"She's acting like I just dipped her in acid. Is that normal?"
I had just shown up for the night's postpartum visit, and bath time had just ended. The baby was not calm, relaxed, and ready for bed like the book said she would be.
"Is this how this is supposed to go?
"The book is telling us to set up a routine. Do we have to go through this every night?"
Mom and dad are trying to do the right thing. It is evident in every move and every choice they are making.
The baby gets dried off. A diaper is put on. A bottle is given. Baby is bright red from the night's activities. Massive tears, high shoulders, and tight fists.
Dad looks down at her and looks horribly worried. "She already hates me."
This is part of the trials of being a parent. Making choices, seeing how they go and adjusting. There are no manuals for how to care for your child. Sure there ARE manuals, but no guarantee it's for your model of baby if you get what I mean.
DOC doulas can show you how to swaddle your baby, and we can talk about more comfortable ways to bathe and dress your child. And of course, we can help you understand how to help calm a fussy baby.
There are predictable developmental stages most children experience, and having an understanding of what your child is learning, can understand, and is experiencing can help make better-informed decisions.
But it can still be hard even if you know what is happening. Some days you are banging your head against all those parenting books. Some days it's almost impossible to remember that you are the adult and you are supposed to have the answers.
What I've learned as a parent of two and doula, is that making choices, trying to meet your children where they are at, and trying again when things don't go to plan are what matter.
Being a safe place for your child to rest and show love is essential, being deliberate and consistent are crucial as well.
Regardless of age, kids need quality time together with you.
When your child is an infant, quality time looks different than when they are older, but this early foundation is so important. The bond you form with your child in the first three years is what creates the connections that are tested - wait for it - when your child is a teenager.
You've heard parents complain, "My baby wants to be held all the time!" or "She is asleep, and as soon as I put her down she starts screaming."
Building trust, letting your baby know that you will be there to provide and care for their every need, even if it is just to be held, is the beginning of a trusting relationship.
So no, your baby doesn't hate you.
It's that she has no idea what is going on. She has no way to control her emotions. And she is easily overwhelmed.
One possible thing is your child can form trusting relationships with multiple caregivers. There will be no way to replace you, but there are people that can help make it a bit easier.
For breaks, affirmation, tools for transition, and sleep let us help. We may not have the specific manual for your baby, but we have the tools to help you get started with writing your own.
For the majority of the last year, I've been seesawing between extreme joy and extreme sadness: feeling like a mess as I watch my young child move through all of his milestones in his first year of life, and coping with the unexpected loss of my own dad just a few short months after his birth.
When I was prepping for my second child's birth, I wanted to do my postpartum differently. I wanted to ask for more help. I planned to hire more help. I planned to rest more. Planned to have more honest conversations with my partner. I expected to look at my life after birth with experienced eyes and kinder expectations, all as a way to ease the grip postpartum depression may have on me if it came again.
I worked less. I took time to enjoy my baby. I helped my first born adjust to the changes in her life, and I thought things were going quite well. I had prepared, and I was ready to have a newborn in my life again.
Last December, I got several phone calls one night that didn't wake me up. And then I got one that did. My sister, who was living in Vietnam was the first person to get word that our dad had been rushed to the hospital after a fall. It was 2am. He had already undergone surgery.
By 6am my 4-month-old baby boy and I were flying to the West Coast to say goodbye to my father.
I have been saying goodbye to him since then. Milestones my son reaches are events he'll never see. Holidays and traditions are now heavy with the shadow of his missed contributions. His photos, belongings, and gifts are treasures and reminders of how he saw me, knew me, and loved me.
This year of firsts.
I have found a great deal of comfort from not being scared of my grief. What has been surprising is my grief has felt like a friend. I have imagined grief to be a horrible and wicked part of death, but for me, it isn't. And I don't know why. And it's not that I'm not sad. I am so sad. I say this feels like friendship because I'm not hiding. I'm not masking my life as it is now. I'm not afraid to explore how low it will take me.
My children have seen me cry huge sobs that come from amazing memories or waves of the enormity of his leaving. And they have seen me laugh and tell stories of him that are silly or adventurous. My grief really does feel like a seesaw, where the highs are surprising, and the lows are shattering, but both are never for very long. It is so odd to rebound between the two so often.
But in the way many moms do, I have been doing what I need to do, as things come along. My son has learned to crawl, walk, and now climb in the months since my dad died. He has kept me on my toes, kept me present with his small and significant discoveries, and been the daily reminder that my time with him is precious and finite. While I have not shielded my grief from children, I have also not irradicated any possibility of joy. It has been a year of harsh juxtapositions with death and new life overlapping for me to untangle.
This year of first steps, first eulogies, first words, and first deep goodbyes is not a story I would have picked if I were to choose. I do not wish it for anyone.
But it is my story.
I am trying to find ways to navigate life without one of my foundational pillars to offer support. I am trying to heal. I am trying to mourn. I am trying to honor.
As I was returning home after his funeral, I had a candid conversation with my dad on the flight. My son was sleeping in my lap, and we were somewhere over Iowa, I think.
And I shared with him all the things I was afraid of and all the things I was going to miss, and all the stuff I wished I could have said to him before he left. And he told me he loved me, and he was proud of me, and that I had hands and feet to do things I didn't even know were possible yet. That my brain and my heart were incredible, and that he wasn't actually gone. And I believed him.
This year of first has been the beginning of a new relationship with myself, and the people I choose to let into my life. I don't wish this story on anyone, but this year of firsts has given me an incredible amount of hope and purpose.
My dad would have turned 77 today.
He loved German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce. He was capable and lived in service to others, and gave the most incredible hugs. His hands were like baseball mitts, and he enjoyed two-stepping and being a cowboy. And he loved me. And that love is still felt so well even now.
It is a love that has taught me a new part of the power that comes as a parent. We get to give our children an unconditional love for as long as they need it, even after we're gone.
It was time to be done. It was a good run while it lasted, but it was time. Time to retire the nursing bras.
It was embarassing, really, the number of hours it had been worn. The number of times it had been snapped open and closed was a slow metronome for daily life. But the snaps and clicking are done now. The fabric is tired - an accurate representation of the time I spent not sleeping myself.
These fabric bits were an extension of me. The straps knew where to settle. I had been able to un-clasp and re-clasp the front boob flaps for sometime now. So much that even when wearing clothes that isn't designed for chest-feeding-people I could get a boob in a crying baby's mouth remarkably fast.
My bras have absorbed so much milk, spit, and tears. They have witnessed milestones in my breastfeeding journey: Learning the ropes, latching with ease, and finally mastering the night feeds where I didn't need lights to see the path to putting my baby to breast, settling him down, and getting him back to sleep.
This wireless, kinda flimsy, tired workhorse of an undergarment is ready to go to the Intimates Store in the Sky.
Fairwell friend. You did well.
I'm ready for an underwire again.
Oh, but funny enough, I don't think my boobs were ready. I thought it was time, but my boobs...they are altered. Lol...
Did you know it's normal for one breast to produce more milk than the other? Yep. Things like anatomy, slow let down or fast let down, or baby's preference can mean that one breast develops more or less milk than the other.
So finding a bra that fits well - a very frustrating process for many bra-wearing people - is a new kind of frustrating.
I put on my non-lactating-friendly bra and was so excited. I didn't care that one cup was now too loose by a smidge. I didn't care that the I needed to re-remember how to put the stupid thing on, because...
It was so pretty! The nursing bras that ended up being a part of my regular life for 8 months were beige, or black with not much going on. The bra was there to do a job (and it did very well!) not to look fashionable while doing it.
Seeing some color on my décolletage felt like an awakening. A visual breath. A boost of energy. A lacy hug.
I bought my new armor and wore it out of the store, not wanting to put my dingy dishrag back on. And then I started to do my life.
And some of the shiny wore off.
Some feelings popped up. Some sadness about what I just ended.
The realization that I was really done using my body in a way that was fought for, well earned, and natural.
Some other feelings popped up too. Not good ones. Like the poking feelings from the stupid underwires. And sweaty feelings because this new bra didn't "breathe" as well. Before my boobs were wet because of milk. Now they were wet because of confinement and suffocation.
A know a well-fitting bra shouldn't hurt. But that is all noise to me in this moment. It felt like my new pretty bra that I was so excited about only few days prior was re-introducing me into the world of sexism and objectivity - which sounds extreme, but ug...it felt extreme.
It was pretty. But I loved taking it off for the day.
My nursing bras weren't pretty, but they had started to feel like a worn in pair of jeans: soft, reliable, like a good friend.
My new bra was like meeting Susan from HR. She was trying to be nice and helpful, but really she just wanted me to say in line.
All this was months ago.
Susan is still in rotation, but only for short periods of time. I love knowing she's there. I love looking at her. And I love not wearing my worn-down nursing bra...I really am done with that part of my life.
What I've found works well while wrangling two kids at various levels of mobility (and spontaneous dance-party-ness) is life requires a certain amount of flexibility - literally and mentally. My energy at the beginning of the day is drastically different than the middle and the end, and the amount of time I want to devote to getting ready is minimal. (duh.)
And I also now know why Athleasure is a huge thing. Because ain't nobody got time for that!
It isn't for everyone, but I am so thankful that yoga wear, sporting attire, and my mothering timeline have aligned in this moment of supportive garment history.
Susan, you're pretty, but I'm gonna be Sporty Spice over here for a bit.
Written by Ariel Swift
Does this sound familiar?"She was sleeping fine and now I can't put her down!"
"I don't know what's wrong. He is fussy all the time and he acts like he wants to eat, but then he doesn't eat. Is he okay?"
"She was on a great schedule and now I can't seem to get her back in sync!"
As much as you plan and as much as you read, parenthood will never go the way you think it will. We get into patterns. We start to rely on certain behaviors from our children. We think we know what is coming next.
And that's when it happens - the organized world you worked so hard to create starts falling apart. Regardless of your parenting philosophy, your baby is going to go through life and experience what experts are now calling mental leaps. These are periods of development and learning that babies go through where (it seems) all of a sudden, they didn't know something, and then they do.
"Research has shown that babies make 10 major, predictable, age-linked changes – or leaps – during their first 20 months of their lives. During this time, they will learn more than in any other time." explains the Wonder Weeks Team.
You may have called them growth spurts.
Growth spurts occur between 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 9 months (more or less). And they continue on into adolescence and teen years. But because your baby can't tell you what he or she is feeling, as parents, we'll see the cues (or not) and try to meet our babies where they are.
So what are the cues? Each child will respond to these developmental changes a little differently, but some common behaviors are:
You may be reading a book about your child's behavior at the same time they are going through one of these changes and not put two and two together.
Because when your baby is fussy, and you are tired, or you need to get work done, or dishes, or laundry, or a shower, it can be difficult to stop and remember,
"OH! My baby just learned that he has hands!
... And he can operate them!
...And that means he can grab that toy that I've been shaking in front of his face!"
So if your baby need a little more of your time, it's for good reason. If she seems to require a bit more attention and caring and love, try to remember that she may feel like she just jumped off a cliff, and needs some help finding a safe way to land.
Our Postpartum Doulas are just a call away if you need help for a few days, or long term support. We are well aware of the trials that come with leaping babies and we will help you, and them, every step of the way.It's a wide, wide world. You are your child's guide through it- itty bitty steps to great huge leaps.
Written by Ariel Swift
I am so excited for tonight. I get to have a sleepover!
I get to connect with another woman, I get to help her, talk with her, nourish her - with food or companionship.
I get to be welcomed into another woman's home, to meet her exactly where she is at. I am not her guest, I do not need to be entertained.
I get to hear her describe her birth.
I get to hear her describe the first moments of parenthood. I get to hear her describe her feelings. Sometimes, I get to see her ugly cry.
I get to see her heart poured open, in joy, or in fear of the unknown, or though the physical act of feeding her baby from her body.
I am given trust, to be in her home, to hold her child, to share my experience and knowledge of motherhood. I am allowed to see delicate moments. I am an audience to celebrate small and large victories.I am present to be with this woman as she is learning more about what it means to be a woman.
I get to have a sleepover!
I get to look into her eyes and see her without her make up. I get to walk the halls with her restless baby. I get to sing lullabies to her child.
I get to hear her house creak in the night, have my eyes adjust to the bright light of the bathroom, and wake up the house with the smell of coffee in the morning.
I get to help during the times when the other experts all go away. I get to be physically present to support when it feels like there is no one else to call. I get to tell a woman she is an incredible mother.
I get to have a sleepover!
Being a postpartum doula is not all about changing diapers and caring for a baby. It is about connecting and caring for mothers as they recover from birth and learn. It is about being genuine. It is about being available emotionally and physically.
Laundry can get done, bottles can be cleaned, and the baby can be rocked back to sleep - but being a postpartum doula is about the full and genuine recovery of the entire family after the birth experience, and it is centered on the care of the mother.
When the mother is looked after, the family can thrive.
Ariel Swift (she/her) does most of the writing around this blog, but we love having guest writers and visits!