I had a giant sized poster of Keanu Reeves on my wall when I was younger (it was after I saw the movie Speed: I wanted Keanu to be my boyfriend, and I wanted to actually be Sandra Bullock). Before Keanu, it was Jonathan Taylor Thomas. And before him (and likely during that time too – I was a two timer), it was Daniel di Tomasso (my high school Italian Stallion “boyfriend” (we held hands) whom I adored. Fun fact: he and actress, Jessica Pare were in a theatre production of Robin Hood when Daniel and I were “dating” in high school). Before Daniel, it was Tom Roberts, the cute South African boy who lived across the street. I drew a picture of us in my diary at our wedding, kissing, and vowing to live happily ever after. I was 6 years old at the time.
With the exception of Daniel, none of those stud muffins ever became my boyfriend. And I’m sure glad they didn’t, because if they had, I wouldn’t have found Ted, and I wouldn’t have had Madison.
Why oh why does any of this matter?
Apart from it being super fun to make fun of me and my love interests from my younger and more vulnerable years, this really and truly matters most because for every one of those boys I liked, and for all the boys who came after them who actually became my boyfriends, I did a heck of a lot of trying to be and look a certain way in order to get them to like me. Whether it was a trim body, or a sexy new pair of peace sign earrings, an oversized Club Monaco sweatshirt and stirrup pants (so sexy) with a choker (a necklace that goes around your neck) to entice them, my perfect image was – in my opinion – the only way I would ever get their attention (never mind the fact that I was sweet and kind and a straight A student).
So with almost a lifetime’s worth of fashion magazines in my subconscious, who can blame a girl for being sensitive about her body at any stage of her life, and especially after she’s given birth? Things change, and according to my early teen magazines and the fashion magazines that followed, these changes are not part of the approved sexy lady curriculum.
And yet something is shifting in me these days. I’m maturing in a way that I never have before (and this is big, considering I came out of the womb trying to be an adult). As I was taking my morning walk with the babe yesterday, I had a sudden surge of self-love. Like, serious body love.
Madison in arms, I trudged along down the street, and I couldn’t help but to puff my chest out and feel like a warrior. A goddess. A strong ass woman who really and truly can do anything I put my mind to. With every stride, I felt the power flowing through me.
Nothing has really changed. I’m still heavier than I want to be. I still have a bigger-than-I’m-used-to belly. And there are some things that shall not be named that aren’t quite what they used to be. But rather than look down at my body and feel disgust, instead, I felt its power. And gosh darn it, I felt proud. Proud of my body, yes. But also, proud to be me.
Do you think I’m being full of myself? Well, I am! Why shouldn’t I be? And to loosely quote Marianne Williamson, who am I not to? I’m owning my awesomeness today, people! And frankly, you should be owning yours too! Not at the expense of anyone else, of course! But rather to the advantage of yourself and your self esteem (and funnily enough, by owning your own greatness, you’re a more delightful, productive and happy person, which makes you lovely to be around. So really, everybody wins).
I’ve spent enough time shaming and hating on my body since I gave birth (and – let’s be honest – ever since I saw my first teen magazine and realized I “should” look a certain way and should eat this and not that to stay trim. That way, maybe Jonathan Taylor Thomas would magically show up in my life and marry me and we’d live happily ever after. The end.).
I’ll be honest, I’m probably not going to love my body all of the time over night, but at least I’m going to be more aware of how I’m talking to my body, and what I’m teaching my daughter every time I look in the mirror, every time I smile at or make a look of disgust at myself, and of course – every time I verbally reference my body in anything other than a loving you’re-a-badass-mama-jama way.
So ladies and gents, mothers and fathers, friends and loved ones, this is why I love my postpartum, perfect-in-all-of-its-imperfections body:
1. IT REMINDS ME THAT I’M STRONG.
Every stretch mark, every extra pound, all the new curves, the fullness of my belly – all of it serves to remind me that not long ago, I carried a life inside me. That’s a kind of strength I never knew I was capable of, and it is the kind of strength that only a woman (those of us who are lucky enough to bare children) can ever truly know.
2. IT REMINDS ME THAT I’M POWERFUL.
To feel a life growing inside you is to feel the true force of nature. We are not in charge. Nature is. If you’ve ever been in the ocean, you have felt this same truth as the waves washed over your body and you tried to either resist or to go with the flow of the current. Just like the ocean, to carry life and to give birth to it is incredibly powerful. Not just metaphorically, but also physically: to experience the forceful power of the contractions that inevitably open your body up and push the baby out of your body, well, that is true power.
3. IT REMINDS ME THAT TRUE BEAUTY LIES WITHIN.
Though my tummy and body don’t look the same, my heart is still the same. And it’s really pretty! Besides, nobody greets you and measures your stomach or asks you to weigh in (unless you’re at weight watchers, in which case, that’s kind of par for the course). They measure the content of your character. Their soul scans yours and decides if you are good or not, and my soul has surely gotten brighter…and gooder too.
4. IT REMINDS ME THAT I CREATED A LIFE.
There isn’t a single day that passes where I don’t look at Madison (my daughter) and marvel at the fact that she grew from and came out of my body. It’s just…wow.
5. IT REMINDS ME TO BE GRATEFUL.
Grateful because half of the human race doesn’t get to experience this (men), and further still, not all women get to experience it for a variety of reasons. And further to that, some that do don’t survive the labor process. Childbirth is incredibly humbling and dangerous (every rose has a thorn, right?), and for every woman who gets to experience both it and the joys of being a mother that follow, well, it is truly an honor, one that I will be grateful for as long as I live and breathe.
6. IT REMINDS ME THAT NOTHING IS PERMANENT.
Life is an ebb and flow. Just like Madison was never meant to stay inside me, and my body changed as she grew, this postpartum piece is just another phase that my body is going through. There are more to come, and thanks to this experience, I feel prepared to meet and greet them with a healthy attitude (of gratitude).
7. IT REMINDS ME TO BE FLEXIBLE.
If nothing is permanent, then it wouldn’t serve me to try to hold onto anything. Perhaps the greatest gift of being human is our ability to adapt, to be flexible. Childbirth and the postpartum recovery have helped me to see this even more clearly.
8. IT REMINDS ME THAT EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
So let me get this straight. You’re telling me that a head measuring 12-15 inches in circumference is going to come out of a hole measuring a half an inch in circumference, or (in other cases) that said being will be cut out of the abdomen, and both parties will survive to tell the tale? Apparently, yes. Indeed, it’s the only way any of us are sitting here today. If that doesn’t defy the laws of what’s possible, I don’t know what does.
So whether you’re a mom or you’re going through menopause or you’ve ever read a magazine that made you feel like you had to be something other than you are in order to love and be loved, this is for you. Let every mark on your body be a reminder that you have had the privilege of living a full life. And let that feeling of a life fully lived be your new sexy.
Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.
With love, and a little help from my friend, Dr Seuss,
February 19th, I celebrated a very important birthday.
No, it’s not the day I was born (that was June 5th about a million years ago, so mark your calendars. I like peonies. And pretty things.). It’s not the day I gave up chocolate (ha, ya right, like that would ever happen!). It’s not the day I became an American citizen either.
February 19th was the day my daughter, Madison, turned one, marking 365 days of life on the outside of my belly. The day came with a yearly tally of well over 300 sleepless nights, 3000+ diapers changes, 5000+ moments of I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-I’m-doing and am-I-really-cut-out-for-this? Countless short naps I wished had lasted longer, not as many long naps that had me wondering if she was still breathing, and a year filled with firsts I never thought I’d ever care about (first smiles, first giggles, first kisses, first crawls, first everything’s).
And though technically, yes, February 19th was Madison’s first birthday, it was also a birthday for me, for it marked the day that a new mother was born.
In a sense, on that day a year and 3 days ago, Madison and I were both wet behind the ears. I had birthed her into the world, and she had birthed me into a new role. I was struck by a lot of things as a new mother. Everything changed in an instant: my body, my marriage, my social life, my relationship with myself.
