Borrowed from http://runningahospital.blogspot.com
Every time I do anything even remotely ingenious, dorky, or with the aid of a list, my father says, "Genes work!"
When I was younger, I was embarrassed by this, thinking that the comment was heavy on the "dorky" and light on the "ingenious" because my father shares my penchant for self-deprication. But as I've grown up a bit more, I realize that he's saying this as a compliment. He's proud of his achievement.
Biologically, scientifically speaking, we are a legitimate species if we can produce reproductively viable offspring. In plain-speak: we all want to be grandparents. I think this goes beyond weekends at grammy's, cookies and fishing. In fact, I think it goes far beyond biology.
While my father takes pride in passing along my genetic code, including my Lithuanian green eyes and my exceptionally long monkey toes, I believe that the true source of his pride lies in the things he taught me both explicitly (the genius of list-making and preparedness) and accidentally (geek-speak). Although he always threatens to write a memoir, my father isn't a big writer. He's a story teller. As am I (and I'm equally terrified to write anything actually significant).
Perhaps what scares me most about possibly becoming a parent, is the fact that I'll be sharing not only what I hope to share with my children (my world-class packing skills), but what I might inadvertently share (my irrational fears of news media, basketball, cats, and the body scan at the airport).
I believe that children pick and choose the best parts of their parents and other adults and emulate what they can. I also know that some darkness transfer is unavoidable. But I believe it is our duty to our species and our planet to leave things better than we found them. To weed through the muck and hand over a slightly better version of ourselves to the next generation.
Prepare to be an AWESOME Grandma/pa:
1. Identify the habits that you are least interested in sharing with your offspring. Perhaps there is some disordered eating behavior in your past or a love of slot machines. Consider getting professional help managing these issues, rather than hoping you will hide them from your children. Remember when your parents tried to hide things from you? Exactly. It doesn't work.
2. Get rid of the things you don't want your children to find. Perhaps there are some juicy love letters that you'd rather not share with your 13 year old. Get a safety deposit box or off site storage unit now.
3. Tidy your relationships with your partner, parents, siblings, and neighbors. Unless you want your toddler to call the crotchety neighbor "Mr. S#its," as you have, clean it up now.
4. Cultivate your quirks. Aside from their teen years, when they are most likely to harbor intergalactic parasites, your child has the potential to love even the weirdest things you do and consider them normal. Do you remember going to junior high and realizing that no one else had parents who wrote the date on everything coming into the house? Do you remember how normal your parents' behavior seemed to you?
5. Open yourself up to new ideas and foster a willingness to let your children change you. As a family, you'll get to create new norms and values.
Marco! Polo! Nuzzle, nuzzle, nuzzle.
In my former life of college admissions, I frequently had the opportunity to wear my safari jacket, channel my inner anthropologist and observe parenting styles. In my current life as resident vagabond (an oxymoron to be sure) and yog-er, I have similar opportunities as an amateur wildlife biologist.
My unsubstantiated hypothesis based on these observations is: the spectrum of parenting styles in the human world is much wider than that found in the animal kingdom AND that we can use this to our advantage.
Non-Animal Parenting Styles
You are likely familiar with the phrase "helicopter parent" are you not? It means a parent that circles their child's head, protects them from any possible harm, infection, insult, abrasion, or dirty look, twarting foes and admission professionals alike. It isn't what you would call a compliment. But it is exactly the kind of parent you need to be for the first many months of your child's life. The problem? Some people get stuck in helicopter land and never branch out to the various other styles of mothering. If the child willingly accepts this relationship (and why wouldn't you?!), it can be hard to stop hovering.
The opposite of the helicopter is the absent parent. This parent responds to nothing, does not reach out to the child, and is as involved as a rock. I recommend against this style of parenting during the first several months of your child's life, but as odd as it may seem, this style of parenting also needs to be part of your deck. It will come in very handy when said child does something attention seeking that is completely inappropriate. Stone-faced-mama is a rarely used but effective persona.
