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!
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?
Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner
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.
One of the things that terrifies me most about possibly becoming a mother one day is my intense love affair with sleep. I am not a doctor, midwife, or labor doula because I simply cannot imagine happiness in a life that includes fewer than eight consecutive hours of sleep per night. In fact, I had to take a break from writing this post just so I could take a nap.
It's in my genes, too. My mother is an Olympic Napper, or would be if they ever opened the event. After large meals we frequently take spontaneous family floor naps.
You probably have your own weakness, too. Perhaps yours also stands between you and your idea of the "perfect mother" like your maniacal obsession with clean countertops, your propensity for jet-setting, or your insistence on watching the Late, Late, Late Show. I have good news for you: so long as your weakness doesn't involve ritual sacrifice, you're very likely going to be a great mother. Especially if you know what that weakness is.
Steps to Being a Great Mother Even with a Weakness:
1. Identify your weakness(es). Determine which areas of your life appear to be inconsistent with motherhood and you're not willing to compromise. There should be one or two, or possibly three. More than three and you'll need to whittle your list.
2. Articulate ways others can help you (in writing). In my case, I would need people who are willing to come to my house to supervise mama nap time. I might also need someone to spend the night periodically/routinely to share the duties of night feedings. If you need someone who will help you learn how to travel with a newborn, or possibly babysit for a weekend now and again, it's good to know that now.
2.5. If your request sounds silly in writing like "someone must come to my house at 11:35 each night so that I can stay abreast of all of the celebrity antics," maybe sit with it for a week before you proceed to the next step. But if it will make all the difference in your life, perhaps sit down with someone neutral to have a conversation about your needs. Maybe there are solutions others can think of. If you decide it is still essential, proceed along.
3. Recruit your village. Are there people in your life who would be interested in helping in the ways you've outlined above? Now is a great time to ask them to get a sense of how much help you can get by cashing in favors. For instance, I have some friends who would likely do the nap thing, but maybe not so many who would do the overnight thing. Do you have friends who will clean your counters or help you stay caught up on the LLL Show even if it is now waaay past your bedtime?
4. Hire some village people. Maybe you think you want cute baby clothes or high-tech surveillance equipment, but in my case, neither of those things will help me much. A postpartum doula might willingly work with me to spend a night every week for six weeks for a not too unreasonable rate. Consider hiring a cleaning person to do an expert job once a week rather than cashing in every last favor for the sake of clean countertops.
Heed any inkling you have that something might stand between you and a mentally healthy postpartum period and address it now, preemptively rather than six weeks into misery.
Fairy Tale Birth Story
My mama, doing a little yoga a few years ago.
What do you think of on your birthday? Most people (myself included) think of cake, the blessing/curse of aging, and monumental years passed: 16, 18, 21, 30, 40 etc. Every year my mom calls and says “Happy Birthday! You had the BIGGEST HEAD EVER,” and by that she means my actual cranium was in the 90th percentile and my body in the 5th. Thank goodness I've balanced out a bit since then. She hopes I experience the same blessing when I give birth. This has always been the way I experience my birthday, with a sigh of relief that I've made it around the sun yet again, and a curse disguised as a blessing. However, after chatting with a friend today, I've started thinking of my birthday a little bit differently.
Let me digress for a moment (I promise to bring it all back around). Expectant mamas usually have some idea of what their birth story will look like. In fact, those of use who work with mamas strongly encourage the development of a birth plan which includes the who/what/where of birth from generalities like “board certified obstetrician should be handy” to specifics like “no tweeting, no matter what.” We script it out from beginning to end with little addenda like a flight attendant letting the team know what they'll need to know just in case.
Days and years later, we tell the story from the same perspective, in the same order, with a surprise ending like “huge head” or “100 year blizzard,” or “fainted dead away on the floor.”
I think we're doing it backwards. Or rather, we should be.
Think of all of the greatest memories you have. They usually don't go like this:
“I planned the perfect trip to Paris, which I took, and then I went home.”
They don't go like this, because this is a boring, terrible story. Even if you end with “...and then I fainted dead away,” or “...and then I stepped in gum,” or “...and then I found five dollars,” it doesn't get any better.
But, if you tell it like this: “Let me tell you how I met my partner after the worst trip of my life. I went to Paris and the trip went mostly as planned, but on my trip home we were diverted to Tuscaloosa, where I was marooned in the airport awaiting my connection to Knoxville. To make matters worse, my bags somehow ended up in Alberta. After three tries to get home via air, I finally gave up and took the bus. Because I took the bus instead, the airline said they weren't responsible for my bags, even though they sent them to the wrong country! Well, Marty was working at the lost luggage center in Alberta, and because he's Canadian he felt sorry for me and offered to drive and meet me halfway. Well, three weeks and 2,000 miles later we met up in the middle of Iowa and it was love at first sight.”
