My mom and dad bravely hosted Easter at their house this weekend and my grandparents, all of my sisters, and our families were present including four young kids and two crazy dogs in my parents' cozy little house. After lunch we were all sitting in the living room enjoying coffee, dessert, and conversation. My grandmother, after watching the kids playing for a minute, looked at my mom and said, "Leslie, do you remember when you all used to spend the weekends at our house when the kids were small and I would have to go to bed at 7:00pm?" We started discussing this and realized that my dad has become very similar in that, when the family is all together, he will often turn in early or disappear to his room or in a book. He made the comment that, where he loves time with his family, at times it really drains him physically and he feels an urgent need to rest or be alone. He even took it further and said that, to him, alone time almost feels like a medicine. Once he's had it, even just a few minutes, he feels better able to face the world again. When he said this, it resonated with me so much, and I realized that I often feel this way as well but I've never been able to figure out why.
I've always loved going to church. I even look forward to it, but it never fails that, by the time I get home, I feel like, if I don't get a nap, I might die. Why is that? In college, always living with roommates and constantly around friends/classmates, I discovered how therapeutic running was for me, not just the physical component of it, but the alone time. And later, as an elementary school teacher, by the time my conference period came around, when other teachers were in each other's classrooms socializing, I would be locked in my classroom, with the lights low, and soft music playing just soaking in the quiet. But it's never been so apparent as it has since becoming a mom. I am the mom at the gym who, after dropping my kids off in the childcare center, will often just go outside and walk by myself or sit on the couches in the locker room at the end of my workout to get every ounce of my two-hour childcare included in my membership. And I've had so many guilt-filled moments where I've thought, "If my kids don't take a nap or go to bed soon, I feel like I might self-combust!" I've even gotten angry at times when they've refused to sleep at their designated times. I love my kids so much and I love spending time with them more than anyone besides my husband. I have friends whose kids nap with them, sleep with them, and are by their sides 24/7 and I honestly feel like I couldn't survive as a mother if I operated that way long term (although there have been so many times I've wished I could). As a mom who breastfeeds, I do believe those first few months with baby are extremely important for bonding and establishing supply and we do co-sleep in those pivotal months, but beyond 3-4 months, my babies are in their own beds in their own rooms. And I've often felt so selfish in comparison to my other mom friends. I chalked it up to the fact that I was single and childless for the first 30 years of my life so I just needed to get used to having little people with me and on me all the time. But after that conversation, I realized that it was more than just selfishness (although that can definitely contribute and make it way bigger of a thing if I'm not careful), it is also the way I was wired.
I went home and googled "motherhood and introvert" and came across countless articles that I could've written myself. Moms describing how they couldn't understand why they lived for nap and bed time when other mothers were describing how they couldn't wait for their kids to wake up and spend time with them. One mom said that she even saw a therapist who, mid-conversation, put her pen down and said, "Sweetie, there's nothing wrong with you. You're just an introvert. You NEED alone time just like you need food and water."
I've had a hard time putting the "introvert" label on myself because of how I love people and social interaction. I'm often wanting to get together with friends and have other families over. But, in my research, I realized that not all introverts have social aversions, but it is in those social interactions that they expend so much energy getting to know or interacting with others. When my boys are awake, I'm often trying to engage with them, teach them and include them in the things I'm doing, and, where I enjoy these interactions and find them extremely important, it can be exhausting to me, and there comes a point in my day where I just need a minute (or an hour) alone. I have found a way of coping by requiring a "quiet time" during our day. Even if my 3-year-old isn't acting sleepy, he still has an hour during the day where he reads books or plays quietly in his room. I've often felt guilty about this, thinking that if I was a good mom, I would want them with me all the time. But it's in my alone time that I'm able to be a good mom. I'm thankful for what I've learned because I feel like I can start extending more grace to myself as I continue to learn how to navigate the constant demands of motherhood with my true need for solitude.
What about you? What are some ways you've learned to cope as a mother and an introvert? Do you have a gauge for determining when you need it the most? Have you pre-scheduled it in to your day or week? I'm open to all suggestions as I'm figuring all of this out.
A friend of mine called me shortly after her 3rd birth and asked, "Can I just process my birth with you?" There were some things she was feeling unsettled about and just wanted to talk through it all. Did it change her birth outcome? No. Did I have some great words of wisdom to help make it more of a positive experience? No. But sometimes birth can be unpredictable. And sometimes we place such high expectations that end up not being met. And other times we feel like our expectations are, in a way, stolen from us by members involved in our birth who might have had different ideas about how it should have played out. A lot of people think that if mom is healthy and baby is healthy, then mothers shouldn't have anything to be upset about. But sometimes, for varying reasons, birth can be a traumatic experience and can even lead to a type of post-traumatic stress. And to place guilt on a mom for feeling this way can have a tendency to cause her to suppress those feelings which has the potential to lead to degrees of postpartum depression. Grieving occurs after loss. And if you feel like you lost something, the opportunity to birth the way you had hoped or to bond with your baby the way you had pictured, then its natural to feel a sense of grief, however small it may be. One of the steps to healing in the grieving process is to talk to someone about your grief. So I encourage you, regardless of how your birth went or whether it was your first or fifth birth, to find a trusted friend, family member, or grab a pen and journal if that feels safer, and tell your story from start to finish. And I think its ok to mention that you don't want any advice or for them to fix it, but to just be a listening ear. I'm a huge verbal processer. Sometimes I will be processing an experience and feelings will come out that I didn't even know existed. And just talking about it brings healing and closure. So tell your stories with someone you trust. Talk about the moments you loved and the moments you didn't. Here are a few questions that can guide you if you aren't the processing type:
On December 30th, 2016, my actual due date, I woke up with my first contraction around 4:30 am. It makes such a huge difference, in my opinion, whether you go into labor at night or in the morning after a night of sleep. I felt rested and excited! My bags were already packed and my appointment was already scheduled for that day, at our Birth Center which was two hours away (the same one I had Clay in 2 years prior). My mom was already staying with me because we had hosted Christmas at our house and she was going to hang out until baby arrived. David was coming home from working a night shift and because my contractions were mild and I had a sense it would be a while, I made him go to sleep. He would meet me in San Antonio later that day.
Labor, Shopping, and More Labor
Around 8am, my mom, my two-year-old Clayton and I headed to San Antonio for my appointment where they confirmed I was in labor and the on-site chiropractor adjusted me one last time. And then I said "see you later" to my midwives and went on my way. One of the things I often tell moms in the early stages of labor is to try and get out of your head. So often, when those first contractions hit, we tend to get worked up and over-think things, psyching and wearing ourselves out emotionally. It's so important to stay relaxed and as stress-free as possible so I attempted to do just that. We dropped Clay off with David's parents who live on the outskirts of San Antonio and Mom and I went shopping and just tried to enjoy the day. Shopping was relaxing and distracting and helped me to stay active and upright as much as possible. I didn't call anyone and I stayed off of Facebook because I didn't want people messaging me all day asking if baby was here yet. At one point we were walking around an outdoor shopping center and my mom said she noticed that baby had dropped big-time! Contractions were definitely coming on stronger and more consistently but I was still in good spirits and managing them well.
To the Birth Place We Go
At about 4pm, David arrived in San Antonio and we met at Jason's Deli for a snack, parted ways with my mom, and headed to the Birth Center because I was feeling the need to rest. David and I attempted a nap but the contractions, while they were still manageable, were intense enough that I wasn't able to sleep. But it felt good to lie down for a while and David helped me with some of the relaxation techniques we had learned in our birth class. By about 7pm, my midwife sensed that labor was slowing down a bit so she encouraged us to get up, go find some dinner and get moving again.
My Secret Weapon
We got in the car and, because it was pretty cold outside, I turned on my seat-heat as we drove to search for a place to eat (although my appetite was starting to dwindle). I still, to this day, believe that seat-heat was my secret weapon in getting things really progressing! Two speed bumps later, and my mild contractions turned into David having to stop the car through each one of them. We drove for a bit and decided to stop in Cane's to get a quick bite of chicken but our dinner date ended up with me wanting to spend the whole time inn the bathroom. Transition was hitting!
Get Off the Toilet!
David scarfed down his chicken, forced me out of the bathroom and back into the car and called our midwife to tell her we were heading back. It was 9pm and I went straight to the bathroom where all I wanted to do was close the door, sit on the toilet, and labor by myself. I know it sounds weird, but it was what felt the best to me at the time. It kept me upright with my pelvis open and bladder empty, and allowed me to stand and support myself on the seat when contractions hit so that I could sway and work through them. It's so amazing to me, when left to choose for ourselves, how our bodies will tell us what to do during labor that allows for the most optimal laboring position for each individual birth. With my first, I didn't want to leave the hands and knees position, supporting myself on my birth ball for a large part of it. After about an hour of laboring on the toilet, I had a sudden urge to feel down for baby's head but I kept it to myself because I didn't want to get my hopes up (or anyone else's) if I still had a ways to go. After laboring in the bathroom for about an hour and a half, contractions were starting to feel unbearable, so David and my midwives gently encouraged me to get in the tub. Changing positions in labor is important but there comes a point where the thought of change or movement of any kind sounds overwhelming to a mom, which is where a good birth team comes into play. They can sense when a change might be necessary to help keep things moving along.
A Dreamy Water Birth
Oftentimes, when women are left to labor naturally, they will use sounds to help manage and breathe out their contractions. I made it in the water and continued "sounding out" my contractions like I had been, but almost immediately, my sounds changed (they were more throaty, pushy sounds). My midwife noticed and encouraged me to go with it and give a push. With my first birth I never felt the urge to push, nor did I enjoy anything about it, so I think, subconsciously, I was avoiding and even a little fearful of the pushing stage. But as soon as I followed her instructions and gave a good strong push, not only did it feel really good, but baby's head was crowing! It took a total of three pushes before my baby boy, all 8lbs and 22 inches of him, was born in the water as I caught him with my own hands! It's funny, my labor lasted quite a bit longer with this one than with my first (19.5 hours as opposed to 15 with the first), but it was so much more manageable. I wouldn't have changed a thing about it!
At 3:30am on New Year's Eve, we were packed up and cleared by our midwives and heading to David's parents house. I wanted to be there when Clayton woke up so that he could meet his baby brother. Overwhelming doesn't even begin to describe the feeling I had seeing my TWO boys meeting each other for the first time! The whole experience was just incredible and I can't think of a better way to bring in the New Year!
When you think about your birth experience (maybe even the one you haven't had yet but are envisioning) does it make you smile? Do you cringe, or is it a memory that you treasure? I'm not just talking about the moment that your baby was born but the experience as a whole. From the moment you walked into your birthplace, your time laboring, your interactions with your care providers, your interactions with your significant other and family members...what would be the one word you would use to describe this memory? I love talking to mamas and hearing their birth stories. I have talked to countless women as they describe their experiences to me. Surreal. Painful. Beautiful. Scary. Quick. Long. Healing. Intense. Traumatic. Birth can be so many things.
My first birth was hard. And then it was frustrating. It was exhausting. There were sweet moments and then it would get hard again. It was complicated and even scary at times. And it was incredible. But in the midst of all the ups and downs and roller coaster of emotions that I experienced, because my husband and I took an in-depth comprehensive childbirth class, I felt more-than-prepared for it all. I knew that birth could be hard. I knew it could be exhausting. I knew that it could be scary and that things could go wrong. I knew that there would be moments that I would want to give up. But I was prepared for those moments. I was prepared with techniques to help manage the pain naturally. I was prepared for dealing with the exhaustion. I was prepared mentally to combat the fear and doubt that I would face. I was prepared to know how to choose a care provider that would support me and my desires for my birth. I was even prepared for the possibility of needing medical intervention and how to make informed choices about those interventions should the need arise. And my husband was prepared as well. He knew what the stages of labor would basically look like, and how to support me during each stage. He was prepared to support me physically, through comfort measures, as well as emotionally, through affirming and encouraging me. And when our baby was born, we were prepared for those first precious moments of breastfeeding and bonding. And because of the way we were prepared my birth was, more than any other word I could use to describe it, EMPOWERING! I googled this word and the definition I found that I loved the most was "to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights." This is exactly what my birth experience did. Because of my childbirth education, I was more confident going into my birth, confident of my body and what it was capable of. I was empowered to make informed decisions about my pregnancy and birth instead of someone else making them for me. This is the reason why I decided to become a Birth Boot Camp Instructor. I wanted other mommies and daddies to be prepared and empowered for their births the same way my husband and I were. Birth is unpredictable and we can't always control its outcome but I'm a firm believer that knowledge is power, and that especially applies to childbirth.