Let me first clarify that I KNOW not all animals are great parents, nor do all animals from the same species have the same personality. However, there are great parents in all species and what matters most is that you are able to utilize different styles when they are appropriate and stick them into your bag of tricks when they are not.
Bear Mama The bear mamas I have met are all excellent mothers. They keep their babies close and nap frequently (although not in public). They play with their babies and in playing, they teach them how to fend for themselves.
Moments to channel bear mama? Learning to roll over. Get frustrated, try again. Play with mama. Peek-a-boo. Co-nap time.
Mountain Lion MamaI've only seen evidence of these around my home and have never met one in person, but the characteristic I associate most based on the years of nature videos I watched as a child is picking battles. Cats of all types seem to enjoy lounging around as their little ones play (multiparous mamas that they are), and they don't get involved or upset until someone crosses the line. When they do, mama addresses the problem immediately, with authority, and then moves along.
Moments to channel mountain lion mama? Supervised but not involved play time, discipline.
Bird Mama The closest to "helicopters" that exist in the animal world, bird mamas respond to each and every call for food... by vomiting into their babies' mouths. This visual might make you laugh the next time your infant rings the dinner bell.
Moments to channel bird mama? Any time baby is sick, injured, or has just received vaccinations.
Deer Mama My favorite of the mamas are the deer mamas, who appear to be excellent at setting and asserting boundaries. The photo above is a sweet moment that this mama and baby got together after several minutes of grazing on opposite sides of the fence behind them. Occasionally mama would vocalize (something deer don't otherwise do unless mating) in an ancient Marco Polo-esque serenade with her baby. "I'm eating on this side of the fence, what are you doing?" "I'm eating on this side of the fence." Chomp, chomp, chomp.
Moments to channel deer mama? Most of the time. I know where you are, you know where I am. Sometimes we do different things in the same place. Sometimes we nuzzle noses. Sometimes we play Marco Polo.
My best friend gave birth to her son ten years ago, my flower girls are graduating from high school, and people I used to babysit for have children who can speak in full sentences. And yet every time I see each of these babes I think to myself:
1. Who are you and what have you done with the two year old I loved
2. I am now that old lady I used to hate who would say "my, how you've grown!"
There are days when I can't believe I'm not five years old.
We all know that babies grow too quickly. People tell pregnant women this very thing every day, "treasure every moment," or, "hold on to this sweet age as long as you can," or, "I enjoy nude parasailing in Niagra Falls, and you should try it, too."
Ok, maybe they don't say the sailing bit, but it makes just about as much sense. You can't possibly hold onto every moment that goes by, because if you did you wouldn't have time to watch it (or you would be making a video of you watching a video). It is the slimy paradox of easy camera access these days. Have you traveled to any of the local wonders in your town and experienced the tourists taking in the beauty of the Garden of the Gods or Malibu Beach or the Biggest Gumball in Texas? Have you noticed that each one is hiding behind a small, squarish box made of metal and glass, squinting one eye?
This may be how your child remembers you, if you're not careful.
Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't take pictures of your children. You should. You should take lots of pictures, videos, sound recordings, and you most certainly will want to encase parts of them (the children) in cement or dough (briefly) to preserve just how tiny that little hand or foot was. But you should also write stories, do interpretive dances (together), have private moments and just be. Because the beauty of a photo is that it remains the same forever. It can be touched up to hide those unsightly wild hairs or colorized and digitally remastered to appear old timey or even more fabulous. But it can never get any sweeter, the way true memories do. Unless you're steadfastly attached to grudges about all of your exes, you probably think better of them today than you did the day you broke up, right? The same may be true of your favorite memories.
Just as yoga exists between the asana, the beauty of life exists between the photographs.
Hire a pro. I know that there are dozens of apps for taking and forging images out there, but nothing compares to the quality that a professional can get. That's why they are professionals. They will make sure you look natural and fabulous, and you'll be glad you did.
Spend at least as much time on each side of the lens. Even Hitchcock made an appearance in each of his films, and so should you. Otherwise when baby looks back 50 years later they will wonder what you looked like and why you were so intent on harassing them in every moment of their lives.