But what struck me most was how much my life would change on a micro level. I was used to being able to do what I wanted when I wanted to do it. Not things like go to the movies or meet friends for dinner (which I kind of expected would change), but simpler things like going to the bathroom when I needed to, making myself food when I was hungry, and even something as simple as showering. I didn’t know how this new little being “worked,” so if I had managed to get her to fall asleep while draped across my lap and I had to pee, well, my bladder would suffer. Because I wasn’t about to risk going to the bathroom, waking this little nugget up, and suffering through the screams that would inevitably follow.
Everyone told me it would get easier. I wanted to believe them. But in the beginning, in those first few days, weeks and I dare say even months, I didn’t believe them.
This was hard. Much harder than I had ever imagined. There were too many moments to count when I thought there was no way I was cut out for this. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t meant to be a mother. Usually those moments were either at 3am after the third or fourth wake up of the night, or else during another screaming fest when I couldn’t figure out why Madison was crying despite having tried everything I could think of to soothe her.
But everyone was right. Somewhere along the way (around four months in), it did start to get easier. My heart softened – not to Madison (it was already softened to her), but to myself. My insecurities about my parenting skills began to fade into the background, and the knowing mother in me began to break through to the foreground. Soon, Madison and I found a rhythm, and the clouds parted.
And now here we are, a year in. And every day, my cup runneth over. My heart bursts with love for this little being whose curiosity and energy feeds me, whose smile makes up for my exhaustion, whose fingers wrapped around mine always seem to right everything in the world.
And though my once flat stomach is still soft, I didn’t recover the way and as fast as I thought I would, and I didn’t take to being a mother as naturally and as quickly as I expected I should, I wouldn’t trade this life or this role in for anything.
Madison has been my greatest teacher, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Among the many lessons she has bestowed upon me, what I have learned overall is this:
Raising a child is a lot like life. It’s not always sunny skies. And sometimes they are downright angry with torrential downpours, deafening thunder, and flashes of lightning that make your heart skip a beat. But the clouds always part, and whether sunny or grey, the beauty is always there. Life is always a gift. It’s just not always smiling.
As I was reflected upon the last year of my life, I found my journals from the first few months after Madison was born. As a writer, I remember one of the hardest things about my new life as a mother was not being able to write when the mood struck (and if you’re a writer, than you understand that when you have a thought, you must must get it down on paper before it falls out of your head forever).
I ended up keeping a pen and paper close by me no matter where I was, and even in the pitch black with baby sleeping soundly on my chest, if a thought struck, I would write it down blindly, hoping that what I had written would be legible – at least to me – in the morning.
What I compiled over those first three or four months was a list of all the ways parenting was a lot like life.
I forgot about the scribbles of notes that were scattered around the house in different journals, papers and notepads, and I may have even misplaced some of them (actually, I almost certainly did), but I found most of them.
And on this day, three days after Madison’s first birthday, I figured it would be the perfect time to share them with you. You don’t have to be a parent to appreciate them, so kick back, relax, and enjoy the read.
LESSON #1: YOU’RE NOT IN CONTROL.
Just kidding (though not really).
Control is an illusion. At no time has that been more clear to me than when I’ve followed all of the “rules” in some parenting book and still didn’t get the results I was looking for. The only thing you can ever control is your reactions to what life puts in front of you. That’s it. Babies put that rule front and center (it’s like that line in Eat Pray Love – having a baby is like having a tattoo on your face. You’d better know it’s what you want before you get it. So. True.)
LESSON #75: YOU WON’T ALWAYS GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.
You may not even get it right the second, third, and fourth time. It doesn’t mean you’re useless. It doesn’t make you stupid. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Keep at it, because somewhere along the way, everything will fall into place.
LESSON #3: TRUST THE PROCESS.
Just when I thought Madison would never ever take to a nap schedule or adjust to sleeping at night, she would miraculously do it. There is a process at play, one that you’re not always privy to. Trust that, and then leave the rest to God/Life.
LESSON #47: BE PRESENT.
Infants demand your attention. Your full attention. They don’t care if you have to work, respond to a text, or watch your favorite show. The beauty in that is that you get to enjoy every fiber of every moment. And it’s quite an amazing experience. We only get these moments once. I’m so grateful that Madison has taught me to slow down and appreciate them fully.
LESSON #101: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
If you don’t take care of yourself, everything falls apart. That’s why they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping another on an airplane. With babies in particular, they feel everything you feel. So if you’re stressed, they’re stressed. The same is true with life. Ever notice how when you’re in a bad mood, the universe rises to meet you, and everything seems to fall apart? The same holds true for when you’re in a good mood. So take care of yourself lest you and the world around you falls apart!
LESSON #302: YOU WILL GET SHAT AND SPAT UP ON (AKA GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE).
Babies do that. Life does that too. Best you can do is clean up the mess, change your clothes, and go on about your business.
LESSON #17: TRUST YOURSELF.
You’re a lot smarter than you think you are. If you have an instinct that tells you to act a certain way, don’t question it. Just do it. You’re probably right.
LESSON #22: DON’T RUSH.
It’s a fruitless exercise, and it’s not fun for anyone. And in particular with babies, they can’t rush. They live in the moment, and they take the time they need to do what they do (eat, sleep, poop, cry, etc.). Try to rush them and they will crush you, just like life.
LESSON #45: BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF.
Motherhood – and life – is tough enough as it is. If you lose patience with yourself, it just makes everything harder. So don’t do that. Be kind. There is a kindness deficit in the world. Do your part: be kind to yourself. To thine own self be true.
LESSON #1A: JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU’VE GOT IT ALL FIGURED OUT, EVERYTHING CHANGES.
This is the rule of thumb with babies. Just when you’ve got a nap routine and nighttime sleep schedule in place, they have a growth spurt and everything you worked so hard to do is thrown out the window. You feel like you’re back to square one. But you aren’t. Like life, it’s just a setback. All is not lost forever. It’s only lost for the duration of that growth spurt! Haha.
LESSON #44: CRY.
Sometimes you’re going to cry right alongside your screaming baby (or life). That’s cool. In fact, that’s great. Because apparently, when you cry, you release stress hormones in your tears, which ultimately makes you feel better. So go ahead. Cry your eyes out. It’s your life and you can cry if you want to.
LESSON #78: IT’S OK TO BE ANNOYED, ANGRY, FEARFUL, INSERT-EMOTION-HERE.
I don’t know about you, but a lot of the time I feel like I have to appear to and actually have it all together. Being a new mom, everyone asks if you are madly in love, etc. Well, the truth is, yes, I’m in love. I would do anything for Madison. But I also get annoyed with her when she won’t sleep when I want her to, when she fusses and I have no idea why, and even when she’s just being her and I just wish I could have some uninterrupted period of time, determined by me, not her. Most days I have no clue what I’m doing and I’m scared. Then I think, wow, this is forever. My life as I knew it will never be the same again. Mostly, this terrifies me. And it makes me feel selfish or like a terrible person for even thinking it. I wanted this, didn’t I? And I got what I wanted. A beautiful, healthy child. But with my hormones all over the place, sleep deprivation, trying to heal from the labor, and all the while trying to play my new role as a mom, well, I suppose it’s natural to feel overwhelmed, annoyed, scared, emotional and all sorts of other feels. And it’s ok. It’s life. This is a passing phase. Just like we will never ever get today back. Ever. It’s now 30 seconds closer to over than it was 30 seconds ago. This period of Madison’s life (aka getting to know each other, sleepless nights, etc) will one day – soon – be over. And I may long for these days (especially when she starts crawling, walking, talking, driving and dating, and oh ya, talking back to me.). But in the meantime, I shouldn’t deny my feelings. I can still love her and be annoyed.
And such is life. Sometimes it will just be downright challenging. And it’s perfectly fine to feel annoyed, angry and scared. Give yourself a break, and always remember that no phase – good, bad or otherwise – lasts. This too shall pass. Allow yourself to feel, try to find some silver in the lining, and all will be well sooner or later.
