Becoming Mom

MELANIE GINGRICH

Melanie

It’s bizarre – you never realize how something may impact your life until you actually experience it, and even then, you still may not fully understand or be able to grasp the intensity of it. This is how I feel about my recent motherhood experiences. Both becoming a mother and losing my mother.

I lost my mom three months before finding out I was pregnant, and thirteen days before my wedding. My mom was amazing. I don’t say that with inflated candy-coated nostalgia; she truly was a great woman. The thing that she was most proud of in her life was being a mother and grandmother. She was my best friend. The one I would call when I was having a panic attack in grad school or the one I could bounce ideas off of without judgment. I could go on and on, but the truth is she was so much to me that I could never put it all in words.

My mom was sick for two years. She had an “extremely treatable” form of cancer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was stubborn and strong and it came back with such force after every treatment ended. It was torture to watch her being knocked down again and again. I had planned to get married earlier in the year after her treatment ended and she had recovered, but that never happened. I struggled with whether to wait until after the storm that we were in had passed or to go ahead and plan it so that regardless of what happened, she would be there. After postponing it a little, I decided on the latter. Unfortunately, like with most things in life, we were not in charge. I made it through my wedding because that is what she would have wanted me to do: celebrate, and give my dad and the rest of the family something else to focus on. To this day, I am still not sure if I made the right choice, but I can say that I am happy that she was there when I found my dress and that she got to see the venue and that she was truly happy for me.

During our honeymoon, my husband and I made the decision that after my current birth control pack, we would start trying to get pregnant. We had heard that it could take months or years, so we decided we would begin the journey. I went in for a physical, thinking it would be a good idea to make sure I was in tiptop shape. I told my doctor that I had just gone off the pill, but had not yet gotten my cycle back. A short “just to make sure” pregnancy test later, and I was in tears and overwhelmed with a feeling that my mom somehow had a part in this. My mom who always said, “Don’t wait too long to have kids.”

This is where it gets even harder. I have moments when I think she is looking out for me or watching over me, like the one in the doctor’s office when the doctor said, “Congratulations!” Then I have the empty moments, the moments where I feel the void left by her absence. Those are deep and strong. I remember being pregnant and driving home from work and feeling incredibly sad, the kind of sadness that knocks you over like a strong ocean wave. I called my sister practically hysterical (my sadness definitely intensified by my wild pregnancy hormones) and all I could manage to get out was, “I miss her so much.” I remember after we checked into the hospital and the doctor asked me who I wanted in the room with me during the birth, I wanted to say, “My mom, of course.” I wanted her to hold my hand and tell me it’s okay and remind me to be strong. I wanted to look at her looking at me and her grandbaby with eyes filled with a mixture of happy tears and pride.

So many times I wonder if I am doing it – this mothering thing – right. I think about how my mom would have the answer; she would know exactly what to do. If only I could call her. I wonder if certain things my son does are things that I ever did. Sometimes I ask my dad or my sister, but I know they don’t remember, at least not like a mom would. Not like my mom would.

Sometimes, I think my baby boy gives me a different purpose and a focus away from losing my mom. Not to forget her, because that will never happen, but my son is almost a tribute to who she was and what she loved: family. Other times, I think being a mom reminds me how much I miss her. I am so incredibly sad that my son will not know his Grandma Tena in person. He will know stories and he will recognize her face from pictures, but he won’t know how it feels to be wrapped in her arms or to have her soothing voice lull him to sleep. He won’t know the silly songs exactly the way she sang them or how her deep and endless love could make him feel so special. Those things make me so sad. I get jealous when I see three generations out shopping or having lunch, the grandmother tending to the baby while the mother enjoys the few bites of uninterrupted food that she has been granted.

I have incredible friends and I have a wonderful mother-in-law, but that is not the same as having your mother. The last few years have been filled with so many bittersweet moments and I have to be thankful that I have the sweet to balance out some of the bitter. I am so thankful that I was able to have 32 wonderful years with her. I am thankful that through her example for those 32 years, she showed me what it is to be a wonderful, caring mother. Because she is not a phone call away to ask questions, I have to dig deeper. I have to remember her ways and use those memories to give me guidance.

I will raise my son as a tribute to the love she so selflessly gave. I was given a mother who loved me so intensely that it made saying goodbye to her that much more painful. I can’t help but be thankful.

