Thursday, November 10, 2016

Best for baby {feeding newborns with the Honest Company}

 
Sitting down to write a post on feeding newborns, I was surprised at how raw some of those feelings were for me, even years later. Having attempted to breastfeed each of our five children, my experience has taught me that each child is different and that each breastfeeding journey is different. Discovering what worked best for me as the parent and for each of our newborns in regards to feeding-- breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or a combination-- was not always an easy or simple solution and it often was laden with guilt that I wasn't living up to certain standards, worry that I wasn't making the right choice, and frustration when things didn't live up to expectations I had put on myself.

We welcomed our fifth baby to our family this past summer so you could say that I am well-versed in the newborn days. With our first son, I was so nervous about if I was "doing it right." I worried about when I should be nursing him and for how long the sessions should be and it always felt like I somehow was falling short, like there was a standard of motherhood that I wasn't living up to. I remember when he was having a hard time sleeping and I had anxiety over whether or not to put cereal in his bottle; I tried so hard to do everything "correctly." In the end, I nursed him until he was almost 6 months old before we switched to bottles and formula and even some solid foods. He lead this early weaning and I didn't fight it. Honestly, I was glad to have breastfeeding behind us and get in to feeding I could measure more easily.

When our twins came home, I once again struggled with nursing. Our twins couldn't latch and I spent hours crying with the breast pump or struggling through emotionally charged nursing sessions where I felt like a failure twice over. I would try nursing one baby and then have to go through the same thing with the next baby. I made it through 2 months breastfeeding this way before we switched to bottles. I was much happier and could care for our 2-year old and newborn twins better, but the decision was wracked with guilt. I felt like I could have done better. On top of that formula for twins was expensive. Unlike the first time I nursed, there was a growing "normalize breastfeeding" movement and my newsfeeds were flooded with success tales of breastfeeding multiples and how it was worth the effort. It didn't help that one of the common questions from strangers when I went out with our twins was, "Do you breastfeed them?" When I said no, I would often hear back, "Omigosh, I wouldn't breastfeed multiples either!" I did not often follow up with, "I tried." Trying didn't seem to count for much.

With our fourth son, breastfeeding came a bit easier. He latched well and-- with 3 busy older siblings-- I enjoyed the ease and freedom of nursing. I didn't have to load down a diaper bag with bottles and formula for an outing or worry about where I could find room temperature water-- not too hot, not too cold, but at the exact temperature the baby would take the bottle. Unlike nursing our first son, I heard a lot of comments this time around while nursing in public, such as, "It's so good you breastfeed him." I think the comments were largely due to the breastfeeding movement. I appreciated the encouragement and the nursing support, but it also made me feel even guiltier about my previous breastfeeding experiences. I often felt like I needed to confess how nursing hasn't always come easily. I breastfed our fourth son until he was over a year old and by the time I weaned him, I was ready to have nursing behind us. As easy and convenient I found nursing, I was also ready to have my body back. My husband is in the Navy and we had recently moved across country. I felt exhausted unpacking our household, managing our children's feelings regarding the move, and settling in to our new community. After I got the children to bed for the night, I wanted some quiet moments to myself, not to start a nursing session.

I was asked a lot while pregnant with our fifth child if I was going to be breastfeeding or bottle feeding. I like breastfeeding because it is better for our budget and not having to worry about packing bottles or how much formula I will need for each outing is convenient when leaving home with 5 children. However, I wasn't sure what my breastfeeding journey with her would look like and I was nervous about all the emotions surrounding breastfeeding. Once she was born, I surprisingly found it easy to let the negative feelings go. After all the ups and downs of the pregnancy (it was a rough pregnancy) and the awareness that this is our last baby, my attitude changed. Just like each pregnancy, every breastfeeding experience is different. Not just mom to mom, but child to child. My breastfeeding experience with each one of our five children was different-- including our twins and how each one of them nursed. Instead of shame or guilt for "only" breastfeeding each child for however long I nursed them, I realized that my breastfeeding journey has been a labor of love.

I've found myself looking back through old pictures as our fifth and last baby has grown-- comparing the noses on each one of our babies to hers or looking at our children in well-loved hand-me-downs that we no longer need to hold on to. One of the pictures that made me laugh out loud was a picture of my husband washing a sink full of bottles for our twins. They went through a can of formula in one day! It was unbelievable. A picture that brought happy tears to my eyes was my grandmother feeding our oldest pureed peas; my son was her first great-grandchild. He would pull such funny faces eating foods he didn't care for. To this day he pokes at the peas on his plate, though overall he is our most adventurous eater. With our across country move during our fourth's son first year, I delayed starting finger foods since I didn't want to add anything else to my already busy day. When we finally sat him down in the high chair to start finger foods, he was eager to try everything. Our new house has an amazing bakery just down the road and, of course, my husband and his 3 older brothers felt a ginormous donut would be a great starter food for a one-year old.

As siblings close in age (including a set of identical twins), there is much our children have in common. Often they wear the same clothes. They share the same toys. They have many of the same friends. But they are individuals and when I move past the ways they look the same or act the same, I can see that each of them have different rhythms, thoughts, interests. They are actually very unique and learning their different quirks has been one of my favorite parts of parenting, from their mannerisms to their speech cadence to their sleep cycles. Looking through the old pictures and thinking of each breastfeeding journey as something unique to that child-- not an unrelenting standard of measure-- I have been able to accept my own feelings regarding breastfeeding, to give myself grace, the same grace that I so easily give to my friends and sister for their breastfeeding journeys.

