On Balance and Clare turning Two

On Clare’s 2nd birthday, I find myself reflecting on what a different place I am than I was a year ago. Yesterday I became officially certified as a Childbirth Educator. Last year I was wondering how I was ever going to finish the daunting task of all that coursework.  Perhaps this is also because I am reflecting as I read through submissions for my anthology, The Postpartum Year, and I am remembering how hard those early days were. The uncertainty, the strain.  These stories are transporting me back to that time, and also making me entirely grateful for what a better place I am in, mentally and physically. 

            Her birthday falls in the space between two weekends that I am going through the Yoga Assistant program at the yoga studio that has quickly become such a big space in my life over the last several months. On the 2nd day of the program, our teachers asked us to raise our hands if we felt like we were good at self care and good at balance, and I didn’t raise mine.  I’m not really sure why. I feel like I still question whether I am good at those things, or that I feel like somehow I am not a good enough mother if I AM good at those things.  (Which is ludicrous, I know.) But in a culture that values busy, bottom lines, overworking, super moms and perfection, it’s really hard to put your hand up and say “YES! I’m good at self care,” without feeling weirdly guilty.

            But when I really take a good look at what my life looks like right now, I would say I AM pretty good at those things.  And part of that is because in these first two years of parenthood, I’ve learned that I HAVE to be for the sake of my mental health. If you've been reading for a while or you know me, you’ve heard me talk so many times on this blog about how a mental breakdown following the cessation of birth control caused me to turn my life upside down and rebuild with a better foundation in place.  And because of that, I’ve learned to prioritize self-care, to sleep, to meditate, to do yoga as much as possible, to not neglect exercise, to get regular massages, to read, write and pursue passions that make me happy.  To get up earlier than my family to journal, or just drink my coffee and read The Skimm in peace.   I don’t do these things out of selfishness. I do these things because I am a better mother, wife, friend and person if I’m doing them.  I do them because I know – unfortunately from much experience – that if I’m NOT doing them – I’m at a huge risk for mental health spiral. 

            Am I perfect with them? Of course not. There are weeks that I get too many nights in a row of less than 6 hours of sleep or I don’t get to yoga enough.  And I FEEL it.  I get anxious. I snap at Chris and at Clare.  It’s all bad.

            But while her birthday comes in the midst of a very busy season for me, wrapping up birth and lactation certifications plus this yoga program, looking at her 2nd birthday compared to her 1st, it no longer looks like “Holy crap we survived that year” – it looks like “Wow, we are managing and sometimes even thriving with where everything is at right now.”  Of course a big portion of that is owed to the childcare help of my parents - couldn’t do it without you mom & dad - and a bit of relaxation and confidence on our part as parents, and a whole lot of self-awareness on my part. Not to mention Chris currently having a set schedule (which likely won’t last after the next few months, sadly)

            Clare is a big, brilliant, bright, ball of energy and personality these days.  She is exploding with language and understanding, which is both magical and utterly exhausting. They say a huge part of parenting is that the second you get comfortable, everything changes.  And I’d say that’s pretty much been our experience so far.  But it’s nice, at least in this snapshot moment of time, to feel like we are in a sweet place of comfort and relative balance. 

            Happy birthday my sweet girl, mama & dada love you so much.

Rebuilding The Way I Live & Staying With The Present

A few days ago I serendipitously ran into an old friend at a coffee shop.  I had just come from my monthly check-in appointment with my psychiatrist, and headed to the coffee shop to do my usual 2-hour burst of work while Chris was at home putting Clare down for a nap. 

We of course exchanged the usual “How are yous” – and because my friend has such an open demeanor I felt like I could say “I’m doing really well…but I just came from my psychiatrist and I always worry when I’m doing well that I’m one misstep away from a crash.” Rather than just the typical “good” or “fine.”

Which is a hard thing to explain to anyone who doesn’t struggle with mental ups and downs.  Luckily Kathryn is just the person to not only understand that feeling but also give me some sound advice/thoughts about being in that state. 

You see, much of my adult life has been characterized by bursts of busy-ness filled with lots of “get it done” attitude followed by a spiraling crash, breakdown, illness, etc.  In college it usually manifested itself as sickness…and in my jobs out of college, I think it a lot of it was emotional turbulence and anger. (I know I’ve mentioned it a zillion times in these posts, but I really hated the corporate-like-looks-like-societal-success jobs I held just out of school.) They literally felt like they were sucking my soul.  At one point I added a master’s program that I felt like I “should” be doing to an already stressful and frustrating job…and on top of that, tried to compensate for my sheer unhappiness by over-exercising and trying to fill the fulfillment void with too many outside activities that left me over-extended and of course led to more crashes.

Then the icing on the cake of it all was when starting a new job in February 2013, just figuring anything different would be better than where I was…and then pulling the hormonal rug out from under me by stopping the birth control pill. This one sent me completely over the edge and as my psychiatrist described it the other day “forced me to rebuild my life and the way I lived it from the ground up.”  And that's really been the work for me over the last three years. 

(This is not to say that those otherwise shitty experiences didn’t give me much-needed people in my life. Looking at you Lori & Curt)

But now.  Now, my life is so full.  In a good way – full.  I’m busy, but not in an overextended way. I have found a career that allows me to be creative with my time, balance being with Clare and doing something that I truly love. I have been SO much better at making time and space for myself, creating a solid morning routine, starting to pick up a yoga practice, consistently meditating this year, making exercise / zumba and reading a priority. Working on a book, and creating and sharing a podcast that I really believe in. I just got into the amazing Sutter Davis volunteer doula program. I have built a wonderful tribe of moms who all support one another as we go through the ups and downs of motherhood.  Chris and I did almost a year of couples counseling and are SO much better at communicating with one another.  My parents now live close by and can lend a much-needed hand with Clare.  This isn’t to say I don’t go through struggles with balancing it all, feeling burnt out, etc. Believe me, I definitely still do.

