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Every Day, Different Ways (To Fill our Pitchers)

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-water-jug-splash-pitcher-white-background-image34789543Today our meet up, Central CT New Parent Resources, will focus on how do we take care of ourselves, because these brave moms and dads have learned that if we don’t, we won’t have the source of patience required to be great parents.  Often we as parents neglect ourselves-it is a side effect from our laser like focus on giving our children 100% of our attention. We neglect ourselves is in basic ways such as putting off going to the bathroom and even forgetting to eat, and we neglect ourselves in bigger ways, such as failing to make health appointments.

Please note that the words, that bear repeating “we won’t have the source of PATIENCE required to be great parents“- patience, not love.  Love doesn’t get exhausted as easily as patience, love is always there deep inside, and often, but not always, can be tapped in an emergency parenting challenge. But patience requires fairly consistent self-care-filling our pitchers so we can continue to fill other’s cups.

The challenge of developing and maintaining self-care habits is significant, especially with babies, who don’t have consistency at all at birth. We also have our own resistance to routine. I believe both with babies and ourselves, a flexible routine works best-we must develop some routines around sleep, waking, eating, exercise, and resting, and yet have a source of new and different ways to stimulate joy, interest, connection. We also need to be able to attend to what we need this moment, today, with the ability to “get back on track” with the routine that “fills our pitcher”.

I recently have had the privilege of joining women in our neighborhood who have begun walking every morning from 6:00am-6:30am. Since I had tried and failed many times to get back into a morning exercise routine (which is the only way I have ever been able to be consistent) I was happy to get the email asking for walking buddies to provide mutual motivation and support. I was thrilled to meet wonderful neighbors who make the time and the exercise fly by in a great start to my day, and have enjoyed this for almost 2 weeks now.

Last night, I was so tired after two nights of restless sleep, I was nodding off on the couch and started to bed early. My husband reminded me-“it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, are you walking?”. After confirming this truth, I texted my new friend “80% chance of rain tomorrow, I’m sleeping in! See you Thursday”.

This morning I awoke late, refreshed, hearing the rain on the roof, and smiled. My friend had texted back “hope you have a good day, see you Thursday”.  Yes, there are different ways of self-care on different days. And sleeping in on a rainy day is simply delicious.

Making LOVE

mNrUOeK

As we approach the holiday of love, my mind goes to the transforming experiences of my husband’s and my expanding love for each other when we chose to grow our family: first our daughter and then, (who knew we had too much love for just one more??) our twin boys. (Kids, “too much information” warning, if you come across this and want to stop reading now, I understand!)

As we have discussed in many talks and workshops for expectant parents, I was ready to become a parent much sooner than Andy. After his journey to resolve ambivalence (another story) “come back ready” we were more than ready to become parents! Here’s the unanticipated side effect: our sex life went from satisfying to phenomenal.

Each and every time we “made love” we were possibly MAKING LOVEanother human being! The intimacy of sharing and pleasuring each other took on a depth and richness which is difficult to describe. . . like seeing the real Monet rather than than the copy the paint bar is using for you to copy, or tasting a perfectly ripe peach on a warm summer day when you are just a little thirsty, or achieving that “sweet spot” of the perfectly seasoned and prepared meal you’ve cooked hundreds of times before.

Each encounter might be THE beginning of our child . . . each occasion had the excitement and mystery of possibility.  The passionate connection was spiritual, awesome. I don’t know if EVERY intimacy during our conception journeys was an out of the ball park experience. In fact, I can confidently say that they weren’t (we are after all, fairly anxious and human) but I do remember that time period being extremely magical and loving.

I was absolutely certain I knew the moment when our daughter was conceived, and was devastated when I began experiencing the usual “PMS” symptoms on New Year’s day and the next day, my birthday. I was miserable, I had a cold, I didn’t feel well, and I couldn’t believe that I had been wrong. I wasn’t pregnant after all.

A week later Andy and I were sharing tears of joy and excitement that “PMS” was early pregnancy hormones: she was there all along. As you enjoy this stage of your life, I wish for you the depth and breadth of an endless source of love each and every time you “Make Love”.

Woman Power

When I was pregnant with our twin boys, my husband gave me this piece of jewelry which remains my favorite; full of meaning and beauty. For me, it symbolized the power of my body with the main ingredient of love, to nurture another life, (this time two!) and to give birth.

When I started reading about all of the risks associated with birthing twins, I felt frightened at first, and then more determined. Determined that I was going to do everything in my power to give birth to healthy and full term babies. After raising my daughter for the previous three years, I knew that I had influence but not control.  Determined, I did everything in my power to influence their healthy development: excellent nutrition with extra protein, regular swimming, walking, meditation, and eventually, bed rest.

