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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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Sorry, Pregnant mamas- I’m a belly toucher.

Pregnant belly touching is kind of a no-no. Many mamas-to-be find it annoying, tactless or invasive. I get that, and I know I should keep my hands to myself at all costs. But sometimes, I do it anyway. It’s completely unintentional, I promise. But pregnant mamas, I’m sorry—I’m a bit of a belly toucher.

I know that having your belly rubbed is something a lot of pregnant women could likely do without, in part, because practically the moment you become pregnant, all of the sudden everyone thinks you are their own personal property. They want to give you their thoughts, opinions, and of course, unlimited belly rubs. It’s almost as if they believe a genie will come out and grant them three wishes, rather than a baby covered in mucous who screams all night.

Continue reading @Scary Mommy… 

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7 Reasons Pregnant Women Make Terrible Party Guests

I’ll be the first one to admit that I am the worst kind of pregnant woman there is. For starters, I get sick to the point of wishing I was dead and find myself spewing complaints about the entire magical process at every opportunity. At the same time, I’m completely awestruck by pregnancy and birth and can’t seem to stop talking about placentas and colostrum and the awesomeness that is the female body. My husband is a lucky man, I know.

Thankfully for everyone else, I also become an anti-social sloth who would prefer to binge-watch medical dramas for the better part of a year to offset the acute anxiety of baby-making than all of the above. While some women may glow and ooze prenatal perkiness, I sweat. I wretch. I complain and meticulously count down the days until my belly returns to being a flabby sack of flesh. And then, I forget to buy groceries or make dinner and I’m all “Teehee, oops! Honey, can you pick something up?”

 

Continue reading at HuffPost… 

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10 Ridiculous ways to commemorate your pregnancy

Though I’m not exactly a super sunny, glowy creator-of-life, I definitely place a certain value on being pregnant, knowing that this time is short-lived- just a blip on the old radar. One day, there’s a good chance I’ll struggle to remember what it felt like to get kicked in the ribs all night or fart on command. That’s why I’m all for commemorating your pregnancy in any way that is appealing to you, no matter how absurd. I mean, waddling around like a duck, knocking things over with your belly, taking eight trips to the bathroom in an hour- it’s all pretty ridiculous if you ask me. Why not throw in some of the fun stuff? Here are ten borderline ridiculous ways to commemorate your pregnancy whether it’s your first or your fifteenth (God help you).
Continue reading at Mommyish.com…

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9 Things I’m trying to enjoy about being pregnant

This will be the last time I’m ever pregnant (God-willing). Though in my current state I’m doubting to the depths of my soul that I’ll actually miss it, maybe that’s not completely true. In an effort to “enjoy” this pregnancy (and I use that term very lightly) I’m trying to find a few things to embrace instead of scorn. The truth is I do not like being pregnant. I don’t like barfing or feeling like my body is not my own and I really, really don’t like that the liquor store across the alley hasn’t seen my face in over six months. I know it’s all for the greater good, but man, I am about ready to start pushing. Just say the word. Regardless of how I feel at the present moment, I know when it’s all over, there may, in fact, be a handful of little things I’ll wish I’d appreciated a bit more.

Here are the top nine things I’m trying to savor about pregnant life. Feel free to stop me if I start to sound too perky.

1. Doing a few yoga poses and calling it a workout.

Nausea, fatigue, maintaining a four year old and growing a child have wrought havoc on my fitness routine. I still do yoga, but in my pre-pregnancy life, I’d be drowning in guilt by the lack of physical activity I’ve succumbed to. A little goddess pose here, a downdog there, pigeon, of course because it feels sooo good. After a twenty minute nap, I mean savasana, I pat myself on the back for my awesome “workout.”

Read more at Mommyish.com…

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Why I’m having a home birth

Five years ago, I found myself pregnant with my first child. I was 24 and didn’t know squat about babies and labor and all that hootenanny. Like a lot of women, I desired to have a natural birth — but I soon learned that I had no idea what I’d be up against to achieve one in a hospital in the state of Maryland. Had I done my research (more diligently), I would’ve learned that the hospital I chose (a reputable one in Baltimore and also the one where I had been born) had close to a 50 percent C-section rate. Though that number seems outrageous, it’s not that far off from the U.S. average.

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Real men get snipped

Four years ago, a daughter came bursting into my world, splitting it, and me, wide open. The pregnancy was long and difficult, filled with nausea that lasted until the day she was born. When she arrived she cried harder than I ever knew such a tiny person could. I loved her instantly but she was one hard as hell baby.

Motherhood took a lot of adjusting for me. I’d been living a booze-fueled life for as long as I could remember. But my daughter became the change I never knew I wanted. Luckily, my relationship with her musician-by-night, electrician-by day-father survived the earth shifting beneath our feet and four years later, we were ready to “try” and have another baby.

Continue reading… 

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A little yoga goes a long way- My favorite second trimester poses

Last year, I got certified as a yoga teacher. I was in a very yoga-y place, so even though I’d had a rough first pregnancy, when I got pregnant again, I had high hopes for my yoga practice. Unfortunately (once again) my hopes were short-lived. The truth is, my pregnancy practice has been majorly lacking. Like, to an embarrassing extent. I went from teaching weekly classes and practicing daily, to practicing almost never (at least, not in the form I was used to).

