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.
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!
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 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.
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.
I have been uncharacteristically private in regards to our current foster placement. With past kiddos it has felt appropriate to share snippets here and there while protecting their privacy and stories. For this placement, it has not felt appropriate.
However, last night as I rocked Little One and the tears were flowing I wanted to share something on my heart.
Many times when we get a child back from a visit, we are tempted to bathe them immediately. Sometimes this is necessary if the child comes back obviously soiled, caked in grime, or sticky from treats. I’m sure there are also many germaphobes like me who like the ritual of the after-visit bath to cleanse away the host of germs you imagine them to have touched in a county visitation room where countless children have been snotting, slobbering, and chewing on the same objects all day.
Yesterday, Little One came back from visit smelling very strongly of their parent’s preferred fragrance. The smell of this fragrance was incredibly harsh. I am really sensitive to perfumes and colognes, perhaps more than most, but this time it was particularly bothersome. I began sneezing, my eyes were watering, and I even broke out into hives on my face as I cuddled Little One after the visit. As I was scratching my chin and blowing my nose while rocking this very upset, post-visit child, I thought “I’ve gotta bathe this baby.” As soon as I had the thought, Little One went into another fit of screaming, and I thought “Wait— this is all this child has. This scent. There is no physical touch from their bio parent to cling to, no article of parent’s clothing, no face to reach out and touch. There is only this scent.” If I bathed the child there and then, I would be stripping away the one sensory reminder this child had to hold on to as they went to bed. So I didn’t bathe Little One. Instead I put my head down close to theirs, ignoring the itching hives and runny nose I had. I prayed and sang over the child, and though this baby usually goes to sleep without any rocking, I rocked Little One to sleep.
Once I left the room, I cried. Yes, Little One is secure with us. Little one is loved, cared for, and knows us, having spent over half their life living with us. But Milkman and I are not, nor will we ever be Little One’s blood relatives. There is an invisible bond that this child will have to their biological parents that has and will continue to confound me, no matter how infrequent visits may be. The fragrance may have been offensive to my nose, but if I washed that away, Little One would be devoid of that lingering memory of their parent.
I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t bathe or shower a child after visit. I’m not here to say that you should always choose to suffer with an unpleasant or lingering cologne or perfume. I’m not saying that if you immediately bathe them that you’re a bad foster parent. I’m just saying these are the things we should seek to remember when we are caring for other people’s children.
Keep up the good work, foster parents. The little unnoticed things you do may go a longer way than you think at helping shape a child for the rest of their life.
Today you are teething and it must be very painful. You are normally such a happy baby, but today, nothing is working. You scream and arch your back, you nurse constantly, and won’t let me put you down. Your feelings are so big, but you are so small, and it must be really hard to process that.
My feelings are big, too. I’m touched out, my ears are ringing from the constant switch between screaming and white noise, and sometimes both combined. I’m trying to get my kitchen organized and there are piles of dirty dishes and pantry items strewn about. Every time I make progress in one cabinet or on one shelf you awake or begin to fuss, and I have to stop what I’m doing, leave a half done job, and pick you up and nurse. My breasts are sore from the constant popping off and latching on, back and forth to either side, and gnawing as you teethe.
I remember it was about 6.5 years ago when your oldest brother Captain was a baby. He had lots of big feelings, too. Especially at night. I remember these endless nights where we would be up constantly. And I was so tired. One night he was up 23 times and I thought he was broken and I was broken, and we took him to doctors and chiropractors, tried medicines and tinctures, tried routines and methods, and nothing worked, and we were exhausted. Everyone had an opinion, so we tried them all.
One time we decided to let him cry. He cried and cried and cried. The books said he would stop, but he didn’t stop. He cried so hard it hurt, and each night we tried it got worse, and we set timers and sat outside the door waiting for that break, but it never came. A few days of that and your daddy and I decided we would never do that to one of our babies again. We remembered how as Christian parents it was particularly important for us to remember that we were called to treat our children how God treats us. We remembered that we were ambassadors for Him, and that every time we were tired and weary God always listened to us and responded. We remembered that when we cry out to God, he is gracious and loving. We remembered that even when we are being irrational in our adult tantrums, the Lord is patient with us.