Melanie Gingrich lives in Los Angeles with her wonderfully supportive husband, perfect son, and two crazy dogs. She has her dream job at a pediatric hospital working as a Speech-Language Pathologist.

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I Think My Wife Hates Me

MICHAEL CARTER

Okay, you’ve got me; my wife does not in fact hate me (I think). I even suspect she might love me a small bit (admit it Sarah, you lub me!). There is, however, no denying the fact that since we had our son, the nature of our love has changed. I am not talking here about the cliché of her pouring all of her love onto our little boy without any of it spilling onto me. No, I am talking about the seemingly more trivial reality that she wants to scratch my eyes out every time I get a half decent night sleep or that her eyes go green with envy when I have not one but TWO hands to cook HER dinner with. I am also pretty sure she is developing a nervous tick from seeing me be able to pee without having to hold a screaming newborn baby on my lap. (Just to clarify here, unlike the previous sentence suggests, my wife does not in fact watch me pee…very often, at least.)

We all know having a baby is hard on the mother, but what about the dad? The mums have to be ready night or day to answer the call of a baby, and they have their bodies somewhat decimated not only by the birth itself but also by the subsequent slow bleeding of nutrients thanks to breastfeeding. Even with family and support, they can feel isolated, desperate, and very lonely. As a soon-to-be dad, I knew all this. I read the books and very early on decided I would be the rock upon which my wife could rest her weary head. I was adamant I would cook meals for my wife and freeze them so that she could pluck them out of the deep freezer when needs be and treat herself to a nutritious home cooked meal. Every weekend when back from work, I did the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, and did a lot of the laundry. I also made sure to look after her sanity by constantly telling her I love her and that she was doing an amazing job, and I always tried to keep her even-keeled when she was obsessing over small baby issues. I did all this diligently and I did more. I thought to myself, “With this level of support, we will sail through this easy.”

I was wrong.

I repeat, I WAS WRONG. My error was a critical one, although it was not one I can be blamed for making. I was not wrong in doing house chores and telling my wife I loved her (this stuff needs doing lads, so if you are not on it, GET ON IT). No, I was wrong in thinking that these things would matter to my wife’s sanity. For a long time, I did not understand this. I would stay up all night wondering what exactly I had done so wrong whilst my wife wept quietly to herself. Most of the time, I don’t think she knew I could hear her, but I did, and it kept chipping away at my heart. You see, lads, being a mother is not hard because you can’t get on efficiently enough with your daily chores. It’s hard because the baby is all-consuming, it’s all-impacting, and it just never ends. The meals I so lovingly prepped for my wife are still in the freezer not because she didn’t like them, but because the simple tasks of removing them from it and cooking them required a pair of extra hands and more cognitive ability than her sleep deprived brain could muster. My telling her ‘I love you’ or ‘You are doing an amazing job’ meant nothing in the face of her not being able to poop without a crying 4 month old on her lap. The gleaming shower that I spent 30 minutes scrubbing was nothing but a sparkly reminder of the unattainable bliss of a hot shower that lasted longer than 30 seconds. Having a child has eaten away at almost every fibre of my wife as an individual human being, and she became a quasi-hybrid of sorts, doomed to live out months and years as a shell of her former self.

I love my wife, shell and all, but I wish someone had warned me about this feeling of absolute powerlessness. We lads are wired in a certain way: if there is a problem, we ask what it is and try and fix it. It becomes very frustrating when your partner does not communicate the issue to you and you are left with something you can’t fix because you simply do not know what it is. Equally, it is heartbreaking to see your wife struggle or hear her cry in the dead of the night. To watch the love of my life break down as a human being was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, and is the crux of what makes being a dad tough. I have no advice for you in terms of how to deal with this. In fact, I don’t think there is a successful means of making this any easier on your partner. What I do know is that no matter how hard things seem for you as a father, they are infinitely harder for your partner.

Having that in mind, next time you want to say something to your wife about how she doesn’t appreciate what you do or how incredibly frustrating it is when she does not allow you to help with some emotional issues, just bite your tongue and get yourself a small beer from the fridge to settle your nerves. However, you’ll want to make sure she doesn’t see you drink it as she just might take your head clean off.

Michael Carter 13055498_10105487983414066_5138437718247450025_nis a tall, strapping archaeologist, with a flair for cooking, a green thumb, a great beard, and an adorable infant son who is looking more and more like his mother every day. His wife definitely did not write this bio.

