Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Lily's Birth Story

Why do our brains do this?
Why, during intense moments or important events, do our brains remind fixate on something mundane or insignificant or inconsequential?
Emily Dickinson's poem I heard a Fly buzz--when I died is the perfect example of this phenomenon. The speaker of the poem is literally on their deathbed, the room still, the people gathered 'round to witness the event done crying-- and the speaker fixates on a fly. It's the last thing they see before death.

My life-altering event wasn't death: it was my water breaking.
And my brain didn't notice any flies in the room: it thought, Don't get the couch wet. That would be a pain to clean up. 

Why? Why, Brain? Why, at 3:11 a.m., after being awoken with the sensation of wetting myself, were you concerned about the couch staying clean? You were so determined to achieve this end you directed me to grab the closest blanket-- a hideous Redskins throw blanket-- and hold it between my legs to prevent any fluids from ruining the couch or rug.

I thought that women's waters only broke and gushed in movies and sit coms. After all, with my first daughter, KO, my waters didn't break until well into labor.

With this second baby, I had (like with my first) zero signs of labor. No backaches, no cramping, no nothing. Her due date of January 26th came and went, and if I'm being honest, I was a big disappointed. Her big sister had arrived on her due date, and I was certain I would go into labor earlier with my second baby. But I was wrong.

I began to mentally prepare myself for being "overdue" (although I kind of bristle at that term-- estimated due dates are just that: estimates). For all the annoying questions from well-meaning folks, all the comments about how I looked "ready to pop."

I knew I shouldn't be TOO attached to my due date, but truth be told? I was. I was still working (teaching part-time and writing part-time), and the LAST thing I wanted to do was waddle around a room of teenagers who asked questions like "does labor hurt worse than a migraine?" and "what do you mean you can feel the baby move?" and "how does the baby eat and breathe when it's inside of you?" and "who in this classroom would you trust to catch your baby if you had it right now?"

This second pregnancy was physically very easy and similar to KO's: I had a little more nausea a little longer, and I had one random bout of spotting during the second trimester, but other than that, it was a piece of cake.

But I'll admit that mentally, I wasn't in a good place. With the first baby, there was pure excitement: hypnobirthing and breastfeeding classes, decorating the nursery, buying frilly onesies and fluffy blankets, stocking up on lactation cookies.

With the second one, there was reality: the knowledge that I would love this little girl with all of my heart, yes, but also some fear. 

-Fear that my relationship with my oldest would change.
-Fear that I would have a complicated birth (my first one was so straightforward and just dreamlike that there was no WAY I was going to get that again. I mean, what are the chances?).
-Fear of the pain of childbirth because, yes, I had KO without pain medication... and yes, it hurt like crazy.
-Fear of six weeks of unpaid maternity leave, and fear of leaving a newborn with a sitter, and fear of taking two kids out to run errands by myself.
-Fear of breastfeeding again-- the first six weeks with KO were absolutely BRUTAL. My nipples cracked and bled, and I cried and even screamed sometimes when she latched. I often said that nursing hurt worse than labor because it was WEEKS of excruciating pain.
-Fear of who was going to be able to come watch KO if I went into labor in the middle of the night.

So truth be told, I was mentally overwhelmed by the time my due date rolled around. I wanted my baby in my arms, but I didn't want to go through the process of getting her there. When January 26th came and went with no baby, I resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to be pregnant for two more weeks. Mentally, I checked out. Do you ever do this? There is an inevitable impending unpleasant task or event, and instead of tackling it, you just ignore it or disassociate from it? That was me on January 26th.

Then, at 3:11 a.m. on January 27th, everything changed. I awoke, alert, on the couch, where my whale-like self had been sleeping for months due to the close proximity to the kitchen and the distance from my loving but snoring husband.

Did I just pee myself? I thought. Man, that's going to be a pain to clean if it gets on this couch. 

It didn't.

I immediately called the midwife on call number at the hospital where I'd be delivering. After a few minutes, Holly called me back, and I told her my water had broken.

"Any contractions?"
"No," I answered.
She explained that I was now "on the clock" and that I needed to deliver within 24 hours, which I knew. We talked about how I should go lie down and sleep, stay hydrated, and call if there was any bright red blood or if I started having contractions close together.
"Call us back in twelve hours if nothing is happening or changing, and we'll talk about ways to try to get things moving," she said.
Great, I thought to myself, biting my lip and eyes welling with tears. I'm going to have to be induced, and that increases my chances of a c-section, and this labor is going to suck.

I then woke my husband up-- no easy feat-- and calmly informed him that my waters had broken but I wasn't having contractions and I was just going to curl up in bed next to him and get some sleep. I put down a waterproof mat on my side of the bed and laid down...

... for literally like ten minutes.

Then my body decided it was labor time. Contractions started. I felt annoyed: I didn't even get my nap. I took a shower-- the hot water running down my back eased the pain temporarily. I asked my husband to call our doula and let her know what was going on.

I stumbled down the hall to get my labor ball to bounce on.
Then I remembered: Shoot. Final grades for report cards are due today. 
"Hey, babe, will you go downstairs and get my work computer?"
I kid you not when I tell you that I graded electronic student assignments in between contractions, inputting scores and clicking on prewritten comments to go on their report cards.

Eventually, the contractions were intense enough that I wanted to go the hospital. I didn't care that my water had only broken 90 minutes ago or that I wasn't timing my contractions and didn't know if they were 5-1-1 yet. I just knew I wanted to be at the hospital ASAP.

So, I told hubby to call my mom, who lives about 45 minutes away and was going to come stay with our toddler. She didn't answer. I stepped out of the shower and dialed her on my phone at 4:49 a.m.

