A Trip Down Postpartum Lane

Although I did not fully intend to take a maternity leave from my blog, it seems that scheduling, exhaustion, and emotions have effectively accomplished that for me. The miracle of life continues to be extraordinary for those of us who brought it into being, but for those who did not, I know that reading a daily log of my new son’s eating, pooping, and sleeping schedule may be somewhat less than thrilling. Unfortunately these are the things that consume my days as of late. Combined with an ever-present struggle to maintain my sanity through the fog of postpartum hormones and little to no sleep, it has been hard to find the energy and inspiration (much less time) to sit down and write. But writing is an integral and important part of my fulfillment – and hopefully important to some of you, my readers, as well – so I am making the time. Forgive me if the subject matter is somewhat sub-par. It is where I am now and it is what I have to give.

The involuntary drugs I am constantly hopped up on – otherwise know as postpartum hormones – are a cruel and unusual reality. I know that they are the cause of much of the way that I feel (which makes me feel crazy), but the feelings themselves are real and valid. I cannot simply ignore them. Allow me to give you a tour of what goes on in my head most days lately:

I find it exceptionally difficult to separate myself from my tiny newborn son. Even now, I have his video monitor right next to me as I write and I find myself looking at it at least as much as I look at this screen on which I am typing. For nine months he and I were connected. Two people existing together in the same body but separate. And as much as I hated pregnancy there is an odd and intense separation anxiety that happens when he is no longer part of me. It feels unnatural, in a way, for him to be across the room, even though I know it is, of course, not. I am jealous and possessive of him and feel disconnected from everyone else. Like no one else really understands… or cares. And I don’t blame them. Perhaps my life has changed radically over the last three weeks, but theirs hasn’t. Sooner or later, my new baby is not the center of everyone else’s attention. But most of the time if feel like it should be, darn it!

Everyone treats a pregnant lady, especially a big pregnant lady, special. But almost as soon as the baby is born, all of the special attention transfers to him. And this too feels unfair. I had major abdominal surgery 3 weeks ago and now, for all intents and purposes, am housebound while still trying to care for both of my children. I deserve to be treated special too, right?

And my hubby, whose life has also changed dramatically, has the added privilege of dealing with all of my insanity. This often makes him withdraw, because really, what is there for him to do besides take care of all of our practical needs (which he does superbly)? He can’t even begin to touch everything that’s going on inside me. This, in turn makes me feel distant from him and guilty for making him have to deal with me. He practically had to beg me to go out to dinner with him tonight and let my parents, who are visiting, watch the boys. And yet, it feels so wrong for me to leave the baby, that I almost resent him for insisting we go. Crazy, right? I know.

And you remember those fears I mentioned a while back about whether or not I would be able to love Owen as much as Aiden, who I have adored intensely from the moment he was born? Everyone told me that I would have no trouble. That love multiplies rather than divides. They were, of course, right. I adore Owen every bit as much as I do Aiden. But the irony of it is, I sometimes find myself even resenting Aiden for demanding so much of me at a time when I ought to be able to enjoy my new baby as much as I was able to enjoy him. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ve ever shown him these feelings but it’s bad enough that they’re there. Especially since he has been SUCH a wonderful boy since we came home from the hospital and SO tender and loving with his new little brother. It is astonishing and beautiful to watch and makes my heart swell.

Then there are feelings of inadequacy. Like I just can’t handle each new step along the way – leaving the hospital; Jonathan going back to work; visitors coming; those same visitors leaving; returning to work myself… Jonathan is going out of town 3 time in June and I don’t know how I am possibly going to manage the boys by myself while he is gone. I know I will. I have to. I just don’t believe that I can.

And in the middle of all of this, I am having to search for new childcare for when I return to work. This gives me constant and recurring panic attacks. If I have so much trouble leaving my baby with my mom, how in the world will I be able to leave him with a complete stranger in 5 or 6 weeks. I have no idea.

