Tuesday, July 15, 2014

10 Things I Didn't Expect as a New Mom: The First Year

Leading up to Emme’s second birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the last two years of her life and how we’ve grown as a family. This is the first in a two-part post about the things I didn't expect as a new mom, years 1 and 2.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this: The first year of parenthood was tough for me. Em was not—how do you say—a laid back baby. I do not reminisce about the first year of new parenthood with a lot of nostalgia. Instead, I tend to feel like it keeps getting better.

We struggled—I struggled—the first few months, and even as some things got better, I continued to struggle because taking care of a new baby PLUS figuring out who I was as a mom and how to operate as a co-parent is a daunting task. This is not to say every new mom experiences her first year of parenthood the same way—some people may totally disagree with this list, others may only identify with a few, but that’s what makes these “I didn’t know” lists fun, right?
Or maybe that’s what makes these lists/the Internet terrible for first-time pregnant ladies and moms?
But since we’re already here… Onward!

10 Things I Didn't Expect as a New Mom
    1. The overwhelming sense that I had lost my independence. This was by far the most intense and immediate reaction I had to bringing our baby home, and it blindsided me big time. This was not postpartum depression or a lack of bonding with the baby--for me, this was how the realization that my old life was gone manifested itself, and no matter how prepared I was with diapers and wipes and onesies or how many times I read/heard my life was about to change drastically and forever, I was unprepared for how this felt. I silently referred to home as 'prison,' (which I kind of thought was funny and maybe picked up from a Sex and the City episode?), and I sprinted for the door whenever I had the opportunity to get out by myself—even if it was to buy more diapers.
    2. The whole not getting enough sleep thing wasn’t too terrible—until I went back to work. I’m not saying I felt 100%. But it was a doable scenario if (big IFs coming at ya) your baby gives you 1-2 longish stretches at night (say, five hours then three or so hours, and this does happen for a lot of people by about six weeks) plus some naps, and you are not getting up, getting ready, getting out of the house, and attempting to function among living, breathing human coworkers.
    3. The crying was constant. Or at least it felt that way. Crying is how babies communicate, My baby won't stop cryingso crying is to be expected. Some babies cry less and are generally content to take in the world around them for stretches of time—you know, like for 10 minutes or so. Some babies take two-plus hour naps. My baby did neither. While I'm pretty sure she wasn't colicky—she slept relatively well at night and was soothable—she was headstrong and only content when on the move.
    4. We did not actually stay at home. I have friends who have the total opposite experience. But with Emme, we had to leave the house. We would literally walk out the door after hours of crying, and she would pass out in her carseat, happy to finally be out in the world. She was a champ in the car and good in the stroller, so we went out... a lot. As much as I wished she would hang out in her swing or bouncey seat, I do think that being out and about was good for my mental health and sanity.
    5. Reluctant co-sleeping is a thing. And I did it. Say what you will about co-sleeping—the fact is, when the only way you can get a newborn to sleep is to put her in bed next to you, there's a good chance your desperate-for-sleep self will do it. While co-sleeping was not the plan, I was generally comfortable with this based on the research that moms who aren't otherwise impaired rarely roll over onto their babies. My husband, however, was terrified. Luckily, this was a short-lived period of our lives.
    6. Breastfeeding was hard. OK. Let’s be real. I knew this. The Internet is lousy with information about how hard breastfeeding can be. But I think somewhere in my brain, I thought that it wouldn’t be hard for me. I have plenty of friends who more easily navigated the early days of breastfeeding, despite it a few minor trials and tribulations (which at the time, let me tell you, do not seem minor, but in hindsight, etc.) and went on to have long and fulfilling breastfeeding relationships with their babes. Em and I though, we had a tough road. The first few weeks were extremely trying—Em didn't latch properly and was losing weight—I went through a whole breastfeed, pump, bottle routine that was extremely tedious and time consuming the first few weeks of her life. Then I had mastitis multiple times and toward the end of my breastfeeding adventure, I found it extremely painful and never really figured out the cause. At 12 months and one week, I called it quits.
    7. Breastfeeding was hard, but pumping is literally the worst (sang John Ralphio-style). And I mean literally as literally. I can't even go into this, as talking about how much I hated pumping still causes me anxiety. If you're interested, you can read about my pumping misadventures here.Pumping is the worst.
    8. I would have gladly made out with anyone who was willing to hold my baby long enough for me to eat a sandwich with both hands. After I was done with the sandwich—obvs. Seriously, you want to make a new mom happy? Bring her sandwich, then hold her baby while she eats it.
    9. There was no perfect work/life balance scenario. I never really considered staying home full time. But, while there were days when I made a break for the front door, excited to no longer hear screaming/eat a sandwich with two hands, working full time was tough. I wanted to experience all the new fun baby shit that exists in our modern world with Emme—playdates and music classes, stroller workouts and baby gyms. I wanted to make her baby food and breastfeed without having to pump in a vacant office that my boss refused to let me move into. I wouldn't say I felt guilty; I felt like I was missing out.
    10. The fog of new parenthood wouldn't lift until we hit day 365. But it did get better. Every milestone, every week, every month, we got a little more sleep, our routine became a little more familiar, and we settled into becoming a family of three. Acceptance is key... and hanging on for dear life.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

