“Set adrift on memory bliss of you”

I sat, in the darkened bedroom of my infant daughter, with her sleeping form cradled against my body, her face nestled into my throat and gently rocked in time with her breathing- in and out. Back and forth.

The hum of the air conditioner muffled the creak of the floor under our chair, and cooled the early summer heat from the air. As my daughter sighed and shifted, my heart leaped and surged with love for her- for her innocence, her newness, her trust in my arms to keep her safe while she slept. And my mind drifted to my son. Stepson actually, but I never call him that.

I never got to hold him the way I held my daughter tonight. I never got to smell baby shampoo wafting from his head or feel his breath across my throat as he curled up to sleep. He was seven years old when we met- funny, sweet, quick and kind. He was filled with boyish independence and his eyes flashed with humour and trouble both.

I am grateful that he came into my life- and stayed these last 17 years, but the birth of my daughter made stark all that I missed of him in those first years of his life. I never got to see him discover his hands, or babble his first sounds. I missed his first crawl and his first steps and I didn’t get to teach him to read or to write his name…

As I rocked, I remembered the first Christmas we were together- how, because of him I got to be Santa for the first time. I remembered that the greatest gift he ever gave me was the year he began calling me “Mommy”. I remembered the pride I felt in his every accomplishment; the terror I felt for this small boy in such a big and unpredictable world where I could not be everywhere to protect him. I remembered laughing till our eyes streamed and our bellies hurt; I remembered when he had to say goodbye, and I remembered the glorious day he came back.

As I rose to place my daughter in her bed, I kissed her twice. Once for her in heartbreaking gratitude that she came into my life, and once for the baby my son used to be.

 

via Daily Prompt: Adrift

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Dear Everyone From My Pre-Baby Life,

I’m writing this because I’m worried about our relationships. I know that I’ve changed a lot in some ways- it was inevitable- but so much about me is the same as before. I know I’ve done some things that probably make you feel like I don’t care about us anymore, but I need you to know that is not the case at all.

I admit, I’ve done it too-distanced myself when a friend has a kid or gets into a new serious relationship and they seem to fall off the face of the planet. They break plans, or refuse to commit to them. They only want to talk about their kid, or their boyfriend and their Facebook becomes a tribute page to their new life. It gets old. Its easier and often more fun to not invite them to things; it’s easier to move your life forward and relegate them to the fringes . After all, their new life doesn’t really fit your friendship.

I never realized how I had made those choices in the past. It seemed as though they no longer wanted to be my friend. They had moved on from me into their new lives and didn’t look back. If they wanted to stay friends, they would’ve tried harder to stay the same, right?

Here I am now on the other side. I’m the one who went on maternity leave and left my friends and coworkers to hold the fort without me. I had every intention of going in to visit, to attend workplace gatherings and big events, to stay in touch with the people I considered some of my very best friends.

I am the one who always instigated gatherings with my family- the one who extended the birthday dinner invitations, organized the get- togethers around holidays. I am the one who would make the unscheduled stop for a visit on a Sunday drive…

Now my life is different. So different from what it was, that I can’t seem to find a way to bridge what is with what was. Hours seem to drag but the days are flying away from me faster than I can fathom. I find myself in a blur of baby-related things to do: moms’ groups, swimming, music class, naps, feedings, laundry, diapers, meltdowns, clingy days, growth spurts, sleep regressions… Being a mom to an infant has completely redefined my life.

But I miss you all.

I miss our easy conversations; I miss our laughs over coffee (or wine!); I miss having so much in common with you that we could finish each others’ sentences. I miss knowing what is happening in your life beyond simple Facebook updates and half stories told after the fact when we finally catch up. There are so many unanswered questions in my heart: Did it work out with him? Did you tell her what you needed to say? Did you feel better once it was finally over? Did you ever really make up after those things she said? Did he apologize? Did the job work out? Are you two still trying, or is it over?

You see, I never stopped caring about the answers. I never gave up on us. I know it is harder to be around me now. I know sometimes you don’t want a baby tagging along, or you want to stay out past my new mom bedtime. I get it. Really. And I’m not mad. I’ve done it too.

