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It’s easy to let fear take on more than its share of control in your life — especially when you’re a parent. Starting in pregnancy, the potential fears can be overwhelming. What if I miscarry? What if my baby has a disability? What if my baby is healthy but has a rare vaccine reaction and develops autism? What if….

The list of things to fear is endless. It can paralyze me if I let it.

When my daughter was about five months old she decided she was a tummy sleeper. She had the ability to roll from her back to her tummy, and every time I placed her on her back to sleep, she would roll over. Being the rational person I am, my response was complete panic. Despite the fact that she was five months old and could easily move her head, I assumed she would suffocate if she slept on her stomach. I flipped her over to her back each time, waking up as often as I could to check on her.

Obviously this was not a peak time for my mental health.

At some point I called the pediatrician, who assured me that if she was able to roll over on her own, her muscle control was good enough that stomach-sleeping wasn’t a concern. Whew! I could check a fear off my list.

Still, then and now, there are more things to fear, rational or not. Anxiety has been an on-and-off problem throughout my life. I once fainted after feeling a lump on my spine in the shower. Cancer. In fact, it was a small patch of infected skin.

I used to let fear hold me back from doing things. In high school, I wanted to try out for the cross-country team but I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, and besides I didn’t really know the other kids on the team. I loved to sing and would’ve enjoyed being in the choir but in middle school the choir director hadn’t allowed me to participate, so I figured I wasn’t choir material.

What if I had continued to let fear prevent me from doing things I should be doing? What if I’d been too scared to volunteer to ride in that cute guy’s truck on the college trip to Sunriver? Ten years later, we’re married with a beautiful daughter. What if I’d been too scared to become a teacher? I would have missed out on two years of impacting the lives of fourth graders, and perhaps more yet to come. What if I’d been too scared to try to become a writer? Or more importantly, a mother?

I want to keep choosing to face my fears, and live life to the fullest each day. I want to, as Teddy Roosevelt said, choose to dare greatly in my life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…who at best knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….” — Teddy Roosevelt

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How have you struggled with fear in parenting or life in general? And, have you ever risked failure in order to achieve a goal?

photo credit: Celestine Chua via photopin cc

 

Books: Recently finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, 2014 PEN/Faulkner award winner. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s a great novel that explores the meaning of family, identity, and human/animal relationships. This would be a good one to discuss in a book group. I miss being in a book group!

Movies: My daughter was thrilled to discover Pocahontas 2 last week. There’s a whole different movie about Pocahontas?! Wow!

Television: Ugh, I’ve been watching too much T.V. lately — hopefully as the weather gets nicer we can spend more evenings walking or visiting the park. Been watching Masterpiece Theatre’s Mr. Selfridge, and also catching up on old Glee episodes. Glee is like junk food for my brain. Or, as Jim Gaffigan said, “McDonald’s of the soul.” I do wish people would spontaneously burst into song and dance more often in my day-to-day life though.

Music: Been enjoying the album Little Seed by Elizabeth Mitchell — covers of Woody Guthrie children’s songs.

Project: Teaching my daughter to sleep alone.

Work: Still working on the accounting & finance articles. Had an interview at a newspaper last week.

Gratitude: Took a fun trip to the beach to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday. Watched sea lions barking on a dock, visited the aquarium, enjoyed raspberry poppyseed Sweet Life cake. Stayed in a great house with my parents and mother-in-law.

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

 

Looking forward to: Picking up our first CSA box this afternoon!

 

My daughter just had her second birthday. It’s been two years since I first held her tiny body in my arms, felt the gentle rise and fall of her breath. Two years since the timeline of my life split in half — before motherhood, after motherhood.

At two years old, my daughter explores the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Celebrating my daughter’s second birthday with a trip to the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

How has motherhood changed me over these two years? Or rather, how is motherhood changing me?

It has given me a new and deeper understanding of what love is. Love is patient, love is kind. Love will let you wipe your snotty nose on its clean sleeve. Love will get up with you at 11 pm and 1 am and again at 3:30 because your teeth hurt and you can’t sleep. Love isn’t grossed out by spit-up or giant poop diapers. Well maybe just a little grossed out.