LESSON #17: BE ADAPTABLE.
LESSON #202: BE GRATEFUL FOR THE SMALL VICTORIES.
Because it’s the little things, after all!
LESSON #55: YOU HAVE TO MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF EVEN WHEN IT FEELS LIKE EVERYTHING’S FALLING APART.
I know I kind of said this already, but it begs repeating. Life is sometimes going to throw you some curve balls that can feel like the equivalent of a baby crying at full force with no indication of why or when it will stop. You have to rise above the heart wrenching cries, remind yourself that this will pass, and make sure to carve out time for yourself in the midst of the chaos. It’s always going to be chaotic, so there is no time like the present to take a break from the noise and do something that lights you up. This energizes you to be able to handle the chaos once you go back to it.
LESSON #2000: STAY THE COURSE.
I spent four months trying to get Madison on a nap and bedtime schedule. Half the time I swore it wasn’t working. But at four months, she started sleeping through the night. And she’s been doing it ever since. So stay the course. It may not seem to be working, but one day, your hard work will pay off.
LESSON #2000A: BE CONSISTENT.
To stay the course, you must be consistent. I put Madison to bed at the same time every day until she caught on. Life is the same. Whether you’re training for a marathon or learning a new skill, it takes consistency and dedication, but soon you begin to see the results you set out to accomplish.
LESSON #104: LISTEN TO YOUR INTUITION. IT’S SMARTER THAN YOUR THINKING BRAIN.
LESSON #108: BE EFFICIENT WITH YOUR TIME (AKA NO MORE DILLY DALLYING).
Having a baby – a newborn specifically – means that now you all of a sudden can only get things done in short bursts of time. And you never know how long that time might be. What will you choose to do if you only have 30 minutes? Having an infant helps bring your priorities into the foreground. But really and truly, I should have been prioritizing my time like this a long time ago. I’m amazed by what I can do in 10 minutes now!
LESSON #3000: TAKE THREE DEEP BREATHS BEFORE APPROACHING ANY SITUATION.
I read this piece of advice in one of my baby books. As a mother herself, the author identifies with exhausted, sleep deprived mamas. She urges moms that when baby is crying, if you’re feeling angry, sad or frustrated, before going to the baby, take three deep breaths. This calms down your nervous system on a cellular level. The baby can feel everything you’re feeling, so the calmer you are, not only the less likely you are to get frustrated with your baby, but also the more likely you are to calm baby down. Babies feel everything you feel. So a calm mama almost always equals a calm baby.
I’ve applied this principle to any challenging situations in life, and it has made such a difference. Never again will I underestimate the power of breath.
LESSON #500: DON’T OVERREACT (OR REACT) TO EVERY SINGLE LITTLE CRY/BUMP IN THE ROAD.
Babies cry. It’s what they do. It’s their only means of communication next to body language. So if you react immediately to every whimper, noise or cry, you may end up missing cues, perhaps thinking she needs to be picked up when really she was just letting out some gas and was content to continue sleeping after she got it out (which now she can’t do because you went and woke her up). You may shove a boob in her mouth when really she was just overtired and needed help going to sleep.
Life is like that. Sometimes it whimpers, grunts or cries, and if we react too quickly without first collecting the right information, we create problems that didn’t exist.
LESSON #79: BE PREPARED TO STAND YOUR GROUND AND STAY CONFIDENT IN THE FACE OF ALL THE ADVICE COMING AT YOU.
This book says co sleep. This one says no way. This book says you can sleep train a baby as soon as they come home from the hospital. This one says you can’t do anything until 8 weeks. If you don’t choose a method and go forward with it, and instead stay confused, you pass that confusion onto your baby.
Same with life. Don’t send mixed messages. Pick a method/philosophy and stay true to it. Sure, be flexible and adjust wherever and whenever necessary (babies with different temperaments don’t all respond to things the same way), but know what your main method is and be consistent and confident in your choice.
LESSON #62: BELIEVE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE.
The fact that we create humans and give birth to them out of our, well, you know….is absolutely miraculous. Then the fact that we can feed them with milk we make from our own bodies blows my mind. Having a baby forces you to believe in the impossible. Life is full of impossibilities that become reality. Never lose faith. Miracles are around us every day.
LESSON #18: YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS GOING TO GET YOUR WAY.
Like to sleep? Be prepared. When you become a parent, at least for the first two to six months, your little nugget decides when you sleep – and when you don’t. And those sixteen hours that most newborns sleep in a day? They certainly don’t happen straight through the night. Same goes for eating and drinking, going to the bathroom, etc. It’s just not going to happen whenever you feel like it.
All of this is only temporary, of course, but it’s a good lesson in surrender and checking your ego at the door. Life isn’t always going to be convenient. You may lose your job unexpectedly after just having put a down payment on a house. You may get broken up with when you thought things were going great. Whatever the case, it’s important to surrender, breathe and readjust. Don’t fight a battle you won’t win. Use your energy instead to accept, course correct, and make a new plan (or not).
LESSON #23: BE DELIBERATE WITH YOUR TIME.
I sort of said this already, but it begs repeating.
LESSON #27: YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DO THINGS YOU’D RATHER NOT DO (AND AT THE MOST INCONVENIENT TIMES).
Diaper changes at 2am. Feeding on sore nipples for two to three hours straight from midnight to 3am. Missed appointments on account of a screaming baby you have to pull over three times to feed and soothe, etc. Staying home when you’ve been invited out to a fancy dinner. It comes with the territory on this quest to raise a healthy human. It’s just like life. Sometimes you have to do things you’d rather not do in the quest to fulfill a goal. It’s part of the game.
LESSON #29: WHAT YOU RESIST, PERSISTS.
LESSON #37: SOMETIMES IT NOT GOING TO BE ALL ABOUT YOU.
You have to learn how to take care of your own needs while simultaneously putting someone else’s needs first. That happens in life too. Sometimes, you need to put aside your own feelings and desires in order to be a good friend, a good daughter/son, or a good employee. Sometimes.
LESSON #49: IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY, TRY AGAIN.
And again. And again…
LESSON #52: THERE IS ALWAYS A SILVER LINING/TENDER MOMENT TO BE FOUND IN THE FOG.
Like Madison’s cute little feet while she’s feeding, her soft head, her cute little facial expressions, the way her body crumbles and her mouth falls open when she falls asleep on me. The next time you find yourself frustrated, open your eyes, look around, and find the sparkle in the dust. I promise you, it’s there.
LESSON #99: THE GREATEST TEACHERS SOMETIMES COME IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED (AND IN THIS CASE, SMALLEST) PACKAGES.
Madison is here to teach me. I am her first student, and I am mostly a willing participant (except when it’s 4:30am and I haven’t slept since 12:30am and at that, I only slept 1 hour before that). Look at your life to see where your teachers are/have been. In a stranger who may have been mean/nice to you? An old relationship? A family member? A random trip to the grocery store?
LESSON #117: TRY NOT TO GET STUCK IN A MOMENT YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF.
(Like at 4am when the crying won’t stop and you want to pass out and you love your child but you are really, really frustrated).
LESSON #121: SOMETIMES THERE WILL BE ITCHES YOU JUST CAN’T SCRATCH.
Like going to the bathroom, or literally itching your forehead but you can’t because your child has your hands pinned down. These moments teach you about delayed gratification in the most raw form. Thanks, daughter. Thanks.
LESSON #56: DON’T FORGET TO SAY THANK YOU (EVEN IF YOU’RE IN A BAD MOOD).
Or really, really tired.
LESSON #78: SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO WALK AWAY.
Like when I’ve tried to put Madison down for an entire hour but she wouldn’t stop screaming. I ended up having to tap Ted. I handed her to him, went into the bathroom, cried for fifteen minutes, and felt much, much better when I came back!
LESSON #69: YOU WON’T ALWAYS (AND IN FACT WILL RARELY) KNOW WHAT TO DO. IT’S ALL TRIAL AND ERROR.
