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

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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

 

 

 

 

To my father

Dad,

I am writing this letter to you for me. And for my son, daughter and partner.I know I will never say these things to you, and you will never read this. If I were to ever try to open myself to you like this, I don’t know that you would let me get one sentence out before you attacked…

For as long as I can remember us, there has been this tug’o’war between your will and my own. Your disapproval and criticism are the crucible in which my heart was annealed. The burn of your eye is the oldest measurement of my self worth. The sting of your words- or worse, your stony silences- are the soundtrack of my memories.

As a tree grows toward the light or away from the wind, my childhood was bent to the storms of your anger and punishments.I saw in you unconquerable strength; the power to shape the world to your will.  I became so twisted that all I could do was grow to resemble you. I spoke in anger and saw nothing but failings and insufficiencies in those around me. My words became knives and I stabbed at anyone who dared come close to me- close to my truth. I saw only weakness and it made me blind with rage.

When I’d built myself a fortress of righteous anger and blame, I challenged you- I stood chest to chest with you in the driveway of my childhood home and I dared you. I dared you to keep hurting me, hurting my mother. Burning the world down with every word I told you you were nothing and that I had grown so much greater than you. I told you I could take away your power with a gesture and I laughed as you sputtered in fury.

Jump ahead 20 years. I have worked so hard from that day to make of myself someone more whole. More human. Someone in touch with their motives who doesn’t lash out from a place of unconscious conditioning to hurt people just to feel strong. I prayed and cried and begged for a better way to find my power. I found coaching and found my voice.

And yet, I still long for you. I long for your love, your approval. I ache for a father.Despite all evidence to the contrary I hope that you will one day let go of the blackened filter through which you see all people and actually see ME. I fear you never will.

So here we are. You hurt me again today. I don’t know if you even realize there is a choice anymore. I can almost imagine what the noise inside your head must sound like. The bitter, repetitive monologue that points out the faults and failings of every person in every situation every time. The relentless disappointment in life, love and people…

I have to let you go. Loving you is like holding shards of glass in my bare hands. There is new love in my life now. Gentle, patient and forgiving. I am laying you down, Dad. You are too heavy. I don’t want to carry you anymore. Making you into the father I deserve is not possible. Wishing things were different only wastes energy and breaks my heart when the real you keeps showing up.

I am not angry. I am a little sad, but I know I am grieving a father I never had- just the idea of one. I am not building walls, I am just shutting a door. There is no malice in my heart; there is no crusade to change us. I am turning from our past and toward my future. img_0821I know this will not be a perfect process and I will find myself caught in the habit of wishing, but I will let it go again and again until it sticks.

I hope you find some peace. Your war is no longer with me.

 

 

5 Things Veterinary Medicine Has Taught Me

1. We are not all playing the same game

Some of us are moving through life to accumulate- wealth, renown, relationships, experience; these folks tend to reduce everything to that common denominator. Some of us move through life to push our boundaries; these folks like to be uncomfortable and tend to shake up the “norm” for those around them. Some of us move through life seemingly at the whims of circumstance or the decisions of others, falling “prey” to the whimsy of fate. Often these folks bemoan their lot, never fulling owning their own power.Some of us long for connection and spend all our days reaching out to fill a void inside ourselves that we feel lovers, friends, children or pets could fill. These are just a few examples.

Our motivations in this life have an undeniable way of shaping our experience of our time here, and our relationships with others on this journey.

2. You can’t force others to share your values or priorities.

As you would expect, therefore, you can not change the driving force of others you encounter. If connection is your raison d’etre, you will struggle with the boundary pushers, or the accumulators. You may find your relationships with them a challenge. You may feel like you are speaking different languages and that common ground is hard to come by. What we must realize is that these people do have values and priorities that resonate with them and to truly connect, it is the job of the evolved among us to recognize and speak to those values. Each of us has our own thought habits to overcome to allow us healthy and prosperous relationships based on mutual appreciation and non-judgment.

We may feel misunderstood, or frustrated when we try to appeal to others based on our motivators. That frustration is a foolproof indicator that we are not communicating in the ways the other person needs. This is not to say you should manipulate others feelings to get them to view things your way, but rather true communication can only occur when you are willing to occupy the other person’s thought space.