My groggy mom answered: "Hello?"
Me: "Can you come up?"
Her, still disoriented: "Um... can you hold on a second?"
*contraction hits*
Me, in a fit of pain-induced rage: "NO I CANNOT HOLD ON A SECOND! I am literally in labor!" *screams for husband to come talk to my mom and to call the doula and midwife and our backup childcare and let everyone know it's go time*

Thank goodness our backup childcare, Alison, literally lives in our neighborhood and answered her phone. She showed up, and I heard my husband giving her brief instructions as I was throwing on clothes and groaning through a contraction at the top of the stairs.

We hopped in my husband's car, and he drove at a painstakingly slow pace down I-95. My Type A brain went through the checklist of all the things we needed for the hospital.

"You grabbed my wallet right?"
Him: ...
Me: ...
Him: "No...do you want to turn around and go get it?"

Y'all, I'm not sure why I said yes. In that moment, I had visions of being turned away at Labor and Delivery because I didn't have my ID and insurance card, and I decided that yes, we should turn around and go get my wallet. I would worry about how to punish my husband for forgetting my wallet later.

Here are some other things he did wrong. And before you think I'm "husband shaming" him, please understand that my primitive brain really did think he was doing everything wrong as I was laboring to get ready to birth his child:

1) Forgot my wallet
2) Didn't know where to park despite the VERY clear signs that said "Stork Parking" in the parking garage
3) Pressed the button to the wrong floor on the elevator, despite the VERY clear signs that indicated the main floor was on level 8
4) Offered me his jacket because I was shivering. I snapped at him that I wasn't cold; shaking is what my body does when I vomit (oh yeah, I apparently like to throw up during labor, so that's fun)
5) Allowed people to offer me wheelchairs. NO I DO NOT WANT A WHEELCHAIR. Let me walk, people.

Here is what he did right:
He listened to me. In the car, I had told him that I wanted an epidural. I knew I COULD do a med free birth, and it was what I thought I wanted, but mentally, I was in a negative place. I wasn't confident like I was with my first baby-- I was fearful and felt unprepared and weak. I just didn't want to do it, even though I knew I could. And I told him as much.

As soon as we got to the hospital, he talked to my doula and told her this update. She came and talked to me, and I assured her this was what I wanted.

Then the midwife arrived. I remember the room was dark, and there were white Christmas lights hung on the wall above the bed. There was some sort of annoying pop music playing. I can't remember the song, but I remember feeling distinctly annoyed and wishing for some classical piano or calm spa music.

Somehow I ended up on the bed and the midwife performed a cervical check. "Well, you're ten centimeters," she announced.

I didn't have time for an epidural. Or to labor in the spacious tub.
But looking back, I realize now I didn't need any of that. My body really did know what it was doing, and I listened to it. I had labored standing up, "dancing" with my husband while my doula provided counterpressure from behind. When it came time to push, I asked to push in a different position, and the nurse got a birthing bar for me to hold onto. As I was pushing,  I remember pep talking myself: Get.this.baby.out.of.you and the pain will be over. That's how this ends. 

I'm pretty sure Lillian was born within three or four pushes. I reached down and helped pull her up onto my chest: "We've been waiting for you," I exclaimed.

And in that moment, all the fear I'd had, all the hesitations, all the uncertainties completely vanished. She was here, and she was perfect-- all 9 lb, 6 oz of her!

We could finally announce her name to the world: Lillian Rey. "Lillian" means "lily flower," and those are often symbols of beauty and purity. It is our prayer that her heart and spirit remain beautiful and pure always. "Rey" was tough-- we went back and forth about the spelling literally until we were in the hospital! We decided on "Rey" for two reasons (and yes, we know it's a Spanish word): 1) Star Wars, and 2) it means "king" in Spanish. 

I kind of love giving a strong name to a little girl, and I kind of love that it's "king" and not "queen" because #genderequality-- the connotation of the word "king" is so much different than "queen"! 

As I shared in Katherine's birth story, I always pick a life verse for our babies. Our angel baby in heaven, Lila Grace: 1 Samuel 1:27 "For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him."

Katherine's: John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27

Lillian's life verse: 1 Corinthians 16:13 "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong."

We adore you, sweet baby girl. We are so thankful God has given you to us!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Four Reasons to Hold Your Tongue around New Moms

Several months ago, I went to Chick-fil-a with my toddler and another adult. We were all finished eating, but we adults wanted to stay and chat. Of course, my toddler had other plans-- her chicken nuggets were gone, so she wanted down from her high chair. So, I walked her over to the enclosed playground area, opened the door, and went to follow her in. She pulled the door shut, waved "bye" to me, and went off to play on her own. I'm not exaggerating; she was ridiculously and painfully independent, even at 18 months old.

I shrugged, sat back down a few feet away, and watched her through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. There was one other child and his mother in there. My toddler played happily and independently for almost twenty minutes, with me watching her from a few feet away the entire time.

I give kudos to that other mom. Because she saw my toddler. A look of alarm and confusion crossed her face as she started glancing around. I waved to her through the glass and smiled, and she didn't really react. When she exited a few minutes later, she didn't say anything to me. Maybe she wanted to. Maybe she thought I was a bad mom or that I was negligent and irresponsible. Maybe she didn't want to say anything and had no opinion of me.

But I give her kudos for not saying anything because many people in our society, especially those who are from older generations, just can't help themselves when it comes to judging moms (especially new moms) and offering their unsolicited opinions.

Here is why I don't think offering unsolicited advice to parents, especially new moms, is wise or helpful:

1) People often don't know the whole story. I may share with you that I'm tired because my baby isn't sleeping, but that's not an invitation for you to tell me how you sleep trained your baby. I may divulge that my baby doesn't seem to like any solid foods, but that's not a green light for you to tell me to put cereal in my baby's bottle like you did with your kids.

