Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Overcome Your Pregnancy Fears: Birth, Body Image and Marriage

During the last few months of my pregnancy, I was a big (BIG) ball of stress and anxiety. My fears ranged from small (what do I pack in my hospital bag?) to big (what if I don't like kids enough to be a good parent?). 

I was excited about a lot of things, and I was so happy to be becoming a mom, but with that amazing 9-pound baby came more worry and anxiety than I'd ever felt in my life. Everything was unknown, most advice felt unhelpful, and I was overwhelmed. 

I am looking forward to my next pregnancy because there will be far fewer scary unknowns. And while some fears are just not going to subside until you've passed the big day and your baby is here, here are some reasons why you can stop stressing just a little.

In part one of a three-part series (yes, there are that many things to stress about!), I'm going to focus on fears related to birth, your body, and your marriage. In part two we'll look at preparing for baby. 

1. Your body was specifically designed to give birth. You can do it. 
Disclaimer: For those of you reading this who have had difficult birth experiences, please know that I in no way judge or look down on you. Our birth experiences are deeply personal and the last thing we need is criticism from each other. My only goal in offering my feelings about birth is to encourage and empower women to have the best birth experience possible.

If you are anticipating giving birth with great terror, I can understand why. Movies depict women screaming in hospital beds, school health classes don't even teach about natural birth, and your doctor talks about pain, pain, pain. We are taught that birth is a traumatic, dangerous medical event.

But here's the thing, ladies: God designed our bodies beautifully and miraculously to carry and deliver a human being into the world. It's one of the most natural things you'll ever do. The best thing you can do to prepare for labor and delivery is to practice relaxation techniques and focus on positive thinking, not negative thinking. 

Labor is intense, and I believe the reason why most women feel that they have to have drugs is because they go in expecting pain, then feel overwhelmed and out of control. If you are calm and positive during labor instead of fighting your body and focusing on fear, you can have a beautiful, natural birth.

If you'd like to learn more about how to practically prepare to have a natural birth, read about Hypnobirthing here.

2. Your body will be just fine after giving birth. 
As my due date grew closer, I was afraid of what my body would look like in the hours and days after giving birth. My belly was huge, people, and visions of a saggy, deflated balloon for a tummy haunted my dreams. Even though he assured me over and over, I was worried that my husband wouldn't find me attractive. Basically, pregnancy and birth take your body and make it not yours for awhile, and it's scary.

I know everyone's body is different, and how healthy your lifestyle is during pregnancy will affect your recovery. But take heart that after giving birth, I felt completely opposite about my body from what I'd expected. 

After being pregnant for almost 42 weeks, my post-baby body was such a relief. I felt so light and small, even though I did still look about six months pregnant like you've probably been warned. I could lie on my back. My heartburn was gone. My body, though recovering, felt like it was mine again. I didn't have skin hanging down to my knees like I'd worried. Our bodies do take time to recover, but God is incredible. He has designed our bodies to know what to do before, during, and after birth. So be patient and trust your body to do what it needs to. 

Now, more than a year later, I will tell you that my body is not exactly the same as it was before I got pregnant. But, while the world around me says that the only purpose of my body is to stay as youthful and sexy as possible for everyone around me to enjoy, I believe that the joy of giving life and nurturing my son is much better. My body is everything it needs to be, for me, my husband, and my son.

Taking our first family walk at about 5 days old.

3. Your marriage as you know it does not have to end. 
As our baby-free days came to an end, I worried about how becoming parents would change our marriage. I was afraid that once I was a "mom" (said with dreadful emphasis) and not just his wife, my husband would see me differently. He'd still love me, but I wouldn't be as young, attractive or exciting.

I also felt an overwhelming surge of panic in the last weeks of my pregnancy because our "just us" time was ending, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was certain that we wouldn't be the same "us" after the baby was born.

There are two sides to the reality of your marriage once a baby is in the picture. First: You are exhausted. I mean really, really tired. It's true that you and your husband will not feel like yourselves for a few weeks. Caring for a newborn is hard.

But here's the thing: before, you and your husband had each other. Now there is this brand new, incredible human being whom you both desperately love. The feeling of loving your child so much is great. Sharing that feeling with another person is beautiful. And after those first few months, when you start to find a rhythm and get a little sleep and time to yourself, you'll find that you and your husband are still the same people. In fact, my husband and I have a deeper appreciation for each other now that we get to watch each other as parents. God created the family, and it's a good thing.

Fellow mamas, what did you (or do you) stress about during pregnancy? What wisdom have you picked up along the way?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

For the Days your Baby Falls off the Changing Table

First of all, this letter is written to myself. And if I'm the only parent who has had a day like this, that's okay. But if you're having one of these days, I hope it encourages you too.

This is for the days when you're home alone with your baby all day long. You're a little lonely and a little tired.

This is for the days when you work for what feels like hours making a complicated dinner, trying to focus on each step and measurement while listening to your baby make his new beloved whiny noise.

This is for the days when you feel like you're going to lose it just looking at the dirty dishes and sticky countertops after dinner, and you think you'd give anything to have fifteen quiet minutes to yourself to clean in peace.

This is for the days when dinner is finished, the kitchen is clean, and your tired, grumpy toddler only wants to do the particular things that you tell him not to do. You're tired of hearing his complaints and you're tired of hearing yourself say 'no.'

This is for the days when you finally, exasperated, lug him upstairs to his room and lay him on the changing table to get him ready for bed. In your scattered, irritable state, you don't think twice about leaving him across the room to get out his pajamas -- and he rolls right off the changing table. He lands face-first with a thud and lets out a piercing wail that turns your stomach with guilt and floods your heart with terror.

What have I done?

This is for the days when you've comforted, snuggled, and consoled, but when you lay him in his crib he cries and cries, not ready to go to sleep. And it splits you in half to walk out of his room, because part of you knows he just needs sleep and part of you is sure you're the most horrible person who's ever lived.

Eventually, the crying stops. Your baby sleeps.

Another day of motherhood is complete, and you feel entirely crumpled and defeated.

Take heart, Beloved.

These seemingly endless, exhausting, heart-wrenching, strength-testing days are not endless. They are passing and fading away as quickly as your little one's blonde curls are growing; as quickly as his vocabulary of three words becomes five, as quickly as rolling turns to crawling to turns to walking.

Today you wish for quiet, but tomorrow you will ache for that impish grin and devilish giggle as your son climbs the stairs you've told him not to climb again and again and again.

You will ache for the touch of those tiny hands that, today, seem to be grabbing and pulling and clinging to you at every moment. Those tiny hands will be a young man's hands tomorrow, and they will not look for you nearly as often.

Today, you are overwhelmed with guilt when you turn away and he gets a scraped nose, a swollen lip, a skinned knee. Tomorrow you will worry and pray as he fights battles on his own.

Today he is yours, and that is both indescribably beautiful and painfully overwhelming. But soon, he will be his own, and the brunt of these long days will be behind you.

So sit down on the couch, curl up in bed, or lie down in the backyard. Take a deep breath and accept that God's grace is not just for you as a person but for you as a mother. He created you in His image, and He made you the mother of your baby. And though you will never be perfect, raising and nurturing your baby is one of the things you were designed and called to do.

You were not called to meet a standard of perfection. You were not called to be the same as the other moms you know. You were called to love your child. You will do things wrong. You are forgiven.

Breathe in again and thank God for the incredible little life that has been irreversibly linked with yours. Realize that when you think back on these years, you won't think about the sticky countertops or the whiny noises.

You will think about this baby, this child, this person, whom you love with all your heart. And that love is enough. God's love for you is enough. You are enough.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Five Reasons to go to Your Farmer's Market

The older I get, the more I add to my list of Important Things. Here's what I mean: When I first got married, I acquired the Important Thing of cooking some kind of edible food each day. Over time, That one objective morphed into many -- shopping within a grocery budget, learning how to make healthy meals, buying organic when it matters most, meal planning, and making things my toddler will actually eat. So that's my Important Things food list. Then there's mommyhood, ministry, cleaning, organizing, graphic design... you get the idea.

My problem is that as these lists grow, I have a constant nagging feeling that I am forgetting something important; dropping an essential ball. And those 10 Foods You Should Never Eat and 5 Lethal Chemicals in Your Makeup lists that I am always seeing on Facebook don't help. 

If there's a solution to this messy, intersecting web of priorities that I live in, I haven't discovered it yet. But here's a little thing that helps.

A little thing that makes me feel really good, like the day is a grand victory.

Get out of the house (away from lists and dirty dishes), and go on an outing that checks off multiple Important Things in one fell swoop.

It's summer (cue the hallelujah chorus), so today my outing was to the local farmer's market. I live in a deliciously convenient part of Colorado Springs, so ours is just a few minutes away. Some large shopping centers will host farmer's markets one day of the week during the summer. 

Josiah has been fighting the resistance against naps this week, and sitting at home trying to get him to sleep drives me bonkers. So we packed up the stroller and the sunscreen this morning and headed out. 

Here are five Important Things that I feel better about after our trip.

1. Sensory Fun for Toddlers (on the cheap)
During our visit, Josiah got to sample an organic multigrain cookie, hold potatoes, smell handmade soap, eat a honey stick, and see boatloads of other kids. I bought him the honey stick for 50 cents, and everything else was free! Most vendors give out samples, so there are lots of things for little ones to touch and taste. It was a little tricky navigating the stroller around certain vendors, but it took a lot less patience than telling Josiah to get down from the stairs for the fiftieth time, which is what I would have been doing at home.

2. Fresh, Cheap and (sometimes) Organic Produce
At our farmer's market, there is a produce stand where you can fill up a five-pound bag with anything you want for $10. I got tomatoes, broccoli, squash, peppers and more that would've cost more at the grocery store, and they look and taste a lot better because they were grown locally. This particular stand wasn't certified organic, but I've seen others at bigger markets that are. The produce looks so much fresher at farmer's markets, and you're supporting a family who lives near you.

I packed all of this produce into one bag for $10.

3. Natural, Healthier Food
For us, eating healthy includes avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, unhealthy fats and white carbs. It's gotten pretty easy to find whole-grain and natural foods at the grocery store, but a lot of vendors at farmer's markets sell specialty items that are harder to find, like hatch green chile fettucine, or multigrain baking mix without any artificial ingredients. These are fun occasional buys because you can sample it first.
Josiah sampled a cookie made with this yummy NanaCakes baking mix.

4. Natural, Healthier Beauty Products
It's been almost two years since I stopped buying makeup and beauty products with certain ingredients, like parabens and mineral oil (read why here). Safer beauty products are starting to become easier to find, thankfully, as awareness about harmful ingredients increases. It's still a headache, though, reading labels to try to find a tube of mascara or sunscreen that I'm willing to use. Today I found a vendor selling homemade soap. The owner lives in my neighborhood and could tell me everything she puts in the soap that I bought.

This honey oatmeal soap cost me $2.50 from Twelve Springs Soap

5. Exercise and Fresh Air
Just walking outside in the sunshine makes my day better. A friend and I met in a grassy area after shopping and let the kiddos run around. (Or sit around eating graham crackers, in Josiah's case.) Spending time outside in our town gives me a dose of perspective when I'm overwhelmed by my to-dos, and Josiah went straight down for a nap when we got home.

What do you love about your farmer's market? What outings help you and your little ones to have more fun together?