And when we remembered this, our mindset shifted. We learned to accept the long nights, to realize that our baby was just pushing us closer to Jesus, and that he wasn’t broken. I went to bed every night knowing I would be awake in 30 minutes, to nurse, and every 30 minutes for the whole night. And I changed. I literally changed. Yes, I still had nights where I felt like I was losing my mind and I was so exhausted I googled “can you die from sleep deprivation?” But overall, I was less angry, less anxious, less depressed, and less frustrated and daddy was, too.
Since Captain, each of your older siblings have slept better than the sibling before them. Most nights, I’m only up 4-6 times with you, which is a delightful change from Captain’s usual 10-12 a night. You meld so well into our routine and are so low maintenance that I’m not used to fussiness in a baby, so when you are, it comes as a shock. A reminder to switch off the part in my brain that grows weary and frustrated, angry and upset and fights, and turn on the part of my brain that remembers that you are only small once. That you aren’t trying to ruin my day or my night. That accepting these interruptions are for growing me and also slowing me so I can spend more time kissing your pudgy cheeks and soaking in your delicious scent.
My feelings are big, your feelings are big, but I am bigger than you. So it’s my job to hold yours and my own, to breathe and remember that soon— too soon— you’ll be reading books and riding bikes, and I’ll be missing your teething snuggles.
Today is your 4th birthday. 4. I can’t even believe this will be the 4th year we have celebrated your birthday without you here. Wasn’t I just in the hospital waiting to deliver your tiny, lifeless body?
So much has happened since that day, Sweet Boy. 4 months after I delivered you, I became pregnant with your little sister, our rainbow, Peachy. But that’s not all. There were 4 foster children in and out of our home since then. We moved— my goodness leaving the house we lived in where you lived and died in my womb nearly shattered my heart. I’ve experienced hosts of physical ailments, and a few diagnoses. Your big brother and big sister have gone from toddlers to elementary aged kids. After saying goodbye to you and two of your baby foster brothers who came and left after you, the Lord blessed us with a forever baby boy, your brother Gordito. He’s sleeping now in my arms with a full belly of mama’s milk and swaddled like a chubby burrito.
There has been so much change since you left us, and yet? I still miss you. I still feel your loss in physical and tangible ways.
Sometimes when I am kissing your baby brother, his soft, bubble gummy cheeks, I wonder if you would have looked like him if you had made it. I sniff in his pungent smell and remember all I have of you is a little box of ashes.
Sometimes I think about how different life would be if you had lived. There would be no Peachy, in all her wild insanity, I love her so much I can’t fathom life without her, and yet if you were here, she wouldn’t be. That makes me feel guilty if I think about it too much.
Sometimes when I’m in the living room with your brothers and sisters, I count their heads “1, 2, 3, 4…” and then I go into a mild panic scanning the room looking for you. Where is my other child? There have been times where I have gotten up and looked in other rooms in the house for a fifth child, and as I do, I am overcome with sadness again remembering you aren’t here. There’s no fifth head to count.
Ezra. My beautiful, itty bitty boy. I’ll never stop grieving your loss. I’ll always have a piece of my puzzle missing with you not here. I’ll forever remember you and keep your memory alive in the hearts of your siblings, so that even when I’m dead and gone and holding you in Heaven, your name will not be forgotten on earth.
But for now my love, I know you don’t miss me. You’re complete. You have lived a fuller life in the 4 years you’ve been in the presence of the Lord than I have 32 years on earth. You are held by arms more capable than mine, you are cared for better than I could have done, and you are loved even more than this imperfect mama ever could. I have such great joy knowing you are not mourning, you never have and never will.
God is good— all the time, and I take comfort in knowing that one day, we will be reunited together with Christ.
