Miracle Heartbeat: Music to our ears

I was celebrating with a twitter friend who saw her miracle baby’s heartbeat for the first time today. She has had a long road with repeated pregnancy loss and this is the farthest a pregnancy has ever progressed for her. She is thrilled and yet still incredibly anxious. I remember too well the fear and the relief, the trepidation that those of us in this silent sorority still feel even when we “graduate”.

I remember how scared I was at Willow’s first ultrasound. I was praying for the best but had been warned that there may not be a heartbeat. There had been a crazy amount of cramping and blood loss. I had locked myself in the bathroom and scream-cried until I felt like I was going to pass out. I had mentally catalogued every piece of food I had put in my mouth that could have caused inflammation, every activity I had engaged in that may have stressed my body just that bit too much, every child with a runny nose I had worked with who may have set off my overactive immune system… I had desperately searched for the reason my body was killing off another baby.

When I saw the flicker of Willow’s little heartbeat on the ultrasound screen I wept and wept, literally shaking with relief and joy. It was a transformative moment. This baby was REAL. This baby was alive. This baby was here to stay. Maybe.

I came home and wrote this song for her… (Click on link below to hear)… I played the song for her every day until she was born. It was playing on my iPod when she came into the world.

http://m.soundcloud.com/kimiko-marie-newbata/mb

Miracles can happen. Rainbows can come after the rain. Mine is cuddling with me right now. 🙂

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A Mother’s Body

I’ve frequently been asked by other women (usually other mothers) what I’m doing or planning to do to “get my body back” now that I am past the initial six week postpartum recovery time. Weight and body image is an obsession of many new and not-so-new moms, and most are astounded that I do not know how much I weigh or how much “baby weight” I “need” to lose.

I’ve seen countless magazines at the grocery store with articles advertising diets, pills and exercises to help women get into “pre-baby” shape. As though somehow new mothers should all be striving to look as though we didn’t change and grow (physically, mentally, spiritually), as though we never carried a child under our hearts, were not active participants in the creation of a miracle…

Did I somehow lose my body by becoming a mother? Why do I need to “get it back”? Should I really feel compelled to restrict my food intake (at the cost of compromising my breast milk quality or supply) or join a “baby belly boot camp” (instead of spending more time playing with my daughter) so that I can fit into skinny jeans and some sort of societal image of what a mother “should” look like two months postpartum? Should I be saving for plastic surgery instead of saving for Willow’s Post-Secondary Education?

Here’s what I’m doing: I am eating my doctor recommended 500 extra calories per day to ensure a healthy milk supply (I don’t count calories, but I’ve incorporated extra snacks to boost my intake by roughly that amount). I eat delicious food whenever I am hungry and I enjoy every bite (especially since I had severe morning sickness throughout my pregnancy and struggled to eat). I take Willow out for walks in her stroller so that both of us get some sunshine and fresh air, and so that I can get stronger after months on bedrest. I “weight lift” my infant, groceries, and laundry. That’s it. No special calorie-restricted diet. No baby belly boot camp. No stroller jogging classes. No leaving my child at a gym daycare while I lift weights.

I proudly own the beautiful extra little bits of padding that make such nice soft spots for my daughter to cuddle into when she is tired, thankful for the extra fat stores that are allowing me to easily produce enough nutrition for my growing girl. As I get undressed at night, I often lovingly run my fingers over my stretch marks, seeing where my baby grew and where my body grew to accommodate her. As I bathe, I will notice the beautifully healed incision that helped my baby to get out safely when she was in distress. I note the pigmentation in my skin and the changes to the size and shape of various body parts when I stand in front of the mirror, and I smile knowing that I have earned every one of these changes in my beautiful mother’s body.

On the first day of Spring a baby was born. On the first day of Spring a mother was also born. A mother who realized that her body was stronger and more amazing than she could ever have imagined. A mother who vowed on that day to forever love this body which had seemingly betrayed her in the past, to continue to treat it with reverence, love and respect long after its precious cargo was delivered.

I waited years for the privilege of this mother’s body, with its permanent reminders of the incredible transformation I have been through as a human being and as a woman. So no, contrary to what the media would have you believe, I am not on a desperate quest to “get my body back”. I’m thankful for the gift of this beautiful, strong, functional body and the gorgeous cherub that it grew.

Daddy Bashing

There is no shortage of memes out there depicting fathers as “another child in the house” or otherwise implying that men are essentially incapable of adequately caring for themselves or their offspring. Bashing men via social media is a very popular pastime, and bashing fathers is a big part of that. I’m sure you’ve seen one of the many daddy-bashing visuals circulating the internet. They are sent via email to colleagues, favourited on Twitter, liked on Facebook, commented on with “LOL”… and otherwise shared, tolerated and encouraged.

