The risks and rewards of motherhood

 

When my daughter was born, the first, strongest emotion I felt was crushing anxiety. A worrier by nature, I should have expected that the love and responsibility I felt for this new soul would manifest itself in a sudden surge of worry.

I worried about everything. I worried about whether she was eating enough, being held enough, having enough developmentally enriching experiences. I worried about the world she was going to grow up in, and the kind of people she would meet along the way.

My heightened stress was primed during the pregnancy, which was considered risky due to the higher-than-average possibility our child would be born with spina bifida or other spinal abnormalities. But in spite of the risk and the worries, my husband and I welcomed a perfectly healthy baby into the world. A healthy baby who never slept.

The first couple of years are a blur due to extreme sleep deprivation, but I do have a fuzzy memory of asking the pediatrician at one point – or perhaps at every single checkup – whether it was really OK for my daughter to sleep only 20 minutes at a time every two hours. I may also have inquired about baby sleeping pills. He chuckled that she was growing steadily and developing normally, so I shouldn’t worry about it. Some babies just don’t need much sleep.

My daughter is 12 now, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, and she still doesn’t need much sleep. On school nights, she’s up with her dad and me until almost 10 p.m.

This time together each night has been a saving grace since we welcomed her little brother into our household; he conks out hours earlier, leaving the rest of us to enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet.

That’s right: I signed up for a second child – and double the worry.

And my son certainly gives me plenty to worry about. He is a gung-ho risk-taker who once dived, head-first, off that train in the children’s play area in the mall. And off the top bunk in his sister’s room. And from the pine tree in the back yard. I may never understand his enduring need to jump off of things – or why he so often softened his landings with his head.

He also had chronic ear infections when he was younger, until we had ear tubes put in, and now he keeps finding ways to break off pieces of the braces on his teeth (a first for the orthodontist).

Aside from the usual parental worries, I share a lot of the same concerns as other parents of adopted children. We didn’t meet my son until he was 4 ½ years old, and he had had a pretty rough life before then. Reading his file for the first time, there was a lot in there to worry a parent. And of course I worried about how he would fit in with our family, and whether we could be the kind of parents he needed, and most of all, how our daughter might be affected.

There were many, many things to worry about, and I worried about all of them. Now that my son is about to turn 10, I find that a lot of those old anxieties have faded – only to be replaced with new ones. It seems there’s always something to worry about.

There are no guarantees in life, and nobody can know what the future will bring. These are the clichés that haunt parents who only want some assurance that our children will grow up healthy, happy and safe, but who know all too well that sickness, sadness and death can strike at any moment.

It probably doesn’t help that I work at a newspaper. For me, there’s no escaping the news about North Korea’s latest missile test, or the most recent air pollution study, or the child molester who was just released from jail. I’m sometimes the only person to read some of the worst of the profanity-ridden, mean-spirited letters to the editor – letters written by people who live right here in our community – that never make it to print.

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Just how crazy are we parents, to bring children into this crazy world? And why on earth would we want to make ourselves even crazier by going through the agonizing process of foster care and adoption?

I struggle to explain my reasoning every few months or so, when my husband and I speak to panels of prospective foster parents for the Dan Fox Family Care Program, the amazing local organization that matched us with our amazing son and which continues to support us in so many important ways. We try to simultaneously warn these foster-parents-to-be about all the heartbreaking things they will probably experience, including the possibility that their foster child will be reunited with his or her birth family, while still encouraging them to go for it anyway.

But why? Why would anyone sign up for that?

Well, why not. Why not accept a little less security, in order to give a child a little more security? Why not gamble on your own heartbreak, to improve the odds that a child’s heart won’t be broken?

Isn’t that what parents do?

I know well enough that no parent is perfect. We all make mistakes. But if we are willing to work at it, and if we are willing to ask for help when we need it, and if we are very lucky, we might find that the rewards of parenthood are somehow worth the risks. Because it’s our children who will reap those rewards.

And knowing that helps ease this mom’s worried mind. A little.

No Comments »

Advertisement

Goodbye, for now

The breaking point came one afternoon as I tried to hash out who was picking up Baby Girl from daycare. I had to cover a school board meeting and was out of frozen breast milk.

Giving her formula wouldn’t be the end of the world, Jared said.

But it felt like it to me.

Breastfeeding is the one thing I can still do that makes me feel like I’m giving her the best start possible. I feel guilty leaving her at daycare every day. Her caregivers are great, but they’re not me. Between trying to get stories finished and covering meetings and other evening activities, our quality time together is sparse.

When I found out I was pregnant, it felt like the end of the world and I feared exactly what my life has become. I had spent years working hard and had found what I thought could be my forever job at The Missoulian.