If there is one thing I can guarantee you beyond all others, it is that your birth story will not be the same as your birth plan. Unexpected things will happen, but each of those unexpected things will be another level of color in your wildly exciting and amazing birth story.
My tips for recording your birth story:
Consider the byline: based on the true story. Your child's birth story is your birth story, too. Consider which details are helpful to you and to baby and which can be modified into other characters, symbols, and images. Rather than “your lazy butt couldn't find the exit, so this ended in a traumatic C-section,” try something like “the doctor saw that you were lost and created a magic door.” Maybe this sounds silly, but it can profoundly affect the way you view the story, your baby, and your scar. In my opinion, necessary C-sections are magical.
Channel your inner impressionist, not your journalist: Sometimes photos are appropriate, but just as I've found in travel, you never really get a picture that captures the most meaningful moments. Don't fret about it, recreate it. Perhaps everyone who was there can make an image from their memory, whether they create a stick figure drawing, a painting, or something abstract. You can add in the relevant photos you have, but sometimes drawings are even better.
Remember: start with the happy ending. The end of the story is your baby's birth, so start there in your mind. Your most pivotal memory could be something like “...and then, after nine months I created a beautiful, perfect human out of the very best parts of me, and that perfect human, was YOU.”
When your next birthday comes around start with the memory that by some miracle, you were formed from tiny bits of ancient stars and the energy of the mother who bore you.
Message in a Belly
Pure Presence Photography.
When is the last time you scheduled a regular conversation with your internal organs? For the sake of your mental health, I sure hope your answer is "never" or "last Thanksgiving." We don't have to check in with our spleens or livers, and our digestion seems to march on without our explicit direction. Our bladders are uncooperative and selfish.
Perhaps this is why spending time "communicating with your baby" seems silly. Throughout pregnancy you might spend more one-on-one time with your toilet. In the first trimester, you're engaged in what my college friend Steve called "confessions with Father John" while later on you become a frequent flyer.
So when are you supposed to "connect" with your baby, and why on earth would you do it? My thoughts below.
Preconception: if you're a woman, the makings of your baby are already in you. Not only do you have one half of the genetic material and instructions, but you have the building blocks, too.
1. Start cleaning up your act. Ask yourself "would I feed cheese puffs/diet pills/red dye #492 to my baby?" If not, stop eating it. Your body remakes itself constantly using the materials you put in. And do you know what you make your baby out of? You.
2. Treat yourself the way you'd like the mother of your child to be treated. Get some sleep and cultivate the things in your life that make you happiest.
3. Spend some time in the quiet of life sharing your thoughts and feelings with that bit of mystical magic (or physics) that babies come from. If you're ready for baby, put that sense out there "Open for business". If not, be polite and let baby know you're closed for the season but will be open the day after Memorial Day.
The Hopeful Place: from the moment you start trying until you make it through the first trimester, I like to think you're in the hopeful place. Most faith traditions set the work of the soul a bit behind the work of the flesh, so focus on your physical well being and set your sights on the hope that everything will turn out as it should.
1. Start to focus your mental worries and fears into physical actions, like walking, knitting, compulsively working the knots out of all of your necklaces, etc.
2. Focus even more intently on your self care by saying no to things you don't want to do and making more time for yourself. You and your baby will fill this space in no time.
3. In the place beyond words is the hopeful place, where you open yourself up to instinct. Every time you say or think "worry" reframe the thought into "hope." For instance: "I'm worried that I haven't felt my baby move" to "I hope I get to feel my baby move soon."
The Investment Place: Once you cross into the second trimester, you're in the investment place. Perhaps you share the news with family, friends and coworkers or start to see that Thanksgiving belly push beyond the limits of an overindulgent meal.
1. Take several minutes a day to put your hands on your belly and showcase your feelings to your baby. She is getting the same surges of hormones you're releasing, so if you're stressed, she can feel it to! Tell her what the stress is about.
2. Open the incoming channels, if you haven't already. Your baby is not tapping in Morse Code on your bladder, but she may still have sneaky ways of sending you messages back. Listen for them.
3. As you get closer to the end of your pregnancy, you will start to have better intuition about everything. This doesn't mean that you ate bad eggs, or that you should open a 900 number and go into the psychic reading business. This special power will help you navigate your birth with all of the expertise of the millions of women who have come before you.
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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