All too often I have heard groups of women in various social and workplace settings trash-talking their male parenting partners, referring to them as “babies” and complaining about men’s alleged inability to parent:

“Josh doesn’t know how to put Ali’s diapers on. She always ends up peeing herself. He has two University degrees and can’t figure out how to put a diaper on securely. It’s just easier for me to do it myself.”

“Mo dressed Mahmoud today, as you can see by the mismatched top and bottom. I can never let him dress the kids if we are going any place nice. They look like urchins when he dresses them.”

“Kai never puts a sweater or a hat on the baby. It’s like he doesn’t even notice her shivering in the cold.”

“When I go away for training and Raj babysits they end up eating pizza pockets and chips the whole weekend.”

“I can’t even tell the twins have been bathed when Seth does bath time. They still have dirt in the creases of their legs and arms. Seriously… Other than the wet hair I wouldn’t know that they had touched the water.”

“I have TWO babies to take care of now.”

“I always tell my husband: If at first you don’t succeed do it the way mommy told you to do it in the first place.”

First of all, are these women really such poor decision makers that they actually chose to live with and raise children with incompetent humans? Are they exaggerating to get pity or to elicit a laugh at their partner’s expense? Are they hoping to get a badge for their mommy martyrdom? Or are they possibly control freaks and perfectionists who, instead of working on their need to control people and situations, are focusing on and mocking their partner’s inability to live up to impossibly high standards?

I am not talking about women whose husbands refuse to change a diaper or to be involved in a child’s life in any significant way. There are men in this world who are, indeed, “deadbeat dads”. No, I’m speaking of women whose partners are trying their best to parent with whatever experience and confidence they have. Women who are (unconsciously) working toward further degrading the already low opinion that our society has of the capacity of men to be good partners and parents, and fuelling other women’s distrust of their own partners as parents.

Do we, as a society, want men to be involved in their children’s lives and in the day to day care of their children? Then why do we collectively put them down when they try their best to be good partners and parents? Why do we post cruel “jokes” on social media sites which depict fathers as incompetent fools? Why do some people still refer to daddy-child time as “babysitting”?!?

Are most mothers controlling by nature? I recognize that I have to fight my own inner control freak frequently on this journey of parenthood, from trying to hide my look of horror when someone suggests I put my child with no neck control in a high chair, to wanting to whisk my baby out of the baby blanket class at the Early Years Centre immediately when I see another mom in the room coughing or sneezing, to wanting to physically remove an inquisitive and grubby toddler’s hand from my daughter’s face. I know that one of the life lessons Willow is teaching me is about giving up control.

My husband doesn’t put diapers on the same way that I do. Our daughter is no worse off for it. He carries her differently. He cuddles her differently. He soothes her differently. He plays with her differently. His way is not wrong. It is Daddy’s way, and Willow seems to be cool with it… So why should I take issue with it?

I am not a visual person. When I dress my daughter she usually doesn’t “match” unless an entire outfit (including socks) was preselected and given to me. We often joke that Willow is a “fashion nightmare” when I dress her. I also have huge spatial sense issues. Despite being placed in “gifted” programs in school, I am utterly incompetent and frustrated when I try to put on a Baby Bjorn without my husband’s assistance. My parenting partner had to show me how to get the baby in the car seat and how to put the car seat in the car. He had to show me how to use the stroller, the baby swing, the breast pump, bottles, formula, and how to do up the snaps on various Jammies and sleepers. I still have no idea how the batteries magically fit inside the baby bouncer chair. Without my husband Willow would be naked, starving, bored, and unable to leave the house. And yet… my husband doesn’t post disparaging comments or pictures on Facebook to get a laugh from family and friends. He doesn’t tell all of his workmates how incompetent of a mother I am and how much of a martyr he is for “taking care of a baby AND a wife.”

Willow has a pretty awesome Daddy. He is learning how to be a parent, just as I am. He has strengths and weaknesses, just as I do. He is not perfect, and neither am I. There is nobody else on this planet I would rather have as my parenting partner, and I am so glad that he is thriving and growing in his confidence as a father despite the negative messages fathers receive in our culture.

Involved and loving Daddies of the world, thank you for doing things “your way”, even when you are told it is not the “right way”. Thank you for loving your children in the way that only a Daddy can, and for doing all of the thankless everyday jobs that we so often forget to notice. Thanks for taking things in stride when your partner is repeatedly praised by society for her hard work as a parent and you are often left out or ridiculed. An involved and loving Daddy is a gift to a child that leaves a lasting imprint on both the child and the human race. Thank you for making our kids and our world kinder, gentler, and full of love.

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Professional Aunties and “other-mothers”

My husband’s step-father congratulated me on being able to celebrate Mother’s Day this year as a “real” mother. I replied that I had always been a mother in my heart, even if I just met my child this year. I truly believe that Motherhood is a state of mind more than a state of producing or caring for a child.

Some children are lucky enough to grow up in functional, happy families with a mother who lavishes attention and love upon them. I’ve worked with many wee ones who have not had the luxury of being raised by “perfect” parents, and many have looked to me to fill a much-needed gap in their lives. I have willingly “tagged in” for Mothers who were working several part time jobs, mothers who worked the night shift, mothers who were too drunk or stoned to properly take care of themselves let alone a child, mothers with so many children they were too busy to give each the Individual attention he or she craved, abusive or neglectful mothers, mothers who had abandoned their children either physically or emotionally, mothers who were separated from their children by court order, mothers who were incarcerated, mothers who didn’t want to be mothers but were forced by family or religion to keep their children, mothers who were just too tired out by the demands of daily life that they had very little energy to give to their children at the end of the day. As a woman without my own children, I had energy, time and love to give to those who needed it most.

We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. As a teacher I know this to be true. But teachers aren’t the only people who love our children into the incredible adults they are to become. And even “good parents” need the help of other loving, nurturing adults to act as caregivers, role models and confidantes for their children.

Willow’s “honourary grandmother” has no biological children or grandchildren, but she is truly a Momma. She was a school teacher, mentor and union leader in her paid career, and is a “professional aunt” and great-aunt in her personal life. She has helped to love and nurture so many humans over the years, from wee little babies to Elementary French Immersion students, to struggling school teachers who needed just as much patience and nurturing as a newborn. I’m not sure that this woman could give as much as she does to other people’s children if she had children of her own at home to return to and worry about at the end of each day.

Does the Universe put some women on Earth with the explicit purpose of helping to raise and mother the children of others? I used to wonder if I was meant to be such a person. The desire of my heart was clearly to be a mother to my own child, but I spent a lot of time mothering the children of other mothers, and it certainly made me feel wonderful to be able to do so. When we realized that my body might not be able to carry a baby to term I wondered if God had arranged it in such a way so that I would always have the time, energy and love to give to children who were not my own. Perhaps I was simply looking for meaning in an otherwise meaningless and disappointing situation, but I have met some pretty amazing “other mothers” in this life who were able to give me or my daughter just what we needed when we needed it, and would likely not have been able to do so if they had their own children to worry about.

Willow’s Godmother and Auntie has no children of her own. While I was playing with my dolls and pretending to feed them and teach them how to read my sister was observing and documenting animal behaviour and watching taped surgeries on our television. I dreamed of becoming a teacher and a mommy. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and living in a house with a big fenced backyard for her many animals to play in. Both of us finally have our heart’s desires.

While my sister deliberately chose not to have biological children, she made it very clear from the beginning that she wanted a niece. She literally stood outside our honeymoon suite on our wedding night chanting “Make me a niece!!” Of course, had Willow been born with testes instead of ovaries, Auntie still would have loved him, but her preference was quite clear.

Willow’s Godmother spoils her and dotes on her. She oohs and aahs over the photos and videos I send her. She is actually interested in every minute detail of Willow’s development. She will drive for six hours each way to spend one weekend with her niece. She took 20 photos of Willow in the same pose because the facial expressions were slightly different in each shot and she didn’t want to miss any of them. Would she be this enraptured with her niece if she had children at home to care for? Probably not. Would she be willing and able to travel so far just for a day and a half of baby cuddling time? Unlikely.

As Willow gets older I know that she will continue to need other women to “mother” her. She will need someone to be patient with her on days when my patience runs thin. She will need someone to listen to her tell her story about a funny incident at Daycare or school… a story that her father and I will have heard ten times already and will no longer react to in quite the way she is hoping for. She will need someone to talk to when she has her first kiss or her first crush, and it’s okay if she doesn’t want that person to be me or her father. She will need someone to complain to about how unfair her parents are when we don’t let her stay out as late as she would like. Enter the professional Aunties of the world.

Willow will be drawn to the women who can meet the needs that I cannot. She will find comfort and understanding in the arms of her role models and confidantes. Some little girls are drawn into gangs and abusive relationships of all kinds because they are searching for a sense of “family” outside of their own. My daughter is blessed to have many strong women in her life to act as her mentors and extended family, whether related by blood or by love.

Today, the day after Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate the love of the Professional Aunties/”Other Mothers”, the ones for whom Hallmark has yet to create a card or a holiday. The women who work quietly and largely unnoticed in the background to ensure that the human race moves forward in a kinder, gentler, more loving way. Thank you, professional Aunties and “other-mothers” of the world. Thank you.

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Mommy Martyrdom

Why are mothers so highly praised for acting like martyrs in our society? For giving so much of themselves that sometimes there is nothing left for themselves (or their relationships for that matter… But that’s another blog post for another day)? Stories abound in which “a mother’s love” is demonstrated through extreme selflessness, often to the point of self-destruction.

Tenneva Jordan writes, “A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”

On the surface this sounds like a sweet sentiment. Moms often give to those around them, and they often make sacrifices for those they love. What rubs me the wrong way is the cultural assumption that mothers MUST constantly be on the short end of things, that it is somehow their duty to always be in a state of “less than”.

Since I was a little girl I have received messages from the media and those around me that motherhood equals martyrdom, that my status and value as a person was already low because I was the product of two X chromosomes and somehow would decrease even more once I became a mother.

Mothers are sometimes given a copy of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein as a gift around Mother’s Day, as a symbol of the great sacrifice of motherhood. The book is often lovingly referred to by martyr mommies to help express the depths of their love for their children. I love the writing style of Shel Silverstein, but I’m more of a “Missing Piece” and “Where The Sidewalk Ends” kind of girl.

In case you haven’t read “The Giving Tree”, let me summarize it for you: The tree (symbolic mother) gave and gave to the boy (symbolic son) until the tree was essentially dead. The End.

The refrain in the book after each sacrifice is: “And the tree was happy…” The theme is basically one of codependency and unhealthy self-sacrifice.

Another way of telling this story is: “take my fruit and leaves, damage/carve me, cut off all of my branches and my trunk until I am but a stump in the ground so that you can be happy and abandon me… then I will be happy. Use me until I am but a shell of my former self and then I will be happy”.

I don’t know about you, but this message does NOT resonate well with me as a woman or as a mother.

I am reminded of the flight attendant speech I heard on the plane ride during our honeymoon… You know, the one in which the flight attendant stresses that healthy adults must FIRST give THEMSELVES the oxygen mask before assisting any children or infirm passengers with theirs.

How can I produce healthy milk for my daughter if I am not fueling my own body with nutritious food and beverages at regular intervals? How can I model proper self care and hygiene if I myself don’t make time to brush my teeth or bathe? If I show my daughter that mothers (and by extension, women) deserve less respect than the rest of the members of a family what kind of role model am I being?

I’ve recently spoken to a number of moms who say they feel guilty when going to the bathroom if it means being separated from their crying baby, moms who go days without showering or bathing because they are too busy meeting their child’s needs to engage in self-care, mothers who eat only one meal per day, and only after baby’s “bedtime”.

These mothers are shocked when I tell them that I’ve had a shower literally every morning since my baby was born, even if it meant that she screamed with daddy in the next room the entire time, or sat fussing in a reclined “bouncy chair” in the bathroom beside the tub. Some have been mystified at my apparent lack of the “nurturing gene” when I pull out my glucometer and proceed to eat during a mommy group, missing out on a few moments of precious interaction with my child while she squirms on her blanket. I explain that food has to be a bigger priority than interacting with my baby, as my diabetes requires constant monitoring, regular meal times, and a delicate balance of medication and carbohydrate intake. I do not have the luxury of eating only one meal per day once the baby is asleep.

The kicker: Martyr Mommies are mortified when I explain that even if I did not have a chronic health condition I would still be sure to eat regular meals to keep myself healthy. Yes, even if it meant that Willow was crying on her own for a few minutes while I finished eating.

We may give up higher salaries, periods of paid work, volunteer opportunities, and some amount of power or prestige to join the mommy club. We may give up some sleep and the notion of having privacy for any length of time in the bathroom for the next several years. We may give up ever fitting into our old jeans in quite the same way. We may give up some of our independence and much of our old way of life. These are the things I willingly signed up for.

I did not sign up to drink the Kool-Aid that equates Motherhood with Martyrdom. I did not sign up for the life that will show my daughter that she deserves less than anyone else or should have to destroy herself in order to raise a family.

Willow, you are as strong and as resilient as the tree you were named for. You have proven this to us several times when we thought we might lose you. I will do my best to continue to nurture your strength, and to teach you that women and mothers can be loving and nurturing toward themselves and still be good at taking care of others.

Indeed, mothers must nurture ourselves if we can at all hope to nurture those around us.

Mother, Mother Thyself…

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