The Top Ten Ways Becoming A Mom has Changed My Life

BEFORE:  trouble1

AFTER:  davidschlatterphotography-4464

Here they are, the top ten ways becoming a mom has changed my life:

1.  My boobs are longer.

I’m embarrassed that it’s first on the list, but this one is the most striking. Before my children came along, I had tiny little barely-A-cup gymnast breasts. After my first, the boob fairy granted me a Double D Deluxe set which shocked everyone, including myself. But the boob fairy’s gifts are not forever.  As I now come to the end of nursing my second, we are settling in at a soft and gently elongated B cup. Kind of like water balloons that have been filled and emptied a hundred times.

2.  My love is stronger.

The greatest surprise for me has been the pure sweet love that has come through my heart. Before my kids, if a bear had attacked someone I loved, I would have gone to get help, or maybe used bear spray. Now, if a bear attacked one of my children, I would be sitting over a dead bear with blood on my hands before I actually realized what happened. This love is a whole new level. It’s physical, visceral, and undeniable. And truly unconditional.

3.  There are a lot less pictures of my cats.

catsOkay, this one is a little sad. It’s not just the pictures (which there used to be MANY- cute xmas cards with Sandy and Booda, pictures of Sandy lounging around, pictures of Booda looking neurotic for no reason), it’s the rank. My cats have fallen so far down the totem pole, they’re not even on it anymore. These feral beasts that still call our house their home used to be the vessel of all my displaced maternal love. Now they make me crazy. They are on Prozac (literally) which is helpful. But at least once a week my husband will say “hey, did you know so-and-so is looking for a cat?”

 

4.  My house is messier.

Okay, this one might not actually be true. My house used to be a wreck in a certain, creative, costumes all over the place, dishes in the sink, ‘I’ve-watched-an-entire-season-of-Alias-this-weekend-because-I- can’ kind of way. Now my house is a tornado of toys, legos, sponge bob, stuffies, train tracks, diapers, socks (I think my son goes through 4 pairs of socks a day) and other people’s underwear. I think the main difference is before when my house was a wreck, I’d usually avoid having anyone over until I got it mostly cleaned up. If I did that now, I’d have no friends. I’m amazed at my tolerance for mess while nannies, friends, and family members come over and join blissfully in my chaos.

5.  I have a whole new concept of time.

When I think back on my ‘pre-baby’ life, I can’t believe I ever thought I was busy.  What was I so busy with?  Now, the idea of wasted time (a movie that I don’t like, or a bad massage) is an abomination.   I can write a blog post in 20 minutes or less, shower in two minutes, and eat a full meal in under 5 minutes (probably not the best thing for my digestion, but necessary sometimes). A wise person said, ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person.’ Or just give it to a mom.

6.  I get to play with LEGOS!  (again)

IMG_1737This one might be my favorite. My son calls me a ‘master builder’ as we work for hours on a space station that covers six different moon plates (won by me in an intense Ebay showdown-probably with another mom).  It has seven spaceships, sleeping areas, a rocket launching pad, a mobile space lab, and a hanging planet earth hanging from the curtain rod near the lego table. Sometimes I think… “this is why I became a mom.” To do the things that brought me so much joy as a kid and call it “parenting.”

 

 

 

7.  I love my husband way more.

There is something about seeing a tiny human being with a mix of facial features matching myself and a man I love that is beyond words. When my almost two year old daughter wrinkles her eyebrows in that same earnest way that my husband does. Or when I tossle the curls of my five year old son, and smell his sweet little boy smell of sunshine, sleepiness and peanut butter and think of a picture of my husband at the same age, my heart just opens. Not to mention that he’s seen me inside and out, both physically and emotionally over the last five years. I’m pretty sure no one knows me or loves me like he does.

8.  I have a lot more anger. And I express it.

Even as I love more, I also get a whole lot more pissed. I’ve screamed “HONEEY!!!” across the house in a way that was not the least bit tender or endearing. And towards my beloved children, I’ve heard such phrases leave my mouth as “I’m going to swat your behind!” Or “Do you want me to call your father!” Or when I have the wherewithal “mommy needs a time out.” I’ve hit the wall- more than ever before, and at least once physically. I’ve felt the deep soul rage that can only come from that special blend of sleep deprivation, constant body molestation and total lack of self care for months on end.

9.  I’m less self- centered and more present.

So even though I’m less in love with my cats, I’m more in love with and love taking care of a lot of other people. I delight in cooking a beautiful meal for others (something that used to offend my feminist hide). I feel a sense of calm strength staying up all night with a sick kiddo on my chest. And I love making my son laugh in the bathtub more than making an entire audience laugh at Improv Olympic in Los Angeles.

10.  I love who I am becoming every day.

I think most moms would agree with me when I say I’ve had two different lives. One from the day I was born until May 12, 2009 at 2:02am, and one from that moment on.  When I felt my son’s warm slippery body on my chest, after working for days to get him out, and my heart sang as I looked into his perfect, wet, open eyes, I knew life would never be the same.   Since that day, I’ve let go of perfectionism, and welcomed the philosophy of “good ’nuff.”  I’ve let go of thinking I can do it all myself, and opened up to my place in the grand village of life.  I’ve stopped trying to ‘look like I have it all together’ and learned how to live more fully in my skin.  And I have my children to thank for this.  Even if I would like to get a little more sleep.

Thoughts from Raining Woman…

IMG_8535

Okay, so I was born in a flood.  A big’ol banks rising, 1975 Browning Montana Indian Reservation Flood.  And even though I was a little white girl, daughter of the fresh-out-of-medical-school doctor who had come to work there, I was given an Indian name… Su Take (pronounced Sue Talkie):  which means Raining Woman.

Flash forward 38 years, as I sit in this beautiful town that I’ve grown up in, and watch the 500 year flood pouring over our town, all over facebook, and the news, again and again, in disbelief at the raw power and devastation that mother nature brought over the last week.

It reminds me of the speed of which small children can annihilate a playroom, and how much longer it takes to clean it up.  And this will take a while, for sure to clean up.

What I’ve watched over the last few days, in addition to the actual posts and pictures, and shocking video-  is my mind.  How in certain moments, I, too am washed away into the drama, hurtling down a mountainside, a river of doubt, fear and panic welling up in my body like the banks of the creek overflowing.

My yoga teacher this week spoke of how our minds and bodies do not know the difference between seeing something, remembering something, and experiencing it first hand.  I thought of this as I sat glued to my Iphone with horror, tracking story after story of dear friends in panic. I found myself shaking, listening to alerts, unable to calm myself or be a calm mother to my children.   I sat terrified watching the images one by one, and the suggestions flying in.  I filled my bathtub with water, charged my cell phone, and looked at our pantry to see how long we could last.  I sat up at 11:30 on Thursday night as my phone told me a 30 foot wall of cars and debris was hurtling towards Boulder.

And I thought I was going to lose my mind.

And then I would look up at my dry house, in my cohousing community in Lafayette, at the gentle rain outside my window.  I would find my breath, go practice yoga, or serve my community… and feel calm, like the sun shining out from the heavy clouds today.

I remember going to Gurmukh Khalsa’s yoga class the day after 9/11, back in Los Angeles in 2001.  I was expecting some tea, maybe a plate full of cookies, and a gentle yoga class with lots of crying and warm hugs.  Instead, I could feel Gurmukh’s power when I walked in the room.  She urged us each to go out and serve, and to keep our own consciousness ‘up’ for those who really needed it.  She suggested we turn off the TV, and protect our psyche from the parts of the tragedy that were not ours.

“If you’re here today, then I imagine you didn’t lose anyone yesterday. The people that were most deeply impacted by this tragedy, need you to keep your own consciousness up.”  And she urged us to each go out and teach the Sa Ta Na Ma prayer to as many people as we could, for emotional balance of the whole planet.

I remember sitting there stunned.  Everyone I knew was glued to their TV, watching the towers fall over and over again.  Gurmukh was giving us a mission, instead of a hug.  But I knew in my heart it was right.

During these times of intense loss, intense tragedy-  we can do a whole lot more for everyone if we Keep Up.    Your neighbor might need a sandbag near his window, someone might need a ride, your neighbor across the street might need carrots because they can’t get to a grocery store.  New babies need a place to sleep, some clothes. Stay present.  Stay up.  Serve.

And if you can not, just keep your consciousness up, be discerning with the images you take in, and know that your brain doesn’t know whether you are watching that creek rise or swimming in it. Look at pictures of your sweet babies, as you also look at pictures of washed out roads.  Look at your honeymoon album after you look at the images from Greeley.  Protect your mental health, and come back to yourself.

Sa Ta Na Ma.  I am truth.   Chant it.  Find your center.  Teach it to others.

This flood has had an impact on everyone, whether directly in your home, or across your street, or in your mind.  Boulder has the power to heal, as do each of us.  I pray that the rains keep staying away, and that the emotional waters also calm for each of you.  May the longtime sun shine on all of us.

Here is a video showing the Sa Ta Na Ma.  May it bring you peace:

Traveling with Babies and Children, or: Katie’s Ridiculously OCD Packing List

Okay, so by request, I am posting my overly obsessive compulsive packing list.  After a few near disasters (forgetting the binky at a friend’s wedding with our 10 week old, forgetting the car seat on a plane trip, forgetting to pack underwear for myself)  I created this list.  Please modify it as you see fit for your trips.  And please don’t judge my control-freak nature.

Here are a few of our favorite travel tips as well:

1.  When boarding an airplane, have your partner get on first, wipe down the area with clorox wipes, every inch.  Remember, your child will touch everything and then put fingers in their mouths.

2. Offer to buy the people next to you a drink on the airplane.  They may not take you up on it, but they will appreciate the gesture

3.  Prepare your children for whatever style of travel you will be doing.  If they are older tell them stories about the travel leading up to the day.

4. for road-trips, use rest ares.  Let your little ones run around.  Add enough time that you’re not in a rush.   For every four hours of expected drive time, add at least an hour per child over one years old for random ‘stuff’  and two hours per baby.

5.  Remember the boy scouts motto:  BE PREPARED.  And for parents, this is no joke.

6.  Remember also, there are no vacations, only Trips.  Change your expectation from relaxation to adventure.  You are taking this difficult care giving routine on the road.  It may not be easy, and there will be breakdowns.

7.  Enjoy the ride…

KATE’S GRAND PACKING LIST

Before leaving the house:
Empty trash
Turn off wipe warmer
Empty diaper pail
Fill kitty dish and water fountain

Travel Time:

In the Car:

Mobile Mobile:  An amazing contraption that attaches to anything, and sings a super annoying song while bugs move around in a circle. Saved us on a road trip through Montana
Diaper bag
ergo carrier
blanket
Your child’s backpack (with lovey inside, stocked with age appropriate toys)
iPhone apps
toys
lunch and snacks that are not a complete mess (avoid the freeze dried raspberries in a bag. disaster)
books
books on tape
older kiddoes love a DVD player

For Airplane travel:

Clorox Wipes

many of the above items from the road trip list for entertainment (only compact versions), PLUS:
CAR SEAT (hopefully your less new one, since it may get beat up)
stroller to check (snap and go works great for reclining car seat style)
umbreller stroller for older kiddoes- ideally that folds down easily, with a reclining seat for mobile napping
new never before seen toys for each hour of plane ride
something to suck on for take-off and landing, especially if not nursing anymore

Diapering:

Diapers
wet bag
Cloth diapers
extra wipes

In Diaper bag:
Little squares (3):  these are little waterproof cloth squares that help with public restroom dirtiness.
Portable changing pad and Purell
Diaper cream
sunscreen
Wipes in case
spare outfit

If Potting Training:
training pants
three potties
Underwear
treats for potty

Nursing/eating
 
If nursing exclusively:
“Hooter hider”
Burp cloths (3)
lily pads
Mastitis remedy (wishgarden happy ducts)
hand or electic pump
bottles, nipples and caps

If begun solids, in the beginning:
spoon
food grinder
bibs (2)

If eating everything we’re eating:
Bibs (3)

Gear:

For sleeping:
Noise machine
nightlight
monitor (cheapie from target)
extra 9 volt battery for monitor
blankets
sheet for pack and play
Pack N Play
dark blanket and push pins for windows to make darker

For hiking:
Hiking backpack or ergo
Rain gear for all

For Bathing:
Too hot turtle- temperature monitor
rubber duck
inflatable bath
bubble bath/shampoo

For baby-proofing/house:
gate for stairs
stool

Clothing

Clothing for kiddoes:
4 sleep outfits (2 feetie, 2 non-feetie)
4 pairs shorts
5 t-shirts
1 pair jeans
1 pair sweats
Sweatshirt
one party outfit
Sunhat
swimsuit
swim diapers
Warm hats
Hoodie
Shoes (running shoes)
Boots (rubber boots)
Sandals (keanes or crocs-wear in the car to slip on and off)
slippers
warm jacket
windbreaker
rain pants

Clothes for you:
3 Nursing bras
5 pairs Underwear
Socks:  2 warm, 3 light
3 cute tops
Sleepy outfits:  3 bottoms, 4 t shirts
Party outfit (if going to a party)
jeans
cargo pants
2 pairs shorts
Bathing suit
Sunhat
sunglasses (in purse)
Hoodie
hiking shirt
Running shoes (blue)
Flip flops
sandals
pillow for me

For entertainment

Books for me:  parenting and pleasure reading
Journal
Baby book to add milestones
iPhone and charger
Camera and charger
board games (whonoo, balderdash, apples to apples)

Toiletries

For Me:
hankies(3)
Face lotion
Cleanser
Shampoo
conditioner
Pads and tampons (if your cycle is back)
Deodorant
Hair oil
Hair brush
Barrette
Ponytail holders
Sunscreen
Lotion
Massage cream
Baby oil
Nail file
Clippers

For kiddoes:
hair brush
Thermometer
First aid kit
bandaids
Colic ease and/or Mylicon Drops
Motrin and/or teething tabs
Sting stop
Antimicrobial salve
Kiddo sunscreen
Kiddo bug spray
Aloe vera gel

Please feel free to add, comment and let me know if I’ve forgotten anything (I’m sure I have!)  I love to learn!

Friendship – for new moms

When I was in second grade, making  a new friend was sometimes as simple as giving away my juicebox, or sharing a seat on the bus ride home.  “Wanna be my friend?” my new pal would chime.  “Sure!” I would say back with a smile.  “Hey, I have that same Garfield sticker!”  Friendship begun.  Check.

Now, juggling a business, a two-year-old, a marriage, and the everyday anxieties of a full adult life, making new friends seems anything but simple.

Today I made a friend.  Here are the elements that came together that made it work:

  1. Proximity.  She lives in my neighborhood.   Let’s face it, leaving the house with a small child is kinda like going on a camping trip.  Sometimes the prep outweighs the pleasure.
  2. Invitation.  She approached me (many times) to go for a walk.  The day of: she texted, emailed and called.  I appreciate (and need) a little persistence.
  3. Affinity.  Both she and I, as well as our two-year-olds, liked being together.  That’s huge.

So, we walked.

Nothing heroic.  We walked around the neighborhood lakes, over to my son’s favorite dirt biking hills (we walk on them, not bike on them), threw rocks in the lake, threw rocks at a fence, threw rocks at the dirt, shared snacks, shared some laughs, shared some time.

I can’t say how good it felt to come home after our time together.  Okay, it wasn’t as intimate and focused as a tea from my twenties might have been, but there were definitely shared moments, amidst the lost conversation threads, and watching that neither of our children fell off a dirt embankment.

I have to say a new friend makes me feel like a second grader, in more than one way.  I love the rush of realizing you have something in common!  (Her daughter is named Scotia, and my son is named Phoenix, both after towns that one parent grew up in).  And it felt so good just being seen… and liked for who you are.  There is nothing greater than that.   But mixed in there is the insecurity, ‘how much do I share? what if she thinks I’m weird/ too much/ wearing the wrong shoes?”  Feeling suddenly like the awkward girl in the lunchroom, hoping to find a place to sit.

As I watched our children tentatively hold hands, I felt we were doing the same, sharing a vulnerable moment of motherhood.  Sharing our insecurities, sharing our triumphs (Phoenix used the potty TWICE on our walk, just to make me glow as a mother!), and sharing the complete insanity of this isolated mother existence.  It’s hard to believe we are all doing this wild thing, inside our four walls, and someone just down the street from us, is living the same craziness…

And if we can just leave our homes for a moment, and go for a walk, we have contact.

Friendship.  Sunshine.  Mud.  Rocks.

So, mamas, don’t be afraid to take a risk.  Be seen in your less-than-perfect new mama state.  Don’t wait till you ‘have it all together again’ to go out and make friends.  You are not alone.  Make a phone call, make the effort, wear the wrong shoes, and find a new friend.  There may be a mama right around the corner, just waiting for an invitation.   And I’m pretty sure that ‘having it all together again’ is not really part of being a new mom.

Today, I want to say Thank you to the woman who asked “Wanna be my friend?”

The answer is yes.

Coming home

(thoughts after Prenatal Yoga with Kirsten)

Tonight I had the pleasure of taking Kirsten Warner’s Prenatal yoga class at Yo Mama. Since Kirsten and I have been preparing a Prenatal Teacher Training together for the last 7 months, we decided it might be good to drop in on each others yoga classes. Getting there was the usual adventure, involving six other people, and seventeen text messages, to carve out two hours for myself.

Let me preface that these last few weeks have been immensely, overwhelmingly, and unusually stressful. Three babies arrived in our doula practice last week, with only two doulas available for the week, and only one of our doulas available for the weekend (me.)  I attended a phenomenal birth Friday night, went to an amazing (steampunk!) wedding on Saturday, dropped heavily into my bed only to hear the pager go off at 2am. I’ve been feeling the weight of what I have created crashing around me, feeling that it’s all too much for me, and feeling smaller and more stressed than I’ve been since postpartum. At the peak of my stress yesterday, I yelled at my mom, and then cried all the way to Yo Mama, eating a pb and j for dinner in the car and ohm-ing, trying to get ready to teach 11 couples their last childbirth class. It hasn’t been pretty.

So Kirsten’s class was a welcome respite. Kirsten is an Anusara teacher, which commonly uses theming. Tonight’s theme was gratitude. Each person shared something they are grateful for. As each woman shared about her sister, her husband, her child, etc. I was feeling the gratitude for all of those things. I have a husband that I adore, a child who lights up my heart, and family close by to help share the raising of my son. But what I felt most of all, as I sat in that sun-filled room, looking at the trees and the water below, was gratitude for Yo Mama. Gratitude that this idea that I brought here, and built on faith, with a baby in my belly, hoping that mamas would come, is alive and thriving today. The first night we opened, almost three years ago, there were two mamas: Marisa Narog and Steph Kassels (both of which have number two now!!). Marisa had been emailing me, anxiously awaiting the open date. Steph was excited we had yoga after work time. I was just so happy that I wasn’t in the room alone. Tonight, as I looked at the eleven mamas in the room, and looked at one of the best yoga teachers in Boulder teaching the class, my heart filled with joy. One of the student’s mentioned her gratitude was Kelly, one of our other phenomenal teachers, and I felt so much gratitude it kept me smiling through the entire class.

The other thing I felt so grateful for was the Yoga itself. One of our students, Erika, mentioned that when she takes class with Kirsten she feels like a yogi who is pregnant, not a pregnant woman doing yoga. And I felt that as well. My heart and body were more open, more spacious, and filled with the grace that yoga allows. Yoga doesn’t change the contents of our life, but it widens the container. After a class like tonight, my capacity to handle the ups and downs of my human existence feels larger, more available, more steady. And that is essential in the times we live in, perhaps more than ever.

Thank you, Boulder. Thank you, my amazing staff. Thank you to the amazing teachers that make Yo Mama what it is. And mostly, thank you to every mama who comes in the doors and does yoga with us, and tells her pregnant friends to do the same.

I have always been a hard worker, and had a strong vision of what is possible. But this vision would be nothing without all of you.

The Princess and the Invisible Dragon

A fairy tale for the not-so-fairy tale experience of post partum depression

Not so long ago, and not that far away, in a land of angels, there was a beautiful Princess who wanted nothing more than a baby of her own.  Her Prince had not arrived yet, so she helped other mothers have their babies. Each time she watched a baby being born, she would say to herself quietly, ‘Someday, I will be on the other side, and the baby will be mine.’

She searched high and low for the father of her would-be children, but she lived in a strange land where the Princes were very busy with their hairstyles, and their Prince out-fits, and none of them seemed to be the right one. So the Princess kept at her calling, her work with mothers, and waited as patiently as she could, counting the days until her baby would come.

One day, the Princess met her Prince. She didn’t know right away, but the Prince stayed close, and in time it became clear they were destined to marry. Just 12 days after the wedding, the Princess welcomed a baby into her belly. There was much joy and celebration. Finally the Princess had her dream. A baby was coming to her!

One thing surprised the Princess very much. From her work, she thought she had a deep faith in birth and mothers. She expected to feel bliss, anticipation, and calm delight as she waited for her baby to arrive. Instead, she was very scared. She went to the woods and sat under a wise tree and asked the tree what she should do. Only silence came back to her.

So she began to gather the things she needed to have a baby. She built a place where all the mothers could come together to learn, and talk, and listen to one another. She learned she was not alone. She found a wise woman who would stand by her and help her birth her baby. The wise woman’s house was built into a tree, and she smelled like burning pinon bark. The wise woman said to the Princess: ‘I cannot carry you over the coals to motherhood. You must walk there alone.’

The day came when it was time for the Princess to give birth. She was very nervous. She tried to put it off. For days, she fought her body. “Not now, not now’ the Princess said. ‘Please, please, I want to bring your baby to you’ her body pleaded. ‘One more thing, one more task’ the Princess busied herself with distractions, scared to begin the walk.

Soon the Princess’s body began to take over. The Princess began to walk the birthing walk, not sure if she would make it through. The wise woman arrived and built a fire. She didn’t look at the Princess, but sang a simple song and busied herself. The Prince and the Princess worked through the pains together. The Princess couldn’t believe that everyone else was so calm. She was sure she was not going to have a baby. Something had to be wrong.

Finally the Princess found a place to bury her head so she couldn’t see anyone. She and her baby began to work together. She could hear the voices around her, but she was no longer listening. Her hand was on her baby’s hair. With each push, she knew he was closer. Soon her baby was at the gate, pressing towards his first breath, and finally she knew she could do it. The Princess was becoming a Queen, a mother, the mother to a tiny perfect son.

His eyes were her light. His smell was her breath. His life was her purpose.

They were in love.

In the days after the birth, The sun poured down on the healing Princess and her tiny boy. The little baby began to thrive, but the Princess did not. There was a darkness that seemed to hover around her. Her body had weakened after the long birth and her mind struggled to find its new way. Her baby needed milk at all hours of night, and the exhaustion took the Princess to a dark, dark place. Her tears flowed heavy. Her eyes became vacant. Months passed. The Queen, as a mother, felt older and sadder than she ever had as a Princess. How could this perfect angel boy, the love of all of her life, be bringing this sadness to her?

Then she remembered the Invisible Dragon.

There was a Dragon in the kingdom that could never be slain, because he was invisible. Many had tried, but he would always get away. He would enter a house, and sit very close to one member of the household and breathe his cold, nervous breath into their own breath. Slowly at first, and then more and more, until his breath was in their own lungs, and their own thoughts were no longer their own. The Dragon had visited her sister and her father, and each had taken a year to fight him out of their house.

The Queen took a deep breath. At the end of the breath, she felt it. It was the only way to know that the Invisible Dragon had arrived. If you took a very long breath, the Dragon’s breath could only fill part of your lungs and then the rest of your breath was your own. As her breath returned, the Queen felt a warm sadness as she connected to herself for the first time in a long while. She must have been too busy with the baby, and missed the cold gust of air as the Dragon entered her home.

The Queen knew what she had to do. She began to breathe. Full, deep breaths of fire. Soft slow ujayu breaths, all the breaths that she had learned from the kingdom’s breathing teachers. And the breath that the Dragon hated the most. The breath of loving-kindness. The Queen would picture herself in her own heart, calm and happy. She would surround herself with golden light. The Dragon hated this because he was a sad creature and couldn’t live that close to happiness. It made him sick.

Next, the Queen walked into the sunshine. Every day, she let the sun’s warm rays spill across her face. The Dragon really hated that. She breathed in Satisfaction. This caused the Dragon to cough and sputter. She looked into the eyes of the people around her, her son, her loving Prince, and her family. She asked them for help.

She began to nourish her body with the Kingdom’s best foods. She brought in the women who mothered mothers, and they prepared nourishing feasts for her. Dark green leaves from the kingdom’s garden, Saffron rice, warm coconut pudding. She filled her belly with good lentils and mung beans, and broths to nourish her blood. The village healer added herbs for her adrenals and her liver.

She went into her belly and drew the muscles back from the soft home she had created for her son. She knew her belly must be strong to leave no space for the Dragon. She went to her yoga practices and breath by breath, stretch by stretch, she found her body.

She taught her baby to sleep. She told him how much she had loved their special time together in the night, but that now it was time for both of them to sleep. That very night, her little son kept his eyes closed until sunrise. The Queen woke up happy.

And last, she talked to the Dragon. ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘I know why you’re here. I was moving very fast and needed you to teach me about slowing down and taking rest. I needed to face this darkness so I could guide others back from their own darkness, and know the darkest corners of my heart. But now I am ready to love and celebrate this baby that I have waited my whole life for. I cannot do that with your breath in my body. I thank you for your teaching, and I need to let you go. I will take your lesson of stillness with me. I will tell the other mothers about the ways to move through the darkness, and the importance of support, good food, and healers. I will take time every day to focus on my self, my breath, and my heart.’

The Dragon shed one invisible tear on the ground and galumphed out of her door. He was sad to go, as he loved the Princess, but he knew that what she said was true. Where true happiness was, he could not survive. He was a creature that fed on the dark. He went back to his cave and curled up in his cold stone bed.

The Queen felt something change. Her room looked different. She lifted the dirty clothing off the floor, and dusted off her shelves. She threw out a vase of putrid water and dead flowers and replaced it with three white daisies. She sprayed rose water into the air. She lifted her voice in a simple song that she used to sing to the baby while he nursed. She placed a picture of her beautiful son and her loving King near the window.

And she placed a velvet cushion in one corner to honor her breathing time and her stillness.

Just then she heard peals of laughter. Her King came in, their bright bubbly son in his arms, and gave her a kiss. He noticed her eyes were bright and calm. They gazed deep into each other’s eyes. “Mom-mom-mom-mom-mom!” her son said with a squeal.

Yes honey, I’m your mom-mom. She said and kissed him on the nose.                                                                                                                    

Epilogue:  This fairy tale came about when I was trying to write about Postpartum depression. Writing about depression is difficult, as I didn’t feel like myself during that time.   I didn’t journal, I didn’t blog.  It’s like writing about a dream.  Somehow the fairy tale structure felt more appropriate.  I never expected to suffer from Postpartum depression.  I had seen it in many mothers before me.  I knew what to look for. But strangely when it hit, I didn’t recognize it.  Partly, because I was depressed.  And partly because I didn’t know what depression felt like.  Like birth itself, I knew far more about diagnosing it from the outside than I knew about the inside.   I know that in the next pregnancy and post partum period, my husband and I will create a lot more support, and a clear game plan, should that Dragon rear it’s ugly head again.  And I’m already seeing my acupuncturist (www.drjakefratkin.com) to prepare (and repair) my body even before conceiving, and will continue that care throughout.   As well, we will employ a post-partum doula to help after the birth, and a sleep consultant to help sleep happen as close to six months as possible (my son didn’t sleep through the night until seventeen months, which had a profound effect on my mental health.)  I can happily say now, a week away from my son’s second birthday, that the Dragon has gone, and the joy is back.  I wish for every mother to know how important it is to be mentally healthy during the time of childbearing and to find a great support team to help make that happen.

  

Danger

The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart. Then we scramble to get another zone of safety back together again. We spend all our energy and waste our lives trying to re-create these zones safety, which are always falling apart.”  -Pema Chodron

Through my work, and my community, I am constantly in the conversation of motherhood.  And that conversation usually is:  Who is doing what to better the life and well-being of their child?  What book have you read?  What is your kid doing faster than anyone else?  Slower?  What are you, as a mother, doing wrong? right?   Recently, I noticed a theme.

Danger.

What is a healthy amount of danger?  Our own childhoods would be considered ridiculously dangerous now.  Sleeping on our stomachs as infants, riding in the back of pick-ups, wearing lap belts in the back seat, if at all.  We had teeter-totters, gravel filled playgrounds and death-defying, butt-burning, sheer metal slides.  It’s wonder we all survived. So how do we let our children grow and play, and keep them safe at the same time?  What kind of mother do you want to be?

Let me compare two moms (names changed of course):

Mom number one we’ll call Jo:  this mom is fun. Her house is full of toys, laughter, swings, home made slides, forts, rope swings and enough plastic light up toys to make a Waldorf mother faint.  She lets her kids play rough, she lets them get the chicken pox, she bikes them all over town in a Chariot.   At least one member of her family (often her), has a visible injury of some kind.  She is a tough, earthy, fun mama.

Jo and I were talking about choosing a day care for her daughter, and she described a place in her neighborhood.  An older couple run a play group in their back yard.  The woman there told Jo “This place is not for everyone, kids fall off bikes, get sun burns, we all pile into a big van… ‘ as Jo was speaking, I could hear myself saying, “whoa, I would never take my son there.” And although I should know Jo by now, I was still delighted and surprised to hear her say, “I just told the woman,  sign me up!”

Later in a conversation with a student, we’ll call this mom Kimmie, I felt much more kinship.  Kimmie was talking about how she doesn’t let her husband use the cell phone while her two year old daughter plays in a kiddie pool.  And the nanny isn’t allowed to have the girl in the  kiddie pool at all.  Kiddie pool use is mostly with Kimmie present, and on the rare occasion with Daddy. Hallelujah. These are my people.

But then I thought, where would my son rather be?  Falling off a bike in a fun back yard full of kids, or playing in two inches of water with me one foot away, staring nervously at him?  There is clearly no right or wrong here.  Just as my husband will inevitably play rougher with our son than I do (to my son’s delight!), there are many ways to parent.  But how do we remain diligent with our children while still letting them have a childhood?

Have we baby-proofed the fun out of their lives?

When I was pregnant, I pictured the sweet little baby girl I would give birth to.  I saw us taking trips to the library together, and coming home to cuddle on a safety-tested hammock, reading together in the dappled sunlight of an overhanging tree.  We would have tea parties, and play with stuffed animals, and bake muffins.  Instead, I am shocked to find myself the lucky mother of a highly physical, energetic, exploratory BOY.  When my husband wants to really get me, he’ll tell me stories of his childhood exploits using phrases like ”tree-climbing, rock-climbing, building-climbing’ and my favorite: ‘bicycle polo.’  The words immediately tie my stomach in a knot.  These are not things that little girls do!  We do arm tickles, back scratches, and maybe the occasional seance at a sleepover.   Not boys.  Boys have a ton of ideas, most of them terrible.

Watching my son play is a constant mixture of delight and terror.   My anxious mind is a projector of could-be horrors, all the things that could happen if. Other times, I am able to let go and really enjoy his play, his exploration, testing of his boundaries.  If he climbs to the top of a slide, one part of me fills with pride at his act of bravery, while another wants to run up there and slide down with him, just in case.  And often, I do.  Yes, I’m that mom, sliding down any new slide with him at least once, or maybe ten times before I let him do it on his own.  I don’t want to spend his childhood with an ulcer and a frown, only to see him graduate from high-school in the blink of an eye.

Play and Freedom are essential to our kids.

There is research suggesting now that playing in the dirt actually helps children heal, builds their immune systems, and prevents allergies.  And here we are, Purell in one hand, baby wipe in the other, trying to sanitize their very existence.  Google ‘the Value of Play’ and you will be showered with articles about the importance of play, and Time last year featured an article on Helicopter Parenting and the ways in which we are stifling our children’s experience of the world.

So how do we learn to love our kids, and let them be, without panicking about their well-being every minute?

There is nothing safe about having a child.  To have a child is to come face to face with the tenuousness, and vulnerability of everyday life.  The minute we see two pink lines on a stick, we have signed a contract to risk complete annihilation.  The love we have for our children is immense, visceral, and heartbreaking.  Some choose to try to manage this love by reducing the risk of losing the object of the love.  There is no way.  Every mother wishes they could sign a contract with God, saying simply “Take me first.” But here we are, the imperfect world, watching our preciously perfect children step out into it, and feeling the lack of control.  There is no other path, no workshop, no meditation practice, that can help us evolve, and break down our anxiety like having a child.  I watch my son, with awe, with hope, with fear, and with the greatest love I have ever felt.  I see his little pinkish scar on his face from an incident with a dog leash (my fault, of course).   In that scar I see the lack of control, but more than that, I see that he can heal.  That his childhood may not, no will not, be without some bumps and bruises, no matter how good of a mother I can be.  But ultimately, we will both be okay.  We will live this life, day by day, and play together, for as long as we are so blessed to do so.  And hopefully, I can actually enjoy him, more and more, learning to let my mind be in that place of uncertainty.

And I will look to the other mamas, for compassion, and for inspiration.  I can see myself, as I watch Kimmie carefully play near her daughter.  And I will go to Jo’s house, delight in her wild kingdom, as a tourist enjoys a trip to Florida.  I may never be her.  But I can celebrate the fun she’s having, and the fun my son has at her house.  Oh wait… He’s climbing up the slide… I gotta go!

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