I had a thought a few weeks ago, perhaps a God-revealed thought: The purpose of life is love. (Ok, I admit this is not a very original idea). If we don’t love others, we are missing the purpose. What does it matter if we’re highly successful in our careers but our lives are devoid of love? Even if we devote our lives to something altruistic, like teaching middle school, but we don’t do it in love — our lives are empty.

So, if our whole purpose for being here on this earth is to learn how to love others — well, what better opportunity than being a wife and a mother? What an opportunity to humbly serve others in love. What a high calling. What a blessing that I have been entrusted with this.

And I’m struck by how much I’ve come to love this tiny person, my daughter. At first she was a stranger who had entered my life like a hurricane, leaving me injured and bewildered. I looked forward to the day when I could go back to an office job and my normal life. But now? I’m so grateful that I have the chance to work from home and spend each day with my daughter.

I’ve always been career-driven and I still would like to have a successful career. But I know now that being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. If you’re a mom – or a dad – I hope you feel the same way.

What have you learned since becoming a parent?

 

Depression is lonely and scary.

Depression is lonely and scary.

Mental health issues carry a stigma, but when we break the silence and talk about them openly they become less scary. I may be wrong, but I think if we’re honest, most people struggle with mental health issues to some degree at some point in their lives.

So, what’s the deal with postpartum depression? Why would a new mom, who has just welcomed a bundle of joy into the world, get depressed?

Perhaps because:

a) postpartum and nursing hormones have thrown her emotions out of whack

b) she hasn’t had more than a 90 minute stretch of sleep in several weeks/months

c) she is socially isolated

d) she has not yet formed an attachment to her newborn, and wonders “who is this helpless creature I’m now spending all my time with?”

e) she spends the vast majority of her day sitting on the couch breastfeeding

f) her body has been severely injured in the process of giving birth

e) she wonders what the f***k has happened to her life

In sum, postpartum depression is understandable. In fact, given all the above, it’s rather remarkable when a new mom doesn’t experience some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.

For my part, I really struggled with depression and anxiety when my daughter was about 3-5 months old. I think I was coping rather well until then, despite the extreme challenges of caring for a newborn. I won’t go into the details in this post, but you can read my post about it here. Or just read the poem if you prefer.

Around three months I no longer felt like I was coping. In retrospect, several things collided to make things a giant awful mess:

1) I lost my job

2) I lost my health insurance

3) my husband started working longer hours

4) I started taking birth control

Although I had told my doctor that I was concerned about postpartum depression (because I have a history of depression) he told me I’d be fine and prescribed me birth control without warning me that it was associated with postpartum depression. Birth control never seemed to affect my moods in the past, so I thought it would be fine. I had also looked forward to going back to work part-time and reconnecting with the outside world, but I lost my job and with it lost my main link to the world beyond my apartment walls. Losing my health insurance made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to have mental health issues because I couldn’t afford access to treatment. So, it was a hard and scary time — I really began to feel like I was losing my grip.

I got through it by becoming involved in as many activities as possible. The first time I took my four- month-old to a library storytime, I almost broke down in tears because it felt so good to be outside of my apartment and around other moms and babies. That fall we also took baby sign language class, mom and baby yoga, and signed up for MOPS. Mom and baby yoga was a lifeline because it was basically a group therapy session for new moms, followed by some yoga. My husband and I also occasionally invited people over for dinners so I could still feel like I had some sort of social life.

Some facets of attachment parenting really helped me as well. One of the scariest aspects of the depression for me was not feeling much attachment to my child. Wearing her in the Ergo carrier during daily walks was incredibly comforting and helped ease my anxiety. Eventually we ended up co-sleeping too, which we still do (I wouldn’t necessarily endorse it but it definitely helps with attachment).