Just because I shared one tidbit of information with you doesn't mean you're fully equipped to offer advice because you don't have all the necessary information. So unless I specifically request advice or feedback, it's usually best if you smile and say, "That sounds really hard. You're doing a great job. You'll get through this." That makes new moms feel so loved and supported. And who knows? Maybe then we'll share some more details and ask you for advice. But until you know the whole story, it's usually best to keep your opinions to yourself, lest you leave a mom feeling frustrated and defeated.

2) Advice-givers make it about themselves.  Most of the time when a mom shares with you that she is tired, that she hasn't washed her hair in six days, that she hasn't made it out of the house in a week, it isn't to get advice about how to manage her time better. It's to vent. It's to get support and empathy.

So when you chime in with advice, instead of being an active listener who reflects what the new parent is feeling, you invalidate the parent who's confiding in you. You also make the situation about YOU instead of about the mom, and that's just plain selfish.

3) People have lost perspective. I know, I know-- the newborn stage is so sweet, the cuddles are amazing, the complete reliance this tiny human has on their parents is beautiful and pure. But when a parent is wading through the newborn fog, they don't need people who don't remember what that was like saying things like, "Cherish every moment. It goes so fast." I used to really struggle with that.

Cherish EVERY moment? Even the two hours I'm holding a screaming newborn, noise canceling headphones on my ears, pacing up and down the hallway, counting my steps to make the time pass? Even the times when it takes my infant twenty minutes to latch on to my bleeding, cracked nipples, and she is screaming because she's hungry and frustrated, and I'm bawling because I'm in pain and haven't slept in 48 hours and am wearing an adult diaper and am dealing with family drama and am adjusting to changing hormones?

If it's been a few years since you've had an infant, try to remember you're looking back through rose-colored glasses. Yes, the newborn months can be very sweet. They can also be hell on earth. They can test even the most saintly parent's patience and sanity. It's important to acknowledge that when you're talking to a parent who's in the weeds.

4) Every situation feels like a lose-lose. I'm either too protective or not careful enough. If I ask someone to sanitize their hands before holding my newborn, I get an eye roll and a laugh: "Don't you know they need to be exposed to germs to build their immune systems? They're going to be exposed to germs at the sitter or church nursery anyway!" If I DON'T ask someone to sanitize their hands, I'm met with gasps: "You let your friend's filthy petri dish hands hold your baby? Don't you know it's flu season?"

If I put my baby in her crib to sleep, I'm not connected enough to her and I'm being cruel by making her sleep alone. If I let her sleep in bed with me (even while practicing Dr. James McKenna's safe bed-sharing practices), I'm endangering my baby and I might smother her to death accidentally and I'm a bad mom.

If I go back to work and leave her in daycare or with a sitter, I'm putting work first and letting someone else raise my child. If I stay home with her, I'm giving up my career and being too child-centered.

If I let her run up and down the aisles at the grocery store to get out energy, I'm permissive and don't know how to discipline her. If I expect her to sit quietly in the cart, I'm overbearing and have unrealistic expectations.

Someone will always disagree with decisions I make as a mom. And if you're one of those people, sometimes it really is wisest to just keep your mouth shut. Because trust me: I am probably stressing about every decision. I try to keep my cool, but in the back of my mind, I know that I am being judged by someone for every little decision I make. I try not to let it bother me. I try to have confidence. I try to go with my gut and do my research and project confidence. But the constant judgment and comments are really demoralizing. Don't be someone who adds to that noise.

New moms are often seen as overprotective. But if you read any news story EVER on social media about any sort of accident that happened to a child, people are quick to jump all over moms for being negligent: "Don't people supervise their kids anymore? This would never have happened to MY kid."

Really, Nancy? You never took your eyes off your toddler to switch a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher? They never ate something they weren't supposed to, escaped from an area you thought you had child-proofed, stuck a toy up their nose, or got into something you thought was locked up? Ever?

I doubt it. Because you're human, and your child is human, and we do human things.

If you think I'm overprotective, that's fine. But you don't need to tell me that. And you certainly don't have a right to argue with me when I'm protecting my child. Let me put her in her car seat-- they've changed since you've had kids. Sanitize your hands-- have you ever seen photos or videos of infants with RSV or the flu? What I say goes because I am her mother.

And if you think I'm being too lax with my kid, you don't need to say anything. Unless my kid is in immediate danger or it is truly a safety issue and not just a matter of preference.

But if you do decide to say something, make sure you are gracious and compassionate. Rearing a child in this day and age is hard. People are quick to put parents on blast, to judge them, to comment on their parenting techniques on social media.

That mom who is trying to strap her screaming child into the cart at Target is probably sleep deprived and stressed. It's none of your business that she didn't wipe the shopping cart handles down-- not your place to say anything. It's not your business to comment on my vaccination choices, the fact that my kid doesn't always eat organic grass-fed beef and everything non-GMO, the fact that my kid doesn't always wear a jacket or socks, how much screen time I give my kid, where my kid sleeps, etc.

Of course these are all important issues. Of course they're all somewhat controversial. And you and I might disagree about the choices I am making for my kid.

But please remember: it is not your child. So unless you are asked for advice, it is best to refrain.

I'd love to see a society that was more respectful of new moms. More gracious. More compassionate. Less judgmental.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ten Lessons I Will Teach My Daughters

I have always been kind of a tomboy and possessed many stereotypically "male" traits. Growing up, I much preferred kicking a soccer ball around a muddy field to playing ponies and house with the girls in my grade. My closest friends in elementary school were definitely the boys, and I've never been great at figuring out how to socialize with females, especially in large groups.