Back them up. Print them, email them, store them on hard drives. You decide your privacy factor, but make sure that whatever you're doing doesn't live exclusively in your iDevice or at one place or another. One of the best games for a rainy day? Look at old photographs (this requires old photographs).
Share the LOVE. However you choose to do this is up to you. Perhaps private albums on Picasa or Facebook, or publicly as the face of your product. This helps those of us who live far away avoid the "Oh my GOSH have you GROWN UP!" comments that every child fears.
Give them the power. In the hands of a child, anything is possible. Once they can manage the complexity of iPhotography, hand them the brick and let them shoot. See the world through their eyes. You might be surprised by what you see!
"We think you look FABULOUS!"
There comes a time for every pregnant woman when the urge to relieve pressure on sore joints and swollen ankles outweighs any trepidation of wandering out in a swim suit.
For your sake I hope this happens earlier in your pregnancy rather than later, because the only thing I recommend more strongly than prenatal yoga for the healthy pregnant mama, is getting into the water. Why? Because it feels great and helps your body get stronger without adding stress
Why swimming makes you feel better:
- You don't weigh any less in water (trust me, I took many science courses in college) but your joints will not be bearing as much weight because the water will support you.
- Everyone is graceful under water. Even if it seems your body is rebelling against you on land, you will be
- You can float on your back and stretch in new ways.
- Baby will move off of your bladder.
- The water is cool.
- You are unable to text in the pool.
You will drink even more water:
- With most of your body beneath the surface of the water, the hydrostatic pressure on your blood vessels increases, making your body naturally want to shed more water (aka pee). This is great for mild swelling, because as the water moves from your blood vessels into your bladder, it pulls more water from your swollen tissues to replace blood volume.
- I'm not saying you should pee in the pool/lake/ocean, I'm just saying that not everyone would notice if you did.
If someone says something nasty to you, or even looks at you with questioning eyes, think of the following:
- They are still evolving. They are currently in the mean troll phase of life and you should pity the fool.
- They are naturally curious because no one teaches anyone anything about sex ed anymore and they want to know what has happened in your life. Offer some education.
- Hear me SCREAMING from across the room/beach YOU LOOK FABULOUS, MAMA! Because I think you look amazing, all the time, no reservations, no exclusions.
If you have a breast pump on your baby registry, you may want to re-think that choice. As of August 1st, if live in the US and have health insurance, a copay-free breast pump should now be listed as one of your covered benefits. Not even thinking about pumping? If you are on a tight budget, or have thoughts about how you might like to spend $1,000 (college fund, anyone?) consider doing some research anyway. Most women who breastfeed and work outside of the home (or want to take a night out on the town) find a breast pump to be a critical addition to their arsenal of baby tools.
There are hundreds of reasons why breastfeeding is amazing, and I don't need to list the obvious benefits here, but how about the superpowers of pumping that no one is telling you about?
You will know the precise location of every workable electrical outlet in your home, as well as those in the homes of friends, your workplace, and possibly the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport.
You will develop phantom limb abilities. All moms end up with a magical third arm, but in order to eat and pump at the same time, you will develop yours first!
You will thwart workplace refrigerator scavengers. With the cunning label of "Breast Milk" on the outside of your lunchbox, pilferers will be forced to lurk elsewhere.
Speedy assembly skills. The secret forces will want your help once they learn how quickly you can dis/assemble and clean your pump and all of its requisite parts.
You can be in two places at once... that's one up on Superman! By pumping in advance you can go out on the town for a night with your partner or friends... you can even go on retreat or take a spur of the moment trip to New Mexico AND feed your baby at the same time.
And we thought slicing bread was cool...
Me, with two great conversationalists.
The most common complaint I hear about being a new mama? Abject boredom once the circus leaves town. Don't mistake me, most mamas breathe a sigh of relief once family, in-laws and outlaws ride off into the sunset, but a few days later magazines, Facebook, and daytime TV start to lose their charm.
Some mamas immediately join playgroups or mama and me yoga. But even these outings, as arduous as they can be the first couple of times, don't fill 24 hours.
