Thursday, November 4, 2010

Embracing Mommyhood

Tonight I went for a walk with the baby in the jogger with Li and Kana.  We brought pails with us to  collect acorns to feed the squirrels.  We stopped at a place that was plentiful with acorns and met a friend/neighbor and son walking their dog.  While chatting, I mentioned that I would be teaching ballet again beginning next week.  My friend mentioned that she thought I would feel like a real person again by teaching ballet.  She meant this in a good way, but it is what started this whole thought process.  I explained that I was always a person, but by teaching ballet again, I'd be sharing a passion of mine....doing something that I love to do.  And that Jim was willing to come along with Kanoa so that  Kanoa could touch base with me if he needed to.  Or, if we all seemed comfortable, Kanoa and Daddy would stay home...I will have to wait and see how we all feel in the morning of the class.  But I would make sure that if they stay home that Jim could bring baby to me if he feels upset.  The dance class is held only a few minutes away and I am teaching the young children so that I can still do what I love to do, but do it in much less time than when teaching an advanced class or an adult class.  

I do many things -  ballet teacher, dancer, writer, reader, photographer, friend, neighbor, thinker, analyzer, house executive as well as wife and mother.  All of them reflect me at one time or another and no matter what I do, I am always a person.  I am a person choosing what to do with each moment.  How do you choose to spend your time?  What do you deem most important?  Does it change with the circumstances of your life? 

You can go through your children's childhoods feeling resentment and trying to get "your time" and complaining if there is not enough of it.  Or you can feel gratitude that you have your children and life and enjoy your precious moments together and find creative and maybe even satisfying alternative ways to do things you enjoy doing that fill your soul and give you strength and energy.  If you can't think of enough ideas, ask others! 

My oldest, now 13 yrs old!  Where did the time go?!

Kids grow up.  Babies and toddlers don't stay babies and toddlers forever.  It will be easy to do things for yourself in time.  At some point, the kids will likely not mind at all if you go out to do something.  In fact, you might be wishing they'd want to come along!  Enjoy it now that they want you.  Feel good to be wanted.  And when or if it comes time for them to be okay with letting you go, go and enjoy that too!  There are so many stages and phases in life to experience!

There are many parents of grown-up children to tell you how fast the time went and although it seemed like it was going slowly when they were in it, it did pass...and fast!  And they might even lament that they wished they could go back and relive some of those moments with young children.  This makes me relish the now I am living in.  To remember how good it is to be in this stage of my life!  How I know I'll miss it!  So I practice enjoying it now and am grateful for us all to be living the lives we lead. 

Tragically, there are families that have lost a child or parent.  This helps me prioritize my values and cherish our lives even more.  Time is precious.  I want to know I met as many needs and wants of my children as possible.  I can still meet mine because I am creative enough to find a myriad of ways to do so.  And it is kind of ironic that the more I fully meet my kids needs, the more their cups are full and I can meet my own!

Often mom's wonder how they can get some "me" time.  They may wonder when they get to be (insert first name) again.  Or may ask, "When do I get to be a real person again?"

First of all, we are always real people!  We all are at every moment.  It doesn't take being away from our children to suddenly become a real person again.  Nor do we have to find some sort of outlet or job in order to validate the importance of our existence and how we live our lives.  We are important just as we are.  And there is a huge, unquantifiable amount of importance in being available and there for our families! 

It is almost as if many people think our lives somehow go on hold while we are a parent, especially of young children.  Well, our lives don't go on hold.  They shift and change and we reprioritize what is importance to us.  Naturally, our babies are important to us!  And we are important to them.  In fact, they need us to survive!  Their physical and mental well-being depends on how we respond to and love them! 