What I have appreciated along the way is support from companies like the Honest Company. With their high level of standards, they make it easy for first time moms or fifth time moms to make the right choice when it comes to feeding newborns. They understand that the right choice is the choice that is best for baby and offer products to make feeding time-- no matter how I choose to feed my baby-- easy and enjoyable with products I can trust. Because I trust them when feeding my newborn, I find it easy to trust them with bathing and diapering and more. It has been easy to incorporate the Honest Company in to our family routine. With all of the other hard to make decisions that come from feeding a newborn, I know that I don't have to stress about our Honest Company products.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Morning school drop off

We now have 3 children in school: a 2nd grader and twin kindergartners. Since school has started, the go-to line I hear is, "You must be loving having 3 kids in school! What a break!" I can tell you, that so far it has felt like anything but a break. It has been absolute chaos. I have to get 3 kids ready for the day-- with lunches, backpacks, folders, uniforms, and appropriate footwear. Then I have to get them somewhere on time with a toddler and infant in tow. After that, I care for 2 children while getting all of the things done I need to in my window of time while the older 3 are at school, and be back in time to pick them up from school again-- on time. (This on time thing is a killer.) Let's throw in 3 hours of before school mayhem and 4 hours of exhausted after school whirlwind: dinner, bath, stories, pajamas, all with 3 kids in perpetual meltdowns. And caring for a toddler and a nursing infant. Major break. (Sarcasm.)

The first couple weeks I was in a constant state of near tears. The time I had with our children wasn't fun. The mornings were busy and the afternoons were nothing but meltdowns and the time they were at school was go, go, go. Last year with only 1 child in school, I could manage after school outings a bit easier. I only had 1 tired kid that I could manage, even with 3 other children in tow. This year I have 3 tired children plus 1 busy toddler and 1 nursing infant. It makes after school outings much more of a hair raising experience (and not at all feasible with my post-partum complications). Since we have 5 children, I tend to avoid taking them anywhere on the weekends when it is busy. But since I now have 3 in school, weekends are kind of our only option. I've also found that they aren't as helpful around the house. They come home in a high-strung, over tired, easily excitable state and need a little downtime and childhood play-- not the time to be heaping chores on them, which means more has fallen on my plate with less time to do it (the window of time they are at school when I'm not caring for our other 2 children). My last complaint on this subject is that school here in the Northwest has such strange hours. Their elementary school doesn't start until after 9 am and gets out at 4 pm. That may sound agreeable, but my children are up at 6 am and 4 pm is a wretched time for kindergartners to get out of school-- they are hungry and need a snack, which ruins their dinner. They are tired and need a nap, which ruins their bedtime. They are exhausted from a full day at school and want to rest, which makes it difficult to participate in after-school activities, even things like hitting up a park or going to a restaurant. They are so tightly wound that it makes our time even more stressful.

It is November now, so we've been in the back to school routine for a bit and have finally settled in to a morning pattern that has offered us a small amount of normalcy and *possibly* keeps some of the chaos at bay. Here is how I get 3 kids ready for school with 2 littles in tow.

Babies first...

To have the best start to our day, I feed the baby first thing in the morning. Often she will go back to sleep after a 5 or 6 am feeding and this helps give me extra hands in the morning (not having to juggle a fussy baby). I change our toddler's diaper and give him a breakfast snack, such as a banana, yogurt, or cereal bar.

Breakfast...

With the babies happy, I can get our older 3 fed. I start the water for their oatmeal while I make my latte. Depending on how many times the children woke me up that night, I make either a double or a quad latte. The first month of school was a quad latte situation. Breakfast must be a "stick to yer ribs" type affair. When school first started, our kindergartners continued their normal eating habits, which was a slow breakfast followed by a 10 am snack. Since they were now at school at that time, they often left for school complaining they were hungry or telling me how starving they were by lunch time. I realized cereal had to go. Our boys absolutely love cereal and so we have "cereal Fridays." They still get one day a week of their "treat" and the rest of the week we don't fight over what's for breakfast. On Mondays I make a small pot of oatmeal, since breakfast is supplemented with pancakes leftover from the weekend. Tuesday through Thursday they have oatmeal with flax seed with various toppings (berries, bananas, brown sugar and granola, milk and white sugar...).

Getting dressed...

I don't really like our boys to wear their uniforms at breakfast. Mondays they drip syrup down their fronts and that often leads to shirt changes. It happens and that's fine when it does, but after breakfast whoever isn't in uniform has to go get dressed. This is also when I have them make sure they tidied up their spaces. Pajamas, diapers, and toys all must be picked up from the floors of their rooms. They all go upstairs to brush teeth and our asthmatic takes his morning medicine. They must leave the bathroom tidy (drawers closed, toothbrushes put away, etc).

Homework...

Thankfully our boys' kindergarten teachers do not believe in homework for kindergartners. (Thank goodness because, honestly, neither do I.) Our 2nd grader has at least one worksheet every day. We do homework in the morning before school. Normally he sits at the bar, but sometimes he does it in his bedroom. I do have him check his homework folder while I get breakfast started. That way if he has a lot of homework, he can get started earlier in the morning.

Loitering...

