Archive | My Son RSS feed for this section

The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Received Wasn’t Spoken

3 Mar

 

The-Best-Parenting-Advice

I remember one miserable day, that wasn’t unlike a long-string of awful days I already had with Noah. He had been crying all day long and was comforted by nothing. I was at my wit’s end and truly felt that I was losing it.

When my husband came home from class, I put Noah in the car with me, (he screamed even more frantically if he was away from me) and drove to Walgreens to buy a bottle of colic calm. (I cannot remember why I decided to go to Walgreens instead of my husband!)

Noah continued to frantically and angrily scream the entire drive. I was an emotional wreck and tried my best to focus on driving. When we arrived, I took a deep breath, stepped out of the car, wrapped Noah up in my baby carrier (yes, he was still screaming) and prepared myself for all the assumptions.

As expected, everyone in the store glared at me. What kind of trashy mom lets her kid scream like that? I could feel their judgment. The “oh poor baby” sentiment was dripping out of their eyes. The silent thoughts about what kind of terrible mom I must be for having a baby cry like that felt palpable to me.

227466_10150172867152637_5999693_n

Keeping it real. Motherhood ain’t always about looking cute.

I was standing in line at the register, Noah was still screaming, an older woman walked up to us and said,

“Oh, poor baby.”

I was furious. I didn’t want her two-cent sympathy. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know anything about anything. I was so sick of everyone feeling like my son was the only victim of his colic. I snapped back at her and said, incredulously,

“Poor baby? Good one! How about poor mom, because that’s a little more like it!”

She took a step back and looked at me like I had a foot growing out of my forehead. (Really, at this point, it was in my mouth. Like I said, I was officially losing it.)

261450_10150227517137637_6206754_n

My mom and sister came for a vist in July. Noah was three-months old. I made things work by wearing Noah all the time.

I tried to rush out of the store and get home, but not before I was stopped again, this time by a young mom.

Noah was still crying, of course. The conversation went something like this, with us slightly yelling to be heard over my son’s screams:

“Oh, I just had to come tell you my daughter had colic too.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes, for like a week she screamed all the time. And then I did (insert unscrupulous and irrelevant advice here) and she stopped crying.”

“A whole week of colic, huh?”

“Yeah, it was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m so glad I figured out what to do. How long has your baby been colicky?”

“Well, my son has had colic for over four months now. And yes, I’ve already tried everything you’ve suggested.”

“Oh…”

“Well, as you can see, I need to get home.”

I spun on my heels and headed to my car. Feeling relieved to be away from everyone’s speculations.

262036_10150209472802637_4609371_n

Noah, 8 weeks old, with a cute grin.

You’re Not Doing Enough

I can’t tell you how many moms came to me and told me what I needed to do. Cut out dairy. Eliminate wheat. Stop eating eggs. Meditate. Put my son in orange clothing. Stop stressing. He’ll be happy if I get happy. Stop doing this. Start doing that. Stand on my head while I drink green tea from a red straw and recite Byron poetry. See a chiropractor. Get Noah craniosacral therapy. Stop breastfeeding. Breastfeed him more. Stop coddling him. Swaddle him tighter. Just let him cry. Stop bed-sharing. Have your husband hold him more. Clip his tongue tie. Give him reflux meds. Give him Chamomile tea. Get him tested for allergies. Tell me that I’m paying for my easy and beautiful birth with a difficult baby. Recommend I go see this (really expensive) doctor. Spit on a string and tie it to Noah’s forehead. Try this herb. Use this oil. Rub sage into his diaper. And my favorite: get demons cast out.

I felt like all the advice I received was rooted in this idea that if I just changed one more thing in my life, if I just did something a little better, if I just tried a little harder I would fix my son. If I would just stop being so selfish by eating cheese and eggs I would fix him (or something like that). At the time, none of their advice felt compassionate, or needed.

They didn’t know was that I was doing all of that, or had already tried it. I had exhausted myself looking for a cure and wondering what the hell I was doing wrong.