Makanalani Rose in 2005 - photo by Pat McLean

Trust your instinct and your baby's cues!  And think about how your baby might feel in every circumstance.  Does baby want to be held by others or does baby seem happiest in mom's or dad's arms?  Do mom and baby sleep best together or are you pressured by the idea that you need to put your helpless, brand-new baby who is completely dependent on you in a cage in another room?  Does it really make sense to stick plastic things in baby's mouth to shut him up or soothe him when a real breast is meant to do this?  Isn't Mama better than a plug?  Oh...well....yes, that does mean that even during times when it seems inconvenient for mom she would nurse her needy baby.  Get the idea of babies being on any kind of schedule out of your head.  Follow baby's cues.  Meeting their needs quickly builds trust.  Baby learns to trust that mom or dad will take care of them: pick them up when they cry (and even if baby can't be helped, at least they know that they are cared for and mom and dad are trying....that counts for something!), change their diaper, change their clothing, help them get warmer or cooler or put them to the breast (almost always a winner!).  Think about how baby feels being put in a car seat.  If baby is uncomfortable, can the trip wait?  Can someone else go?  Can baby be put to sleep first?  Rather than consider leaving baby home, even for a short outing, take baby with you.  Baby needs to be with mom and has no understanding of time.  You may know you will be back in ten minutes, but to a baby, when mom is gone, she is Gone...maybe forever.  They don't yet understand mom will be back soon.   Do yourself and your baby a favor and keep the baby with you!  Mom and baby are meant to be together.  If it is a quick trip, then why wouldn't you take baby with you?  It can be a nice short trip out that will help you get used to longer ones.  i.e. a jaunt to the local market.  If it will be a long shopping trip, then baby needs to come because baby will surely miss mom or need to nurse or simply be with her.  Don't think of leaving baby with a pacifier or a is not natural and if your baby could talk, imagine what they would tell you of how much they want and need to be with you?  Keep your baby with you.  It feels good and right!  Take the shopping slow.  Stop and nurse!  How wonderful it is to nourish your baby wherever you are whenever you need to!  You are a powerful mother...creating life and now sustaining life with breastmilk.

I think we as moms need to begin feeling good about mommyhood and realizing how important it is for ourselves and our kids and society in general.  If mom felt good about being able to meet her child's wants and needs, then taking care of and being there for baby would feel empowering!  It would feel good and right!  She would want to do it!  It would be something to look up to, something to aspire to - to be a mom and take care of her family!

Our culture does us injustice though.  It implies that mom's need some time away from their infant or young child so she can regroup and reenergize and have some time to herself.  Oh, and some people will bring up the idea that it takes a village to raise a child and that in tribal communities, work was shared by all and everyone helped with child care.  Well, ain't no other mama gonna nurse my baby.  I want to be the one to take care of my children.  I don't need my neighbor doing that.  I mean, heck, if she wants to come over and vacuum or something, I'm all for it.  If she wants to read a book to my child, that's sweet (as long as my child likes that too).  However, I would never expect nor think that it is anyone else's  responsibility to bring up my child other than my husband and myself.  Why would I? 

One of the reason's we moved back from Hawaii to NJ was because I was pregnant and we thought it would be beneficial to be closer to our family (and it was wonderful being close in proximity for many reasons).  I likely thought about my mom possibly watching our future kids if we wanted to go out.  However, once our child was born, I rethought that idea and liked it less and less.  I only felt comfortable with my daughter being in the care of my husband or myself.  Being apart didn't feel right to either me or Katie!   I underestimated the bond that would form and how much we would want to be together.  How would someone else understand her cues when I am the one who knows her well and I am the only one who nurses her?  She depends on me!   She and I had built up alot of trust in our relationship where I had met her needs and we were in sync!  We had a great relationship going!  Wouldn't she feel abandoned by me not being there for her?  How could she possibly understand?  All she could do is cry to communicate.  And that she did the one time I left her as an infant.  When my tiny daughter was four months old, I succumbed to pressure to leave her home with my mom while I went to see the play Scrooge in a nearby town with my husband.  I know not whether the pressure was from my husband to relive old times or from my mother who thought it would be good for me to get out (I think she was looking forward to being with her granddaughter alone too - her friends sometimes watched their grandchildren.) or from me thinking that maybe I should give it a try.  I do remember feeling ambivalent about leaving her.  I nursed her just before we left.  I called partway through the first half of the play to check on little Katie and my mom said that she was crying.  We decided to nix the play and go home!

Well, you'd think I'd have learned from this experience not to leave infants.  But when Keli'i was born I thought it would be good for Katie to have some Mommy time with just her.  That is what I read was so important.  And I didn't want her to think I loved her any less now that we had a new baby.  I left Li with Jim and went to the grocery store for about 20 minutes.  I didn't have a cell phone at the time.  So I was probably a little anxious about getting back in case Li needed me (cried).  Not a pleasant set outing to the grocery store (what was I thinking?!  How about the park?!), an anxious, hormonal mom, and no way for Daddy to call if baby cried.  When I returned I found that Li had cried...hard.  Jim felt helpless.  I regretted leaving him so much!  I soothed him, nursed him, and promised him I'd never leave him again for a long, long time!  I kept my word too!  And I let go of the idea of having to give the firstborn children time away from the baby with just mommy so they don't feel left out.  We were all a family and I could love them all.  Loving them all means caring for everyone and meeting baby's needs first (usually).  There would be plenty of time when baby was sleeping or hanging out when Katie could still have some connection time with me.  It didn't even have to be just me.  But she still did need connection time. 

