Parenting: Day 404 (Or: Why I Am Always A Mess)

SARAH CARTER

12am: I’ve been asleep since 9:45pm! I’m starting the day off with 2 hours and 15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep! Today is gonna be great!

1:01am: Baby wakes up. Demands being nursed back to sleep.

2:48 am: Baby wakes up. For fun, I decide to try not nursing him back to sleep. Baby has a meltdown. I am terrified of being awake for three hours. I nurse him back to sleep.

3:55am: Baby wakes up.

4:58am: Baby wakes up.

5:51am: Baby wakes up FOR THE DAY.

6:43am: Baby poops, which I notice after it escapes his diaper. I put down my coffee (Mug 1) and my husband and I scrub baby poo out of the carpet in three different locations.

7:02am: I clear a path into Baby’s room by putting away all the books, toys, and stuffed animals laying all over the place.

7:03am: Baby pulls every book off his shelves and onto his feet. Baby cries.

7:15am: Baby has breakfast. He gets covered in yogurt. I take advantage of his being locked in his high chair and fold dry laundry after putting a new load into the washing machine.

7:30am: Baby finishes breakfast and is cleaned off with baby wipes. He immediately runs to the French doors to the garden and smears his wet, still-yogurt-y hands all over the glass before turning to his left and rubbing them all over some clean laundry.

7:32am: While washing dishes at the sink, I discover that I smell like the inside of a male wrestler’s gym bag. I begin to strategize a shower.

7:33am: I make black tea while Baby pounds at the French doors.

7:34am: It’s already warm enough outside that I let Baby into the garden wearing just a diaper. I watch him ride his plastic rocking horse over unfortunate bugs and push his Cozy Coupe into flower beds, thinking about how cute he is. Before I can stop him, he uses a measuring cup to drink some old water out of a bucket.

7:49am: Baby bores of dragging an outdoor broom around the garden patio and comes inside with fistfuls of sidewalk chalk, which he gets on the door frames and hardwood floors on the way back into the house.

7:51am: I am tired of running interference as Baby attempts to navigate the big step from inside to outside over and over, so I open the baby gate to the stairs. Baby senses danger and begins crawling upstairs.

7:51am: Excited by making it all the way up, Baby slams his face directly into the open baby gate at the top of the stairs. I abandon my black tea on stairs (Mug 2) and hold him as he screams in my face.

7:51am: I realize I am holding him while sitting on the wet patch where I’d scrubbed poo out of the carpet an hour ago.

7:54am: Baby is now happily rummaging through the diaper bag as I attempt to put away some laundry. I’ve given up on nice things, so I don’t care when my prescription glasses get thrown across the room.

7:55am: Baby is too quiet, which is how I discover that he’s eaten half a tube of Aquaphor Baby moisturizer.

7:55-7:58am: Full blown panic mode. Aquaphor Baby packaging tells me to seek medical help or call Poison Control if the cream is ingested, which is fantastic because that Aquaphor Baby is from the US and I’m in the UK and don’t know what the English equivalent of Poison Control is. I imagine we’ll have to go to the hospital and I wonder how I’m going to explain to my husband that I didn’t notice our son sucking down a bunch of ointment poison. I’ll have to call an ambulance. I am keenly aware that I smell horrible.

7:58am: The internet tells me Aquaphor is just petroleum jelly and lanolin, and at worst, Baby will have diarrhea. This is fine because Poop is one of my skills now.

7:59am: Baby is back to his regularly scheduled programming, methodically taking folded clothing and diapers out of each of his three dresser drawers, cracking the spines on board books by folding them in on themselves, and dropping things behind the radiators.

8:03am: I go into the bathroom to prep for a shower, and Baby beelines for the toilet brush, climbing over a pile of toilet paper rolls and scattering them everywhere.

8:03am: I decide not to shower. I mean, it’s not like we have to go to the hospital.

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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

 

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What, Me Worry?

SARAH CARTER

I come from a long line of high strung neurotics. (Sorry, Family. I’ve committed to telling the truth here.) If there’s something to worry about, obsess over, or unnecessarily dread, I will find it. It’s genetic.

