do your best to keep everyone in your care safe. Do your best to keep positive.