My Baby Can Not Read.

SARAH CARTER

My son is 20 months old and regularly says about ten words: bye bye, dog, truck, ball, Dad, meow*, roar*, ssssss*, uh oh, yes, no, oh dear, and something that sounds suspiciously like “Oh shit,” which despite my foul mouth, I don’t ever say. (However, if he were whispering “Oh, for f**k’s sake” under his breath several times a day, I might be responsible.)

He can also express his confusion about where things are by throwing his hands up near his shoulders in a permanent shrug:

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I have spent a lot of time super frustrated and mildly panicked about this child’s lack of verbal communication. It seems like many (most?) kids his age have, at the very least, more robust vocabularies, and at the very most, the ability to hold complete conversations with their parents. Reminding myself that we live in a world of never ending competition, as we all try to impress and outdo each other on social media, helps me stay sane while I parent my son who refuses to speak. Our desires to present ourselves as brilliant and successful have trickled down to our infants, such that even actual babies are now expected to perform academic or physical feats once reserved for preschoolers. (Seriously. Why would I want to pay someone to pretend to teach my baby to read?)

In an effort to focus on the positives and stay grounded in the comforting knowledge that my child is a behaving like a toddler because he is a toddler, I’ve decided to make a list of my son’s most impressive skills. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. He is fabulous at pointing. He’s the best pointer. He has recently discovered his pointing prowess and now does it all the time. He learned how to sign “milk” when he was about ten months old and used it constantly for nearly a year, but recently he just taps a finger into my chest over and over again when he wants to nurse before bedtime. We’re so proud. (The other day, he surprised both of us by asking for milk by actually vocalizing the word, and then when I asked him to repeat it “using his mouth,” he unhinged his jaws like a giant snake and shoved all his fingers in his mouth. #success.)
  2. He has excellent fine motor control. He loves drawing all over the couch (with nearly proper pencil grip!) and he recently managed to escape the backyard via a gate that is secured with a deadbolt and a latch.
  3. He can cover his tracks. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, the water heater is in a closet in his bedroom, making this closet a strict no-fly zone. I left him alone in his room for a few seconds, and then heard him slam the closet door and pretend to play with the cars on his floor after he heard me coming back upstairs.
  4. He loves magic. A few weeks ago, he hid my car and house keys by throwing them so deep into the kitchen trash can that they escaped my initial search through the garbage. I had to go through the trash twice! So impressive.
  5. He’s polite. He once put his tiny hands around my neck and squeezed, a la Tina Fey’s daughter, but he did it with a smile.
  6. He knows what he wants. He delights in carrying pairs of his shoes to me and smacking me with them until I put them on his feet, only to immediately demand to wear different shoes.
  7. He enjoys cooking. He likes sitting on the kitchen counter while I cook or wash dishes, and then batting things onto the floor below like a cat. A few days ago, he ripped the top off a spice container and dumped mixed herbs all over the floor. (see: excellent fine motor control.)
  8. He has a keen eye for decor. One of his favorites things to do is to unleash his collapsible tunnel just after I’ve put it away, only to ignore it for the rest of the day, as the real joy of the tunnel is in making me nuts.
  9. He is thoughtful. Yesterday after work and nursery, I presented him with some new Fisher Price Little People animals, and in order to show his appreciation, he grabbed a throw pillow, put it on the ground next to him, and pointed frantically at it until I got up from the couch and sat on the pillow on the floor, while he pretended that a small pink bird was eating my throat. He wanted to offer me up to the animals, but he also wanted me to be comfortable. #blessed
  10. He has priorities. He lets me to scroll through Facebook on my phone in the rare moments he wants to play alone, but I am not allowed to do anything productive in his presence, including but not limited to: using my laptop to write, reading a book, highlighting a paper for work, writing a letter, making grocery lists, etc.

My child, Wonder Baby.

*Yes, I am counting animal noises as words. YES I AM.

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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 second PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.

So Happy and So Terrified

JOSIE BROCKSOM

Before I got pregnant, I didn’t know what worry was. I was a successful manager earning great money. I was the creator of amazing projects. I had respect from the people I managed and from the community I served. Everybody praised my work. I felt loved, I felt good. But I dreamed of being a mother. It was everything to me to have a child. It was something I had to do.

When at last I found out I was pregnant, I was over the moon. Things hadn’t been straightforward for us, but it was everything I ever dreamed of, so much so that it felt too good to be true.

This is when the worry hit hard. I was constantly terrified of things going wrong. Every pregnancy milestone brought brief relief, but before long, I was back to daily, agonizing worry.

When the big day came and I finally held my first beautiful baby boy, all my dreams came true. I felt so lucky. From the moment we met, I felt I’d known him my whole life. I was in love – the biggest version of love I’d ever known. A scary kind of love. Love so big that it hurt.

This made me a great mother, but also a great worrier. I needed everything to be perfect for him – always. I needed to be with him – always. I would continuously be checking him, day and night, making sure everything was perfect and that he was okay. I would strap him into his car seat and then drive up the road and pull over and check him again and again. These kinds of obsessional thoughts started happening more and more and taking up more time each day.

I was continuously comparing myself to other mothers who I felt knew what they were doing. I always felt that other mothers were doing a better job than me. If my baby wasn’t sleeping, I felt it was because I was doing everything wrong and that I was failing.

My head was always spinning with things that might happen to me and my family. My day was taken up with feeling terrified of things that could possibly go wrong. I could create a full feature length movie with the catastrophic stories that would just pop into my head on the way to the shops. This was happening daily – not because I wasn’t happy, but because I was so happy, I was terrified!

Maternity leave ended and I started back at work. At first, it felt great. But soon those familiar feelings returned. I had these conflicting thoughts and worries racing around my head constantly. I was doubting myself as a mother everyday, asking myself:

Will my son get enough attention?

How will I make it worthwhile?

Am I a good enough mother?

I was doubting myself professionally everyday, constantly debating:

Am I good enough ?

Am I doing a good job?

What do other mothers think of me?

I was rushing around, always stressed and always tired, trying to solve parenting battles and work challenges all at the same time. I was ignoring so many warning signs from my body that I needed to stop and make changes. I was getting constant colds and a strange skin rash on my hands. I had neck pain and I would wake several times a night, even when the baby slept through. The final straw came when I started getting chest pains at work when I was in meetings.

I visited my doctor and told him that I was worried I was asthmatic. He was very blunt in telling me that was not the case. Instead, he asked me how busy life was at the moment. He then went on to explain how anxiety causes chest pain and other symptoms that I was experiencing. I was totally shocked! I had no idea that it was possible for the thoughts in my head to have an impact on my body. Everything made sense and soon I was booked in with a Hypnotherapist for some much needed help. It changed EVERYTHING!

I learned about the power of the mind and I realized that all of those thoughts were not only draining and pointless and not serving me, but also having a profound impact on my body. I learned how to take control of self doubt, anxiety, and most importantly, I learned that I could choose my thoughts. So I learned how to motivate myself, to plan, and to structure my life without settling my standards too high. Soon I was sleeping better and waking up feeling ready to take on the day! I got my confidence back and my life in balance.

If you are reading this and you feel stuck in your own thoughts, know that I’ve been there. I know how you are feeling, but believe me when I say no matter how impossible life can feel, there is a way to get better, to feel calm again, to fully enjoy each day.

This experience has had such an impact on me that it has inspired me to want to help other women get the help they need to release them from anxiety. I have worked hard for the last 5 years to gain my coaching qualifications and this year I will complete my Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Diploma with the Clifton Practice in Bristol, England. I have always worked in children and family services so I’m planning to specialize in dealing with women’s issues. I’m really excited to be able to share something which I know makes such a lasting change to people’s lives.

Josie IMG_1572Brocksom is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and mother of 2 (sometimes 4) children. She’s a lover of all things pink, an online shopping addict, and a brain science nerd! For more information on postpartum anxiety and hypnotherapy, email Josie at worryfree.org@gmail.com or visit www.worry-free.org/hypnotherapy/

 

I Don’t Think My Son Likes Me

MICHAEL CARTER

OKAY, FINE, GOD! I might have lied to you twice in a row now (read all about my lies and my wife’s hatred for me here). The truth is my son looks at me with his dopey, way-too-big-for-his-baby-head blue eyes with all the love in the world and then some…now. This, however, was not always the case. My little boy will be 10 months old in two days’ time and for the last 4 months, he has been gradually warming up to me as a poor and inadequate alternative to his mammy. There is no doubt dads will face many struggles in their pursuit to become the father figure they want their sons to look up to. One of the first hurdles as far as the father-son relationship is concerned is the feeling of not being able to build a bond with their baby.

I was warned of this, but I am a man after all: man big, man strong, man does not need to form an emotional attachment with his baby to feel validated! And yet again, for a second time running, I must admit I was wrong (my wife will love my admitting to being wrong). [Ed. Note: she does]. I feel like as a dad you are surplus to requirements during the first 3 months of your child’s life. Sure, you clean, cook, go to work to provide, etc. However, as far as the little dude is concerned, you might as well be a plant or a goldfish. Things get slightly different when your baby starts to engage with the surrounding environment of which, as a sentient human, you are a part. With our baby becoming more robust, more mobile, and most importantly, developing a little personality, I imagined daddy-baby quality time was just around the corner. I watched my wife captivate my son’s attention for hours at a time; I watched her tickle him into fits of uncontrollable heartmeltingly cute giggles; I watched her calm him down in seconds from a full-blown cry to a sunny smile just by holding him in her arms. It didn’t look hard, but try as I might to replicate my wife’s heroics, I could not.

We would sit in bed on a lazy Sunday morning (definitely not afternoon because who spends the whole day in bed, right? Right?!?) with my son in the best of moods. My wife, god bless her, would take advantage of this rare opportunity to have her weekly shower and leave me with the little dude seemingly happy as a clam. Ten seconds later, he would be screaming the house down. I would try the toys, try to make him laugh, play him his favourite nursery rhymes (Baby Beluga and Snowflake for these interested) and even frantically walk him up and down the bedroom, and I would get nothing, zilch, nada! My son’s scream would inevitably cut my wife’s shower short and rather predictably, his cries would cease almost immediately after being back in mammy’s arms. That was hard, but it was about to get much harder.

Due to complicated legislation concerning driver’s licenses, my American wife had to re-take her driving test in the UK (where we currently live). This meant she had to take lessons in order to get accustomed with the local rules of the road, and I had to mind the baby while she took them. The lessons were 1 to 2 hours long, which meant I had to stomach 1-2 hours of my son’s screams and cries whilst he simultaneously refused to be held by me and amplified his tantrums tenfold when put down. All of this was done whilst listening to Baby Beluga over and over and over again.(The magic that is Snowflake was discovered later on.)  It was soul crushing; it felt like my son hated me. He was most certainly letting me know what he thought of spending any length of time with his dad. Obviously, yet again, the minute my wife got her hands on him, he would stop at a drop of a hat and smile at me over her shoulder as if to prove some twisted point to me. I felt insufficient and a failure.

Now, some 4 months down the line, things have changed. Trust me on this, lads: there is a light at the end of this screaming tunnel. As I sit here writing this piece, my wife is busy doing some college work (she is getting a PhD, don’t you know? #humblebrag #proudhusband) and my son is gleefully attempting to climb DadIMG_9361dy Mountain (I am the mountain). I can now be left alone with him and we quite happily spend a few hours playing with toys and doing the airplane. Most importantly, however, when I tickle him, he laughs; he laughs just with me and he laughs just for me, his dad. It’s obvious that a baby is going to develop a strong bond with its mammy; aside from carrying the baby for 9 months, she is the sole provider of food and comfort early on – you don’t need me to explain this to you. But dads, trust me on this one: somewhere between 6 and 9 months, you will get your moments in the sun and they will become more and more frequent as time passes. Just in case you don’t believe me, please find a picture of my baby bat burrito son taken after one of our showers, which we take together now because we are crusty hippies! Doesn’t he look happy to have his daddy?!?

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Michael Carter is 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.

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.

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