Thursday, February 28, 2013

Perfect Mommy, Expectations and You

If you're a parent you know her. If you teach or work with children, you may know her in the faces of those of us trying to BE her.

Perfect Mommy is well, perfect. She is well read in all the latest research. She never loses her temper. She never looks like she has been awake all night with a sick baby or smell faintly of sweet potato vomit even a week later. Her house is always clean. She may balance home and work with ease, or perhaps she is the pinnacle of the stay at home mom, home lined wall to wall with art projects and her toddlers first epic poem. She feeds her child only all organic healthy snacks, and most certainly never allows her child to have a cookie for lunch because he's been teething all day and it is literally ALL HE WILL EAT and oh my god you just want them to eat ANYTHING since there was a boycott at breakfast.

Perfect Mommy is a snipe. A red herring. She. Does. Not. Exist. But any new parent can tell you (because lets be honest, the pressure of Perfect Daddy is growing daily) that she is the enchanted mirror we hold ourselves up to every day. And she's destroying us slowly.

Some of Perfect Mommy's demands are not unreasonable. They're backed by science. Your child should eat healthy? No brainer. But here is where my dear friend science begins to get a bit like near sighted back seat driver. I am all about science. Science is cool and lets me put pictures of my cats all over the internet while I stream Raffi music instantly, as well as you know, help me live with an ill fated lay about thyroid. But sometimes science forgets that what works in a lab doesn't always translate to, well, life. There is what is ideal, and what is reality. Eating habits is a solid example. Not every meal can be a gold star standard, especially with toddlers who will survive on Mac N' Cheese one day, then entirely on carrots, then the next day air. Even before solids we battle with Perfect Mommy and her lab coated henchmen telling us what we're doing wrong.

I am a strong believer in breast feeding. I knew from the beginning I was going to do it. I even eye balled my sister in law for not being willing to even try it before going to the bottle for her baby. It's natural right? We were made with the equipment and supplies built in. It's natural, yes, but come naturally? I left the hospital after a few frustrating and a few awesome experiences with lactation consultants. My son latched well and it looked like we were going to be poster baby and mommy for the breastfeeding revival. Then I learned what an 'excited ineffective' feeder was and suddenly those moments my mom had described as bonding magic were hellacious. He screamed and got frustrated. So did I. I felt i was a crushing failure. I glorified my breasts, how could they fail me? My milk supply dropped from the ineffective nursing, and after some formula supplementation, my son quit both bottle and boob by his first year mark*. His weight, all the way until that mark when solids and cows took over, was a source of constant anxiety to me. At 19 months my son is in the 6th percentile for weight, after hovering barely in the 5th for months, perfectly healthy and a bottomless pit most days. He'll never be a big guy, his dad is 115 lbs, but I can't tell you how I silently celebrated that 1% climb when it happened. Those numbers were how I was measuring my success instead of his perfect cherubic frame and boisterous sponge like demeanor.

Perfect Mommy wields science so effectively, we find ourselves attacking instead of supporting one another. Like my looking down on my sister in law for not trying to breastfeed. TV is one of those demon topics we can use as easy ammo against each other to judge parenting skills. Science has proven TV is not great for your kids (or anybody really) and bans any more than a half an hour a day (or an hour, or 15 minutes, it changes regularly). But science has never had to console a feverish toddler with growing pains. They haven't needed that 15 minutes to an hour to wash the mountain of clothes/dishes/litterboxes/spilled milk/cereal/poop because the twenty minutes you got to yourself when your child was sleeping you oh-so-selfishly used to shower for the first time in three days. (Okay, a week) Should I let my kid watch TV all day? No sir, but don't come after me with torches because it slips to two hours because we've had a crappy day and I need to pay bills before my lights get turned off.

I beat myself up on a daily basis for a hundred little things that Perfect Mommy and our well meaning friend Science say I am doing wrong. I cry myself to sleep more often than I would like to admit. I spend too long gazing in the mirror and seeing all the things I am doing wrong by him.

So I say unto you fellow mommies, I am PROUD of you. Rock any day you can get that hard won victory, whether its finally sleeping through the night or getting your child to eat something green that didn't come out of a nose. Here's to getting that sink empty for at least an hour, and the thousand kisses, hugs, tickles and goofy noises you will bestow upon your little one to let them know they are Loved and Safe. Here's to doing our best with all our hearts and I really, truly hope you can shut out that Perfect Mommy with her done up hair and Mozart flash cards and see that your success in the face of your child every day. I hope science can be our guide, and not our standard.

I know that it won't be as easy as hoping, because even as I write this I am critically picking apart my day while my sweet son sleeps soundly. But we need to start saying it to each other, because while there are those parents out there who warrant Science's disproving glare, most of us are just doing our best to love our children completely, nurture them carefully, and not run screaming into the woods with out our pants.

*For the record, as frustrating as it was, I plan on breastfeeding when I have my second child too. Benefits won over hardships on this one for me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Introduction

Postpartum Depression Clinically Defined:

Wikipedi defins it thusly;

"Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a type of clinical depression which can affect women, and less frequently men, typically after childbirth. Studies report prevalence rates among women from 5% to 25%, but methodological differences among the studies make the actual prevalence rate unclear. Among men, in particular new fathers, the incidence of postpartum depression has been estimated to be between 1% and 25.5%.[1] Postpartum depression occurs in women after they have carried a child. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced libido, crying episodes, anxiety, and irritability. Although a number of risk factors have been identified, the causes of PPD are not well understood. Many women recover with a treatment consisting of a support group or counseling.[2][3]
The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a standardized self-reported questionnaire, may be used to identify women who have postpartum depression.[4] If the new mother scores more than 13, she is likely to develop PPD."

Me, defined:

I am 30 and live south of Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up on an island in a tight kit community with awesome family all around me. I love to cook, be out in nature and do art, I read voraciously, and embrace my geeky nature. My friends and family are my life. I am very goofy, about as graceful as a new born foal or a drunk duck on a greased floor. I am not a small woman, all hips and chest and my husband says I smile with my whole body, especially my eyes.
I have been with my husband eight years, we've been married for three and have an awesome little toddler who will be two this summer. We once went to Ireland because he rolled over and suggested it one morning.
We have moved seven times in our eight years together. We just bought our first house three days after Christmas on my husband's income. It's full of charm and 'character', which is the term he also applied to my mp3 player after it got run over by a car. I love it. It's warm, welcoming and a little weird, just like us. Our super power is making people feel like they've come home.
Husband works ten hour days because of a long commute and to have a third day to be with home with us. I work doing Pampered Chef parties because I love their stuff and cooking centers me. I understand potatoes, sugar and butter and the magical things they can do. They make sense even when nothing else does.
We have two kittens and an eight year old rabbit. It's like having two more toddlers and a well mannered old man who judges me silently from behind his hay.

I have dealt with depression before, once in Jr. High after a school career of constant bullying, then again after a bad break up and dealing with  the transition from a high school of 800 students to a college of thousands. I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer's in the fall, and my other grandmother was forcibly moved to a home when she stopped taking care of herself, which my father hates himself for. My mother had a knee replaced after two failed surgeries didn't heal right in the same window as losing her father and dealing with her mother in law. It's not been an easy six months, even the good things have been highly stressful.

I had taken the a fore mentioned questionnaire at my postpartum checkup and registered at risk. The second time I took it, my score showed no issue because I was having a good day. It didn't reflect how I was at night, and my fear at appearing an unfit parent kept that from taking that into consideration. Each time I filled out that form, it cost me $60 and was not covered my my health insurance.

My family has a shared doctor, who is made of solid win and doesn't blink an eye when I call his office a hundred times over the same cough or fever. He is awesome because he checks on us every time we bring my boyo in for a checkup, and he was the first one to voice concern on my behalf. I was just tired I told him, after all I had a newborn who believe sleep was for weak, uninteresting people and beds for those who didn't appreciate the mammary foam glory that was me. Then I started having post-pregnancy health issues with my thyroid, another issue I had dealt with previously when I had mono. My immune system takes a hit, my thyroid decides to go on strike. So another doctor, another who expresses concern over my energy levels and mood.

But even after numerous breakdowns and self deprecating rants about how I was letting everyone I loved down; my son, by husband, my family, my friends, myself, I still wouldn't admit it was beyond normal new parent stress. My husband finally admitted to me during one of these episodes that he was feeling helpless. "I've watched you get sadder over the past two years, and I don't know what to do." Suddenly all my reasoning for 'sucking it up' (time away from my son, money, I should be able to handle this) became moot, because all my trying to shoulder it alone to protect my family was in fact hurting them.

So I start counseling next week. I am nervous and excited. I want to work on my problems, not just complain and fall apart, but those same issues make me terrified I am a failure and this woman we see it and judge me silently like my stoic, ancient rabbit.

But I give myself the small credit of taking this step anyways, because the only way I am assured to fail is to not try at all, and my beautiful, strange little household- myself included- deserves better than how it has been.

So wish me luck. I hope she doesn't mind the scent of eau de veggie puree and butt paste.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mommy Pants

Ever since I became a mom, I have wanted to do a blog about the wild ride that is parenting. Part of me wanted it so I could be a bit creative, be a bit witty, make other mom's have a chuckle at my expense and in understanding when I recount my toddler's delight at flushing three rolls of toilet paper in their entirety. Laugh and feel fuzzy with the good times, commiserate when it's not so good.

 But something happened when I put on the new mommy pants and it wasn't something I had expected. I had waited my whole life to wear these pants, felt in my heart of hearts that no matter how much I failed at anything else (my husband would tell you I am a woman of many skills, and master of none. I have a short attention span and a love of learning new things.) I would rock being a mommy. Heck, as a teacher, I even came with some pre-loaded software! So it was a surprise that I felt like I was constantly floundering.

I expected it to be hard. I expected the challenge, the lack of sleep, the spit up and the diapers. I didn't expect to find myself hating breastfeeding when my son was an "excited ineffective" feeder, how alone I felt in the middle of the night when he refused to sleep anywhere but in my arms and I was terrified of co-sleeping, I didn't expect how completely and totally I felt I had lost who I was in becoming mommy. I would cry in the dark, cradling the little boy I adored, feeling like I was failing him. I'd despair at the never ending chores, single income budget, and missing intimacy and fear I was failing my husband. I would stare in the mirror at my reflection, at the weight I could not lose, my neglected hair and skin, my defeated eyes, and feel such loathing for everything I could not do and know I was not being fair to myself. I was even failing that woman in the mirror.  I didn't expect to be diagnosed with Postpartum Depression, or to still be struggling with it as my son approaches his second birthday. But I was, I am, and I have decided it is time to do something about it.

So I find myself here writing, not because I want to share in the journey of becoming a parent, but because I need to. Because despite having an amazing husband, wonderful family and friends,and a beautiful, incredible, sweet and funny little boy, I feel so terribly alone. Because someone reading this might too.

So this isn't just a record of my adventures in motherhood, but the chronicle of finding out who I am, who I am becoming, and remembering how to like myself again. I plan on sharing how I got to this point, what I am doing to try and rescue myself, and the successes and challenges that occur along the way.

So if you're reading, thank you. I hope my experiences help even just one other mom who finds themselves, like me, barking at the moon instead of giving themselves credit for what is, in my own mother's words "The hardest job you'll ever love."