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.

A Time to Bathe, and a Time to Cuddle

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.

Teething Blues

Sweet Little Gordito,

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.

I love you, little fatling.

Love,

Mama

Happy 4th Birthday, Ezra

Dear Ezra,

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.

I love you, sweet Ezra Eugene.

Love,

Your Mama

Supporting Your Postpartum Spouse

Hey Dads,

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:

-Hallucinations

-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.

• Find more information from resources like Postpartum Support International

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

From Macho to Mama

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’ve had 4 different friends send me this… they know me too well.

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:

To be called “Mother”.

Nursing to Sleep is Not a Bad Habit (or What Do YOUR Instincts Say?)

Hey Y’all!

Today’s post is written by one of my favorite writers, the woman who taught me to write– my middle sister, Beky. Beky is my senior by 4 years, but became a mother 4 years after my first child was born. My two sisters are my dearest and closest friends, each of us parents a little differently, but I respect each of them immensely. Yesterday my sister Beky was sharing how glad she was that she relished the long periods of holding her first for naps as she nursed, and said she wished she could reassure other first time mothers that it’s okay to hold and nurse their babies for sleep. I told her I had the perfect place for her to share that reassurance, right here on She Rocks the Cradle! So without further ado, here is a guest post from my big sis, Beky.

–Rachel

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As I nursed and rocked my little one (we’ll call him Small Fry) down for his morning nap, watching carefully for that magical moment when I was sure he was OUT, so that I could successfully transfer him to his crib, so that I could get back to momming my 3-year-old (we’ll call him Nugget), it hit me. This is why I did it.

This is why I held Nugget for almost every nap when he was a baby. This is why I allowed him to nurse sometimes for entire naps. This is why I stayed firmly planted on my rocking chair, hardly daring to move a muscle for fear of waking him. This is why I never bothered to “train” him to nap in his crib, independently of me. This is why, in my first-time-mom uncertainty, I posted on a local mom group on Facebook to ask if it was ok to nurse my baby to sleep, to let him nurse in his sleep, to hold him in my arms until he was ready to wake up.

Among the many responses, one stood out. “What do YOUR instincts say?”

I responded, “My instincts tell me that this is a unique experience, having only one baby right now, and I should relish the freedom to be as responsive to him as I can right now because I know it will be harder when the next one comes.”

“There’s your answer!” came the sweet and reassuring reply.

Nearly three years later, that post came to my mind as I gently laid Small Fry in his crib this morning. I took a few seconds to gaze at his pursed, pink lips, his curled up fingers, and the rise and fall of his chest. “Mamaaaa!” came blaring from the living room as Nugget pulled me back to the reality that my days of long, sleepy cuddles on the rocker are no more. Those days of an hour or more of side-lying-nursing in bed while lazily scrolling Facebook, watching a show on Netflix with my headphones on, or just simply closing my eyes and embracing the forced rest. Nope, those days are gone. Naps are business with Small Fry. Get him to sleep as quickly as possible, keeping an attentive ear pealed for Nugget in the other room, transfer him to the crib, and pray for a decent nap so I can catch up on laundry, dishes, and maybe a few moments of quality, one-on-one time with Nugget before Small Fry awakes.

I knew back then that I was right to embrace the once-in-a-lifetime flexibility that came with being a stay at home mom to my first baby. So I followed my gut without apology. But the epiphany I experienced this morning gave me such a surge of confidence in my choices as a new mama, that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops to all new mamas out there: “YES! It’s ok! It’s ok to rock and shush and nurse and hold your sweet baby until they drift off to sleep! It’s ok to continue that *while* they sleep if that’s what keeps them asleep! Don’t feel guilty for breathing in the fragrance of your precious baby’s fuzzy head, for staring at them the whole time they sleep (while you ‘should’ be sleeping according to many) because you still just can’t believe they’re yours, so perfectly and beautifully yours. It’s ok, mama. It’s ok.”

What practice or habit are you second-guessing yourself on today? What piece of advice have you received recently that has you wondering if you’re doing it all wrong? The answer is the question: What do YOUR instincts say?

[Fun fact: That response “What do YOUR instincts say?” came from none other than our favorite mom-blogger, SheRocksTheCradle. Thanks, SRTC!]

I Want to be Normal Pregnant

Jealousy is an ugly thing. Jealousy is not something I often struggle with. I am content with my life, with my family, with the old house I rent, with the practical car I drive, with the friends I have, with the modest income we have, and with the opportunities life has given me.

But, as I barely scooted along the halls of the medical building to get to my Perinatology appointment this morning, in excruciating pain, with my loud clunking walker, I entered the OB waiting room to see normal pregnant people. Beautiful, standing tall, perfect bellied, walking with a strong gait, normal pregnant people. And when I saw them, a tinge of jealousy surfaced. I know it’s not their fault they can walk, and sit, and sleep, and probably cook, clean, and work still, but it was a sobering reminder of what pregnancy means for someone with severe Symphysis Pubic Disorder.

I told myself “Count your blessings, woman. You have made it so far this pregnancy. You have reached your goal for staying out of a wheelchair (though that’ll probably happen by this weekend), you have been so much more mobile, you have had so much less pain than in the past.” But seeing those perfect looking pregnant women who exude glow and energy and vibrance, it hurts.

