Reflections on Mother’s Day

To someone living outside my perspective, today, my first Mother’s Day, didn’t proceed in any unusual or special manner. In fact, in a lot of ways, it proceeded just like a normal Sunday.

And yet all those normal moments are so special because, at long last, I am a mother.

My day started before sunrise. Babycakes has been sleeping a lot better overall, though we’ve had several disrupted nights as she’s actively cutting teeth. Last night, she woke up twice needing to nurse, the second time around 5:00 am. She was awake again at 6:00, at which point the hubs brought her to our room so I could nurse her a little more (she really didn’t finish the first time) while laying in bed. Of course, being snuggly and warm resulted in her finally falling back to sleep.

So there I lay, tummy to tummy with my beautiful daughter, my husband curled against me on the other side. Not sleeping because of my hyper vigilance any time we bring Babycakes to bed in the early morning like that, but feeling completely blessed because, in that quiet pre-dawn time, I was literally surrounded by the peaceful warmth and breathing of the two people I love most in the world.

Somehow, Babycakes managed to get crying hard enough to revisit part of her breakfast while the hubs was getting her dressed for church (fortunately while down to her diaper). And I felt the sweetness of being needed in that desperate, deep baby-sigh of relief when she saw me walk back into the room, her beautiful, long-lashed eyes following mine as I murmured quietly to her, got her cleaned up, and dressed.

We did go out for a late lunch, and there I was able to enjoy the dimpled smiles as Babycakes took everything in, waving to strangers and making friends with another baby sitting nearby. The peals of laughter as we played peekaboo with our napkins.

Even though the nursing gymnastics in the car before we headed back home meant a failed feed and a rather fussy baby, the way Babycakes curled against me when we got home and nursed until nearly asleep for an early evening nap made up for it. Her little warm hand pressed against my shoulder. Her knees tucked up against my side. Her feet daintily crossed at the ankles, as she’s done while nursing since the day she was born.

The splashes and giggles during bath time while I sang “Rubber Ducky” and “Under the Sea.”

The way the hubs got her riled up during the pre-bed playtime, even knowing it would take a little extra effort to bring her down from the high.

When it was time to go upstairs and get ready for bed, she pulled herself up to standing by tugging on my pants, then reaching with her chubby arms for me to pick her up.

More nursing gymnastics that settled to the tunes of “London Bridge is Falling Down” and “For the Beauty of the Earth”, as they do every nap and bedtime, cuing her to drift toward dreamland in the soft glow of her crystal nightlight.

A last sip of water as she rested her heavy head against my shoulder, then turned to wrap her arms around my neck with a sigh.

Up to turn off the crystal nightlight.

Retrieving the musical giraffe and turning it on just before laying her in her crib.

Watching her lay her hand beside the glowing tummy of the giraffe as it started cycling through the seven or eight tunes it plays three times before turning off.

Little tired eyelids going blink, blink, blink.

And my day ends watching her watch the yellow light of the giraffe slowly fade to darkness as the music plays on, tonight with no final glance in my direction to see if I’m still there.

Then there is nothing but her soft breathing, the whir of the white noise machine, and the slight creak in the floor as I lean over to adjust her blanket before tiptoeing out and closing the door.

She will probably wake at least once in the night and need us. She may go readily back to sleep for the hubs, or she may need me to nurse her back down. But even those middle of the night times, as frustrating as they can be and as tired as I sometimes feel, are just part of the sweetness of being a mother.

Every moment so normal and mundane. And yet every moment worth treasuring.

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What I’ve Learned About Being a Mother

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Today, Babycakes is three months old.

How did that happen?

In this time, I’ve learned several things about motherhood, at least in my own life and for my own baby, that I never imagined I’d learn. Let me share.