I'm sarcastic, and I don't really mind conflict (though as I've matured, I've tried to be mindful of engaging in respectful and healthy conflict). I've taken unpopular stances on issues. Although I might be somewhat emotional compared to my stoic husband, I am definitely capable of logical thinking, separating my emotions from a situation, and not getting sucked into other people's big feelings.

Then, take into account the fact that the particular  brand of Christianity with which I was raised taught that I had to submit to men, avoid being a leader in "mixed sex" settings, dress conservatively as to not cause men to stumble, and many more toxic and incorrect teachings. Things that directly violate not only a sound interpretation of the Word of God but also that contradict the very nature of who God created me to be: strong, independent, a leader, outspoken.

Given my personality and strengths/weaknesses, I always just kind of assumed that when I became a mom, I'd be a boy mom. 

But we have a little girl-- an amazing, funny, determined, kind, intelligent daughter. And just found out we have another little girl on the way!

After that ultrasound where we found out baby #2 is a little sister for our 2-year-old, I came to a realization: God is trusting us with girls so we can raise them in His word in the way we are being led to parent. 

This way of parenting includes
- avoiding corporal punishment, which I believe to be unbiblical and flat out wrong,
- teaching emotional intelligence, awareness, and health,
- engaging in respectful and positive parenting that emphasizes choices, autonomy, and boundaries, and
- deconstructing harmful human-created teachings of the evangelical church that are not at all what Jesus taught and that violate who Jesus is
We are also teaching our daughter other important things, like all the major Star Wars characters. 

To name a few.

So, with all of that in mind, here are ten lessons that I want to teach my daughters as we walk this path of raising them to be the women God created them to be:

1. Your body is strong and beautiful, and you don't need to conform to society's standards of beauty. If magazine articles or social media accounts you follow or even people you're around are sending messages that you're only beautiful if you are tan or thin or tall or have long legs or whatever, please feel free to avoid those.

God gave us our bodies, and we are to honor them and treat them well with good food and fresh air and exercise and proper sleep. But we are not to idolize them and work to create them into what society tells us is acceptable or attractive or sexy.

2. You decide who touches your body. Don't give hugs if you don't want to, to anyone, including Mommy, Daddy, grandparents, nice people at church, friends at school, aunts and uncles, and so forth. There will be some times for your health and safety that trusted adults will have to change your diaper, apply diaper cream to you, give you a vaccination, and so forth. Those tasks should be performed in an appropriate way.

Predators will often start with a casual touch-- on the arm, stroking hair, holding hands, etc.-- to desensitize their targets. And almost always, a person who sexually abuses a child is someone close: a trusted friend or a family member.

So I will ALWAYS support you when you do NOT want your body touched by someone. No matter who it is. I will stand up for you and tell an adult that you do not owe them a hug or a high five or anything. I will teach you to use your own voice to say "no" to any touch you don't want.
(Unless it's a safety or health nonnegotiable).

3. When people compliment you on your appearance, let them know you're more than your looks. Because yes, your dress might be cute and your bow might be pretty, but you are more than what you wear and how you look. So if someone compliments you, it's okay to say, "Thank you! I like my boots too. I also really like reading books about science." People often don't realize that when they speak to boys, they ask about activities and when they talk to girls, they comment on appearance.

4. You are not obligated to be nice to someone who makes your intuition or your gut uncomfortable. Period. End of story.

5. Never apologize for taking up space. You are on this earth for a reason. You have a right to exist, to breathe, to stand, to walk. Women apologize for things that aren't their fault-- save your apologies for when you truly need them, when you need to say "sorry" for doing something wrong or hurting someone. But if someone bumps into YOU at Target, you don't need to say you're sorry.

6. When people interrupt you, it's okay to firmly say, "Please let me finish speaking." Unfortunately as you navigate life, you will sit in meetings and on committees and in class, and you'll muster up the courage to share something only to be cut off, many times by a male. I've seen it happen (and it's happened to me) even in circles where folks claim to be progressive and feminist and dedicated to eradicating patriarchy and sexism.

It is okay to say, "I wasn't done with my thought. Please let me finish." It's not rude of you. It's not rude to be assertive. 

7. Getting angry doesn't make you overly emotional or irrational. Our society seems to view anger as acceptable for males but unacceptable for females to display. It also discourages boys and men from crying so they don't appear "weak," failing to recognize that (as Brene Brown teaches) vulnerability is, in fact, a sign of strength.

8. It is okay to refuse help when it is offered.  Especially by a male, when you didn't ask. Your safety is more important than his feelings.

In his book The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker, he says the following: "'No' is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you. If you let someone talk you out of the word 'no,' you might as well wear a sign that reads, 'You are in charge.'"

So if you're loading groceries into your car and someone approaches you and says, "Here, let me help you with that," and you get uncomfortable, say "No." If they insist, ask yourself WHY they are SO insistent on helping you-- it's probably not for you. It's probably for them, and unfortunately, they may have sinister intentions. 

"No" is a complete sentence. 

9. Any person who asks you to send sexually explicit photos isn't worth your time and doesn't respect you.  And I can say this with the utmost confidence. I've known your father since I was 15, and no one respects me as much as he does. He respects my intellect, my opinions, my body, my heart, my emotions. And he has never ONCE asked me for anything I was uncomfortable with, including sending any kind of inappropriate picture. 

Also, they may use those photos later to blackmail you-- I've known young people whose inappropriate photos have been air dropped to an entire cafeteria full of kids. Or who've been told that if they don't do "x," then the person will post their photos on social media. 

And you don't need to ask anyone to send you inappropriate photos, either. 

10. Standing up for what you believe in will cause conflict and cost you something. 
In high school and college, it cost me friends and social status. 
In my adult life, it cost me job opportunities and letters of recommendation and potentially getting on the bad side of my bosses or authority figures. 
Call out a toxic work environment? Get told you can't work there in any capacity. 
Call out racism and sexism? Get scolded by your supervisor for rocking the boat. 
Stand up for someone who's being bullied? Get told you're "being too sensitive." 

