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Being a depressed parent doesn’t make you an “ungrateful” one

If you haven’t seen the results of the recent survey on parental happiness, perhaps you’ve been sleeping under a rock (or under a mess of children) for the past couple weeks. The study, which no one can seem to stop talking about, looked at over 2,000 Germans before they had children until two years after their first child was born. The researchers found that on average, parenting was not only more stressful than divorce or unemployment, but also than the death of a partner.

The internet erupted, and continues to erupt over the findings. Parents are at odds with one another about the study. Some feel it’s ridiculous, proclaiming they enjoy absolutely “every moment” with their kids. But others aren’t surprised one bit that the first two years of parenting are monumentally draining, emotionally taxing and, yes, depressing, some commenting to the tune of “did we really need a study to tell us that?” It’s okay that all parents aren’t on the same page here. But then the word “ungrateful” starts to get thrown around a lot and that’s when I get all revved up and start typing.

What rubs me the wrong way is the name-calling and trying to speak to someone else’s experience when you haven’t walked one day in their shoes. If someone isn’t enjoying every moment of parenthood or is going through a rough patch with a newborn (or, hell, a teenager!) they are instantly pegged as not being grateful enough for their children. The minute a parent admits it’s not all roses, it seems the mud-slinging starts and it’s not okay.

Opinions about whether the study is a crock or not aside,  lets get one thing straight- depressed or unhappy parents are not necessarily ungrateful parents. So can everyone please stop saying that? Being exhausted, overwhelmed, lonely, financially strapped are things a lot of people have to go through and no, it is not always easy and enjoying every moment is not always possible.

Sometimes, you’re just trying to keep your head above water. Sometimes, you have to go through really, really difficult things that you didn’t expect, like an infant who doesn’t sleep more than ten minutes straight for a whole year, or a partner who travels constantly for work.  Sometimes parenting is so much damn harder than we expected it to be and we have no idea where to turn or what to do to make the carousel stop turning.

Yes, I’m speaking from experience. And yes, I can tell you, after the last chaotic and exceedingly overwhelming year of my life, that is it entirely possible to be mind-numbingly depressed and still completely and utterly grateful for the lives and health of our children. In fact, it’s the only thought that kept me going after the birth of my second child. I am so grateful for this baby. I thought it, said it, felt it when I stroked his cheek on the rare occasions that he slept. I cried and cried and held him and said “thank you” a hundred times a day because I was so grateful for him even in my darkness. Sometimes I even felt my immeasurable gratitude exacerbated my anxiety that something could one day happen to him. That he wouldn’t always be okay. That there were a million things , scary things, completely out of my control. 

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While the study didn’t shock me as much as it did some, it did make me realize one thing- as a community of parents, we need to do more to help one another because most people feel very alone at some point during their parenting journey, but especially during the first two years. I’ll admit, the results of the study aren’t easy to digest. How can parenting be more stressful than death? But even if it’s a little rough around the edges, it seems to me that there has to be a kernel of truth there, and that is, that parents are struggling.
As a community, we need to realize that not everyone walks the same path. Just because parenthood has been kind to you, don’t point fingers at someone who is struggling and say “how ungrateful you are! Why did you even have kids in the first place?” Because sometimes it’s the parents who are giving absolutely every bit of themselves to their children that struggle the most.

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Why I love honest moms

I have a high-needs baby. There is no way around it. He is the apple of my eye, as is his five-year-old mile-a-minute sister. But this kid is far from easy-going. He doesn’t like many people besides me. He doesn’t like getting his diaper changed and he hates bottles. But on the list of things he doesn’t like, sleep is number one.

My not-so-newborn absolutely hates sleep and will fight it at all costs, until I’m crying in the basement, letting him scream for just a few minutes so I can do the same in private. At seven months, he is now in the throes of separation anxiety and I, a not-religious-in-the-slightest person, am finding myself talking to God on the regular, hoping He will send me a lifeline.