I just thought you should know, I really want to be there. I want to be able to drop everything and come running. I want to tag along and not check my watch wondering what my daughter is doing while we are out. I don’t want to break plans last minute for a runny nose, or cut a night short because I’m just. So. Tired. I don’t want to say “no” to your invitations even when I have to.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m still in here. A busier, frazzled, changed sort of me, but ME nonetheless. Please don’t forget about me, or give up on me. Keep asking me, even when I have to say no, I am so thankful you want me. Please do not take it personally when I forget to text or call for a while- I think about you every day. Please text me once and a while to see how I’m doing. This mom thing is really hard and knowing you are out there makes it easier somehow. Offer to come by- even for an hour- so I can talk to someone who can talk back! Swing by with coffee because I always need one…

Anyway, I guess I should let you go. Hopefully we will see each other again soon.

BrandyIMG_0430

 

Big Scary Steps Forward

I went on medical maternity leave about one year ago. I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and I was more and more uncomfortable every day- from lightning crotch (Google it) to shortness of breath I was ready to get this thing done. I was finally forced to admit I couldn’t work out anymore and I needed to be off my feet. A doctor’s note later and there I was. Off work. Woohoo! It was like someone gave me permission to play hookey from school. Baby wasn’t here yet, and I didn’t have to get myself up and be a productive grown up everyday. I basked in it.

Sooner than I thought, we were in the hospital being induced for a risk of blood clot. Then Baby O was in my arms and it was all a blur of breastfeeding (struggles), frequent night wakings, doctor appointments and C Section recovery. The novelty of being off work for the first time since I was 18 was eclipsed by the sheer learning curve of a new baby.

Fast forward to 9 months later and see me at my baby group week after week as moms tearfully announce this is their last day because they are heading back to work and Baby is off to daycare. I started to realize this was getting very real and I better make some serious decisions about what I was going to do. My window of leisurely ignoring the issue was rapidly closing.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I had thought about what I was going to do. A LOT. I was picturing the early mornings rousing Baby O from her slumber, hurrying her through our morning “getting ready” routine and frantically tossing food down for our cats before juggling all our daily gear out the door and through rush hour traffic to drop her at daycare and get myself to work. I imagined a hectic exit from work, more rush hour traffic, making meals, packing lunches and snacks, feeding the cats again, then falling desperately into bed only to repeat this the next day. And every day.

The days my fiance would be home would be better than the days he worked evenings or worse yet, night shifts for 12 hours each day, four days running.

Or maybe I could try to arrange part time work with my fiance and I alternating being off with Baby O in four day rotations. Would my bosses be okay with me never being in the office the same days each week? How would we arrange staff meetings? Or budget meetings? Or how would we make sure to communicate when I was out of the office four days at a time? Could I work from home? This all just seemed like more hassle for everyone.  So I was left with the question- go back to work and juggle daycare, the pets and my fiance’s 4 on 4 off shift-work schedule or leave my job and stay home with Baby O, at least for now?

I know moms and families do this dance all the time. I know that millions of families make it work… but I also know me. I am relentlessly driven to “do it all” and be “perfect”. I would place immense pressure on myself at work and home and try to do superhuman feats of time management and organization. I would not cut myself any slack and I would likely burn myself out. The toll on my relationship would be huge as he watched helplessly as I drove myself crazy. The toll on Baby O was more than I wanted to consider- a rushed and frantic start and end to every day. A mom who was frustrated and tired and too busy “doing” to really be present. Days spent experiencing milestones under the eyes of benevolent strangers. And don’t get me started on the cost! I would be sacrificing 160 hours a month with my daughter, and untold peace of mind, for what would end up being about half my monthly income after childcare and travel expenses.

It started to look like I had one option- stay home with my daughter and say goodbye to a career and friends 14 years in the making. No easy decision and certainly not one we made lightly. My fiance would have to bear the full brunt of our expenses if I gave up my job. Could we even do it? After much discussion and number crunching- and 3 overtime shifts a month- we can make this work. Now the only hiccup is coming to terms with the grief and fear around leaving my job and being financially dependent on another person for the first time since my teens.