3. Sometimes the cost of doing the right thing makes the right thing impossible

In veterinary medicine, as in many areas of life, cost can be monetary, or emotional. To provide the highest quality of medical care, one must assume a sometimes not insignificant expense. And sometimes that expense is more than our financial reality can bear. We are forced to choose between paying for utilities or following the treatment recommendations for our dear furry friend. Other times, you may be asked to end the suffering of a friend although you are devastatingly, and gut-wrenchingly unprepared to do so.

Whether financial or emotional, we may find ourselves paralyzed by the “cost”.

4.  There is often more than one right thing to do

This requires the kind of thoughtful appreciation of another’s values and priorities we have already discussed. We may offer an option that we feel is medically, financially or emotionally sound only to have the other person respond with “I can’t”. It is our job as empathetic people to dig a little deeper. We need to understand the motivating factors that drive the way others think and make decisions. We need to find out what is really important to them- carefully, and compassionately- through dialogue as equals.

In veterinary medicine we must consider: Do they want to ensure a pain-free end of life? Do they need to be strict with their money and make decisions based on other outside pressures? Are they uncomfortable with invasive or extensive medical procedures and treatments? Is there another family member whose desires they are trying to anticipate?

Remember- we are not all playing the same game… We have to allow that in any given situation, there may be more than one way to proceed.

5. You can’t care more for others than you care for yourself

One of my favourite analogies is that you can not pour from an empty vessel. You can not give to others when there is nothing left inside you. Veterinary medicine, like other caring professions, can take a huge toll on it’s professionals. They are placed in constant flux between the joys of new pet ownership, and the heartbreak of goodbyes bid to elderly companions. Many times we have been on the emotional roller-coaster of life, illness, treatment and passing right alongside the pet owners we serve. This job is very personal and can leave us exhausted, angry, jaded and even seriously depressed.

You must take the time to nurture your spirit. You must feed your body with healthy foods and replenish it with quality rest and vacation. You must seek help and support to navigate the ups and downs and you must always put yourself at the top of your priorities- regardless of the outside pressures to sacrifice yourself on the alter of Caring.

 

Above all we must remember that people- all people- have a deep desire to feel loved, appreciated and valued for their differences. By extending yourself just a little, you may change someone’s experience in ways you could never predict. Be willing to embrace that responsibility. The life you change may just be your own.

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Let’s talk money

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I have been thinking a lot about my finances lately- my current reality, my options, my concerns and limitations; I know many of you are doing the same thinking.

Finances are an intensely charged and personal topic. Fear is a natural response to a feeling of loss of financial security. Many of us want to deny there is an issue. Many of us feel overwhelmed and poorly prepared to make these “grown-up” choices. Many of us just put our heads down and hope it all works out. I would hazard a guess that all of us wish we were in better shape financially.

I do not write this to be “holier than thou” or to make you feel like I am patronizing you. I am writing this because I feel like at this point in my life, having dug myself out of some pretty deep holes, I may be able to offer some insight that can help you decide where to go from here. At the very least, I hope this blog gives you a starting point to feel more in control of your financial reality and financial future.

When I first faced the fact that I was over $21,000 in debt and was sinking fast, my gut reaction was to give up, declare bankruptcy and live with the consequences to my credit and my life. It was a very attractive option and I felt like it was my only choice. How could I possibly make all those minimum payments let alone get ahead on the principles? I had already given up my car to save on gas, monthly payments, registration, insurance… what more could I do?

Before I did that though, I needed more information about what other choices I may have. I was young and new at this whole financial independence thing. What if there was an option I had not considered? So, I made an appointment with the bank. I needed someone who spoke money to assess my options with me. I had no collateral- no house (I was renting), no car, no RRSPs, no investments…nada. I figured they would just laugh at me.

But they didn’t. And that’s when my life began to change.

I took all my outstanding bills- Wells Fargo, MasterCard, Visa, a line of credit- so we could see my total obligation monthly. We sat down and saw how much I paid in all my rent and utilities and how much I earned monthly. Then we looked at how much money I lost every month to interest on those payments. In the end, I agreed to give up the MasterCard, lower the Visa limit to $1000 and do away with the line of credit. I consolidated all my debt in one personal loan. I was able to get a MUCH better interest rate (9.5% instead of 12-25% on the other bills) and only had to make one monthly payment. And that payment was about 1/2 of what I was paying out to the bills individually. AHA! I had freed up some money monthly for food and expenses so I didn’t have to use my Visa for those things anymore.

As time wore on, I also made other hard choices to improve my cash flow. I saved about $100/month by cancelling cable and my landline phone. I switched my cell phone plan. I put a moratorium on clothes spending and a serious limit on going out expenses. I won’t lie- I felt the squeeze. But I kept my eyes on the prize. Over time it got easier and I kept looking for ways to save more money. Not spending any coin and using it to start a savings account, for one. Anticipating upcoming bills like oil in my bi-weekly budget and putting money aside in advance. I also kept a very detailed bi-weekly budget for myself in my day planner. I based this budget on all my expense due dates.

As many of you know (who are on my Facebook) all this hard work paid off just this year. After nearly a decade of changing the way I think and act about money (and even freeing up enough to buy a house!), I have paid off that consolidation loan. Now I am faced with the new challenge of keeping myself to the system that worked. I feel better able to manage this new challenge after what I have learned. I have already begun taking new steps to safeguard my newfound financial freedom.

Below I am going to list all the questions I asked myself and all the information I gathered that allowed me to create a strategic budget- and stick to it! I will also include a budget worksheet based on bi-weekly pays in case you want to know what my thought process looked like. Hopefully this may help some of you feel more secure and prepared. Maybe it will give you something new you hadn’t considered. Please let me know if there is anything else I can answer about how I got here. If you just want to toss some ideas around, I would be happy to talk. I care deeply about your success and happiness and wish someone had been available for me 10 years ago to help smooth this process out and lower my stress levels!

To Prepare:

  1. What are ALL my financial responsibilities? (visa, mastercard, loan, line of credit, rent/mortgage, power, water, cable, internet, cell, home phone, car payment, car insurance, life insurance, bank fees, oil, average groceries, pet insurance, monthly vet bills for meds or food etc). Try to be as specific as possible. Where necessary look at billing history to get an average per month.
  2. What are all my sources of income? (payroll, pet sitting, nail trim business, secondary business income like Scentsy, Mary Kay, Avon, alimony, child support, GST rebates, shared rental expenses etc)
  3. When is each bill due? Get exact billing dates to determine when these bills need to be paid. This will help determine which of your two pays should cover which bills.
  4. What bills have the highest interest rates? These should be your first priority to eliminate where possible.
  5. What is my total outstanding debt in dollars? (Loan, LOC, credit cards, etc.)
  6. What luxury expenses can I reduce or eliminate to free up cash monthly to reduce my debt? (cable, internet, home phone, vehicle expenses, memberships etc.)

 

To Consider:

  1. Once you have all this information, book an appointment with a financial advisor at your bank. They will help you find lower interest rates where possible on credit cards, as well as reviewing your bank accounts to make sure you have the right account types to minimize administration fees.
  2. Consider asking for either a line of credit or personal loan to consolidate all outstanding debts on higher interest rate accounts to a lower rate and single monthly payment.
  3. Lower credit card limits and overdraft amounts- get rid of the temptation to spend money you don’t have.
  4. Reduce total number of credit products to perhaps one main credit card that maximizes your benefits like air miles, RBC points etc. and minimizes monthly fees.

 

Building your budget:

  1. Using your bill due dates, plot out which pay each bill should come from. Sometimes we overload one pay period and leave ourselves short causing us to use credit cards and overdrafts to get us through to next pay. This just increases the financial pressure to pay off those borrowed funds with the next pay.
  2. Divide your mortgage or rent into two equal parts and spread them between your two pays. This will mean a large sum is not taken all out of one pay. Either move this money to another account or save it as a minimum balance in your primary account until the rent/mortgage is due.
  3. Create a budget worksheet that has both pays and all bills due in those pay periods. This will let you see where your money HAS to go every 2 weeks and give you an actual amount of money you have available for extra expenses and entertainment.
  4. STICK TO THE BUDGET!! I know this is the boring and un-fun part. But if you have calculated this correctly, and done all the groundwork beforehand, this WILL WORK.
  5. Keep your budget bi-weekly. Add any unexpected expenses to your budget as they come up so you know how to shift your available funds where necessary.
  6. Try to budget a small amount for savings or RRSPs. This is your feel-good money. As the balance creeps up (even $10 at a time) you will see the personal benefit of your new thinking. It becomes measurable as your debt is reduced and your obligations are met.

The budget worksheet attached is an excel document with some active formulae in it. If you need help editing it to match your expenses, just let me know. I’d love to help