#BestToddlerSummerEver: Butterfly Festival at Garden Patch Farms

Taking a young toddler to a new place for a larger event–even a ‘kids’ event–is always a bit of a crap shoot. You never know how an almost two-year-old is going to react. Will there be age-appropriate activities? Will she be in a good mood? Will I be able to let her out of the stroller to roam around without worrying that she’s going to run into a street? Does the time of the event work relatively well with her nap schedule?

It’s a pain in the butt to a degree, and yet, as Emme is now a legit toddler, and not just toddling around like last year this time, I’ve done a lot of research about fun summer activities. It gets us out of the house and into the Illinois, and seeing her in new environments actually getting something out of an activity is really exciting.

So this weekend, Emme and I, along with my sister, brother-in-law and their 20-month-old son, ventured to Garden Patch Farms in Homer Glen, Illinois, a you-pick orchard and berry farm, for their annual Butterfly Festival.

The event kicked off with the release of hundreds of butterflies. While I was expecting swarms of butterflies, it didn’t quite happen that way. The butterflies are slow to start, and many don’t take flight or go too far initially. While I had a moment of disappointment (it was difficult to tell that anything was happening), Emme couldn’t have been more excited to get up close and personal with a Monarch that landed near our feet.

When most of the butterflies finally took off, we explored the rest of the farm. What I liked best about this event was that it was very contained. There was enough to see and do without feeling overwhelmed, and the crowd was manageable enough and the space big enough that we felt comfortable letting Emme and her cousin roam around.

Emme’s favorite part of the day was the hens. She’s not a kid that regularly gets into something for long periods of time, but eventually I had convince her to move on from the coup.

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We ended our Garden Patch Farms day in the strawberry fields. While the crop wasn’t quite ripe enough, it was still fun to watch Emme and her her cousin pick strawberries and throw straw at each other.

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The event was free and totally worth the 35 minute drive–close enough to be no big deal, but far enough to feel like we were in a setting totally new and different. We loved the farm and are already planning a trip back in the fall for apple picking.


Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ch-Ch-Ch-Choices

I haven’t blogged in three months. I haven’t thought about it much, but when I have, I’ve considered closing up shop for real and for good, packing up my writing and shutting down the whole operation. What has stopped me is the feeling that this would be an overreaction because really, there’s no one waiting around to read my Next Great Post, so why bother making it a thing?

I dunno. Anyway...

