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.

Infertility Made Me a Better Mom

Infertility broke me. It pummeled me, my relationships, my perspective, my worldview, my sense of purpose and self-worth. But I am a better mother because of it.

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For a horrendous year we struggled to conceive our first child (full story here). Invasive and torturous tests, ineffective and horrible medications, and multiple doctors yet no one caught it. No one realized that I had endometriosis. That’s right, two fertility specialists and one seasoned OB/Gyn, yet not one even whispered the possibility of endometriosis. It wasn’t until 2018 — nearly a decade after my fertility battle — that I was finally diagnosed. But, let me tell you, the sad truth: my story is all but uncommon.

Women’s health is a brutal stomping ground of dismissed pain and excused symptoms, with “hormones” being the new “hysteria.” And so it is made possible for most endometriosis sufferers to go decades un- or misdiagnosed then prescribed horrendously invasive and entirely ineffective medical treatments. (Yes, treatments, as there is no cure. Nope, not even menopause.) But, that rant is for another time. Back to my tale.

By saying that I am a better mom because I experienced infertility am I implying that moms who never personally experience infertility aren’t good moms? Hell no! It just means that I am a better version of my former self because of what I endured and, thus, I am a better mom than I would’ve been without the life experience.

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Infertility — its unspeakable, wide-reaching pains and demands of secrecy — broke me. It shattered who I was. In order to go on, I was forced to glue myself back together. And I did. I pieced myself whole — shard by battered shard — in a better, stronger, more empathetic, more unwaveringly resilient form than I ever fathomed. It was because I had been broken that I could be so tolerant of pain, so appreciative of the children I was eventually granted (even on their worst days), so positively resilient, so set on cherishing every moment and gathering every possible memory with my children. Infertility was the shittiest of blessings that I would never wish on anyone, but for which I am now grateful.

The humiliating tests that were emotionally if not physically painful, the burden of hiding my fertility struggles and surging hormones from others (especially at work… because if a pregnant woman is viewed as a liability, a woman trying to conceive is just an empty cubicle waiting to happen), the effort to genuinely celebrate others’ pregnancies and births, the strength required to face others’ fertility-related commentary and questions in a non-murderous fashion, the strain on relationships, the distain for my own body betraying me, the sense of utter failure at what should be a natural and easy endeavor, the challenge of not allowing the descent into becoming that bitter infertile woman, the disconnect of being complimented or viewed sexually when my sexual organs were broken, the impossible battle of holding my shit together when my shit was so  shredded by hormones and emotions and physical pain and mental anguish and self-pittying and somehow — freakin’ somehow — lingering hope that it would all end well. It was brutal.

Infertility made me stronger, more appreciative. In its wake, I became a human clown-faced punching bag. In comparison to what I’d experienced during my bout with infertility, I could bounce back smiling after any blow. Life could not topple me. Trauma, physical pain, emotional damage, financial hardships, lost loved ones… I would rise. I would find happiness.

Infertility helped me discover what — and who — my priorities were and in what order they stood. Infertility lessened my limiting modesty (a must as a mom, especially a breastfeeding mom), increased my ability to self-advocate, and amplified my pain tolerance immeasurably. It made me acutely aware where I did and did not want to go in my life. It made my values clear and illuminated the rubbish. Even more, just as having a challenging child or difficult baby grants you greater humility, awareness, and accurate empathy, so does a bout with infertility.

Sure, prior to having faced infertility I was aware that such struggles were a hurdle, but I had no grasp on the life-altering, all-encompassing, ego-shattering, dream-endangering affects. As with parenthood, you just don’t know what you don’t know and you cannot possibly truly understand unless you, yourself, have lived it. And once you do live it, you look back at your former self and think, “I knew nothing.”

I certainly do not know it all. I have much left to learn and live, but I will do so as a better person because of where I’ve been. I will continue to survive and savor, laugh freely and find beauty in the mundane, hoard memories and cherish moments. I will continue to be better because I was broken. I will thrive.

Swimming After Undertow

At the beach, my 5-year-old daughter, 3-year-old son, and husband entered the sea for a swim. The ocean was tame, neither harsh nor placid. Still, swimming near the lifeguards, the children wearing flotation vests… the three were cautious.

My littlest and I played in the sand, nursed, and watched passing sign-towing airplanes as the rest of our little family reveled in the sea. Then my daughter came running towards me. Blood dripping from her mouth, tears from her eyes. Shocked, I ran towards her.

“I hit the bottom!” She sobbed. My husband and son lumbered up the beach in a daze. Their hair matted and splattered with sand. “A big wave broke farther out than usual. We all got taken down. We’re ok though.” My husband explained.

I put a towel to my daughter’s lip; nothing but a quick-healing scrape. My son was unharmed. “I’m sorry that happened,” I told her, “we all get undertowed at some point, but do you know what’s most important?” She shook her head, now calmed after her tumble. “The most important thing is that you get back in.” “Noooo!” She protested. I needed a different angle.

“You’re going to kindergarten. When you tell your new friends about how you got bowled over by a wave and hit the bottom of the ocean, what would be a more rockstar ending: ‘I didn’t go back in because I was too scared’ or ‘I went right back in because I’m not afraid’?” She smiled. “I should go back in.” She said. Then her eyes widened and her eyebrows tilted, “What if I get pulled under again?” “You likely won’t,” I reassured her, “but if you do, Daddy will be right there with you. You’ll swim right in front of the lifeguards like you did last time. You’ll be safe.”

A few minutes later, into the sea she went. She exited victorious, smiling, and proud. That’s my girl!