Let’s talk about something serious: Postpartum. It’s a wonderful time, after 9 months of anticipation, you have this wonderful baby that you get hold, love on, and stare at in amazement. There’s so much good that comes from having a baby! But, we’re lying if we say nothing difficult can also come out of it.
Sometimes your significant other, or even you, may experience feeling bluesy, anxious, or depressed after having a baby. There’s often a stigma associated with these things, but there shouldn’t be. It’s real, it can be serious, and when left untreated, it can lead down a scary and dangerous path. It’s estimated that 1 in 7 new mothers experience postpartum mood disorders. Before we start, realize that often what gets lumped into Postpartum Depression is actually 3 different mood disorders.
Let’s start with Postpartum Depression OR PPD, as it is commonly referred to, is just that: a state of depression after baby is born. Often brought on by a number of things including postpartum hormones, changes in amount and patterns of sleep, or the stress of caring for a helpless new baby. What does it look like?
Someone with PPD will:
• Bs sad/depressed more than they are happy, and feel disconnected from their baby.
• Have overwhelming anxiety over even the smallest of things
• Be tired with little desire to be active, and will often sleep excessively.
Next let’s look at the next thing that often gets lumped in with PPD: Postpartum Anxiety or PPA. Though Postpartum Anxiety is often labeled as depression it has some key differences that can impact how you can best support your partner in dealing with this. Like PPD, Postpartum Anxiety is anxiety brought on from the same things, hormones, lack of sleep, and a worry for your baby. But this is not an anxiety that comes and goes. It lingers.
What does it look like?
• It’s the constant fear that something bad is going to happen to your baby.
• It’s racing thoughts and excessive worrying.
• It’s a continual cycle of what ifs.
• It’s the fear of not being enough for your baby, while not wanting others to care for your baby.
• It often brings trouble with eating & sleeping
• It can also be experienced other physical symptoms associated with anxiety including panic attacks, dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea
It is important to understand and recognize that someone can have postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety simultaneously.
The third and final postpartum mood disorder is Postpartum Psychosis. This the most serious and least common of the 3, it occurs in less than 1% of new moms. Although not exclusively connected, it is often more common in moms who have dealt with bipolar disorder or had a family history of it.
How is Postpartum Psychosis different from the other two?
• Symptoms vary and can include:
-Reduced need for sleep
-Paranoia (beyond anxiety)
-Rapid mood swings
-Thoughts of suicide or infanticide
-Confusion and racing thoughts
-Delusions and strange beliefs
• It is considered a medical emergency and requires treatment
• While PPD & PPA may require medication for treatment, Postpartum Psychosis is a medical condition that is treatable with medication
So dads, you’re probably wondering “What does this have to do with me?” I’m here to tell you that you can be instrumental in supporting your wife and providing the care and help she needs postpartum.
How can you help if your wife is suffering from PPD, PPA or PPP?
First things first: Talk with her. I know this can be difficult for some men, but communication is key. As can often be the case with mood disorders, she may be in denial or not realize her condition, and may need some encouragement to get the help she needs. With Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, this process may take some time and you may not be able to broach the subject directly, you may need to sidestep a bit. However, if you suspect your wife has Postpartum Psychosis, reach out to medical professional immediately to seek treatment.
Here are some other ways to offer support:
• Let mom get some sleep (this means you may need to get up early with the kids on the weekend so she can catch up!)
• Make sure she’s eating properly
• Suggest taking a walk or other exercise so she can get some endorphins pumping
• Help her find community and support
• Encourage social interaction, whether in person or through social media
• Encourage her to meet other new moms or moms that have dealt with Postpartum mood disorders
• If appropriate, help her seek a therapist
• When needed seek professional help, or medication
• Prevention is the best medicine, if your wife has a history of depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder discuss with her doctor early on in pregnancy to get a plan in place.
This is not an exhaustive list, and some things may or may not work with your partner’s personality. Study her, talk to her, and most importantly? Listen. Even when she’s not talking, listen to her, encourage her, let her know she’s not alone, and she is not failing.