But the truth is worth it. 
Doing what is RIGHT is worth it. 

So know that I will support you when you use your voice for what is right. It isn't easy. ESPECIALLY as a woman. We are expected to be gentle, docile creatures who never make waves, who are nice to everyone (which isn't the same as being kind, by the way), who just go with the flow and make everyone happy. 

Of course, there is so much more I'll teach my girls. But as I reflect on my journey to emotional and spiritual health, I realize that the ten lessons above have been monumental ones for me to learn (and, frankly, I'm still undoing some of the harmful teachings of my past and working on living out some of what I've written above). 

But if there is ANYTHING that will motivate a mama to change, to grow, to be strong? It's her babies. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Being Proud of the Right Things

In the past 22 months of being a mom, I've tried my hardest to refrain from telling others (or my daughter) that I'm proud of her. Especially for things like peeing on the toilet and crawling and other things she's supposed to learn to be a normal functioning human being.

But today, I am going to get a little braggy.

 Because this incident that occurred and what my daughter did gave me hope that maybe I'm doing something right (as an Enneagram type 1, I both think that my way is the right way but also, paradoxically, think that I am a failure at everything and do everything wrong).

That maybe I am on my way to raising an empathetic daughter with a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.  An emotionally healthy young woman who won't need to heal from and recover from her childhood. 

Emotional intelligence and awareness has been a huge focus of our parenting thus far. We do our best to validate and reflect our daughter's big feelings. When she's having a tantrum, instead of telling her to be quiet and stop crying, we try to say, "Wow, you seem really upset right now. Do you need a hug?" or "You're really mad that I won't sing 'The Itsy Bitsy Spider' to you for the seven HUNDREDTH time. How can we help you feel better?"  (TRUE STORY; she's obsessed with Itsy Bitsy Spider).

We especially love these two books: Little Monkey Calms Down and Calm Down Time (English and Spanish in one book!), and it's SO neat to see our girl take deep breaths or reach for a blanket to cuddle with when she gets, to quote the book, "sad and mad and angry." 

I am confident in our choice to talk her through her emotions and create safe spaces for her to feel big feelings because I've done so much reading and research on it and just feel in my gut it's the right choice. Still...I'm always a little bit nervous when KO starts having BIG FEELINGS and others are watching. 

Because y'all know how people are. 

They purse their lips, roll their eyes, sigh loudly, and generally disapprove of little people having any sort of feelings that aren't pure happiness. And some people see my reflecting feelings as "permissive" parenting (it's not, but that's a different discussion). As if I should spank them out of her (insert gigantic eye roll). 

So recently, KO has really started to explore "happy" versus "sad" feelings. When she wakes up in the morning and I scoop her up from her crib, she often hugs me and smiles and says "happy! happy!" 

And if a character in her book is frowning or crying, she has started furrowing her brows and saying, "Sad?" (Also, sometimes she thinks we are sad when we are laughing, so we are honestly still working on this one...she gets confused sometimes). 

Hubby and I talk to her frequently about what to do if she feels sad or if someone else feels sad. "When you feel sad, you can ask for a hug or a blanket to cuddle with or take a deep breath or sing a song. When a friend feels sad, you can give a hug, if they want, or say something kind." Things like that. 

I really didn't know she was picking up on it. But what we say matters, what we teach our kids matters, and they are listening to us and watching our examples. 

A couple weeks ago, hubby took KO to Chick-fil-a for dinner. She heard a baby crying across the restaurant, and her ears perked up. "Sad? Sad? Hug!" And she stretched out her arms and started walking towards the crying baby.


But the most beautiful parenting moment I've had so far occurred at KO's cousin's birthday party. Her sweet cousin, who was turning three, for some reason decided that us singing "Happy Birthday" to her was very upsetting. I would say that it was our singing, but everyone in my family can sing in tune quite well ;) Our precious niece burst into tears and cried for the entire song. I felt awkward and didn't know what to do except try not to laugh and secretly hope that my sister would send me the video later. 

But my little girl's eyebrows knit together with concern. "Sad? Sad?" 
She marched over to her cousin and wrapped her adorably chubby arms around her. 

And my eyes instantly welled up with tears.

She didn't care who was looking or what the occasion was. She saw someone who was upset and wanted to make them feel better. And I just thought, "Man, what if more of humanity had the pure innocence of children? No wonder Jesus says we must be like little children to inherit the kingdom of Heaven."

Do I want KO to be smart? Of course. 
Do I want her to be good at sports? That'd be pretty cool. 
Do I want her to go to college and get a good job? If I'm being honest, yes, I do, although that's her choice, of course. 

But y'all, what I really want more than that is for her to be a kind, loving, strong, compassionate person.
Because what's a 4.0 GPA if you're a bully?
What's an athletic scholarship if you treat others like garbage?
What's being homecoming queen if you belittle others?
What's winning the lead role in a school musical if you judge and exclude those who are different? 

I'm ashamed it's taken me thirty years to TRULY grasp this concept, that it took me having a child to really set my priorities straight, to really understand what Jesus meant by loving your neighbors and being His hands and feet to the least of these. Having KO has made my heart both stronger and incredibly more tender. 

There is nothing like realizing you are responsible for the moral and spiritual development of a human being to set your head straight.

And at the end of the day, not only am I trying to teach her, but I am also learning from this sweet little human. I'm reminded why we are encouraged to be like children. They are beautiful beings who can teach us much about the love of God.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
— Mark 10:13-16

Monday, April 15, 2019

Yes. We are still nursing.

It's amazing how many people have opinions about my breasts.

No, really.

