If 2016 was the rise for me, then 2017 was meant to be the fall.
It was a year that broke me, in every sense and in every way possible.
2017 had reminded me that things in life are usually temporary, both the good and the bad. I lost a job, but I also received a beautiful daughter. We had to cut back on Sunday lunches out and coffee dates, but we also received another opportunity to appreciate the little things in life. Financially broke, but rich in experiences.
I took on new risks in my professional career and continued to learn as I went. Even if I had no idea what I was doing. (I still don’t.) I started a blog to hone my writing skills and to put my digital media knowledge to work. My husband and I picked up new leadership roles in our community and aspire to become small business owners. We are in the process of laying a foundation that will allow us to take charge of our lives, and to be free of any financial burdens we have taken on over the past few years.
This year helped me gain resolve and purpose. I got a better picture of what I wanted my life to be like, and clarity on how to get there. Now I just need to keep working hard on my goals and I will get to where I want to be. And the rewards will be amazing.
Failing does not paralyze me as much as it used to since 2017 was definitely the year of FAILURE for me. I was failing all over the place. But 2017 showed me how to persevere, even in the darkest moments. I’m now numb to the sting of disappointment, but I am able to quickly pick myself up and move on without looking back.
My inner demons tried to conquer me, as I fought and defeated the postpartum depression that left me devastated during a time of what was supposed to be joy and happiness. It was a dark and frightening storm that tried to ruin me and destroy all that I’ve worked hard for up to this point in my life. I still battle with my demons sometimes, but now I can make them dance and flee. I am not scared of them anymore and I will not be a slave to my own thoughts. I’m thankful for the friends and family members that supported me during this trying time of my life and continue to do so today.
I went through hell and back this year. There was a lot of pain. Loss. Sacrifice. Suffering. But all for a greater cause. Honestly, I don’t know how much there is left of me to take.
I think that’s because the old me is dying.
A newer, stronger version of me seems to be emerging. A version of me that I will need to get through the year ahead, as I can already see the new challenges and obstacles I will need to overcome. This year has hardened my heart, but perhaps for the better.
I am fearful, yet somehow after all of this, hopeful for 2018.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a little resentful about motherhood expectations. Particularly about what a dear friend of mine came to me to confess before heading out on a last-minute Christmas shopping outing. She had told me that she was feeling pressured by more than just a few people to cut back on occasional nights out with friends, concerned that she is not giving enough of her time to her husband and child. Meanwhile, her husband was happily playing Xbox with his friends online. Almost every. Single. Night. She was not the only friend of mine with kids to tell me this.
And boy, did that sound familiar to me… and it made me angry.
Why is it that when women go into motherhood, we are expected to act like nothing else exists in our lives? I’ll admit that there are certain “mom” stereotypes we most certainly fit now – the Target addictions, the yoga pants/messy bun combo, and the badge of honor that we wear on our clothing that can resemble spit up, poo, food stains, and the like. But why do some people still think that once we become mothers, that is our sole identity?
Why is it that when married women and mothers go out with their girlfriends, it’s a sign that she is having troubles or that her marriage is failing, but when husbands and fathers go grab a beer and bowl together, no-one bats an eye?
My name is still Jessie. However, I will be lovingly referred to now as PJ’s mom. (or another one that bugged me after I got married was Dan’s wife. I have a name, come on!!!)
Well, I am here today to let everyone know that I will not be guilted or pressured by anyone into sacrificing everything that is of me for the sake of raising PJ, or any siblings that may come after her. I understand that having children involves some degree of sacrifice and devotion to ensure the kid’s needs are met, but giving all of me, every day for the rest of my life is definitely pushing things too far.
Here are some things that would happen in my life (read: important!) if I decided to make my child the #1 priority.
1. My marriage would suffer.
I love Dan to death. He is my rock, my soulmate, and has been an amazing father. I couldn’t ask for anyone better to come along this wild journey of parenthood with. Just as Dan has made time for me in the past, I need to also make time for Dan too, as he is not just a father. He was a person with his own identity too before we got the news that would change our lives forever. And he still is.
The first few weeks after PJ came into the world were rough for me. Dan was there to make sure that I had what I needed while desperately trying to nurse our daughter and trying to recover from a tear I had acquired downstairs that had to be stitched up. Not to mention the hormones being all over the place, I was a wreck. He had to deal with that. Just as I have to deal with Dan when he has his moments where he feels like a wreck, too. I suppose that’s how marriage works.
And marriages need a lot of work investment to keep things rolling.
We need our date nights. We need to spend quality time with each other. We need to be able to talk about things besides diaper changes and napping schedules with each other. If I put 100% of myself into raising PJ, I will have 0% left for my relationship with Dan. And that would be a recipe for disaster. This is why having a quality babysitter or a fantastic relative who is able to watch our child is worth their weight in gold. There should be no guilt in taking time off from parenting.
And if we’re happy, guess what? We can be that embarrassing pair of parents that smooch, be affectionate, and have fun with each other in front of our kid. I want our daughter to know what a healthy relationship looks like. Those to me are marriage and parent goals!
2. I’d lose myself.
Sure, having a kid involved a lot of sacrifices that needed to be made in my personal life, but I still need more than just food and showers to stay sane.
As a human being, I have needs, wants, and feelings just as valid as anyone else’s. I need some semblance of social interaction with others, outside of my house. Just as I had mentioned in a previous post of mine, I needed something consistent for myself to smooth the transition to parenthood and to keep a sense of normalcy in my life. And I feel that this will also help me develop healthy boundaries that need to be set so that I don’t feel completely drained of life at the end of the day. (I’m locking my bathroom door.)
You know the saying “Happy wife, happy life?” Well, it’s so freaking true. Taking care of myself will enable me to take better care of my family. Even on days where I just want to pack my bags and buy a one-way plane ticket to the nearest beach in California, I’ll still miss my husband and my kid at the end of the day and want to come running right back home to them. Absence does, after all, make the heart grow fonder.
3. My kid will have unrealistic expectations.
I don’t want PJ thinking the universe revolves around her. Or owes her anything. My job as a parent is to raise her to the best of my ability to live without me, not believe that she is royalty and deserves to be waited on hand and foot. She needs to realize that she is not the only being on this planet with needs. (And sure, that one may take a while before it finally kicks in.) I want to pass down the lessons I have learned from my mother about being a decent human being, and how to be considerate of others around her – without being a complete pushover.
More importantly, if she ever decides to have children of her own, I want her to know that her own struggles that she has while raising them are just as valid as they were for me while I was raising her. Of course, I will be there for her when she needs me, just as any parent should be, but I will not subject myself to be her on-demand personal dishwasher, chauffeur, or laundromat. Nor should her kids treat her that way.
So no, my daughter will not be my #1 priority, and that’s okay. And my priorities will change as I get older. As will hers. One day she will leave the nest, and I will be left to figure out what to do with my life once she is old enough to start leading hers. When that day comes, I probably won’t be ready for it. I will most likely bawl my eyes out. I will continue to support her when needed, and hopefully, take a few long vacations with all of the time that I will suddenly get back to myself. But I will still be missing her and loving her, no matter what.
I’m sure it has nothing to do with hearing the same song on repeat over and over while dealing with people who are filled with anything but the holiday spirit. Which may involve said people throwing temper tantrums and cussing like sailors when they don’t get what they want, almost every single day. (Can I get an amen from everyone in the retail/service industries? You guys are superstars.)
When all of these songs are about joy, peace, and love, it can get pounded into your head that you are supposed to be feeling all of these things and that you’re to be happy about it. I don’t know about you, but I do not like the cold. I picked the wrong area to be in during the wintertime in the US, I’ll tell you that. It is hard for me to remain bubbly and happy when I have to get out of a warm and toasty bed to go scrape ice off of my car and lose feeling in my face and hands in below zero temperatures.
Don’t forget the gift giving. Oh, how I loathe the gift giving.
Everyone seems to be in a financial struggle these days. Gift giving can just make for more awkwardness and disappointment for already distant relationships with extended family members. I didn’t even have the time or energy this year to send out Christmas cards, let alone afford my bills this month. I’m thankful for those who know me and my situation well enough to not expect anything from me until the financials are in better standing, but it has been difficult. I would love to be able to afford presents, but when it is currently zero degrees where I live, it is more important to keep the heat on. I’m so glad the people I know get this.
Dealing with people can be exhausting too, no matter how much you love them. All of the family get-togethers and closeness can be draining to some people. Happen to be hosting the holiday festivities this year? Great! You get to do most if not all of the cooking, cleaning, preparing, and more cleaning… Some people like that stuff. Props to them! I am not one of those people who are able to do that on a regular basis.
So in a world where excessive joy and happiness becomes the norm, it often turns our reality into a dystopia that can take a toll on one’s sanity. When you look on the phone or the computer, you can just see the happiness oozing out of the screen. Looking through social media with all of the group photos, the smiles and hugs between families, significant others, and even their dogs/cats dressed up for the occasion. Everyone on Earth appears to be happy right about now, except for you. Especially when this may be your first, third, or even the eleventh Christmas without a loved one or a friend. My heart goes out to these guys. The pain from this kind of loss can be unbearable, even with all of the support and condolences you get. It is never the same, and you have to slowly find your new normal without them.
Guys, do me a favor and let out your Grinch. It’s okay to feel this way. Take extra care of yourself this season and try not to let the happy police get to you. Have a good cry, break things (safely), embrace these feelings and then make like Elsa from Frozen and let them go. Then come January, you can have a go at trying it all over again. I’m right there with you.
Now excuse me while I go pick up a constipated, teething little girl from her nap. She hasn’t been happy the last few days, either. Luckily, we will both get to have the chance for a better Christmas next year.
**Okay, here’s a disclaimer before we begin. You are about to read my personal experiences with breastfeeding. I talk about my boobs here and if that makes you uncomfortable, please stop reading now and go do something nice for yourself. Maybe treat yourself to some ice cream and go get your haircut or… something. You do you.**
Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I wanted to rant a little bit about the challenges that I’ve faced while nursing and pumping for my daughter these past 8 months. (Woo! only 4 months until I meet my goal!)
I didn’t really give too much thought of whether I would breastfeed or give formula while I was pregnant. As I was en route to the hospital to deliver PJ, I was at peace with either method, as long as my daughter was getting fed and was healthy, that’s all that mattered to me. Without a second thought, I flung myself into the responsibilities and incredible discipline that came with breastfeeding and pumping.
The first few months were HARD. The first few weeks? Almost unbearable.
While I spent my first few days with our new little bundle of joy, I was in a complete fog. I think I was still in shock that I had actually delivered my baby without dying and that I was holding her and looking at her for the first time. But soon enough, she became very hungry. The lactation consultant would come into the room and latch her onto my breast but did not really explain to me what I was about to experience.
“It will feel a little tender at first, but nursing shouldn’t hurt.”
Don’t listen to people who tell you this. These kinds of statements are LIES.
I screamed in agony as PJ tried to latch on to nurse for the first time. My boobs were definitely not ready to be my baby’s new chew toy. We had a lot of problems right out the gate. Her latch wasn’t great, as this was a skill that babies actually have to learn to be able to drink at the breast efficiently. I didn’t get the memo that this was something that had to be practiced in order to be able to work. I fumbled with my other breast and tried to perform what was called the “nipple sandwich” in order to feed my squished nipple to PJ.
Surprisingly, if you keep trying to put one of the most sensitive parts of your body into a hungry newborn’s mouth, you end up with pain. Lots of pain. Imagine that.
Tears were rolling down my face as the nurse and lactation consultant tried their best to console me. They believed PJ was not getting enough milk, and so they brought out these small, 3-ounce bottles of Enfamil to feed her and to encourage her to sleep. Even though I knew before stepping into the hospital that I would be okay if breastfeeding didn’t work out, I was totally devastated in the moment. I thought that this was something my body was supposed to do, and I started to think that I was a defective mother right from the start. Of course, this was while my hormones were out of whack and I was far, far away from recovering from the delivery, but my feelings were real.
I didn’t give up. I used the hospital pump religiously around the clock to see if I could give breastfeeding another go. Holding one pump funnel onto one breast, and holding the baby in my other arm, I tried to pump and nurse PJ at the same time in my hospital bed. At the end of the second night, my nipples became raw, cracked and started to bleed a bit. It was not a pretty sight. I was not a pretty sight. I felt like a great big mess the entire time I was recovering.
And then, we got the discharge papers.
I was not ready to go home without knowing I had tried my best to get the milk flowing for my daughter, but I knew the nurses had better things to do than deal with this weeping, squishy blob of a woman who was formerly myself. I kept trying. And kept trying some more.
And then, a miracle happened.
I got a quarter of an ounce of milk from one pump! From just a few drops, I was starting to make more of what I needed to feed PJ, and I was over the moon with this achievement.
But after I got home and googled everything about breastfeeding and why I was having so much trouble, I found that what I was experiencing was NORMAL.
The pain eventually started to subside as I kept pumping and nursing, but it wasn’t until after 4 long months that I noticed it became a little less painful. I was able to get used to the sensation at that point.
I used my pump at home just as religiously while I was on my medical leave, practicing for the big day when I would be returning to my office job, about a half an hour away from home. Bigger challenges were ahead of me, but for the moment, I was just happy to be out of the hospital and back home where I needed to be for the next few weeks.
Returning to work was another great obstacle I faced when trying to keep my milk supply up and prevent some painful conditions, such as mastitis. Babies are not very predictable creatures. They don’t always eat the same amount at the same time each day. My boobs were engorged, confused, and feeling raw on a good day. You don’t wanna know what a bad day was like.
Also, with the new laws in place to protect breastfeeding mothers, my previous employer was required to give me a pumping area (that was not a restroom) to use during the workday. Which I had no idea about and I was perfectly prepared to go pump in my car if needed. That probably would have been pretty awkward to some poor person who had to walk by my car in the parking lot.
I believe I got a pretty decent setup. A cute and comfy chair from Target and a small Ikea-like table were set in a small supply closet, next to a mini refrigerator to store any pumped milk. (So the other coworkers would not confuse my breast milk with the coffee creamer, I’m sure.)
My Human Resources Manager at the time was super supportive of the decision to breastfeed my daughter and the company was happy to assist me with whatever I needed within reason. However, when things were starting to pile up at work, it would cut into my pumping time and would cause me to be in an incredible amount of pain if I didn’t take care of business – at least two to three times during the workday. A dual electric pump was a necessity. I was so thankful that my insurance covered a Spectra S2 breast pump that I used at home, and that I received a Medela Pump in Style breast pump from my baby shower to use at work. I carried that Medela EVERYWHERE, and I loved that it was so discreet. It just looked like I was carrying around a harmless black tote bag.
Having the ability to take work home with me and use flex time if needed was huge, but I also needed to make sure in the long run, I kept work at work and didn’t bring it home with me. I was blessed to have this ability since I know that not every mom has the luxury of even a supply closet to use when needed if she chooses to breastfeed her child after returning to work. There are moms that I know that still need to use the work bathrooms to pump, despite the new laws put in place.
Fast forward a few months later, around the 6-month postpartum mark, and I noticed some changes – the milk I was producing seemed thicker and had more fat content in it. Shortly after I noticed this, I became extremely fatigued after every time I nursed PJ or pumped. I had forgotten that producing milk took a lot of energy from my body, and even more so now that PJ was starting to become more active and alert – she needed the extra energy, and it had to come from somewhere.
It was one of the few times where I actually had to eat more food to keep up with the caloric demands of this new milk. Worried that I would put back on the pounds from pregnancy, I had started to revert back to my old habits and diet, where I would only eat about 1200 calories in a day, along with exercise here and there. I was determined to get back to my pre-baby weight, and even that was considered overweight for my height, at 180 pounds.
However, breastfeeding moms need additional nutrition to keep milk supply up – which can be anywhere between an additional 400 to 500 calories a day or even more. It took some trial and error to realize that even though I was still overweight, I needed to be taking in at least 2000 calories a day. I was definitely not eating enough and I was thankful my mistake didn’t cause any damage to my milk supply.
I have to remember that weight loss after pregnancy is a marathon, not a sprint. I will get there. I hope.
Now I am only 4 months away from meeting my goal of nursing PJ for one entire year. It has been a labor-intensive act, but I am forever grateful that this experience has helped me bond with my daughter and allowed me to slow down enough to spend quality time with her during her first months of life. Also, all the money I saved by not having to buy formula was also a huge bonus.
But after this, I’m definitely going to think twice about breastfeeding and if it would be the best choice once baby #2 comes along. And hopefully, that’s not for another few years.
I literally only have three wrapped presents under the Christmas tree for PJ. Her first Christmas is coming up, and I feel like I am a horrible person for only getting her three things, and two of those things are just re-gifted hand-me downs. But still, I’m thankful that after this rough year there are even any presents under our Christmas tree.
PJ is definitely still too young to understand what this holiday is even about or how it is celebrated, but I definitely have my work cut out for me when she DOES understand what is going on. I remember my Christmases fondly when I was younger – my mom (with the help of Santa, or course) made sure there was a huge mountain of presents waiting for both my sister and I on Christmas morning. Those were some of the most exciting days of my childhood.
But why am I feeling like the world’s worst mom right now?
Maybe it’s all of the things I ended up doing to get by this month. Dropping her off at my mother-in-law’s has become a weekly thing. Am I not spending enough quality time with her? Or maybe it was the one time last week we got McDonald’s and I ended up giving PJ some of my cheeseburger and fries. So much for having a healthy baby. Even the TV has become a babysitter in a pinch. I needed to dust off my resume, so I sat her down in front of Little Einsteins for an hour or so to prepare for an interview. But the American Academy of Pediatrics says to avoid screen time for children under age 2. How can I help that if she is already trying to grab my phone from me? All she knows is that its a pretty bunch of lights coming out of a flat, square-looking thing.
It’s difficult, especially with parenting abilities easily judged these days from keyboard warriors behind the screens of the Internet, trying to reinforce the fact that you aren’t doing enough for your kid, or you aren’t doing something the right way. (Have you ever googled ‘sleep training’? Just don’t.)
Did these guys even have kids? Or did they forget what it was like?
I’m so grateful to have a small group of moms (including my own) in my life that can easily say “been there, done that” and remind me that I am not so horrible after all. It may seem silly to others, but someone randomly coming up to me to tell me that I am doing okay is always refreshing to me and it is definitely needed. Especially when moms like us fall in the trap of comparing ourselves to other moms out there, it’s really easy to get discouraged and feel like we are not living up to the ideal standards that are out there today.
Today is one of those days where I feel like a sub-par mom, but I know that these feelings are temporary and they will pass. Especially now that PJ is awake from her nap. As soon as I walk into the room and she sees me, the smile she gives me is enough to melt all of those thoughts about being a bad mom away. And I’m so thankful for that.
The universe doesn’t care if you’re Beyonce or the President of the United States – we all get the standard 24 hours in a day. Granted, we don’t have the luxury of having special assistants or personal managers to help schedule and block a day’s timeline perfectly like a game of Tetris. No, we are usually left to fend for ourselves when it comes to managing time. And even with help, things don’t always go to plan. I groan whenever a decently sized plan ends up falling apart, only to hear my mother in law tell me later in a coy but I-told-you-so way – “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.” (Love you, Alyce!)
I’ve always managed to do just fine with time management in my life before baby. I mean, I had to be good with it, my survival at the time depended on it. I worked three different jobs while in college (full time), and I was also actively participating in three student organizations. I’ve learned more than once that burnout is a nasty beast, and it takes forever and a half with 5 shots of espresso in a Venti sized Starbucks coffee to manage to pick myself back up from the fallout and get moving once again.
I’m still trying to adjust after throwing a baby in the mix, even 8 months after coming home from the hospital. Guys, I still don’t feel “back to normal” yet. In fact, I’m just coming to terms that my life will never go back to what it once was – being able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee is something that I have to literally force myself to have. It is one of the little things that help keep me sane during this time of transition and keeps a sense of normalcy alive, even when everything else around me seems to be going up in flames. Frankly, I was relieved to be going back to work after my medical leave was over, but I was still struggling with how much life had changed when I came home. There was a baby to care for, and chores to be done, and bills to be paid, and errands to be run, and laundry, and cooking, and doctor’s appointments, and… I think you get the point.
My to-do list got way out of control. There was no balance left. There was no “me time” anymore. Something had to give.
I’ve found that adding the little things back into my life has helped me shape firm boundaries that need to be respected so I can be a happier person. (I NEED MY COFFEE.) First, it was the coffee. Then, it was a shower. A good hot shower, not the rushed 5 minute ones just to get myself clean. After that, it was a good meal. I wasn’t eating properly because I was placing the needs of others before me, and it showed. I slowly kept adding things back into my life that made me feel like a person again. Laundry and dishes be damned. They could wait. I had to put myself before the pile of stinky diapers that needed to go out that night.
The struggle with a new identity such as “MOM” can be overwhelming, as new expectations for how you should be as a person are just magically thrust upon you once that baby is conceived. It doesn’t help with the most recent set of standards for moms that have popped up on the picture-perfect Instagram photos and Pinterest posts. Cloth diapering. Organic, homemade baby foods and snacks. Breastfeeding. Cute and stylish outfits that put your 90’s clown-like childhood photos to shame.
You don’t have to do it all. I’m certainly not. Disposable diapers are my time trade-off for a cuppa joe in the morning. I’ll take it! And remember, social media tends to show the better side of a person. People like to post the best of themselves, while hiding and editing out the not-so-perfect aspects. (Like how I need mascara to make it look like I have lashes.)
Do what works for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. There is no shame in calling someone to watch your kid if you need a time out from life. And maybe a margarita.