The Suffering Olympics.

A few months ago, I was introduced to the “Suffering Olympics,” a term which both refers to the compulsion to compare miseries to see who has it worse and describes the last two years of my relationship with my husband. My introduction to this phrase occurred in a Facebook mom group, which is fitting, considering our collective obsession with social media allows us to project our personal lives into the universe, helping us compete in the Suffering Olympics not only with those physically around us (like our partners), but also with others all over the world.

After spending some time having deep thoughts about this, I am convinced that it is from the Suffering Olympics that Mommy Wars are born.

Being a new parent requires doing really hard work and making difficult decisions all the time. You do the work because you have no choice, but you parent certain ways because you have specific opinions. We are all forced into constant, thankless toil when we become parents, which should equalize us and make us more empathetic, but because we become wedded to specific philosophies through the trauma of implementing them, we spend far more time trying to prove that we’ve done it the right way than attempting to treat each other like human beings. No one wants to think that the parenting choices they’ve made are wrong, especially when these choices (inevitably) result in insane amounts of physical and emotional labor.

I’m working on a PhD in Social Statistics right now, so let me explain with an equation:

Hard work + strong opinions = competition + desire to win

For example, I like to think that the two full years I spent cosleeping with and nursing my son are the best decisions I (or anyone) could have possibly made for him because 1) I did those things because I thought they were important and 2) they were so punishing to me that I have to justify them to myself as worth it. I have spent a lot of time feeling really smug about how challenging my parenting choices were. If there was a Suffering Olympics, I was definitely a gold medaler across the board.

That is, until recently, when I realized in a light bulb moment that while being an accidental attachment parent is certainly super intense and autonomy-crushing, no parent escapes feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and Never Alone. Every mother I know has been disillusioned with her style of parenting, in one form or another. The lack of independence that I felt was specific to my circumstances was also an issue for breastfeeding friends starved by limited diets, working friends swamped by deadlines, and by-the-book friends burdened by the weight of strict schedules. All of us make decisions that come back to haunt us.

Imagine for a moment that we were able to see beyond our own limited experiences, allowing us to acknowledge the choices of others as valid in their own unique circumstances. (I know, I know. Suspend your disbelief for a second.) If we were able to see the parents around us as equally underwater in this raising children business, the Suffering Olympics would cease to exist, because, in parenting at least, suffering is everywhere and struggles are relative.

Parenting is hard for everyone, no matter how you choose to do it. We all have to make a bed. It doesn’t make sense for us tear each other apart for laying in it.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on writing up her third PhD paper and taking care of her baby, but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.

 

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/

 

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.

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