One Year In: What I’ve learned since becoming a parent

In the last year (well, 13 months really but we’ll get to that later), I’ve learned a lot about being a mom. I’ve learned about sleep deprivation and poop, how you can be lonely with a small person strapped to your body 24/7 (okay, that’s an exaggeration because Reagan mostly sleeps in her own bed), and how you can love someone else so wholly and completely that not only would you give up your life for them, but you would live your life with their best interest in mind.

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Looking back over my time as a parent, here are the top ten things I’ve learned so far.

  1. Parenting is harder than I ever imagined. You are learning to put someone else ahead of yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents taking care of their needs too but, when it comes down to it, Reagan comes first (if you need evidence just take inventory of her closet compared to mine!).
  2. Parenting is more amazing than I ever imagined. The giggles, the funny faces, the cuddles – I love the smell of Reagan’s hair after her bath, and the feel of her breathe on my cheek as she drifts off to sleep in my arms. I love the smile she freely gives me when I pick her up from the babysitter and that greets me when I open her bedroom door first thing in the morning. She brings my life more joy, more meaning and more purpose and I wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything in the world.
  3. Growth percentiles mean very little. I’ve worried, and cried, and lost sleep over Reagan’s growth (she’s an itty-bitty thing!) but overall, she’s growing at a consistent rate albeit fairly low on the growth chart. She is healthy and happy and strong – none of which can be fully determined by a chart tracking her weight and height.
  4. Postpartum depression is real. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor. Postpartum affects about 13% of women for up to one year after giving birth.
  5. You will never be on time to anything ever – EVER – again. Refer back to first sentence of this post.
  6. It wasn’t love at first sight. I mean it was love but not like I imagined (Bravo if it was for you … really, I mean it!). For me, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with this cute but squishy-faced baby when they gave her to me. She was round and blonde and not at all what I expected. I loved her right away but it took a few days, weeks and even months before the parent/child bond really set in. And the cool thing is, it’s still growing. I love my child more every day.
  7. You can do it alone but parenting – and especially mothering – is better in community. I encourage you to find a MOPS group or a local mothers group to get involved in. Community is good for mom and baby!
  8. Sleep deprivation stinks. But feeding and rocking your baby during the night is pretty awesome (although most nights I would have traded it for more sleep).
  9. No matter how hard you try, you will never be perfect. And neither will your child. Sometimes I get frustrated – sometimes she gets frustrated. It’s bad when we both get frustrated, and sometimes I have to walk away. That’s okay. Soon my baby will understand my “I’m sorrys” and hopefully she’ll learn to ask forgiveness too, from the example I set.
  10. You are not a perfect mother, but you are the perfect mother for your child. God blessed me with this little girl – he gave her to me, and me to her, and no one else.

 

3.13.12

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Today is my son’s second birthday.

From the moment that plus sign appeared on the pregnancy test, J and I planned and dreamed and waited. Waited for the first ultrasound with the beating heart. Waited to feel that first flutter of movement. We watched and we waited and we prayed for our firstborn.

With a thatch of dark brown hair on his tiny head from me and J’s muscular calves he was beautiful. But life had already left his body when I held him in my arms at 20 weeks gestation. I was just meeting him – just finding out that he was a he – and already I had to say goodbye.

“You’ll have more…” they said. They were right. Although many are not so fortunate.

“You are blessed,” they say. It’s true. We just celebrated Reagan’s first birthday and I love being her mom more than words can say. She brings joy to my life and is the beat of my heart.

“You’ll get over it.” Never. You never get over losing a child. You continue on {hopefully} and the pain lessens. You don’t think about your child quite so often. Then a song comes on the radio, a breeze blows through a wind chime or a smell catches your attention and the memories come flooding back. And with them, tears. Tears on the solitary drive to work or in the quiet hours of darkness. And guilt that you had forgotten even a little bit.

Others move on and it feels like they have forgotten. Maybe they have. Or maybe they just don’t know what to say or if it would hurt more to bring it up.

Bring it up.

You can never hurt me by thinking of my child. You can never wound me with your love for my son. Your concern, your thoughts, are like a balm to my broken spirit.

Since this journey began I have met many moms like me. Moms without babes to be held in their arms, but mothers the same. If that describes you, know that you are not alone.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

This post is in honor of Samuel Evan Oliver. Mommy can’t wait to hug and kiss you in Heaven!

Special thanks to all who have walked alongside me on this journey, both family and friends. And thanks to Wendy, Eva, Stephanie and my many friends in my Incompetent Cervix support group for sharing their own stories of pain and encouraging me when I wasn’t sure how to move forward.

Hope After Loss

Sitting on the exam table for the ultrasound, J and I could see our precious babe: heart pounding, hands waving and legs kicking – a perfect little miracle. At 20 weeks we were hopeful that maybe this impromptu ultrasound would result in a gender reveal. But as the tech continued to move the wand she paused and asked us to wait while she called for the doctor. A person I had never met before – but who has since become precious to me – walked in. Dr. Abarca, one of six doctors in my OB/GYN practice, looked at the ultrasound and in silent agreement dismissed the tech from the room.

She calmly and compassionately explained that I was dilated to 4cm. She then put me in a wheelchair and pushed me across the parking lot to the hospital where they would attempt to keep me pregnant. However, as soon as they got me settled, my water broke.

Twelve hours later, Samuel Evan was born. Stillborn.

Samuel

I went home later that day to a quiet house and an empty womb. I would stare into the bathroom mirror with a hand on my abdomen and wish/beg/cry to feel my baby’s – my Samuel’s – movements. In the beginning I thought I would never be “normal” again. How could life go back to the way it had been before such a loss?

But hours turned into days and days to weeks, and slowly the pain numbed and I didn’t cry as much. Local friends brought meals, my Bible study girls, my co-workers and even my doctor’s office sent flowers, Facebook “friends” I didn’t know well or hadn’t seen in years sent cards. I felt so loved in the midst of my deep pain. {Check out my post on the Hello, Darling blog for ways to love on a hurting mom.}

You never “recover” from losing a child, but life does return to a new semblance of normal. God has graciously blessed us with another child {my sweet baby girl Reagan} who takes up much of my waking hours. But little things remind me of Samuel – a song on the radio, a holiday {we found out we were expecting him the day after Thanksgiving two years ago}, even fast food {which I craved during his pregnancy}. Although I can only hold one of my babies in my arms, my heart is full of love for each of my children.

*This article originally appeared in The Fridge Door, a weekly e-newsletter from MOPS International.

The day I caught the vomit … twice

The first time was at the lunch. Reagan is eating solids but has a tendency to stuff too much into her mouth at one time and choke herself. She had been given a few oyster crackers and, while I was talking to friends, she stuffed about 6 into her mouth and began to choke. As I started to pick her up out of the chair, she coughed up the culprits. As quickly as they came up, I put her back down and caught the mushy crackers in my hand.  I think I’m done with lunch.

The second time was right before bed. I think she just ate too much. Right after story time as we finished bedtime prayers, she spit the formula right back up … and right into my open hand.

But that really isn’t the point of this post. I really want to talk about decisions. Decisions we make as moms and dads; Decisions to jump forward with open hands to catch vomit, and decisions about working and childcare and heartstrings.

It’s been an emotional weekend in my house. Okay, it’s been an emotional weekend for me in my house. Our previous work schedule which allowed for Reagan to be home with James or me throughout the week worked well for a while but as she nears her first birthday, we knew something had to change. A choice had to be made – a parenting decision. And at this time, the best decision for our family is for me to increase my work hours {although still part-time} and return to working in the office two days a week while Little Miss goes to a friend’s house – an amazing, sweet mom who will care for Reagan as if she were her own. But that doesn’t change the fact that two days a week, Reagan will be away from Mommy and Daddy. And Mommy will be away from Reagan.

My sweet baby girl

My sweet baby girl

Tears caress my cheeks and dampen my spit-up-soiled blouse as I think about it. “It’s only for a season,” I tell myself and I know it’s true but I worry that Reagan will take her first steps or say her first real word while I am away. I enjoy working and I’m good at what I do, but I don’t know that it’s what I want to do right now. But for this season I am heading back to work and we will evaluate the next season in due time. If you see me in the office, be sure to say hello; and please ignore my puffy, red eyes and stained blouse.

Decisions we make as parents aren’t always easy {in fact, they rarely seem to be!}. What tough parenting decisions have you had to make or are you making now?

“Is she your first?”

As a mom to a new baby, I get this question a lot. And you’d think it would be a pretty easy question. Or maybe, if you are like me, it isn’t such an easy question.

Is she your first

Photography provided by Danae Wheeler {www.dwdesignandphotography.com}

Reagan is my only living child, but she isn’t my first child. In fact, Reagan is my third.

A few months after ditching the birth control, J and I were thrilled to see that positive sign on the pregnancy test (and at least 3 more … just to make sure!). We couldn’t contain our excitement and called our parents and siblings to let them know right away. Unfortunately, just a few days later I miscarried. And our hearts broke.

“Dear Lord, I would have loved to have held my babies on my lap
and tell them about you, but since I didn’t get the chance,
would you please hold them on your lap and tell them about me?”
{author unknown}

That’s when I learned that nearly 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That didn’t make me miss my baby any less nor did it ease the ache over the lost dreams I had for the precious life taken-too-soon, but it softened my heart to other mothers who grieved silently, never having the chance to hold their little ones.

After a physical, I was given the green light to start trying again and we were blessed to get pregnant right away. I tried to contain my excitement, in case. This time we waited until after we saw our baby’s heartbeat to begin sharing the good news. When we passed into the second trimester, I breathed a sigh of relief. “We made it!” or so I thought.

Just before hitting the halfway point {20 weeks}, signs of trouble began. When I made it in to the doctor’s office we were shocked to discover that my cervix was dilated to 4cm*. I was rushed to the hospital but before my doctors could try any interventions, my water broke. There was nothing that could be done. Twelve hours later I delivered my stillborn son. We named him Samuel Evan after his grandfather and because of the story in the Bible {Samuel means “asked of God”}.

“The mention of my child’s name may bring tears to my eyes,
but it never fails to bring music to my ears.
If you are really my friend, let me hear the beautiful music of his name.
It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul.”
{author unknown}

Reagan was born almost exactly 12 months after Samuel went to Heaven. She is my rainbow baby and brings her Daddy and I great joy.

But I still have struggled with how to answer the question, “Is she your first?” I have found it best to craft my answer based on who I am talking to. For the most part, when I am asked {by a sweet stranger in the grocery store or a new acquaintance at church}, I simply answer “yes.”  But when I am asked by another mom who I know will understand my heart and my loss, I share, “She’s my third. I’ve got two other precious babes in Heaven.”

Who do you share your mom-heartaches with? MOPS is a community of moms who gather together to talk about the highs and lows of motherhood. From first smiles and steps to potty training and starting school… and everything in between. MOPS mourns with moms who are hurting and celebrates with moms through each life victory. Find a group in your area!

Today I am giving away a FREE MOPS Membership (valued at $23.95 but worth so much more!).  Comment below for your chance to win. I will draw and announce one winner (using random.org) on Friday, September 20.

*I have since been diagnosed with Incompetent Cervix. More on that later.

A Tub Full of Toys

We’ve recently entered into a new era in our household – with something that has taken over our tub – bath toys! I’m not really sure that at five months old Reagan cares about entertainment during bath time {other than Mommy} but it still felt right. During that first bath time, I showed her each water creature and how they all have little spouts to blow water out. I practiced on the side of the tub, on Reagan’s arms and tummy and on Daddy when he peeked in to see what all the commotion was about. She was happy just trying to stuff the purple walrus into her mouth.

bath-toys

Fast forward to today. Today I’m tired. It’s been a long week. So during Reagan’s nap time I decided to indulge in a hot bath. I turned on the water, grabbed a cold bottle of water to drink and dipped my body into the glorious heat. I closed my eyes and leaned back… “squeak!”

I knew the toys were in the tub but I was too lazy to scoop them all out into the bathroom sink and I haven’t made it to the store to buy one of those mesh bathtub-toy bags yet. I assumed they would just gently float around me while I relaxed. I would hardly know they were there. And yet almost all had wedged themselves between me and relaxing recline.

Kind of like motherhood.

Reagan has brought joy and entertainment to my life but also requires a lot of extra work. She refuses to gently fit in to my schedule, my routine, instead changing every part of my life from the inside out. And if I don’t acknowledge her presence, her method of notifying me sounds an awful lot like “squeak!” Or it did until she found her lungs. Reagan has wedged herself into every crevice of my heart until the thought of life without her brings me physical pain.

Life as a mom is wonderful and hard and messy and beautiful. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even if that means that my little restful moments alone are met with a tub full of toys.

Mommy and Reagan’s First Road Trip

Before I was a mom {or wife even}, I determined to keep my independent spirit. When I would hear of moms who wouldn’t travel without their husbands, my skin would prickle just a bit. Fine for them, but not for me. Fast forward one husband and a 3-month-old daughter later and here was my turn to practice what I have long valued.

My husband only gets a few weeks’ vacation a year while I work part time and get 5 weeks off {plus he was just starting to earn back his PTO after taking time off for Reagan’s birth}, so taking off without him for a few days to visit my family seemed like a no-brainer. I would meet my parents at my grandmother’s house in Montana so I’d have plenty of help once I arrived.

It’s typically an 8-hour drive, so I estimated 10 with extra stops to feed and change Reagan. I was up early the morning of our departure but immediately felt ill.

Why am I doing this? Why isn’t James coming with us? This is Reagan’s first road trip, she needs him. I need him.

Thankfully, I have a great husband who continued to support me as I prepped to go.

“Is this a bad idea?” I asked.

“No,” assured me. Adding that he was proud of me and that we would have a great time on the trip.

As much as I wanted him to tell me to stay home in that moment, looking back I appreciate his support and belief in me. I wanted to give up and stay home, it would have been so much easier.

We were on the road by 7:15. I cried for the next hour, calling James on my cell every 20 minutes or so. I know, so much for my independent spirit! Once we hit the Wyoming border, I started to feel better. Maybe I could do this.  When we stopped for lunch in Douglas, I knew we could make it.

RoadTrip1

I won’t say the trip was easy but thankfully, Reagan was a champ on the way out and only begin to really hate her car seat about 15 minutes from my Grandma’s house. We’ll save the story of the return trip for another post … one about patience, perhaps.

Our time with family was precious. Reagan was ooh’d and ahh’d over by her grandmother {Oma} and great-grandmother {Grandma-ma}, while my dad {Papa} assured her he would making her a bow and arrow soon {his new hobby}.

RoadTrip2

What is quality you value in yourself? How do you feed it up in spite of life circumstances? Is it easy or difficult?