I thought I would be a modern woman, one who needs to work to be happy and who takes pride in modeling equality for my daughter.

Turns out, I am not.

 

In August, I sat in my editor’s office and told her I thought I would be bored and ready to come back to work after six weeks. She said to just plan on taking the full three months. In October, I was distraught about returning to work in mid-November and was giddy with thankfulness when my boss said to take off more time if I wanted. I wanted. I desperately wanted. So I ended up taking five months — time that softened the heartbreak of returning to work, but that didn’t eliminate it.

So today, despite having supportive bosses and coworkers, I choose something different. I choose to concentrate on my child instead of splitting my time between her and work and feeling like I’m not doing either one as well as I should.

I hope I’ll write again and I’ll probably regret stepping away in a few years. All I know is that I have regrets about spending so little time with Baby Girl now.

By moving to my husband’s family farm on the Hi-Line I will have time, lots of it. Probably too much of it. The change will be drastic, but I am happy with the decision and excited about more time as a family and flexibility to spend more time with my family on the East Coast.

But before I go, thank you.

Thank you for letting me share my story with you. Doing so has helped me see my life with a certain clarity and honesty that has led me to this point. And thank you for sharing your stories with me and the patience you have expended in telling me those stories. I am honored by the way Missoulians have welcomed me into their homes, offices and lives.

For now, though, goodbye.

4 Comments »

Missoula Baby Bistro breastfeeding support group

Going back to work after having a baby can be difficult emotionally and logistically. Toss breastfeeding in and moms not only have to worry about when to drop off and pick up their kiddos but when to pump so their kiddos have a supply of milk when they’re not around to give it to them from the source.

So where to look for support and resources? The Missoula Baby Bistro is a good place to hear from certified lactation counselors and other moms about returning to work and a host of other breastfeeding-related things.

The breastfeeding support group meets from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at Zootown Brew, 121 W. Broadway.

And if you’re like me, it’s an opportunity to upgrade from sweatpants to yoga pants and get out of the house and talk with other moms about everything from what worked for them when they tried to get baby to take a bottle to sleep habits to just how you’re feeling. I went to the group almost every week when I was still on maternity leave and it was definitely helpful to hear from other moms and lactation experts — without having to make an appointment. I also gleaned all sorts of nuggets of info, like how socks stuffed in bras do in a pinch when you’re out of nursing pads and how you can make your own hands-free nursing bra by cutting slits in a sports bra.

The group began last August after members of the Missoula Breastfeeding Coalition decided to have one support group instead of the various ones hosted by different organizations. Coalition members take turns facilitating so there’s always an expert, or two, on hand.

During a recent session, Jennifer Stires, who owns the Nursing Nook, gave some tips on how to make the transition back to work easier for mom and baby while still breastfeeding.

• Give your chosen childcare a trial run for a few hours the week before you return to work.

• Pump once every day if starting to pump two weeks before going back to work; pump every other day if starting four weeks before your return.

• Store milk in 2-4 ounce increments so it can be warmed up in small amounts and waste less.

• Make sure the room you pump in at work has a lock for privacy. Don’t pump in the bathroom. (Would you eat in there?) Be near water so you can rinse your breast pump parts after each use.

• Drink lots of water, exercise and get fresh air. Keep healthy snacks available (oatmeal helps with milk production).

• Have a feeding plan on file with your childcare provider and ask to have a synopsis of your child’s day. When did they nap and for how long? How much did they eat and when?

The law is on your side, too, ladies.

According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers — with some exemptions — must give nursing mothers reasonable break times to express breast milk for up to a year after birth and are required to give mothers a place — other than a bathroom — in which to do so.

If you need some advice or just an encouraging smile from another mom who is going through the same thing, check out Missoula Baby Bistro in person, or find them on Facebook.

No Comments »

Parents of Multiples group forms

Ever feel like all the baby-care hacks are geared toward one baby at a time?

You’re not alone and to help families with multiples (i.e. twins, triplets) a new group has formed.

Missoula Parents of Multiples was formed by Emma Hunter and Cerisse Allen – both parents of twins and certified lactation consultants.

The group meets the first Thursday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Missoula Public Library. (Although Hunter said they are open to meeting at a different time if it will be easier for families to attend.) The gathering is a judgement-free zone for families to share experiences and support each other, Hunter said.

“I feel like you don’t realize until you have more than one baby what a large part of all of our available parenting advice is specifically geared toward one mom and one baby,” she said.

“It’s nice to be able to chat with people who have made it through the first year of two or what have you to be able to bounce ideas off of,” she said.

