One thing I seem to always make time for, even with new babies, is reading memoirs. For moms who are postpartum, or who get little adult interaction, reading true tales from other moms doesn’t just offer recreation; it provides a lifeline. Here are four memoirs by moms that I’ve recently read and recommend, not just for moms, but for anyone who has a mom:
White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between. I read this pretty thick memoir in the last months of my recent pregnancy. Not only did I relate to the writer’s story of reluctant motherhood in her adult life, but I also resonated with her parallel tale of growing up with a mother’s mental illness (in this case, hoarding). If you are at all interested in the psychology of hoarding, or the complex scars it leaves on kids, give this a read.
Glitter and Glue. I read this one in the week after I brought Seth home from the hospital, during my one and only week of breastfeeding. An easy, breezy read about the author’s summer as a nanny, this book had me crying at the last page–when she finally tied together her story of nannying in a home where the mom had died with what her own mother meant to her, so many years later. (You have to read the whole book to get the poignancy of the ending.)
The Year my Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery. I am currently charging through this one as quickly as my sons’ sleep schedules will allow, and having an emotional time comparing my three-month-old Seth to sweet little Thomas, who was born with Down Syndrome. This book is a record of the author’s first year navigating the exhaustion, disbelief, and other conflicting emotions that her disabled baby brings her. Beginning with a heart-stopping scene of premature labor, this one grabbed me right out of the gate and hasn’t let go since. Read this to understand the challenges of having a disabled child, and to feel grateful for what you have.
Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression. Yes, my book. While my tale ends before I officially become a mother (I am pregnant with Sam by the end), mother-daughter relationships play a big part in my story. My parents always had a troubled marriage, and when I am fourteen, it finally blows up with an affair and illegitimate child (my half-brother) whom we hide in our home until he is eight months old and my mom leaves. After that, my relationships with both my mom and my dad become complicated, and I carry my new resentment for happy families into my new marriage and new, happy (husband’s) family. Read my story to learn not only how I healed from suicidal depression, but also how I learned to make peace with my parents (and parents-in-law).
When you have limited time to read, make sure you choose well. Happy reading!
What 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.
Since Sam’s birth fifteen weeks ago, a constant dilemma has been finding time to write. Last week I found an unprecedented ten hours, postpartum, to work on my memoir. Yippee! I felt fulfilled and accomplished; I was finally balancing writing and motherhood. Finally, I thought, this memoir is again making progress toward publication. But then…I realized there is a price to this progress.
How did I get so much writing done? I let Sam nap for almost three hours in a row on several days (good boy!). You can imagine how excited I was—Sam was getting rest, I was getting writing—until I realized that those long-nap days resulted in broken nights of sleep for Sam—and me. Sigh.
On other days when Sam is out of routine (his mom’s routine)—say, when he spends the day with his aunt, or on weekends—he takes shorter naps and sleeps a good nine to eleven hours at night, usually from 7 p.m. to 5 or 6 a.m. Yay again! But boo for my writing.
So, my current dilemma is whether to write or to sleep—in other words, do I let baby Sam take a nice long nap in the afternoon and use the time to write, or do I keep him awake during the day so we’ll both sleep through the night?
What a dilemma, huh? I feel bad for mentioning it, because I have a great baby, and I could have both writing and sleep if I wanted them badly enough. I could write from 7 p.m. until my bedtime, between 9 or 10—but that would also mean resorting to microwave dinners or takeout and giving up the fight with my leftover pregnancy weight.
That’s the tough thing about parenting, and really adulthood. You must make tough choices with your time.
As I sat writing this post yesterday (stealing a few minutes from my shopping trip for temporary “fat” pants—dear mother-in-law watched Sam), I decided writing is usually not going to come first—at least not anytime soon, and here’s why: In order to write as much as I want, I’d have to neglect my family’s and my own health. Much as writing feels like a necessity to my mental health, some things just have to come first, like sleep, nutrition, and exercise—my physical health. So I guess I’m choosing sleep.
Being an adult is tough. Lord, help me to put first things first, and also find some moments to write when time away from it becomes too painful. And thank you, thank you, thank you, for a baby boy who sleeps through the night!
I don’t. Not really. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to nurse for eleven weeks, with minimal success. Now I regret that I have continued, because this trying has messed with Sam’s schedule, and my self-confidence.
There are those moms who dream of breastfeeding at all costs. I never did. What I did dream of, after I read a book entitled Preparation for Parenting by Gary and Marie Ezzo, was getting my baby on a schedule and having him sleep through the night by eight weeks. The book promised my baby would do this, if I followed the schedule they outlined: feed every 2 ½ to 3 hours, and follow the pattern of feed, waketime, sleep. Then I was supposed to wake the baby and start the cycle again. With this pattern, he should have been sleeping through the night by now. But Sam is eleven weeks old today, and he is still waking one to four times a night.
A commitment to breastfeeding, no matter that I had a low supply, is what happened.
I blame myself, and a few others, for encouraging me to keep going no matter what. They told me that mothers’ milk works on the demand and supply principle: the more I nursed, the more I would produce.
I nursed exclusively for three weeks. By the end of three weeks, Sam’s weight was steadily declining. It was at our third weight check that his pediatrician, with a worried look, told me to start supplementing. She also told me to call the lactation specialist one more time and see what tips she could give me. (I had already worked with this person twice. She determined that Sam was latching well, and my milk—what milk I had—was transferring.)
Here I could have just stopped nursing, admitted I had given it a valiant go, and switched entirely to formula. Neither my hubby nor I wanted to quit yet, though.
I called the lactation specialist. What she told me made me cry.
“Take a breastfeeding vacation. Just take a Sunday and lie in bed with the baby and let him nurse as much as he wants. And make sure you are latching or pumping at least eight to ten times a day. You can try lactation cookies, and fenugreek, etc. etc.” She gave me all the advice I’ve read in various other places.
I told her, barely holding back tears, that we’d exclusively breastfed for three weeks; I just didn’t think I could produce the milk. As far as the breastfeeding vacation, the thought made me want to scream. Did she mean to tell me I should start getting less done than I already was? With my house in a shambles and my body bloated because I had no time to exercise? With thoughts overcrowding my mind because I had no time to write and sort them out? And even if I devoted my life to increasing my supply (which was, essentially, what she was asking me to do), there was no guarantee it would even work.
No ma’am, I couldn’t do it.
I decided to do what I could reasonably (and sanely) do. I continued nursing before giving bottles and pumping when Sam allowed me an extra fifteen minutes. I started taking fenugreek because a relative had given me a bottle. I tried a daily sesame seed smoothie recommended by another family member.
Last week (ten weeks) I estimated I was producing around 25% of what Sam eats, and I asked my hubby again: Do I continue?
Again he said, “I really think you should. He’s getting good stuff from you, and who knows what will happen, if we will still need it in the future?”
Even I agreed that the calming effects of breastfeeding were still valuable for fussy times.
But my hubby hasn’t had to deal with the constant self-doubt I face every time I breastfeed. He hasn’t had to deal with those sleepless nights when Sam drifts off at the breast before getting the bottle, then wakes within an hour hungry again. He hasn’t had to, first, give up several hours of his day to breastfeeding, and then, give up several more when bottle feedings, bottle washings, and pumping were prescribed. He hasn’t agonized over how much formula to give (because doesn’t feeding more formula mean producing less milk? Yet how else can I be sure Sam is getting adequate nutrition?). He hasn’t had his sleep interrupted and his whole day thrown off because he can’t decide how much to breast- and how much to bottle-feed (therefore he keeps trying different combinations). He doesn’t agonize over this daily like I do, when I wake feeling exhausted yet again, or when Sam rejects a bottle, or rejects a breast, or acts different at every feeding.
Today, when I again considered how much time and effort this whole feeding thing was taking, how most of the rest of my life is on hold, how confused I still felt about feeding time, and how far from a pattern I still felt (I had just bought the ingredients to try lactation cookies—maybe they would help?), I felt utterly discouraged.
And I asked myself for the millionth time: is it worth it?
My gut told me, like it had weeks ago, No.
I know all the wavering back and forth has not been worth it, purely because it has destroyed my self-confidence and my ability to plan my day. Because of this mental unrest, I cannot settle myself into a pattern, much less Sam.
I’ve asked myself, Did reading the Ezzo book ruin me, where I expected too much too soon? Where I thought that breastfeeding should come so easily, and a schedule along with it? I cracked it open again today to see if their advice was really that bad…and found a section I didn’t remember reading before. The authors said that about 5% of women physiologically cannot produce adequate milk, and in that case, they should implement the feeding schedule with formula. Simple.
So…I will finish eating this batch of lactation cookies (sadly horrible for weight loss). I will finish the new bottle of fenugreek I bought today. And I will continue to latch Sam as much as I reasonably can. I figure on a week. But after that, if my supply doesn’t go up, I’m done.
Why didn’t I listen to my instincts before? If I had taken one course or the other, Sam might be on a schedule today, and we might all be sleeping through the night.
People will always have strong opinions on all things mothering, but as far as breastfeeding and this low-supply mama go, I’m learning not to cry over scarce milk.
My 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.
The 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 shoulddefinitely be doing such and such by such and such time. This is a setup for failure and feelings of guilt.
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.
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.
Sleep 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).
Even 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.)
There 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.
If 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.
Have 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.
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.