The past several months have been filled with choices—decisions primarily regarding work/life balance and whether or not to pursue some part-time work opportunities. After much internal struggle, in August I decided that I would continue to work full time. But with that decision, I knew I had to prioritize my hobbies, including this blog, in order to function better as a human person--especially as a human person with another little human person counting on her.

It’s been a process to say the least.

So, after making the BIG choice of continuing to work full time, I made some other choices. And to be real, I did not give up important things; these choices are hardly sacrifices in the 'grand scheme' and whatnot. But they needed to be made for personal reasons, professional reasons, financial reasons, and mental health reasons. I prioritized, cleaned house, and made compromises about time, money, the things I would hold myself accountable for, and the things I would let go of, in an attempt  simplify my life and my family's life and focus on some of my more basic needs that had been neglected for, oh, let's say 16 months, five days and roughly four hours.

So I let some things go, like...

Teaching Zumba. This was a goal of mine for a long time for, like, ever, and I finally did it in 2011. After you get certified to teach Zumba, you pay a small fee each month that allows you to remain certified indefinitely. The fee is arguably worth it even if you’re only teaching a class or two a week, if you enjoy it. And I did… for awhile. It was a hobby, but toward the end of my pregnancy/Zumba teaching career, I was feeling the pressure of not having enough time to devote to learning new choreography. I knew that would weigh on me more as a new mom--and would be damn near impossible to manage as a mom working 9-to-5. Even though I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I’d give it another shot post-baby (a few job opportunities even came my way, which shocked no one more than me), I finally decided it was time to cancel my certification. Being a Zumba instructor--really, being any kind of fitness instructor--is not in the cards right now.

The idea that I could be a full-time working/part-time stay-at-home mom. This was my version of having it all--making close to full-time work money while still being able to take advantage of the perks of being home with Emme one or two days a week. In my head--for reasons too complicated to go into here--this seemed like a totally reasonable option, but unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. I belong to a mom’s group, a large one that’s very active in the western suburbs of Chicago, and I would almost daily see events pop up--playdates, park outings, the zoo, music classes--all during the workweek of course, that constantly made me second guess my choice and resent my situation. I had to stop. I had to let it go. And eventually I did.

The idea that I would take what little work flexibility I do have and use it solely to spend time with my kid. Is that, like, ‘way harsh Tai?’ Maybe, but maybe not. I work from home on Fridays and have an unofficial agreement with my boss that these work hours can be made up in a flexible way and do not necessarily all have to happen on Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. My intention with this gift of time was to pick up Emme at daycare right after her noon nap and use the afternoon to schedule a playdate with with my mom friends and their babes or head to the park or just hang out at home. But, this arrangement never panned out quite as perfectly as I imagined it would. What does work is if I take that day for myself and multitask like a literal and figurative mother. I send emails and work on projects while washing clothes, folding piles of laundry, and picking up the house. Sometimes I throw in trips to the grocery store or dry cleaner, dentist and doctor appointments, and about a week ago, I hung up new blinds in our bedroom (all by myself thank you very much). If I can manage it, I go to the gym. So while it may seem harsh, having this day at home (and I swear I do get work done) allows me to check a lot off of the life to-do list that would otherwise hang heavy over my head and take up precious time on the weekend. So I do it on Friday, by myself.

A jam-packed social calendar. I am someone who typically wants to do everything. When MM and I were a carefree, child-free married couple, it was not unusual to pack our weekends with multiple events. But I am also someone who needs downtime. Packed social schedule + young child does not leave one with much time to recharge, so something had to give and my understanding is that the young child is here to stay. It’s not that I don’t do anything or that Joey and I never go out anymore, but we pick and choose. We prioritize things like being home early and getting a good night’s sleep. I have backed off of some friendships, especially newer friendships, because I do not have the time or energy to devote to them. It’s not ideal, in my opinion. I’d love to strengthen newer friendships in our neighborhood and get more involved in the community, but just because I have the desire doesn’t mean I should spend my time that way. It’s just not that simple anymore. I am hopeful that with time, this will change.