But overall, right now,  I’m good. I’m feeling well, happy and strong.  And yet with that wellness comes this nagging, niggling feeling that if things are going well, then something bad must be coming. It feels as if I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  For my hormones to betray me and cause me panic attacks again. For my schedule to reach a tipping point where I can’t "handle it all.” Wanna know a weird childhood quirk? When my parents would travel, I was always terrified that they would die in a plane crash, and I somehow felt if I worried, they would be okay, but if I didn’t worry, they wouldn’t.  Nuts? Maybe. The anxiety struggle is real, people.

But I’m a different person now.  I’m in a different place, and I’ve got better support, boundaries and protocols in place.  And as my psychiatrist also pointed out – I LOVE what I’m doing now. Although she put it more softly "I get the indication that you didn't like the work you were doing before." Duh! I hated it. But now, my work and side projects are born out of passion and love, not out of obligation, money or fulfilling someone else’s bottom line. And that’s a key difference. Even with as busy as I am, it’s all positive stuff.  It’s all good. I often get people saying “I don’t know how you do everything you do.” And I think sometimes even that comment alone can shake my confidence.  My monkey mind starts going Should I not be doing everything I do? Is there something wrong with it? Wrong with me? Spiral, Spiral. Anxiety. Etc. 

Kathryn’s words really struck me too.  She said “I hear you. I hear the story you’re telling. I hear you taking past experiences and bringing them into the present. Expecting things to follow the same old patterns. But you don’t have to do that.  You don’t have to bring the past into it.  You just have to stay with where you’re at in the present.”

Wow. I needed to hear that.  All of that.  PS People – when someone tells you something – tell them you hear them.  Because isn’t that what we all want? Just to be heard.  It also struck me – wait a minute, my word for the year was/is Presence, I’ve read probably six books on meditation, mindfulness, Buddhism and presence this year.  But I haven’t really been living it as much as I could.  Kathryn is right, my psychiatrist is right. Right NOW, I’m doing really well.  And that’s all I should be focused on.  Not what’s going to happen with my mental health tomorrow, next month, next year.  Because I can’t predict it.  And I can’t dwell on previous patterns either.  Because just because they were a pattern before doesn’t mean they are going to repeat. 

And not to mention, that the whole premise of my blog is that we have a choice everyday in how we act, react and see the world.  So I’m choosing to be grateful for and celebrate the fact that, right now, I’m well.  And I’m happy.  And man, has that been a long time coming. 

K&c September

Every month I am documenting a few of our Mama/Baby Favorites. See July and August for more.

Getting Creative with Big Magic & Bird By Bird |  Getting ready for Halloween with Spooky Pookie

Boots, even though it's still hot | Sweater Pants in the morning, Cool Jumpers in the afternoon

Fall Fruit | Lara Bars, shoving the entire thing in her mouth

Planning all the things for the Fall | Carrying around her "balls" shouting Owwwside

Finding pockets of time to work on crafts | Mama's new zumba stereo and her music on it

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

I love that this year's World Breast Feeding Week Theme is "Women and Work." WABA is calling for concerted global action to support women to combined breastfeeding and work. 

I urge you to check out this awesome infographic about how we can help support mothers in breastfeeding and reach these breastfeeding goals. 

This month Clare will be 18 months old and we are still proudly breastfeeding and going strong! 

We've had our fair share of breastfeeding challenges, latch issues, 4 months of using nipple shields, a few bouts of thrush, multiple lactation consultant visits, and more.  Nursing while trying to teach piano students. Pumping in the car in between students. Learning to nurse in a carrier. 

Sometimes when I was attached to the pump, or when I literally wanted to cry because the thrush hurt so bad, it felt hard to continue. (Thrush literally feels like shards of glass going through your nipple, and honestly sometimes it felt worse than labor pain)  Or when my first ovulation cycle came back and the hormones made nursing feel awful.  But we soldiered through those times, and I am SO proud that we pushed through and are on the way to our goal of 2 years - as the WHO recommends.  

Here's another great blog post that I love with a breastfeeding sentiment better than I could recreate here:

I am not a human pacifier

Breastfeeding is hard and wonderful.  But it shouldn't be hard to get support. From family, friends, professionals and from society.  I could go on and on and ON and on about all of the reasons our incredibly dismal breastfeeding rate of only 10% of moms breastfeeding at one year needs to be raised.  I could go on about how no woman should ever be shamed for feeding her baby in public - HOWEVER, WHENEVER and WHEREVER she wants to.  About how higher breastfeeding rates could help public health, medical costs and so much more.  

But before I get too far down the soap box rabbit hole, I just want to say - let's all continue to #normalizebreastfeeding - If you see a mom out feeding her baby, toddler or child, tell her she's doing an awesome job.  Share your photos of those little moments.  Breastfeeding matters. The more we share, the more we normalize it. Breastfeeding is beautiful and amazing and biological and NORMAL. 

I am looking forward to taking some more updated - less selfie-like toddler nursing pictures - with my dear friend Elizabeth soon.  After all, all of August is Breastfeeding Month. 

I'm off to give my daughter her milkies.