Suggestions for Things to Occupy Your Mind
Stitcher. Video may have killed the radio star, but bad writing and political commercials killed the TV star. I love listening to podcasts, but know that it can be tricky for new mamas to download new episodes or spend time synchronizing devices. Stitcher is an application for mobile devices that works like Pandora radio. You download the free app and then have access to streaming podcasts. My favorites include This American Life, Fresh Air, Freakonomics, La Tavola Marche, and The Boob Group.
Handheld readers. The beauty of a Kindle in particular is that you can read a library of books with one hand, without turning on a bright light (some phones also work, but the lighting isn't quite as fancy). It is backlit and lightweight, and easy to manage while breastfeeding. Our local library lends ebooks which you can obtain without even leaving home. Bored in the middle of the night? Download something new.
Research. If you have the internet, the world is your oyster (but beware the undertow). Look for positive things, like vacations you'd like to take, graduate programs you might pursue, or how to win big at blackjack. Avoid the rabbit hole of medical websites. Do not research All the Things that Could Go Wrong, because there are plenty of panicky messages on message boards with truly insane recommendations for home remedies. Plan a mythical trip to Sweden, or learn what it takes to get a visa into Bhutan, but don't google "small red rash on baby's booty."
Also, if I may recommend avoiding games. Sure, they make the time go by, but at the end of the day you will have nothing to chat about with your partner or the other mamas at yoga. Learn a thing or two and make yourself an excellent conversationalist because you may end up talking to yourself at times, and don't you want to be interested in what you have to say?
Let me be clear: this post will not address paternity woes, suggestions for "keeping things fresh," or sutras of any kind. This post is an introduction to life once baby arrives and your current household transforms from a twofer into a threefer.
Think back to the time that you and your partner began to co-habitate. It probably started off all nachos and dance parties and then evolved slowly into dish disputes, towel arguments, and misplaced mail warfare. Then (as you are now expecting a baby) something probably took a turn for the better again. You devised some sort of system, whether it involves pre-printed lists on the fridge or not. Knowing that Thursday night is poker night for your partner, you take the opportunity to paint your toenails in your dainties and rock out to Stevie Nicks. And every other Saturday you hike into the wilderness together to talk about the Big Dreams you have for the future and other relevant relational business. Three kinds of time: mine, yours and ours.
With the impending growth of your family unit, you will begin to experience the same sorts of growing pains as you figure out your time alone, partner's time alone, the two of you together, you and the baby together, and your partner and the baby together. You've just doubled the flavors of time that are essential to a balanced and healthy home, and you have few positive examples of how this works successfully. In fact, most sit-coms and romantic comedies are based on the principle that when three people try to be in a relationship together it is both epically hilarious and desperately tragic all at once.
Tips for Doubling Your Fun
Define your six flavors of time. Before baby arrives, decide what time you need that is sacred, what time your partner needs, and what time your relationship needs in order for it to thrive. What are the activities that you do that fill in these three flavors? Write them down in a list so that you may refer to it after baby arrives (color coding is optional).
Recall your weak spots. Remember what you used to (or still) fight over? These may be the areas that crop up again. If they are simple, make a concerted effort to meet your partner half way by emptying the garbage occasionally or not returning empty packaging to the refrigerator. If the issues are more complex, like say sex or money, this might be an excellent time to enlist the help of a good financial planner or therapist.
Dream BIG. Start brainstorming the things you've always wanted to do with your child, both as a couple and individually. These are great lists to make, too. Once baby arrives you can start to try on or craft new traditions.
Give baby time to grow into. There is a magical seventh flavor that won't develop for awhile, but it is important to parent as though it already exists: baby's time alone. It is critical for the emotional health of your family that your baby learn to spend time alone. Now, I'm not recommending that your infant be left unattended, but I am suggesting that baby learn to entertain her as she grows without the constant feedback of an adult. This is where your child will explore and develop her personality. If you know how important your alone time is to you, you'll respect the necessary alone time of your child as well.
And that's the recipe for a successful threesome.