My new coaching business helps. I can set my own hours and rates and work from home with little or no overhead expenses. I can do it by phone around my fiance’s work schedule and Olivia’s needs. I can keep our mom and baby support groups, music class and swimming trips. I can see all of Olivia’s firsts. I can make a life for my family and not lose myself in the process.

So I resigned. Even though it is the right thing for me and my family, it is one of the hardest things I have had to do. And moments after it was done I felt a rising panic and doubt and an almost crippling urge to take it all back….but I breathed deep and walked away.

I know I will have moments, hours and even whole days where I wonder if this has been the right decision. I don’t know if a truly “right” decision is possible in this situation. I just know in my heart that it was the best decision I could make for us now.IMG_0026

Sometimes my daughter cries

When I was preparing for the arrival of my daughter, I read a lot.  I mean- A LOT a lot. I had waited so long to decide to have a baby that I wanted to make sure I knew as much as I could about the prevailing logic of having, feeding, caring for and parenting a child according to the experts. Boy are there a lot of “experts”.

The tenderhearted, “never want to scar my child”, uncertain part of me was immediately drawn to breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, nurse to soothe, and NEVER let her cry it out.

I’ve written before about how the breastfeeding thing went for us. As you would expect from the reasonable place of not currently being pregnant, I can see that to expect a textbook experience was naive and set myself up for a world of stress and unnecessary self-abuse.

I quickly learned that my daughter is very fiercely her own person with her own ideas, preferences and opinions- even at only a few weeks old- that weigh on our every decision as a parent/child team in the adventure of her growing up.

Olivia started having disrupted sleep from my hubby’s snoring or my own restless sleeping. So at four months, we moved her to her crib in her own room and all of a sudden she started sleeping 11 or  12 hour stretches overnight. On the flip side, she still doesn’t sleep for more than 15-20 mins through the day unless I hold her or lay down beside her. If I try to leave, she snuggles her little bum against me as  try to roll away, looking for the comfort of my presence to find sleep again.

Baby wearing went by the wayside when I realized my daughter is A FURNACE and she gets very fussy when she gets too warm pressed against me in a harness or wrap. She prefers the stroller, and so does my back!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, she has decided- months ahead of my schedule- that she would begin to self-wean. So nurse to soothe led to cuddle to soothe, rock to soothe, or simply redirect her…. OR EVEN LET HER CRY! Many of the blogs I had read before she was born, asserted that a crying baby needs or wants something and that crying is the only way she would be able to ask, so I should always respond to the tears; try to find the clue that would lead to me solving her problems and ending the crying… I took it as my personal mission to make sure she never had to ask for relief in vain.

The more I get to know my daughter, and the better able I am to understand what it is she is asking for, the more I understand that sometimes she is just done. Overwhelmed. Tired. Annoyed. Hungry. Angry or just plain old fussy. There are some things I can do for her, but it is inevitable that there are some times when all I can do is ride it out with her; try to help her process her feelings and let her know she is loved and supported. Sometimes she is going to cry because crying is exactly what she needs to do in that moment. And that’s okay. There are times when I need a good cry and no amount of hugging, cuddling, shushing or anything else will solve that. I just need to cry it out.

I had myself in a dither of over analysis  about myself as a mother and her long-term mental health prospects until I came to this powerful and freeing conclusion. Who says tears are always bad? Who says crying will harm her self esteem or sense of trust in me? The same folks who said she would be better in my bed until she chose to leave it at 3,4, 5 years old? The people who said I needed to breastfeed exclusively for at least 12 months? Or the the experts who said a baby worn all day would develop more interest in her environment, more alert attention to faces and new things? My daughter is a person too. She is fully half of this relationship. Who she is, what she wants and how she needs to express herself are her rights. Even when what she really wants is a good cry.

 

Finding time and making time

I don’t remember what I thought being on maternity leave was going  to be like.

I think somewhere in the back of my a mind I imagined that there would be this…nothingness. No getting up for work in the morning, no hectic rush to get ready and get out the door in time to sit powerlessly in traffic as yet another accident froze the bridge absolutely still.