  • You do actually forget how much labor hurt. I mean, I know it hurt. I remember crying, struggling to breathe through back labor, throwing up, squeezing my husband’s hand, and, at one point saying, “I don’t think I can do this!” But I don’t physically remember the pain.
  • You shouldn’t doubt your maternal instincts. They’re called instincts for a reason. We’re programmed to intuitively know certain things, and that includes knowing what to do for our babies. I spent a lot of time in the beginning (and admittedly still) second-guessing myself. Am I feeding Babycakes often enough/too often? Do I respond too quickly when she cries, or not quickly enough? Is she getting enough stimulation and learning time? Do I hold her too much or not enough? Once I learned to stop questioning myself and start listening to my daughter, things seemed to get a lot easier.
  • You are the expert on your own child. Sure, it’s great to read up on all the different parenting techniques and ask for advice. But you’re also going to get a lot of unsolicited input from a lot of people, especially well-meaning relatives who think you should’ve been giving the baby cereal by now and nursing her to sleep is a bad thing. But as with maternal instincts, I am the most knowledgeable person when it comes to my baby. And I’m going to do what seems right to me. Will I make mistakes? Sure. Probably already have. Oh well.
  • That whole “babies sleep all the time” thing is a total myth. At least in my house. Babycakes is a stellar sleeper at night – we were getting 5-6 hour stretches by 3 weeks, and now she regularly sleeps up to 10 hours a night, interrupted by an early morning feed. But she does not like to nap at all. The lack of time during the day to do anything but entertain her is offset by the uninterrupted sleep we’ve been getting.
  • No baby is as adorable/smart/funny/etc. as yours. My daughter still hasn’t really figured out her hands, and tummy time is like torture. But she figures things out that we didn’t think she was developmentally ready to do. Plus she’s hilarious. And beautiful. And far too alert for her own good – she has to look at and listen to everything. That’s probably why she’s such a crappy napper. She communicates to us in her own language that can sound like anything from a kitten to a baby wookie, and responds when we imitate. She’ll be going to Harvard next week, I’m sure.
  • Each baby accepts things out in their own time. Babycakes screamed her face off every time we put her in the car or stroller for the first month of her life, which was particularly challenging since she also hates pacifiers. Suddenly last week, the car was no longer akin to being put on the rack (though she still hates the buckling/unbuckling process), and just on Tuesday the stroller was not a torture device. She loves eating milk off a spoon, but still won’t take a bottle, even if it’s the only option she has.
  • Things will hit your emotions in weird ways. All it takes sometimes is a particular song on the radio to make me well up. It took all my willpower not to start sobbing in the doctor’s office waiting room when one of those hungry-kids-in-Africa commercials came on the TV. I cry sometimes when I see tears in my baby’s eyes. It was probably harder on me for her to get her first set of vaccines than it was for me, though she’d probably assert the opposite if she could say more than, “Ah-goo.”
  • You will discover immense capacity for worry. Along with hypersensitivity to every sound your baby makes. You want only the best, and for your baby to be happy and healthy. You’ll wonder every minute you’re awake in the middle of the night if the baby is sleeping okay. You’ll reach over and lay your hand (gently) on her chest to feel that it’s still rising and falling properly. You might even try to get her to squirm a little in her sleep, just to make sure she’s alright. Moms have been doing this, I’m sure, for centuries.
  • Your capacity for worry will be nothing compared to your capacity for love. I loved my baby before I ever met her, but since she’s been born, I often find myself overwhelmed by how much I love her. There are many times I’ll be snuggling and rocking her after she’s fallen asleep nursing, and I just can’t contain my tears of joy and love. The first time my husband found me practically sobbing over our newborn, he was afraid something was very wrong. But rather, everything was very right.
  • You will finally understand how much your own mother loves you. My mom said to me recently, “You know how you feel about her? That’s how I feel about you.”

Angel Lullabies

A year ago, I broke my silence about a very difficult event in my life, an event I still struggle to incorporate into my day to day being. I am one of the “one in four” women who have suffered a miscarriage. In fact, I have suffered two miscarriages, the second of which occurred this past March about a week after finding out about my pregnancy. If everything had gone as it should, I would be about six weeks away from welcoming my second baby into the world while wrangling an 18 month old. But unfortunately, things did not go as they should.

It has been incredibly difficult. Recurrent miscarriage is a medical condition and is considered a form of infertility. After a battery of tests and infertility treatments, there’s no concrete reasons that point to why it’s so hard for me to conceive and why I cannot hold a pregnancy if I do conceive. In the meantime, I struggle to put on a smile when friends share the happy news about their own babies-on-the-way. My joy for them is always a little dimmed by the knowledge that I will never hold my own babies. At least not in this world.

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, and there are dozens of resources out there for parents who have experienced miscarriage or infant loss, as well as family and friends of those individuals who wish to provide support. (Unfortunately, the excellent site I shared last year, I Am The Face, seems to have been hacked and is no longer accessible.) There are also many ways you can remember and recognize your baby, including today’s “Wave of Light”, wherein you light a candle at 7pm in your local time zone and let it remain lit for an hour.

I encourage anyone who has experienced a loss to find information, find support, and be open about your grief. We do not need to grieve alone, and we shouldn’t be forced to grieve in silence.

After I lost my first baby in August 2011, I wrote the following poem as a way to help me cope. After losing my second baby in March of this year, I revised the poem to reflect the two angels waiting for me in Heaven. I know not everyone has the same religious beliefs or faith that I have, but I hope this may give comfort to others as it has given me.

 

~*~*~

Angel Lullabies

Blessed Mary, take my babies,
hold them if they cry,
and kiss them as they fall asleep
to angel lullabies.


String the stars above the cradles
where you lay them down at night
so I can find my angel babies
among that Heavenly light.


Mary, tell my babies dear
how much I miss them so.
I know your love will be as mine,
the only love they’ll know.


Tell my babies all about me,
and about their father too,
so when we come to Heaven’s gates
they’ll know to lead us through.


Sweet Mary, tell my angels
I’ll think of them each day;
No matter who comes into my life,
my love for them won’t fade away.


