3 Things Every Parent Should Know About the Baby Stage

For 6 years I had a toddler or infant in the house. Now, nearing my 7th year as a parent — with a newly minted 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a nearly-7-year-old — I can reflect with greater clarity on that precious, wholly exhausting, messy, beautiful time. In doing so I’ve discovered 3 important things every parent should know about the baby stage.

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1. EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY. If you haven’t yet learned that every single stage, phase, good time, rough patch, annoying habit, and terrifying challenge is temporary, you’re most certainly new to the parenting game. As soon as you gloat about your child’s brilliance at creating 3-word sentences well ahead of developmental norms, they’re licking the storefront window. As soon as you feel like your child will never poop in the potty, the digestive dilemma is no more. As soon as you wonder when you’ll ever get your body back, your child weans. As soon as you really begin enjoying the morning cuddle routine, it’s over and replaced with another habit. As soon as you begin to think you will never again not be a heap of saggy, leaking, oddly pillow-like human randomly crying into your 3-day-old breastmilk stained pajamas in a mixture of fear, deep sadness, exhaustion, and raging postpartum hormones, you exit the hole. As soon as you think, “Will these needy, week-long days ever end?” They’re over. All of it comes to an end; positive and challenging. And you may loathe reading this if you’re presently in the parenting trenches with no light peeking above your laundry piles of spit-up and diaper-blowout stained onesies, but it’s true: it goes fast — faster than you can ever imagine — these are the good, hard (incredibly hard), long, worthwhile days.

2. IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER. Think of most any developmental leap, milestone, or change and you can pretty much guarantee that things took a nose dive before the ride got smoother. Potty-training: a regression is bound to happen before you’re in dry pants territory. Sleeping: you’re going to hit (multiple) regressions and blips before you get some semblance of solid sleep. Walking: they go from speedy independent all-fours (or some variant) mobility to a rickety, slow gait before a sturdy walk is established. The first high fever bug: that thermometer reading has to keep going up and up (along with your blood pressure) until it eventually inches down. And afterwards, all of that stress and worry and strain remains as nothing but a memory. So know that if you’re at a parenting point when you end each day exhausted in all ways, doubting yourself and your abilities, feeling frustrated and stressed beyond what you ever knew possible, and wondering:”Will this ever end?” Know it will. And trust that this is just the precursor to improvement.

3. IT’S SURVIVABLE AND SAVORABLE You will have days when you lower your personal performance bar to such a degree that you refuse to be witnessed by any outsiders… your goal is survival. That’s ok. Those days (or a week) are normal. Nope, you’re not a failure. Nope, you’re not doing anything or everything wrong. Yep, it happens to everyone — EVERYONE — just people don’t admit it. But amidst it all, you can find a way to savor it. Savor your child’s smile in between tantrums or the sweetness of your child’s finally sleeping face or your own strength for being there despite everything going sideways. You may read this in the thick of things and think I’m full of it, but just try it: savor it. I’m not saying relish the crappy moments. No, those can stay sucky. I’m saying ignore the big picture of awful and appreciate the snapshots of good. In those tiny hidden moments you’ll find something to savor. There’s always something, no matter how small. Just look for it. Squint if you need to.

In no time at all you’ll be looking back on where you’ve been and think, “Wow, that was a shitshow, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” This is your life, your child’s life; don’t wish it away for what it isn’t. Don’t ignore all the pitfalls and spin it into what it never was. Dig in and appreciate it for what it is.

Survive it. Savor it. One day at a time.

My “Mighty” Milk Mom

Breastmilk donation has brought some amazing people into my life. Dedicated, loving moms and families from various backgrounds, faiths, and lineages. Their stories have varied, their struggles differed, but their determination to nourish their children with breastmilk has remained a communal tie.

One of my remarkable recipients was recently featured on “The Mighty.” This woman is one of the funniest, most positive, most headstrong and determined people I know. I began donating to her just days before she woke up paralyzed one morning. I remember her recounting her story of sudden onset paralysis as I pumped that day at work.

My milk recipient prior to the sudden paralysis

My milk recipient prior to the sudden paralysis

Can you imagine waking up one day, hearing your infant crying in the other room — just like any other day — and then you realize your legs won’t move? Did she melt into a sobbing puddle on the bed? Nope. Did she lose her cool and not know what to do? Nope. That woman dragged herself down the hall, collected her son, and just did it. She conducted her whole day as best she could like a bad ass because she is strong, she is tough, she is hopeful, she is Mighty.

My milk recipient after the sudden paralysis

My milk recipient after the sudden paralysis

Please watch this brief video to get a glimpse of just how impressive this woman is. If it doesn’t give you goosebumps, check your pulse.

How fortunate I feel that our paths crossed.  Milk donation is a gift that goes both ways. This woman is a force, a light, a warrior. May we all be a bit more like her.

My Traumatic Birth Story

Today is the fifth anniversary of my traumatic birth experience. Only now am I able to see others’ birth photos without feeling lightheaded. Only now am I able to watch birth scenes without getting panicked. It’s been a long journey but a healing and strengthening one.

I no longer have the nightmares, the unexpected flashbacks, or the anxiety waves. I am releasing the anger for what my husband, child, and I endured. I am letting go of the swirling “what ifs?” I am coaching myself through dismissing the jealousy I feel when I hear of others’ smooth, healthy, uncomplicated births. I am denying the self-imposed guilt. I am healing.

Trauma of any kind is an emotional — and often physical — hurdle that takes time, self-awareness, willpower, and strength to overcome. Birth trauma is no different. However, it’s a trauma that’s rarely discussed and hardly acknowledged. As if birth being a natural, common event makes it benign. As if — if you have been so fortunate — the presence of your healthy child negates your entire experience.

I’m sharing my story so that others know they are not alone, that they are not broken, that they are not weak, that there is hope. That it is in their power to move forward. This is my story.

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With my first child I had a traumatic vaginal birth. I had been on bed rest for two weeks due to gestational hypertension. By a debated 36 or 37 weeks, I’d graduated to full on preeclampsia, which was even more concerning due to my congenital (stable and well-monitored) heart defect.

On the morning of July 18, 2011, I began exhibiting labor signs. By 1:00pm my husband and I were walking into the Labor and Delivery ward of our local hospital. I was probably earlier on in labor than I suspected when I arrived at the hospital, but I was a first-time-mom. What did I know?

The nurses checked my blood pressure. “Don’t you dare move,” one told me as I asked to visit the restroom, “you’re ‘this’ far away from a possible stroke!” I stayed in that bed until the evening. Catheterized, contracting, thirsty and hungry, awaiting an eventual epidural, I was told the doctor wanted to break my waters. If not that, we’d need to consider a c-section. My body wasn’t handling labor well.

I was terrified of a c-section, as I’d only ever heard horror stories. I opted for my waters being broken. It didn’t take much as I’d been 2 centimeters dialated and 90% effaced throughout my 2-week bed rest. Labor progressed.

It was 1:30am. The nurse held one foot and my husband held the other. I pushed and I pushed and I pushed. Blood vessels in my eyes popped at the pressure. The doctor came in and looked concerned. “Prep for a section.” She told the nurse and left the room. “No! No c-section. Please!” I implored the nurse. “I’ll talk to the doctor.” The nurse returned moments later. “Let’s get pushing. If we can get this baby far enough down, maybe we can avoid a c-section.” It was go time!

I pushed, we reconfigured stances, I pushed more. I tore. The doctor arrived. More pushing. More tearing. A cut. I pushed, they pulled, the ring of fire… then the monitors showed my baby was in distress.

Eight nurses came racing into the room, one jumped on top of me, told me not to scream as they pushed on my belly. I could feel my wounds burn with every push. The nurse on my chest looked at me with wild eyes and a stern voice, “This baby needs to come out NOW!” We all pushed, the doctor pulled, and out she came. 3:36am. We were all exhausted but it wasn’t over yet.

The nurses rushed my daughter to the exam table. The monitor blocked my view entirely. “Is she OK? Is my baby OK?” I kept asking, but no one answered, no one flinched . It was as if my voice evaporated as soon as it left my mouth.

I birthed the placenta. “Time to clean you up.” The doctor said, but I barely heard her. I was too focused on trying to see my daughter. Trying to glean some shred of information from the huddle of medical staff hovering over my daughter’s body.

I turned to my doctor, who was preparing to sew my torn and cut lower portions. “Is my baby OK?” I asked her. She looked toward the exam table and then to me, her eyes appearing concerned, “You may feel a pinch.” I felt everything.

Local anesthetics tend to be relatively ineffective on me but I couldn’t communicate that now because all I wanted was to know if my daughter was alive. Tears streamed down my exhausted face. I hurt in every possible way but I was stuck on an unfamiliar bed with an unheard voice while being sewn up like a torn shirt

I looked to my husband, who was standing in a mix of shock and terror beside me: “Is she OK?” He asked the nurse. The nurse quickly looked up from her efforts with our baby, “We don’t know.”

Moments later: baby cries. The nurse handed me my under-7lb baby. My daughter’s face was bruised and swollen, her head was elongated and pointed. “Shoulder dystocia,” they told me as I latched her onto my breast. “She choked on fluid.” I stroked her matted brown hair. “She ‘code pinked.'” I grasped her tiny purple hand. “We resuscitated her.”  I held her close as she nursed.

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We later learned that, due to an old injury, my tailbone impeded the exit route. There’s nothing we could have done besides opting for a cesarean section, but no one could have anticipated that precise impediment.

After my daughter unlatched, they wheeled her to the nursery for some assessments while the nurse helped me to the bathroom. It was 5:00am as the nurse wheeled me into my room in the Maternity ward. The sun was beginning to rise. My husband wearily pulled and tugged at the visitor chair to convert it into a bed. He flopped down to try to get some rest. “Your daughter will be in shortly,” the nurse told me as she checked my wires and monitors, “try to sleep.”

I closed my eyes but my mind was still racing. I looked out the window and watched as the sky turned from purple to pink. As the sun rose and the last few clouds were drained of their rosy hue, a nurse came in the room. “Your daughter experienced complications in the nursery, ” she told us. “The doctor will be in soon to tell you more.” My husband and I stared at one another, our traumatized minds hazy from two days without sleep.

An hour later, the pediatrician arrived. He sat down in the corner chair and told us that a nurse in the nursery found our daughter purple and not breathing. She cleared our baby’s airway and resuscitated her. It appeared to be a blockage of colostrum and fluid. They weren’t sure how long our daughter had been without oxygen, if there’d be permanent brain damage, or if she might choke again. She was in the NICU.

The doctor took my husband to see our daughter, as no wheelchairs were yet available for me and I could not dependably walk yet. In that empty room, I cried. I wailed. I mourned. Every bit of pain, exhaustion, and fear poured out of me. Then, drained, I stopped and stared at the white dry erase board on the wall in front of me. I was silent.

Five years later, our daughter is bright, highly verbal, perfectly able-bodied,  and healthy. My husband is healing, as am I, from our experience all those years ago. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still mending. Surviving and savoring our journey together.