Three In A Bed.

SARAH CARTER

I got married when I was 23 and divorced when I was 26, so by the time I was pregnant with my son last year, I thought I knew a thing or two about never saying never. However, pushing a human being out of your body and then taking it home with you scuttles even the grandest of plans, and two weeks into parenting, I ended up doing the one thing I said I would never do: I shared a bed with my baby.

Bedsharing was born out of complete necessity for me. Our son, like many newborn babies, did not take very well to the idea of immediate baby independence. He easily nursed to sleep and never struggled with knowing it was night time, but God help me if I tried to set him down. His beautiful Moses basket might as well have been a lake of fire for how much he despised being put into it. I stayed up all night long for over two full weeks, letting my baby sleep on my chest on the couch while I watched TV. The first few nights, I was convinced I could just never sleep again. I was bursting with pride and love and spent those short summer nights staring into the sleeping face of the brand new person we’d made, grateful that I didn’t need to sleep.

However, soon, my well ran dry. I was more and more exhausted every night. As someone who’d done research into infant death, reading infant death records for weeks at the Los Angeles Department of Coroner, I was keenly aware of how dangerous sleeping with a baby on a couch or armchair is, so those nights sitting up with my baby became fraught with terror. I tried making up for the all-nighters during the day, when my husband or my mom could watch me nap with the baby snuggled into me, but eventually, the adrenaline that pushed me through the first several days completely abandoned me and I was shattered. I went back to trying to put the baby down in his basket (and later his Pack and Play), only to spend entire nights cycling through nursing, patting, shushing, rocking, and praying that my son would sleep. I still wasn’t sleeping, and now, neither was the baby.

So, I researched. I read the work of Dr. James McKenna and discovered Sarah Ockwell-Smith. As an anthropologist, it didn’t take much to convince me that I needed to bow to the will of biology: I cleared all the blankets and pillows from my bed, curled my body around my nursing baby, and slept with him. I placed the baby flat on his back, kept an arm across the top of his head and my thighs pressed up against his feet, didn’t drink, smoke, or take sleep aids, and always had my body between the baby and my giant husband. I was usually cold and uncomfortable and waking every 2-3 hours to feed the baby, but my son slept all night and I managed to sleep too.

Our son is 9.5 months old and still sleeping with us. No one is more surprised by this than I am. The emergency sleep stop-gap has become the way we live. Our big, mobile boy still sleeps cuddled up with us and I don’t know now if it’s because he needs to or because I’d miss him too much if he didn’t. Because this story isn’t called The Greatest Miracle On Earth, I can’t say that bedsharing solved all our sleep issues. Being breastfed and refusing pacifiers, my son was (and still sometimes is) up several times a night to eat or be comforted. When he’s teething or sick or jet lagged or growing or learning new skills, he can be up every 45 minutes and I go a bit nuts. Because he doesn’t sleep well without me, my bedtime is his bedtime and I haven’t been out past 7pm (without him) since he was born. There are times when parenting our son this way can be overwhelming and exhausting and relentless, and I question why I’ve done this to myself. I fear that by choosing to follow my son’s lead, I really have created a spoiled little monster who expects to be held and coddled all the time.

And then, I look down at the little baby in my arms or tucked into my side, my months-old little baby who just needs his mommy, and I wonder why I think he shouldn’t.IMG_0790

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Motherhood

Sam Knight

I started reading Harry Potter as a 26 year old woman with two children. I know, I was incredibly late to the party, but I had always assumed it just wasn’t my type. I’ve never really been one for Fantasy and most of the books I read are historical fiction or biographies. I never really stray too far from those two categories. Or at least I didn’t use to.

My nephew, Kail, is an amazing 11 year old reader. It makes me so happy to see him being excited about reading because I was the same way as a kid. I love being able to connect over a love of books with anyone, but it’s somehow exciting with this kid. I’ve gotten him on to some of my favorite books that I enjoyed when I was his age, but never in a million years did I think he would introduce me to a series that I would love with every ounce of my being. I get that it sounds weird to talk so passionately about books. Really, I do. Especially books that would technically be labeled children’s stories. But, I’ve come to realize that the people who find it weird haven’t read Harry Potter.

Kail started reading the series in September as part of his Advanced Reading for school. They were worth a lot of points so he decided that, being the overachiever that he is, he was going to read all of the books and have the top Advanced Reading score for his class. Every time I saw or spoke to him, I would ask how the books were coming along. He was finishing them left and right and anytime we would talk about it he just seemed to light up. Come Halloween he decided to be Harry himself. We spoke a little while I did his scar makeup and it just seemed so cute that he was so into it.

Now, November 2015 was not kind to me. I had developed a serious case of Post-Partum Depression and this is the point where I was at my worst. My then 5 year old was in school and it was just me and the new baby a majority of the day (and night). It was a weird feeling that I never experienced so strongly when my daughter was a baby. I felt like a shell of myself. Samantha was no longer. There was just Robot Mom who woke up every morning after an extremely long night of broken sleep then had to somehow manage to keep two separate people alive. Everything in between waking and going to sleep was the same. Over and over. Every single day. Wash-Rinse-Repeat. The monotony of my life was completely agonizing. I would cry any moment I got to myself. I felt guilty, because I wanted this second baby more than anything. How dare I be bored?!? I spent a lot of time feeling incredibly lonely. None of my close friends knew what I was going through and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I kept them at a distance. I felt like I should have been more in love with life now than ever. I had two perfectly amazing little mini-me’s and they loved me. What was there so sad about?

To top things off, my husband and I were going through a weird patch that I think a lot of couples go through when a new tiny person joins the household. We didn’t have REAL things to talk about. Nothing exciting happened to me today. He woke up, I fed him. He pooped, I changed him. He cried, so I held him. It was exactly the same as yesterday, obviously. I would get jealous that my husband had stories of what had happened at work. It made me crazy that my mind was 100% in mother mode. I wasn’t a person anymore. Just Robot Mom.

Kail and I were hanging out one day when he told me that they were opening a Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood. He was “stoked” and was rattling off names of places that they were going to have in the park, and then told me that I needed to read the books already so that we could go together. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try to read the first one. Of course, if I hated it, I could always cheat and watch the movies. My mom had given me the first book as a gift when I was in Jr. High, but I could never get into it. I had very low expectations for myself actually finishing Sorcerer’s Stone.

The thing about Harry Potter is that it is SO well written that you actually feel like you are a part of it. You are IN the story. These characters are your friends, your enemies, your teachers and families. I read the first book in about two days. Any time I was bored because the baby was sleeping, I would read. When we were sitting around waiting for my daughter to get out of school, I would read. Every late night when I couldn’t sleep because the baby only wanted to sleep on me, he would sleep on me while I read.

These stories came to me in a time when I most needed it. Robot Mom hardly thought, let alone felt real human emotions. Then suddenly, it was like I had these friends and these people that I cared about. I was happy when Harry played Quidditch. I was furious when Ron started dating Lavender. I fell in love with Dobby. I ugly cried on way more than a few occasions. I felt this odd similarity between my depression and the Dementors. They literally take all of your happiness away. You feel like you’ll never be happy again. Harry beat them. So could I.

Most importantly, I oddly started feeling more like myself again. I didn’t feel resentful toward my husband for getting to be around grown up people at work all day. I didn’t dread the nights when my baby wanted to party instead of sleep. I didn’t feel like nothing was happening to me anymore. I finished the complete Harry Potter series in one month. I was so sad when it was over, but it was still a wonderful change to actually FEEL something.

To say that it helped me is a huge understatement. It brought me back to life. I stopped crying every time I was alone. I no longer felt like a shell of myself. And in some ways I feel like it helped me to become a better mom in that I was able to fully enjoy my children again. It brought back from my lowest point and for that I will always speak passionately (and obsessively) about my love for these “books”. Harry Potter saved me from Post-Partum Depression because obviously, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”

imageSamantha Knight is a freelance make-up artist, wife, and mother of two. She is passionate about art, politics, and cats.  Her latest struggle is deciding which career path to pursue once her days of being a stay at home mother come to an end. She enjoys music, theme parks (it’s an obsession), and being that person who quotes every line from every movie therefore ruining the movie for everyone else. She can be reached at SHKnight920@gmail.com

The Hardest Thing

SARAH CARTER

One of the biggest disappointments for me about having my first child was that I felt totally emotionally unprepared for it. I felt like the first new mom in history, despite knowing and loving mothers my entire life and watching my friends become mothers and being surrounded by mothers as they congratulated me and threw me baby showers and squealed as they bought my unborn child tiny clothes. After having my son, I spent months of my life rocking back and forth in a glider, cradling a baby I could not put down, wondering why no one had talked to me about new motherhood in any real sense ever.