Actions, Not Advice

And then one day a good friend called me. She saw my Facebook update about how…

“I’m thankful for the calm after the storm. Last night was the worst night yet, but this morning we’re all coping just a little better, even so I could really use some TLC.”

I picked up the phone, mustered up my most energetic and happy hello, and without introduction Marissa, my doula and Mommy Moxie friend, said,

“I’m on my way. Amanda (our mutual friend) and I are picking you up and taking you to my house. Zoe can play with my kids, and we’re going to take care of Noah and you’re going to sleep all day in my room.”

At first I refused. No way was I going to let my friends have to deal with my screaming baby. Inwardly, I knew a real reason I didn’t want their help was because I felt and looked my worst, and I really didn’t want to let my friends see me like this, in shambles – pathetic and miserable. After my adamant refusal she said,

“Girl, I’ve mothered four children. I promise you, I can handle you, your messy hair, your bad breath, seeing your dirty house when I pick you up, and holding your son while he cries. Besides, having two more kids in my house will not alter the intense chaos that is always present in my home as it is. Amanda and I will be there in 20 minutes whether you so yes or not. And don’t even think about trying to look cute, because you’re just going straight to my bed to sleep.”

And that’s exactly what happened. She and Amanda arrived at my home, took one look at me and hugged me tight. They took each of my children to Marissa’s mini-van and buckled them up in their car-seats, and looked at me and said,

“Alright, let’s go.”

Marissa brought me into her home. While Amanda held my son and Zoe ran off to play with a house full of new toys and friends. Marissa tucked me into bed. Set a glass of water next to me and turned on the large box fan, pulled down the blinds, turned out the lights, and shut the door. She promised me that when Noah was hungry, or if Zoe needed me they would bring them to me, but other than that, the most important thing I needed to do was sleep.

319624_10150284507937637_546380183_n

Staying with my parents in Arkansas while Peter was in Chicago, starting his first semester of grad school and looking for a home for us to move into.

Marissa and Amanda wore Noah in his sling and they used a white noise app on their iPhones – both seemed to keep his cries at bay for a little while. It also helped that they didn’t get frazzled when he screamed because their nerves, unlike mine, were not shot to hell. They rocked him and soothed him and enjoyed my baby – even when he was screaming. All the while my little Zoe played with a house-full of happy children.

And I slept the whole day. Unlike my own home, Marissa’s house was big enough that I couldn’t hear Noah cry if someone else had him. Her room was dark and very quite – providing me with rich deep sleep.

After the end of a full day of sleeping and feeding me, they drove me home. They hugged me and told me things would get easier, that they were here for me: the good, the bad and the ugly. One-hundred percent here for me. They reminded me that sometimes the best thing to do is simply trust that this stage won’t last forever.

312193_10150311623082637_1783350587_n

My sister and parents gifted me with a trip to Maui in September of 2011. My mom took this shot. Noah was five months old here, still in the thick of his colic.

I arrived home with a full-cup. Thanks to their care I felt a little more prepared to face the world knowing I had friends who had my back. I cuddled my son and knew that even if it didn’t feel like things were going to get better that things would. (And they did, you can read about that here: To My Son On Your First Birthday: A Mother’s Understanding)

They taught me, without saying a single word, that the best parenting advice doesn’t start with words but begins with actions.

(That next day Marissa called to check on me, and to let me know she woke up with one of my used breast pads stuck to her arm. I laughed hard.)

31426_1488149606716_6695042_n

Marissa and Amanda. Friends who made a difference. Thank you!

Mother-Led Weaning: How and Why I Gently Weaned My Son

22 Feb

Mother led weaning

I really loved breastfeeding both my children, the benefits and the ease and the simplicity, and oh those tender bonding times untouched by the world. Ah, sweet bliss.

But, I was done. D.O.N.E. (Imagine me saying “done” with my eyes bugging out of my head, and waving my arms around in circles like a mad scientist with crazy hair who hasn’t slept in years.)