If we have met, then you know that I'm capable of doing almost anything. If you've seen my resume, you know I've tried quite an exhaustive list of things. My list of insurmountable tasks to date includes:
- Play the guitar
- Run and dribble a basketball at the same time
- Drive a stick-shift car forwards while obeying traffic laws
- Enjoy sushi
Regardless of lessons, support, strict threats of embarrassment and social awkwardness, I have been completely unsuccessful in these aspects of my life. Now that I have lived for more than three decades, I'm comfortable enough in my own limitations that I no longer try to do any of these things, nor do I care when others tell me I should.
Of course, there are things I'm great at, which include:
- Retaining medical knowledge like I'm prepping for Medical Jeopardy
- Fitting anything into anything, like camping equipment into a car or six more dishes into the dishwasher
- Eating an entire watermelon in one sitting
- Making an audience laugh (in person... so don't hold your breath)
If you've given birth before, you may think you have a sense of how your next birth will be, but you will likely be wrong. Every pregnancy is different, and even Michelle Duggar has been surprised a few times. It is safe to say that for most people, birth falls squarely into neither of these categories.
Giving birth is like riding a bicycle. You may have seen people do it, but you're not sure exactly what it will be like. You will need to find your own rhythm as you go along. The trick with birth is that the size/shape/condition of the bicycle is always a surprise as is the terrain. Maybe your path will paved and flat with some gentle, rolling hills and an occasional breeze. Maybe your path will be mostly uphill and pretty gravely, with a few thorns and a light drizzle. And maybe a bridge will be out on your path and you'll need some magic to get to the other side.
This is where a doula can make all the difference. While you may not know what path to expect, or how to change a metaphorical tire if you get a flat, your doula has a sense of where to go, tips for navigating shallow water crossings, and expertise that help YOU ride that bicycle to the finish line.
How to Know if You Might Want a Doula
1. You don't have a lot of experience with birth and would like to make sure you have an advocate on your side to help explain some of what is happening, or make suggestions about strategies that will help make the ride a bit easier.
2. You are the kind of person who can accomplish most things with good coaching. If you call people when you're driving home late at night because you know it will be easier for you to stay awake, you are the kind of person who is accustomed to asking for the right kind of help and you're open to accepting it.
3. When you think of your close family and friends you realize that you want none of them to be with you while giving birth. This is for any reason, including strange agendas, unfamiliarity with birth, or a truly epic case of halitosis.
4. You're not sure if you want a doula. If it is within your means to hire a doula and you aren't categorically opposed to doing so, my recommendation is to find one. While it is rare that you would want to do so, you can always ask them to leave, but it is too late to find one once your labor has started.
I know some things I can do and some I can't, but I've never given birth. I know that I'd feel much more confident with a knowledgable ally by my side. How about you?
Interested in how a Postpartum Doula will Save Your Life?
What my baby looked like, except she had pants.
I was so excited when my parents came home from this hospital with my new baby brother (I was five years old and had had a baby of my own for years at that point, and thought it was about time my mom had one, too). As soon as he got home, I tried to share my expertise in baby handling, but was frequently informed that I was "too small" to hold the baby or that the baby was "too big" for me to carry around.
After a few weeks, this became rather tiresome. While my parents made a concerted effort to keep me in the loop, I remember feeling sad that I now had to share my adoring audience with a baby who, unlike my baby, cried, pooped, and did not go into the bath with me. Two particular memories bring me back to this trying time:
The Apocalyptic Meltdown: Immediately after his baptism, we opened the family home to (what felt like) three thousand of our closest friends. They all introduced themselves to me and immediately asked "How do you like your new baby brother?" I was a mostly polite child, and I liked when people talked with me, so I was kind and generous for the first 1,500 visitors. But the turning point came about an hour into the party (and before cake, if there was any cake) when I announced to the room that, "If one more person asks me how I like my new baby brother I'm going to my room and never coming out." You know how this ends.
The Great Escape: A few weeks later, my mother on her last nerve and I on mine, I decided to illustrate my maturity and acrobatic strength and agility by scaling my brother's crib, removing him, and carrying him about 100 feet around the house and into the kitchen. When my mother tells this story, she says I "... missed hitting his head on the edge of the kitchen doorway by an eighth of an inch."