Teach my babies to spread their wings
and bravely soar the skies,
and please tuck them in at night
with angel lullabies.

Virgin Mary

I’m not sure what the original source of the image is, what it’s title is or who the artist is. And I’ve been searching. If anyone knows, please let me know so I can give proper attribution!

Sadness vs. Unhappiness

In our society, the terms “sadness” and “unhappiness” are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.  A person can be very happy but still feel sad; similarly, even a very happy and content person can feel unhappy about certain things.  Sadness is an emotion that comes (and sometimes lingers a long time) and goes, whereas unhappiness is generally more of a state of being.

In general, I feel I’m very happy.  I have a good life.  I’m healthy (though not as healthy as I could/ought to be, but as soon as I’m completely over my bronchitis and my pulled intercostal muscles heal up, I’m going to do something about it). My husband and I both have good jobs that are secure, at least for the foreseeable future, and we have a nice home.  I have a very strong faith in God and a wonderful support system in my family.  And I’m married to a man who loves me and would do just about anything for me if I needed it or asked it of him.

There have been times in my life when I have been truly unhappy.  And I don’t mean being unhappy about certain situations.  Even the happiest person on Earth will, at some point, be unhappy about a given situation, and then all that remains is what to do about that particular situation.  When I say there are times in my life when I’ve have been truly unhappy, I mean my state of being was one of unhappiness, with moments of feeling happy about certain situations.

Do you see where the difference comes in?

When I reflect on my life, I have to agree that I’m really quite a happy person.  I’m content overall with my lot in life.  I have many blessings for which I’m thankful.  I can say this because I know what true unhappiness feels like when it ceases to be a situational emotion and becomes a state of being.

However, sadness is an emotion, and I’m not sure you can really say it’s something that can become a state of being.  I think a person who is inherently and unceasingly sad all the time is more “unhappy” than “sad”.  Sadness is part of a coping process we go through when we have to deal with some sort of loss.  It’s part of grief.  If someone seems perpetually sad for an extended period of time after a loss, it’s not necessarily a state of being; it’s just that the emotion, for them, is lasting a long time.  And since I too have had experience with extended bouts of sadness and grief, I can say with some authority that sadness can, and does, come and go.

After the initial sadness begins to fade – perhaps weeks or even months after the loss – people often seem to think they’re getting past their grief, beginning to move on.  But then it’s not uncommon for sadness to return months, even years, later.  It can be a sharp return, when something strikes us and reminds us of the loss that caused the grief in the first place.  It can sneak up on us, like an emotional ninja, and settle on us so smoothly and quietly we don’t even realize the moment it has returned.

The return of sadness can be fleeting or it can last a long time.  It just depends on the person and the situation.  And it can be disconcerting and surprising when sadness comes to call again, especially if you had thought you’d put it behind you.

I’m sad right now.  Really, really sad.  I know I’m sad and not unhappy because, as I noted earlier, I can list all the things in my life that are awesome and make me very happy.  An unhappy person cannot do this.  When I’ve been truly unhappy in the past, I cannot find any silver lining in my rain clouds; everything sucks.  This isn’t the case at present.

I know why I’m sad too.  At least, I know why sadness has returned.  And it is upsetting in itself because I’d thought I’d been feeling better.  I don’t know why it’s so surprisingly sharp right now, why I feel like bursting into tears the way I did when my grief was so new.  So I’m frustrated, because this sadness seems to be leaking into the happy parts of my life.  And that scares me a little.

You see, when sadness begins to leak into your happiness, it has the potential to turn happiness into unhappiness.  And that’s a very bad place to be.

I’ve talked to my husband about how I’m feeling.  He does the right thing – holds me, wipes my tears when I start crying for seemingly no reason (though we both know the reasons).  He doesn’t tell me to “cheer up” and “be happy” – at least, not in seriousness.  He says those things jokingly but I know he’s not trying to make light of my feelings or force me to get over my sadness.  He has his sadness too.  But he’s a guy and deals with it differently.

I’ve been feeling so sad I actually stopped and talked to a friend at work (who happens to be the school psychologist in my building) who knows about my losses and my sadness and told me back in August that she would always be there to give me a hug and listen if I needed to talk.

She’s incredibly wise.  She really is.  She told me that in our country, grief is supposed to be fleeting; we’re supposed to get over our grief quickly and move on, even if it’s “okay” to feel sad during certain times through the year when something makes us “remember” the one we’ve lost.  But the long term nature of true grief isn’t not supported by society at large, and the type of loss I’ve dealt with in particular is poorly recognized by society.  You find support from those who love you and share the loss, and by those who’ve had similar losses.  But that’s about it.  Certain types of losses aren’t even supposed to be talked about; society’s answer to your ongoing tears and sadness often seems to be little more than, “Are you serious?  Get over it already!”

So there you have it.  Here I am, not unhappy.  Just sad, sighing because the world we live in is sick of me crying over things I “should” be over by now.