Sixteen months into it, my breastfeeding relationship with my son was starting to take a toll on our mother/child bonding relationship. You see, I was no longer happily breastfeeding, a lot of times I was just plain-ol’ resentfeeding (I just made that word up, but you’ll know it if you’ve done it).

I really needed to focus on taking care of my needs. (You can read bits of that experience here, here and here.) In order to properly love my family I needed to pick my burnt-out self off the ground and get my groove back, for the sake of my sanity, for the sake of both my children, for the sake of my husband, and for me. Quite honestly, I knew that the first step in focusing on my own needs involved weaning my son. (Gulp.)

And while I understand the WHO recommendations of nursing a child till they’re at least two (you can read about that here), I also know that a healthy breastfeeding relationship should continue for as long as both mother and baby desire. Both.

522491_429970083701738_100242001_n

You see, I would step into the living room, hoping to sit down and enjoy my kids, play with my daughter and son together, and upon setting eyes on me, Noah would simply burst into frantic screams until I nursed him.

This happened all the time: happy baby boy without momma around, the moment momma comes near, unhappy baby till boobies arrive – even if he nursed five minutes ago.

I could no longer handle the emotional and physical hesitation I felt approaching my son anymore. It wasn’t fair to him! In my heart I knew what I needed to do.

Mother-led weaning, with gentle compassion for my son, but also gentle compassion for me as a mom. (Yes, I deserve that much! We all do!)

My personal goal was to breastfeed Noah till he was 18 months old, and or finished with teething,  whichever came first (nothing soothes a cranky, teething baby faster than a little nursing session) and at 16 months Noah’s teeth had all arrived (two-year molars withstanding, those started at 20 months).

Here’s how we approached gentle mother-led weaning in my home.

Nursing my son for the first time moments after giving birth. He's eating, and I'm eating too. This is my mom feeding me my postbirth hamburger. I like to call this 'generational feeding.'

Nursing my son for the first time moments after giving birth. He’s eating, and I’m eating too. This is my mom feeding me my postbirth hamburger. I like to call this ‘generational feeding.’

Plan of Action

First I made a plan, and gave myself about 8 weeks to fully wean Noah. I decided not to implement a new phase until the first phase was successful for at least a five days or more. Here’s what worked best for our home:

  1. Remove random feeds scattered throughout the day that don’t follow a pattern.
  2. Remove morning feed.
  3. Remove feeds before naps and bed-time. (Starting first with naps, then moving onto bed-time.)
  4. Remove night-time comfort feeds.
  5. Be flexible and go slow. Give extra special care and attention to help my child adjust peacefully through these changes.

Phase 1 – Random Feeds

At 16 months old, Noah was breastfeeding around ten times a day, if not more. My goal was to cut back his nursing sessions to about six feeds a day. That meant we needed to cut back on the breastfeeding that happened randomly in a day, like when he would fuss, or fall down, or want a snack, or just hollar at me for boobie, “Maaaaaaaaaa, the boobies!”

I felt these would be the easiest to replace with distractions, like a sippy cup of water, a toy to play with, or a bite of fruit (if he was hungry). What Noah did not want instead of nursing, though, were cuddles from me. Having mommy so close and not having “a nurse” (that’s what we call it in our house) only frustrated him.

Believe it or not, phasing out those extra nursing sessions were simple as pie. Noah didn’t seem to even notice the change-up and responded well to the alternatives. (Whew!)

Phase 2 – Morning Feed

The next step was removing the morning feed. No sweat! Instead of my husband bringing Noah to my bed to nurse when he woke up (we stopped co-sleeping when Noah was 9 months old), Peter simply brought Noah to his high chair, offered our boy a sippy cup with water and a yummy hot breakfast. (Noah does not like cows milk, almond milk, coconut milk, you name it. So, water it is. We supplement with cheese and kefir/yogurt.) Sweet boy was happy as a clam with that change. Not even a bit of fuss over that.

Big sister loved to nurse her baby too whenever mommy fed Noah.