Babies – like life – don’t come with an instruction manual. Get used to it, and blaze your own trail. Indeed, it’s the only way we’ve done it since the dawn of time. So I’m thinking we’ll be alright.
LESSON #80: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP.
Seriously. I’ve had like…two of them in the last year, and they were glorious!
LESSON #83: REMEMBER THAT EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY.
Nothing in this life – good or bad – ever stays the same. As Ben Harper says, time takes our tomorrows and turns them into yesterdays (and I would add faster than you can imagine). Of course, we often don’t apply that insight to good times too, but the same rule holds true. It’s just that it feels like time slows down for the “bad” times and speeds up for the “good” ones. But the next time you find yourself in a situation that has you down in the dumps, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this too shall pass.
LESSON #199: ASK FOR HELP.
This has two parts. First, when people offer to help you, let them. And second, even when people don’t, ask your tribe for their help. I know you will find that they will be willing – and even honored – to do so.
No person is an island. You can’t do it all yourself. Well, you can, but it won’t be fun, and there is no prize at the end for doing it (except for grey hairs, a frayed temper, and some extra wrinkles)! When Madison was just over a month old, Ted went away for two days. I was alone for basically 10 hours (which was terrifying). I asked my sweet friend, Diana, to come over and stay the night (on the couch, I might add) so that I didn’t have to be alone. I needed the moral support. Sure, I could have done it alone. But it felt so much better having her here. Just knowing she was downstairs made all the difference in the world.
LESSON #28: JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU’VE REACHED YOUR BREAKING POINT AND YOU DON’T THINK YOU CAN TAKE ANYMORE, THINGS GET WORSE AND YOU HAVE TO DIG DEEPER. AND YOU DO.
So you realize you can. You can handle a lot more than you think you can. That’s pretty awesome.
LESSON #237: SOMETIMES YOU JUST NEED A HUG.
There are many lessons to come, I know. As Madison gets more and more mobile, vocal and demanding, I know my patience and life skills will be put to the test. But she has given me the confidence in my abilities over the course of this first year of her life, and for that, I will never be able to thank her enough.
Bring on year two, Madison. I can handle it.
I love you.
I wrote this post at nine weeks postpartum after delivering my sweet baby girl. I am now twelve and a half weeks postpartum, and am still a work in progress. Everything I wrote here still rings true. This post is for any woman who not only has ever given birth, but also, for every woman who has ever struggled with loving her body, no matter her weight and size. May it serve as a helpful guide for you to love your body, as it is, right now. May it also serve as a reminder of just how beautiful and miraculous you are (because guess what: you are).
I talk a lot about the art of surrender. Heck, I even meditate for twenty minutes a day while repeating the Sanskrit word for it (swaha) over and over again. The. Entire. Time. Before my daughter was born, I used to meditate before starting my day. Now that Madison is here, I sit on the floor of her nursery during her first morning nap and meditate right in front of her crib.
Swaha, swaha, swaha, swaha!
More deep breaths.
Does my mind wander a few (or a thousand) times? Of course it does. But I always come right back to the word and get re-centered, if only for a few minutes before my mind starts to wander again (did I turn off the oven? I should really make those black beans for dinner tonight. Oh shoot – is she waking up already? Noooo! No…no…she’s not. Ok. Phew. Shit. Focus, Lauren. Focus….swaha…).
Despite my (self proclaimed) valiant attempts to remind myself to surrender every day, there is something you should know:
I suck at it. Yup. I said it. I suck at surrendering. I’m a work in progress, at best. I have enough awareness to know that I need to do it, because I believe it is the ultimate path to peace. But the truth is, though I talk the talk, most days, I don’t actually walk the walk.
I know. I’m a fraud. A criminal, even. Well, at least, I feel like one. How can I preach what I have such a hard time practicing?
Well, for starters, I have to remember that I’m only human, and I have to forgive myself for that. In this my human experience, I have learned that I am never perfect, nor can I ever expect to be (though not for lack of trying). All I can proactively do is commit to being aware of both my strengths and my weaknesses, and vow to always work on them – not allowing them to hold me back – as long as I shall live (which, universe willing, is until at least a hundred and ten).
Giving birth to Madison, as you know if you read my labor story, was quite the experience (whose isn’t?). Once it was over, all the pain of the previous 81 hours was replaced with awe and undying love with one look at her sweet face. She served as a reminder (and does to this day) of what all that pain was for: more love than I could have ever imagined.
But though the pain is but a distant and fading memory, the marks the pregnancy and the labor left on my body are anything but.
You know those women who tell you, “I was wearing my skinny jeans a week after my daughter was born!”?
Yeah. I’m not one of those women (though of course I had high hopes that I would be). And if you are one of those women, all the power to you!
As for me, at almost nine weeks postpartum, on top of having some tearing (ouch) and some stretch marks, I still have a big ol’ belly. My skinny jeans are still tucked away on a shelf too high for me to reach without standing on a chair. And there are no signs of me getting that chair anytime soon.
I still look five months pregnant. And though I’m trying to surrender to the healing process, I cannot say that I am happy about my belly (or my stretch marks, for that matter).
Naturally, I torture myself by looking at pictures of my friends on FaceBook (aka the devil). I look too long at the images of friends who had babies either around the same time I did, or even on the same day. I see their flat tummies (actually, I obsess over them, if we’re being accurate), look down at mine, and get jealous. Frustrated. Discouraged.
The nasty little voice in my head comes on strong:
What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t my stomach going down? Why do I still look five months pregnant? What am I doing wrong? I am disgusting.
Don’t hate me for saying this, but my tummy was never my problem area. I always had a flat stomach. It was (and still is) my butt and thighs where I held extra weight. But now, it’s my butt, my thighs and my tummy (and incidentally, my back and my sides as well, not to mention my once normal but now giant porn star boobs). I also have a moderately bad case of diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) working against me which further lends itself to my new mummy tummy (basically your guts stick out because your ab muscles aren’t holding them in).
But even knowing that, I won’t seem to give myself a break. I look at my tummy in the mirror and I try to suck it in. I get disgusted by it, I’m ashamed to say. Where I used to look at my pregnant tummy and marvel at the miracle of life growing inside me, now I look at my jiggly tummy, and knowing there is no longer a human growing inside it, I feel a sense of loss for the body I once had. It’s so vain. But it’s my truth right now, so – in the words of Dr. Seuss: that’s why I’m bothering telling you so.
Why can’t I just give in? Surrender? Be grateful for the way my body showed up for me to bring this beautiful being into the world rather than hate my body for not going back to the way I want it to look before it’s clearly ready to do it?
Throughout these last few weeks of terrorizing myself with all of these thoughts and questions, I was reminded of something sad: this body hatred is not exclusive to postpartum moms. This phenomenon of body hate is rampant for all women who’ve ever looked at a fashion magazine and been told what their bodies “should” look like. I definitely had qualms with my body before I ever got pregnant! In my experience, women aren’t taught to love our bodies at any size, at least, not in the media (no matter how many Dove campaign commercials you might watch, which – in my opinion – will never be enough).
Why can’t I look at my bulging belly and think, “Wow! Thanks for the miracle of life, body!”
Why can’t I look at my stretch marks and think, “Wow! I can’t believe you stretched so wide to make room for my beautiful daughter, tummy!”
Why can’t I look at my butt and thighs and think, “Wow! You’re holding onto fat so you have enough nutrients to feed my daughter. Thanks, body! You’re so smart! I love these new love handles! I’ll fit back into my favorite J Crew pants some time in the future. No. Big. Deal.”
Because I spend too much time on FaceBook, that’s why.
Just kidding. Well, not entirely.
Whether it’s FaceBook or the fact that Heidi Klum was back modeling underwear at 8 weeks postpartum (seriously?), I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m not asking myself those very wise questions I mentioned above. Instead, I’m asking stupid questions that fill me with anxiety and frustration. And I’m not being very nice to or patient with myself.
Whenever I’ve had weight concerns in the past (which I realize now is just so silly), it was easy to fix: eat healthy, exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, and drink lots of water. Easy. Peasy.