This blog. Writing for myself, in general. Dreaming about something different. OMG, depressing much? I mean, clearly I haven’t truly given it up because you’re reading it right now. But I don’t know where these hobbies/dreams fit anymore. And it’s bigger than this blog. For many years, I felt strongly about getting out of marketing and doing something else. I was generally split on which direction to take my life--become a ‘writer,’ whatever that means, or go back to school for something health/wellness related. Neither seem realistic from where I’m sitting. And the truth is, as far as making money goes, my options have come down to the following: stagnant where I’m at in my career or move forward on the path I am already on. It’s becoming clear that the choice is truly mine to make--options to move forward will be there, if not now, then eventually--and while this isn’t really what I want to be doing five, ten years from now, the time-is-money-is-time/freedom-to-choose-all-of-the-choices clock (did you know that such a clock existed?) seems to have struck midnight. And I am a marketing pumpkin.

Here’s the thing: At some point, you have to stop fighting against the reality of your life and circumstances. You choose your choices and when you are done whining about them and wondering ‘what if,’ you move forward, hopefully as a grown-ass woman. There's something freeing about acceptance. ‘Having it all’ is not a real thing, probably under any circumstances, but especially when you become a parent, and especially especially when you become a mom.

Sorry dads, we've cornered the market on not having it all. Better luck next time. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Baby to 10K

Remember when this was a blog about running? Haha. Me neither. But it was! And if I did anything right in August, it was decide that I was going to set a running goal and start, well, running again.

Even though I’m starting from scratch here, I decided that I needed something bigger than a 5K to convince myself that I needed to train for a race. Not that a 5K wouldn’t be a challenge for me at this point--it would--but in my head, I can rationalize not needing to “train” for a three mile run, even though I would need to train for a three mile run.

Makes total sense, right?

So I picked a local 10K, convinced Running Buddy Meg to do it too, and then wondered how we would approach training. After having babies in 2012, we needed to start at the beginning, but we needed something that would ramp up faster and go farther than a typical Couch to 5K program.

What makes programs like Couch to 5K so successful is that mentally it’s easy to wrap one’s head around short running intervals followed by walking breaks. And before you realize it, you’re running a lot more than you're walking. So, I created a similar program for us, and we’ve been following it pretty successfully. By Oct. 20, we should be ready to run 6.2 miles.


For the first time since giving birth, I’m actually excited to be running again and even thinking about other race possibilities.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Good News

Overall August has been good for a lot of reasons, but after spending about half the month completely exhausted with YET ANOTHER cold/cough, despite the fact that I was eating better, exercising more, and generally happier and shit, I started to wonder if this was just how it’s going to be.

I considered the culprits of my sheer exhaustion and subpar immune system. Was it that:
a. I am a mom of a toddler who is extremely active and being constantly tired and regularly ill is simply my new normal.
b. I am just getting back into a regular exercise routine which, in addition to my extremely active toddler, is straight up killing me physically, but it will pass as I get stronger.
c. I tried to come up with other excuses for feeling shitty and effectively ignored the fact that I had walking pneumonia for two solid weeks.
If you guessed “c,” you would be correct. So the good news is that this is not the new normal. My life is not so exhausting that I have to nap every day after I put Emme to bed in order to have enough energy to face the tasks of cooking dinner and vegging out on the couch. I just had pneumonia.

The even better news is that I was so committed to getting into a healthier and happier routine this month that I didn’t let that shit stop me. Since the first full week in August--so going on four weeks now if you’re counting, and I am--I have been attending a boot camp twice a week and running (FINE--run/walking) three times a week.

And, it feels fantastic. I feel more myself than I have since giving birth, even though I didn’t realize that I didn’t feel myself until the haze of baby’s first year began to lift and the edges started coming into focus. Shortly after Emme turned 1, I stopped nursing and I haven’t looked back. I took my new found freedom and MM took on even more of the house management, which allowed me to make myself a priority for the first time in a long time.