Add to this the fact that this baby, who I am so protective and possessive of, is one giant bundle of need – perpetuating a cycle of nursing, diaper changes, gas pains, fitful and broken sleep, and repeat – and you have the recipe for a perfect storm.

I know that all of this will pass. I had many of the same feelings after I had Aiden, perhaps to a worse degree. But when you are in the midst of them, flooded with emotions and hormones that you can’t control, it is sometimes hard to remember that life will return to normal. A new normal perhaps, but normal nonetheless. So in case any of my friends are planning to come see me anytime soon, bear in mind that this is the me that exists on the inside – even if what you see on the outside is remarkably held together. And if this inside me is too scary, I completely understand. I’ll let you know when the fog clears. If not, come help me weather the lonely craziness and I’ll try to keep the monster at bay. Besides, Owen is so incredible cute and wonderful, that seeing him is worth braving me ;)

Does First-Born = First Priority?

I find it slightly telling, and a little sad, that one of my primary motivators for doing creative and special things for Owen is a desire to keep up with my former self. I can’t very well play favorites even before my second-born arrives, so I have to gather up all the energy and creativity that remains in my older, more preoccupied life to simply do for Owen what I did for Aiden. The difference is, with Aiden, everything was novel and new. My whole life centered around the fact that I was about to have a child. So I read 12 different books on pregnancy and parenting, crocheted blankets, took pictures of my belly every few weeks to document the process, and did fun, creative things like making wooden plaques for his hospital door. This time, the fact that I am now 30 and already a parent with a wildly active toddler as well as a job and home to keep up (while trying to sell it and move!) definitely factors into the equation. It’s not that I love Owen any less (I hope), it’s just that life does not afford me the same luxuries it did before. Well, I may have fallen woefully short this go-round in my parenting research and belly pictures, and the blanket I started may or may not be in various shades of coral and pink (oops!), but I did manage to find it in me to make a pretty wonderful door hanger for Scarborough 2.0, with a little “help” from Scarborough 1.0.  We actually had a really good time and I devoted far more of my evening to it than I originally anticipated, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the results!

My big boy working on his "Project" while Mama worked on hers.

The finished product for Owen's hospital door.

Aiden's hospital door hanger (for comparison). After the hospital, his hung in his room for 2 1/2 years till he moved into his big boy room. I'm thinking Owen's will do the same and I coordinated the colors appropriately :)

Hopefully I can continue this trend and take plenty of photos once Owen arrives and document all his special milestones, just as I did with Aiden. And in all the ways that I do fall short, I hope he will one day understand that being first-born did not make Aiden first priority, it just meant his parents were FAR less busy!

Romance at Home

There is nothing that feeds affection and intimacy in a relationship like romance. Everybody knows that it is essential to a woman’s happiness. But I believe it is just as crucial to a man’s. Not only to receive it, but to give it. Even if it doesn’t come quite as naturally, the simple act of being romantic makes a man feel . . . well  . . . manly. The look of sheer pride and accomplishment on my husbands face tonight after a valiant and very successful romantic evening, said it all. He enjoyed seeing me giddy with the anticipation and fulfillment of pampering almost as much as I enjoyed experiencing it. Just before leaving work today, I received this email:

Upon my arrival at home, I was greeted first with smooches, then with the heavenly smell of made-from-scratch chicken Alfredo on the stove, and then by the sound of lovely french music and the sight of candles and wine ready to be poured. I did just as I was told and kicked off my shoes and danced around the kitchen while he finished up. And the best part was the forethought that went into creating the invitation and going to the store to buy ingredients for one of my favorite foods and doing it all himself. I would choose this evening over a 5 star Italian restaurant any day! Even the inclusion of our two-year old was no detraction. I think he could sense the positivity and happiness floating around the house and was a perfect doll all evening. He even got a glass of “wine” (white grape juice in a wine glass) and told his daddy, “I like this supper, Daddy!” Who says you need to pay a baby sitter and spend a fortune on a date to make it special? Further evidence that sometimes it is the thought and effort that accompanies a gift that makes it wonderful. Well done hubby! You’ve just raised the bar. ;)