Before I had my son (and until he was mobile, really), I would watch babies and toddlers cling to public surfaces and crawl around in airplanes and play in shopping mall play areas, and cringe in horror at the thought of all the germs they were then going to rub into their tiny little eyes with their grubby little hands. I once took a two-year-old to the bathroom at a zoo and it remains one of the most stressful experiences of my life.

And then.

September: On my 29th birthday, while wearing my eight week old son strapped to my chest, I cracked a cusp off a molar as I ate the birthday burrito I’d struggled hard to make for myself. My husband was away for the week for work, my mom had flown back to California, and I had never seen a dentist who wasn’t my grandfather, let alone one who practiced in the UK. Unable to find anyone to watch my baby on a few hours notice, I took my tiny son, who had until this point in his life only been held by three people related to him and the midwife who delivered him, to a dental clinic, where he refused to sleep through my appointment in his stroller. I got to have a tooth drilled (sans Novocaine) while listening to my son scream in a medical office lobby as he was held by a total stranger.

“You seem a little tense,” said the dentist. No shit, I thought.

And then.

At the exact same time, on my birthday, I’d stupidly let my US driver’s license expire, because apparently you can’t renew your California driver’s license by mail indefinitely. (Who knew?) Unable to renew my license from afar, and having just begun the slow crawl towards a UK learner’s permit, I could no longer drive our car. This was unfortunate because it was annoying, and also because: it was becoming winter in England; walking everywhere was a nightmare; my husband works away during the week; my son needed his vaccinations.

And then.

October-November: I ended up taking my infant son to his first series of vaccinations in taxis. Some of them smelled of cigarettes and all of them had probably been puked in.

And then.

December: We flew from England to California, to show off our baby to my side of the family, and I spent four weeks tamping down my panic about my 4.5 month old bubble boy being passed around at meet-and-greet parties and being fed random food by people who refused to listen to my “no solid foods until six months” rule. The trip was for me both wonderful and exhausting, as I loved being home, but battling pretty crippling anxiety made it difficult to enjoy myself.

Being a new mother, tasked with keeping this tiny child alive and with making all the right choices, is a huge, overwhelming, almost impossible job for anyone, but it felt particularly daunting for me, because I couldn’t ever relax or let down my guard or stop worrying about what terrible illness the world was about to visit upon the baby.

And finally.

January: Our son had to start going to nursery, because I needed to get back to showing up on campus and working on my PhD. We did two weeks of “settling in” sessions, where I dropped off my wailing child for a few hours and hung around the nursery or walked down to the grocery store and stress-bought (and then stress-ate) gross meals like premade veggie sushi and potato chips. (I WAS NERVOUS, OKAY?) I sat with him for a few minutes

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Eating paint at nursery. Week 2.

before leaving each time, watching him put communal toys directly into his mouth, having an almost out of body experience. Just like that, the bubble around my precious little bug burst, and there he was, getting sneezed on by stranger babies and sucking on his fingers after running them all over the nursery carpet. His exposure was suddenly completely out of my control.

In the end, I didn’t really have a choice. I could spend my entire life petrified of what was going to happen to him after he put that soft block in his mouth, or I could let it go. Because I have a PhD to attempt to complete while living in a foreign country and holding down the fort while my husband is away, I chose to let go. I gave up literally three decades worth of mania because I just could not keep going forward while being wound so tightly.

Our son is (almost) 12 months old now and regularly eats food that’s touched restaurant tables, plays with things that have fallen on the ground, and chews on toys have just been thrown down in front of him by nursery kids who have just finished gnawing on them. He got sick a lot at first (beginning with his first cold and double pink eye after his first week of nursery) and he didn’t sleep well and it was as bad as I thought it would have been, but it got better. He got better. And so did I.

Becoming a mom shattered me in a lot of ways: the total loss of independence, completely indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it; the physical changes, both the fleeting and the permanent; the responsibility, which I’m trying to shoulder. These are all things that I’m still working on accepting, even now, less than a week before my son celebrates his first birthday. However, becoming a mom has cured me, in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.

After living thirty years fearing door handles and public transportation, I’ve finally learned not to sweat the (microscopic) small stuff.

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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

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.

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