I vaguely remember images floating through my pregnant brain of me sitting in front of windows, in rocking chairs more often than not, with a sleeping baby drowsing in my arms or a steaming cup of coffee curled in my hands while my little one slept peacefully somewhere in the background.

However I pictured its specific details I always had a sense of TIME. Time to wake; time to eat; time to dress and times to play, cuddle, rest, walk, visit, read or even go out with my fiancé for supper… what actually being on maternity leave has taught me is that all of these things seem to happen at once most days. There is more chaotic overlap of life than I was prepared for. Hours blur by in a blink of diapers, cleaning and laughing. Minutes drag in an agony of fussiness, colic, and waiting for daddy to get home.

Always one to like to be prepared, I have found ways to get the basics of our days accomplished- I put out cereal and cutlery the night before; I line bottles up in the fridge and lay out packets of purée for lunch consumption. I scramble eggs the night before and lay out tomorrow’s clothes on the rocking chair. I’ve even begun to shave my legs and wash my hair before bed to save precious moments in the brief windows between naps and outings. I’m starting to feel like we have a “system” , my daughter and I.

Every now and again a little voice whispers in my ear that I need to find time for me things – reading, writing, studying, meditating, curling up with hubby and watching a movie. This is when I’m really put to the test. Making my pre baby interests a priority again. I actually have to put blogging and reading in my planner some days just to remind myself that I matter too. There are times when I am just too tired to carve out those minutes for myself. It is just easier to grab a snack, load up a show and check out on the couch until bedtime. Then there are nights like tonight where I can’t silence that voice until I breathe and make the time to remember who I was before my daughter was born, before this incredible new layer of my life was added. I am always gladdened and refreshed when I do.

So mamas, I get it. Days and weeks blur by and you get it all done. The early mornings, the feedings, the laundry and dishes and vacuuming and napping and moms groups and even the occasional date night… but don’t silence that little voice calling for you to feed your soul and feed your passions. She is you. She is the powerful well of love and energy from which you draw so much for your babies and your family. Remember to draw some to refresh yourself.

All dressed up…

 

I’ve never been the kind of woman men so affectionately refer to as “high maintenance”.  I do not insist on branded clothes. I will not be seen in heels and full face at the grocery store, or with acrylic nails and false eyelashes. I envy those women in many ways- so prettily prepared. So fully done. In my mind, these women exude more self-assured confidence and femininity than I possess. They are photo ready and flawlessly coiffed and accessorized.It is powerful magic they perform just to get out of their houses every day.

It is this envy and appreciation at the core of my own rituals of self-enhancement. For many years I tried to hide from family and romantic partners the lengths I went to in the private temple of my bathroom to make of this raw clay something like their sculpted perfection. I agonized over every hair, pimple, mole and ounce out of place. I plucked, shaved, scrubbed, buffed, painted, weighed and measured incessantly.

I beat back the things I hated about myself again and again- and like anything so strongly resisted they continued to show up to try to teach me their  lessons of self-appreciation, self love and acceptance.

The changes in my mind, heart and body since the birth of my daughter have made both the noise in my head, and the peace in my soul stronger by turns. I have struggled mightily to love this body and the inevitable changes wracked upon it by pregnancy. This loss of “control” over the vessel of my body has brought to bear all the mean and ugly things I have ever said about myself as well as an incredible awe and gratitude for that of which it has proven itself capable.

I step from the shower or bath and see before me in the mirror the extra pounds, the looser skin, the tired eyes. I rise from sleep stiffly and bend more cautiously to lift my daughter than I would have done before. There is a grief. A deep and quiet sadness that creeps over me sometimes as I judge this Self to be not enough- pretty enough, young enough, thin enough, “mother” enough…

It would be so easy to let those judgments define me- sometimes when I am too tired to do better, they do define me. But at my core, I know I am not the sum of all those criticisms I heap on myself. I know the voice I hear mumbling and screaming is not my Voice- not the Voice of the powerful loving expression of the divine that I know my soul to be. It is merely the sounds of the insecure animal trying to name, define, and label its world in a way it can grasp and control using the limited vocabulary and ideas it has been fed. I try to find love and patience for that scared and struggling animal at the same time I try to tame it and silence it.