Overlooking the Bad – Empathizing with Toddlers

One of the dominant principles of positive psychology, which I speak about often, is the concept of acknowledging the good and beautiful things around you, no matter how small, and learning to appreciate them as integral parts of a bigger picture. Another key principle, which I don’t address as frequently, is the idea that we must also learn to overlook the negative, not so lovely parts of our daily lives and refuse to let them bog us down or preoccupy our thoughts. These two go hand in hand. It is very hard to successfully accomplish one without the other. I am more prone to seek out the good – acknowledge it, fight for it, hold onto it. Overlooking the bad does not come quite as easily. I am a natural worrier and am far too easily bogged down in everyday struggles. I know this about myself, yet I find it difficult to overcome. And sometimes it’s murkiness clouds my barrage of affirmations.

Recently, I realized that I have this same struggle with my son. I do not think I am negligent in any sense of the word in praising or affirming him. I constantly point out when he does something well or try to get him to notice all of the unusual and beautiful things that surround him every day. Together we discover all sorts of new ways to appreciate life. But when it comes to ignoring the bad, that is where my positive parenting philosophy too often breaks down. Toddlers whine. It is what they do. There are two ways to feed the whining and give it attention – by giving in to whatever is being insisted upon, or by constantly scolding and correcting the whining. Even negative attention is attention. So either way we teach our toddlers to crave the attention they get by whining at us. When really, as many behavioral psychologist will readily tell you, the best way to curb excessive whining is just to ignore it. Overlook it. Don’t let it preoccupy you. Go about your business. This, however, is VERY hard. Studies have shown that whining is one of the most annoying and distracting sounds in existence. Go figure. Most of us who are parents didn’t need scientists to tell us this. But sometimes even separating myself from the whining, giving both of us time to recoup, collect, and move on, I find it hard to walk away and ignore the screaming tantrum that ensues because I’ve asked my son to play by himself in his room for a little while. Every fiber of my being wants to tear into the room, put him in his bed and put him in his place. I mean, HOW DARE he scream like that at me! (As if it was ever even about me.) But this course of action accomplishes nothing. It makes him combative and yell back. And then how can I, in good conscience, tell him not to yell, when I’ve just finished doing the very same to him. Any child witnessing this reaction, with their vast stores of untapped intelligence, will know immediately that you are a hypocrite. So what should I do? Walk away. Not let it overwhelm me. Go back to him immediately when he has regained composure and praise him for doing so. Remember that very few, if any, of his behaviors have anything to do with  me or my parenting. Just as it is true in my own life, I know that all of the positive things I consistently share with him would mean so much more and sink so much deeper if I could simply overlook the bad and refuse to give it the credence it doesn’t deserve.

Instead of featuring my son in some of his less than flattering moments, I decided to feature myself! It somehow seems more fair.

I have to continually remind myself that toddlers lead frustrating little existences. They are still in the process of discovering their entire world. Every day they encounter new things with no box created yet to put them in. Every action is a science experiment designed, in their minds, to figure out ALL the rules. What will a nice big spoon of spaghetti look like if I drop it on the floor? How will the cat react if I try to ride him? What sound will my fork make if I drag it across the glass table? How high can I balance this stack of Mom’s books before it falls? If it’s fun to jump off a stool, wouldn’t it be even more fun to jump off a table? Very little, if any of the stunts they pull have any malicious intent. Toddlers aim to please and jump at every opportunity to help. And yet they have these giants following them around and constantly correcting them for no real reason that they can understand. No, sweetheart, don’t drop your spaghetti on the floor! STOP, you can’t jump off the table! Don’t sit on the cat, you’ll hurt him! No, no, NO! I always said that I wanted to say yes whenever possible because there are SO many reasons to say no. I had no idea! And these poor little people are forever thwarted in their experiments to better understand their world – and then told not to show any signs of disappointment, frustration, or anger. What gives?!? This is what I try to remember while dealing with whining and tantrums. I try to put myself in their shoes. Empathize. Show them a better way to express those emotions instead of mirroring their own tantrums back at them. I try. I do not always succeed. (For more thoughts on this concept of empathy with toddlers, check out this wonderful article by Melissa Sher. It was my inspiration for many of these thoughts.)

