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A strange phenomenon occurs wherever women gather with their children. There is a bonding that forms immediately over the exchange of labor stories. We can’t seem to get enough details about other women’s labors and we excitedly share our stories. It’s like we all fought in the same war in slightly different locations and we all have our battle scars, along with stories of fear, pain, and triumph.

I was at the pool with my children the other day. Sydney was splashing in the kiddie pool, while two women sitting with their toddlers were already engaged in their war stories. It was sort of amazing. Women who might otherwise have nothing in common were bonding over stories of epidurals, contractions, and pushing. I found myself ready and willing to find an easy place in the conversation to join in with my own stories.

It’s amazing to me that it doesn’t matter if you gave birth two weeks ago, two years ago, or two decades ago you still have your stories cued up at the ready whenever you see a fellow mom. I was volunteering at church in the toddler room with a woman with adult sons and my toddler was playing at my feet. We easily talked about our labors like they happened yesterday.

I think part of it is what I call Post Traumatic Labor Disorder and the other part is simply recognizing that we lived through some of the most difficult, painful, and miraculous moments of our lives. Each child is a stripe on our mom-iform, usually in the form of stretch marks or C-section scars. The stories of their lives are etched on our bodies.

Most of us, no matter how old our children are, look back at this point in our lives with wonder and admiration. How did we do it? How did we survive? How did we find strength we had no idea we possessed? How did this little miracle become mine?

The stories of how our children got here are all different, yet we are bonded together by the collective experiences of motherhood. Our children are different, we are different, but we all carry the same rank of “Mom.”

Beyond the stories of how we became mothers, there are some universal truths of motherhood most of us can agree on.

  1. You have no idea that you can love a person you just met. I never believed in romantic love at first sight so it took my breath away when the doctor placed my child on me for the first time. Love at first sight is real, but I think that’s because motherly love starts before your child is born and when you see them for the first time that’s when all that love bubbles up to the surface.
  2. You know with certainty that you are screwing up at least some of the time. I’ve found that knowing you are messing up with your kids isn’t nearly as hard as forgiving yourself for it. There are a million things we’re doing right every single day, but instead of seeing those things, we remind ourselves of our poor decisions and we agonize over the hypothetical consequences.
  3. You know that you would lay down your life for your child’s.When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I told my husband that if a complication were to arise during her birth and he was forced to make a choice between her life or mine, he was to choose hers. It’s not that I had a complicated pregnancy, but I just wanted my wishes to be clear – that even though she wasn’t here yet, her life was to come before my own without question.
  4. You are exhausted by just how much you care about EVERYTHING.Details you never thought about in your life have this new weight because everything you say or decide will shape another person into who they will become.
  5. The feeling of helplessness at not being able to control what will happen to your child(ren) is paralyzing.You have to put it out of your minds long enough to feed them breakfast, get them ready for the day, and carry on with your everyday lives.

The world seems so full of horrible stories these days; stories of murder, conflict, and injustice both here and across the globe. It’s so depressing and terrifying. In order to cope, I have come to seek out these miracle moments of strangers forming instant connections, sharing stories, advice, and encouragement to remind myself that the world can be beautiful too.

We can’t control much of what happens in the world, but we are the band of mothers and we can shape the future a little every day. We can teach our children better ways. We can show them how to love and respect themselves and others. We change the world in small and quiet ways when we raise our children to seek out the light amidst the darkness.

I like to think that when women come together to share our war stories of labor and the battlefield of parenting, we are saying, “I stand by you. Even if your journey looks different than mine, we ultimately want the same thing – to create amazing people that make the world a better place.”

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

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Why would I want to talk about something that happened ten years ago? Having a miscarriage haunts you. Out of the blue you sometimes get the urge to cry when you look at your children. Even though I’m in the business of writing about my experiences, I also write about things I know people have a hard time talking about.

Ten years ago, I wish more people had been talking about miscarriage. Maybe then I wouldn’t have felt so utterly alone. The subject of miscarriage was one tiny section in the back of my pregnancy books. It seemed like any woman who had experienced a miscarriage, kept her heartbreak to herself. It felt like there was some mysterious superstition like if you talked about it, you might jinx someone else’s pregnancy.

Never having heard anyone talk about miscarriage ten years ago made me think it could never happen to me. And then when it did, it made it nearly impossible to say the words out loud for a very long time. So here’s what I wish someone had told me about miscarriage.

1. It’s NOT Your Fault – I was a newlywed and I stumbled into pregnancy carefree. I was so happy to be pregnant. When I saw those first tiny drops of blood, I thought it was weird, but panic didn’t set in right away.Then I cried my way through an entire night while I begged my body to stop.

By the time my doctor called me with my test results, I already knew what he was going to tell me. The best thing he said was that there was nothing I did to cause it. Sometimes it just happens. It was pretty awful to have no control over my body. If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, know first and foremost – It’s NOT your fault.

2. You Are Still A Mother – The worst part of having an early miscarriage was the minimizing way some people talked about my loss. Some even said I was lucky it happened early on. NEVER ever say this to a woman who has suffered a miscarriage at any stage in her pregnancy. I didn’t feel lucky that I didn’t have more time to bond with my baby. I felt utterly broken by it.

I hadn’t told many people, but the few who knew didn’t have any personal experience and couldn’t help me navigate my feelings. To the world, nothing had changed and I wasn’t a mother because my belly wouldn’t be getting bigger and I’d never hold my child, but from the moment I saw those two lines on the test, I became a mother. Sometimes a child isn’t born into the world, but they are born in our hearts.

3. You Lost A Baby – If it’s just a pregnancy you lost, it sounds like you lost your car keys. No big deal, right? You’ll find them eventually. That’s how some people talk about miscarriage. But when you experience a miscarriage, you know that what you lost was a baby. You lost the possibility, the hope, and the joy of seeing your child.

4. It Can Cast A Shadow On Future Pregnancies – From the moment the doctor gave us the go-ahead to try again I was full steam ahead. But the foreboding never left. The first time I heard my child’s heartbeat during each of my subsequent pregnancies I cried. The ultrasound tech gave me a quizzical look when I teared up, seeing my little peanut on the screen for the first time and said, “This is your third?”

Perhaps by the third child, some women would feel confident, expecting to see this little life in there right where it belongs. But that first miscarriage cast a shadow of doubt over each pregnancy that came after. I took NOTHING for granted. I NEVER forgot that the very first time I went for an ultrasound, the tech wouldn’t even show me the screen.

5. You Realize How Miraculous Life Is – Maybe you had one miscarriage like me, or perhaps you’ve had many, but if you’re lucky enough to get to hold your living child one day, you know what a miracle it is that any of us are even here. We’re trained to expect pregnancy to end in a healthy baby, but that’s just not always the case. While it was heartbreaking at the time, losing my first baby gave me a profound gratitude for the three living children I’ve been blessed with.

6. Grief Isn’t Quantifiable – When I told my aunt about my miscarriage, she told me that at least it wasn’t as bad as my grandmother’s loss who lost two children in infancy. I get it- the need to quantify pain. Maybe it’s meant to help someone by putting it in perspective, but perspective is subjective.

I felt sorrow that I didn’t even know if my child was a boy or girl and never got to hold him/her or see their sweet little face. Let’s not get into loss quantifying conversations with each other. The only thing universal about grief is that we all feel it and nobody knows the depths of pain in our hearts except us.

7. You CAN Say It Out Loud – I avoided calling a good friend because I couldn’t say the words out loud. Just weeks before, I had happy news and the thought of saying, “I lost my baby” was too much to bear. The problem is that when you don’t talk about your loss, you isolate yourself from the people that could help you cope.

I’m not saying you need to announce your loss right away. I’m saying that in time, open yourself up to the idea that you are not alone in this and you can share your story. So many women have come before you. So many women can share their stories with you and provide comfort.

When we tell women not to announce their pregnancy until they are in their second trimester we are denying some women the only chance they will get to share their joy with their close friends and family. It also further isolates them while they are grieving a loss nobody knew about. Sometimes a loss comes in the second or third trimester.

What we need to do instead is shed light on the mysterious shroud of pregnancy. We need to know that sometimes miscarriage happens and we need to be supportive of each other if it does. We need to share our stories because having a baby is never guaranteed. It’s a blessing!

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

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One of the first things my mother said to me when I got pregnant was how terrific she felt while pregnant and how it would probably be the same for me. Well ladies, let me just slay that mythical unicorn right now and call it what it is, a big steaming pile.

My mother had Crohn’s disease so she was very sick prior to her pregnancy which probably had a lot to do with her feeling so good . As far as I can tell there wasn’t a whole lot of that during each of my three pregnancies. I’m not trying to scare you first time pregnant Mamas. I’m giving you the gift of truth. Pregnancy is rough. Your body is not your own and I want you to know those glowing, happy, feeling great mamas are NOT the norm.

The Secret Sauce of “Pregnancy Glow”

You want to know what that pregnancy glow consists of – sweat and oil. There’s a reason they say you’ve got a bun in the oven. You feel like an oven. I myself had the misfortune of having two of my babies in the miserable heat of summer (July and August) and hot doesn’t begin to describe it. Near the end of my August pregnancy, there were several occasions when the temperature reached above 70 degrees in the office I worked in and I had to be sent home because the heat made me so sick. Whatever the thermostat says, add at least 10 degrees due to your baby oven. The oil is not much better.

My skin has always been acne prone, but nothing could have prepared me for the horror show that my skin became during pregnancy with my daughters. All that extra estrogen coursing through my veins made literal mountains out of mole hills on my face. Though I did have fabulous skin when I was pregnant with my son.

You Never Forget Having PUPPS

But while I had no acne, I got the PUPPS (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy) rash late in my pregnancy with him. If you’ve ever had this rash you don’t soon forget it. Imagine taking a whip, setting it on fire and striking it all over your body. Yup, that is the horror of PUPPS and for most women the only real cure is giving birth. For me it got worse AFTER I gave birth.

Every Symptom In The Book

I had almost every pain and problem of pregnancy you read about in the pregnancy bible, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” I spent the majority of my time with my head over a toilet bowl or finding concealed places on the side of the road to toss my cookies. I’ve marked my pregnancy territory over much of Orange and Sullivan Counties.

I had pelvic pain like nobody’s business. I had Braxton Hicks Contractions (a.k.a. practice contractions) so painful I couldn’t walk. So if your doctor, friend or your mom tries to convince you they are painless you can call shenanigans on them.

High Risk Mamas Are My Heroes

I count myself lucky that I only had the most common aches, pains, and challenges of pregnancy. Those mamas with high risk pregnancies, on bed rest for months, you ladies are my heroes. You are a testament to motherly love!

So why I am telling you about my pregnancy miseries? It’s not so you run screaming from the pregnancy test aisle at the drugstore. It’s to let you know that it’s normal. There’s nothing worse than wondering where the hell your glow is? Where is this happy go lucky pregnancy people speak of?

Let’s stop putting unrealistic expectations of pregnancy on new moms. Pregnancy and labor suck out loud. There’s no doubt about it.

Pregnancy Is All About The End Game

Pregnancy is the preview for the coming attraction of parenting. They’ll be many days of worry, many nights of misery and many moments of pure heart melting joy like when you hear your baby’s heartbeat for the first time or when you meet that little person who’s been using your bladder as a trampoline for 9 months. So breathe deep the smell of their little fresh-from-the-womb faces. That’s what makes it all worth it.

Pregnancy is all about the end game. I look at my kids and think, “What wouldn’t I have gone through to have you?” Most people wouldn’t willingly go through the emotional and physical upheaval that pregnancy puts you through without expecting the reward at the end.

The Real Unicorns

If you know a surrogate who selflessly goes through the misery of pregnancy, knowing they are walking away with the scars and no baby, well then my friend there just might be a real life unicorn in your midst. As for the myth of “easy” pregnancy, consider it slayed.

P.S. If you laughed while reading this post and are pregnant or just gave birth and peed a little let me just say, “Welcome to motherhood!”

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent Magazine when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on Money Saving Mom and Mamapedia.

 

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The End of A Chapter

Yesterday I packed the mini-van with a lot of Sydney’s baby gear she no longer uses like her co-sleeper, jumperoo, swing, and walker and I drove it to a local pregnancy support center to donate it. On the outside it may just look like we’re decluttering and we are, but it’s also much more than that. What it really means is an end to our baby years. What it really means is an end of a chapter in our lives.

Perhaps some people go into parenthood with a number in mind. Perhaps they want to replicate the number of siblings they had or create a family they wished they had had growing up. I swore up and down that I was done having babies after my second child was born. I’ve been here before. I’ve given all the gear away. I’ve told myself I wouldn’t ever need the maternity clothes again, but this time it feels different.

Are We Complete?

I’ve asked other women before if they just knew when they were done having babies. Some said they felt a sense that their family was complete. I think others just sit on the bench running out their biological clock till the option isn’t on the table anymore. I suppose until someone gets “fixed” the option is never totally off the table. I can’t say that will ever happen, but the days of us ever trying for another baby are over.

It’s bittersweet. The baby years are something so special and so rare and they go by in the blink of your bleary sleep deprived eyes. We went away for my son Jayden’s birthday this weekend and Sydney slept horribly in our shared hotel room. It took five attempts just to get her to sleep in her pack n play and then she woke up at 2 am wanting to play and we had no other choice but to put her in bed with us so she wouldn’t cry and wake up the other kids. Though we had already decided to pack away the baby years, the next morning solidified our decision. I was wrecked. It’s surprisingly fast, how quickly you forget the sleep deprivation once the veil finally lifts and you can see clearly again. It’s hard to willingly want to go back to that state.

Saying Goodbye To New Beginnings

Don’t get me wrong, the baby years are also some of the best in your life. The pure excitement of a positive pregnancy test, hearing your baby’s heartbeat for the first time or seeing him or her on an ultrasound for the first time are incredible. I will miss those moments, standing on the precipice of a new beginning.  Falling in love at first sight has only ever happened when meeting my babies for the first time; feeling the delicious weight of them in my arms and smelling their perfect newness radiating from their heads and faces. I will miss those beginnings, especially before the work really begins.

I’m not terribly sad to never get pregnant again, just because my pregnancies are full of vomiting, aches and pains, sometimes rashes that are so bad you’d like to rip your skin off, and Braxton Hicks contractions so painful you can’t move. Whoever said they were painless was full of it. The idea of never visiting the labor room again or enduring between 12-20 hours of labor seems like a relief. But I know I’m feeling all this now because my youngest is only 15 months old and while we’re knee deep into toddler town, she’s still a baby. It’s hard to make the call when you have a baby in the house. There is no “baby void” to fill. But I know I can’t afford to wait years for that void to grow. While I’m not physically old, 35 is now the new “advanced maternal age” when it comes to birthing babies. I know I don’t have two or three years to decide to have another child.

Beyond that my older children are beginning to take on more activities. They both do scouting and now basketball. There seriously NEEDS to be a support group for sports parents. All the running around, cooking dinner at 4 in the afternoon and trying to cover who is going to pick them up at 8 pm is enough to drive you to drink. It’s only made more complicated when you have a baby that goes to bed at 7 pm. I don’t know how much juggling is truly in me.

The Last of The Firsts

The only real regret I have is not knowing at the time, that it would be my last positive pregnancy test or heartbeat to be heard or sonogram picture to hold tight. I didn’t know that it would be the last time I swaddled a newborn and brought them home from the hospital. I didn’t know that her first birthday would be the last first birthday I would see. I wish I had known so I could have held tighter to those moments instead of them passing by in a haze. Even though I strongly suspected she would be my last, there’s a big difference between suspecting and knowing.

At what point after you make the decision, do you feel completely at ease with it instead of feeling the bittersweetness of it all? Do years need to pass? Does it ever go away? A part of me is relieved I won’t have to endure the challenges of the baby years. A part of me is glad to see the big clunky baby gear find it’s way to a new baby in a different household. It feels good to clear out my house, but it also feels sad to clear out the hope in my heart. I am simultaneously glad and sad. It’s sort of strange to close a door in your life and say this chapter is definitely over.

Yes, it’s hard to say goodbye to the baby years. There are things I will miss like the weight of an infant napping on my chest. I may miss nursing or rocking a baby. I probably won’t miss diaper explosions and three-a-day outfit changes. I won’t miss being so tired that my fuse is super short and EVERY LITTLE THING feels like a mountain I can’t climb. I won’t miss the miseries of pregnancy or the pain of labor. I will probably always miss the reward at the end though.

Writing New Chapters

I know I need to just keep looking forward. I need to write new chapters with my husband, Hannah, Jayden, and Sydney. I need to seek out new moments to look forward too. I know before I know it there will be middle school, then high school, proms and graduations. I know there will be MANY more firsts to come, but there will also be a lot of “lasts” as well. The last time I will potty train a child. Ok, that one is probably a good thing. But it takes a “last time” to FINALLY come to see those “first times” clearly. There is good and there is bad to everything. The baby years are amazing and special, but they’re also super hard, frustrating and draining.

Surprisingly I didn't cry when I packed up the baby gear to donate, but I know there will be a day in the future where I do.

Surprisingly I didn’t cry when I packed up the baby gear to donate, but I know there will be a day in the future when I will.

So to all the other moms who’ve decided to close up shop and say the days of making babies is over, I’m with you. I feel how bittersweet this goodbye is. I think it’s why most of us avoid making this decision. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to say nothing out loud and just run out the clock, but I realize that if you really love the game you gotta leave on your own terms. Ultimately, I would want it to be a choice my husband and I make together, just like we did when we decided to start a family. So I will say my goodbyes to the baby years and maybe once Sydney is 3 or 4 I will sit down and have a good cry about it.

I’m not unhappy with three great kids. I wonder if four would push me into insanity, but the truth is that any more than one child will do that anyway. When you make it through the baby years and decide to go back, that’s the insane part. Love will do that to you. It’ll make you forget how hard it all was. So on that day when I’m having my good cry, I’ll try and remind myself how tired I was, how scared, how fragile it all seemed and I hope I’ll remember why we decided it was time to close this chapter in our lives.

It seems like you hit your twenties, get married and then people start asking you when you’re going to start a family. Then you have your first child and people lavish you with attention. In fact, the parade of people coming to visit your first-born in the hospital seems endless and overwhelming. By your second you get a few visitors and after that you’re lucky if anyone comes at all.

Whether you have one child or ten, I believe each one is a blessing.

Whether you have one child or ten, I believe each one is a blessing.

All The Hype Is Reserved For The First Baby

There is so much expectation and excitement for your first baby. Yet after your second you might start to hear this question, “So, you’re done now right?” I had a daughter and then a son, so of course people assumed the only reason to want another, namely having a child of a different gender, was a moot point for me. I’ll admit that I thought that too. After Jayden was born I thought, “I’m done now.” So much so that I sold all the baby gear with the exception of the crib. Perhaps that was a sign I wasn’t ready to put the closed sign on the old uterus just yet.

Are You Done Now?

After a year and half of convincing my husband, we should have a third he FINALLY agreed. Today, I’m celebrating my little Sydney’s first birthday. I still get asked, “So, you’re done now right?” Ironically, I also get asked, “Are you going to have another and round it out?” I’ll be honest. I have no idea what the future holds, only that I’m open to whatever comes my way. If we never have another child, I will be ok with the three gifts I have. If we decide to have another, I know I will love him or her every bit as much as I love my other children. The only thing I’m sure of is that I no longer believe in talking in absolutes. Even my husband who tells me he is “sure” we’re done will not let me sell the baby gear just yet. I think after having to repurchase a lot of things after we were “sure” last time we said we were done he has learned not to speak in absolutes either.

Fascination With Family Size

I have no clue why people seem so invested in other people’s family size. I do know that TLC and other TV stations have made a lot of money exploiting that fascination. I’ll admit that I get caught up in it too. I wrote a post about my friend Stephani because I’m fascinated with how she not only survives taking care of six kids every day, but how she thrives doing it. Big families that were once the norm are not anymore. Now it’s two kids, and three is quickly becoming the new two. Anything beyond that and you probably get the aforementioned question all the time, as if it’s anyone’s business anyway. So how do we go from welcoming a child as a blessing to seeing adding another child as a burden?

Some people thought there was no reason to have a third child since I already had a girl and a boy, but we just celebrated Sydney's first birthday and I couldn't be happier that we decided to have her.

Some people thought there was no reason to have a third child since I already had a girl and a boy, but we just celebrated Sydney’s first birthday and I couldn’t be happier that we decided to have her.

A Loaded Question

The truth is I don’t know, but if you do please fill me in. The only thing I know for certain is that what one person may see as a burden, another might see as a blessing. I was surprised when my friend Stephani said that she had a lady at the supermarket tell her she was blessed with all six of her children. Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me, but I would have expected for her to hear a rude comment instead. What I would LOVE is if everyone just stopped asking. They don’t understand that it’s a loaded question, fraught with emotional pitfalls. For some, asking if a person is going to have more hurts because of a fertility issue or miscarriages or a hundred other reasons that may be private. For others, the implication that having more children would be a burden hurts because they celebrate each child like the first one.

Only Time Will Tell

Before I got pregnant with my third, my step dad used to tell me all the time “Oh you don’t want any more.” I would tell him that, “as a matter of fact I do.” Well here I am celebrating my little blessing today. Sydney is so loved. Her presence in our lives seems so precious and just like my other kids, I truly could not picture my life, our lives, without her. So if you really want to know if a person is going to have more kids, you’ll just have to stay tuned. Maybe you’ll get a pregnancy announcement and maybe you won’t. As for me, all I know is that adding to your family may divide your attention, but it also multiplies your love.

Did you know you were done having kids or did you just run out the clock on your fertile years?

I sometimes wonder if the term “baby bump” was created specifically to “out” pregnant celebrities. Every tabloid cover is filled with pictures of celebs sporting the tiniest little nothing of a stomach with a circle around it questioning if she is in fact pregnant. Pregnancy creates some crazy speculation in people. Is she pregnant or just getting fat? When is she due? Is it a boy or a girl? Most of the time the concern is all in good fun or to avoid an embarrassing mistake like assuming a woman who has gained a few pounds is pregnant. I think the reason is this – the mystery and power of a woman’s body being able to give birth to another human being is just so crazy and awe-inspiring at the same time. But what nobody tell you is that “the bump” many times doesn’t go away just because the baby is out.

My husband with baby Hannah. Will created "the baby bump" as a non-verbal way to communicate "I love you" to our baby.

My husband with baby Hannah. Will created “the baby bump” as a non-verbal way to communicate “I love you” to our baby.

Those Awkward Teen Years

I’ve always been amazed at the moment right after giving birth where your stomach seems to deflate almost like a balloon as soon as the baby comes out. Then months later I look in the mirror and think, “yup, looks like my stomach deflated alright.” BUT I’ve learned to look once and then let it go. I’ve spent so many of my teen years feeling uncomfortable in my own skin; teased for being too skinny, being flat chested, having braces, etc. I wish I could go back in time and smack myself for not appreciating my body, for letting others make me feel bad about myself, and feeling like if only I could change x, y or z then I could actually be pretty. I wasted my youth, waiting for the stars of adolescence to align perfectly in order to be happy with myself.

Body Image Struggles

Anyone who knows me, knows that my 30’s have brought the era of the “I don’t give an F@#$.” It’s made life a lot more beautiful let me tell you. I no longer care what others think about me and there is something so incredibly freeing in that. But the more important question to ask is this, “How do I feel about me?” I’m ok with who I am as a person, but what about my appearance now that my body has undergone four pregnancies and three births. As I was typing I was tempted to say three pregnancies, but that wouldn’t be accurate. I lost my first pregnancy at only six weeks. For all my early angst about my body, losing my baby is the only time I ever really looked at my body and said “I hate you.”

Making A Deal

I literally begged it to stop bleeding out the baby I wanted so badly. It was the one moment in my life I really didn’t want to be in my own skin. So when I made it past the first trimester with my oldest daughter Hannah I made a silent agreement with my body that I wouldn’t criticize it anymore. It was giving me another chance, one I wouldn’t squander by lamenting my stretch marks. I remember my mother touching my very pregnant belly and saying, “My God Erin, you don’t have any stretch marks.” Well, that WAS the case until two weeks before I gave birth to my beautiful daughter. Then came Jay who weighed nearly 9 pounds at birth and brought the additional complication of gallstones for which I had to have my gallbladder removed when he was just 2 months old. So add to the sketch mark collection some surgical scars and a botched hernia repair which permanently changed my belly button from an innie to a halfie – still in but kinda trying to come out. By the time I got pregnant with Sydney I just stopped seeing any of it.

Bye Bye Bikini

I’ve really never been the bikini wearer, even when I was younger and could have pulled it off. But after I became a mom I knew I was saying goodbye to the possibility forever. So there are women out there who have babies and go on as if nothing has changed. My sister is a good example. Her vacation photos of her in a bikini at the beach with her three kids is nothing short of envious. BUT I think it’s the exceptions to the rule that screw women up forever. We look at them and think well if I only do x,y, or z I can look like that too. But pregnancy does things to a woman’s body that make it impossible to go back to the same body you once had. How many of us are still pining away for that pre-baby body? Maybe we always will, much like if we are blessed enough to live till we’re old we’ll lament our non-wrinkled faces.

The Human Growth Chart

But do me a favor ladies, next time you look at your body and see the markers of pregnancy don’t wish them away. Don’t think of them as battle scars. Instead see them as a growth chart. Trace each line of the growth of your precious baby or babies. There are women who would gladly sport your so-called “flaws” if it meant they had a baby in their arms. Jennifer Garner said it best when she named her post-baby bump Violet, Sam, and Sera. She’s proud of her body not for what it looks like, but for what it gave her and we could all take her lead on that.

 

The New Definition of “Baby Bump”

So if I may submit for your consideration a new definition of “baby bump.” When Hannah was a baby, my husband invented a silent communication of “I love you” to our child. He leaned his head towards hers and she did the same, culminating in “the baby bump.” It’s a tradition we’ve carried on with our son and soon it will be Sydney’s turn to learn “the baby bump.” Because of my husband’s invention my kids have been saying “I love you” long before they could talk. I’m willing to lend you our family tradition if you want to try it with your babies. Let’s reclaim “the bump” in the name of love and gratitude for the precious gift of life and start loving our bodies because no matter how “flawed” anyone thinks they are, they are pretty freaking awesome!

So I had another blog post in mind, but all I can truly think about is – when is this baby going to come? Somebody said to my husband the other day, “Wow, it seems like your wife’s pregnancy just flew by.” Better that they said it to him than me, because I would have said, “Oh HELL no it didn’t.” Even my husband said to me, “It feels like you’ve been pregnant forever.” This is what happens when you get to this late stage in the game; it’s now time to sit back and wait for labor to start. I feel like an egg about to hatch or a bomb waiting to go off.

38 weeks pregnant
Me two weeks ago (38 weeks pregnant). Due July 23rd.

It could happen anytime, anywhere like while picking up my kids from camp, in the grocery store aisle, or in the middle of the night. I imagine all the possible scenarios and it’s driving me nuts. Being 39 weeks pregnant in the middle of July has its own challenges. I thank God that I have central air conditioning in my house or else I’d be in a constant state of misery. I pass the time reading birth stories online, cleaning my house, or whatever I can think of to take my mind off my dread and impatience of my imminent labor. I think pregnancy is designed this way so that you get so sick of being pregnant that you think, “Ok fine, bring on labor if it means that I can just roll over in bed at night again or won’t have to waddle around everywhere.” In an effort not to focus on the waiting game, here is my distraction game plan.

First day of camp
Camp has been a great experience for the kids
and it will keep them entertained during the early
weeks with a newborn when I can’t do as many fun
summer activities with them. I was super lucky that
my school used a grant to cover tuition for the first 150
kids who signed up. You can bet Discount Diva sent her
applications out pronto.

1. Get out of the house – I’m going to try and get out of my house as much as possible. Whether that means going to a friend’s house, taking the kids to the town pool, or just going to the library or grocery store.  The less I’m inside the better. Why? Because at home I’m surrounded by my stockpile of diapers and unused baby gear just waiting for my daughter’s arrival. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on heading too far from home just in case.

Jay town pool
It’s been fun watching Jay get really brave in the pool.
He’s been trying to swim underwater this year.

Hannah passed her 5 ft. swim test at camp so I take my
water babies to the pool as much as I can before baby girl
arrives.

2. Redirect my focus– With everyone who sees my massive belly asking me when I’m due, it’s going to be challenging. I’m going to try and work with Jay to get him ready for Kindergarten. My library has these great new literacy kits for kids ages 2-4. I picked one up for Jay and it’s filled with books, puzzles and phonics cards to help get him ready for Kindergarten. He’s actually enjoying it, even if it’s only for 5 minutes at a clip which is the limit of his attention span at the moment. So I’ll be working with him on his letter and letter sounds while I still have time to devote to it before the baby comes and demands a lot of my attention.

library kits
Fallsburg Library got a grant to put together these
awesome literacy kits for young children filled with
books, puzzles and games that teach phonics and
foster a love of learning. Read the other reasons I love
the library.
 

3. Vow to stay off online contraction timers – While they do come in handy for keeping track of the length and frequency of contractions, when you’ve had as many bouts of false labor as I have they just frustrate the heck out of you. The truth is, this isn’t my first trip to labor town and what they say is true – When you’re in labor you know it. They’re referring to active labor of course, not early labor which is easily mistaken for Braxton Hicks (in my case many times now). When active labor starts, contractions take your breath away and it’s like time stops while you’re having one. You can’t walk, talk or focus on anything around you.

Diaper stockpile
My stockpile of diapers (bought on sale with coupons
of course) and baby gear sits ready and waiting.

So while I hate this waiting game, I do realize that this is what I signed up for. Remember my baby fever blogger-vention? Sure there is something to be said for scheduled inductions or C-sections and being able to plan for childcare for your other children or just being better prepared, but there is also something magical about letting your baby choose their own birthday. It may not be convenient as is often the case and I struggle not to freak out whenever my husband is more than 20 minutes from home, but I know that I can’t appease my inner control freak.

Labor and childbirth is a roller coaster. Once you board, there’s no getting off till the ride is over.  

So if you’re in the homestretch like me and playing the waiting game, take hope ladies; the ride will start at some point. I have mere days on the clock so wish me luck and hopefully next time you hear from me I’ll be a mommy of three.

As I mentioned last week, I’m closing in on D-Day with just about three weeks till I give birth to my third child and the anxiety about going through labor again is kicking in. If you weren’t completely traumatized by my last post about the top 10 things nobody warned you about labor, then read on. If not, hopefully it’s not to late to consider surrogacy.

The closer I get, the more my memory comes back in healthy anxiety-producing flashbacks, but I know the crazy body changes don’t stop once the baby is out. If you’re a first time mom you may want to turn back now, but I always aim to prepare with the truth and dose it with just enough humor so that you don’t go running for the hills. So here are the top 5 hilarious and weird changes your body goes through after your baby is born.

1. Am I Bleeding To Death? – The nurses warned me about the size of the blood clots I would see when I went to the bathroom, but that still didn’t prepare me for that one massive clot that had me frantically pushing the call button, sure I was bleeding to death. I can’t speak to the C-section mamas because I never had one, but massive clots and heavy bleeding are pretty standard after giving birth. Invest in the most ginormous pads you can find, and granny panties you don’t mind throwing away if they get super gross. I snagged a few extra pairs of those mesh disposable undies from the hospital. Dermoplast spray and Tuck’s pads (witch hazel) are tremendously comforting, especially if you’ve had stitches. They also give you a squeeze bottle for warm water rinses which also helps. Be prepared for your bathroom routine to take twice as long as usual between all these different steps.

2. Sweat Much? – I don’t consider myself someone who sweats a lot, even while exercising so I was shocked to wake up days after giving birth with damp and matted hair, completely covered in sweat. Nobody ever warned me that this is how your body gets rid of a lot of the excess fluid it takes on during pregnancy. Wear some loose clothing and be prepared to change the sheets. It’s not a matter of being too hot so you just have to go along for the ride on this one.

 

3. Well HEEELLLOOO Dolly – I know some women would be thrilled to wake up one day with their boobs double their normal size. However, nobody quite prepares you to suddenly find yourself as busty as Dolly Parton. On about the third post-pardom day (it could be the second or fourth) your milk will come in and when it does holly crap does it come in. Your breasts will feel huge, hot, and hard as rocks. It’s not the most pleasant feeling as you can imagine, so invest in some ice packs to stuff into your bra and heavy duty nursing pads. Some women swear by putting cabbage leaves in their bras, but I just don’t know if I can get past the idea of cooking cabbage in my bra. I hate the smell of it cooking in my house let alone having it on me. But hey whatever works.

If you’re breastfeeding keep feeding your baby, but don’t worry if they stop frequently and cough or choke a little. Unlike the manufactured nipples you buy for bottles, yours only come in one flow and it’s your baby that adjusts by slowing down while eating and yes, spitting or choking a little. Don’t worry, you aren’t drowning them. The day your milk comes in you will have way more supply then your baby could possibly eat so don’t force them to drink more than they can handle. Instead pump just enough to take the edge off. But be warned, pump too thoroughly and your body will just produce more, prolonging engorgement. It’s a perfect supply and demand system. Instead try ice packs and a couple of IB profin and know that the worst of it will be over by tomorrow.

4. Cry It Out – Your baby isn’t the only one who’ll be crying when you bring him or her home. Your body is going through the process of dealing with a tremendous flood of hormones after giving birth. You may cry or feel sad for seemingly no reason. With my first child I remember having a conversation with my grandmother the day I brought her home. She asked me if I was going back to work and when I said yes she said, “Why? You wanted that baby so much.” Now I love and miss my grandmother dearly and in her defense she had no idea that I had a miscarriage before getting pregnant with my daughter and how desperate I was to get pregnant again as soon as the doctor gave us the green light.

But it was the spark that started a two week long cry fest. I would hold her in my arms and look at her little face and wonder how I could possibly hand her over to strangers at a daycare in a few short months. Because of my grandmother I hatched my job-share plan so I could work part-time and my mother could watch her. It’s an arrangement that worked brilliantly for four years before my company entered into a merger. I am so grateful to my grandmother, whose well-meaning but painful question gave me the courage and creativity to create the work/life balance I wanted and of course to my boss and family who supported me.

I can’t speak to Postpartum Depression, except to say that mood swings, sadness, and crying are normal right after birth but if you keep experiencing symptoms long after the baby arrives you should seek the advice of your doctor. It’s a real thing and there is help for it, so don’t be afraid to ask.

 

5. Incontinent? That Depends – Ok so I’m entitled to the occasional corny joke. I really didn’t expect this symptom after I had my first child. I think it’s because I pushed for an hour to bring her into the world, that I temporarily lost some feeling and I had no idea I had to pee until I was practically peeing my pants. It was all I could do to find a safe place to put my daughter down and run to the bathroom. The doctor assured me it was perfectly normal, but I guess this is another reason those ginormous pads come in handy and the granny panties you don’t mind tossing in the trash if need be.

And you thought it only took blood, sweat and tears to bring your baby into the world. Well, you still experience them after delivery as well. Whoever said pregnancy was a beautiful thing was never a pregnant woman. Sure the miracle of growing a baby inside you is pretty awesome, but all the weird changes that happen to your body can be pretty weird, gross, and scary. I always tell people you don’t forget how hard pregnancy and childbirth are, but you look at your child and think, “What wouldn’t I have gone through for you?” It’s a good mantra to repeat when they hit about age three and you want to tear your hair out, but that’s for another day and another post.

What was the most surprising thing your body went through after having a baby?

 

I’m officially in the home stretch of pregnancy with 4 weeks to go, so I’m not going to lie I’m truly starting to panic. I feel like I’ve got to keep it real with you. Whoever said that you forget the pain of childbirth was a liar. I don’t think you ever forget what labor is like. Sure, if you’re one of the lucky ones you may be able to block it out, but as for me and the rest of the mamas out there I can safely say that you can experience a kind of Post Traumatic Labor Disorder (PTLD). Ok so I clearly made this up, but trust me the anxiety and flashbacks are very real.

Labor Photo 1

Enjoying my one hour of pain relief right after getting
an epidural during the birth of my daughter Hannah.
Little did I know it would wear off.

A Baby Story

I can safely say that I miss the days in my pregnancy with my first daughter, when I only had a vague idea of how bad labor would suck. Ignorance and pain killers are truly bliss when it comes to labor. During my second pregnancy I started binge watching TLC’s A Baby Story as I got closer to D-Day (Delivery Day).

16 And Pregnant

Call it a sick kind of torture, but I find myself doing it again this time with (palm to face) MTV’s 16 And Pregnant of all shows. I think it’s part mental prep and part coping mechanism. I mean these young girls surely can’t be as prepared as a veteran mom like myself, right? Surely it wasn’t as bad as I recall, right? WRONG. I don’t want to be like all those, “oh you’ll forget the pain when you see your baby” women who don’t prepare other women for what it’s really like. So here the top 10 things I wish someone had told me about before I had my first child. Some are truly gross and hilarious so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

1. Induction hurts like a B**** – For my first go round I was induced and the pain started immediately. With baby #2 I went into labor on my own and didn’t feel any pain until I hit active labor at 4 cm. If I could go back in time, I would have forgone the induction, which in my case I opted for simply because I was absolutely miserable in the August heat.

2. You CAN forget to breathe – Ok, I know it totally sounds laughable and you’re probably picturing a sitcom where the husband keeps telling his laboring wife to breathe while she does these crazy rythmic huffs and puffs. Truth be told, my contractions got so bad with my first I didn’t even realize I was holding my breath through them. I also did a lot of hyperventilating, which I didn’t know I was doing until I asked the nurse why I felt so dizzy. Luckily I had my husband and sister-in-law talk me into slowing down my breathing, but I still needed an oxygen mask on while I pushed.

3. Pushing is NOT the WORST part – the contractions will be so painful you’ll be dying for the moment you are finally told, “ok it’s time to push.” It may be the part that freaks us out the most, but honestly it’s a huge relief and it means you’re just about done.

Labor Photo 2
Contractions are the pain you remember most.
Pushing is a relief because it mean’s you’re almost done.

4. It is possible to push the WRONG way – If you were like me, you’d seen countless movies that made pushing look like the ab workout of a lifetime. Boy are they wrong! After my nurses scolded me and scared the crap out of me by telling me I was doing it wrong, they made my husband play tug of war with a bed sheet to get me to push right. The correct way you ask? It’s to push like you’re pooping. Yes, indeed. Gross, but tis true, which brings me to #5.

5. Get ready for the grossness – I hear it’s normal for some women to poop while pushing. Like I said, you are doing it the same way so go figure this would happen. I don’t think I did it, but I hear nurses are so quick and discreet in cleaning it up that you may never know if you did anyway. Beyond the possibility of pooping, there’s a great chance you’ll vomit at some point during labor and I’ve heard of people peeing the bed as well.

Let’s face it, while we would like to be in control of our bodies, during labor our bodies take over and we’re pretty much just along for the ride. Truth be told there is no room for embarrassment during labor. You become single minded and you’re only thought is “Get this baby out, NOW!”

6. There’s no way to predict it – You could be in labor for 36 hours or just a few and there’s no way to know which. It would have been great if my nurse didn’t remind me it could take awhile while I was laboring with my first. That’s truly on the list of things NOT to say to a woman in labor. It could be quick as well and you could find yourself urging the doctor to “hurry the hell up” because he’s just casually strolling into your room while you’re fighting the urge to push your baby out while the nurses frantically prepare everything.

Ok so I only said, “Could you hurry up.” But looking back on my second labor experience, I think I was laboring down for a good 45 minutes while I was waiting to push. That means my son was working his way down the canal, which is probably why it hurt like a B**** despite my fabulous epidural those last 45 minutes and why he came out in only 3 pushes. Once you’re on the rollarcoaster there is no getting off till the ride is over. And by the way it’s totally normal to say, “I can’t do it” a LOT during labor, but you do find inner strength you didn’t know you had.

7. Pain relief does NOT work perfectly – I felt a thousand times better once I got my epidural 6 hours into labor with my daughter, that is until an hour later when it wore off. Since I was in active labor and had my water broken for me at that point, feeling the pain at its new level of intensity was truly the worst. It took an hour to get the anesthesiologist back in the room since he was in the OR assisting with an emergency c-section. Despite my hour of pushing, this hour of waiting for a second dose of pain relief was the worst hour of the entire 12.

With my second they gave me a drug called Stadol while I awaited my epidural. I can’t recall if it helped much with the pain because it literally knocked me unconsious, that is until I came to every few minutes when my blood pressure cuff went off. It was like a bad cartoon. People would be standing on one side of the room and then the other in what felt like seconds. Imperfect as it is, you can bet I will be getting pain relief during labor this time around. I applaud the women that can do without it, but I don’t aspire to be like those women. Call me selfish, but I’m in it for the baby in the end and the labor is really not a “special experience” so much as a “trial by fire” I need to get through in order to have my precious child.

 8. Modesty is NOT an option – I’m probably one of the most modest people I know and the idea of someone looking at my downstairs really freaked me out  before I went into labor with my first child. By the time I had to push however I didn’t bat an eye when my sister in law asked to watch my daughter coming out. I had other things to think about besides my lady parts being exposed to the world. But I will tell you that I kept my socks on as my small act of modesty. LOL Ironically it did make me feel a little better, though it’s not like anyone was looking at my feet.

9. You’re not done yet! – I remember a sort of denial setting in as my daughter was placed all purple and white on my belly. “She’s really out,” I said, even though I could plainly see her. I was like, “Oh thank God it’s over.” Little did I realize I had to wait while the placenta came out and during what felt like a hundred stitches being placed. I was so over people touching me by this point, but it’s something you just gotta put up with.

With my second, the doctor was pressing hard on my belly, massaging my uterus after my son came out. Little did I know he was just trying to stop what was a very large hemorrhage. Luckily he stopped it, but at the time all I knew was that it was supposed to be over at this point and he was hurting my belly. The ghostly look on my sister-in-law’s face just told me I better shut up and deal with it.

10. The second the baby is out, you’re chopped liver – The second the baby is out, everyone is all about the baby. My husband was too busy counting the baby’s fingers and toes to pay any attention to me and I get it, but it still kind of stinks when you’re still in pain and nobody is left standing by your side. Of course you care about your baby too, but sometimes motherhood doesn’t “hit you” so much as “settles in.” With my first it wasn’t until a few hours later that I was  like, “wow, I’m really a mom now.” With my second it was the instant I held my son. No matter when the feeling hits, that feeling of overwhelming love is incredible. This single moment makes you feel like you just won the greatest battle of all time and this little being is a symbol of your victory.

Labor Photo 3
Of course this is why we all do it – our children.

So if you ask me, nobody ever “forgets” how bad labor is, they just choose ignorance and denial as their refuge. It’s a survival instinct to push the trauma way down deep into your psyche so it doesn’t threaten to choke you. You don’t really need to relive it until you’re like me sitting in your living room, ready to stare down D-Day once again and asking yourself, “why on Earth did I sign up for this again?”

There’s nothing I can do at this point except wait and try not to hyperventilate about it. I try to focus on how much better it will feel to have my body back to myself without the acid reflux, the need to pee every 10 minutes, the sweating and being uncomfortable in the heat, and of course meeting my new daughter face to face.

Read my labor tips in Hudson Valley Parent’s Baby Guide. What was the most unexpected thing that happened to you during labor?

 

You made it! After months of preparation, and hours or days of labor, your baby has arrived and you are both resting peacefully in your recovery room. Or perhaps not so peacefully. For most vaginal deliveries, you and baby will be at the hospital for 48 hours after delivery, and for a cesarean you can expect to spend five days. Even though it is “only” a few days, the discomforts of being away from home can sometimes be discouraging. Here are some practical tips to make your stay at the hospital a little bit more comfortable.
newborn hospital

Pack comfortable clothes. And yes, ladies, I mean maternity clothes. Sorry to say, but it takes nine months to add the baby weight to your body. Delivering an 8 pound baby won’t make it all disappear right away. Pack comfortable lounging clothes to wear in the hospital. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable in ‘real’ clothes, rather than a hospital gown that makes you feel like a sick patient. Good options may be loose-fitting yoga pants, or maternity leggings. If you plan on nursing, you may want to bring a couple of nursing bras or tanks for convenience. And don’t forget socks and slippers! The hospital gets chilly, particularly the tile floor. (Note: for your own safety, you should only walk around with non skid slippers, or slipper socks. The floors are not only cold, but very slippery if you are only wearing socks).

Bring your own pillow. Hospital beds aren’t known for their comfort, pillows included. Have your partner or another family member bring your favorite pillow from home. This will help you get better sleep (when you can), and make your temporary stay feel more like home.

Allow visitors, or not. Depending on your own personality and how you are feeling, you may or may not be up for visitors at the hospital. Personally, I was feeling pretty isolated and lonely with no one around and wished I had more visitors! Whatever your desires are, make them known to your immediate family to prevent impromptu visits if you feel like just spending some alone time.

Pack snacks. If you thought you were hungry when you were pregnant, be prepared for something altogether new as you start producing breast milk. The first six weeks postpartum my appetite was insatiable. Many local hospitals are pretty good about feeding their pregnant and newly delivered mommies well, but it doesn’t hurt to pack some healthy non perishable snacks from home. Also, no one knows your taste better than you.

Bring your own toiletries. There’s nothing like being able to take a shower or bath in your own home, but brining your own supplies from home is the next best thing. Pack your favorite shampoo and conditioner, body soap, toothpaste, deodorant, and even lotions if you like. Although the hospital will have generic items on hand if you forget, having your own may make you feel better physically and mentally.

Take care of yourself ‘down there.’ If you’ve had a vaginal delivery, odds are you are going to be sore or swollen in your perineal area. This is even more true if you’ve had an episiotomy or tearing of any kind. The hospital and nurses will provide you with large sanitary napkins and disposable undergarments for the duration of your stay. If you want to bring your own underwear from home, I would definitely recommend bringing the granny panties that you wouldn’t mind getting stained and thrown out. You’ll also be given a peri bottle that you can fill with warm water to rinse your vulva with during urination. Use this, and bring it home with you. It will feel like heaven. If you do have any stitches, make sure you know how to take care of yourself once you get home, and know any signs of infection.

Do keep in mind, also, that you have the right to check out of the hospital early if you feel that you and baby are well enough to be home without the monitoring of the medical staff. That is a decision only you and your family can make with your doctor. 

Happy birthing!

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