So I still pluck, if somewhat more haphazardly. I try to watch what I eat, but most days I’m jest relieved when I find time between diapers and naps to feed myself at all. I look at my face in the mirror and I say to her the loving things I say to the other mamas I know-

You are strong, loving and kind.

You are patient and forgiving of others and yourself.

You are powerful, courageous and amazing.

You are beautiful.

Some days I believe me. Other days I just take it on faith that I’m no bullshitter and trust that tomorrow will be better.img_0524

 

 

 

 

Letters to my daughter

20160511_000720My Nan used to be a pretty regular letter-writer. She would send handwritten letters to Reader’s Digest about her subscription, to Publisher’s Clearinghouse about contests or about whatever oddity she had purchased from a magazine advertisement. She also wrote letters to family out of province and even sent handwritten notes along with newspaper clippings to my brother, cousins and I.

Near the end of her illness, she was lamenting the lost art of letter writing and the associated difficulties she was having getting her hands on a nice set of letter paper. She angrily growled that she had bused to a handful of card stores only to be told that they no longer carried letter sets. At the time, her legs were so swollen from the lymph fluid building up in her extremities that she would often fall or have to rest frequently. Getting to those card stores represented days’ worth of outings for her. I knew what I had to do.

In the age of Google, my Nan was a steadfast “do-it-in-person”er. I saved myself some time and looked online for a likely place. And found one. A small specialty shop downtown that I knew would have what she wanted.

I made a trip down to choose a patterned paper set for my Nan. The one I picked had 4 different patterns of paper. All were floral and one had gorgeous big strawberries on it. It came with matching envelopes in a box neatly packed. I felt connected to my Nan in a deeply personal way as the lady behind the counter slid the box into one of the shop’s branded plastic bags- I had found this small but longed-for item for her. I felt like somehow I was beating back the march of her cancer to give her this bastion of normalcy- this tool for her voice in the world.

My Nan never got to use the paper. She loved it when I gave it to her. She sat it on the bookcase she used to hold all her assortment of Kleenex, pens, crossword puzzle books and newspapers yet to be clipped.

The day my mother and I went to her apartment to go through her personal belongings, the patterned box of letter paper was sitting where she had left it. My eyes darted to it the moment I entered her crowded little livingroom. Of all the things she left behind, I took a couple rings I remember her wearing through my childhood, a few knickknacks I had given her growing up, and the box of letter paper. I had no earthly idea what I would do with it.I sent my mother a letter, just to try it out- everyone loves getting something besides a bill in the mail after all. Then the box of floral paper and matching envelopes sat forgotten in my closet in a box of my Nan’s things.

I got pregnant some time after Nan passed away. It’s one of my regrets that my daughter never got to know her Grand-Nana. Nan would have doted on her. I think she secretly always hoped I’d have a baby…

When I was as certain as a woman can be that this baby was safely growing and would make her way into this world, I went to Nan’s things in my closet and pulled out the box of letter paper. I never really realized before how youthful, sweet and innocent those patterns were until I looked at them with my daughter in mind. I would use Nan’s letter paper to introduce myself to my unborn daughter.

I began writing letters weekly to her after that. I would tell her about our doctor appointments, about my prenatal yoga classes, my last days of work, our baby shower, and her father. I wrote to her about how much I loved her already and how big she was growing. I told her when she was the size of an eggplant and when she grew finger nails. I even wrote to her from our delivery room- before the contractions made coherent thought impossible!

I have continued to write to her, although we have long since exhausted the supply of Nan’s letter paper. I look at the pile of sealed envelopes and feel a surge of love and pride. In a way, Nan will get to meet my daughter. She has become for us the opening to a lifelong conversation. I will tell my daughter how these letters started- and maybe, when she moves away or goes to college, these letters will go with her. A piece of her past before she even drew breath. A reminder of my love for her. Small snapshots of our life together before she could remember for herself. Maybe someday her daughter will be reading those letters, seeing my handwriting, learning about her mom as a baby,as a little girl and a young woman. You see, I plan on writing to my daughter for years to come- I imagine her reading these letters any time she feels lonely or homesick.

Nan gave us that. The power of words, gifted lovingly on patterned stationery.