Noah or “Milkman” is husband to Rachel at She Rocks the Cradle and father to 4 children. He co-founded a dad’s only support group on Facebook called Dadventure. You can follow his fatherhood journey on instagram at @its.milkman
Disclaimer: This is a really different sort of entry for me to post publicly on the blog, and is more of a personal reflection than it is interesting for others, I’m sure. However, I’ve had some mild postpartum anxiety coupled with writer’s block (which started when my disability worsened near the end of my pregnancy), and this is the first thing I’ve felt compelled to write. So here is a little peek into my mind, heart, and life.
I was speaking with a male friend this week, and I shared that I had historically had more close male friends than close female friends, but since becoming a mother, I had gained more female than male friendships. After that thought was typed out, I stared at it and thought, “What happened to me? And where did all these female friends come from??” So I thought about it. And then I thought some more. And then I came to my answer…
A little history
Since I was a young child, I seemed to surround myself with male friends. As the youngest of 3 sisters, our all (but my dad) female household was an estrogen fest. Of course I loved playing with my sisters and I had dolls, but I always wanted a brother.
My mama has relayed a story to me about being at a church friend’s home for a party. I came out of the hallway with my pockets shoved so full of toy guns that my stonewashed jeans were falling down, when asked what I was doing with all the guns I said that the boys and I were playing war. Where ever Rachel was as a child, there was a small gang of boys surrounding her. I gave orders, and bossed them around, I organized and delegated play, and they went along with whatever rules I set.
Growing up homeschooled, my friends were from my church and homeschool group. It just so happened most of them were boys, and many of them had come into my life when we were toddlers and preschoolers. These were the boys who taught me to skateboard, jimmy candies out of coin operated candy machines, play war, and shoot hoops. These were the boys who I played with in the street til it was long after dark, these were the boys who were okay with me sitting on the boys side of the Sunday school classroom (which was not a rule. It was just how we always ended up!), the boys who didn’t seem to mind my wild and bossy ways. Until high school, I considered these boys to be my dearest friends. Of course I had wonderful girl friends in my cousins, and the occasional girl from church who didn’t have any other friends, but my preference was always to be close to brother figures.
This remained my trend, and in high school when many of the families belonging to my stand in brothers grew apart or moved, I was left alone. Alone in a sea of teenage girls who were prettier, smarter, thinner, and far more popular than I. Those girls had always been there, I had always been intimidated by them, and I had seldom understood them; but with the boys gone, I felt exposed.
Two things happened during this time. Firstly, I tried my hand at trying to fit in with other girls, and secondly, I was on the hunt for replacement brother figures. I didn’t like things the girls my age liked. Sure, I liked boy bands, but the Beatles had my heart more than N*sync ever could. I liked makeup, but I wore boys clothing often, and looked very tomboyish despite my long hair and body that developed quite early. I didn’t like or wasn’t allowed to watch most chick flicks and opted for war and action movies. I was obsessed with muscle cars and would rather go to a car show with my old man than go to the mall with a bunch of girls. Some girls I got along with okay, but it was more a mutual existence than friendship. I couldn’t get deep with the girls I knew, and I can’t pin this all on them, because as much as I could play the poor me card, I just didn’t like being with most girls. I found them boring, tedious, shallow, and uninteresting. I found them untrustworthy and petty, and like there was a never ending, silent competition for who was better, prettier, smarter, and more cunning.
Mercifully, during this stage I ended up finding a few other girls who liked the Beatles and Disneyland as much as I did, and was able to gain some solid female friends, some of whom I consider to be very good friends to this day. But still, I was looking for brothers— And brothers I eventually found.