Pregnancy is not a glowing time for me like it is some moms. My first 16 weeks were filled with unrelenting nausea, vomiting and fatigue that made it almost impossible just to get through the day. So my yoga practice came to almost a complete halt. In the first trimester and beginning part of the second, the only yoga I was doing was deep-breathing. I would tell myself, “Okay, I’m going to practice.” Then I would lie down  (okay, I was usually already down) and I would focus on my breath (and trying not to throw up). I sometimes worked on my shoulders and stretching my legs or releasing my hips, but that was about it. That was my practice. Deep breaths and a wee bit of stretching.

I try not to beat myself up about this. Yoga tells you to do what you are comfortable with and for a long time, only a very small amount of yoga felt even remotely comfortable. If I was forcing myself to sweat and barf or God-forbid, put my head below my heart, I definitely would not have been listening to my body. While typically, you can maintain your yoga practice during the first trimester, yoga teacher or not, for me this just wasn’t an option. So my yoga had to transform, just like my life and that’s okay.

Once I was able to keep down food and move about like a semi-normal person, I picked it up a bit. I started doing about six of seven poses a day, again, just the ones that felt good. That’s one of the best things about pregnancy. You can do only what feels good to your body and no one will fault you for it. And I have to say, it’s kind of refreshing to do what I want and not what I think I should be doing.

Here are some of my favorite second trimester poses:

  • Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle)– This is one of my favorite poses always and forever. It’s easy to perform and feels wonderful. It stretches the inner thighs, groin and knees which can all become very tight during pregnancy.

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Start by finding a comfortable seated position and bring the soles of your feet together. Sit up nice and tall, drawing the navel towards the spine and reaching through the crown of your head. Draw your chin slightly towards your chest and lengthen out the back of the neck. Use the hands to open the feet like a book and let the knees release towards the floor. Start to move forward, hinging at the hips, as if you were laying the heart on the floor. If you can’t hinge very far, that’s okay. Stay wherever you feel the stretch and breathe into the posture. Focus on creating space in the body, wherever that may be.

  • Malasana (Deep Squat)- Deep squatting feels so good to me during pregnancy, but this is probably because I used to do it a lot before I was pregnant. It opens up my hips, groin, ankles and helps relieve lower back discomfort. I could really hang out down there all day, it’s that comfortable.

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Stand with your feet a little further than shoulder width apart. Turn your toes out. Bring your hands to heart center and bend the knees deeply. Lower your body as far as is comfortable into the squat but keep your chest upright. Press your elbows into your inner-knees. This will help you to lengthen the torso. Release the shoulders down the back. If your heels come up, you are trying to move too deeply. You can adjust by coming back up, or by placing a folded mat or towel under your heels. This is common for people with tight Achilles.

*If a deep-squat was not previously in your yoga practice, pregnancy may not be the best time to start. As always, listen to your body. There is some research that says to avoid it in the third trimester, but there is also a lot of information that says it’s great for labor preparation. So, squat at your own risk.

  • Utkata Konasana (Goddess)- This is a great modification for the previous pose. During goddess, you are definitely working the muscles of the pelvic floor and strengthening the legs.

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Start with your feet a little further than hip-width apart. Bring your hands to your heart and turn your toes out. Begin bending the knees, tracking the knees over the toes. Come down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or as far as is comfortable. Either keep the hands in prayer, or bring the arms up to ninety-degrees. Breathe and allow the opening aspects of this pose to work for your body.

  • Cat-Cow- This is one pose that is usually present during prenatal yoga classes. It’s important because  you are able to be in a belly-down position (which we rarely are during pregnancy, so it feels so good!). It can be helpful for getting baby to move from a breech position during the third trimester and it helps with lower back stiffness and mobility of the spine.

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Begin on all fours with a neutral spine (flat back). Inhale as you lift your head and tail to the sky and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Let the belly be heavy (cow belly). On the exhale, draw the belly-button towards the spine and tuck the head and tail. Focusing on the pelvic tilt is crucial.

*Once the belly grows past a certain point (usually by the third trimester) moving too deeply in cow pose can feel uncomfortable. You may find it becomes easier to inhale to a flat back and exhale to round. 

  • Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle)– If you want to hear “POP POP POP!”, do this pose. Maybe I’m just speaking personally here. Something pops in my groin/hips every.single.time. But in the best possible way.

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Start with feet together in mountain pose. On an exhale, step your right foot back about 3 or 4 feet. Turn your toes slightly (or to ninety degrees if it feels okay). Inhale the arms to shoulder height reaching from front to back. Send energy through the pinky side of your back foot and begin to press through you back hip as you reach forward, hinging from the hips (as if you are reaching across a counter). Once you have lengthened your spine as far as possible, stack your shoulders, taking the right hand to the sky and the left hand to the floor, foot or ankle (or wherever it naturally rests). Imagine you are between two panes of glass, all in one plane.