My husband and I have thrown our hands up and given each other blank stares, not having any idea what else to do. I have swaddled, nursed on demand, laid on my bed for two hours (or more) not moving a muscle while he napped. I’ve begged my daughter to please play quietly. I’ve made her cry by snapping at her. I’ve let the baby scream so I could give her a much needed hug. I’ve also felt worse about myself as a mother and a person than I ever thought possible.

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Continue reading at Mommy Nearest… 

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I did all I could today

I am weary, laying in my bed, half-asleep but not quite done for the day. The baby will be awake in an hour, or a half hour, or maybe three minutes. Who knows. Big sister was just up again because she had to potty, then a nightmare. Dad is out of town and there is no one to smack in the belly to tell to rock the baby at least once. That typical feeling that it’s just me is compounded right now.

Today was hard and I didn’t do my best.

I have those seamless days when everything goes off without a hitch. Like Monday when big sister woke, cheery and bright-eyed. At my request she ran into her room and picked out an appropriate outfit and put it on. She ate her breakfast without me having to ask her to stop messing with the baby and sit back in her chair. Well, maybe I asked her a couple of times.

I had gotten a few hours of sleep, at least, between feedings. The baby was bubbly and chirpy. The big girl put on her shoes, even tied them and smiled proudly. I dropped her off at pre-school. A quick kiss and she entered happily and started playing. I drove away feeling good, no guilt about leaving her, no worries about her missing me and her brother when we were gone. We got home and I nursed the baby back to sleep. I tidied, threw some dishes in the dishwasher and a load of diapers in the wash. I sat down and wrote something I felt good about. The baby woke, nursed and didn’t scream his brains out on the way to get big sis from school. The rest of the day went pretty much the same. Good moods and easy going children. If all days were like this, I’d have three more kids and a dog named Tilly. Or Vinny. Or Buck.

But all days can’t be like this. If they were no one would do yoga or cry and drink wine and write blogs about parenting. There would be nothing to cleanse your soul of, no struggles to relate over, no worries to send out into the world and hope you get something back. Some days you just do what you can do and hope it’s enough. Some days are like today.

I’m already awake when it starts because I never really went to sleep. The baby was up all night, and I mean, all night, tossing and turning with a stuffy nose. Every half hour or so, I offered my breast but he turned away, not hungry, just tired and fighting sleep. I rocked him and tried to sooth him but the night was still so damn long. The sun rose and that dreaded feeling came over me- “how will I make it through this day?”

Right away, big sister is being argumentative at best, just downright nasty at worst. She’s rough with the baby, too rough to let slide. She’s into everything, pulling out every toy, book, game. She doesn’t want to get dressed and in a few minutes, I’m down on the floor, shoving books back on the shelf while the baby pulls at my shirt and drools on my shoulder, pleading with her to pick out a sweater. Another fifteen minutes of this and I’m angry, but so is she. And she’s angrier when I sit down to nurse the baby and she has to eat breakfast alone. She’s whining and I’m sad and guilt-ridden and it’s not even 8.

Finally, after a lot more redirecting and pleading, we are off to school. The baby wails and turns purple while big sister covers her ears in the car. She doesn’t want to go. She wants to stay home. I remind her that mommy has to get some work done today and school will be much more fun for her. I drive away defeated with the baby screaming the whole way home. When we get there I nurse him and he falls asleep instantly, but wakes when I put him down. I nurse him again, hold him for fifteen minutes to make sure he’s hit his sleep-cycle. I put him down. He wakes. Finally, I rock him and hold him and just let him sleep on me for an hour while I write emails on my phone, asking editors I’m mildly intimidated by for extensions.

The rest of the day is the same. There are a few good moments mixed in. But overall, I am overwhelmed and exhausted and I know I’m not doing my best. My daughter is talking, talking endlessly and sometimes I go “yeah” or “okay” or pretend to be enthused but really,  I didn’t even hear her. I don’t even know what she asked me and when I realize this, it kills me.

After dinner, baths, snuggles, books, nursing and rocking and more nursing, I pour myself a glass of wine and drink half before dumping the rest back into the bottle when I hear the baby. I will go lay with him and try to get him back to sleep. It’s nearly nine. I’ve had about fifteen minutes to myself and I spent them sitting in a chair with my eyes closed, waiting for the next call of duty I knew was moments away.

Even when they are draining me, I can see how lucky I am for this family of mine. But I can’t always give them everything. They deserve the best of me. They truly do, but since they have all of me, how can I give them my best always? Some days I can’t give it because I don’t have it- it’s not in me. Some days I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel and going through the motions. Some days “good enough” comes in it’s place.

I didn’t do my best today. I did all I could and I tell myself, “it’s enough” because it has to be. Tomorrow is another day and it will be better, brighter, more rested. Tomorrow, there will be more laughter and no matter what I’ll give it all I’ve got.

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Parenting Never Gets Easier

When my daughter, now 4, was an infant, I thought having a baby was the hardest thing in the whole entire world. It was my Everest. Everything about it was hard. The nonstop crying, the constant breastfeeding, the being exhausted and hormonal all the time. There’s a pretty good reason why I thought that: because it is hard. And no matter how many people have said it before me, that doesn’t make it any less true. It is just so damn hard.

But the mistake I made was waiting, hoping, wishing for it to get easier. All this waiting I did for things to get easier and while the postpartum fog did lift at some point, as I slowly came out of the trenches and back into the world where actual human beings lived, it never really did. The demands of parenting never really got easier. They just shifted.

Continue reading at HuffPost Parents… 

 

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Why Being Mediocre is Pretty Awesome

The name of this blog just came to me one day. I was thinking about the kind of work I wanted to write if I was going to continue writing at all, which has always been a question for me. Keep writing or throw in the towel? Get off the internet! Do something different altogether? One day, I might, but for now the words keep coming so I keep jotting them down. But “mediocre” just fit with what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be perfect. I didn’t want to be mind-blowing. I just wanted to be relatable.

Little known fact. Most of you know I’m a yoga teacher because I talk about it frequently on this blog. But I’m also a certified personal trainer, specializing in women’s training. Personal training was a fulfilling occupation for me when I had time for it (which I haven’t had much of in the past 4 1/2 years of stay at home mom-ing).

But there also came a point when I started to question it, or the struggle for perfection. Rightly or wrongly, my favorite people to work out with were the moms that came and brought their babies or two kids (who relentlessly beat the crap out of each other or their Ipads made sounds the whole time and the workout was actually really, incredibly hard to concentrate on).

While those workouts were no doubt more difficult to get through, I felt I was serving a purpose. Helping these moms who weren’t striving to be perfect, just striving to get in some exercise, feel good about themselves and call it a day, had an immediate impact on both their lives and mine. Sometimes they had to leave early from sessions. Sometimes they sat in my living room and breastfed afterwards while I went upstairs and folded laundry. Sometimes my own baby woke in the middle and I had to wear her or rock her through half the session. But it was worth it to help these mothers have something for themselves. Nothing about it was perfect. But for these parents, it was necessary.

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What was tough for me though was finding the motivation to help a 4 pack become a 6 pack. Or a size two drop to a zero. I never got why it was so important, maybe because truthfully, I don’t believe it is. I think we should strive to be healthy, functional and happy. And sure, it’s true that striving for perfection might make some happy, but I don’t think dedicating our whole lives to our physical bodies is a healthy way to achieve feeling content. We are so much more than just a body.

So it makes sense that I went in a different direction altogether. Teaching yoga is different from personal training in every way. Yoga does not/should not focus on perfection. But it does focus on finding joy and moving into and creating a better, more positive space in your life where you can exist. This is something that resonates with me much more greatly than turning 4 packs into 6 packs. And while yoga isn’t a bad way to get there, it certainly isn’t the focus. It’s about creating a better life, not a better body, and no, creating a better body does not always equal a better life. It does not. It does not. It does not.

So I thought about this all today on my run. My first wildly mediocre run since having my baby 8 weeks ago. I started off jogging and immediately felt the need to stop because my pelvic floor is just… gone. But I kept going, jogged down a main road with traffic whizzing by and tried not to worry about my huge nursing breasts sloshing from side to side. I stopped to walk over a very uphill bridge and then picked up again jogging for 6 or 7 minutes before finishing up with a brisk walk that felt good and cleansing and I had to stop myself from dancing to the Van Morrison Pandora station playing on my phone. It was so not perfect. In truth, it was probably pretty ugly. But it felt good. I didn’t feel the need to push myself to uncomfortable extremes. My postpartum body is already doing amazing things, keeping my beautiful child nourished and healthy.

This seemingly simple experience that started my day only confirmed what I already knew. That being mediocre is pretty awesome, too. That not needing or wanting perfection goes a long way and opens you up to so many more meaningful and amazing forms of happiness. Strive for greatness, yes, but don’t lose yourself in the meantime. Being you is totally amazing enough.

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The gut-wrenching anxiety of growing your family

There are so many things to worry about as a parent. I sometimes feel as if I’m struggling with a new one each and every day and sometimes I wonder if this new kid will just push me over the edge. Like, will I just give up all together and say “I can’t take it anymore! You kids have to fend for yourselves! Pour me another.”

Probably not. But I really don’t want to let worry get me down either. It’s one of those things about parenting that I didn’t fully expect- how much I’d worry, how much I’d care, the sleep I’d lose over what is going on in my daughter’s life or what I am perceiving at that point in time.

I used to think having an infant, a baby, was the hardest part and once I got through that everything would be gravy. Those times are surely filled with anxiety and adjustment and sleeplessness. But the older my daughter gets, the more emotional needs she has and I often find myself wondering if I’m handling them appropriately. And that, to me, is harder in a lot of ways.

Did I say the right thing? Did I help her in a positive way? Did I give her enough space to let her figure it out (whatever it is)? Did she get her feelings hurt? Does she feel heard? How will she adjust to her new sibling? Will there be enough of me to go around? Am I doing it all wrong?

Sometimes I feel stretched so thin with one kid. How can I possibly have enough love and compassion and concern for a whole other being? I know that I will. I know I will find it, that it will be yet another soul-wrenching, heart-wrenching turning point in my life, literally bringing this new person into creation, making them from scratch and then having no choice but to give a shit about them every day for the rest of their life. I know that.

I know I will step up because motherhood forces you to over and over again. But this fear is partially why I kept my family the way it was for four years. And now here it is. In my body and almost in our lives forever and ever.

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But I don’t know this person yet. He’s not totally real to me even when he pushes on my ribs so hard it wakes me from a deep sleep or stretches out so wide across my torso I feel like my entire body has been hijacked. Like there’s no way he’s only 4.25 lbs and the size of a pineapple like the BabyBump emails say. He’s everywhere. And soon he will be here.

It’s so hard to imagine but for a mother when it comes it’s like meeting someone you’ve always known; that’s been with you your whole life. For my daughter, it might not feel the same. It might feel like a betrayal, a jealousy she’s never known, sadness, anger, and yes, hopefully, love. So many big feelings for such a small person. And while I know it’s “normal” it’s also still very frightening because it’s very, very real and it will change us all.

I know it will make her a better person, it will shape her life in a lot of ways and help her to grow. To move into that role of big sister, to learn to be mama’s helper and one of two, instead of our one and only. But if I said there was no fear, only joy, I’d be lying.

Making a family is totally worth it. Watching love grow where it needs to grow is amazing. I’ve done it once before and I have no regrets. But it’s also scary as hell because nothing will ever be the same. And you have to learn to believe good things will come, to grow and simply, to breathe.

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“It’ll be FINE. People have babies ALL the time.”

Having your first baby is not really scary. Well, it is in some ways (like ‘holy shit how am I going to not take shots for nine months?! Are you effing kidding me??’) But you don’t exactly know what to expect and I mean that in a good way. The fist time pregnant moms I meet (and once was) are generally so blissed out on picking baby names and paint colors that the stark reality of parenting is so so so incredibly far off.

I don’t mean this negatively at all. It’s exactly where you want to be when you’re expecting for the first time and it’s a warped reality we should all allow these mamas-to-be (hopefully none of whom are reading this). But no one wants to hear about how they are never going to sleep again or how their lives will change so much more than they could ever wrap their prenatal heads around. NO ONE. And they won’t believe you anyway so don’t even try.  It comes off kind of mean, as do labor horror stories. I remember confidently not batting an eyelash thinking, “well, that won’t happen to me.” Or, “I’ll train my kid to sleep the right way’ and most importantly, “it’ll be FINE. People have babies all the time!”.

I totally remember thinking, ‘I can’t wait till this baby comes, then I’ll actually be able to get some sleep!’ BAH. Then I was awake for days between labor and delivery and our hospital because who can sleep in a hospital between nursing and visits and people coming in every hour or two to check you. Then I got home and never slept again. Well, never through the night again. Pretty much. My kid is four and still comes in at least twice a night, once because she needs to potty and once because “I just love you too much” and how can you argue with that at 3 am? Even though it’s so not as cute at 3 am as it sounds now but still kind of cute. Kind of.

There was a long, long period of time when I thought baby two would never be. I didn’t have that call to procreate. In fact, I’d never ever felt it, not in the slightest and I sort of doubted I ever would. But then the word “never” started to catch up with me. When my daughter was 3 1/2 I started realizing that if I didn’t want kids more than five years apart, now was the time. Like, yesterday was the time. I really did want her to grow up with a sibling, not that I believe that is the best or only way to raise kids. I think only children can be quite content. There is actually a lot of research that says many are better adjusted and are less lonely later in their lives because they’ve grown accustomed to entertaining themselves. And financially, we’d be able to do more for one child than for two. There were a lot of practical reason to only have one kid and really only one reason to have more.

I didn’t feel done.

So we jumped. Leapt. I really feel that this time, like it was a giant leap of faith. Because I have so much more fear and anxiety about having a second baby than I did a first. Knowledge is not always power. Knowledge can be a mean, evil taunter. It reminds me how hard it is to be awake all day and then all night with a new baby who nurses constantly and retain any level of brain activity. It reminds me how difficult it is to do simple things like get dressed or shower or eat a sandwich with an infant attached to your boob. It reminds me that everything I own will be soon covered in baby vomit once again and how I’ll feel guilty about doing almost anything that doesn’t involve nursing, swaddling, rocking or playing. Oh, and how getting poop in your mouth is really not all that abnormal. Plus, this time I’ll be doing it all while wrangling my OTHER kid and trying to remain some semblance of a work/life/mamahood balance. Uhhhhh. Whaat.

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Sure, I know how to warm a bottle and I know the The Five S’s (swaddle, shhhing, sucking, swinging, side/stomach, OKAY FINE I just googled them because I forgot). But ignorance is also totally bliss and knowledge is also totally frightening. Apparently, women’s bodies produce a hormone that makes them forget the pain of labor and the difficulty of new parenthood. I read that somewhere but I mean, it must be true because we just keep doing it over and over and over again. But I think my body missed that hormone. I make too many of the pukey kinds and not enough of the forgetting kind.

So I do what any fearful, sane mama-to-be (again) does.

I smile, OM, and tell myself “it’ll be fine, people have second babies all the time.”