Well, things change when you’ve just had a baby, at least, for some of us. And for some women who haven’t had babies, those “fail safe” techniques don’t work for them either: sometimes you just can’t lose the weight. And the truth is that sometimes you may not be meant to. At least, not in that point in time. But one thing is for sure: we are not all meant to be size 0’s. We come in all different shapes and sizes, and we should celebrate that rather than try to change it and wish we were different.
In my postpartum case, where I would normally watch what I eat and exercise to promote healthy weight loss, unfortunately, I can’t really do either right now. As a breastfeeding mom, I need to make sure I’m taking in enough calories to keep up my supply and make sure the milk is nutrient dense. Besides, because I’m burning so many extra calories breastfeeding, I’m never full. I’m quite literally always hungry, so I couldn’t diet even if I wanted to. That said, I don’t eat badly. I basically only eat protein shakes (without fruit), salads, veggies, quinoa, beans and other legumes, and the odd scoop of coconut bliss ice cream on special occasions. So food isn’t my problem.
As for fitness, I had some pretty major trauma down there, so I still haven’t been given the green light to get back to my regular exercise regimen. I also have diastasis recti (as I mentioned earlier), so I’m not allowed to do any regular core work. Not even yoga. *Hmph*
I’m allowed to walk. That’s it. So I walk as often as Madison will allow me to before meltdown ensues and I have to rush home with her wailing protests from the stroller. I also keep weights and resistance bands around the house so I can get a few bicep and tricep curls in here and there throughout the day.
But as a new mom, just getting a walk in or a bicep curl here and there is a challenge. Oftentimes I have to give up something else (a meal, a shower, a pee break) in order to exercise or eat at proper meal.
Sorry, I’m ranting. But I’m clearly not raving.
But I know this much is true:
I need to give myself a freakin’ break. I know that. But I also know it’s hard. Bearing a child forces you to face so many inner demons, and it’s really hard to talk about them. It’s hard to admit that you feel them – I certainly feel ashamed for saying them out loud.
But you know me. I’m always honest. And if any other moms out there are feeling the same way, I’d like to create a safe space for which to acknowledge how you’re feeling. Because as I’ve learned, just because I’m mourning the body I used to have, it doesn’t mean I love my daughter any less. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it again (because I would in a heartbeat). It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful to have been able to get pregnant and have a healthy child.
But just because I’m grateful doesn’t mean I’m not human. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel. And though I’m typically positive, sometimes us optimistic people get down too. We get overwhelmed. We wish things were different. Right now. Not in twelve weeks. Not in a year. Not when our body decides it’s ready to drop the weight or heal the diastasis or whatever.
But since I can’t wish, hope or dream this tummy away (or the extra fat around my back, thighs and butt), and there is no amount of vitamin E in the world that will hide my stretch marks, I will just have to work on practicing what I preach:
Surrender. Trust that this too shall pass, but also, accept the new normal. My stomach may go down, sure. But it may never look the same again. And why should it? It housed a human for almost 10 months. Perhaps it has changed for the better, if only I could find the eyes to see that. I don’t just need to be ok with that: I want to be ok with that.
And as for the Heidi Klum’s of the world, just because some of my friends have been able to lose their baby belly faster than I can, in a year from now, when my tummy is flat again, will it really have ever mattered?
Of course I know the answer to that.
But just because I know the answer doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. Logically I know it’s true. I just wish I could get the message through to the little annoying voice in my head that doesn’t seem to have any quit in her.
The other day I caught myself making a goal that by my birthday (June 5), I would be back at my pre-baby weight again.
And then I thought, no, that’s not right. The extra weight I have is nourishing my daughter. Why on earth would I want to mess with her health? Sure, I want to be back at my fighting weight again. I want to feel good in my clothes again. But not until my body is ready. And not until my daughter no longer needs me to store extra fat for her nutritional needs. And if that means I have to wait a year to get there, and buy some new clothes to fit (and I dare say, flatter) my new and perhaps temporary curves, then so be it. Because what is more important is spending time with Madison, being present, and not obsessing over every little extra ounce of body fat.
So instead, I made a new goal:
By June 5, I will be ok – and even be happy with my body exactly as it is. No matter my weight. No matter the size of my jeans.
To help me in this goal, I’m going to use these 7 realistic strategies. Whether you’ve had a baby recently, or you are just having trouble loving your body right now, I’d bet my lonely skinny jeans that these tips will help you too:
1. EAT HEALTHY FOOD 90% OF THE TIME.
As long as I am eating healthy foods at least 90% of the time, I know I’m giving my body the nutrients it needs. As for the other 10% of the time, there is one rule: don’t have any remorse. Enjoy every morsel. If you’re going to be bad, what’s the point in feeling guilty about it? Have your cake and eat it too, gosh darnit!
2. BE ACTIVE EVERY DAY.
I may not be running any trail races, and I may not be exercising the way I used to, but in my opinion, as long as I am active every single day, that’s what counts. Even if it means I just have time for a quick 15 minute stroll around the neighborhood, or a few bicep or tricep curls here and there throughout the day, that is perfect.
3. ADD YOUR BODY TO YOUR GRATITUDE LIST.
After my 20 minute meditation practice every morning, I always end with a gratitude list. Among the things I am grateful for (Madison, Ted, my family and friends, my health), I always make sure to thank my body body for all that it did to get Madison here safely (not to mention creating her), and all that it’s doing now to nourish her. Not everyone is so lucky. I have to trust that at any given time, my body is doing what it needs to do in order to stay healthy. And if that means I’m 10 (or even 40) pounds heavier as a result, then so be it. Because of my body, I can walk, talk, eat, run, stretch, write and quite literally do everything I do on a daily basis. I need to give it way more credit!
This is a tough one for new moms, but sleep is hugely important not only for maintaining a healthy weight, but also for mental health. For those of you who don’t have children, or whose children are older, don’t skimp on sleep. Aim for 8 hours a night, if you can. Your body goes through important rejuvenation processes while at rest. For those of you (like me) who are either new moms or suffer from insomnia, sleep when you can. Or at least rest your eyes.
5. MEDITATE EVERY DAY.
If you have trouble sleeping (like I do during the day when I’m “supposed” to be sleeping while Madison does), meditation can actually have the same affect on you physiologically and mentally as having a nap. My suggestion? Do it in the morning for at least 20 minutes, and pick a word that resonates with you to keep you focused (like mine: swaha (surrender)). If you can’t do 20 minutes, do ten. If you can’t do ten, do five. If you can’t do five, do one. You get the picture.
6. BUY NEW CLOTHES THAT ACTUALLY FIT YOU.
Stop trying to squeeze yourself into your old clothes that don’t fit like I’ve been doing. It’s depressing. Splurge and buy yourself some clothes that actually fit so you can feel sexy when you look in the mirror (and so that you can start breathing properly again since you’re not trying to stuff yourself into your old clothes like a sausage).
7. BUY YOURSELF SOME “SEXY” PAJAMAS.
Who says feeling sexy should stop when you go to bed? Just because you’re wearing a giant nursing bra and you’re probably going to get thrown up on a few times throughout the night doesn’t mean you can’t at least start the night off feeling like the sexy woman that you are! I’m not saying you have to buy yourself some garter hoses and a low cut negligee (unless that’s your thing), but at least buy yourself some nighttime digs that make you feel yummy instead of just wearing an old t-shirt and some pajama bottoms that don’t inspire you. I just ordered this nighty and I’ve got these pajamas on my list too.
I am confident that if I follow these 7 strategies, I’m actually going to start walking past the mirror and being able to love the silhouette I see staring back at me. Not when I’m 10 pounds lighter. Right now.
Besides – sexy isn’t a fixed number. It’s a state of mind. And I’m going to do everything in my power to shift my mind over to err on the side of it.
Today, and every day, though it may be a struggle, I’m going to choose to love my body.
What will you choose today?