In all fairness, everyone was right. I was a very small five year old, and he was a BIG baby. But no one anticipated the sheer force of my will.
Tips for Keeping the Big Sibling from Absconding with the Baby
Use your words. Tell the big sibling about how things will change with the new baby. This implies that you have a plan, which you should (separate post to follow about this).
Prepare your friends. Encourage (or demand that) your friends and relatives greet the older child first when they come to see the baby. They don't need to bring a toy for the older child, but suggest that they plan to spend five minutes with the older sibling and then either have the older child introduce them to the baby, or have them break the conversation and move along. You're also training your older child to be great at cocktail parties!
Practice with a puppy. (don't actually get a new puppy in the same year that you are welcoming a new baby into the house) Find a friend who has a newer baby animal that you can go and visit with your older child. Practice sitting quietly, perhaps on an adult's lap, and learning how to hold and be gentle with the puppy. This sets the stage for how you will later allow the older child to hold the baby (on an adult's lap, being gentle).
Schedule special time. Baby gets lots of attention, particularly in the first six weeks. If you can utilize the services of a postpartum doula to give mom respite, then she can have special time with the older child. Same is true for her partner. Also be sure to schedule baby holding time if the child wants to hold the baby.
Stock up on bribes. I don't recommend rewarding anyone with food, but this is a good time to bring in some special new toys or books for the older child. Regardless of the older child's gender, you might introduce a baby doll with all of the fixin's like diapers, bottles, nap blankets, and changes of clothes. If you are looking for other toys, I recommend those that make no noise, require no batteries, and are easy to enjoy alone. Building toys, puzzles, books, and art supplies are great options.
A little-known fact about me? I'm not a huge fan of baby showers. I know, I teach prenatal yoga. Yes, I get invited to a lot of baby showers. And yes, I go. But while everyone else is cooing over the frilly clothes or decorative wall hangings, I'm thinking about baby's future.
You see, in a previous life I worked in college admissions. I've spoken with thousands of families who wondered where they would get the money to send their teenager to college. Some opted to take out a plus loan, or a second mortgage on their house. Others hoped that athletic talents would win their student a free or discounted education. A handful (truly, a small handful) knew with great confidence that their student would have access to whichever education they wanted because they had been saving for it from the beginning. I'm not talking about the independently wealthy, but families with modest incomes, like teachers, nurses, and public servants, who had socked money away starting when their child was born.
Maybe you're not a saver, or don't know much about how money works in this world. But this is an amazing opportunity to learn and to take advantage of the many different ways you can start funding your baby's education starting now. For some people, a 529 plan is the right choice. For others, a Coverdell Education Savings Plan. There are many options you should discuss with your partner and possibly a financial advisor. Even a simple savings account in your child's name is better than nothing, because it will get you saving.
Tips for Saving for Baby
1. Include a college fund on your registry. Let shower attendees know that you'll have a container to receive cash gifts that will go towards baby's future education costs. Let attendees know that they will have the opportunity to take pride when baby goes to school, rather than just when they see the crib skirt they purchased.
2. Commit to an annual contribution to baby's account as a gift from you or you and your partner. Invite grandparents and others to contribute as well. A smaller toy/book gift will be just as meaningful (kids usually prefer playing with the box anyway).
3. Learn more about how money works. It's a shame so many Americans graduate from high school with almost no understanding of how to save, spend, invest, and how to manage debt. Make sure YOU teach your baby the ways of the financial world.
4. Avoid the Curse of the Trustafarian. A lot of children who enter college with a savings account feel entitled to spend it however they choose (usually on beer). Regardless of the size of the account, strongly consider having the child take out a student loan in her name. This will keep her accountable for her own education, encourage her to pursue her passions (rather than taking the classes she thinks you want her to take), and encourage her to use all of those financial lessons you taught her over the years.
I'm one of those people who loves making your life easier (and I believe in you). I am an experienced registered prenatal yoga teacher and a lactation educator.
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