Especially when children are younger, it can be reassuring to see other moms and families handling the demands of multiples and still managing to enjoy them, she said, adding she and Allen became friends after bumping into each other when walking their children and then again through mutual friends.

Basic needs are the same for all babies, Hunter said.

“It’s just more relentless,” she said about caring for multiples.

“It’s just keeping up without really getting much of a break very often,” she added.

Being pregnant with and giving birth to multiples also presents challenges and moms can’t legally have a home or birth center birth experience. Cesarean sections also are more common and it’s not unusual to spend active labor in the operating room just in case, Hunter said.

Sometimes, moms have a vaginal delivery for the first baby and a c-section for the second, which means they recover from both types of delivery after, she said.

Neonatal intensive care unit stays also are more prevalent for multiples, she said.

“It seems like something most of the moms don’t really get an opportunity to talk about much but then given the opportunity they were eager to,” Hunter said about the first group meeting earlier this month.

“It seems like the desire to be kind of proactive and provide support in turn to someone going through a similar difficult situation is definitely there,” she added.

For more information, or to make suggestions about what meeting time would be best, find Missoula Parents of Multiples on Facebook.

 

No Comments »

Mountain Home Montana celebrates 15 years

Since Mountain Home Montana began helping young mothers get off the streets and learn parenting and life skills, the organization has grown to include apartments and mental health services. Each year 45 families are helped through the program, and there’s a much longer waiting list.

Here’s more about the organization from their webpage:

We are a nonprofit in Missoula where young mothers between the ages 16-24 who are pregnant and/or parenting may access housing, supportive services, and mental health services.  We help these vulnerable young families with their basic needs, including safety, shelter, food, educational and employment opportunities, and access to mental health therapy and medical care.  Our organization utilizes best practices to provide individualized support and case management that teach our moms the parenting and life skills necessary for independent living!

Mountain Home Montana’s mission is to provide a safe, loving home where young mothers can discover their strengths and their children can experience the joys of childhood.

Community members have been invited to help Mountain Home celebrate their successes today from noon to 6:30 p.m. at 2606 South Ave. W. If you haven’t seen how the program has grown since it began as a three bedroom residence, now’s a good time.

If you can’t make it to the open house, you can learn more about what they do to help young families by attending a screening of “Gimme Shelter” at the Crystal Theater later this month.

The film screening is a fundraiser and will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Mountain Home workers and former clients. More here.

No Comments »

Parenting fails

What are these? Jared asked this morning as he picked up a pile of flashcards.

I had pulled them out for a little light reading with Baby Girl and left them on the chair.

Jared, being a teacher and all, used some of the parent prompts on the back of the cards, which included how to say the object’s name in five languages.

Buh – nah – nuh, Jared sounded out.

Oh, that’s the English, he said, setting off peels of laughter from both of us.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little too serious about parenting and worrying that we’re not doing enough to promote Baby Girl’s development. This morning was a good reminder that we’re all just doing the best we can and sometimes it’s OK for our best to be flawed.

Laugh. Move on. Repeat.

No Comments »

Changing tables … and laps and tailgates

This. Is. Beautiful.

IMG_3140

 

Baby Girl wasn’t with me on this particular outing, but she’s been with me many times when there was not such a nice option.

Sometimes, even if a changing table is available, it’s so dirty or rickety that we opt not to use it anyway. Often, Jared’s or my legs are the changing table and she’s had her diaper changed in a middle school hallway, on a ski lodge table, on toilets, on gym bleachers, in dressing rooms, in between sinks on wide counters, on top of a cooler, on the car hood, on the tailgate, and on old faithful — the back of the car.

So when I saw this I did a happy dance.

I may or may not have poked my nose in the men’s room, but suffice it to say that they have a similar version.

Other public places take note: men’s restrooms should have changing tables too. Let’s reward them for being involved by making it a little easier on them!

No Comments »

Heartbreaking work

 

Welcome back to work! How are you doing? my coworkers asked.

I tried to put on a brave face, but I still cried.

Brokenhearted is how I had described how I felt about going back to work to Jared.

While working as a reporter fulfills me, motherhood is me.

But if I stay home, I give up an enjoyable career I spent years building, and once Baby Girl goes to school I won’t be content at home. In the meantime I won’t be contributing to the household income. I already took four-and-a-half months off for maternity leave.

But am I being selfish by not taking the chance that I would find a similar job later? Am I shortchanging Baby Girl at a time when she needs me most?

Just as much as I want to be with her, though, I want to show her how she can do anything and the value of meaningful work. I want her to shape the world and not be hindered by guilt for having priorities in addition to having a family.

I won’t lie to her, though. Having priorities in addition to the priority of family is gut wrenching.