Big sister loved to nurse her baby too whenever mommy fed Noah.

Phase 3 – Sleepy Time Feeds

The next step was to remove the sleepy time nursing sessions prior to his two daily naps and bed time. We did this by really focusing on our routine before bed.

We’ve had a bed-time routine since Noah was about 9 months old. And the last step of our routine always included nursing Noah till he was this close to being asleep (and then I laid him down in his crib). The plan was to simply remove the last step in the routine (yeah, easier said than done, I know!) and give extra cuddles and lullabies instead.

I read him a book, sang lots of songs, said bed-time prayers, and gave all those warm mommy lovin’s in the rocking chair. I did add a new “lovie” to the bed-time routine (a little yellow blanket), and I also offered Noah a sippy cup with water to hold during our bed-time routine, he would take sips from that here and there while we sang and read books.

This stage was a little touchy for about three days – the worst being the first day. Noah fussed and let me know he wanted to nurse. However, I committed to comforting his heart with extra mommy love instead of nursing. I knew there really wasn’t an easy or quick fix to this stage, only through it. (Just like labor, ladies!)

After about three to five minutes of fussiness and tears for a few nights, Noah would settle into me and relax, allowing himself to be soothed by my touch and voice. After three days, we successfully transitioned out of those sleepy-time feeds.

Flexibility

After cutting out those feeds, we were left with just our night-time comfort sessions. Things were moving on as planned.

Then we had a curve ball. Noah suddenly showed signs that he wanted to nurse in the afternoon, usually after his second nap of the day around 4 PM.

I believe in following my children’s cues whenever inherently possible. Since none of my distraction techniques worked to keep Noah from wanting to nurse late in the afternoon, I made peace with the extra session. I think he liked the cuddle time after his nap and it appeared he was hungry. I was fine with this, I knew we we’re taking things slowly.

However, after a few days, it seemed like Noah was happy to have a snack instead of an afternoon nurse. At 4 PM he and his sister (to this day they still do this) sit at the table together and enjoy apple slices, or carrot sticks and humus, or whatever sounds yummy and won’t spoil dinner. This has become a regular routine in our home – Zoe and Noah’s 4 PM snack time and mommy’s cup of coffee!

One of my favorite candid shots of me nursing Noah. A picnic with friends on the square in Denton, TX.

One of my favorite candid shots of me nursing Noah. A picnic with friends on the square in Denton, TX.

Phase 4 – Mid-Night Comfort Sessions

The next step was to cut back on the comfort sessions in the middle of the night. I’ll be honest these were the ones that had me worried the most. When Noah woke up at night crying, it was so easy to simply pick him up, nurse him and viola, two minutes later he was back in dreamland, which meant I got to go there too just as quickly.

Weaning him off of those nightly comfort sessions took some effort on my part. I had to make peace with the reality that I would be up for at least 15 minutes each time he woke. It was challenging, but not any harder than it was to remove the feeds prior to his daily naps – it’s just that in the middle of the night we were both really tired and less patient.

But I stuck with, we stuck with it, Noah and me. I talked to him all through it telling him what was happening and why, and how much I loved him and how he could have mommy cuddles any time he wanted, but that nursing had to go bye-bye. Our children understand far more than what we give them credit for and it’s very important that we talk them through these types of changes.

At night, I would pick Noah up in my arms, sit in the rocker and sing to him, patting his bottom all the while. Sometimes I would offer a sippy cup of water if he seemed thirsty.

(FYI, my miracle cure to stop Noah’s tears were, and still are, songs with short, choppy, rhythmic words sung in staccato style. As soon as I start singing this way, he quiets down and falls asleep – no matter how loud he’s crying.)

However, If Noah didn’t calm down after trying all those things within 5-10 minutes of me offering other options, I’ll would then offer him the breast, just until he calmed his little soul down (not till he fell asleep), then once he stopped crying, I would unlatch him, cuddle him close, sing to him, and then lay him down once he showed signs that he was ready to stretch out and sleep. Sometimes, like his sister did at that age, Noah would sign “all done” when he wanted to lay down in his crib.

