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What have modern mothers lost?

Pregnancy and new motherhood have historically been times for human connection. In other cultures, experienced mothers take pregnant women under their wing. Those moms- to-be are embraced and a wealth of knowledge, advice and friendship is dispensed upon them from the older, wiser women of the community. During postpartum, new mothers are doted upon, rarely leaving bed, let alone home for weeks. And as their children grow, they are not raised by a single family, but rather have a community of eyes looking out for them and hands to help when they are in need.

As American mothers, this is far from our societal norm. We’re mostly meeting the needs of our own children, with little community behind us, minus doting grandparents (if we’re lucky). And that’s okay. But in this day and age, where we mostly do it all ourselves, it seems we’ve become quick to push away even well-meaning offers of help, love or advice for pregnant women and new mothers. With all the viral lists of “what not to say”, the dos and don’ts, and on-going slew of no-nos, I can’t help but wonder, with all the new rules of motherhood, what have we lost?

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No longer is it commonplace for women to offer well-meaning advice to one another, share experiences or heaven forbid, give love in the form of a pat on the belly. Oh, no. These things are not just frowned upon- they’re considered rude, intrusive and downright reprehensible to subject a pregnant woman or new mother to. Granted, some people lack general common sense. We’ve all felt a bit out of place when a touchy-feely grandmother figure got all up in our business. But, I’m talking about advice or physical contact that comes from friends and family members, or other women in our social circles who’ve experienced pregnancy, birth and motherhood, and have knowledge we don’t yet have. Our mothers and grandmothers, our friends and neighbors- aren’t these the people we should be looking to for help and connection, rather than pushing them away?

It seems to me that all the “dos” and “don’ts” and “things not to say” lists (and don’t get me wrong, I’ve written some myself!), don’t do much to connect new mothers. In fact, all these rules seem to do the opposite. They seem to push us further and further away from one another. These days, new mothers seem to do far more learning on the fly, which is no doubt an essential part of motherhood, but wouldn’t it be easier if instead of turning the other way, we tuned into the wealth of information around us? Wouldn’t our first experiences as new mothers be more calm and less anxiety-ridden, if instead, we let people in? And pertaining to pregnancy, birth and postpartum, we can read all the books and articles we want, but what better source of information is there really, than the experiences of our fellow mothers, the ones we already know and trust?

I can’t think of any.

It’s not easy to let people in- I accept and understand this. We simple don’t live in a culture where people do this on the regular. We sit behind computers and phones all day. We are the most technologically connected and yet, emotionally disconnected society that ever was. So it makes sense that most people, especially people in the vulnerable positions of pregnancy and early motherhood, do not have an easy time letting people into their lives with a lot of enthusiasm. We don’t allow people to pat our bellies, ask how many children we plan to have, or if we plan to breastfeed. We feel enraged if someone mention childbirth, daycare or infant sleep, because, hello- that’s just not okay to talk about!

With all the talk of “the mommy wars” dictating our relationships, it makes sense. We are too afraid of the judgment and ridicule we might experience if we do things wrong or differently. So instead of letting people in, we shut them out. We find people who do things just like us, or no one at all. We pile our bedside tables high with stacks or parenting books and use the internet to do our research, rather than looking down the street to the mom of three (with her own stack of books next to her bed).

I am not pointing fingers- I am just as guilty as anyone of all of this. I spent the first few years of my motherhood experience basically alone. And I’m sure it was not simply because I was the first of my friends to have a child, or because I didn’t live in a community with a lot of mothers. It’s because I was afraid. I was self-conscious in my new role. I was not used to talking about my experiences with something so hard and exhausting, something I thought was supposed to come naturally to me, with other people. I was afraid of looking stupid, or incompetent or like a failure. If someone offered advice, I took it to mean they thought I didn’t know what I was doing. If someone expressed affection, I put up a wall. My motherhood experience belonged to me, and I could do it myself, I thought. Yet, I often wondered why it was so damn hard, and why I was so lonely.

During my second pregnancy, I started to understand how people genuinely felt connected to my experience much more than I did the first time. I’d since felt that same connection to other moms or pregnant women, too. When people reached out to me, I began to look at minor invasions differently. I understood now that words and excitement and hands on my belly came from a good place- no one was trying to be offensive, harmful or invasive. They were simply trying to offer love and support because having your first baby, second, and so on, are times of incredibly transition, anxiety and wonder. Our hearts swell when we see a pregnant woman or a mother caring for an infant and we’re built to feel this way, not to live our lives as separate entities who don’t help or guide or teach one another, especially during the transitions that motherhood brings.

These days, no matter how deeply we feel those connections, we’re also taught to push them away hard and fast. Few people mean to be offensive, or harmful, when giving a loving pat on the belly or words of wisdom. But it is so often, viewed as invasive, as are words of advice or tales from experience. Now, instead of offering advice or support when we see a new mom, we mostly keep our mouths shut, our hands to ourselves. We’ve read one too many lists of rules and we know the things we aren’t supposed to do by now. Even though, we know in our hearts, women don’t often reach out to one another in order to ridicule- it’s to offer help, compassion, friendship, we remain quiet. We play by the rules and leave new moms to fend for themselves, like we did.

I’ve been a mother for over six years now and my thoughts on connection between mothers has shifted. These days, I embrace well-meaning intrusions whenever possible in whatever form they come in. I listen and take advice whenever I can- in fact, I’m desperate for it. I’ve grown comfortable in my skin as a mother and so, I’ve let down my walls. I don’t always agree with what’s being offered. I’ve been around the block long enough to have my own way of doing things, my own ideas, my own motherhood agenda. But even with that being true, now I realize, that there is always the opportunity to learn from the mothers before me, the ones whose daughter is going through puberty, or whose son is struggling in school. There is simply too much to learn, to keep pushing others away, and it’s hard and it’s scary, but becoming a mother is all of those things, too. It’s less scary with community. It’s less scary with connection (and I don’t mean the internet).

New mothers have a lot of worry and sometimes one of those worries is about all the advice they might receive. But that is one I think we should all scratch off our list. Because if we’re so worried about the usually well-meaning intrusions of other mothers that we completely close ourselves off, then that is the saddest thing of all. Motherhood is not a time to isolate ourselves, in fact, it is a time that should connect us through common struggles and experiences. It is a time to let people in, to ask for help and to throw out the damn rulebook. Because while some of the rules might make sense on paper, in real life, the only thing that really matters is having people who are there for you, and there will likely never be a time when you need them more.

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Why we should stop telling mothers to “enjoy every moment”

You’re in deep with a colicky baby. It’s been a month since you’ve slept more than twenty minutes straight. You finally understand the expression “bone tired” because you feel as if your body is literally crumbling beneath you. In an effort to be heard, to feel understood, to relate to a fellow mother you express your hardships- that your baby never sleeps, that motherhood is bigger than you thought, that you aren’t sure if you’re cut out for it. It’s so hard to even say the words but you desperately want to know that what you’re feeling is okay.

But before you even get past “well, I’m pretty tired…” there’s someone there to put you in your place. “Oh, HUNNY. Enjoy it,” she’ll say. “Enjoy every moment.” And just like that, you’ve failed again. Not only did you actually feel those things you felt, but you tried to talk about them, which makes you an even worse mother than you already feared you might be. “Enjoy it…” it echoes in your ears. Enjoy what? You wonder. All of it? Every goddamn hungry cry? Every inconsolable outburst? Every inconveniently timed poop explosion running down your blouse? The one you finally pulled from your closet in an effort to look like a woman, not a milk truck?

“Well, fuck,” you think. “If I’m supposed to be enjoying this then I’m really fucking screwed.” Because even if you enjoy a lot of it, or most of it, apparently that isn’t good enough. You have to “enjoy every moment,” to really be doing it right. Didn’t you know?

It doesn’t stop in infancy. When your toddlers are running a muck, getting into every last cupboard in your house, smashing dishes, coloring on the walls, mark my words- there will be someone offering up the age-old expression “enjoy it.” It may even be followed by the near constant reminder “it doesn’t last forever.” And in that moment you pray to whatever God you believe in that they are right.

Motherhood is the only arena of our lives that we are made to feel we should be enjoying every waking moment of. But underneath it’s obnoxiousness, the sentiment is usually well-intentioned. It almost always comes from a mother who has walked your same path but is too far from it to remember it accurately. She looks back and idealizes every part of motherhood, no matter what her experiences were. Because the truth is, when our kids are grown, we will all wish we enjoyed it a tiny bit more. We will wish for their baby soft skin, their stutters and that intoxicatingly wonderful new baby smell. No matter how hard or exhausting motherhood is, it does not escape me that this will undoubtedly happen.

While “enjoy it” may be good advice in theory, it’s not actually good advice for a struggling mother. The reason being that it doesn’t help her in any way, shape or form. In fact, it hurts her each and every time she hears it. It makes her wonder what is wrong with her when there is nothing wrong with her. No one enjoys all of motherhood and if they do, please point me in their direction so I can find out where I can get some of what they’re drinking. Or smoking. Or snorting. Whatever. If there is some magic potion that can make me want gobble up every minute of being a mom without ever wanting to scream into a pillow then I’m game.

But there isn’t. There is no magic potion, only time. It comes with looking back and sighing, “I sure wish I’d enjoyed it all a little bit more.” No doubt, it will one day come. But that doesn’t mean it’s not okay to struggle, to be human, to be a mother finding her way. You don’t have to enjoy it all to be a good mother. So let’s stop bullshitting each other. I won’t enjoy every moment. And neither did you.

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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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A day in the life of my “baby moon”

I’m currently on my so-called “Baby Moon.” While this term can mean a trip you take BEFORE baby comes (dammit, I really should’ve squeezed in that one), it can also describe the period of time after baby is born in which you swoon over your brand new infant child all day, every day until you have to (at some point, ugh) start assimilating back into the real world. It could take weeks or months until you feel ready and I’m sure it varies from one postpartum mama to the next. But personally, I decided to take my second postpartum stint as slow as humanly possible, soak in the “babymooning” and just be easy with myself.

This is important primarily for two reasons. 1) I have no idea what else to do and really can’t handle much more than the swoon fests (in between nursings and burpings and diaper blowouts and being generally ill-rested) and 2) I really do like my new baby a whole, whole lot. Most of these days look the same and they are kind of starting to blend together. And while I am certainly loving up this new person as much as I possibly can, I can’t help but think the term “baby moon” doesn’t always seem to fit with the intensity of the nonstopness that is taking care of a newborn baby human.

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Here is what my baby-moon looks like on any given day.

Continue reading @ Mommyish…

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How DO YOU overcome postpartum struggles? Um…

I’m currently trying to respond to emails and tweets in response to my last HuffPost piece asking me “how I overcame” my postpartum struggles. This is so hard to answer because it’s such a loaded question. It’s really more like a book than a tweet or even a blog post. But I’m pacing around the upstairs of my house wondering what to write back. I don’t want to leave these women hanging. I don’t get emailed for expert advice all that often, after all. 

But I find myself wondering, did I? Overcome it, that is? The way I see it, postpartum changed me completely. It wasn’t exactly a phase that I one day awoke from. It was a momentous shift in my life and one that I could never turn back from. It was growing up, saying painful goodbyes, learning to look forward instead of back. Does that answer the question? Probably not. 

It was accepting that there was hard, and really hard, and excruciating things in front of me that I couldn’t run away from. That there were things that a shot of tequila and a couple of margs couldn’t fix. That there was an entire life dependent on me because I created it and that that was okay. That I could handle it. That it wasn’t beyond me. It was embracing things I was born with but had to uncover and letting them unfold within me. It was knowing that I was the mother, no longer the child and that I was capable and strong. That it was okay if I was misunderstood, that I had bigger fish to fry. That my life was divided in two, that my heart now lived in two places. 

I don’t know if these things are the right answer. I think you all might want something a bit more black and white or easily attainable, as I did. But there isn’t one answer. There is no cut and dry. It took me years to feel happy, good, centered, like I wasn’t failing all the time. But there are some things I couldn’t have done without.

Here are a few things that helped me that you can actually put your finger on.Image

 

  • Yoga. Not as much the physical practice but the learning to breathe, to let go, to be present (even in the rough moments because they are the ones that help us grow). 
  • A supportive spouse. Sometimes I felt I was teaching my husband how to support me and at the same time learning how to support him. If your partner has no paternity leave (ugh) this is really hard because time together to figure out how to give each other breaks is crucial. It took years and my husband switching jobs to be closer to home and a lot of practice to figure this one out. 
  • Realizing that every stage passes quickly and tomorrow the next stress will seem bigger, more important and likely it will be. Now that I have a four year old with more emotional struggles and awareness I find myself thinking, “oh things were so simple when I could pop her in the car and let her fall asleep.” I know they weren’t really so simple but the grass is always greener, eh? 
  • Babywearing for bonding, yes, but also moments of peace. 
  • Accepting and embracing my new normal. 
  • Learning to say no, a lot. “No, I can’t go to dinner. No, you can’t hold the baby. No, we aren’t coming for a visit.” This is a lot harder for some of us than others. The most assertive mothers I know are by far the more content ones. I’m a work in progress. 
  • Believing in yourself. Knowing that you aren’t screwing it all up, though every mother feels this way at some point. But it’s that insecurity that should really tell you how good of a mother you are because caring is the most important thing you can do. 
  • Finding friends, acquaintances, blogs, books, anyone who understands what you’re going through because feeling alone is the worst part. The truth is you are so not alone. Every day mothers struggle. Every day mothers don’t know how to ask for help. Be brave and start the conversation. 

Now I’ll ask you all the same questions. What were your postpartum struggles? And, who/what helped you? How did you move forward and what can you tell other mothers about this sacred time? I’d love to hear from you! There is so much more to be said and written… 

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What Postpartum Moms Really Need

When I became a parent at the ripe old age of 24, I was glad to kiss a difficult pregnancy goodbye and embrace the joys of new motherhood. But while the joys were many, so were the challenges. I thought I had been adequately prepared to reach a whole new level of sleeplessness, to feed someone from my own body more than I fed myself, to answer every beck and call and do it effortlessly.

Now the word “prepared” seems laughable to use in the context of becoming a parent — literally, becoming a whole new version of yourself, shedding your old skin and giving birth to the mother in you from the moment you give birth to your child. There is no way to prepare for motherhood and I wish I’d known that. But I also wish I’d known how to ask for help.

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Continue reading at HuffPost…