Before I had a child, no one really commented on them because they knew (rightfully so) that my breasts are none of their business.

But when it comes to how we should feed our babies, not only do many people have opinions, but they suddenly feel emboldened. They say things that truly aren't kind or sensitive or helpful or uplifting.

I'm going to address some of them below.

1) Don't let the baby use you as a human pacifier! I have to be honest: this one literally makes me laugh aloud. Do you know what a pacifier is, you nosy person who said this to me in Target? It's a plastic nipple. The PACIFIER is the imposter here. My nipple is natural.

I'm not saying anything is wrong with pacifiers. At all. I WISHED my daughter had taken a pacifier, and I tried to get her to take one.

I'm simply saying that if I choose to nurse her instead of giving her a piece of plastic, let me be. Please don't imply that I shouldn't be a human pacifier. If I want to be, that's my choice. Some of us like nursing our babies to comfort them, and we should feel free to do so without the judgment or comments of others. 

2) If they're old enough to ask to nurse, they're too old to nurse. This literally ignores what the World Health Organization has recommended: 
"Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond."

Most kids can talk before age two. But that doesn't mean we should stop nursing before age two if we don't want to or if our child doesn't want to. I'm not really sure why our society thinks it's "weird" for my toddler to say "milk?" and ask to nurse. She used to ask to nurse by just screaming. Why is it taboo now that she can say "milk" (which she learned to say pretty early on...). That's just illogical to me. 

3) Whipping your boobs out in public is offensive, and moms who do it are being exhibitionists. 

The fact that breastfeeding is often referred to as "whipping out your boobs" is problematic. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: words matter. The phrase "whip out" is also used in reference to penises. "Whip out" implies frivolity and carelessness and sexuality and brazenness, and I assure you that breastfeeding my child is anything BUT those things.

Moms are literally just trying to feed their babies. I promise you. Moms DO NOT want you looking at their breasts while they're nursing. Look, y'all, if I wanted you to stare at my chest, I wouldn't cover it up with a squirmy stinky baby... I'd just flash you and call it a day.

And to Christians who think a nursing mom is a "stumbling block," I invite you to show me where in Scripture this is expressed. I think I've seen a verse or two about gouging out one's eye if it causes one to stumble, so... maybe that's an option?

4) You're nursing her too often. She should be able to go longer without feeding! 
These comments made me shake my head with sadness. Nursing is supply and demand. Cluster feeding is real.  It didn't mean there was a problem with my supply (because you know how to make more milk? Nurse more often). It wasn't realistic to expect my infant to go for hours and hours without nursing.

Unless you are an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, I really don't think it's appropriate for you to be giving me unsolicited nursing advice.

Here's the thing: I respect your right to have your opinions. I support your right to freedom of speech and expression.

But it isn't always kind, helpful, or thoughtful for you to share all those thoughts and opinions with nursing moms. And if something isn't kind, helpful, or thoughtful... why share it at all? 

If you think nursing past a certain age is weird, I encourage you to be open to learning about other cultures where this is the norm and consider researching the benefits of extended breastfeeding.
If you're uncomfortable with a woman breastfeeding, you are welcome to avert your eyes.
If you have certain beliefs about how breastfeeding works, check your information with a trusted source like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding or Kelly Mom's Blog 

Examine why you hold the beliefs you do. I know I did-- and I did some research and changed my mind.

So I'm going to keep nursing my toddler as long as we both want to and are comfortable with. When she climbs into my lap and asks for "milk" and I get to hold her there for a few minutes before she jumps off to embark on her next adventure, I'm going to be thankful. Thankful for the bonding and the snuggles and the health benefits and the emotional benefits and the blessing that nursing her has been in my life.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

My Toddler Tells Me "No," and I am Here for It

She's finally learned the "n-o" word.
And I have to remind myself that THIS IS GOOD.
She is learning autonomy. She is expressing boundaries. She is her own person.


This is a milestone in her development, a way for her to feel independent.


This is an opportunity for us as parents to practice listening to, validating, and acknowledging her opinions without giving in and caving to her.


"No" is a healthy, positive word. It's what I want her to say if someone tries to slide a hand up her shirt.
Or offer her a drink.
Or drive her home after they've been drinking.
Or show her porn.
Or ask her to send nudes.
Or a million other less-than-desireable and potentially dangerous and deadly behaviors.


She will not be able to say "no" to those big things if we don't let her practice saying "no" to the little things.

No, you don't have to give hugs if you don't want to. I don't care if it's grandma or the nice old man at church or your cousin or your friend or even Mommy or Daddy. We respect your body, and you can say "no" if you feel uncomfortable.

No, you don't have to wear that shirt I picked out. Pick out your own (weather-appropriate) shirt, even if it doesn't match. It's not the end of the world. It's a shirt.

No, you don't have to eat any more if you aren't hungry. That doesn't mean you get a cookie or junk food. But it's your body. We offer you healthy food, and you decide how much you're going to eat.

No, you don't have to be happy and agreeable all the time. We don't even expect that of adults! I will help you through your big feelings. I will parent you through your disappointment and anger and frustration and sadness. I will teach you emotional intelligence. Happy is not the only acceptable emotion. We'll work on processing your feelings together.

I can hear some of y'all right now: "You're letting your kid run your life," and "You're the boss of her. The authority. This is why kids have no respect anymore-- they do whatever they want."

That is absolutely not what I am saying.

There are four types of parenting styles:
1) Authoritarian: strict, controlling, rigid, demanding but not responsive
2) Permissive: indulgent, lenient, accommodating, responsive but not demanding
3) Uninvolved: neither responsive nor demanding
4) Authoritative (the ideal): both demanding AND responsive, seeking to retain authority while also being responsive to kids' desires and needs

Setting boundaries and having age-appropriate expectations and offering choice (when possible and appropriate) and respecting personhood is not permissive. It doesn't mean I'm not her God-given authority. It doesn't mean I am raising a rebellious hooligan who will be wreaking havoc on society (although eventually kids make their own choices and we can't control them, so talk to be again in 15 years).