Love, love, love,
Your crazy new mom who’s trying to figure it all out,
Every mother has a labor story (and often, more than one). I heard at least 50 of them throughout my pregnancy, and probably a lot more before I ever even got pregnant. But I wasn’t listening. I mean, I was listening. Or rather, I was hearing the words without really listening, you know what I mean? I wasn’t really understanding the gravity of each story. It wasn’t landing. And now, after having gone through my own experience, I understand that I could never have possibly grasped the weight of each birth story until I did it myself. One thing I did know for sure, though, was that every story was different. Seriously. There were no two alike. Some were easy. Some were hard. Others were somewhere in between. Happily, though, no matter the experience, every story ended with a common sentiment: it was all worth it. As soon as baby was in their arms, the pain was forgotten, and the real adventure began.
When they placed Madison in my arms for the first time, I felt the same way. The pain of the previous 80 hours were erased just as quickly as they had come on.
Yes, I said 80 hours. Actually, it was 81 hours and 9 minutes.
But who’s counting?
Though the pain of it all magically disappeared when she came out, it was quite the story, quite the experience, quite the journey that led to the birth of my baby girl.
Hello. My name is Lauren Lobley and this is my birth story.
I went into labor on Tuesday February 16th at 1:30pm. My daughter, Madison Grace McDonald, was born at 10:39pm on Friday February 19th.
If you’re calculating that correctly, then you might realize that the last time I had a full night sleep (well, as full of a night as you can get at 9 ½ months pregnant, which isn’t full, let me tell you) was Monday February 15th, 2016.
Nine days overdue and feeling frustrated (as per my previous post), I went to an appointment with our midwife at 10:30am on Tuesday February 16th. I hadn’t been checked to see how dilated or effaced I was up to that point (I was avoiding vaginal check ups in lieu of letting nature take its course), but since I was so far past my due date and there were threats of inducing me by the following Monday, I decided to let her check. She asked me if she could “stretch” me a little if I wasn’t far along. I figured why not?
When she checked me, I was about 50% effaced and 1 centimeter dilated. So she “stretched” me a little (in case you’re wondering, it didn’t feel good). She told me to expect some slight cramping and maybe some bleeding throughout the rest of the day. She scheduled me for induction the following Monday, but she didn’t think I would make it until then.
She was right.
But she could never have predicted what the following days would have in store for us.
Ted and I drove home from that appointment and innocently went about our day. Ted drove to see a client in the Palisades, and I cozied up on the couch with my new adult coloring book (my new favorite mindless activity), coloring pencils (one cannot color without them. Duh.), and an episode of How I Met Your Mother on in the background (one of my many guilty pleasures). Not long after I sat down, I started to feel the cramping the midwife had warned me about (they feel like bad period cramps for those who are wondering). Around 1:30pm, I started to notice something:
The “cramps” were coming every 3 minutes, almost to the second. And the “cramps” were lasting 40-60 seconds each. They weren’t terribly painful, though, so I tried to just ignore them. I thought, “This can’t be it…can it?” You’re actually supposed to go to the hospital when contractions are 4 minutes apart and lasting for 60 seconds each for longer than an hour. But these couldn’t be contractions…could they?
When the “cramps” had continued in their rhythmic 3 minute pattern for another hour, I decided to call Ted.
“I don’t think this is it, but I think I’m having contractions. They don’t hurt that much, though. And everyone says that if you’re in labor, you’ll know,” I said to him on the phone.
“Do you want me to come home?” he asked me with a mixture of excitement and concern.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said with a small amount of certainty (and a lot of denial), “I will just call Romy (our doula) and see what she says, but I’m sure it’s fine.”
I hung up with Ted and called Romy.
“It sounds like things are starting, Lauren. Yay!” she said, “Do you want me to come over?” she asked.
“No,” I told her, “I’ll be ok!”
She said ok, but told me her schedule was cleared and wanted me to keep her updated. She told me to just relax and breath.
An hour later, nothing had changed, though the “cramps” were getting more intense, to the point where I couldn’t really speak during them.
“I’m coming home,” Ted said when I called him with the update. Apparently he had approached a group of moms at Starbucks in the Palisades and described my symptoms to them.
“Where is your wife?” they asked.
“At home,” he told them.
“You need to go home then,” they said urgently, “your wife is in labor!”
“Dude! We’re having a baby!” Ted shouted into the phone to me as he got in his car to drive home.
By 7:30pm, each contraction (I finally believed it at that point) was still coming every 3 minutes, and they were quite literally taking me to my knees. That’s when Romy arrived. By 9:30pm, she suggested we go to the hospital.
They put me in a triage room and checked me.
“You’re about 3 centimeters dilated and 70% effaced,” the nurse said, “So we will admit you.”
For the next 9 and ½ hours, hooked up to monitors and sporting a delightful baby blue hospital gown, I labored. Every 3 minutes, I braced myself for and breathed through a contraction. By 7am, I was exhausted (in case you weren’t sure, there was no sleeping during those contractions). Surely it was time to start pushing, no?
Unfortunately…no. To my surprise, I still hadn’t progressed since I was admitted. Not. One. Gosh. Darn. Centimeter.
Exhausted and frustrated, Romy suggested we go for a walk. Reluctantly, I agreed. During the walk around the hospital, something strange began to happen:
The contractions began to slow down.
After 30 minutes, we got back to my room. The new shift of nurses and midwives had started. The new midwife checked me. I wasn’t prepared for what she was about to tell me.
“Look, I know everyone has been telling you that you are 3 centimeters and 70% effaced, but you are actually only a centimeter dilated and maybe 50% effaced. If I were you, I would go home. Don’t come back until you are in active labor. You shouldn’t be able to walk, speak or breathe through your contractions, and they should be at least 3 minutes apart,” she said to me with so much condescension that I would have punched her had I been closer to her (and if I was more of a bad ass).
“The contractions were 3 minutes apart,” I said through an angry, sleepless haze that was quickly turning into tears.
But she was already on her way out the door, ignoring me. And just to add further insult to injury, she turned back to me and said, “And by the way, I would never let one of my patients go past 41 weeks.”
I was 41 weeks and 2 days, but my birth plan stipulated that I didn’t want to be induced unless I or the baby was in danger.
Ah, the birth plan, the birth plan. You make plans and God laughs, yes?
We’ll get to that later.
I was so tired and so upset at that point, all I could do was cry. I came to the hospital expecting to leave with a baby. And now all I was leaving with was a sour taste in my mouth from the midwife who made me feel like an idiot who may or may not have been putting my baby’s life at risk.
Completely sleep deprived, Ted and I drove home. My contractions were still slow, but not slow enough that I could sleep (and cruelly, lying down seemed to make them worse). I can’t recall how I spent the rest of that day, but by the time 8:30pm rolled around, we decided to try to sleep. We went to bed at 9:30pm. By 10:13pm, I had been up to go to the bathroom 8 times (as baby moved down, she pushed on my bladder). The contractions were getting worse again.
Rather than disturb Ted, I grabbed my pillow and tip toed downstairs. I figured one of us should catch up on sleep. There was nothing he could do anyway, and I needed him rested if this labor thing was going to go full throttle. I kept in touch with my doula all night via text, and labored alone in the living room (I figured Romy should sleep too).
By sunrise, I must have had another 100+ contractions (they were averaging 5 an hour). When Ted came out of our room at 6:30am, I broke down and cried. I was going on two nights and two days of no sleep, so as you can imagine, I was beyond emotional. It’s easy to comprehend why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
Concerned and feeling helpless, Ted called Romy. She suggested I have a bath since water acts like a natural epidural. Then she told Ted to help me sleep in between contractions. I tried that, but it was damn near impossible.
We had a non stress test previously scheduled for that afternoon, so we went to it. Baby was perfect, and I still had a lot of amniotic fluid, so all was well. From there, I went straight to see my acupuncturist (she had been treating me to help get baby down the birth canal). She told me a story about another couple who kept going in and out of labor for two weeks. Tatiana (my acupuncturist) kept having a dream that the baby wasn’t sure if there was a place for her in her parents’ lives yet, and Tatiana kept getting a vision of some kind of rock formation. The couple were super conservative, so Tatiana was reluctant to share the dream lest they think she was a wackadoo. But after 2 weeks, she decided it was time to share. To her surprise, the couple agreed that they should heed the warning signs from the dream. They proceeded to make a shrine out of rocks in their backyard, and within 2 hours, the baby was born.
Did the shrine cause the labor, or was it merely coincidence?
No one can really know for sure, but I don’t really believe in coincidences, so when Ted and I got home, we built a shrine out of the rocks from our front yard. Actually, we built 2 for good measure.
Romy came over and gave me a little massage. She told me to relax, and even have a glass of wine (funnily enough, it was national wine day). My friend, Diana, came over, and we had a glass of wine and a cupcake (because, why not?).
At 9pm, Ted drew me a bath. As I was stepping into the bath, I heard something. Ted was already looking at the source of the noise (I won’t show you those pictures, haha).
“Ted, am I leaking?” I asked him.
“Yes. Well, something is coming out!” he said.
We called Romy and asked her if it might be my water breaking.
She said it could be. Just keep watching it.
I got into the bath and things continued leaking, but ever so slowly. Not enough to be sure.
Moments later, I decided to get out of the bath. Within 30 seconds of standing up, it was like someone had turned on a faucet in me. I was gushing water (aka amniotic fluid). There was no mistaking it: my water had broken.
The water just kept coming. We called the hospital.
“How far do you live from here?” They asked.
“About 30 minutes,” Ted said.
“You need to come in right away,” they said.
Oh sure. Now you want me back? I thought to myself.
So I took my time. I showered. I washed my hair. I got dressed. All the while, I continued gushing water. We had to put a garbage bag on the seat in the car so I didn’t soak through.
By time time we got to the hospital, I was absolutely soaked. I waddled into the entrance making squishing sounds with each step. When I got to the maternity ward, the nurse was pacing the floor.
“Where have you been?” He asked.
I didn’t answer. He led me to a triage room where I sloshed my soaking wet pants and undergarments into a plastic bag and changed back into the attractive baby blue hospital gown.
They checked me, and found that I was 5 cm dilated and 100% effaced!
“We’re going to have a baby tonight!” the nurse, Krystal said.
“Be careful what you say!” I said, “This baby has fooled us once before!”
But Krystal was so sure I would be delivering on her shift that they cut me in front of all the other women who had arrived before me and gave me the best delivery room. Hardwood floors. Dim lighting. Huge bathroom. Huge room, for that matter. It was perfect.
Thankfully I liked it, because I would remain in it well through and beyond Krystal’s shift.
I labored in my fancy digs all night. By morning, baby still hadn’t arrived. The new shift of nurses and midwives eagerly checked me when they arrived, surely expecting me to be at 10 cm.
I was at 7cm.
7cm???? I labored all night and I’m still only at 7cm???
No one could believe it.
Beyond exhausted and going on 3 nights and 3 days without sleep, I continued laboring all morning. By 11am, the nurse suggested I lay on my side.
“We have to get this baby to come down, Lauren,” she said, “And laying you on your side will be the best position to help do this.”
Laying on my side had been the most painful position in which to experience a contraction up to that point, so I was reluctant. But I also wanted to see my baby soon, so I agreed.
Within a few seconds of being on my side, a contraction started. Tracking it on the monitor, it immediately escalated off the charts (literally). Ted was spooning me from behind, and I was making noises I’ve never heard come out of my mouth. The contraction lasted 20 minutes.
Yes, I said 20 minutes.
For reference, contractions aren’t supposed to last for longer than 60 seconds, 90 at most.
I was in agony. And unfortunately, just as soon as the contraction ended, before I could get up, another one came on. Just as intense, and just as long.
By the time it ended and I could finally get up, my body was in shock. I couldn’t speak in a voice louder than a whisper, and my back was now in a complete spasm literally from the top of my spine to the top of my butt and from side to side.
“Call Mel,” I said to Ted, referring to my friend and chiropractor, “See if she can come and adjust me. If she can’t, I’m going to have to have an epidural. Because even if they told me I was dilated to 10cm right now, I don’t have anything left in me to push.”
Mel was there within 30 minutes, but after 10 minutes, it was clear that the first item on my birth plan was going to have to give:
I needed to sleep if I was going to stand any chance of pushing the baby out. And at that point, the only way to sleep would be to numb the pain. I was going to need an epidural.
(Just a note to you first time expectant moms out there: make your birth plan, yes. But don’t expect any of it to go according to plan. It almost certainly won’t, and you need to be ok with that. The only thing that will go according to plan is the assurance that you will do anything it takes to get baby out safely, all the while keeping you safe at the same time).
The anesthesiologist couldn’t have been nicer, and once the drugs kicked in, I felt the first relief I had in since Tuesday morning. The nurses ordered everyone out of the room so I could sleep, and I happily drifted in and out of slumber for the next 2 hours.
By the time I woke up, it was about 4pm. The nurses and midwives shifts were soon coming to an end, and they excitedly checked me again.
I was at 8cm.
Feeling dejected again, they started talking to me about pitocin (a drug that increases contractions thus speeding up labor). I originally wanted a drug free birth, so I wasn’t too pleased with the suggestion. But they told me they needed to do something to speed this along, so I finally relented.
What happened from there was a series of events that inevitably knocked everything I had wanted in the my birth plan off the charts:
- Drugs I didn’t want (epidural, pitocin)
- Antibiotics I didn’t want (penicillin and 2 other kinds because I spiked a fever)
- Cord cutting and clamping I wanted delayed that could no longer be delayed because of the meconium in my water when it broke (which means she pooped in my womb – totally Ted’s child)
- Skin to skin contact as soon as she came out (instead she would have to be immediately transferred to the NICU team to check that she was ok because the meconium may have caused infection)
Without getting into detail, the epidural caused me to spike a fever. This is totally normal, according to Romy, but because I was in a hospital setting, the staff took this to mean that I must have a uterine infection. So they had to order a round of 2 more antibiotics, none of which I wanted. But when you’re laying on a hospital bed with your legs splayed open, and a bunch of doctors and nurses are telling you to think about the wellbeing of your daughter, you relent. Or at least, I did. Her health and safety were obviously my number one priority (next to mine).
Additionally, the epidural slowed down my contractions, so they had to continue increasing the amount of pitocin they were giving me. Originally they told me they would give me the lowest amount possible. Without telling me – by the end of it all – they had increased it to the maximum allowable amount! Yet still, nothing was working.
When it seemed like we had uncovered every rock, feeling completely exasperated, we feared that a C-section was inevitable (yet another X on my birth plan). The midwife decided to check me around 8:30pm.
I wasn’t expecting what came out of her mouth:
“Hurray! You are 10cm and 100% effaced!” she said.
“Huh?” I replied with disbelief and relief.
But wait! My excitement was soon replaced with dejection as they told me I couldn’t start pushing until I felt the urge to push.
Well, I never did, so finally at 9pm, the midwife said, “You know what? Let’s just try pushing on the next contraction.”
“No problem!” I said.
When the next contraction came, I pushed so hard I almost popped a blood vessel (Ted said he’s never seen my face so red).
“Wow!” the midwife said, “You’re strong! I think we can get things started! Let’s just wait for the antibiotics and then let’s start pushing for real!”
After some more mild confusion – and antibiotics (ugh), I finally started pushing around 9:45pm. It was like an episode of ER in my room. The NICU team was there, ready to catch the baby, the nurses from that shift – as well as from the previous shift who still couldn’t believe I hadn’t given birth yet – surrounded me, along with the midwife, her assistant, Ted, Romy, and Mel (my chiropractor) who had stayed for moral support. Thank goodness she did, because when it was time to catch baby and Ted was needed at the “business” end of things, Mel held one of my legs as I pushed baby McD out!
The pushing itself was quite hysterical. In between pushes, surrounded by about 8 people, we just chatted like we were old friends chatting over a dinner table.
