Love and Velcro

baby

I recently came upon this wonderful piece by Coffee + Crumbs (Lots of great stuff there! Check it out!) and it immediately brought me back to the early, extraordinarily difficult days with my son. Reminders of that time crop up now and then because, really, the kind of trauma we both endured — and that’s exactly what it was — isn’t easily forgotten, but this particular piece reminded me of how (literally) attached we once were and how far we have come. And with that realization came the kind of validation I had deeply craved during those long lonely days.

From the moment the Pitocin was administered, my little guy made his feelings known. I carried him quite low toward the end of my pregnancy, but once his eviction notice was sent, I swear on everything holy that kid squeezed himself as far up into my ribs as he could. He did not want a scintilla of space between us and spent the entire first year of his life screaming that desire into the cosmos… and my aching ears.

He was my velcro baby — as attached to his mama as a kid could be. And while it may be tempting to imagine such a scenario as blissful days spent snuggling soft baby skin and breathing in that intoxicating baby smell, the reality is nearly the exact opposite. My life was full of blood-curdling screams every.single.moment I set him down to shower, cook, or even sleep. Picking him up usually knocked the noise level down a notch or two but he still cried incessantly. At one low point while my husband was deployed, it literally took me three days to pay a bill over the phone. My screaming velcro baby was stuck to me like glue, messing up the voice prompts and turning a seemingly simple task into a Herculean feat.

Life was hard, desperately hard.

Unfortunately, it was made even worse by a barrage of comments insinuating that I was somehow spoiling him, that responding to his needs was enabling manipulative behavior and that I had brought this difficulty on myself.

But I had lived through the baby years before — quite successfully, in fact. I knew I hadn’t directly caused his clinginess but I was still troubled by the fact that I couldn’t solve it. All the baby books said it required solving, after all. And most everyone in my orbit, his pediatrician included, insisted that the situation required a tough love approach.

It was a rough situation, indeed. After all, he wasn’t the average clingy baby. My boy suffered colic, severe reflux, feeding difficulties, and weight-gain problems. He was in the care of a gastroenterologist by 6 months and in feeding therapy by the time he turned 1. My life seemed little more than a revolving door between various medical offices with varying interpretations for his many maladies. As a mother, the inability to pinpoint his seemingly never-ending pain was gut-wrenching.

So I held him. What else could I do?

I held him when my arms ached and my back winced in pain. I held him as we both cried ourselves to sleep, unable to get the other to understand what we needed. I held him even as every inch of my body screamed for space, for a moment to breathe. But no matter what anyone else said, I held him. He needed it. I could feel it.

All the while, I questioned myself. I wondered why I couldn’t “fix” him and constantly evaluated what I could be doing differently. I stared in confusion at my clingy, irritable child, wondering why he was so high-maintenance when every cell of my body knew he was a calm soul at his core. What kind of mother can’t understand her own baby? Why was there such a disconnect between who I felt he was and the behavior I was seeing?

By his first birthday, my confidence was shattered. Nothing seemed to be getting better.

And then, one ordinary day, it did.

Life marched on — tenuous at first, and then increasingly sure-footed, like the pitter patter of my little boy’s feet as he ventured off to explore the world outside my weary arms.

And you know what? He has never looked back.

Sure, he is still my snuggle bug. After all, I wasn’t wrong about that soft soul of his. Turns out, he is very much like his mama — introspective, sensitive, and affectionate. And despite all the hysteria that holding a baby might cause an unhealthy dependence, at close to 3 years old, my cool little dude is as independent as it gets.

Though I’ll never know for sure, I like to think it’s because I held him through his pain, that I respected his needs even when I felt I had totally lost my way as a mother. We share the bond of the broken, two people who refused to give up even in the darkest of nights.

Eventually, morning came. And it delivered a (finally) happy and healthy little boy.

So while Coffee + Crumb’s essay brought me back to those difficult days, I know we are safely on the other side. Back then, he fought sleep while wailing the hours away in my arms. Tonight? Well, he’s still fighting sleep — but only because he can’t decide which dinosaur he likes more: Tyrannosaurus Rex or Ankylosaurus.

I’ll take it.

Impossible as it seems in the moment, velcro babies eventually grow up. They detach. They explore their world and inch ever further from the physical closeness of you. And that’s when you, too, will have come through the other side. Just hang on, Mama. Let your little one hold on. Cling together through this bumpy ride because velcro is tough, but so are you.

  • C
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My Miscarriage Story: Part 1

 

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Every October during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, I am brought back to my own losses—to the traumas that no longer cloud my everyday life but which exist just under the surface, easily triggered by the unexpected and unexceptional. They have become a part of my being, my story, and my journey. They didn’t end with the physical passing of those pregnancies or even with the healthy birth of my rainbow baby. As any woman who has endured the pain of miscarriage knows, they have never really ended at all. And while I used to feel desperately lonely in my experience, the years have brought a measure of peace; a peace due in part to the many stories others have willingly shared.

Today I know that I am not alone, that I am a member of a sisterhood. And with that comes, I believe, the responsibility to share my story—to help end the stigma of sharing and to encourage others to give witness to their grief. Because our miscarriages weren’t just a moment in time. They continue. Here is my story:

My daughter was about 10 months old when my husband and I found out we were expecting again. We were thrilled to be having kids close in age and, as a military family, felt especially grateful that my estimated due date fell comfortably between what we knew would be an extremely short upcoming duty station.

At the time, I didn’t think twice about the fact that my positive pregnancy test had been extremely faint—so faint, in fact, that I continued to test all week with the same barely discernible result. Though I had gotten pregnant before my first postpartum period and, therefore, couldn’t determine a due date in the conventional way, I had consciously decided to stop taking the mini pill so I knew how long to wait before testing. The results were becoming slightly darker with each passing day but I could never get that bright pink line that appeared instantaneously (before even missing my period) with my first pregnancy. Frustrated but unconcerned, we finally bought a digital test in order to clear things up once and for all. When that one spelled out the word “pregnant” I felt relief rush over my body and immediately forgot about the odd results from the other tests.

Having already had a successful pregnancy, I felt confident telling family and close friends as soon as we knew. Of course, I had heard the conventional wisdom advising against sharing the news before twelve weeks but who does miscarriage actually touch?

It turns out, a lot of people—myself included.

About one week after getting a positive result from the digital test and confirming the pregnancy at our clinic, my back started to ache. At first it was a dull pain, making me think that perhaps I had pulled a muscle. But as the day wore on, it became increasingly intense. I remember writhing around in bed that day, trying to sleep away the pain. Alarm bells had yet to start ringing. The idea that I could lose a pregnancy was so far from my mindset that I had missed one of the most common early signs. What was actually on my mind was that my husband had planned a date night and I was determined not to let a scheduled babysitter go to waste! By the time I woke up, the pain had mostly subsided and I happily readied myself for a much needed night out.

The next 24 hours proceeded pain free. Instead, I was floating high over the surprise party my husband had planned for me. There had been dinner, dessert, and Nori Bong (Korean karaoke) with friends. The following day—my 27th birthday—several friends stuck around our house and watched movies. For some reason, everything about that lazy, low-key day is forever etched in my memory. I remember what we watched and what we ate. I remember the dreary late winter sky that lent itself to snuggling under blankets and dimming the lights. I remember saying goodbye to our friends and walking them to the door, exhausted and ready for bed. And I also remember the bleeding.

It started late that night, still my birthday. And while I had plenty of light, intermittent bleeding throughout my first pregnancy, I instinctively knew this was different. Suddenly, the intense back pain and faint pregnancy tests made sense. Something was wrong and I steeled myself for what had previously seemed an impossible outcome.

The bleeding continued throughout the night—far more, I knew, than could be considered normal.  Early the next morning, I passed what looked to be a large clot. And in that moment, reality came crashing down. I sobbed into the cold bathroom tile while my husband mercifully flushed it from sight. The harsh jolt of toilet water seems like such a cruelly mundane ending—like there should be more to it than the simple flip of a handle. Kneeling on that bathroom floor, I officially became part of this sisterhood, unable to process exactly what that meant or how to move forward. That moment, in all its intensity, will stay with me for the rest of my life.

After consulting with my doctor, she suggested I head into the hospital to be examined. We lived overseas at the time, and while we had access to an on post clinic, anything but the most basic medical care was referred out to a local Korean hospital. Though I was familiar with the hospital, walking into that ER was a daunting experience. I was afraid of having to explain what was happening through a hefty language barrier, unsure that I would have the physical or emotional strength to communicate well enough. Numbness had already set in. Despondency was close behind.

To be honest, I don’t remember speaking at all. I’m sure my husband spoke on my behalf as I stared off in a daze. Once they understood what was happening, we were sent upstairs to Labor and Delivery. Newborns wailed through the nursery wall. A woman in active labor grunted through her contractions. A nurse who remembered me from my first pregnancy smiled and waved excitedly as my husband jumped to explain that the occasion was not a happy one. Walking through that hall was exceedingly difficult. But being sent to the very delivery room, the exact bed, where I had given birth to my daughter less than a year prior? Gut wrenching.

Before long, I was moved to a small area with four other beds where healthy swollen bellies were periodically monitored during the early stages of labor and where cervical softeners were inserted in order to induce labor. I had been in that room before, as well. And though the nurse was kind enough to pull a curtain around my bed, the excitement of soon to be mothers was unmistakable, language barriers be damned.

We waited for quite some time before a doctor appeared to conduct a vaginal ultrasound. And what happened next was…well…odd. Neither of us could communicate well with the other but I assumed he had read my file and knew why I had been admitted. After an extremely brief scan, he abruptly announced that, in fact, I was not pregnant at all but simply on my period. Puzzled, I tried to explain that the pregnancy had been confirmed through a blood test at our on-post clinic. That didn’t seem to phase him. I can only assume that, because the sac had already passed, he couldn’t verify the pregnancy via ultrasound and that his word choice was simply lost in translation.

Aside from being a strange side note, I mention that experience because I would go on to encounter that same flippancy from people who simply couldn’t grasp the very real heartbreak that accompanies miscarriage. Whenever I have felt particularly unheard or invisible in this process, that scenario with the doctor would flip through my mind.

Upon having the miscarriage confirmed, I was monitored for several weeks by our on post clinic to ensure that my HCG levels returned to normal. My doctor was kind and gentle, explaining that miscarriages are fairly common, especially during early pregnancy, and that I could attempt to get pregnant again after one normal ovulation cycle.

And, it would seem, that was it. Once my doctor assured me that my HCG levels had safely returned to zero, I was ready to close that chapter and move on. With our daughter’s first birthday quickly approaching and an international move close at hand, distraction was easy to come by. Looking back, I didn’t take the time to process what had happened or allow myself to fully grieve. I rationalized away the experience as a fluke and felt that our upcoming move would provide a fresh start. In spite of it all, I was truly excited about the future and confident that the pain would stay in the past. Life, it turns out, had plans of its own.

 

  • C

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**

The Best Piece of Baby Wisdom I was Never Given

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Before I became a mom, I was offered all kinds of baby advice. Some of it I found helpful, other things not so much. I felt comfortable picking and choosing between the gems and the rocks because I was fairly confident in my ability to parent well. I mean, people do this everyday, right?

 After I became a mom, I was offered even more baby advice. And, again, I was happy to use what was applicable and throw out what didn’t appeal to me. This process worked just fine with my first child and I vividly remember wondering why people made parenting through babyhood so complicated. To me, it all seemed very natural. I simply followed my intuition and, before I knew it, a sweet and spirited little toddler emerged before my very eyes.  So, naturally, I planned to follow the same process when my son was born.

And then he turned my world upside down.

He was colicky. He wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t eat. He screamed every second his skin was not touching mine. He was sick constantly. He was miserable. I was miserable. And suddenly, that intuition I had been so proud of disappeared overnight.

I flailed alone, trying to just get through each day. I questioned every single decision I made and wondered why I was such a terrible parent this time around. I remember wondering if I just couldn’t cope with having two children. And I even asked my husband if he thought I was suffering from postpartum depression. There had to be a reason why I could not make him happy. And I was convinced that it was my fault.

I simultaneously craved advice from anyone who would offer it on the off chance that they had the magic cure, while also shuddering in fear at the potential judgement being passed. When you get to that point of desperation, you have already tried every trick in the book. So in my grumpy, anxiety-ridden state, I was also frustrated when none of the advice I was given offered any real hope.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed when people I loved would make simple suggestions that insinuated his “bad” behaviors had been “allowed” to flourish. And in fairness to them, they were confused too. For the most part, such comments came from people with average kids who followed the baby book “rules”. They never had to question the axiom of putting a baby to sleep drowsy but awake. They never struggled to get their kid to shut out external stimuli enough to even allow sleep to come. It was never a question that their baby would eat exactly when and how much he was supposed to eat. So a baby like mine was… well, a mystery.

That is, until I came to a very simple realization: He is his own, unique, self. 

Simple enough, right? But the implications were profound and immediately provided a sense of comfort I had been lacking for an entire year.

I should have seen it all along. From the moment my first child was born, I was amazed at how much personality she had. It’s remarkable, really, how little it has deviated from my initial impressions. Even little propensities, like her distaste for sleeping under blankets, have been evident from very early on. Watching her grow put a new spin on the nature vs. nurture debate for me and I began to recognize that while genes influence a large percentage of one’s personality, nurturing those traits in a positive manner ultimately forms the final makeup of a person.

So why couldn’t that apply to my son, as well? I’m convinced that it does and that it explains a lot of our early struggles. Undoubtedly, there were some medical issues that complicated things but, for the most part, I was simply trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I was searching for answers in places that didn’t take his needs or personality into account. In my attempt to make my baby “normal”, I was actively ignoring the personality traits that would make it impossible to follow conventional baby wisdom. And in doing so, I prolonged the suffering for us both.

No one would argue the fact that no two adults are the same, so why do we continue pushing the narrative that all babies fit into the confined “rules” we have set forth as a society? Some people are reserved. Some are outgoing. Some are night owls, while others prefer to rise with the sun. It would be ridiculous to expect us all to operate by the same guiding principles, yet this is the expectation we have for our children. Why is that?

It still boggles my mind how simple, yet elusive, this idea seems to be. In all the overwhelming pieces of advice thrown at me by family, friends, and doctors, I was never once told that he simply might not be wired to sit quietly by himself, to sleep with regularity, to digest new foods easily. And it certainly wasn’t proposed that I follow his lead to figure out what would work best for the both of us.

In this age of smart phones and Google, when we have the answers to everything at our fingertips, we have come to expect that all our problems are black and white. We rarely take the time to consider nuance and outliers to the point that we neglect to examine them entirely. Maybe it’s time we acknowledge that we don’t actually have all the answers and that our babies are worth listening to. It’s humbling to realize that an infant can communicate better than you can listen.

At the end of the day, I don’t have all the answers. But I do know one thing: I know my son is exactly the person he was born to be. He is an independent, strong-willed, intense little boy. And I find great beauty in that. Someday, he may be be a CEO, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, or a diplomat. Whatever he does, he will make his presence known, just as he has done from the very beginning. Hopefully, he just does it with less screaming.

So if you are a struggling Mama, like me, know this: You have done nothing wrong. When all else fails, put down the baby books, tune out Grandma’s endless stream of advice, and remember that your intuition is still in there somewhere. Listen to it. And listen to your baby. He is his own little person that was never meant to conform to conventional wisdom. Your struggles won’t disappear overnight. There may not be any easy answers. You may still come out of that first year feeling traumatized and broken. But at least you know you will be able to pick up the pieces and recognize your beautiful baby for exactly who he is, not for who anyone else says he should be.

 

  • C

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**

Mom Conversations I Don’t Know How to Have

I love mom talk. Parenthood can be so overwhelming that I truly love being able to confide in and commiserate with a fellow mama. Usually, these conversations develop seamlessly. And why wouldn’t they? With so many shared experiences, it’s only natural. Every once in a while though, a topic pops up that makes me want to roll my eyes so hard my own mother would call me and tell me to knock it off. I swear, I’m a nice person at heart so it can be a struggle to hide it because I really don’t want to make you uncomfortable. But, if you want the truth, here’s what I’m really thinking:

1.) First Steps

Disclaimer: I will almost always take your assertion that your kid started walking at 8 months old with a grain of salt. You’re lucky if it doesn’t earn an outright eye roll. Does it happen? Obviously.  But what does that even mean?

Look, I know there are some kids that magically wake up one day and decide they are going to take their first steps, literally, into toddlerhood. My daughter was one. She was 13 months old and just ran out of the church following her baptism. Had she suddenly been blessed with the gift of mobility or did the overwhelming scent of incense force those little legs into overdrive? I guess we’ll never know.

My son, however, moved in incremental steps – almost painfully slow. He was cruising furniture for a good 4 months before taking controlled steps on his own. And that’s the thing. When is it considered actually walking? My take: don’t jump the gun.

Milestones, especially ones as major as walking, are a process. They take time. If your kid took a step toward a distracting toy once at 7 months, it’s probably safe to say he wasn’t actually walking. But the bigger point is, why is this even a conversation? Unless your kid is walking “late” and you want some reassurance, what’s the point of bragging about the fact that he was walking a few weeks before someone else’s? What do you want from me?? “Congrats! He’s obviously destined to be an Olympian!” (….cue aforementioned eye roll)

2.) First Words

I know it’s super exciting when your babbling baby finally utters something intelligible. “Oh my goodness!” you think, “He’s still so young! I wonder when Einstein started talking. He must be a genius!” Spoiler: Einstein didn’t talk until he was four and your kid probably didn’t say anything.

As babies acquire language, they babble and experiment with sounds and syllables all the time. You wouldn’t be riding the crazy train if it seemed as if he was saying “mama” without connecting it to the fact that you are, in fact, his mother.

I’m not trying to be a party pooper but resist the urge to spread confetti from the rafters the very first time something comes out of your baby’s mouth that could potentially be found in the dictionary. It takes some time and lots of repetition before it’s clear your kid is speaking with intent.

I understand the thrill of seeing what was once a drooling, blubbering blob turn into a sentient little person. And I will never put a damper on that joy in front of you. I promise. Just… you know… remember that your baby’s first words are in no way a reflection of you or indicative of his future Ivy League prospects. Kick back with a glass of wine and maybe reconsider before blasting all over Facebook that your 4 month old said, “potato.” Don’t hate me but… I don’t believe you.

3.) Percentile Charts

Ok, I admit it. Once upon a time, I would give myself a little pat on the back when my daughter would leave a well-baby appointment scoring high on the height and weight charts. Coming from short stock, it was always surprising and maybe fluffed my ego a bit. Seeing your baby grow is such a miracle and you really should be proud of yourself for taking such good care of your bambino. BUT those conversations, unless discussed with family and close friends, are largely unproductive.

Like I said, I, too, once swelled with pride when I could announce my kid was 85% for height and weight – or whatever it was. It was like the CDC was awarding me a silent medal for all the hard mommy work I was doing. It felt awesome. These days? If you offer up that information un-prodded, I will probably smile and nod politely while mentally shooting daggers through my eyes.  I can’t help it. It’s totally reflexive at this point.

You see, my second kiddo has never gotten along well with those charts. Despite working a million times harder to keep him fed and healthy than I ever did with my first, he has always struggled to maintain or add weight. When your baby is labeled as “Failure to Thrive” it feels like you’ve been punched in the gut for a lot of reasons, but in no small part because those charts really do seem like a parental report card. And I failed. Repeatedly. Miserably. In fact, I’m still failing… or maybe in “D” range now.

So if you are a stranger who uses me to feed your own sense of self worth in this way, there probably won’t be any playdates in the near future.

4.) Sleeping through the Night

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What kind of sorcery is this?!

I don’t understand this conversation. It boggles my mind that people have concrete answers for this. I don’t know if they’re all lying or if my kids just hate me but, in my world, there is no such thing as sleeping through the night.

Kid #1: Slept through the night starting at 6 weeks but stopped abruptly at 6 months. The next 6 months were an endless cycle of teeth, milestones, and occasional colds that left me tired and grumpy. And she’s been cyclical ever since. She might sleep well for a long period of time and then suddenly wake up every night for weeks. And don’t even get me started on the night terrors. She’s 4 and it’s still an ongoing process.

Kid #2: Sleep ninja extraordinaire. He evaded sleep with masterful skill forever. I swear to God, this child woke up every hour (if I was lucky) for the first 9 months of his life. Naps were an impossible dream. I hallucinated. He laughed at me. Well, maybe. Not sure if that was a hallucination, too. At around 18 months he finally started sleeping through the night with some consistency. And by that I mean he wakes up at night probably 3-4 times a week. 50% is consistent, right? RIGHT?!

I promise, as your friend, I will resist my urge to laugh in your face when you tell me that your kid has slept through the night reliably since birth…. if you bring me a venti white hot mocha and tell me I’m pretty first.

5.) Parenting Style

This topic always weirds me out. Why would you ask me what my parenting style is? My brain.does not.compute. I mean, logically, I understand what you are saying… there are all kinds of parenting philosophies and some of us may naturally fall into one category more than another but I seriously don’t understand the need to put a label on it. If I had to? Perhaps, “Um… I don’t know. Raising a Genuinely Kind Person Using My Own Common Sense.” That probably needs to be whittled down but you get the idea.

Raising kids is important work and I don’t blame you for taking it so seriously but it’s an art form, not a science project. If you try to have this conversation with me, I’m liable to shift uncomfortably and awkwardly redirect the topic. It’s like you’re actively making a judgment about my potential value as a friend and it instantly creeps me out. I don’t need to be recruited into a particular philosophy to be confident in my parenting, but thanks.

I’m not saying I won’t have these conversations with you. I’m just saying my brain starts malfunctioning and I may develop a twitch in one eye. It’s like the normal rules of social engagement fall away and I’m a full grown feral child. I just don’t know how to discuss this stuff. It might be painfully obvious that your commentary bothers me, even if I wish it wasn’t. I always try to be polite but some people make it so damn difficult. It’s possible that’s just years of sleep deprivation and unwashed hair talking though. I’ll let you know if I ever get to consistently sleep through the night again.

 

  • C

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**

 

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