The Myth of the Perfect Mom

December 30, 2013

We moms sure are sold a load of crap! All the images of mothers are glorified and sterilized and glamorized.Image

I am not talking about Giselle. We know she is glamorous and we also know she has a team that makes her look that way.

What about the rest of us, those of us in the trenches of motherhood? Why do we think we have to achieve some unattainable goal as high priestess of motherhood?

Image

Once in a while I may get what many would call a compliment – and frankly, I let my ego suck it all in for a while and I may hear, “Oh, Leigh Anne, you are an amazing mom!” or “You are a perfect mom!” If this comes from one of my children I will take it and toll around in it for days, even years because I know that it will be followed by some balancing statement like “I hate you, you are the worst mother ever!” And that will be followed by a hug or a request for mommy time. It is all in the job description.

Please, please, please do not throw that horrible label of PERFECT on me. I am imperfect and I embrace that.

But look at advertising for new parents and you see styled and glamorized images.

ImageImageImage

What do we really look like after a new baby.

Image

This is me after my first baby was about two days old – see the look of bewilderment in my eyes? 

Most new moms are in a bit of shock. I hear repeatedly “No one ever told me . . . .”

We hide babies, we hide our breasts, we keep quiet about the dark side of parenting.

I wonder if the dark side would be so dark if people talked about it.

Did you know that breastfeeding in the beginning is very time consuming?

Did you know that newborn babies are not typically chubby?

Did you know that you can bleed from your vagina for days and weeks?

Did you know that sometimes you will pass a clump of blood?

Did you know that you may feel angry that you have a baby – not all of the time but some of the time?

Did you know that you would be riding an emotional rollercoaster?

Did you know that sometimes you will plan to take a shower in the morning and the next thing you know it is 7:30pm and you still have spit up and baby shit on you and you have only eaten stale leftover cake that wasn’t even home baked in a flavor you don’t even like?

Did you know that in all of that mess you will look into the eyes of your baby and feel a deep, confusing kind of love? A new protective kind of love?

Did you know that your baby doesn’t give a damn about your hair?

Did you know that your baby just wants to get to know you? He knows you from growing inside you but now that the courtship is settling in he wants to really get to know you. And he wants you to know him. Did you know that some moms fall in love immediately while others take time.

I think we all want to put on a good face when we go out with our babies. We feel a sense of accomplishment from just having gotten dressed and out of the house. Maybe we feel like we are failing so we have to put on a show and say all the right things. The problem is that other new moms believe what you say. Then other new moms compare themselves to you. Or maybe you are comparing yourself to the woman who says “childbirth was a breeze, my baby latched right on and has grown beautifully, she sleeps through the night and her poop doesn’t smell, also, my husband is a saint, he cooks every night and bought me this gold chain with my baby’s birthstone and a tiny haiku he wrote inscribed. He waits patiently for me to want to get intimate and my belly just seemed to pop right back into place.”

I play a game with myself. When I am feeling the stress of parenting and I really do not want to yell at my kids again or I do not want to scream at them in public, I pretend I am the subject of a documentary on parenting. I want to be prime example of keeping my cool. I stop and think: “what would be a productive action to take here.” I often fail at this game but sometimes I succeed. When I succeed I am setting an example for my children and possibly for other parents. But, I am not perfect, dammit!

One of the best gifts my mother gave me was the gift of imperfection. She let me see her flaws. I was not blinded by a sense of glamour and always being right. This was great because it made her accessible and it took the pressure off of me to not be a perfect mom. Don’t get me wrong – I do have my moments of genius. Mostly I am ordinary but to my children I am MOM.

Image

Image

For many women being pregnant with her second child is a wonderful occasion while for others it is a time of inner conflict. Yes, she wants this new baby but how could she possibly love anyone as much as she loves the little person here. Will the first child be abandoned? How will she stretch herself anymore than she already is? How can she create equality within her family?

It is important to realize that the learning curve with the first child is incredibly steep. When you are already in the role of parent bringing a new baby home is not as frightening.

Image

Remember this baby is born into a family unit. We do not mother each child separately. Yes, we have different relationships with each child but we can never divide ourselves equally. There are times when one child requires more time and focus. Yes, they will fight for attention. The mothers I have spoken with who feel that they do not abandon one child for the sake of another seemed to have similar attitudes: “We are a family, a unit.” One mom who refers to her family as “The 12th Street Gang.” I love this.

You know the Sister Sledge song “We are Family?” “I got all my sisters and me”

My mother loved The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. I picked it up recently and it made me realize how much his words spoke to her.

Image

On children he wrote:

Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s

longing for itself.

They come through you but not from

You,

And though they are with you yet they

Belong not to you.

 

Children are individuals but they do not exist alone. We are here to guide and love them. They will model what they see. Let them play well with others and work through natural conflicts?

My freshman year of college I had an acting teacher who asked me which of my siblings I loved best. Without missing a beat my reply was, “I love them equally but differently.” That was my Mama’s work! She created that.

Image

(My siblings and me)

It is helpful to have strategies to be able to mother more than one child at a time.

Here are some ideas that can help:

~ wear the baby – get a sling, wrap or other carrier to keep the baby close and keep your hands free

Image

~ include the older child in caring for his sibling, do not force it, rather give him the opportunity to help, keep diapers and baby’s clothes within reach of him so he can get these things

Image

~ do not overindulge either of the children

~ ask open ended questions and really listen to him

~ acknowledge his feelings

~ let go of things – dust, material objects

~ ask for help with the house and food – when people ask what you need tell them you need food and a clean house

You can never create true equality! Ask anyone with siblings – they will tell you stories. Go easy on yourself.

By keeping your family together the older child sees how he was cared for. By separating the two you teach them that you cannot love them together – that each child is just one unit, creating more competition. By including the new baby you are modeling love, acceptance and patience.

There are many things that can make or break the transition into breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in the beginning is time consuming and that is good. It is good because it creates the opportunity for mom to rest and heal from birth. It is also a time to study your baby.  It is time to get to know each other.

With this in mind there are a few things you can plan.

Create nursing stations in your home.

While still pregnant, notice where you like to spend time in your home. Many new parents build a beautiful nursery but you do not have to stay there for every feeding.

Image

Your baby does not care what the room looks like. Your baby expects to be close to mom and to have her milk available.

Image

Your nursing station can include:

~water for you to drink

~snacks for you

~a cloth diaper for spit ups

~diapers and wipes

~phone

~book

~TV remote control

Image

Nursing stations can be in:

~living room

~bedroom

~nursery

~den

Accept help!

For some of us it is hard to give direction. People want to help. They appreciate the guidance. They cannot read your mind as you sit there thinking “I sure am thirsty, I wish someone would bring me a glass of water” or “I cannot stand to look at that dust bunny another minute, I wish someone would clean it up.” Tell the people what you need and what you want.

When people ask what you need for your new baby tell them you need his food source fed – that is you! Have them make a meal.

Image

Limit your visitors to those who will help you. This is a special time and you want to be able to be yourself and be comfortable. You have a new member of the family and this little pod needs to bond and sort out their new roles as moms, dads, siblings.

 

 Take a breastfeeding class. A good class will give you the basics on what it looks like to nurse, on how to know that your baby is or is not getting enough and when and where to look for help.

Avoid early supplementing, unless medically indicated. If you need to supplement the best food for your baby is your milk. In the first couple of days you have a thick, nutritiously dense milk called colostrum.

Image

This is the perfect food for your baby. You can literally express some onto a spoon in these first days and spoon feed your baby. If it is medically indicated to supplement then you need to use a rental grade pump. Many moms buy pumps but they are not all created equal.

 

Find your community.

These days there are so many resources for new parents. Be sure and find one where you can meet other parents face-to-face.

~You can attend a La Leche League Meeting

~Find your local community center with parenting groups

~Find your local on-line community

Know where to find help.

A few good resources:

http://www.llli.org/

http://kellymom.com/

http://www.breastfeedingmadesimple.com/

http://www.isisonline.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

Image

Breasts are the great, mysterious glands that fascinate and confound us. They are used to sell cars and beer and they are used to feed babies. They can be used to lure lovers. They are mysterious because we idolize them but we know very little about them.

I remember talking with a woman who told me in medical school they were studying cadavers. She said they took a scrotum and dissected it this way and that way. When it came to the female body the breast was lopped off and they never looked at it.

Several years ago I was at the Bodies Exhibit at the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. I had my oldest child with me, she was ten years old at the time, and I had my son who was a few months old.

Image

 

Image

Image

I noticed that the exhibit of the female body showed a breast that was perfectly round. Since I see breasts almost daily in my work as a lactation consultant I knew that breasts are not perfectly round. At the end of the exhibit there was the opportunity to ask questions.

“Was there an aesthetic point of view in making the breast perfectly round?” I inquired. My ten-year-old rolled her eyes (Oh no, there goes mom again talking about breasts to perfect strangers, let me crawl away now.)

“Why don’t you ask him? He knows everything,” responded a woman as she pointed at a studious looking man in a white lab coat.

Image

“Hi, there! Do you know why the breast was carved to look perfectly round?” I asked. The ten-year-old turned beet red.

Mr. Studious pushed his gold wire rimmed glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and said:

“Breasts are round.”

“Yes, I understand but mammary tissue is not perfectly round, it goes up into the arm pit.” I moved my hand across my breast and up into my armpit. My baby drooled and his eyes followed my hands.

“Breasts are round,” insisted Studious.

“Well, they may look round in a bra but they are much more than just round.”

Studious huffed and said, “Would you like me to get out the anatomy book?”

Image

“Yes, please!” I was delighted. “Look up Tail of Spence.”

Image

Studious scanned the book ready to make me a fool and then he slowed down, his face fell as he read. He looked up, pushed those glasses back and said, “You are right.”

 

“I know! I am a Lactation Consultant!” I was beaming. The ten-year old was beginning to show a bit of respect, pride even, and the baby was beginning to pull at my sweater to get some milk.

I am always talking about breasts and in various conversations it has occurred to me that most people do not know what breasts are like except for the few that they have encountered whether it is their own or a lovers or a quick glimpse in the locker room.

So I wanted to share a little to take the mystery out. You mystery is scary. That means that breasts can be scary, like the unknown, the dark, a new school. All of these unknowns are scary. Let me demystify the breast!

Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. They have a nipple and areola, which also come in all shapes and sizes and many various colors ranging from light pink to dark brown. Some breasts have a little bit of hair on them and some have a lot of hair.

Image

Some breasts have big nipples, some have small nipples some have inverted nipples.

Image

In current culture breasts that are used to sell bear and cars in advertising actually look like breasts that are engorged with milk. Breasts that are engorged with milk are big, round and heavy and are quite uncomfortable.

Most women have some variation in the size and shape of her breasts. Some women have two different sized breasts.

At birth some babies will have milk in their breasts, some call it “Witches milk.” Some babies will even get engorged. This is rare but it happens.

Some people have extra nipples. During lactation sometimes these nipples will drip milk. Some women get engorged in their armpits – this is the Tail of Spence! It is a sort of milk line that goes up into the armpit.

Breasts are perky when they are young and smallish. Many breasts are sloping.

Breasts will sag with age whether or not you have a baby or whether or not you breastfed. Bras contribute more to sagging than lifting. As we age everything kind of moves a bit south.

PPD – Libby

March 22, 2013

When Libby called and said she needed help weaning her 11-day-old baby I knew it was the right thing to do.

When I met Libby to work with her when her baby was 4 days old I saw she was an especially shaken new mom. When she told me she had a history of depression I knew I had to tread carefully.  She was so unsure of how she wanted to approach feeding her baby and I understood. Typically I make up a plan for a mom with directions to make enough milk and to get breastfeeding going well.  But with Libby, there were obstacles – the baby had been jaundiced, he had a tongue-tie, which tethers the tongue to the floor of the baby’s mouth and can cause a great deal of pain at every feeding.

While I was with her, Libby had a wild look in her eyes. She paraded around her apartment with only white cotton panties and her thick hair falling over her shoulders. Pacing back and forth like a caged animal, her eyes looking everywhere but in the room. Wanting nothing more than to be able to comfortably nurse her baby and feel at ease, everything caused her pain: the baby, the pump, hand-expressing. I think her own skin was causing her pain at this moment.

I gave Libby three plans: one to build a complete supply and get breastfeeding going normally, the second to mix feedings at the breast with bottles of formula and I gave her a plan to reduce her milk supply and wean completely. I asked if she was under the care of a psychiatrist. Yes, she assured me. I stayed with her longer than usual because I was afraid for her. I left after her husband came home.

When that call came seven days later I was at once relieved and saddened. The medication that had worked for her was truly incompatible with breastfeeding. I called the Infant Risk Center to clarify. The lovely woman on the phone in Texas felt the weight of my sadness and listened to me as we both mourned the loss of breastfeeding for Libby and her baby boy.

When I spoke with Libby a couple of days later she was calm and expressed her sadness at the loss of breastfeeding. As I hung up I thought of Kelly. At her funeral Joel told me that he saw how connected she and Katie had been whenever they nursed.  Those moments with Katie where when she was the happiest and most focused in the last five months of her life.

The part of me that ached for Libby found peace in knowing she was going to be well and that her baby was going to have his mom. And her would have her longer than five months.

PPD – Kelly

March 19, 2013

I have been exploring Postpartum Depression for a long time. I believe my mother had it when I was a baby. I believe I had it after my first and third babies were born.

So, I am sharing a few stories. They may come in quick succession or they may come over a few weeks or months.This first one is likely the most dramatic. I have been sitting on this story for some time. I decided it was time to share. In some of the stories I have changed some identifying details but the stories are real.

Kelly

I met Kelly in the late 1990’s at the Murray Hill Players on East 36th Street in Manhattan. Tuesday evenings, actors gathered to read new plays while the playwrights listened to their words spoken out loud. Kelly was a bit younger than I. She lived with her boyfriend. I was married with a toddler.  We both lived near the theatre so we would walk home together and we would talk.

I am a nurturer. I was a second mom to my little sister. I started babysitting in the neighborhood when I was eleven years old. When I went off to college I started really ogling pregnant women enviously.  I earned the reputation as Earth Mother in my twenties.  I cared better for some of my cousins than their own mothers did. When I finally had my own children I drank each of them in. I studied them. I nursed them. I fell in love everyday.  For my second career I chose to become a lactation consultant, a career that allowed me to guide other mothers to follow their instincts and build relationships with their babies. That I can guide some of these mothers to nurse their babies into toddlerhood is a great gift. But it doesn’t always go that way.

Kelly and Joel got married and I had another baby. Kelly’s office was on Wall Street.  On September 11 she was there. She stood outside of her office building.  She watched as papers blew about like confetti. She brought dust-covered people into her lobby for water and comfort, for safety. This triggered in her the desire to be a parent.   She was hesitant as she told me she and Joel were planning to have a baby.

She told me, “ I may not be able to breastfeed.”

“Why not? Of course you can,” I assured her.

“I have been on Prozac for six years,” was her reply.

“I will look into it,” I promised.

Summer 2002 was the time I would sit the exam to become a Lactation Consultant. I still had so much to learn. Soon Kelly was pregnant and still on Prozac.  I contacted my colleague whose husband was a physician with a special interest in suicide prevention. At that time there was not much research on breastfeeding and Prozac.  Margot assured me it was more important for a mother to be alive than to be breastfeeding. Her words were a foreshadow that I could not even imagine.

When Kelly was about seven months pregnant she asked me to be at her birth. I was so excited and honored. On July 30 Kelly called to say she was in labor and that I should meet her at New York University Hospital.  A bit past midnight on July 1 a rush of excitement pulsed through me as her baby crowned.  I watched as her dark, hairy little head seemed to soften and move with a gentle force as Kelly opened up like a tulip. The bolt of energy that rushed through me as I witnessed a life come into the world kept me flying for weeks. This was the first time I had been present at a birth other than my own.

The next day I bought a pink outfit and brought my girls to see the new baby. While I was there a young intern stopped in to go over her medical record.

“Are you on medication?” he asked her.

“Yes, Prozac,” she answered as she gazed into Katie’s new eyes.

“Are you breast-feeding?”

“Yes.”

“OK, then, no Prozac, “ he said as he turned and exited the room. I remember the sound of his feet echoing down the hall on the white tiles.

I didn’t know then what the impact of stopping Prozac could be. I didn’t understand the postpartum physiology. As it turns out Prozac is considered safe with breastfeeding.

When Kelly called a few days later and asked if Chloe and I could stay with her and Katie because “my doctor says I am racy and she wants to admit me into the hospital but I told her I did not want to go and that I would make sure I am not alone and that I will have a schedule full of people hanging out with Katie and me,” I did not understand that she really could not be alone. Not for a moment. I did not understand.

When Kelly talked faster than usual and laughed louder than usual and started finding coincidences in all the numbers in her life I did not understand.

Three weeks later, Kelly, Joel and Katie moved out of their Manhattan one-bedroom walk-up apartment into a newly purchased house in the suburbs of New Jersey. Kelly said it was good that Joel was getting his MBA. Even though it meant he worked all day and went to school three nights a week. I didn’t know that Kelly had a fear of driving. I didn’t know that all of her friends with babies were in Manhattan.

I worried that most every time we spoke on the phone she cried.  She told me, “I have told Katie I am so proud of her and I love her more than my own mom told me in my whole life.” I felt helpless being so far away.

I didn’t know that Kelly had started taking Prozac again at Thanksgiving. I didn’t know how long it takes for Prozac to move through the body and begin its balancing act.

I did know that when I received a phone call on December 11 telling me that someone named Kelly had stepped in front of a commuter train in New Jersey I knew that was my Kelly.

My Right Foot

March 13, 2013

The humbling reality of my situation is beginning to kick in. The Percocet is being replaced by Acetaminophen and my fog is wearing off. Last Thursday my foot was sort of reconstructed. I went to the doctor yesterday for my post-op follow-up and saw the hardware store that is my foot. There are 4 screws and my foot is swollen and bruised. In the half second that I could bare to look I saw Frankenstein. Rob was disappointed that I did not photograph the gore.

It was fascinating to see the before and after x-rays. My foot was previously at a right angle and now it is a straight line. If I was a home-schooler this could be a fun lesson in geometry.

Image

My foot cannot touch the ground for six weeks. This is hard for an independent New Yorker and mother of three. And, it puts me out of work. As a Lactation Consultant in Private Practice offering home visits in Manhattan I cannot carry my equipment as I hobble on crutches. I am open to Skype and phone consults as well as visits in my home but most new moms prefer a home visit in their homes. I do not blame them.

 

Image

When breastfeeding my third child was so challenging I saw it as an opportunity to be a better Lactation Consultant. This convalescent period will make me more sympathetic to the moms who have had a very difficult birth and have to ask for help and to rely on the kindness of others.

I am giving space for my family to get angry and frustrated. They really have to do so much for me. Rob has to get the kids ready in the morning and he makes me tea and breakfast. This, from the man who typically is out the door before the kids wake up. Phoebe has helped me bathe – remember baths? You have to have a sense of humor when you find yourself in a bathtub with your leg wrapped up to the knee in plastic hanging over the side of the tub and your children all staring down at you arguing over who will wash your hair.

Chloe comes home from school and makes me tea. I am filled with guilt at the prospect of not being able to attend her performance in the Middle School production of Bye Bye Birdie.

Finn cuddles me and throws things in the hamper and garbage for me. He gets himself dressed and ready for bed with less arguing.

I have metal water bottles placed strategically in my home.

Image

Image

I have had to ask friends to drive me to doctor’s appointments – thanks Julia! I have told my mother-in-law pointblank which of her delicious foods I want her to make for me. I have blatantly posted a photo of my foot on social media, which alerted my friend Liz, a Reiki Master to come work on me.

I am planning the time to work on more writing and putting together a presentation for the Museum of Motherhood Conference in May.

Look for more blog posts and come visit me if you are in the ‘hood. I like chocolate and gluten-free foods!