This is the time in the morning when all H breaks loose. The baby wakes up. The toddler starts throwing oatmeal or drawing on homework sheets. Our kindergartners start wrestling. I approach this in between time with a firm hand. I have the kindergartners unload the dishwasher. I have our toddler sit at the table with some art or I turn on his favorite show and plop him down on the couch with a banana. Often I have to feed the baby again, so I change her diaper and sit in the family room. A great trick has been reading the boys' library books during this time. They are very excited to share their library finds from school and tell me long rambling stories about why they picked that particular book. I do not allow any wild games before school. The first couple weeks of school the boys wanted to play in the loft, like they do many mornings. I allowed it only to have tempers high and injuries higher. It was exhausting dealing with the tears and bloody noses or hurt feelings. I couldn't feed the baby or get anything done running back and forth to the loft. So the loft is officially off limits. The boys are allowed to do art, watch TV, read library books... any quiet activities that do not involve physical contact and can be easily and quickly cleaned up.

Getting dressed revisited...

After the baby is up and fed and changed, I have to get myself ready for the day. This is a quick process. I get the children settled in various activities and go upstairs for 10 minutes. I throw on some make up, brush my hair (or pull it on top of my head), pull on some clothes that I can go to school drop off in, and grab appropriate clothing for the baby and toddler. When I come downstairs, I check that our older 3 are wearing appropriate clothing for the weather. If it is downpouring, I have them wear appropriate shoes. If it is chilly, I make sure they have warm jackets and hoods. I task them with this job while I get the babies dressed.

Packing lunches and backpacks...

I pack lunches in the morning. I don't have enough room to store 3 lunches in my fridge nor do I have an inclination to add more work to our evening, so mornings it is. Our boys do best with snack type style lunches so I grab 3 of everything and usually have at least one of them help me. Once the food is in the lunches, 3 ice packs, 3 water bottles, zip up 3 lunches, and make sure they get in 3 backpacks. I make sure 3 folders follow suit. I make sure 3 boys are each in a jacket, shoes on, faces clean.

Jackets...

While they zip up their backpacks and wash their faces, I check the babies' diapers again. If they are stinky, I change them. Otherwise, I put them in their bunting and jackets and load them in to the stroller. I have any boys who are ready to go help put blankets on the babies. I don't like them to get rained on during our walk and I ensure their little hands don't get cold. I check jackets again. Because often someone has decided to change or take off their jacket or set it down... you'd be surprised how often someone bursts in to tears because 5 seconds before we walk out the door they decide they want to completely change their clothes. Or find a pair of mittens we lost 2 duty stations ago. I put on my boots and my jacket. This is the last thing I do before we head out the door because I strongly dislike arguing with children while I am overheating in an overcoat.

Out the door...

With the babies contained in the stroller, I push it out on the porch. I count the older boys as they follow: 1, 2, 3. Jackets. Backpacks. Lunches. Appropriate shoes. Lock the front door. And off we go! With 5 kids making the trek, I make sure to leave enough time to make the walk. We've had many mornings where the toddler threw fits and refused to go on or the baby kept fussing and we had to stop every couple steps. Most of the time, I can at least make the walk without too many incidents. Library days tend to throw a kink in things. All of our boys have different library days and they must bring back their old books to check out new books. They usually remember they have library that day as we walk away from the house, resulting in an immediate panic/freak out and a meltdown that they "have to go back in!" Of course they have to find the book, open their backpack... yadda yadda. It is a production. But we do many checks before leaving the house and that really cuts down on how many things we forget before leaving the house.

Cleaning up...

Walking back in the door after dropping the older 3 off at school is another whirlwind. The baby often wants to eat again. The toddler wants to play. The kitchen is usually a mess. This is when I do a quick 20-minute pick up of the downstairs and loft. I finish getting ready. I feed the baby and make sure she is dressed for the day (and our toddler too, if it was a crazy morning). By 9:30 or 9:45 am, I usually can have everything settled for the day: myself dressed, our 2 littles dressed, and our older 3 off at school! It is very busy and very hands on every morning with lots of emotional battles (the toddler stealing the school folders, missing uniform pieces, shoe battles...) but overall we have found a good pattern for the morning. By about 8:30 every morning my head is pounding and I'm extending grace over each of our children, but at least it all gets done.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Acceptance

I was having a conversation the other day at school pick up and one of the mommas said to me, "It is so hard and then, of course, while trying to deal with all the struggles the guilt hits me-- the mommy guilt." I agreed with her and the conversation moved on, but her words have resonated with me. The guilt does get to me. I've had nothing but struggle after struggle since we moved to the Pacific Northwest, some bigger and some smaller and some things we knew and some unexpected. We didn't see this "perfect storm" of struggles building. But all of these huge life changes have affected me. I've been down. I've been struggling.

And the guilt.

I was thinking about her comment and started thinking, what do I feel guilty about? How could we have planned on all of life's unexpected curve balls? What would we have done differently? Would we have moved so far away from family? No, probably not. But we did want to try living here; we've lived so many other places with my husband's naval career. Would living next to family make all of these challenges go away? Not really-- though much of this would be easier and we would actually have support. Many of these challenges have been big and, some, life-threatening. It has been a lot to take in. So why do I feel so guilty?

I feel guilty because I've been hard on the children. Or I've been too tired and uncomfortable to keep up with them, so we have to forego some of the fun things we've been invited to. I haven't felt as "fun" or upbeat or patient with them as I feel I normally am or want to be with them. Sometimes we cut story time short or do a quick bedtime routine. I feel like they suffer because of me. What really bothers me is when I feel like everyone is having a good time and I ruin it-- leaving festivals at their school because I'm having problems, cutting dinnertime conversations short, or not participating along with them and just watching from the sidelines.

The guilt.

The guilt hits hard. The guilt digs a little deeper in areas I'm already sensitive in, "How could you need to rest? How could you rush bedtime? How could you be so easy to anger? How could you feel so frustrated? Don't you love them? Don't you realize they don't understand what's wrong with you? How could you make your problems their problems? How could you miss out on your last baby's first year?"

Instead of giving myself grace and acknowledging that I have a lot going on right now, I'm beating myself up about it. I'm making it harder to get through these times. Even worse, the guilt isn't helping anything. It doesn't make my complications go away or make managing the kids easier. It doesn't make the struggles we've gone through this past year go away. It doesn't change a single thing.

This isn't how I would want my sisters to feel about struggles they've gone through. This isn't how my mom would tell me to handle these problems. They would tell me to accept that I've had challenges and am still having challenges. Things will get better, but not yet. I still have to get through the next couple months until my surgery and then start physical therapy. In the meantime, I need to extend myself grace. Doing things differently doesn't mean I'm doing them poorly. Taking things slower doesn't mean I'm missing out. My example now will speak volumes to our children and I can overcome all things through Christ who gives me strength.

While I go through the next couple months, I know that there will be hard times, hard evenings, hard days. But I am going to give myself grace and show my children just how valuable we are in Christ. That he loves us and how we can love on those around us despite adversity. We are a family and they will have first hand experience as to how families lean on each other when times are challenging. And won't that actually be a blessing to them?

God is good all the time.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Getting out of the house

Motherhood is full of contradictions, failures, victories, and downright ridiculousness. Here's what a mom thinks getting out of the house with lots of kids...
  1. "Today is going to be such a good day. Much better than yesterday."
  2. "Why are we starting this fight now?"
  3. "First time out before I've even had my first cup of coffee."
  4. "...I guess we are playing how many kids can end up in time out before breakfast is over."
  5. "All right. Fresh start to the day. Today really will be a great day."
  6. "How are they not hungry? Don't kids need more breakfast than this?"
  7. "We waste so much bloody food. So. Much. Bloody. Food. Why don't they care about that?"
  8. "I hope they put the clothes on I put out... Nope. They are opening their closets. Dammit."
  9. "No one is leaving the house dressed like that. How did he even squeeze himself into that shirt? Isn't that a size 18-month shirt?!"
  10. "They look so cute all dressed."
  11. "Omigosh. Will I ever get dressed? I'm going to have to leave in pajamas."
  12. "I wonder if anyone can tell I haven't washed my hair in 4 days. And am wearing my husband's shirt."
  13. "Oh. My. Gosh. Why is it so hard to put on shoes? How do all of their shoes go missing overnight?"
  14. "Seriously. Where are the other shoes? How do we have a stack of only right shoes?"
  15. "It can't be an accident that the shoe bin only has right shoes in it. Where are the left shoes?"
  16. "Who the heck put all the left shoes in backpacks? When did they have time to do this? How did I not see this happening?"
  17. "How did we find every left shoe except the ones we need?"
  18. "I don't care that it is raining in October. They are wearing flip flops. We have a pair of flip flops for each foot. It's fine. We are leaving. Being late is worse than inappropriate footwear."
  19. "How the heck did the left shoes all end up in the van? I know they wore their shoes in the house yesterday. I remember them wearing their shoes in yesterday."
  20. "Had to be a different day. Did we leave the house yesterday?"
  21. "Well, now they have appropriate footwear. Omigosh, they look so cute today. I love their little outfits. Just one picture..."
  22. "CAN THEY NOT JUST SMILE FOR A PICTURE REAL FAST."
  23. "Forget it. It's fine. Let's go. WHY ARE THEY CRYING."
  24. "He forgot pants?! He was just fully dressed strapped in his car seat?! Where did his pants go?!"
  25. "Why did I have kids?!"
  26. "I should have had one kid. Or two kids. Four is a lot. Five is a lot. Maybe this was too many kids."
  27. "I think I would be a great mom of one or two kids."
  28. "...or not. Because if we had stopped at one or two kids, then I wouldn't have the perspective of four or five kids. So two kids would probably still be stressful."
  29. "Plus, when we went to have our second kid, we had twins. So that automatically put us at a crazy amount of kids. Three kids was crazy."
  30. "I feel like I've gone crazy."
  31. "I left my coffee inside."
  32. "There are his damn pants. How did his damn pants end up in the entry way?"
  33. "Okay, fine, but who else has to go pee? All of you. Okay. Fine. It's fine. Better here than as soon as we get there."
  34. "No, you aren't changing."
  35. "No, we aren't wearing flip flops."
  36. "No, we aren't going in costumes. Seriously, no costumes. Put down the light saber."
  37. "My shirt is backwards. That's why I've felt like it's choking me."
  38. "SERIOUSLY. THEY COULD SEE MY SHIRT WAS OFF. WHY WOULD THEY OPEN THE FRONT DOOR."
  39. "Omigosh. My neighbor is outside. Did she see me with my shirt off?"
  40. "And a kid is laying on the driveway wailing."
  41. "Could I look like a worse parent?"
  42. "One, two, three, four, five kids in the car. All buckled. Except one."
  43. "Four kids. Four kids are in the car. Where's the fifth?"
  44. "On the floor in the backseat. Why is he on the floor?"
  45. "We are literally never leaving."
  46. "Is it even worth going at this point?"
  47. "He found a penny. Okay, he's buckled up. Now I have to check carseats again..."
  48. "One, two, three, four, five. Good to go."
  49. "Look at us! Everyone dressed. Everyone buckled. Getting out of the house! This will be a fun day."
  50. "Omigosh, we are so late. SO LATE. But I have five kids, so everyone will probably understand. They better understand."
  51. "I should still be on time though. I should teach my kids timeliness."
  52. "It's not the world's fault I have five kids. I should be on time."
  53. "But we aren't that late. Pretty good, actually. Fashionably late."
  54. "I'm so glad we are going. It's nice to get out. It's good for the children too."
  55. "I don't want to toot my own horn, but we are rocking it this morning!"
  56. "I love being a mom. And our kids are so good."
  57. "Could they be any cuter?"
  58. "WHO BROUGHT A LIGHT SABER IN THE CAR?"
  59. "Is he bleeding?!"
  60. "ARE THEY ALL CRYING?!"

Friday, October 21, 2016

It just takes some time

One thing that keeps popping up in my conversations and blog feeds lately is mental health. There seems to be shame in talking about mental health issues or talking about having a hard time with things. I've been surprised by friends who have "admitted" to mental health issues after reading some of my blog posts.

Mental health is very important to me. For starters, my husband works on submarines which is a hard and challenging field. There are sailors that struggle strongly with mental health and it directly affects their performance at work. My husband and I have had many conversations regarding the importance of mental health, both as the active duty member and as the spouse. Secondly, I know a lot of people that struggle daily with their mental health. One of my best friends has had a long road with depression and I've cheered her on as she's made brave and positive steps towards her mental health. With her, acceptance has been huge to help with her depression-- being able to talk about it as another aspect of life instead of treating it like a shameful subject.

The conversations surrounding mental health are often approached with a condescending or pitiful attitude. "Oh, you have depression? Why? What's wrong?" Depression isn't linked to one event or something being wrong or aimed at a person or specific situation. Certain events can definitely be linked to worsening (or improving) depression, but it isn't something that is "fixed." There are good times and hard times-- like doing the bunny hop. There can be extended periods of time where depression lays dormant and then, for seemingly no reason, it can slowly sneak up on you and-- sometimes without you realizing-- you find yourself in the throes of a major depressive episode.

Depression can make simple life tasks way harder than they need to be. Making decisions in the midst of a depressive episode can be paralyzing. The ability to choose one option over another is difficult if not impossible and day to day tasks seem insurmountable. Instead of viewing day to day "challenges" or inconveniences as part of life (the sink full of dishes when you try to make breakfast, ran out of coffee, dripped jam down the front of your shirt), these things become blown out of proportion-- heaped on as yet another bad thing happening. Small things that wouldn't normally register an emotional response often draw up overblown feelings, often grief or anger (lines at the gas station when you are running late, a toddler throwing a tantrum when trying to leave the house, dinner taking longer than expected). The ability to talk about such things without judgement is imperative, especially with someone who has long struggled with depression. Asking, "Why are you reacting like this?" in an accusing tone isn't going to help a depressed person find a more appropriate response to a situation. Instead, letting the depressive person talk about their feelings tends to be the better approach in those situations, "My depression is in full swing and I honestly feel like crying right now over this."

But there are varying degrees of depression. I myself have struggled with it much deeper in the past, but this year definitely drew the depression up in me. When I think about the rest of the time we have left at this duty station, it feels like a long, never ending, lonely amount of time (no matter how many months left my paper chain). My mom helped me realize that I wasn't in control of my mental health and so I started taking positive steps for my mental health. It is hard to make that a priority. Being the mom, things aren't tailored to support my mental health. I have school pick up and drop off, playdates, preschool, sports classes, household responsibilities, on and on... the list of things I have to do is long and so time consuming that I rarely have time for the things I want to do. "Real talk" is hard to come by. Opening up to new friends is terrifying. Being vulnerable at a park bench while keeping an eye on 4 kids while nursing the 5th is basically impossible. On top of that, my husband is on submarines and so I'm left juggling all of this on my own with his schedule constantly fluctuating.

The steps that I have made have improved my mental health greatly. I wake up feeling lighter, without a sense of dread, even when my day starts by cleaning poop footprints going down the hallway (Ugh. Real talk, right?). I can handle the challenges thrown at me: a screaming toddler and a screaming baby as I try to get argumentative kindergartners ready for tumbling while our 2nd grader demands to know exactly what time we are leaving and coming home so he can play with the neighbor kids. I can approach my physical health with a better attitude; I don't feel so frustrated and limited by it. It may not be the best right now, but it will get better after surgery.

I've had friends confide in me their post-partum depression and the shame and guilt they felt not wanting to hold their babies or how it hit them months later when they stopped breastfeeding. I've had friends tell me tearfully the affect their C-section or traumatic birth experience had on their mental health. It seems post-partum depression is embarrassing and hard to talk about, which I can understand. If someone hasn't dealt with mental health issues in the past, it can be confusing being hit with them all of a sudden at a "happy" time in your life.

I think what makes mental health so challenging for women to talk about is that we are supposed to manage it all. We are supposed to make Pintrest lunches while balancing home and career and kids and spouse. We are supposed to dress well, eat better, and have vibrant social lives with our "squad." We are supposed to be swept up in newborn bliss the moment we give birth. We don't mean to, but we often compare ourselves to friends and neighbors that emulate aspects of our lives that we wish we were better at. A friend that started a successful small business, a friend that-- gasp!-- finished their novel and is getting it published. A friend who's children are always so adorably dressed and seem to actually enjoy wearing the cute outfits instead of bumming, "Can I change when we get home?" It is hard not to feel left out when you hear other people meet up or text or talk and you think, "Why not with me?" Or a friend who lives near family. Or has a great baby-sitter with availability. Or just the friend that seems to have it together and enjoys life. It is hard as women not to think, "I wish I was better at that. I wish I did x, y, and z without such a struggle. Why can't my kids do that? Why can't I do that? Why am I failing at this?"

Depression takes it that much further. It prevents you from opening up to people about the areas you are struggling. It makes you feel weaker than you are, worse than you are, and doesn't let you know that these feelings are temporary. Depression tells you, "You are bad at this forever and no one likes you." While life is only saying, "You are struggling right now. You are depressed. You have skills. You have gifts. You have things to offer and maybe this area isn't your strong suit, but you do have talents. Hang in there, girl. We will get through this." There is a feeling of hopelessness that comes with depression-- a feeling that you will never measure up, that you will never get over it, that you will never succeed, that you will never connect, even if you try.

A friend asked me today when I was mentioning what a struggle things are lately with my post-partum complications what exactly she could help with. The question took me by surprise because I feel like I need help... but with what? I feel overwhelmed, tired, uncomfortable, hurt, stressed, lonely, and like some areas of the day I genuinely need an extra set of adult hands. But how do I pinpoint those areas? What exactly would help make things better for me? I've been marinating on the question since she asked, but I told her what popped in to my mind at the moment, "Not feeling so alone."

What makes mental health so challenging as a military spouse and as a mother is that we get hit by the double whammy. We have to manage our households-- no matter how that breaks down, working moms and stay at home moms alike-- and we have to do all of this in far away places. We don't live next door to our parents or within driving distance of our best friends. We don't have someone up the road to bring us a meal or to pop over after the kids go to bed to finish that bottle of wine. We have empty houses and empty schedules. We have new friends that don't know that "normally" I feel better than this, "normally" I handle things better, "normally" I don't panic over x, y, and z. The feelings of loneliness are often the hardest to overcome. It is hard to explain, "See, this is what I'm 'normally' like and this is me now. This is what I need to work towards..." with people that don't know you. It is so frustrating when you know that you are not putting your best foot forward, but how do you do that when battling mental health issues? How do you show your "true" self and get the support you need to get your feet back under you?

So I think talking about mental health is important. I think that even saying you are struggling is a good thing. I don't think we have to have it all together. We are all doing the best we can. We all have ups and downs and things we are really good at and things we struggle with. Maybe some of those areas aren't the most obvious to us right now (maybe you can only see what you struggle with), but hold fast and know and believe that one day soon, you will shine. It may not be where you wish you could shine, but there is something uniquely you about you. You may not be stationed somewhere where you have a built in support network or a "squad" (geeze, what is a squad anyways?! Seriously... is that hipster for friends?!). But there are people that love you and need you and miss you and care about you and think that you just being you is great. They love you for who you are, not what you bring to the table. They love your chaos and your mess and even the things you really, really suck at. Your mental health matters. And it may not feel like it matters much to anyone at present, but it does. And the small steps that you are making to keep it strong are noticed (even if the only one noticing it is the guy at McDonald's who wonders if you do anything other than haunt the playground and drive through). One day you will be stationed somewhere else and perhaps it will be a duty station near old friends and perhaps it will bring in new friends. But, girl, you gotta make the most of this duty station. You've got to dig your heels in and make your mental health a priority. Make positive steps. If those don't work, talk to a professional. GET HELP. You matter. YOU MATTER.

I'm not even joking. Put Shake it Off on repeat. Listen to Jimmy Eat World. Do the damn thing, girl. You got this. Your mental health is important.

Making other plans

The process for fixing my complications after delivering baby #4 and baby #5 is underway. I had my first pre-op appointment this past week. We knew heading in to this past pregnancy that it would be my last pregnancy, but it feels very different on this side-- empty womb and scheduling my surgery, which includes a hysterectomy.

During the appointment, I was asked several times (very seriously) if I was done having children. Regarding pregnancies, the answer unequivocally is YES. Before getting pregnant with baby #5, we talked to my OB to see if another pregnancy would be safe. My OB had told me the pregnancy would be uncomfortable and my complications would be worse post-partum, but, dang. It was the hardest pregnancy I've gone through and the worsening complications post-partum have not been fun. On top of the complications, caring for 4 children while pregnant with my husband on submarines was hard, hard, hard. There are few positive moments that come to mind when I think about this past year. I never want to go through that again. And my body still hurts. Getting 5 children to bed is quite difficult when I can't lift or carry a baby by that time of day. I am so excited for my life post-op.

As for am I done "having children..." That is more complicated. When I think about getting pregnant and having babies, the first thing that comes to mind isn't all the complications or the difficult pregnancy. I think about the newborn days and wrinkly baby skin. I think about the way a clean baby smells and their sleep sounds. I think about chubby baby hands clutching Sophie and baby laughs when older siblings play peek-a-boo. I wish I didn't have these complications. I wish that I could do a long-term birth control so that my husband and I could discuss at our leisure whether or not we are done having children, instead of my body deciding for me.

But, there isn't an alternate universe with an alternate me who's body can support having 10 children. Instead there is just me and my one womb that is out of commission. The upcoming hysterectomy has brought to surface my feelings regarding our lost pregnancies and our lost children. I've been thinking of our family in terms of how many children total we have instead of how many living. What if we had all those children...? What if we hadn't lost them...?

It's hard sometimes not to get caught up in the what if's or the sadness and longing over babies that I wish I had known longer. But that isn't the path that our lives went down. Instead we are here, with our 5 precious children, unique in their own ways. As I did the after school run around yesterday, I was mentally running down a checklist of things I needed to add to our grocery order. That's when it dawned on me that I will never have a menstrual cycle in my 30's. That's not a horrible thing. As we went in to the Y for our boys' classes, I started thinking, "I'm going to be able to work out again this spring." When I had our 2nd grader carry the baby upstairs for me after our busy day, I realized, "I'm going to be able to carry the baby for as long as I want to soon... I won't have to use the stroller even for short errands." The list of positives is long.

It is hard to close this chapter of my life, especially one that I have enjoyed so immensely. Children are exhausting and pregnancy is hard, but I've loved welcoming each new child to our family. I've loved our growing family and now our busy house. So, it seems, our family is done growing. We will no longer watch my belly grow and wonder if it is a boy or a girl (or how many are in there). We will never have to line up childcare for delivery again (THANK GOD). We can finally start getting rid of clothing that our youngest boy and little girl have grown out of. (As a hoarder, that has been real hard. Thank goodness for my best friend who runs a tight ship and helps me out in this department.) Part of me feels like I've had my child-bearing days taken from me when maybe I am not as done with my womb as I'd like to be. Maybe that's true. However, nothing will change from my frustrated feelings. My complications won't go away. Future pregnancies wouldn't be safe and delivery and post-partum would be even worse and harder. And so I'm letting it go, little by little. I'm watching each milestone go by with baby #5 and soaking it in-- one month, two months, three months, almost four months. The first bath. The first smile. The first coo. The first time she deliberately moved her head and eyes around the room, seeking out where her momma's voice was coming from. These precious moments are ours to hold on to.

I sing our boys John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" all the time. Some of the verses have stood out to me lately:
Before you cross the street, take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans... 
Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer
Every day, in every way, it's getting better and better...
  Every day, in every way, it's getting better and better.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Heart of worship

In all the years that I've been blogging, I've been trying to get a blog post about Facebook written. I wanted to write a post about the good side to social media, how it is a useful tool for military families. It seems that every month someone else takes a Facebook hiatus. You see their Facebook status, "Hey, friends! Taking a break from Facebook. You can reach me on my phone." They come and go doing this and I've never really, actually understood why people do it.

For me,Facebook has always been a positive thing. My husband is in the submarine force and we move every 1-3 years. I make friends in one state and then we move away from them. Facebook has been a great way for me to stay in touch with my real friends-- that I have in real life-- that I don't get to see very often. Because many of my friends are also military families, friends that we had in past duty station move near us or we move near them again and Facebook is a great way to stay connected with them. I've also enjoyed using Facebook when we move somewhere new. I join local groups. I post in Navy spouse boards, "Anyone lived here? How do I plug my kids in? Where's a good Mexican restaurant?" I've formed meet-ups, events, groups, clubs, all through Facebook that translate into real life. I use Facebook to meet up with local friends and to stay in touch with far away friends and to stay plugged in with people that I love and care about.

I never used Facebook as a substitute for real face to face friendships. It has always been a tool to facilitate friendships that are far away and to remain plugged in to new and local communities. I've had friendships grow from Moms of Multiples groups and playdates and co-ops and I've loved that. I've loved using Facebook that way. I've loved seeing my far away friends post about their own moves, their kids, their lives. I keep my friends list pared down to only people that I actually communicate with and who communicate with me-- people I visit when I travel, people I call and text, people who are not "online" friends, but real, actual friends.

And then we had this past PCS to the Pacific Northwest and everything changed. My last pregnancy was extremely rough-- complications that I am shortly getting surgically fixed. My husband is back to sea duty on submarines and this time we have 5 children (compared to 1 child last time) and 3 of them in school all day (a huge transition for them and myself). We are homeowners for the first time ever. We have all of these huge life changes that hit us this past year and it has been breathtaking keeping up with it all. I've struggled making "that friend" here who just gets it-- who shows up with lattes and a listening ear. Who cares for my children's hearts. Who always has time. Who treats me like family. Who brings me in to the folds of their family. And I rested my entire happiness outwards. I became desperate and alone, trying to find that friend, trying to make it work, trying to juggle all the different balls we have in the air while also managing our household. As a result, I dropped every single ball and became overwhelmed and depressed trying to get them going again.

I had a conversation with my mom several weeks ago where she suggested that I might need to seek some outside help, counseling and possibly medications, and I agreed. I was overreacting in almost every area of my life. I was crying at the welcome desk when children's classes at the YMCA were full. I was feeling strong feelings of dread and anxiety as the evening hours creeped up every night, the bedtime routine with the kids no longer fun or challenging, but massively overwhelming and exhausting. I was driving from place to place, dropping our kids off, running errands, and crying. Crying when the handles ripped on my grocery bags. Crying when my online grocery order was late. Crying for no reason and every reason.

So I decided to sit down and take a hard look at my life choices. I set a date-- if I make positive changes in my life and still feel overwhelmed by this date, I need to get in to counseling and talk to my doctor. Until that date, what can I do to make myself feel less overwhelmed? I cut things out of my calendar that weren't bringing me joy. Sure, in of themselves they aren't bad things, but was I enjoying them? Was it something I had to go to? Was it bringing something positive into my life? If not, I cut it. I realized that a lot of my conflict was doing things that I enjoyed with the children. So much of my time parenting is getting through things with 5 children-- doctor's appointments, Costco, morning routine, swim lessons... What do I do with my kids that I actually truly like doing with them? So I added some fun things. They may weren't big things, but they were things that gave us a connection that weren't arguing over picking up toys or getting shoes on, but time to breathe and just be. And because I cut out so much from our schedule, I now had time to just sit at the rock wall at the YMCA and encourage our kindergartners to the top of the expert wall and to sit at art class with our toddler and to talk to our infant as she bounces about in the Excersaucer.

And as I cut these things out of my schedule, I realized that even before I made those changes, I wasn't having face to face interactions with adults. All of my interactions were online or in text. I am living across country from my family. I stay in touch with them almost exclusively through technology-- group texts, video chatting, Instagram, Facebook, phone calls. I don't see my family face to face unless it is a special occasion or after tremendous effort while traveling. I didn't want the bulk of my local friends to communicate with me that way as well. The online interactions were making me feel worse instead of better. So as I moved towards a positive direction with myself and my children, I was still getting that desperate feeling of, "Why don't people want to hang out with me?" I was seeing posts of people doing meet-ups or going out or whatever-- innocent, normal, not directed at me posts-- and instead of being like, "That's a cute picture." I was feeling hurt and alone. I started looking at my own feed, full of pictures of me and my kids at home-- never hanging out with friends-- and feeling even more alone, more frustrated. On top of that, I was crying over pictures posted by my far away friends, my heart missed them, missed that time in my life when friendships were easy, when I wasn't feeling so alone, when my kids were also nurtured through my friendships. One day it just hit me-- this isn't what social media is about.

That's when I realized that Facebook wasn't worth it to me. Facebook isn't supposed to be a struggle. There is no reason that I should have to wrestle with my feelings looking at a social media's newsfeed. This isn't other people's problem-- there is no reason why people should have to censor their posts due to feelings I'm projecting on their posts. No one was making veiled statements about me, or their feelings toward me, or anything. It was all how I was processing things and taking things personally. What would change in my day to day life if I deleted Facebook? Nothing.

So I did. I started small and saved my pics and left Facebook. And what has changed? A lot actually. I am no longer feeling frustrated or alone from a website-- an online website that is in no way a representation of friendships that I may or may not have here in the Pacific Northwest. I realized something else too. Perhaps I never have that friend here. Perhaps this whole duty station is spent as I spend it now-- me and the kids. Will I leave here feeling broken? Will I leave here feeling like I wasted 3 years? How will that affect my kids? I don't want to "waste" this opportunity that we have here. This area is beautiful. It is family friendly. It has a lot to offer and my kids are thriving. I don't want to miss that. By the time we leave here, our toddler will be approaching school-age. I want to make the most of this, to leave here and feel like I experienced the Pacific Northwest. So I made a countdown paper chain of exactly how many months I have left here (hey, that helps me realize it will come to an end) and I stopped making my happiness contingent on things I can't control. I can't control friendships I may or may not make. I can't control feeling like I belong or that I'm included. And maybe those things will never come to pass. And that's okay too!!

I am still me. I still have a lot to offer. I will not let one duty station swallow me or break me or make me question my worth. I am taking my own Facebook hiatus-- maybe indefinitely. I am carving out my own niche here. I am opening myself up to the experiences that God has in store for me here instead of pushing for experiences that I want him to have in store for me here. I've had this song on my mind a lot lately, "Heart of Worship" by Michael W. Smith. Here is the first verse:
When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart
I'll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart
God isn't looking for a beautiful song composed perfectly for him. He's looking at our hearts. I've made everything so complicated and, really, that's not what it's about:
I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about you,
It's all about you, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
When it's all about you,
It's all about you, Jesus
I'm going back to the basics, finding myself in Jesus. Trusting in his plan instead of constructing my own. And hopefully when we leave here, I don't have a long list of regrets, but precious memories of family time and our children growing and things I've accomplished.

As I've striped down my schedule, I've felt lighter. I've felt happier. I've enjoyed my time with the children and those crazy moments where everyone is crying and diapers are everywhere and I have no idea how to make it all work have regained their humor when I recollect them. I am no longer overwhelmed or drowning. I am looking forward to each day. The evenings again are positive (though still and always my least favorite parenting time of the day! Haha!). We end the day cuddled together reading stories or under blankets with popcorn talking about holiday plans and summer plans. The best part though was last night when my husband kissed me on the forehead and said, "You seem to be so much happier lately, like you are really enjoying things."

I still have that date marked on my calendar, but I don't see it as a bad thing. I think that when I finally reach that date, I will be able to see how far I've come over these couple months as I come back to the heart of worship.