These brothers were different. They weren’t my childhood church friends, these were guys a few years older than I was. These were guys who took me shooting, who taught me to smoke Swisher Sweets on park picnic benches, and who I played practical jokes with in the home improvement store we worked in. These were the guys who taught me to defend myself in a fist fight, who put up with my growing temper, and didn’t get offended when I was sarcastic. These were the guys who taught me an appreciation for violent movies, wild driving, and how to properly use a knife. Let’s just say they were a little more rough around the edges, and my gosh I loved it. I loved every manly, macho, chauvinistic second of it, because they offered me a sense of protection. Once again, I found that though they taught me to be tougher and wilder than ever, I was able to tell them what to do, and they did. Sure, on Saturday nights they were all together wasted at bars I was too young to go to, but if I demanded their heathenous rumps visit my church the next morning, they feigned complaint and showed up anyway. I criticized their girlfriends, and they usually just laughed it off. I was probably incredibly annoying, but they kept me around– and obeyed me, something other gals never did.
Then a whole lot of really dramatic stuff goes in here, and add a few more close female friends (several of whom confirmed my fear of them with their back stabbing and emotional thrashings), and then add some more male friends (most of the United States Marine Corps variety), and more and more dramatic events, and then we get to marriage. (Sorry, this is getting tedious, I swear we are nearing a point… eventually.)
The tipping point
Of course, once I was a newlywed, MOST of my friendships dwindled away. They were largely single, I was mostly twitterpated, and I was left with a few solid and wonderful friends. I got pregnant a hot minute after we were married, and I was lonely. Yes, I had my sweet Milkman, but my single girlfriends were off going to bars, coffee, concerts, and lumberjack festivals (someone’s gonna stab me for mentioning these), and I missed the banter and snark that I had enjoyed so much with my guy friends. So like all good pregnant women do, I went to the Internet in search of OTHER pregnant people, and I found them— by the droves. Consequently, they were all women. I was in uncharted waters. I joined so many mom groups, that my life was completely surrounded by women. And then I started this blog, knowing 99% of my audience (if I ever got one) would be other women. And then I became close to these women, and I let them in my life, and each pregnancy, I added more women to my life. And this blog grew and had even more women in my life.
Some of these women shredded me to pieces, but some of these women became close. And these women? They taught me how to cloth diaper, how to breastfeed, how to babywear, and what baby led weaning was. They taught me how to find the right meme for any conversation, how to survive on zero sleep, and how to be okay with eating chocolate in my closet while hiding from my kids. They taught me to be terrified of secondary drowning, what to do in case of a pea getting stuck in my toddler’s nose, and when to call the doctor for a fever. They taught me that some women are still cutthroat no matter their age or status in life, that it’s okay to cut yourself loose from the pack, and they taught me that being hurt deeply by other women isn’t a reason to swear them off for eternity. They taught me to love the children of strangers, how to file fostering paperwork, and how to say goodbye. They taught me how to trust other women, that it isn’t always a competition, and that some conversations are just better between women. They taught me how to make junk food when pregnant, how to give up sugar, and how to make a whole plate of brownies 9 days after giving up sugar because I was stressed. They taught me how to balance my sarcasm, how to be winsome in settling disagreements, and how to approach hot topics without being a jerk. They taught me love, friendship, and the value of having friends in other time zones.
And I wasn’t lonely anymore. And I wasn’t as insecure anymore. And I wasn’t as tough anymore. I began to soften.
So I sit here, 7 years after joining my first birth group and wondering how I found myself tightly knit to small groups of women across the Internet, and think: wait. When did I stop disliking other women so much? I had spent my whole life before motherhood scared of women, avoiding them as much as I could, and even (foolishly) priding myself in how much I didn’t need them. And yet, I find myself not just tolerating them, but loving them. The ones I’m close with and talk with daily, the ones whose familiar names and profile pictures pop up commenting on the blog, the ones whose little ones I see growing up on Instagram, the in person friends I have who are mothers now, or soon to be mothers, and all the ones in between, and I realized, sure I was always intimidated by other girls and women, but these aren’t just women.
These are nurturers, life givers, advocates, warriors, survivors, booboo kissers, macaroni n cheese slingers, kale smoothie blenders, healers, comforters, researchers, counselors, and go getters.
I don’t have to watch chick flicks, paint my nails, go shopping, look perfect, or be smart for these women to connect with me, because we have one of the highest callings on earth in common: