They’re Testes not a Free Pass

Men are not incompetent. Women are not innately or universally better caregivers than men. So why do we assume this to be true?

Why, when my husband wrangles our three children — 4.5-years, 3-years, and 10-months — do people react with shock, but it is assumed that I can easily manage the troublesome trio? Do my ovaries offer me a child rearing superpower? Do his testes render him incapable of tending to his own offspring? No.

Hubs takes offense to the notion that he is assumed underqualified to effectively tend to his own offspring. That mindset is one of the reasons I adore him.

“I don’t do diapers.” some men say with a macho sense of superiority, as if their y-chromosome places them above the unsavory portions of caregiving. Apparently, the universe granted these stallions the option of making such a choice, but not women. “I can only handle one child at a time.” Some fathers will claim, even though they sired multiple children. It’s as if these sowers-of-oats don’t realize they’re demeaning themselves out of sheer laziness. Then, there are my favorite set, the myopic brutes who insist that they — the paycheck-earning men — need regular breaks from household humdrum yet their female counterparts neither deserve nor require such respite. To all of these fathers I say: think again.

You spawned the children, you parent the children. What you expect your mate to do in terms of childcare, you must also be willing to undertake.

If you “don’t do diapers”, you are expecting your counterpart to assume a duty you deem lesser, thereby implying she is lesser. Is that really a conversation you feel like having? Grab some baby wipes and clean the baby bum. You’re manly, you can take it.

If your significant other, with whom you share guardianship, is capable of wrangling all of your shared children, buddy, so can you. It may take some trial and error but you’ll learn, exactly as she did.

Everyone needs regular breaks — from work, routine, etc. — and a presence or absence of female anatomy does not negate this requirement. You, dear sir, need just the same (yes, the same) number of breaks as your co-parent. You are not a babysitter any more than she is. You cannot claim to be too overworked or underqualified to allow her a break unless you offer her the same veto power for your respites. This is a partnership.

Even if your significant other is a stay-at-home mom, your bread-winning status does not absolve you from parenting duties. Her lack of financial contribution to the household does not mean her duties are lesser or that you deserve downtime more than she does. You don’t work 24/7 without assistance or a break; neither should she.

Claiming ignorance or incompetence when it comes to caring for your own offspring doesn’t make you more masculine, more attractive, or more powerful. It simply debases you, degrades your partner, and — quite frankly — makes you appear lazy, selfish, misogynistic, antiquated, and inept.

Parenthood is a joint venture. Do your part. End of story.

 

My Infertility

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I was infertile. I was in my mid-20s, married to my high school sweetheart, generally healthy, and there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to get pregnant. But I couldn’t.

We tried for six months with no success. I went to my OB/Gyn. She recommended I track my cycles. I did.

A few months of tracking and trying, it was clear I had returned to my former cycle irregularity as soon as I had stopped taking my oral contraceptive. “You’re young. You’re healthy. Let’s not waste time. I’ve seen too many women have their concerns brushed off and then age becomes a factor. Let’s get you pregnant.” She explained I, for some reason, wasn’t ovulating regularly. So, she prescribed me a low dose of Clomid to spur my body into ovulating and referred me to an infertility specialist. Disaster.

Ovarian cysts formed. I could barely walk, my abdomen was so distended I appeared to be in my second trimester, I couldn’t wear anything tighter than an empire waist dress because my abdomen was so sore from the cysts, my hair started falling out, acne flared, I couldn’t concentrate, I was a hormonal wreck. Back on birth control I went for one month to dissolve the cysts. Once off of the contraceptive, we kept trying. So many negative pregnancy tests. So many tears.

2010: In the midst of Infertility struggles

2010: In the midst of Infertility struggles

I saw the infertility specialist. She wanted to label me as PCOS but I didn’t fit in the box. She sent Hubs for testing. He came back: “super motility” with zero fertility concerns. I was clearly the problem. I ran through numerous invasive, humiliating, and painful tests; all came back spotless. Meanwhile, every pregnancy test was negative. My body was inexplicably standing in the way of our dreams — my entire life vision — and I had no explanation, no solution. Even worse: I had to remain silent.

I couldn’t tell anyone at work because a young woman trying to conceive is a liability in corporate culture. Sharing that news would’ve sidelined my career. I couldn’t tell my friends or family because I considered it a private matter that they wouldn’t understand. My family had all easily conceived; most of my friends were trying to prevent conception. A few people I did let in tried to empathize but there were unfortunate statements like, “Just relax and forget about it, then you’ll get pregnant,” and “People accidentally get pregnant all the time.” I felt so alone, so “other”, and so palpably barren.

Upon my fertility specialist’s advice, we hesitantly agreed to try one more even lower dose of Clomid. I woke up unable to walk or stand for longer than a minute. I cried in pain (I don’t cry); we went to the ER (I don’t go to the ER).

Pregnant with #1

Pregnant with #1

Bigger, meaner ovarian cysts twice the size of my ovaries appeared in the scan. The emergency room physician looked concerned and said he’d never seen cysts so big. “No driving. No intercourse. Limit walking,” he said. “If those cysts burst, they could take out your ovaries.” I started bawling. He asked me why I was crying. “Because I’m trying to have a baby — all I want is a baby — and you just told me I have two ticking time bombs attached to the exact organs I need to make that baby.” He looked at me like a confused puppy and left the room.

He returned 30-minutes later. “I talked to your gynecologist,” he said, “She’s great! She calmed me down and told me ovarian cysts can get this big. She said another round of oral contraceptive should take care of them.” He tried to give me narcotics for the pain but I refused; I don’t do pain medication. Back on birth control I went. Away went the cysts. Square 1.

Another visit to the fertility specialist. “If you don’t want to do Clomid again,” we most certainly did NOT, “you should seriously consider IUI.” She wanted to artificially inseminate me.

Hub’s and I talked… a lot. I cried… a lot. We decided to take a break from the doctors and the medicine for 6 months just to see if we could do this on our own. My fertility specialist tried to dissuade us. We remained firm. “I’ll see you back in six months.” she said. With that, a big, irritated part of me wanted to get pregnant just to spite her.

I returned to my OB/Gyn and fumed about the fertility specialist. She recommended an expensive fertility monitor to aid us in our natural conception efforts. $300 poorer and one fertility monitor richer, we were tracking and trying.

Three months later, #1 was conceived. The lonely, exhausting, painful, secretive, mournful infertility battle was over. We finally had our baby. The emotional scars will never heal. I’ll never be the same person I was before. However, I’m glad. We are more appreciative, grateful parents than we likely would have been otherwise because we experienced what we did. I am a stronger person for having had my brush with infertility. Yet others have and continue to suffer more than I. I am a lucky one.

An infertility struggle and a traumatic delivery gave us #1

An infertility struggle and a traumatic delivery gave us #1

“All I Wanted…”

“Gahhhh!” “But whyyy???” “Nooo!” The moment of agitation and defeat when your seemingly innocuous plans have been thwarted by your own offspring.

“All I wanted was to…” it could anything: nap, pee in peace, make one phone call without stopping to referee or assist small humans, sleep, prepare a meal without having to drop everything to feed or wipe someone, exercise, have just one bedtime when everyone stays in their bed on the first try, arrive on time, have one drama-free playdate, pump, sit on my butt for five straight minutes, poop, wear clothes without stains, drink a hot beverage at its intended temperature, etc. Some days the plan change is easier to accept than others. Then there are those days when one untimely potty joke or one predigested milk deluge is beyond your patience level. You’re tapped out, the well is dry… and they can sense it.

As if driven by predatory instincts, our cherished offspring will claw, tantrum, and spew us into submission. Then, when we mourn the shattered want before us, they look at us with their saucer-like eyes in inocent bewilderment. As if they had no part in our mommy meltdown.

You have been defeated. Perhaps tomorrow you will be victorious… perhaps.

The “F” Word

“First-time-mom” it is a term that elicits both giddy smiles and pompous eye rolls. “Motherhood is a whole new world,” a former colleague and fellow parent once told me, “it will show you a secret social circle and perspective on life that you never knew was there. Once you get that baby bump, you’re in.” She was right. What she didn’t tell me was that being a first-time-mom was a rite of passage… an initiation into the secret society that sometimes feels more like hazing than memorable life event.

Being a mom is hard — amazing, beautiful, exhausting, precious, tedious, funny, humbling, educational, agitating, life-changing — but hard. Being a first-time-mom, though… it’s overwhelming in every sense of the word. Never before have you felt such pain, love, responsibility, fear, exhaustion, change, awareness, humility, loneliness, cluelessness, or awe.

Sometimes we multi-child moms can scoff at the first-time-moms, belittling their fears, mocking their questions, snickering at their anxieties, lamenting their frequent pediatrician visits, filling them full of — solicited and unsolicited — advice. (Don’t even get me started on the, “just wait until…” habit. Let moms enjoy the stage in which they’re living. Let’s not instill fear or trepidation in our cohorts.) It is as if we entirely forget how it felt to be a first-time-mom. It’s as if we no longer acknowledge we were once full of exhaustion-drenched anxiety, questions, and hubris. Instead of rolling eyes at our new sleepless sisters, let’s help them along. Let’s open our hearts, offer our shoulders, and lend our support in ways we wish others had for us.

Parenting is something you must live to truly understand and experience to learn from… there is no way around it. So why should we expect first-time-moms to be anything but novice?

Some expectant moms have heard the moans of multi-child mothers and hope to skip the first-time-mom stage altogether. You cannot bypass first-time-motherhood. You can acknowledge, through self-awareness, when a level of anxiety may be novice, but there is no way not to be “a first-time-mom.” You are anxious because your entire life — your body, mind, perspective, relationships, routine, goals, everything! — has been upended in but a moment. You ask questions because this is all new and it is unlike anything you have ever experienced. You feel hubris because the triumphs you encounter feel momentous and you need to cling to a sense of knowledge amidst the chaos. Mostly, though, first-time-mom qualities are rooted in love. You love your offspring so much that it is simply terrifying; you have never experienced such an emotion. You will be a better mother for having lived through and allowed yourself to learn from all of this.

Motherhood is all about love. Let’s love one another. Welcome, first-time-moms!

 

First Kid vs. Third Kid

My parenting has changed drastically from having my first child to now with my third.

Naps-

#1: In the early weeks, I remained completely still as she napped on me multiple times each day. Had to pee? Hold it! Had to sneeze? Don’t even think about it! Later on, our schedule all day, every day revolved around her 2-naps per day schedule. She always napped in her crib. Plans would be rearranged if she overslept.

#3: He may catch a morning nap in the carseat or Ergo, but it’s not guaranteed; the afternoon nap happens at home but he will be stirred if he over-sleeps. We’ve got places to be!

Nursing-

#1: I hid in another room to nurse at family gatherings, even when she was cluster-feeding. I pumped to bottle feed in public. We always had a suction bulb nearby just in case. I feared nursing in public.

#3: He nurses in the Ergo multiple times per day. He stays latched as I chase after #1 & #2… I suspect I could latch him on without the carrier and he’d be able to dangle their by way of suction

Germs-

#1: Everybody had to scrub up before touching her. I attached hand sanitizer to her stroller. Any sniffles and you were banned. I feared older kids sharing their schoolyard cooties with her. No sitting on the floor without a blanket. Pacifiers were thoroughly cleansed if they touched anything but her mouth. Bottles were sterlized.

#3: Germs boost the immune system.

Sleep-

#1: I forced myself to sit up and stay awake for every single night feeding. I fretted over every sleep grunt or hiccup. I was entirely certain I’d never sleep again.

#3: He nurses in our bed while I try to catch some shut-eye. I’m still not sleeping.

Development-

#1: I documented her every movement in a journal. I wrote multi-page letters to her biweekly. I read “What to Expect the First Year.” I encouraged her physical development with great anticipation. We attended baby gymnastics classes and mommy-and-me swim. (She didn’t regularly walk until 19-months any way.)

#3: I have maybe two passages written in his baby book (note to self: try to remember when he got his first tooth… he’s on tooth #4 now.) He’ll walk when he walks and then I’m screwed.

Clothing-

#1: Everything was new and coordinated. Getting her dressed was fun. I changed her multiple times a day, completely redressing her every time her outfit had a smear, dribble, or spot on it.

#3: Any top + any pants = dressed. Unless he pooped up his back, wipe the onesie with a baby wipe and keep it rolling, everything is hand-me-downs anyway.

Food Introduction-

#1: It was a momentous occasion to introduce solid foods. Each mealtime was an event. Each food was painstakingly introduced with cautious assessment of possible allergic reaction.

#3: He hated purees. He eats what we eat.

Putting Baby Down-

#1: I would place her in her Exersaucer or baby swing, ensuring she was reasonably pleased before I tended to whatever duties required me to put her down.

#3: I put him on the floor.

Toys-

#1: Most of her toys were new. All were thoroughly washed and were sanitized if she ever got the sniffles.

#3: I maybe threw some of his cloth toys in the wash during a nesting frenzy before he was born… I think?? He plays with his own toys, as well as #1 and #2’s toys, but prefers trying to tear apart the shoe basket.

 

Life is nuttier with 3 kids, but it’s easier not being so caught up in the first-time-mom worry. That’s just exhausting! You have to live it to learn it.

Balance

Parenthood is all about balance: enough fresh produce to outweigh the chicken nuggets, enough activity to counteract the episodes of Doc McStuffins, enough good mommy moments to blur the bad mommy moments. Balancing time is, perhaps, the most challenging balancing act. It’s an ever-changing scale and fraught with imperfections.

To balance “you” time with couple time, one-on-one child time, family time, socializing time, household duties time, extended family time — the list goes on — is a juggling act that’s bound to falter. If you throw work into the mix, it gets incredibly complex.

Four months after having #1, I returned to my corporate job but as a part-time employee. “What a perfect arrangement!” “You’re so lucky to have such a great balance!” People would say upon hearing of my work situation. It was good… but it wasn’t as perfect as it seemed.

Instead of being fully stay-at-home mom or entirely full-time employee, I existed somewhere in the middle with both home and work lives pulling me to give more. I felt as if I was half-ass’ing both sets of responsibilities. I couldn’t prioritize work without falling through on parenting and home duties, and giving more of myself at home meant scaling back at work. The one item missing in this work verses home balance: me. I was so harried trying to simultaneously be both working mother and stay-at-home mother that I had left “me” time out of the equation entirely… and couple time was nonexistent.

After having #2, and still working part-time, the only “me” time I had was when I was pumping breast milk for my son and eventually for donation. Then, a few significant corporate reorganizations presented me with the opportunity to adjust my hours. I cut back to 15 hours per week instead of 20 hours. That worked for a bit, until work expectations rose to the level of a 20-hour workweek despite my abbreviated schedule.

When I became pregnant with #3, another ruthless set of corporate reorganizations was sweeping through the cubicle farm and I was one of the casualties. It was a hard hit, at first, and I made the long drive home in a fit over how I could figure out another work path. I had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I was so accustomed to working and living the chaotic balancing act, that I didn’t know another way.

Then, while sitting at a red light positioned at a dead-end, my inner voice said, “This is what you’ve always wanted. Why are you fighting it?” A calm swept over me. I smiled. And with that, the light turned green and I turned left toward home.

Lost and Found

It’s easy to lose yourself in the weight, the grind, the excitement, the worry, the messiness, the monotony, the beauty of motherhood. Rarely does one become a parent and remain the same person as before. This is good. Growth is good. Change can be good. This can also be very challenging.

When your mind, body, priorities, worldview, and life change so drastically, it can be hard to maintain the friendships you had prior to the upheaval. Often, we moms go through a lonely adjustment phase during early motherhood. We don’t quite understand who we are, what we’re doing, or where our old self went, but we realize everything has changed. Sometimes old friendships can grow with this shift, but often not. Many new moms go through a period of shedding as they try to determine who they are. It’s mournful. It’s lonely. It’s confusing. It’s temporary.

Then, one day, you realize who you are, you’re more comfortable in your stretch-marked skin, more self-aware and self-assured. This confidence allows you to make new friendships and even rekindle old ones. Your mom friend circle grows but, more importantly, it strengthens. These friends are your pack, your village, your treasures.

Growing up, I never quite felt I fully belonged. I was told I was wiser than my years, that I had an old soul… perhaps I was simply awkward. Whatever the case, I often held one or two individuals close and enjoyed a smattering of widely varied acquaintanceships with people who often would not be friends with one another, despite their ties to me. Looking back, I note the commonality among them: genuine individuality. These people were unflinchingly themselves — unabashedly outspoken, shy but funny, quirky, hippy-chic, goth-punk, soccer player, preppy, music enthusiast, etc. — every one was different but each held my admiration because they were uniquely themselves.

This ability to fearlessly be myself didn’t come until I had my second child. I’d finally come out of the first-time-mom shedding fog and was realizing who I was. I was content with myself. I began making friends that I hold dear… friends I know hold me in the esteem I hold them.

Motherhood may have initially caused me to lose myself, but the new self I found is better. The friendships I’ve made and rekindled are stronger. I am a better me and, consequently, better friend now than I was before. Motherhood helped me grow. I am a mother.

 

Live to Learn

Three kids and numerous gray hairs ago, I was a new mom. I was emotionally and physically pained from a traumatic delivery, terrified of falling asleep with my tiny infant, emotionally incapable of putting her down for more than a moment without feeling tidal waves of mom guilt, I was petrified of returning to work, but — mostly — I was exhausted. I was the kind of tired that makes jetlag seem like a yawn. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t sleep.

I remember the pediatrician telling my husband and I that within a month, our tiny daughter should begin sleeping better. That timeframe sounded like a death sentence. How could someone live on so little sleep?

Little did I realize that I was my own worst enemy. I had read articles and watched news clips warning against cosleeping. I was convinced that keeping myself awake during my every-90-minute nighttime nursing sessions would keep my daughter safe. I didn’t process, amidst the mom guilt and first-time-mom anxiety, that there were alternatives. My mother, my friends… they all gave me advice but I silenced it all with my self-inflicted guilt and fear.

Then, I began sleepwalking, having “baby in peril” dreams so vivid that one night I awoke to find myself tearing a hole in my foam pillow because I “had to rescue my baby from inside the pillow.” Was this really safer than cosleeping? Was this really healthy?

It wasn’t until my second child — 20.5 months later — that I realized how harmful I’d been to myself. I learned to cosleep just to feed then pop baby back into his own sidecar bed. I learned that I could put baby down to prepare meals, I learned germs aren’t the scariest things, and that a healthy baby can handle a stuffy nose and a sticky todder hug. I learned to calm down, to lower my impossible standards. I learned that baby needs me to be healthy and happy so I could be a good caretaker. However, I had to learn this on my own. I had to learn it through living it.

As much as I’d love to save every new parent from the pains and mistakes I experienced, I know my advice would be shunned. Parenting is a learning curve. It’s messy and beautiful and flawed and humbling. We’re all learning our way through it, navigating the ever-changing terrain.

All I can do is be a listening ear, a source of support, and an honest cohort to my fellow parents. No glazing over the unglamorous with false perfection. No pretending, no romanticizing… just candor. We’re in this together!

No Longer New

There’s a baby boom and I am loving it. Friends from all corners of my life are having first, second, third, and fourth children. Me? I’m nursing my 9-month-old (and pumping for my dear milk recipient baby) while chasing after my soon-to-be 3-year-old, and my 4.5-year-old.

Others ask me, with almost the same regularity with which I ask myself, if we’ll have a fourth child. As a type-A planner, I’d love to have a solid answer, but I don’t. This baby-loving mama would adore to have one more bundle… but can we do it? Do we want to do it? I don’t know…yet.

I see my youngest beginning to crawl and saying his first words, biting me with his baby fangs and swatting at his siblings. I see my middle son lengthening, maturing, and growing fast and far away from the pudgy-cheeked 2-year-old my mind’s eye envisions him to be. I see my 4.5-year-old writing letters, getting lost in fanciful imagination games, and expressing herself with a verbal intensity I can only blame on my genes. They’re growing fast yet I seem to be staying still, just graying at the edges.

They’re no longer newborns. I’m not that overwhelmed, terrified, awestruck first-time-mom I once was. I’m still sleepless, harried, and constantly covered in one form of stain or another, but I’m no longer lost. It’s no longer new; they’re no longer new.  I know what I’m doing… sort of.

It’s sad to see them grow before me and push away, but it’s wonderful too. Do I want another newborn? Do I want another dive into that sleep-deprived, beautiful, cuddly madness? I don’t know… yet.