I sat down to nurse Noah and Zoe brought over her rocking chair and nursed her stuffed dog, too. Just like mommy.

I sat down to nurse Noah and Zoe brought over her rocking chair and nursed her stuffed dog, too. Just like mommy.

Saying Good-bye to Breastfeeding

Six weeks later, we had finally reached that point where I knew Noah had successfully weaned. At 17 months he was no longer showing interest in breastfeeding any more.

He also stopped crying when I would walk into a room, and instead he would simply smile at me, jump up for a hug and then go back to playing with his blocks!

I also started to enjoy more personal time to attend to my needs, and our daily life seemed to settle into a peaceful rhythm, with less crying for Noah, and less stress for all of us.

Even so, the emotional implications of letting go of breastfeeding were very hard. I knew this would be the case. I also knew that no matter when I weaned Noah, I would never *not* feel that deep tug on my heart – that ache that comes from saying good-bye to something so intimate, so maternal, so universally indicative of mothering a tiny child.

When I recognized that there would never be a magical moment when it would feel easy to say good-bye to breastfeeding, it made coming to terms with the process of weaning my son a little easier on my heart.

The Very Last Time I Breastfed My Son

My last nursing session with Noah was in the dreamy hours of a crisp September night, and I knew…

I sat down with him in the rocker, the sound machine offering its rainy tune, the night-light casting little golden flecks across his sleepy face. With his squishy cheek pressed into my breast, his starfish hand clasped around my index finger, and the gentle metronome of his breathing – in and out like waves on my heart, I allowed myself to become fully aware of it all – his very body being nourished by my own.

I turned our intimate space into an altar of worship – saying feel this, let your spirit acknowledge this holy place. I wrote my feelings down with love along the walls of my heart saying to my mind, “remember this moment, forever.”

Noah fell into a deep sleep, as he had so many times before, nestled securely in my arms, latched onto my breast, filled with contentment and quieted with sleep. Ever so slowly his mouth opened, slack-jawed and loose, lost in his slumber, my son took a deep breath stretched out his arms and … unlatched.

I leaned down and pressed my lips against his doughy cheek and I knew. I knew. I knew.

It was the end.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother,

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

- Psalm 131:2

477273_387531331278947_1706842533_o

This is one of the last pictures taken of me nursing my son. He’s a little over a year here and we were out as a family visiting the Art Institute in Chicago.

To My Son, On Your First Birthday | A Mother’s Understanding

18 Apr

To my lion-hearted son, Noah,

You were asleep in my arms.  Your sweet body cradled next to mine, your tender breathing pulling your chest in and out in perfect rhythm.  I nestled you closer. I shut my eyes and pressed my lips against your cheek.  I stopped rocking for a brief moment to listen for Zoe in the other room, I wanted to make sure all was well with her so that I could steal away just a few more quiet moments alone with you – sleeping soundly, so perfect and tender – my beautiful son.  It was that moment, in the golden quiet of the afternoon, and as if God himself spoke the words “let there be light,” that understanding came to me.

I have struggled to feel a sense of wonder and contentment as your mother. All those endless months of screaming were like a dull knife – slashing my confidence into a very slim existence of mothering.  When I held you in quiet moments, those difficult memories, and the emotions that were so deeply entangled with the recollection of your worst days, haunted me.  I truly felt stricken.

I knew the signs, and I had them, so I began to research PTSD and how to treat it. I told your father of my experience and expressed my need for support and help.  He gently allowed me to share – to empty out my steeping brew of discouragement.  His listening was so valuable to my soul.  I felt like each heavy word I spoke aloud was a captive bird released from my rusty cage of mother-shame;  my confessions brought me closer to healing, closer to your father, and closer to you.

And then, on that quiet afternoon while I rocked you to sleep, I had a revelation of my love for you. It was so subtle that I almost feel I cannot call it a revelation – but rather, a discovery – like searching for an object in a room that has been there all along; at the tip of my fingers yearning to be found.