“You were in P90X?” the midwife asked, “I love that program!”
“You ran Machu Picchu? I’ve always wanted to do that!”
The conversation went on like that for the entire process, to the point that I was the only one looking at the monitor to see when the next contraction came so I could push!
“Um…guys? I hate to interrupt, but I think I’m having another contraction?!” I interjected.
“Oh…yup!” said the midwife as she confirmed my suspicions, “Ok – push!”
After each push, everyone went back to their conversations! It was hilarious! And so typical of us. We may as well have all been seated around a dining room table enjoying conversations over food with good friends.
Of course, once baby’s head finally started to show, everyone really got down to business. Ted moved from holding my left leg to the business end of things. He gave me the play by play as Madison’s head started to appear. The midwife asked me if I wanted a mirror to see what was going on down there.
Some things are better left to the imagination (or not – the miracle of life would have to remain a mystery for me, thank you very much!).
After a few more pushes, at 10:39pm on that fateful Friday night, Ted’s were the first set of hands that made contact with our daughter as she eased out of the birth canal and into our hearts.
Unfortunately, she had to be whisked away by the NICU team to make sure she was OK on account of the meconium in my water. But low and behold, she got an Apgar score of 9 and then a perfect 10 (they do one score at 1 minute and another score at 5 minutes)! That’s my girl
When they finally put Madison on my chest, it was surreal, to say the least. When you’re pregnant, you understand that at the end of the journey, there will be a baby. Well, you understand it in theory. But when it actually happens – when you are no longer pregnant but actually have a human being lying on your chest, it’s quite unbelievable. Incomprehensible, even. At least, that’s how it was for me. The miracle of life will continue to fascinate me, even though I got to experience it first hand. It’s just so…unfathomable. Even now. I’m looking at my daughter, sleeping on my chest as I type this post with my one free hand, and I can’t believe I made her. I can’t believe she’s mine.
At 10:39pm on Friday February 19, as you can imagine, our lives were forever changed. There is no more Ted and Lauren – there is only Ted, Lauren and Madison. There is no more sleeping when we feel like it, eating when we’re hungry, going to the bathroom when the feeling strikes. There is only Madison.
And despite the adjustment period it took us to understand who now rules our roost (ahem…Madison), now we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is life after baby, and despite the 81 hour and 9 minute journey it took to get her here, the pain is forgotten and has been replaced with so much love, so much joy, so much fascination. And oh how sweet it is.
I am Lauren. And that was my birth story. Join me as I head into the next chapter of my life:
Your crazy friend – and new mom,
I never thought I would be able to conceive. I was told in my early twenties that it may not be possible for me, but that I would only know for sure once I started trying (not very reassuring, I know). Not feeling very optimistic about the diagnosis, I eventually convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be able to have children (it was a survival thing). When things started to get serious with me and my now husband, Ted, I felt I had an obligation to tell him about that fateful conversation with my doctor that took place almost a decade before. Like the amazing man that he is, Ted looked me in the eyes and compassionately told me that he believed if a soul was meant to come into this world, it would find a way.
Blown away by his stance on the subject (especially since I knew he wanted children), I knew right then and there that he was the one for me. I was right. But it turns out, he was right too. Our little girl is scheduled to make her way into this world in about 7 weeks time.
Despite his belief, when Ted and I started trying to conceive, I still had it in my mind that it probably wouldn’t happen. So when I got confirmation that I was pregnant (after 2 pregnancy tests and a final confirmation from the doctor), I was at a bit of a loss. I was dazed and confused, not having allowed myself even a moment’s thought about what it would be like to be pregnant, lest I never have the opportunity to experience it. At 6 weeks pregnant, I finally began to allow myself to decide how I wanted to be as a pregnant woman.
Now I’m going to admit something to you that isn’t so pretty. In fact, I cringe even writing it. But I’m nothing if not always honest with you, so here goes:
Before I got pregnant, even though I wasn’t sure it was in the cards for me, I was angry about the way it was going to alter my life. Yes, angry. My husband would always tell me that pregnancy was “no big deal” and that women have been doing it since the dawn of time. That would enrage me even more. Because pregnancy affected me, not him. I was pissed off that I was the one whose body was going to change and never be the same again. I was the one who had to think about my career, and not go after certain opportunities because “what if I get pregnant and can’t continue, or have to give it up for a while?” I was the one who was going to have to go through the trauma of birth and the recovery that came after it. I was the one who was going to have to supply the food for our child, at least for the first few months. It was all me, me, me. I was the one whose life – whose body – was going to be disrupted forever.
It sounds absolutely horrible to say it – I know – but there it is. Raw. Unfiltered. Unedited, even.
But this rant has a happy ending. Do you want to know what the biggest surprise has been for me since I’ve been pregnant?
Not only do I not feel angry, but instead, I feel exactly the opposite: I feel lucky. And perhaps even more surprisingly, I feel so guilty that Ted doesn’t get to experience this journey the way I do. He doesn’t get to feel every twist, every turn, every kick, every hiccup. He doesn’t get to bond with my little nugget the way I get to. It’s like we already have our own language. We are communicating all the time, even when I don’t say a word outside of my head. I say something and put my hands on my tummy, and she moves to let me know she heard me. I get to feel all of that, at all hours of the day. Ted only gets to feel her move when I tell him where to put his hand and when, and half the time she moves positions before he can get his hands in place in time to feel it.
And for that, I feel guilty. So guilty.
Sure, my body has changed. I have porn star boobs that started leaking white stuff (aka colostrum, or my daughter’s food for the first few days of her life) at about 25 weeks. My stomach is so big now that my boobs can rest on it like a ledge, a very nifty party trick, if I don’t say so myself. I’ve had to go through two different rounds of maternity clothes because I keep growing out of them (I ripped a hole in the crotch of my maternity jeans a few weeks ago. It was a proud moment). I keep watching the scale creep up to numbers I’ve never seen before. I can’t fit into my favorite boots anymore because my legs have grown in diameter on account of the extra fluid in my body (and maybe some cupcakes…and french fries…). My feet have gone from long and skinny to swollen and sausage-like. My baby brain is so bad that I forget people’s names before they’ve even finished telling them to me. Where I never broke wind in front of anyone before – not even my husband – I’m starting to fart loudly and in public, and dammit, it makes me giggle every time. Apparently, girls do fart (oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud)! My abs are now sitting nicely on either side of my hips, and the tearing that I feel anytime I try to turn to parallel park confirms that it will be a while before I get my nice flat tummy back (and I’m told it may never come back at all). I can’t hold my pee for longer than a few minutes and I keep hearing horror stories about incontinence after the baby is born (“You will never jump on a trampoline again.”). I haven’t seen my vagina in months (did I really just say that?), and who knows where my belly button has run off to. And Ted says he has seen my cry and heard me swear more in the last 8 months than he has in the entire 5 plus years we’ve been together (roughly translated, I have limited to no control over my emotions anymore).
As you can see, the list is long. And to someone who hasn’t been pregnant before, it probably sounds pretty scary.
But anytime I’m wallowing in my own self pity, grieving the loss of my womanly figure, that is always the time that my little girl decides to move. Whether it’s a twist or a turn or a kick, she serves as a reminder of what I’m doing all of this for, snapping me back into the present moment, assuring me that nothing else matters. And while some or all of the things I’m worried about may or may not be unfounded, one thing in my life will remain forever changed for the better: I will be a mom. Her mom. And though we haven’t officially met yet, I would happily give up any of the things I mentioned to give her life, to be her mom, and to love her for all of time.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s right to make women feel bad about their concerns about pregnancy. It’s not vain to mourn the loss of your once perky boobs. It’s not vain to worry that your vagina will never be the same again. It’s not vain to worry about stretch marks on your tummy and it’s not vain to be concerned that you may pee yourself for the rest of your life.
Just because I have happily been converted into a content pregnant woman doesn’t mean I’m not still worried about the things I was worried about before. Pregnancy has made me come face to face with my insecurities, the two biggest ones being body image and finding beauty in being vulnerable.