The answer is, of course, that no one talks about it. Especially not in 2016, when everything about our lives as mothers is styled and “curated” and somehow – insanely – always white and shot through expensive camera lenses in great lighting and pinned on Pinterest. Motherhood today is a thing to crave, to achieve, to perfect, and to broadcast, but god forbid you want to have a conversation about what it actually means.

In a sense, there’s really no preparing a woman for how radically her life changes when she has a baby, because no baby brother or niece or pet dog or week-long baby bootcamp can prepare a person for the visceral feeling of love and terror that comes with being responsible for a human being for the rest of your life, the full year(s) of broken sleep, and the inability to do literally anything without strategizing. Plus, every woman’s experience will be different, so what’s been a struggle for me might not be a struggle for you. However, the simple truth is that we all struggle. Every mother. And it is so deeply important to talk about it.

So, I’m talking about it.

I could not have asked for a better baby. We are so fortunate. My son is sweet and loving and happy and adorable and the practicalities of taking care of him have never been difficult. He breastfed like a champ from birth, he never had colic, he has never cried for hours on end, he’s only stayed up all night twice. He is, however, very attached to me, so taking care of him has meant not taking care of me, in even the most basic ways. I’ve found myself practicing “biological parenting,” meaning I’ve exclusively breastfed my son (who has always refused bottles) and we bedshare (because he has also always refused to sleep in a separate space). I’ve been doing it all as nature intended for nearly ten months, and I am currently losing my shit.

For me, the hardest thing about becoming a mother has been the complete loss of self, and watching as my husband, my partner who decided to have this baby with me and who gets to revel in all the cute stuff, isn’t limited at all.

Things I can’t do when I want to – ever:

  1. Eat
  2. Sleep
  3. Go to the bathroom
  4. Bathe

I feel like a completely dried out husk of the person I was before my son was born. I don’t have the time to eat enough or drink enough water, I don’t sleep, my hair refuses to wash clean, I’m lucky if I can get a comb through it after a shower before my son’s patience runs out, and I have a lot of weird skin issues from the lack of sleep/perma-dehydration/stress, which has been a huge challenge to my self confidence and self worth.

I’m not sure what I expected of motherhood, but it wasn’t being nearly ten months postpartum and: more than ten pounds underweight and looking sick and skeletal, still nursing every 2-3 hours around the clock, not sleeping for longer than 4 consecutive hours in nearly a year, and sometimes getting up every 45 minutes all night long. Being a mom has been physically demanding in so many more ways than I could have possibly imagined that some days, I can’t believe who is looking back at me in the mirror. I am sick, I am tired, I am way too thin, and I am too sick and tired and busy to do anything about it.

In addition to changing my appearance, the very real physical burden of motherhood has made me resent my husband, who is wonderful and obsessed with us and desperate to help and occasionally so painfully clueless that it makes me want to cry. (And sometimes I do.) My husband, who did not birth the baby and who is not breastfeeding him and who works away during the week and SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT, sometimes complains that he is tired because the baby woke him up or that his arms hurt because he held the baby for five minutes. Intellectually, I know he’s entitled to having his own feelings. Emotionally, I want to rip his face off, because I’m lucky to get three consecutive hours of sleep every night, I am quite literally drained by our nursing son all day long, and I’ve held him in my arms for hours every day of his life, while I work or attempt to clean or do laundry or grocery shop.

More broadly, the unfairness of the work of Mom in comparison to the work of Dad (in a biological sense) frustrates me and makes me angry. It makes me angry for all the mothers who have ever lived. I can’t believe that women have been doing this work for centuries, only to be beaten down, made to feel inferior, and categorized as weak or precious. I can’t believe new mothers still have so few outlets for discussing feeling so tired and sad and upset and that we’re made to feel like there must be something wrong with us for struggling.

And that is why I feel like we need The New Motherhood. At the very least, I needed it. I needed a place I could go to talk to other moms who could understand me and help lift me up. I needed people to tell me what I was feeling was a normal response to the very real, very overwhelming physical and mental stress new moms experience without placing judgment on the choices I was making. I needed to be seen as a person and not just as a parent.

If you do too, hopefully this can be your place.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby