Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Bittersweet Because

Little darling

how my heart is bursting

with the beauteous warmth of you,

your cuddly down-softness

snuggling in my arms,

fluffy dark hair caressing my cheek as I cradle you.

And yet in all this glory

a bittersweet strain of music

tugs at my heart,

because you are so much like her,

your big sister who was born asleep,

eyes closed forever,

motionless,

and here you are

—thank God!—

alive.

I want to cry grateful tears of sorrow

when you squeak and grumble like a little bear

because your sister was so silent.

And when I smell the milky scent on your neck

because your sister never tasted milk.

I was left bursting but alone…

my arms like edges of an empty cradle

with only myself to rock.

I get choked up by your little hands

which look exactly like hers–

long slim fingers and grandma’s double jointed thumbs.

They’re curled up in tiny fists above your head

in the abandon of sleep,

yet warm and ever ready to grasp my finger

instead is still, pale, and cold.

In this bittersweet place

I love you both

and want to give you everything:

all the affection and tenderness

I wished to give her

but also want to give you for yourself.

I drink deeply both of sorrow and of joy.

How life and death are woven together

–intertwined–

in this strange tapestry where all the shadows

make the colours brighter.

What is painful

and what is precious

have become inseparable

and love runs through it all.

Post-Partum, “Femachoism” and the Need for Mom Buddies

A buddy and I were chatting tonight about motherhood and vulnerability, and how tough it is to get some some women to open up about how they’re really doing, for example after having a new baby. There seems to be, especially among women who are hoping to have multiple children, a feeling that they need to pretend it’s easy…like “Of course it’s great! Otherwise why would I do this again? I don’t look crazy…do I?” And these kind of sentiments shove any post-partum struggles way down out of sight.

Sometimes, in hopes of attracting others to motherhood, moms will put on a brave face and only present the good. But this is a bit like trying to recruit future Olympic athletes by pretending that it’s a cake walk. Not effective because it’s not authentic. It is better to admit the difficulty and affirm that it’s worth it. As G.K. Chesterton insisted, a mother’s task is challenging not because it is minute or unimportant, but because it is gigantic.

Where does the pressure to pretend that one of the most physically and emotionally challenging life experiences– new parenthood– is a smooth ride, come from? It’s part of what I like to call ‘femachosim’–the tendency to be competitive about motherhood, and to shy away from admitting any vulnerability or suffering which would seem to indicate weakness. There is an underlying insecurity in this attitude…a fear of being told their suffering is their fault, and that they shouldn’t have wasted their time having kids. These kinds of things do get said.

In an essay in the anthology “Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood,” I discuss this devaluation of motherhood and femininity in general. I question the validity of a feminism which looks down on the intrinsically feminine power of bearing and nurturing children, and only values professions that have typically been done by men.

A friend of mine who recently returned from maternity leave has heard comments at her workplace like, “being a stay-at-home mom is for lazy, lost losers.” This attitude can make new moms feel parenting should at least be an easy ride and not a challenge. “How hard can it be? It’s just changing diapers…right?” So they hide their struggles.

The fact is that motherhood is extremely hard, besides being beautiful and rewarding, but that we moms choose it anyway. We choose the sleepless nights, the intensity of labour, the vulnerability of having our hearts walk around outside of ourselves in tiny little bodies we are totally responsible for. It’s overwhelming and exhausting and challenges every fibre of our being. And we choose it anyway. We choose to love. We choose to give of ourselves constantly. We choose to have enough hope in our world to believe that life is worth living and worth sharing. We don’t choose it because it’s comfortable. We choose it because it’s transformative. If that’s lazy I need a new dictionary, because I can’t imagine how those things are at all connected.

So you new moms out there, if you’re struggling, reach out. Don’t suffer alone and isolate yourself, for fear of not being a super mom. I saw a great t-shirt tonight that said, “World’s Okayest Mom.” It made me laugh so hard! None of us are perfect. But we’re in this together, and it’s a lot more fun that way. Spend time with other moms. “Waste” time visiting over coffee. The laughter and conversation you have there can save you hundreds at a therapist later!

Many people suffer from post-partum depression for a time after birthing, and there is help. A good place to start is postpartum.org, which also has great materials for your spouse to read. Your hormones are raging and sleep is a distant dream…so don’t beat yourself up if that takes a toll. Reach out. Talk to your doctor. Talk to friends who are supportive. Take steps to get help. And don’t be afraid to ask for it. Lean on others, so they can one day lean on you. That’s what friendship is. It enriches life so deeply.

With a support network of mom buddies, your life with kids is really awesome, despite the difficulties…there are so much opportunites to share, grow and love together. So next time someone asks how you are, think twice before you pop out “Fine.” Your honesty might open the gate for the other women around to share their struggles and find the support they really need as well. How rewarding is that?

Two Pounds Richer

  

Have you ever wondered what the best gift for a mom with a new baby is? How you could best help her feel supported while she recovers from birth and gets into the swing of nursing? Well here is a simple way to be a hero, and the best of friends: organize a meal train for her! 

There is a simple website called Meal Train which will help you do just that. Simply invite all her friends and family by email to sign up for a date on your meal train page and you’re done. The site will lets the mom know when someone signs up to help out and even send reminder emails to people the day before their meal drop off day. 

There is a place to put favourite meals or let people know about allergies or any other preferences so that the food can be the most helpful. You can suggest fruit and veggie trays, muffins and other snacks as well as meals. I recommend scheduling the meals every two days, rather than every day, as the help lasts longer then, and leftovers can be used up on alternate days. 

I have been the very lucky recipient of meal trains since I had my second baby and it is always such a help. The nicest thing for a mom with a new baby is to be mothered a bit! I want to send a big thank you to all who have spoiled me in this delicious way! You are really a special part of making my baby’s first days more smooth and peaceful.

 
 I am very moved by the fact that some ladies who helped me only know me because I smile at them when we are both tending to our little noisy ones at the back of the church during Mass. You never know what a friendly smile will bring your way!

And best of all, thanks to your yummy spanakopita, Greek salad, cake, roasted butternut squash soup, homemade lasagna, chicken and potatoes, chilli, muffins, cookies, fruit, chocolate and so much more, my little three week early baby has gained 2 lbs! Thanks for making his milk, and my life, so much richer by your generous love!

  

How to peacefully bathe a newborn 

Newborns love being all cuddled and cosy, curled up close to mom like they were in the womb, so often their least favourite thing is getting their diaper changed or having a bath, because they feel vulnerable and exposed. They wave their skinny little arms as though they were falling, and look very startled. This means that first baths can be a bit of a scream festival, which is hard on new babies and new mommies and daddies alike. When you’re sleep deprived and your hormones are raging, the last thing you want to do is something you know will set off baby alarm bells. 

So how to avoid this? Is there a way to bathe a newborn peacefully? Yes! Please learn from my mistakes, and do it the better way. When I bathed my first daughter, I was so nervous. I didn’t want her to get burned by hot water or drown, so I only put a few inches of lukewarm water in her baby bath tub, and took forever to bathe her with baby soap before rinsing her off. She hated it of course, as she was so cold! I hated it, too! Her crying was making me so upset. 

Here are simple steps to a better way:

 

  1. Fill the baby bathtub really full, till almost the top.
  2. Use really warm water. Not actually hot…but much warmer than you would think, remembering that water cools quickly in the small tub. 
  3. Cradle the back of your baby’s head with your right hand, supporting his body with your arm. To make this easier I put our baby bath up on the counter, or you could use a table instead, with a towel under it. Then you don’t have to bend way over, and get a sore back. 
  4. Lay the other arm on top of baby to hold him secure, and if he likes, let him suck in your finger to soothe himself. When I did this last time, my newbie got so relaxed he almost fell asleep! 
  5. Get your spouse or an older child to gently pour a little water over baby’s head (not face) and in those little creases of the neck where milk hides. 
  6. Keep the bath brief, about 5 minutes or so, and don’t bother with soap at first. Newborns smell lovely, and just need a little dip to freshen up every now and then. Bedsides, you are constantly wiping them during diaper changes or cleaning their little faces with a warm cloth, so in my opinion you don’t need to feel pressured to bathe them every day, unless you want to! 
  7. Choose a moment when you are fairly relaxed, and can ignore the phone or other interruptions and just enjoy this cosy moment with your beautiful, precious new mini you!
  8. Have a cosy towel and blanket ready, and follow the bath with a nice snuggle and some warm milk! 

  

Baby Love

A lot of people worry about sibling jealousy when a new baby comes. I have found that babies bring a lot of joy and help the other kids feel a sense of importance because they are able to help out. If you’re not convinced, the proof’s in the pictures….the only jealousy we have here is over whose turn it is to hold the baby next! 👭👶🏼👭