Respecting my daughter's "no" is me not wanting to raise a people pleaser.
It's me wanting a child who thinks for herself.
Who has a healthy respect for authority, NOT a blind allegiance to it (do you know how often an imbalance of power is present in abuse situations? Way too often)
Who is confident in her convictions
Who engages in healthy conflict instead of avoiding it at all costs.
Who feels comfortable sharing her true, authentic self because she knows I will love and accept her for it, even if our opinions differ, because she is her own person.

"No" is good. "No" is healthy. And it's my job to help my daughter develop her "no" by keeping the end game in sight. Parenting isn't about raising compliant, robotic little cherubs. It is about raising respectful, functional, capable adults.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Motherhood and Body Love

*Trigger warning: self-harm and eating disorder mentioned.* 

The year is 2006. I'm an honor roll student who's active in church, choir, volleyball, and various school clubs. I am an editor for my school newspaper, a go-to babysitter for neighbors, a regular fixture on my church's praise and worship team. To most of the adults in my life, I look like a responsible, accomplished young lady with a bright future.

No matter what my day holds--driving thirty minutes away for a voice lesson, spending two hours at volleyball practice after school, meeting up with friends at the library to work on a project-- every morning begins with a ritual: step on the scale.

It ends the same way, too. Every night, I step on the scale to make sure I haven't gained any weight since 7 a.m. that day. If I haven't, then I reward myself with a spoonful of peanut butter. If I have, it's water only, or something that's zero calories, like a few pickles.

Looking back, my heart breaks for that teenage girl. She was smart and beautiful and capable and talented, but she was insecure and hurting and self-conscious and paranoid.

My journey from an anorexic self-harming teenager to a strong and confident 30-year-old woman has been one I've shared with many. But now that I have a daughter of my own, I want to revisit some of the highlights of my struggle and healing because I am seeing them in a whole new light.

Almost everyone, no matter how beautiful they are or how "perfect" (by society's definition) their body is, has insecurities. Models will tell you this. Bodybuilders will tell you this. The people we look at and WISH we looked like also don't like things about their bodies.

When I was 17 and 18 years old, I weighed 30 pounds less than I do right now, and I am currently at a healthy weight for my height and body type. I still thought I was fat and unattractive because I viewed myself through such a distorted lens. The emotional turmoil I felt inside spilled out in the form of self-loathing and self-harm.

It is terrifying and devastating for me to look back and think about what I used to say to and about myself.

I look back on my teenage self-- no cellulite, tanner, thinner, no gray hairs or wrinkles, super white teeth-- and realize that being happy with my body wasn't as much about my actual body as it was about my attitude and values. I possessed a lot of physical traits that society and the world told me were "attractive," and I still hated my body. My attitude was wrong. My priorities were wrong. My values were off-base. 

I was starving myself; I was self-harming. I was going to Target to try on size 4 pants and still finding flaws with my body, peeling the pants off in disgust and determining to make myself throw up once I got home.
Hello, spray tan and 16-year-old self.  

Now I'm older. I'm paler. I have more gray hairs than any 30-year-old I know (it's genetic). I still get pimples. My stomach and thighs have stretch marks, my once-perky breasts aren't quite so perky anymore, and I have varicose veins on my legs. I definitely have cellulite, and my teeth aren't super white anymore.

But I am so happy with my body and so grateful for it.

I'm thankful my body can play volleyball and work out and run, if I so choose.
That my vocal cords can produce beautiful melodies.
That my arms can carry 18 bags of groceries in one trip and rock my toddler to sleep.
That my body has been able to create and sustain life.
That my ears can hear music and then my fingers can go to the piano and replicate what I heard.
That I can walk, talk, run, lift, and do so many things that many other people physically cannot do.
We all have different things we can be thankful for when it comes to our bodies.

Why do we care so much about appearance, y'all? And why are we still passing down these messages to the younger generation of women coming up?

It shouldn't matter that I'm not tan like society tells me I have to be.
That I have curves that make it impossible to buy pants.
That my stomach is soft and very "poke-able" (as my daughter, who pokes my bellybutton every day, can attest to)
That my hair is fluffy and frizzy 99 percent of the time.

Here's what I wish I could've told my teenage self:
1) Appreciate what your body can do, and don't take any of its abilities for granted.
2) Be more concerned about how you treat people than with how you look.
3) Having a healthy body is more important than having a beautiful one.
4) If other people start talking negatively about their looks, you don't have to listen to it. You also don't have to compliment them if they're fishing for compliments. You can reiterate to them that being healthy and kind are infinitely more important than living up to society's expectations.
5) Don't comment on other people's bodies.

Here's what I want to tell you, my dear readers:

1) What you might perceive as a compliment about someone's physical appearance might do more harm than good. For example, when I was a senior in high school, I went and visited my potential college. I practiced with the volleyball team and ended up attending there. Six months later, I had dropped about twenty pounds, and everyone commented on how good I looked, how thin I'd gotten-- and I know they meant it to be positive.

What they didn't realize is that I got thin by starving myself. Literally. I went for ten days without eating a real meal one time. I used to eat pickles and banana peppers because they were low or zero calories. Every time I showered, I tried to make myself vomit. I weighed myself obsessively. I would say "no" to friends when they invited me places because I was afraid there might be food involved somehow. I was cold all the time, my breath smelled weird, my heartbeat was sluggish.