Nurturing my baby boys bonded us together, even as I was working toward the ultimate goal of releasing them from the full time protection of my womb. My body provided just the right temperature, the right nutrition, the right amount of stimulation, and always the soothing rhythm of my beating heart.  My goal: for them to be there for just the right amount of time. We then began a lifetime of separation.

Labor is laborious because it takes power to persist to push out the little being who, only days before, needed to be in.  Literally squeezing tight, holding on, then releasing-our bodies propel our little ones physically away even as we  become more passionately emotionally attached, a process duplicated throughout our lives during every phase of development of their capable independence.

The power of love astounds me. It enables us to endure and thrill as we live our lives inextricably entwined with these little miracles, bonding and separating, loving and releasing.

Every childbirth class teaches resistance and fear of the process increases the experience of pain. Staying grounded, relaxed, and trusting this process we are able to be more powerfully present with less pain. As my daughter and boys move ever away-to study, to explore the world, and eventually to love another with allegiance to that partner more than to me, I hope I can remember this. I also hope that I remember to have compassion, because it is powerful, but it isn’t easy.

 

 

“Easy Does It”

color_wheel_730Easy and gradual, gradual and “easy does it” was the strategy that I found most successful in making changes when my (forever) babies were growing up. Whether it was moving from cradle to crib, learning to suckle from bottle as well as mom, adjusting to new caretakers, it soothed me, in addition to babyto slowly introduce the change in small, even sometimes tiny, steps.

For example, when I started to think about the babies sleeping in another room, I thought about what could be kept the same even as they made this change. So we first put them (my daughter, and later both sons, together in the same crib) to sleep in the crib during nap time, to become accustomed to the bed and the room, and to associate it with sleep. We used the same “sleep cues” (e.g. music, swaddling or blanket) and established a comfortable routine becoming accustomed to sleeping in the room before moving  baby/both babies into the other room at night. We then moved our night-time routine in their room: undress for bath, dress in cozy pjs, nurse, story and music before cradle. Finally, we began putting them to sleep in their crib in their room. This took place over many days and nights, until we all felt comfortable with the change. When they were sleeping in their crib, I did use the monitor to keep an ear out for cries, and we all got better sleep.

We used this approach often over the years for many parenting challenges. For me,  making changes gently helped me adjust to the ever growing separation from each of my babies. It comforted me that my daughter had the comfort of routine and of the familiar, and each of my sons had his brother right there beside him.  I believe these efforts provided comfort for them as well. Sometimes it is better “to rip the bandaid off”, but we have found that  “take it easy” often is less painful. Be gentle with yourself, be gentle.

“Gotta Play to Win!”

pool-917604_640The huge power ball jackpot is making news and capturing folks who don’t usually “play” (yes, I confess). The lotto tagline suggests at least two other important messages  lighthearted joy is integral to contentment” and “you have to begin”. After buying my five tickets, I found myself experiencing the “play” of lottery: dreaming.

Yesterday morning I took three sheets of paper titled “Charity”, “Me and My Family”, and “Extended” and played with thoughts of what I could give and have in my life. As I felt the growing excitement and pleasure of being able to make a difference on a larger scale, I realized that for me, “play” is not only about the experience of joy, it is about making a difference-giving others joy, giving others a chance at a better life.

This fun activity provided focus: if money were no object, these would be my priorities and values. The question immediately emerged: “if these are your priorities and values, why wait for the unlikely outcome of winning the lottery to begin?”. While I may not be able to quickly and easily give so much, I can give some, consistently and steadily.  If we stay stuck waiting for an easy way to reach our goals and to make our lives as we want them to be, if we don’t begin, the experience of play becomes resentment.

Being a parent is especially hard when we get stuck on the idea “this should be easier”, not understanding that it is what it is: sometimes a lot of fun, sometimes a lot of work, but always what we put into it. We pour into our children all of the love, patience, understanding so they can draw on it in the future. This is hard work, making our dreams a real life.  It is fun to dream, but then we must act. Again and again. Even when it’s not fun. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there are those moments of pure joy and purpose.

Sometimes its the Tool

For years I have internally lamented that I seem unable to flip an “easy over” egg with ease, and my flapjacks often flopped rather than flipped. I thought  “I bet I’m not using my wrist correctly, I must be doing something wrong”.  Yesterday, as I made gluten-free pumpkin pecan pancakes for my forever baby girl, my trusty spatula was missing. I found another spatula in my deep cluttered “tool” drawer and discovered that sometimes, it’s not  ME, it’s the tool. 

This spatula’s handle was designed with an angle of about 40 degrees, rather than the 30 degree handle of the usual spatula. This straighter handle made it very easy to flip the pancakes! For years I had been assuming that my challenge was technique, when it actually was the wrong tool for the job.

I was reminded of the conclusions drawn by clients as they engage in negative “self-talk” when things don’t turn out like they expect, and the introductory message I give in both MomSource coaching and counseling consultations. “I will give advice and provide tools for you to use, but my role is that of a coach and cheerleader-it is your life. Determining which tools work for you is a collaborative process, I will ask if you tried x, and if it worked, so we can fine tune what works for you, your baby, your family.” 

That “sweet spot” of the perfectly turned pancake is so cool, and the feedback “I tried x and it really helped a lot! I am feeling much better!” gives me joy and purpose every day.

 

Empowered “Right” Decisions

Last week a flurry of emails filled and left my box; a study was publicized that revealed a correlational (very rough metaphor: you are very frequently in the presence of your spouse at the same places, it doesn’t mean you cause your spouse to exist) connection between the use of antidepressants and an increased risk of autism for those infants.

Both the headlines and the misleading use of statistics were troubling; capturing attention by inducing fear. It is important that information is presented that enables women to make decisions based on information that weighs the risks and the benefits: empowers rather than inducing guilt and fear.  Postpartum Support International (PSI) reproductive professionals penned a well-thought out response; I encourage you to read it.

Teresa Twomey, former CT Coordinator of PSI and current President of PSI-CT,  sums it up: “whether with medication or other treatments, it is important to address both prenatal and postpartum maternal depression and anxiety for the health of the baby as well as for the health of the mother”.

Depression and anxiety affects the health of the baby as well as the health of the mother. Many interventions for depression and anxiety are effective: cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal and supportive therapies, family therapy, support groups, antidepressant medication, exercise, and many alternative treatments.

Weighing the risks and benefits based upon a particular individual’s response to treatment, the risks and potential benefits of the treatment, the risks and potential benefits of other treatments, and each woman’s psychology is essential to make an empowered decision about treatment. What you decide after carefully weighing all the above, is “right”.

There are Seasons of Giving and Seasons of Receiving

No, this is not another blog about the holiday season, in spite of the title.  Today, while I waited to donate blood, I reflected on how I had wanted to donate for many years, but could not.  The title of today’s blog popped into my head, a phrase that Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) Birdie Gunyon Myer, RN,  MA, CLC often uses with Moms and in her PSI trainings.

The advice I give to expectant and new Moms and Dads which consistently meets resistance is “Accept Help”.  Both the active and the passive “push back” from this recommendation outweighs resistance to any other recommendation.  Especially in America, and especially in New England, “independence” is an incredibly strong value.  We feel that we must be self-sufficient, and often, that if we need help, there is something wrong with us.

Birdie’s phrase, “There are seasons of giving, and there are seasons of receiving”, and  “this is your season to receive; there will be opportunities later for you to give” has provided comfort to countless Moms and Dads.  When I provide this nugget to them, the relaxation of resistance is almost instantaneous, often even visible in the their faces, in their bodies.  It enables acceptance that just because you accept help, (and even ask for it sometimes) doesn’t mean that things are unhealthily unequal-we will be able to “give back” in the future.  And it is very satisfying to “give back”. May this season be the season you accept what season you are in.

“Fill’r up”

Yesterday I explained to a young Mom that her intention to be a good parent, and all the time and attention she pours into her baby is filling her baby up, and will always be there for her baby-to be drawn upon in the future. As I spoke to her I had a “flash” of memory of all the help I had when my twin boys were born: how my sister and her family came and stayed to help take care of Rachel during their birth and the first days, how my in-parents stayed for two weeks, my parents stayed for two weeks, and how everyone pitched in to “fill” the babies, to meet their needs. I am filled with gratitude for those gifts, and the realization that these young people grew up to be solid young adults in part because their needs were met in their infancy, with the help of my “village”.

It was not easy: I had to let go of the idea that I could do it all. I had to let go of the idea that if I made a mistake people would think I was a terrible mother, and that would be terrible. I had to let go of the idea that it was “asking too much” to let others pitch in. I  had to let go of the idea that if I let someone pitch in, I had to “pay back” as much or more, and soon. I let go, and my babies were filled up. And So Was I.

Gratitude Heals

It has been an amazing week, visiting extended family, enjoying reuniting with my nuclear family, and giving thanks for all the love and good in my life. It has also been demanding: adjusting to different time zones, changing locations and routines, and for this introvert, it is difficult to have fairly non-stop “together” time without sufficient alone, “down” time.

When we spoke in our last meet up about coping over the holidays differences with family members, we addressed how difficult it is to cope when family members say hurtful things, are judgmental, or intrusive about our choices. We spoke about the process of accepting differences from and within our families, realizing that “we can agree to disagree” and that it is possible to speak with empathy and with love, even when we disagree strongly.

Today I practiced another tool to help let go of some of the more challenging times: gratitude. I asked for some help and with my family, we shared many lovely memories and aspects of our week for which we were feeling grateful.  It was so soothing and a lovely way to end our time together. Wishing you and yours many grateful times together, and grateful remembering.