Yesterday was my worst day of SPD this pregnancy. Extremely unstable, my pelvis clicking and popping, grinding and sliding all day long. I spent the majority of the day parenting from a chair and sitting on ice packs, but in the evening, I had a little bit of motivation to clean, so I scooted to the laundry room with my walker and got to cleaning and organizing. I thought that since I was just doing a brief task, I wouldn’t bother with my harness. That was my first error. But then? I tripped over a shoe, and slipped just barely, but enough for my unstable pelvis to make a loud snap and crackle as I stopped myself from falling. I screamed. Screamed so loud, that the whole household came running. I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk, just cry. So here I am. One stupid shoe, and I’m likely out of commission mobility wise for the duration of my pregnancy.

So, here I sit in the waiting room. With all the normal and beautiful pregnant women. I called Milkman crying. It doesn’t seem fair. How is it that the little girl who wanted scores of babies, has such awful pregnancies now that she is grown? What is it like to be pregnant and walk normally? What is it like to be able to get your pajamas on at night without your husband’s assistance? What is it like to not need a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair to get around? I’m jealous. And I don’t begrudge them, I wouldn’t wish SPD on anyone. But, it’s still hard.

So there’s my confession for the day: Being jealous of normal pregnant people. I’m going to do my best to count my blessings and be grateful that I have so much to be grateful for. Yeah my pregnancies are awful, but I can get pregnant. Yeah, I’m in pain, but my living babies are healthy and whole. Yes, everything hurts, but I have a stable partner to help me through it. Sure, I need medical devices to get from point A to point B, but at least I have access to them. There’s my self pep talk for the day. Thanks for tracking through it with me.

Why I Won’t Share My Due Date— or Baby’s Name!

It’s funny the things that annoy other people about a pregnancy that is not theirs. There are two things I keep a secret during every pregnancy.

1. My EDD (that’s estimated due date!)

2. The name we have chosen for the baby

Thankfully, those closest to me no longer hound me (except maybe my friend in Missouri who tries to trick me regularly into telling her the name of this little guy haha!) But for some reason, people get real cranky when you don’t tell them these things.

So why keep it a secret?

Our EDD

With our first pregnancy, we shared Captain’s EDD with people. One minor annoyance was as soon as I would tell people “He’s due March 13th” they had the weirdest responses.

“You should keep that baby in til March 16th! My uncle’s dog’s brother’s owner’s sister’s cousin was born then and he’s a great kid.”

“I’m pulling for March 5th! That’s when my son was born! I hope you have your baby on his birthday!”

“Don’t have your baby on March 8th. That’s the day my father in law died. That’s a horrible day to have a baby.”

I have no control over holding this kid in or making it come out. The baby comes when the baby comes. I guess people were trying to relate, but for some reason, I found it really annoying. This is probably because I’m a horrible person and need to learn patience, but it still makes me feel awkward and I never know quite how to respond.

However, the main reason we don’t share my EDD is this: it’s just what it says it is. An ESTIMATED due date. I’ve never had a child on their EDD. One was a couple days before, one was a week after, one was 23 weeks too early, one was 2 days after. I don’t need people hounding me at 38 weeks until 41 weeks every day saying “did ya have that baby yet??” Yeah, I totally had the baby weeks ago and just didn’t tell you. Like, c’mon y’all. You’ll know.

Some uteruses are slow cookers and some are microwaves. Mine is a slow cooker. Gotta let that baby marinate a bit longer til s/he is ready.

Our Baby’s Name

Why keep their names a secret? I think this is multifaceted. Firstly, opinions on names are like armpits. You know the rest, right? So let’s say I’ve picked the name Naphtali for my next child. You tell someone little Naphti is on the way and suddenly everyone is an expert on names. “Aren’t you afraid he’ll be nicknamed Nympho-li in 8th grade?” “Isn’t that gonna be hard for people to spell?” “I knew a Naphtali in kindergarten and he used to pee his pants all the time. Whenever I hear the name Naphtali, I smell urine.” But after that baby is born and named, no one can say anything to your face about it without seeming like a major jerk, and that cute baby is already charming them, so they are more likely to be accepting of his name.

Secondly, names are a really big deal. Like you are pegging someone as a Gertrude or a Lambert for life. What you name them will define them. It’ll sometimes decide if they get hired for that right job someday. It will determine how often it is misspelled or mispronounced. It’s a big decision. And it’s one Milkman and I like to make on our own! We love the fun aspect of having a secret that belongs only to us. Yeah, that’s right, we don’t even tell our kiddos! (Mostly because they are all really young and don’t know how to keep secrets!) I love getting into bed at night and Milkman kissing my belly and talking to our baby, using the name that only we two know.

Thirdly, and this applies to both the due date and the name, surprises are fun. I LOVE surprises! They are my love language. When I called my mother to tell her that I had given birth to her granddaughter and told her said grandchild was named for my mother, she cried! It was beautiful. The anticipation leading up to the baby being born and being named is fun. People guess and wonder, and I get to giggle at their ridiculous guesses! We already know so much before our babies are born, their sex, often genetic issues, how much they weigh (okay, they are basically ALWAYS wrong about that), and with 3D ultrasounds, many know what their baby already looks like (if their baby was modeled out of peanut butter that is). So having something to save for the end is always a treat.

Now, I have lots of friends who tell their due dates, names, stats, and post ultrasounds of their unborn child’s genitals. That’s cool for them, and I love knowing and celebrating with them beforehand. So I don’t judge people who do it differently, and I get why people think we are annoying for not sharing. But in a world of information overload, it’s kind of fun to be different.

What things did you keep a secret before delivery? Or do you like to share all your happy news at once?