Li was so happy to be a big brother!  He truly loves babies!

So how can a mom incorporate some time to do something she would like to do while still caring for her child or infant?  By finding small moments in the day to fill her cup, she can fill energized and refreshed and good about caring for herself physically and emotionally.  Recharging oneself is different for all.  One person might enjoy a shower, another a cup of coffee or herbal tea.  Another might enjoy exercising and yet another might enjoy reading or writing or photography.  Whatever floats your boat, it IS possible to find ways to nourish your body and spirit and still be with your baby.  Many things can be accomplished either before baby wakes up, after baby goes to bed or during a nap.  Mom and dad can tag team so they each have a chunk of time to do something enjoyable - and you don't have to leave home to do this in case baby wants you!  If you think you need to get out to an exercise class in order to motivate yourself to exercise, then rethink how important the exercise is to you.  I mean, if you REALLY wanted to exercise, you would do it.  And you can.  It might look different than what you thought.  But heck, for a few years, you can be creative enough to find ways to get some sort of exercise and still be available for your child.  It might be a brisk walk with baby in a sling or a run with baby in a jogger, it might be doing a yoga or other fitness tape while baby naps or plays or lays nearby or is in Daddy's arms, it might be raking the leaves and doing garden or yard work while baby hangs out in the stroller (as long as baby is content), it might be putting on your favorite music and dancing around with the kids or doing aerobics or calisthenics.  Writing and reading can be done even while baby nurses or lays next to you in bed.  And photography....well, a camera can fit into a diaper bag, cellphones have cameras and many lovely moments can be captured even while baby is in your arms or nearby!

In early labor with Makana in 2005

Pregnancy: As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, she often feels her priorities shift into living a healthier lifestyle that protects herself and her growing baby.  Society is cool with that.  However, once a baby is born and mom gets a little initial rest, mom is often expected to have "recovered" (as if it was an illness!) and rejoin the rest of the world by doing most of the things she did before, either with baby in 
tow or left with a babysitter.  Mom's often hear comments about their weight and shape, lack of sleep, not fitting in their "regular" clothes, how taking care of their new baby must be so tiring and draining, or someone surprised that they "look so good."  And don't forget comments about wearing a good support bra!  Or not nursing too long or your teeth will fall out because the baby will suck the calcium from your bones!  We are led to believe that this early motherhood is a state of terribleness and it will all luckily pass and our life will someday right itself again.  It is not at all like that!  It is a blessing!  A miracle!  A time to cherish! 

Makana fell asleep nursing....I did love to gaze at her! 
This is one of those moments I will remember!
 Once a mom has a baby, there is no greater joy than sleeping with your infant curled up at your side, both getting extra needed rest.  Or gazing at your baby's sweet face as he lay across your lap and fell asleep nursing.  Or the feeling of snuggling your infant over your shoulder, especially when they are so relaxed (and trusting) and seem to fit there so perfectly.  There is so much comfort for that baby to know mom will always be there ready to breastfeed and hold and comfort when needed.  That must be one of the reasons that baby does fall into those deep slumbers over moms or dads shoulders.  Initially, the baby prefers mama.  Dad's ARE important and can hold baby and get things for mommy. 
All the help Dads can provide for mom (meals, drinks, pillows, blankets, caring for other kids so mom can nap, holding baby so mom can shower or do other things) makes it easier for mom to take care of baby.  But, they are not mom and can not replace mom.  Mom is the one with the feeders.  Mom is the one who bore the baby and the one the baby needs to be close to and held by for the majority of the time.  Sure, Dad can hold baby too, but often babies prefer mom.  And if you are trusting your baby, listen to him!  And holding a baby is important for mom too (skin to skin is best)...physically and mentally.  All that closeness is important and plays a role in emotional and physical health for both mom and babe. 
We loved this family afternoon adventure of apple picking!
Missed our oldest kids as they were off having their own adventures!
But glad they were doing something they loved!