I’m filled with grief for the once-in-a-lifetime moments I likely won’t experience and I’m jealous that Baby Girl will look to someone else to soothe her discomforts and for guidance.

My heart seizes in my chest every time I leave for work and I blink away tears caused by uncertainty about my decision and just plain missing her.

I’ll try to focus on the positives, like a supportive husband, a flexible workplace, coworkers who also are friends, a job about which I am passionate, and knowing that my sister-in-law loves Baby Girl and is happy to spend the day with her.

And I’ll hope fervently that those are enough to stop my heart from breaking anymore.

 

 

3 Comments »

Sleepless in Missoula

You’d never know it, looking at her now in a state of angelic repose.

photo-6

But last night she almost drove me over the edge my sleep-deprived self has been toeing for weeks.

It was the latest in a string of evenings full of crying and lack of sleep. Clearly, her refusal to stop kicking her left leg long enough for me to zipper it back into her pajamas was meant to finish pushing me past my limits of self control.

Get the baby book, I asked Jared. Read what it says about colic and how to ease it in case we’re missing something.

After reading the section, we knew no new tricks and Baby Girl was holding strong.

The swaddle didn’t calm her. She couldn’t hear soothing sounds over her screaming. Swaying was doing nothing for her but was jabbing a dagger into my lower back. She had been fed, repeatedly, and her diaper was dry. I had just checked. Hence why her leg was out of her pajamas in the first place.

Walk away, I remembered was the advice of every health care professional we have come across. Better to not let your frustration turn to irrational anger and hurt your baby.

Did their endorsement make me feel like less of a failure as a parent for not being able to put my child to sleep? No.

Did their advice give me the encouragement I needed to let it go and walk away? Yes.

I need a minute, I told Jared, throwing my hands up in surrender.

As Baby Girl cried in the bedroom, so did I, braced against the kitchen counter.

After several minutes, the house became quiet and I walked into the bedroom to find Jared with Baby Girl cradled in his arms, swaying to ocean wave sounds.

Waves of emotion washed over me.

One of relief that she was asleep.

One of love for Jared and Baby Girl.

One of thankfulness that medical professionals are honest about the trials of parenthood and give us the encouragement and support to be honest with ourselves too.

And one of gratefulness for the white noise setting on the radio.

 

 

 

 

No Comments »

New arrival!

It was a dark and stormy night …

No really, it was dark and stormy in the wee hours of the morning when Baby Girl arrived three days late.

I would have told you about her sooner, but I’ve been too engrossed in staring adoringly at her to do much of anything else.

Despite not being sure about her for pretty much my entire pregnancy, I’ve discovered she’s brilliant and beautiful and perfect and all the things I didn’t expect her to be, like a sound sleeper.

I’m so relieved, Jared told me.

He made the comment as we were lying in bed one night talking about postpartum depression and how to recognize it. Considering that I had been slow to come around to pregnancy, let alone actually having a baby, he’s worried those less-than-enthusiastic sentiments will carry over now that Baby Girl’s here.

But it’s like a switch flipped, he said.

Tell you the truth, I’m relieved too. It took a false labor call after a fall for me to realize that I loved Baby Girl and even after that I wasn’t a fan of pregnancy.

However, I am a fan of motherhood.

That’s not to say I’ve been all smiles. I’ve cried and given myself hugs and pep talks a few times. Per our discussion about postpartum depression, I tell Jared about the bad along with the good instead of plastering a false smile on my face, and to his credit he listens.

It’s overwhelming, suddenly having a little human to care for, especially one who can’t tell you what she needs. It’s particularly overwhelming when she won’t stop crying no matter what you try.

The doctors say all we have to do is feed her and change her diaper, but those basics don’t always cover it.

There are all the little things, like what bath water temperature she likes best and how long she’ll stand being in the swing before she wants to be held again. And what song will lull her back to sleep after she wakes in a fury at 3 a.m. (I’m pretty sure Jared sang her every song he knows, with the Griz fight song thrown in several times for good measure. The next morning Jared’s footprints were still visible in the carpet where he had stood.)

The most difficult thing for me, though, has been learning to be less controlling.

I am not super human. If I want to have energy to be kind to Jared when he gets home from work or the patience to withstand Baby Girl’s crying spells and to enjoy the moments when she’s adorable, other things must be ignored.

There is no schedule anymore. If Baby Girl sleeps, I sleep. Forget those chocolate chip cookies I was going to make or my plan to mop the floor.

Even with all the adjustments, conquering the learning curve is worth it to have Baby Girl. Like I said, she’s brilliant and beautiful and perfect.

No Comments »