But the well-intentioned comments about how thin I was getting fueled my fire, unfortunately.
People telling me I was beautiful and attractive only made me feel worse.
So now, I usually refrain from making comments about someone's weight loss or beauty. There are some exceptions to this-- I have friends who post their workouts on social media, so sometimes I'll tell them I can see their hard work paying off. I always try to tell pregnant women they look beautiful. And even in those situations, I'm really hesitant and paranoid I might be triggering someone.

2) It isn't helpful to tell someone to "eat a burger" if you think they're too thin. I cannot emphasize enough how unhelpful and hurtful this is. Not every thin person isn't eating. The beauty of humanity is that God has created us all different, and that includes our bodies. It's rude and insulting to make comments telling people who you deem as "too skinny" to eat some sort of fattening food.

More importantly, though, you don't heal from an eating disorder by "just eating." That's not how it works. Eating disorders need to be addressed at their root causes through professional counseling. "Just eat" isn't going to fix the problem if there is one.

You know how I know?
My eating disorder got WORSE after people knew about it. After I told a female youth group leader, who then told my parents, who then sat and talked with me about it. But I didn't get professional help and it actually became EASIER. Because I guess people thought that since I had admitted my behavior, I was going to stop. I didn't.

I did get professional counseling in college, and that's when I started the healing process. I didn't start healing because people told me I needed to eat more. That wasn't helpful at.all.

3) Kids are listening to and watching us and how we treat our bodies. 

I decided when I was pregnant that my daughter's health and safety would always come before adult's feelings. I've tried to live by that rule (I'm still a work in progress).

So if someone starts to talk about dieting or losing weight in front of my daughter, I ask them to stop. Or I just walk away. I am her protector and her advocate, and I refuse to subject her to those toxic conversations if there's anything I can do to avoid them.

I've also had to make changes in how I speak: Now, if I find myself wanting to criticize my body when I get out of the shower or try on clothes, I refrain.
Instead, I point out to my daughter how amazing our bodies are:
"These feet have run many miles. They even ran a 10K one time."
"These thighs are strong from years of playing volleyball."
"This stomach has expanded to carry life and birth it into the world."
"We eat vegetables so our body feels good and healthy."

It felt REALLY awkward to say those things aloud at first. I felt silly. I felt fake. I felt weird.
After all, I was used to standing in front of the mirror and sucking in and poking and prodding, lips pursed and shaking my head.

But now, my daughter is watching me. Listening to me. And I'll be damned if I don't do everything in my power to cultivate a positive body image that she can imitate.

I also try not to talk negatively about food, although I admit I am still a work in progress. I try really hard not to say things like, "I'm going to be bad and eat this cupcake. It's going to go straight to my thighs!" And IT IS HARD because I have been programmed to say those things (haven't we all, ladies?). I try not to complain about how my clothes fit or don't fit or make me look "fat" in front of my daughter-- if something doesn't fit, I just get rid of it now; I don't hold on to hope that I'll squeeze back into it someday (thanks, Marie Kondo).

How I talk about my body and her body and other people's bodies is so very important and will shape her mindset for years to come. I pray earnestly that I can help her cultivate a positive one.

4) It's easy to go all "Christian-ese" and throw out well-meaning cliches, but most of the time, they're not helpful. 

I grew up speaking Christian-ese. I'm as fluent in that language as English and sarcasm.

As a teen, I knew that I should "find my worth in God" and that "He values inner beauty over outer beauty." But I didn't really understand HOW to find my worth in Him. I didn't know what inner beauty REALLY meant. Because even the Christian women I was around wore make-up and dressed fashionably and got their nails done and told their daughters they needed to "get some sun" if they were looking too pale. I was told that I shouldn't wear yoga pants around boys in case I "tempted them," as if they were animals with no self-control or accountability.

How is that valuing inner beauty?

(Truthfully, I need a separate blog post to go into more detail about the damage that the messages I was hearing at church and from Christian leaders in my life did to me. But I suspect a lot of Christian women can relate to hearing toxic messages about their femininity and their bodies growing up)

What is helpful, in my experience, is actively and consistently modeling God's love and grace. Treating all people, regardless of what they look like, with dignity and respect because they are God's children. Affirming people for the way they treat others and love others instead of how they look. I think those are some good places to start.

5) Men, there is a LOT you can do to help the women in your life out. Speak positively about the strong, smart, creative women in your life. Avoid objectifying and sexualizing women. If you have a daughter, affirm her skills and talents and passions.

When you offer praise or compliments, make sure they're not primarily about looks. Tell your sister she has awesome leadership skills. Tell your daughter you're proud of the way she stuck with her math homework, even though it was really hard. Tell your wife you love how creative she is, or how kind she is, or whatever.

And remember, men have body image issues, too. Because I'm not a man, I don't feel qualified to speak on them, but I don't want to ignore that fact. 

6) Raising a daughter in today's society scares me sometimes. 

Right now, my toddler will dance in her diaper in front of the mirror. She doesn't know or care that she is pale (an undesirable feature, by the world's standards-- trust me, people comment on my pasty skin color all.the.time and think it's okay to do so). She doesn't care that her tummy is protruding or that she has leg rolls. She looks at herself in the mirror and cracks up laughing and smiles. She loves herself. It is so pure, so innocent, and my heart breaks when I think about her ever looking at her body in any other way.

There are media messages everywhere telling her she's not enough, both explicitly and implicitly.
There are men who will try to grab her butt in public. Who will find her on social media and send her inappropriate messages. Who will catcall her and give her unwanted sexual attention and try to sexually violate her.  I know because all of those things have happened to me.

I can do two things:
1) I can try to help change society, and
2) I can raise her to be strong and confident.

I'm trying to do both of those things. I'm trying to take my experience, my pain, my baggage and turn them into strengths and learning experiences.

I hope you'll join me.