I also realized that I spent much of this first year fighting reality, not wanting the choices I had to be the choices I had, failing to find acceptance in where I was at. I think I could have made things easier on myself if I had just been a little more accepting, made some decisions, and stopped living in the space between reality and a potential better reality that might exist.

But it’s easy to say that now, right? When you’re in it, it’s hard to see out of it.

Decisions have been made and reality has been accepted. I have decided that it’s better to move forward with imperfection and compromise and understanding than it is to stagnate in “what ifs” and fantasy scenarios. This life includes laundry and bills and annoying trips to big box stores on the weekends and a work schedule that isn’t ideal and a job that isn’t perfect. But this is it. This is life. 

In other words, I’m back.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ready for Round 2?

So maybe I'm not training for marathons or even half marathons these days (I am training for a 10K!), but I still enjoy invoking the life as marathon as life metaphor whenever possible. I’ve started running once a week on Monday evenings with a local moms group. Last night, I was running next to a newer-than-me mom, and as new moms tend to do, we started sharing our war stories—labor and delivery, sleepless nights, work-life balance, nursing, pumping, daycare.

Then the subject of second babies came up. Our family has hit the one-year mark, which, if nothing else signals to nosy family members and strangers that it’s time to start telling me that Emme “needs” a sibling. So I asked the new mom running on my right, “Have you ever run a marathon?” She had not. (I totally recognize that this makes me sound slightly obnoxious, but that was not my intention and I had a point.)

The way I feel about having a second baby is the way I feel about training for and running another marathon. I think about it; I watch other people run marathons and think, ‘I could do that’; there are moments that it seems totally doable—a good idea even. And then there are times I think, ‘never again.’ But mostly, now that I know what I know what to expect from training for and running a marathon, I just can’t wrap my head around doing it right now. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around 26.2 miles for four years. I honestly can’t tell you if I’ll ever run another marathon, and yet, I have a hard time believing that I won’t give it another go at some point.

That pretty much sums up my feelings about baby #2. Maybe we will; maybe we won't, but right now my head's not in that game, and I'm not ready to go back.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

This Is The End

We've come this far, I might as well tell you how the story ends. Right?

In July, I stopped pumping and we starting weaning Emme, at 11 months old, to whole milk. It was kind of the plan, but once I spent the first half of July mostly out of the office, the thought of coming back to work and locking myself in an office for 40+ minutes twice a day was unbearable. Not the mention the fact that I wasn't pumping enough to justify the time and effort. And, moreover, I was in so much pain while nursing, I knew I had reached my limit.

Knowing I couldn't just quit, I refilled my prescription-strength ibuprofen that I took after giving birth, and I took that several times a day to get through nursing sessions. No joke people. I was in near-constant pain. We started dropping nursing sessions one by one until by late July, when we were down to one morning feeding and one evening feeding. By then, I was pain free, thank god.

We've continued like that until last night when I unexpectedly was away at bedtime. My supply has very obviously tanked, most evident by the WTF? look I keep get from Em when she nurses, so I figured now was as good a time as any to drop the bedtime feeding. Tonight was the first night I put her to bed without feeding her. Since she's now far more interested in running around her room like a crazy toddler before bedtime, it really was a non-issue. I'm not sure she even noticed.

And then there was one.

I'm in less of a hurry to completely wean her since I'm not in pain, but the truth is that mentally I'm just done. And while I think Emme will keep nursing if I keep offering, I think she's at the point where if it's not offered, she's not going to miss it. It will probably be another week or two--taking it slow is always the best way to wean--but we've no doubt reached the end of nursing relationship.

I'm hopeful that my hormones don't go completely haywire, and I don't completely lose it emotionally. I expect I may get a little upset,when it's truly over, but mostly, I expect to feel relief that we're moving on with our lives.