It’s Here! Announcing Ending the Pain, My Memoir!

IMG_3373What a month! After three years of blogging and writing about God’s intervention in my messy life, the uncut version of my story is out there for the world to read. And I’m at home, four weeks postpartum, wearing sweatpants and trying to keep up with dishes. Somehow, I thought this moment would feel more climactic. But hey, I’m four weeks postpartum and not depressed, even after a history of life-threatening depression (the topic of my book), so I’ll go ahead and say life is great!

If there’s one malady I’m suffering from, it’s postpartum brain failure, or what I’m calling “Mommy brain.” I’m not sure what the technical term is, I just know my mind is scattered these days–I’m forgetful, absentminded, and spacey–and I don’t like how that feels. I think I read in some pregnancy book that this is normal; and I suppose it’s probably worse because I’m currently preoccupied with not only my new son, but also with the release of my new book. So it’s not a tragic condition, just annoying. As long as I can keep my kids, my husband, and myself cared for in this season, I suppose we’re good.

Needless to say, I don’t have much time, energy, or brain capacity to promote my book. And at first this distressed me. (Because doesn’t everything written about book publishing stress “promotion, promotion, promotion”?). But then I decided maybe the timing of this book release was for the best. If I had more available brain matter right now, I think I’d be stressing over book promotion a lot. And I’d be tempted to forget one of the main lessons I wrote about in my memoir: learning that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.

So here I am, bedecked in stretchy pants, hands full of babies, sink full of dishes…just stealing a moment away from momming to tell you my book has been published, and I’m leaving the rest up to God (and you, dear reader!).

And with that book announcement made (a week late, nonetheless), I’m getting back to my two tiny tots–they will never be this little again–to try to embrace a life that continues to be messy…but now, messy in a wonderful sort of way.

*You can purchase my book at adventistbookcenter.com or Amazon.com.

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The Second Baby Difference

First family pic out of the hospital–taken February 13th, the day Seth and I came home.

I held two-week-old Sam in my arms, and he wailed and wailed.

“What is it, baby boy?” I wailed too, rocking him, bouncing him, doing anything I could think of to quiet him.

It was 9 a.m. on Buc’s first day back to work, and I was already at my wit’s end. Sam would not stop crying.

“Are you hungry? Tired? Cold? Mad?” I swooshed Sam in big circles in the air, dipped down low, stood on one leg. I rocked and walked from one end of the living room to the other and back again. Sam was now screaming in short, staccato shrieks, his face candy-apple red, his mouth wide open and his tongue trembling like screaming babies’ tongues do.

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Fussy Sam

Suddenly, I saw a CD my mom had sent: Baby Lullabies.

“Maybe you want to listen to some music?” I grabbed at the CD desperately and jammed it into my CD player.

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I bounced Sam in time with the music, trying bravely to sing through my tears (but inevitably failing). “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.”

Little ones are weak? I thought. How about their mothers? Oh Lord, help me! I prayed. But Sam wouldn’t stop crying. I looked at the clock. Barely an hour had passed since Sam’s last feeding. “You shouldn’t be hungry yet, Sam!” I cried. My boobs ached from all the recent feedings. But after several more moments, I took him to his room and I fed him. I knew it was the only way he would quiet.

This is a memory from my early postpartum days with my firstborn, Sam—days I remember like a dark cloud. They were desperate days. Dark days. During those days, I didn’t sleep for more than two-hour increments. I didn’t get regular showers. I didn’t get to finish entire meals. Buc and I wondered if we’d ever eat a meal in peace (and quiet) again. Because all Sam did, it seemed, was nurse…or cry.

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More fussy Sam

Truthfully, I feel bad about how bad those first weeks with Sam felt—and how bad those days still feel in my memory. I think we probably had plenty of delightful moments, moments of oohing and aahing over our new, beautiful baby. But all I remember is the desperation. Which is why I was never too excited for a second baby.In fact, I was preparing myself for the worst. I was expecting my life to be thrown into turmoil—and actually preparing to hate my life for awhile (before the baby/mama attachment and sustained sleep kicked in).

But you know what? That line that every parent of more-than-one-kid says—“Every child is different”—is so true!

At three weeks old, Seth is so much calmer than I remember Sam being; and at three weeks postpartum, my overall experience is so much nicer than it was the first time around. Thank you, Thank you, Jesus!

I think it’s possible that the difference I’m seeing between my two babies is tied to different personalities. Sam seems sanguine, while Seth seems phlegmatic—and that would account for Seth’s more laid-back, content disposition. (Would you believe he doesn’t really cry, except for when he’s hungry or poopy? Thank you, thank you, Jesus!).

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Sam
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Seth

But if there’s more to the difference than differing personalities, it is adequate nutrition. Unlike Sam, whom I breastfed exclusively for the first three weeks–until his pediatrician sounded alarm bells on his weight and told me to start supplementing with formula—Seth has had the benefit of enough food for his entire life.

Thank prior experience for that.

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I vividly remember this moment with Sam at three weeks old: We had just come from another weight check at the pediatrician’s–the one where she told me to start formula–and this picture captures a finally-calm Sam after having two ounces of Similac. We later settled on Enfamil Soy, six formula tries later.

I tried again—put Seth to breast every few hours in the hospital and again at home. But after hour-long nursing sessions when Seth was still fussy, still wanting to nurse (and this after my milk had “come in”), I knew what to do. Because of prior experience, I knew it wasn’t normal for babies to be fussy after eating…unless they were still hungry. So I gave him formula. By day 11 I stopped nursing to formula feed and “supplement” with what breast milk I could pump. And now I am down to pumping a few times a day. But given the small return I was getting for hours of nursing, I’m okay with this. Unlike the first time around, this was an easy decision to make.

Thank prior experience also for that—for my own more laid-back approach.

Seth and me
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Sam and me

Frankly, it’s just plain great to have prior experience—to not be navigating parenthood for the first time around. Even if I had a tough second baby, I think I’d be doing better, simply because I could see light at the end of the fussy, sleepless tunnel. I look at two-year-old Sam and can’t believe all the milestones he’s leapt through in such a short a time—and the amazing little guy that he has become.

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Sam still is, and always will be, “my baby,” too.

While I don’t remember Sam’s beginnings happily, I am happy to say that today I absolutely delight in his personality, his growing communication skills, his laughter, his life. Thank you, Jesus, for the passage of time, and for difficult babies growing up and maturing and developing. And thank you, Jesus, for the gift of easy babies—and the fact that I HAVE ONE THIS TIME!

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Seth is so easy on us, in fact, that that’s why I started this post with a memory of Sam. I have stronger emotions, memories, reactions, to Sam than I am having with Seth…because Seth doesn’t do much. He likes to be held, but he also likes to be put down; and he likes to sleep! (Right now, in addition to sleeping a ton during the day, he sleeps in three- and four- hour stretches at night, and after feeding, he goes right back to bed.) What I’m saying is that he’s not as interesting to write about as Sam. But his different personality has sure spurred comparisons with Sam! And in this case, even though they say you’re not supposed to compare your kids, I am really gratified to do so! Thank you, Jesus, for different personalities!

As a coda, how is Sanguine Sam handling his new brother? (I didn’t realize that that’s the most frequent question I’d get after baby #2. Kid conversations will always be about comparisons from now on, won’t they?)

So far, he’s doing well. Since I came home from my three-night hospital leave, Sam has been more difficult to put down at night, worried I won’t be there in the morning. But otherwise, he’s been holding his own and maintaining a healthy play life. He keeps his distance from the new baby, but gradually he’s mentioning him more and more, and I think he might even be starting to like him.

Now. One caveat.

The other HUGE blessing in this period is that I’ve had my eighteen-year-old niece, Megan, here with me through it all. She came mainly to care for Sam while we went to the hospital, but she was also here for the last two weeks of my pregnancy, bonding with Sam, and she has been here for the three weeks since Seth’s birth. And Sam really likes Megan. I hope I’m not just fooling myself, thinking life is easier with baby #2, when, really, it’s just been Megan here that’s made the difference. Because, really, when littles are afoot, extra hands make such a difference.

(On that note, Thanks so much, Megan, for sacrificing your social life and your family for these crucial weeks to make our load so much lighter. How would you like to be a full-time nanny? Just kidding. [Not really.])

Megan and Sam

But seriously, Megan has been a huge blessing. Seth has been a huge blessing. And so has Sam. And no matter how life plays out after Megan leaves next week-ish, I hope I will remember how happy I was for these first postpartum weeks—and realize how blessed I’m sure I’ll still be after they’re over—even if I’m a little more frazzled for watching two kids on my own. One thing I’ve learned from prior parenting experience: when the going gets rough, just wait it out…kids change all the time, and if you give them time, they will get easier. (If they don’t, I can still rejoice that one day they’ll graduate and move out, right? [Just kidding…maybe.]) For now, I’m loving the second baby difference, and I will try to enjoy every moment. Stay tuned!

Something of a “Second Baby Strategy”

“Life is gonna go crazy!” “I’ll get no sleep!” “I’m gonna go crazy!” These are some of my thoughts lately. No matter how excited I am for my second son to make his appearance, I’m also anxious. I’m not deeply worried about any longterm disasters–because I survived the infant stage with my first son and because God is on my side–I’m just anxious. At the end of a pregnancy, when you can’t sleep well, when your hormones are running wild, and when your body tells you “things they are a changin’,”  it’s hard not to be a bit on edge.

But it’s kind of cool, too, to see how God has designed mothers to go into this preparation stage. I’ve been doing things lately that I never do–all because of an instinct I believe God planted in us women.

Not only have I been scouring thrift stores for baby things, buying non-perishable groceries in bulk, and deep cleaning my house–making physical preparations–but I have also been laying plans to help me cope emotionally. Namely, I am enlisting as much support as I can.

Enlisting support in a new state, Missouri, is not as easy as it would be in Texas or Minnesota. Here I don’t have any family nearby, which is a bummer. But I do have resources. And I’m trying to learn from my past fails of going it alone that I need to use what I have.

The Strategy

  • Keep up Parents’ Day Out. A couple months ago Sam started a twice weekly Parents’ Day Out program. I thought of discontinuing this when the baby comes (because it will be harder to get three of us out the door, and will it really be worth the three hours’ break once I drive across town and drive back home and drive back to get him?), but then I thought better of it. It’s not just good for Sam to get out and about, it’s also good for me. When Sam was an infant, I was afraid to take him places because I never knew how he would act. I was unsure in my mothering and my ability to handle him. But I am vowing not to be so scared with Seth. It’s better for us to get out and about sometimes, and for Sam to interact with other kids and adults, and we will.
  • Join MOPS. I inquired on a MOPS group near my home several months ago, only to be told it was full. But two weeks ago they emailed and said several mothers had dropped out, and they invited me to join. Again, I considered skipping this extra hassle (too much work to get the kids out the door, and who knows how they will act when we get there?), but then wisdom convinced me otherwise. If I shunned this group, I would be shunning just exactly the kind of support I’ll need at just exactly the right time–I know, from my first baby, that I’ll need other mothers to talk to. And without family or many friends nearby, how else will I get this if not from a group like MOPS?
  • Lower Expectations at Home. This is a constant project in my life. I’ve always been an overachiever in my life’s pursuits, and once I became a full-time homemaker, it was no different: I wanted to have a clean house, healthy home-cooked meals, and an orderly schedule for my family. And after the first year of Sam’s life, I was starting to learn how to achieve these things (though not always simultaneously). But once #2 comes, I know all of these things won’t be possible, not right away. Maybe not even for a couple years. So I am praying for God to relax my perfectionism, and I am practicing being okay with some convenience meals and messy counters and laundry that waits until the weekend.
  • Make the Most of Weekends. With less ability to get house things done by myself, I plan to make the most of my weekends. Buc has been a great help while I’ve been pregnant–he’s helped with laundry, watching Sam, and random nesting projects when I’ve asked him–and I intend to keep enlisting his help when life gets even crazier. That will mean saving projects I can’t get to for nights and weekends. At the same time, I don’t want to put undue demands on my husband, who works hard at his job to support us. So, after I have prayerfully decided what expectations I can lower or drop, I will calmly and nicely ask Buc to help with what remains.
  • Bottle Feed as Soon as I Need to. I don’t want to even attempt describing the emotional roller coaster that breastfeeding Sam (or trying to breastfeed Sam) sent me into two years ago. It’s something I’ll write more about in my second memoir. But I learned this: I’m going to save my family the stress and struggle this time around. Yes, I will give breastfeeding a try while I have extra help at the house. But when my sweet niece leaves to go back to Texas, and when Buc goes back to work, if I don’t have enough milk, I won’t hesitate to introduce formula. God has blessed us with the money to afford this, and I will do what is best for all of us.

For now, those are the big strategy items. Oh yes, and prayer. I will be relying on lots of prayer for strength, energy, and wisdom. If you believe in the power of prayer, I wouldn’t mind if you sent up some extra prayers for me. Beyond that, I’ll also take your second-baby tips in the comments! Thanks in advance; and thanks, as always, for reading.

What I’ve Learned in Six Weeks

IMG_0873My six-week postpartum period is over. According to my doctor, I’m ready to return to all physical activities, and if I had a “real” job, it would be time to get back to work. So what’s so magical about the six week mark?

As I took stock of my postpartum period, I realized I’ve actually learned a lot in this time. Maybe life isn’t completely predictable yet, but it is starting to feel more manageable. I think this is due both to Sam starting to fall into some patterns, as well as growing confidence that I can keep him alive and safe.

IMG_0429The other confidence booster is that, very slowly, a few activities from life pre-Sam are starting to return—shopping trips, sleeping in my own bed, cooking real meals, a bit of exercise, and returning to church and the church choir. Soon I hope to add writing on a regular basis and fitting into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe.

Here is a brief list of the wisdom I’ve gained in six weeks’ time: 

There’s not one right way to do parenthood, but some people and some books will try to tell you there is. Distrust anyone or any book that tells you your child should definitely be doing such and such by such and such time. This is a setup for failure and feelings of guilt.

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Sam with his Aunt Deb!

You can learn a lot by handing your child to someone else and just watching. For instance:

Place a pillow behind the baby’s back when laying him down to sleep.

The football hold works well to calm a fussy baby.

Bicycling the legs pushes out gas. (I mean in the baby.)

Full immersion (minus his head) in a bathtub won’t hurt the baby.

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Sam with my friend Nicole, and her daughter, who loves babies.

He just might sit and/or sleep in that swing if you let someone other than mom try.

That crusty stuff in his eyes goes away by itself within about three weeks.

If your child is always fussy, it doesn’t always mean you have a fussy child, but it could mean that you don’t have enough milk for him.

IMG_0290Sleep deprivation looks deceptively similar to postpartum depression. Only try to judge the difference after a good nap.

If you’re thinking of hosting a prayer meeting at your house and leading out within the first six weeks, don’t (unless a babysitter hosts your baby elsewhere. You’ll get interrupted about a million times).

IMG_0481Even the burliest of guys will discuss the merits of Desitin versus Butt Paste if they have a baby at home. (Learned last week when my toilet overflowed, requiring a steady stream of plumbers, contractors, and insurance guys to flood my house.)

If you’re desperate for sleep, go ahead and lay that baby down next to you. For added sleep, give him a breast if you have one. (Whether or not you have copious milk matters little for coaxing him to sleep.)

IMG_0941There are way too many formulas to choose from!

Six weeks, or even four or five, might be when he starts to stabilize. This seems to be a good time to start laying him down by himself at night.

For baby boys, beware: The incidence of spraying seems to go up with the changing of poopy diapers, as opposed to changing non-poopy ones.

IMG_0920If you can afford to hire a housecleaner, do it.

If your family members or friends offer to watch your little bundle, spread the joy.

Before five or six weeks, just give yourself a break. People don’t expect you to get as much done as you do.

Beat the frustration of breastfeeding taking up your “entire day” by using the time to read those books you’ve been putting off reading. (My favorite so far has been the acclaimed memoir Angela’s Ashes.)

The postpartum pooch, while it might make you cry, is a great place to set your baby.

IMG_0356Have a sense of humor about the house that keeps getting dirtier, the laundry that keeps piling up, that article that’s not getting written but you promised months ago (sorry Ashley), those thank-yous that haven’t made it to the mailbox, the bed you haven’t slept in for weeks, the sex you haven’t had for months, the spouse you hardly know anymore, those devotions you just can’t concentrate on, those telltale cries that come every time you’re about to eat, those hobbies you used to have, and those clothes that still don’t fit. Whatever needs to get done in a day will get done.

Try to enjoy your baby, as frazzled as you are. If you look at pictures of him from just two weeks ago, you’ll notice the moments are already fleeting.

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And last but not least, thank God for your baby, because if there is one thing every book and parent agrees on, it is that It will all be worth it in the end.

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Surviving Parenthood

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Until his first smiles, I’m counting on funny expressions like this one to keep me endeared to little Sam.

So this is what it comes down to: if I want to write a blog post, I have to do it while lying on my side feeding my son, awkwardly typing with a crick in my neck. This makes me think of a humor book on parenting I read (Sippy Cups Are not for Chardonnay), in which the author joked that the new definition of “sexy” for mothers is just getting to wash their hair.

I won’t lie: after just three weeks, both my hubby and I are having doubts about parenthood. What did we get ourselves into? we’ve asked. And, Does our baby come with a return policy? I feel terrible even typing those things, but from all the parenting books I’ve read (blame it on graduate school), these seem to be normal enough questions. Yet I’ve rarely heard them spoken by friends and acquaintances who have kids. Have they just forgotten what the early days were like? If so, here’s a reminder.

My newborn son takes round-the-clock work, but offers not one smile in return. More like it, he cries, and he screams—morning, noon, and night. Although just a week or so ago all his crying made me cry, too, now I roll my eyes, pick him up again, talk to him in silly voices (perhaps desperate pleas), or, if all else fails, I lay him down to scream for ten to fifteen minutes. I can’t take more than fifteen minutes.

When I do get him down for a nap, it’s all I can do to grab a shower or a bite to eat, or, if I’m really lucky, get some laundry or dishes done. Yesterday I was able to sweep the mud room where our dogs constantly track in, well, mud, and that was a major accomplishment. Some days I also manage to get dinner made before hubby comes home, and that is always cause for profuse thanksgiving.

In the beginning (just a couple weeks ago), I remember laying Sam down for a nap and praying, Lord, can you please let him sleep for one hour? Now, with the wet blanket of reality smothering me, I have started praying, Lord, thank you for every minute—and I really mean every single minute—that Sam sleeps. Sometimes it’s fewer than ten minutes. Yesterday’s two-hour nap was a happy milestone. But no matter how long or short it is, it is always just long enough…for me to get at least one thing done. Maybe it’s just a shower, maybe it’s just washing my breast pump accessories so I can be ready to pump again after the next feeding. Stressed though I am, God sees to it that my needs are met. That’s life right now.

Right now, I’m only accomplishing the most basic necessities. For an overachiever like myself, this is near torture. But, sigh, it’s good for me. It’s good to remember how dependent I am on God for my most basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter. Little Sam has reminded me of this. Because he is taking his sweet time to regain his birth weight, I’ve been worried about my milk supply. I’ve been worried about him. When I’m tempted to resent him for “chaining” me to a feeding schedule, I am softened to remember that, with all these feedings, this little, helpless being is totally depending on me for his life. Suddenly, all these mundane feedings are hardly small or insignificant. Likewise, motherhood.

Lord, when I’m tempted to see my new “job” as merely frustrating, difficult, and insignificant, remind me what a privilege it is. Help me see my job as a miracle—I’ve gotten to play a small part in creating a life, and now I get a small part in sustaining it. I get to understand what your job is like just a little more. I get to experience your love just a little deeper.

So this is what it comes down to (after forty minutes of feeding): a sweet, helpless baby sleeping silently on my chest, depending totally on me for his sustenance, his life. How can I stay angry at a sleeping baby? It’s impossible. This must be one of the survival mechanisms God built in to all newborn babies—for them and for their parents.