Sweet Noah Luke, I understand now that I’ll never love you like I love Zoe. And this has been my greatest mistake in parenting you so far – to think that I would, or rather, that I should.  Not only a mistake to you, but to my own confidence as a mother. Noah, I will love you like I love you, and that love for you is like no other thing, meant for no other person, and created for nothing else but your heart. This love is not to be compared and not to be given to anyone but you.

With each child different expressions of love, different sounds of love, different mechanics of love will arrive. Yet, and this is important, while the look and feel of my love may vary between my children, the intensity and measure of my love for each of you remains the same.

This is the beautiful mystery of mothering that has taken me a full year of wrestling with to finally realize.  This mystery, this revelation, has silenced the haunting of my soul. No more guilt, and no more striving. My soul is liberated from my own accusing finger. Because I now know, without question, I am in love with you, son. It is a love that looks, and feels, and smells totally and wonderfully different from the first time I fell in love with a child born from my body, but it is a powerful and equal force of love all the same. I am fiercely protective of this love for you, Noah.

As I stand on the edge of your first year of life, I can see that you are iron sharpening my heart and coal cleansing my lips. Your arrival has required sacrifice, strength, commitment and steadfastness. This first year with you has revealed my humanity and need for grace and mercy – from you, from your dad, from your sister, from my closest community, from myself  - and in my most quiet secret hours, I asked for mercy and grace from God.

This realization is my reckoning and my peace. I understand that you are the strongest wind in my life – I can do nothing but unfold the sails of my heart and hold steady my soul  - for this kind of love between a mother and her son is not a bright flame, it is a slow burn. It is the smoldering, intense embers of love oozing like honey from the hive, heady and sweet and dripping with myrrh.

Today, Noah, you are a year old. Happy birthday to my lion-hearted son. You have made me courageous.  Thank you.

I love you completely and recklessly,

Momma

In Reflection: a year since my last birth as a BA

5 Mar

A Birth Chamber, Alma Tadema

March 5th, one year ago, I was 34 weeks pregnant and serving a laboring mother in her birth. I was heavy with child, and while I knelt down under her ripe, fertile belly to listen to her child’s heart tones, I felt my own child quicken within me.

I stooped and I swayed with her, I bent low and I squatted right next to her, with both our round bellies hanging and dangling from our frames. I took my cool fingers and touched her furrowed brow. The son that I carried in my womb, the child that jutted his foot into my ribs as if to remind me not to stretch too far, while I reached out to steady her body in labor –  would soon arrive. 

And all the labor love that I poured into the hearts and lives of the women I served during my 40 weeks of pregnancy would be returned to me in my own approaching birth.

I’ve always wanted to tell mothers, steady yourself because the sacred is mixed with the devastating. And as you labor, still your heart; the intense work of birth is surrounded with holiness of life.

One year now since I’ve seen a mother toil through her labor, and I can still hear in my ears the heavy moan of a life that is creaking the door open for another. I can hear the sound of a body open in birth. 

Make way, make way, her body says as she flings herself into the holiness of life. Make way, make way, my heart says, as I thrust myself into the holiness of motherhood.

One year in which I have set down my love of labor to give exclusively to the fruit of my labor.  And in this year, my motherhood is reborn again and again; dear second child, you remind me that I know nothing – but to love you (and it is like nothing that I’ve known).

I remember a young mother, who was exhausted from her long labor, stretched out on the bed to rest in between her contractions. I watched as her own mother came to her, laid down beside her and wrapped her arms around her laboring daughter. The mother pressed her cheek into her daughter’s head and sang out in a lullaby, “You are so beautiful to me. Can’t you see…” The mother’s voice cracked as she fought back tears, but she continued to sing in hushed tones to her daughter. Her daughter closed her eyes, and settled her body in closer to her mother’s – soaking in the strength of her love.

I feel that mother now, singing to me, one year later. I can hear her, and it is beautiful.

In the fullness of time, one year later.

%d bloggers like this: