Listen To Your Mother – Lessons of Life and Death

I am humbled. Last night I met the cast of the Listen to Your Mother show of Delaware during our read through. The stories you will hear if you come to the show on Mother’s Day are incredible, raw, and impactful. I’m not sure exactly how my playful tale of breastfeeding found its way into the mix, but I am going to relish every minute I get to spend with these vibrant women.

Never in my life have I heard such an amazing collection of words about Motherhood. Some of the stories are about being a Mother. Some of the stories are about having a Mother. The ones that touched me the most were about Mothers like mine. I did not write about her, but I heard her and relived moments with her through the other stories. I am not alone in this journey and I am not experiencing anything new. It is possible that I learned more about Motherhood in two hours than in the past two years.

Many of the stories are about death. For a very long time, I was afraid to die. The fear paralyzed me because I anticipated death in an unwelcome and untimely fashion. Even though Death has not been a prevalent visitor in my life, it has been impactful. I do not know my maternal Grandmother because she died of cancer when my Mom was nine years old. We didn’t talk about it much and to this day I am hestitant to broach the subject. I have learned that in the absence of knowledge, fear grows.

I feared many things before becoming a Mother. I was afraid of birth, divorce, pain, poverty, loss of income, worms, and the outdoors. The ability to live through a setback or time of uncertainty was a mystery to me. Above all, I was afraid to die and leave behind my sweet daughters. My response to the void of knowledge was to devour books on the subjects. What started as a long, slow quest for understanding has turned into a snowballing transition into a new lifestyle. I realized that all this time, my fear of death was keeping me from living.

Right now, I am fortunate for many things. Most of all, my family. I am not afraid any more because I have an understanding of many things. Most of all, I understand that life is unexpected. The more I learn and understand a great many things, the more I have discovered that I do not need to know everything to have a satisfactory life. I just need to be in the moment. When we satisfy our most basic needs first, everything else is a gift. That is our journey. A simple quest for water, nourishment, and shelter has blossomed into the most beautiful life.

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Breastfeeding Is Life

This Mother’s Day, I will be performing in the production Listen to Your Mother at the World Cafe Live in Delaware. I’m sharing an original work that highlights my humorous, semi-non-fictional experience of breastfeeding. At just $18 per ticket, it costs roughly the same as a store-bought bouquet of flowers and is a much more unique gift option for your Mom. I hope you’ll come see the show.

I wrote about breastfeeding because it’s something that I do every day, many times a day. There are times when it’s hard and sad and painful, but there are also times when it’s downright funny. It was important for me to get the word out that Breastfeeding is real. It’s not something that happens in a big, comfy chair every day. In my house, breastfeeding happens while a toddler smears poop on her potty chair. Sometimes it happens and I’ll forget to button up my nursing tank back over my exposed nipple. Most nights I fall asleep while nursing my baby because it literally drains me. But, at the end of it all, this has been one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. I’m also not stopping any time soon, so I thought I would put my happy, breastfeeding experience into the spotlight before it becomes a NATIONAL FIASCO when I feed a baby who is old enough to ask for milk. At least, I won’t have any spilled sippy cups.

Photo Credit: Autumn Rishty Photography

Photo Credit: Autumn Rishty Photography

 

Potty Training

Last week Hannah decided she was done with diapers. I was hoping to put off potty training until this summer for the ease of wearing dresses and going bottomless. When she started handing me her soiled diapers, I knew it was time to bite the bullet and dive right in. Kids have windows of awareness and curiosity. When you catch it just right, you’re golden… for the most part.

I got some great advice from my Facebook fans about potty training. The next morning, I set a potty chair in our playroom on a blanket and let her roam. We talked about the potty now and then and if she started to go, I scooped her up and over to the potty and cheerily exclaimed, “Go potty!” She caught on really quickly. I’m not going to say there weren’t any accidents or it wasn’t messy, because it was totally gross, but I got over it. Just like the first time I pulled off a cloth diaper and threw it into the washing machine, it wasn’t that bad. In all honesty, I’m really excited about the progress because it means that I’m down to one kid in diapers!

The thing that really worked for Hannah was getting a book with a potty theme. I kept it next to her potty chair and reading helped her stay focused on the task at hand. Once we had the action and the vocabulary down, it was really just a question of if it would work out of the house. We took a chance and ventured to the nursery. I wore Hannah and when she started to fidget I asked, “Go potty?” She replied, “potty” so we walked to the parking lot and I let her sit on the potty chair in the front seat. She was a little nervous about it so I put it away and packed her back up. I asked again, “potty?” and when we set everything back up she sat on the chair and thought it was the bee’s knees. She laughed, quickly went potty and we caught back up with her Dad inside. I was so proud of her!

She was really happy, too. I feel like I have been holding her back the whole time. She’s known about her functions and has used squeals and escape tactics to let me know. I just wasn’t taking the opportunity to help her use the potty because diapers were easier for me. Let’s face it, anyone who has taken a picture of a toddler knows that catching any action in the moment is nearly impossible. I’ve hidden behind Audrey in the carrier for long enough, so I finally gave Hannah the attention she needed to develop her potty awareness.

This wasn’t our first trek with potty training. When Hannah was 4 months old, I read about Elimination Communication and held her over a potty while she peed. I thought it was the greatest idea in the world, but the process didn’t stick because I created a lot of barriers between a convenient potty and an infant. From the way I dressed her to the errands we ran each day, it just wasn’t going to happen for us. When she turned 12 months, I was eager to help her learn because she showed a lot of curiosity. Most likely, that was because I had to pee 25 times a day in my ninth month of pregnancy. That’s why I really liked the idea of Potty Learning. There were no expectations for her to go. If she wanted to try, she could. At 15 months she showed more signs of curiosity, so I bought her a potty chair. We made some real progress and had a few great days. Those were often followed by a week or a month of total indifference to the potty. By 18 months, I completely gave up. That child flushed the toilet more times than I can count each time we walked into the bathroom. When she lost interest, I decided to give our water bill a break until further notice. I’m happy to report that after months and several different attempts at different phases of growth, I really feel like we’re on the right track.

Potty training was a happy experience. It was positive and upbeat and it gave Hannah the chance to show her independence. If she uses a diaper tomorrow, that’s ok. If she doesn’t, that’s even better because I take a chocolate chip each time she has her potty reward, too. (Ok, I take 5, but I’m nursing!) This is an awesome age for potty learning because Hannah is motivated by her discoveries. She’s learning how to control her body functions and she’s learning about rewards. Luckily she is also too young to remember that I let her fall into the toilet. I can hardly forgive myself for laughing at that one, but she took it like a champ.

potty trainingIn all fairness, potty training a kid who wears cloth diapers is an easy task compared to using disposables. Not only do they feel the sensations easier, but we also have some great supplies for the task. If I don’t feel comfortable that I’ll catch her cues, I can put one of Hannah’s Gro-Via cloth diapers on her bum. She’s been keeping them dry during outings for a while, so she understands they’re more of a backup now. I have a diaper sprayer attached to the toilet which makes the messy cleanups a little better. Since I’m already doing diaper laundry for Audrey, I just use cloth wipes for her cleanup and pre-fold diapers as towels to clean up the potty chair. Baby Legs are also really popular in the cloth-diapering circles. These leg warmers come in lots of varieties for boys and girls and work great for cool-weather potty training.

For as difficult as it can be to wrangle Hannah, she’s been really great through this whole habit shift. How was your potty training experience?

Poop

The law of cloth diapering appears to be:

As soon as the laundry begins, the child will poop.

No matter what time of day I start the laundry, I can be sure that the next diaper will be full of poo. Some days are worse than others. Take, for instance, today. No sooner did I delay my early load of laundry, than Hannah greeted me with a load in her pants. I smugly thought I was ahead of the curve as I plopped the dainty, compact poo into the toilet and started the laundry. For once, I was experiencing diaper serendipity! I couldn’t have been more wrong.

toddler poopEach diaper throughout the day became progressively worse. In total, there were five diapers with poop in them today, each of a distinct and very different sort. The second detestable diaper came predictably as soon as the washing machine started the pre-rinse. It did not ruin my high spirits though, because I could easily toss it in for the wash cycle. The third undesirable diaper occurred while I was wearing Audrey, about 20 minutes before she was due to wake up from her peaceful slumber. If I laid her down she would undoubtedly wake up, so I opted to crouch next to Hannah for a standing diaper change since I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was completely unprepared, so I raced back to the diaper supplies and loaded up on extra wipes and washcloths. By the time I got her all cleaned up Audrey woke up anyway, so I changed her, too. When it comes to diapers in this house, there is never a dull (or dry) moment.

A little bit later Hannah and I started talking about her doll that we now use to demonstrate potty routines. She eagerly walked to the bathroom proclaiming, “poop!” So, I followed her in and got ready to watch her act out how to help her doll use the potty. To my surprise, she started to attempt to use the potty herself. I was so excited to help her along that I ripped off her diaper and another poop spilled right onto the floor. OMG gross! Of course I was wearing Audrey again so I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off collecting wash cloths, wipes, and cleaning supplies all while trying to prevent Hannah from getting poop on the back of her dress. In the midst of all this madness, I had to simultaneously entertain Hannah with the narrative of what I was doing to keep her from creating her own entertainment in the bathroom. That usually consists of her taking whichever child potty accessory is available and splashing it in the toilet bowl.

At this point, I was totally pooped. I literally sighed and collapsed on the couch for a few minutes before making dinner. I casually considered not feeding the kid since she was obviously filled to the brim, but reconsidered when she set off to scale the bar stool on her own in pursuit of the source of the smell coming from the kitchen. We polished off a meal and got ready to go upstairs to take a bath. Once again, I opened a poopy diaper and had no choice but to shrug it off.

It never ceases to amaze me that a child so cute can produce something so foul so frequently. This is not one of the finer moments of Motherhood, but this is real. Parents spend up to thousands of dollars on poop solutions without batting an eyelash because we can’t stop it from happening. Some days it feels like I’m up to my elbows in it. If you feel that way too, you’re not alone.

How Do I Do It?

babywearing momA lot of people like to ask me, “how do you do it?” I’m not sure if they genuinely want to know what a Mom and two babies do each day or if they are curious how I don’t lose my mind. Either way, I think this will show that I get through each day by spending quality time with my girls. I spend a lot of time just doing ‘anythings,’ but I try to give each girl focused attention for a solid block of time every day. Hannah and I work through an activity together while Audrey naps against my chest. We focus on what she wants to learn and I offer gentle suggestions if she stumbles. This little girl knows what she needs better than I do, so I watch and listen. She escorts me through all our chores (if I do them) and helps with the small steps. I’m not surprised any more when she begins to go through the actions of pulling out a cup or bowl. Sometimes she helps with laundry or changing Audrey’s diaper. But her favorite way to spend time is with her puppy. He captivates her. The two of them have standoffs from across the room and then chase each other around in fits of giggles.

Hannah is an incredible little toddler in my eyes. She’s not hitting any special milestones today or doing anything out of the ordinary, but she is inspiring me, as always. Hannah’s eyes are wide everywhere we go. Sometimes she greets others with a shy smile, but in familiar settings she takes off immediately to find the edge of the room. Her physical skills amaze me. From the sheer capabilities of a toddler motivated by her determination, she leaves nothing undiscovered. I absolutely love watching her ramble.

This morning, Hannah entered her playroom to find a vibrant collection of puzzles on the coffee table. They are the same puzzles we learn with and explore each day, but the display excited her. She immediately took the dolphin out of the sea and replaced him with ease. I dumped over a favorite gear puzzle and turned it around so that she could reassemble the pieces. We’ve spent a lot of snippets of time on various days working on color matching and affixing the gears to the pegs, so it was a joy to watch her work through the task on her own. She was so determined and pleased with the end result! We shimmied over to the next puzzle of farm animals. This time she took the liberty of dumping out the pieces and entertaining me with a rousing chorus of “E-i-e-i-o.” I asked her to point out the animals while she fumbled, without success to get the pieces into their spaces. She decided that the horse would prefer to attempt a daring feat of cascading through a hole in a box. Unfortunately, he was too big. All of a sudden it started to snow, so we watched at the window for a few minutes until snack time. Hannah repeated the words, “snow” and “cold.” She loves to watch the flakes fall.

I turned around to reply to a message on Facebook and THIS HAPPENED. Seriously, who says cell phone distractions are all that bad?

sleeping toddler

So I wrote a blog post while both girls napped and then I nursed Audrey when she woke up. We practiced blowing raspberries. She’s not really catching on, but she makes us both laugh with her hilarious attempts to puff her cheeks and PFFT. I helped Audrey stretch and bend her limbs and guided her through some baby asanas. After both the girls get their individual time, we just do other things around the house or outside. If Hannah wants to play toys, she’ll get engaged with something and I can step in. Since Audrey nurses at 9, 12, and 3, I usually try to have Hannah sit on the couch with me and read her a few baby books during Audrey’s meals. It’s a nice way to stay close with the pair. Hannah knows where Audrey gets her milk and sometimes she’ll sign for it, too. She is very attentive to Audrey’s needs and I like to foster that spirit. It’s really helpful if Audrey loses a pacifier and I can send Hannah on a search & rescue mission.

baby

Every day is a little bit different, but most of them are relatively the same. We all enjoy the familiarity of home and we all have similar needs that we can meet together. If we’re hungry, we eat. If we’re tired, we sleep. Got ya on that one, only the kids sleep. On days that are tough and everything seems to be off a beat, we all go outside. No matter the weather, we put on our gear and head out the door. The backyard makes a delightful space to explore. I can’t wait until this summer when we can troll around out there barefoot again.

I guess, when it comes to Motherhood, I don’t know exactly what ‘it’ is, but the girls let me know if I’m doing it or not. Raising the two of them is such an exciting challenge. We were chugging chugging for so long and I finally feel like we’re beginning to plateau out for a little bit of an easy streak. We know each other now. We know how to meet our needs and we all go to sleep feeling loved. In my book, I think that’s the ‘it’ I’ve always hoped to achieve.

Singing Praises for My Mother-in-Law

Happy birthday Cathy! Have I told you recently how wonderful you are? In full disclosure, this post is inspired by Scary Mommy’s Mother-in-law Prenup, but you deserve to hear it because you did a great job raising Zac. Also, you have fabulous hair that it appears Hannah is lucky to have inherited. Sadly, Audrey is going balder by the minute, but I could easily acknowledge that her vibrant smile complements yours and Zac’s.

As for the rule of making your son call you, I can’t take much credit for that and I wouldn’t want to since he tends to call you at 5 AM. He really is doing an amazing job staying in touch with you guys and we all enjoy the Skype chats that bring the family together on Sunday dinners. It’s no doubt that the TLC and acceptance you showed him throughout his rogue years are now paying off. He looks at you as a compassionate role model. But not for himself, for me.

He wants me to be like you because he loves you and he wants me to know the joy that you have as he honors that aspect of your terrific family. You may not live close by, but you live daily in his heart and his actions. Just the other night, I laid with Hannah for two hours coaxing her to sleep. She wasn’t fighting it, she just took her time to cuddle with her Mama. When I came downstairs, flustered that I wouldn’t be able to get much done that evening, he calmed me immediately by saying, “You’re a great Mom. My Mom used to do that for us.”

MILOne of my favorite things that you did for your family was to chronicle them with thousands of photos. The videos and galleries and albums that Zac shares with me are a window to his amazing childhood. I love that you created traditions through photography, like the yearly picture of Zac with his birthday poster.

There’s a lot on this Mom path that I’m figuring out on my own and it sometimes leaves me guessing what impact it will have on the girls when they grow up. I don’t worry about that any more.  I know that I don’t have to do everything right, and more importantly, the girls don’t either. I can encourage them, love them, and accept the good with the bad every day of their lives just like you did with your boys. Thank you for putting Zac on loan to me so that we can create these adorable grandbabies. I hope that the next one (when that happens) has your eyes.

Breaking Up with my Pediatrician

By: Jeannette Bezinque

Our pediatrician did a bad, bad thing. Actually, he’s done a few bad things over the past year and a half that have led me to the decision to walk out the door. It’s not easy to select a doctor for your kids before becoming a parent. It’s even harder to recognize when that professional is giving you poor advice. I’ve been aching to find someone new for a long time. His words at Audrey’s 6 month checkup sealed the deal.

He thinks that I need to give Audrey rice cereal during the day to get her to sleep through the night. Now, he also suggested this at the four month visit and I balked at the idea because it didn’t work for Hannah. I’ve done a lot of boob-related soul searching to learn about what went wrong breastfeeding Hannah and there are quite a few things that I’ve pinpointed. For one thing, there was no need to begin feeding her solids at 4 months. Instead, I should have rested, drank more water, and allowed her more frequent access to the breast. This is what I should have done because I wanted to continue breastfeeding. It didn’t work out, and I ultimately weaned her around 7 months to both of our dismay. Sadly, our Ped supported this decision and encouraged me to wean early in order to allow my body to support the new baby I was carrying. In the depressing months that followed, I realized it wasn’t the right choice for us.

There are a lot of reasons why kids won’t sleep through the night at various points in their life. It’s also common for babies to follow a similar pattern of wakeful weeks around big developmental phases. Coincidentally, these line up with the 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 month checkups so it would be easy to mis-diagnose a sleep issue as a feeding issue. I know that Audrey is getting enough milk during the day because she is content, satisfied and happy. Not to mention- have you seen the cheeks on this kid? She is also pooping a plentiful volume. This is not a picture of hunger.

6 month old baby

However, he charted Audrey’s growth and noted that her weight has fallen from the 60th percentile to the 45th percentile since our last visit. I didn’t see this as a big issue since she’s been much more mobile in the past weeks and is still giving me plenty of indications that she is well-fed. Since I was concerned that he wasn’t making the right suggestion, I asked if I should work at augmenting my supply. He told me that most women ‘top off’ around 32 ounces per day so there was no point in going that route. REALLY?! If that’s the case, then how do women feed twins, or tandem nurse a toddler and a baby? I suppose he didn’t think either of those could be done without formula since he already pushed me into weaning my first child prior to a baby’s arrival.

I put this topic up for discussion in my nursing support group and found great feedback. First of all, some pediatricians follow a completely separate growth chart for breastfed babies because it is normal and healthy for their weight gain to drop off at this stage. Another mama chimed in that she produces 50 oz per day after experiencing low supply issues early on. Everyone supported my decision to wait to feed Audrey cereal as a means to get her to sleep through the night. It simply doesn’t work like that. There are too many reasons why children wake at night and in this case, it’s not because she isn’t getting enough to eat each day.
crappy magAs if I didn’t already have enough cannon fodder to execute the decision to leave the practice, I noticed a stack of magazines on the way out the door. Articles titled, “Why Breast wasn’t best for my Baby” and “It’s OK to let him cry it out (really)” don’t belong in the office of the Doctor that’s right for our family. Along with the formula propaganda on the growth charts, I finally see that I’ve been in the wrong environment for a breast feeding Mom. I’ll be more careful with my selection next time because I know now what an advocate for breastfeeding looks like. It’s not just a person who states that breast feeding is “wonderful.” It is a person who makes a commitment to our children to best educate parents about their needs for a healthy start.