  • Janu Sirsasana (Head to knee)– Aaah. I don’t think I’ve ever taught a class without this pose. That’s how much I love it. It stretches the hamstrings, improves back strength and digestion and feels oh-so good during pregnancy (and pretty much anytime).

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Begin from a seated position with both legs extended in front of your body. Bend the right knee and draw the right sole of the foot to the left inner thigh. Allow the knee to rest on the mat. Inhale the arms by the ears. Exhale and twist slightly to the left. Hinge forward from the groin, as if you are laying your heart onto your extended leg. Only come forward as far as is comfortable (which during pregnancy may not be very far at all!). Keep a flat back (as opposed to rounding) to work on strengthening the low back and stretching the hamstrings and hips. Breathe deeply, filling the belly. Continue to lengthen the spine as you move deeper into the pose without shortening the torso. Focus on extending and sending energy through the crown of the head. Hands can come to either side of the extended leg for support. Take a few breaths here, the switch sides.

  • Virasana (Hero)- This pose is a great stretch for the knees, the fronts of the thighs and ankles. Because fluid can build up in these areas during pregnancy, it’s a great pose to do in any trimester.

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Begin by kneeling on the floor, sitting on your heels. You may find you need a blanket to give a little added support to knees and ankles (this is especially true if you have bad knees). Slide your feet apart so that your sits bones (your butt bones, or bones at the base of your spine) touch the ground and turn your big toes slightly towards each other. If your sits bones do not evenly touch the ground, sit up on a folded blanket or a block rather than forcing an uncomfortable position. Wide your collar bones and open the heart. Release the shoulders back and down making space for the neck. Draw your navel slightly towards your spine and find a nice tall seat. Breathe here and feel the stretching and rejuvenating benefits of this posture on your entire lower body.

Namaste!

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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.”

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Hopes and fears

I’m seriously sleep-deprived today. I’m twenty-two weeks pregnant and starting to get round. My husband was in and out of sleep all night with a fever and when he was actually sleeping, he was snoring or grunting uncomfortably. My four year old was having a restless night and came in nearly every hour. I know I slept once, for a few minutes, maybe, only because I woke up mumbling something about a train and my daughter said “what train?” I didn’t know. Probably my getaway train.

My body is wrecked. My head hurts. Everyone is home today and I just want to run away to the place where sleep is. But days like this are inevitable. It’s par for the course and I know that. I’ve almost come to terms with it, almost. Still, I can’t help being mildly bitter at my husband, even though I know it’s unfair. It’s not his fault he’s sick and helpless. It’s not his fault he kept me up all night. It’s not his fault he’s in bed and I’m down here listening to the pulse in my brain and wondering how it’s only 10 am and I’m already checked out.

But I’m still mad. I’m mad that I was sick as a dog for three months and still had to go on with my days with no one to help me while he was at work and I was throwing up or so fatigued I thought I would die. Some days my daughter got so angry at me for being sick she’d hit me or throw herself on the ground and all I could do what cry and throw up again. I’m mad that I’m pregnant and tired and have a sick husband and a cranky child who’s likely on the verge of being sick, too and home for the rest of the week. I’m just mad.

Days like this make me terrified for my second child to come. This exhaustion is so familiar, not that I’ve ever been too far from it. My daughter still wakes several times most nights, either to potty or to snuggle or sometimes just to cry for no reason. But those early breastfeeding days are not far off now. And what will I do with two children who are crying in the night and swinging open doors? Hope tells me I’ll roll with it. Fear tells me I’ll lose my shit.

It’s not just the exhaustion I’m afraid of. It’s the shifting of everything that’s bound to happen once again and this time I’m not the only one has to adjust. I decided to have a second baby because I wanted a family of four. I didn’t think our family was quite done and I wanted one more child. But more than any of it, I wanted my daughter to have a sibling. Now, I’m terrified of what she’ll truly feel once it all comes. Will she feel love instantly or will she be completely beside herself with jealousy? Will she be angry and hate me for nursing the baby all the time and expecting more independence from the child who was just my baby seconds ago? Will she cry when I can’t get down and play and will I be so overwhelmed with nursing and sleepless nights and an angry child that I just can’t take it?

Am I completely alone in these fears or are they typical of adding babies to your brood? I don’t know. Somebody please tell me. Everyone says it’ll be fine. It’ll be great, she’ll adjust, don’t worry. And then parents tell me that it’s a fucking mountain and I believe them. They tell me I have no idea, that it’s so much harder than one child in every way and I believe them.

Most days I’m happy to accept it all. Roll with the punches. Whatever will be will be, ya know. But not today. Today I’m hoping for the best and fearing the worst. I’m hoping for one of those magic sleeping babies that I never understood. I’m hoping for flawless breastfeeding, easy latching, superior production, all that. I’m hoping for a joyous daughter and an easy going son who laughs a lot. I’m hoping for new opportunities for my husband, ones that mean he’s home more and I get to work sometimes. And all the while I know I’m hoping for too much and fearing too much at the same time.

But today the mountain seems too big and I’m too small. Too small and too tired and too pregnant.

And there’s no one else. It’s just me.