“Say what?”

Balance. Life, parenting, work, psychology, they’re all about balance. Often the pendulum swings too far in one direction or another before it finds a peaceful middle ground. I’m hoping that by the time my boys leave the house, I might have this parenting thing figured out. Or at least the pendulum swing won’t be quite so dramatic. It’s a long road getting there . . . but I think I’m ready for the ride.

“What is that thing he’s pointing at us and what is he doing?”

Love and Wine and Difficult Times

Love born of complete necessity and vulnerability, either your own or someone else’s, is rich and full and robust. If it sounds like I’m describing a really good wine, that might be because in some ways they are quite similar. It is the squishing of the grapes that creates the juice. It is the age worn barrels that enhance the flavor. It is the patience required by time that helps it mature. So it is with love. It is the difficult moments when we feel squished to our limits that new fodder for appreciation and respect and care – the building blocks of love – are born. It is through the wear and tear of stressful times that love develops and learns how to survive outside of the realm of romance. And it is definitely through patience and endurance that love gains it maturity and grows to new depths.

Making Wine Island Capri Bay Naples Grape Gathering Men - Part Page From The Illustrated London News. C1842-1900.

One of my most poignant experiences of this truth occurred after the birth of our first son. I had a difficult and complicated 22-hour labor that turned into an emergency C-section. Giving birth, under normal circumstances, is a harrowing experience, but under these circumstances was nearly unbearable. During the two hours in which I tried to push out my fully crowned baby, I burst many of the blood vessels in my face and most of them in my eyes, leaving very little white visible. When I expressed later to my husband that I was pretty sure I got hemorrhoids in the whole ordeal, he simply said, “I know.” There was a whole collection of people that saw all my business and experienced me at my most wretched and most vulnerable. And to finish it all off, I had major abdominal surgery that made it extremely difficult to move, much less accomplish the basic necessities of myself or my new-born baby. I could not use the bathroom by myself or dress myself. I could not bathe unassisted. I couldn’t lift our new baby or even walk without trying to hold my own abdomen together. I felt like I had lost all dignity, beauty, and respectability. But this was a time that my husband looked at me with AWE. He was so tender and attentive and amazed at what I had been through and accomplished in order to bring our new family into being. Rather than losing respectability, his respect for me multiplied in those days, as did mine for him. The love we had for each other in that time, born of my need and his care, was immense and unmatched. I am both terrified and excited to experience it again in a few months.

Just moments after he was born.

More recently, and somewhat less potently, we experienced another example of this type of love birthed from vulnerability. This past weekend (and on into the week) my whole family caught a terrible stomach bug that had all of us, but perhaps most pathetically my sweet little boy, in need of some extra TLC. Although this is not the first time that this has occurred, it is obviously freshest in my memory. And it is truly amazing how much you can push yourself to manage when your loved ones need you. Being five months pregnant, running on very little sleep at the tail end of the holidays, and suffering from the same bug myself, I found, somewhere deep within me, the ability to continue to get up and care for my baby who could not care for himself. And because of that care, even though he is better now, he has been positively glued to my side in a bittersweet appreciation. I cannot even tell you how many times today he hugged my legs and said, “You are a beautiful mama!” “I love you, Mama!” He feels that same gratitude and respect that we as adults feel in these circumstances and this is how he expresses it. It makes the dire reality of the week we’ve just experienced seem a little less terrible. If only it were easier to see the beauty while still in the struggle. Perhaps the more we remind ourselves of these truths the more we will begin to see them as they are happening, through the pain . . . savoring the harsh tannins as part of the flavor that makes the wine great!