So that’s an abridged version of my story. Slowly I started feeling better, and at this point life feels pretty normal again. Postpartum depression and anxiety can easily happen to anyone, even if you don’t have a history of depression/anxiety. I strongly recommend all new moms join some sort of support group whether it’s MOPS, postpartum yoga, or a new moms group at the local hospital. Just being able to talk to other women who are going through a similar experience as you should be extremely helpful. Also it’s probably wise to avoid any hormonal forms of birth control.

Did you struggle with depression or anxiety after becoming a mom? How did you cope?

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc

The festive busyness of the holiday season is over. A bone-chilling fog, evocative of a dementor infestation, has enshrouded Eugene for the past week. And I have just been informed by Target that the Russian mafia may now be in possession of my personal contact information and credit card number. My instinctive reaction is to sit on the couch with a warm blanket and microwaved popcorn and binge-watch old Parks & Recreation episodes on Netflix. But, this may not be the best way to combat the January Blahs.

Sometimes it take a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Sometimes it takes a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Here are a few of my strategies for boosting my happiness level in this dark and dreary time of year:

1 ) Invest in my spiritual practice

Going to church regularly, reading the Bible and seeking God through prayer are my most important tools for maintaining a positive outlook on life. And the research backs me up on this — religious people tend to consider themselves happier than the nonreligious.

2 ) Keep exercising

Though I don’t feel much like running when the whether is cold and gray, I feel so much happier and relaxed when I do. If you’re not a runner you might try walking, biking, swimming or taking a dance class.

3) Focus on healthy eating

What’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Amidst the craziness of caring for my toddler, I need to remember to fuel my body with fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein — and limit my sugar intake. I also increase my Vitamin D intake in the winter, and take care to continue taking Omega 3 supplements.

4) Plan fun activities

I’ve realized that having something fun to look forward to is important. I used to look forward to weekends, but now that I’m a mom I don’t really have weekends “off.” Also my husband works long stretches of 12 days on and 2 days off. So I’m trying to make the effort to plan little things to look forward to. Last weekend we went to the movies for the first time since before our daughter was born, and in a few months we’re going on an actual vacation. Participating in fun activities also gives the added benefit of having positive memories to look back on. Win-win.

5)  Laugh

Like exercise, laughing releases endorphins and boosts mood. So maybe it’s okay to snuggle up on the couch and watch Parks & Recreation episodes from time to time.

6) Give thanks

It’s easy to take for granted the blessings I do have and instead focus on what I don’t have. Practicing gratitude helps me re-frame my perspective to view my life in a more positive light. Even simple things can be worth expressing thanks for. Some things I’m thankful for today are my morning into the sunshine, my dishwasher, and the lavender latte and pastries my husband brought home for breakfast.

7) Call a friend

Even though I’m rarely alone, I still get lonely from time to time. I mean, conversations with my 1.5-year-old can only go so deep. When I start feeling lonely, I know that it’s on me to reach out to others, rather than wishing that others would reach out to me.

What are some strategies you use to boost your mood when you’re battling the blahs?

 

 

You’re still breastfeeding? How old is your daughter?

Yes, I still nurse my daughter, who is almost 21-months-old.

OK, that’s cool, but this topic makes me uncomfortable. Can we still be friends if I don’t read this article?

Sure, why don’t you check out these photos my husband and I took on our recent hike to the top of Spencer’s Butte. I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable,  but I do think it’s important to raise awareness about this topic.

Are you some kind of breastfeeding activist?

Not exactly. I’ve never been very comfortable nursing in public, and I never nurse her in public now that she eats solid foods regularly. But I would like to live in a society where any woman would feel comfortable nursing in public — since breastmilk is the healthiest possible food you can give a baby.

Is it normal to breastfeed a toddler? I thought you were only supposed to nurse until age 1.

Both the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding until two years or more. Check out this Huffington Post article for more on the topic. True it is not the norm in the U.S., but Americans have very low rates of breastfeeding when compared to the rest of the world.

But doesn’t it hurt? Toddlers have lots of teeth.

Imagine sucking your thumb. Would that hurt? Sometimes babies go through biting phases, but if they want to continue nursing they will learn not to do so.

My pediatrician said there was no medical reason to breastfeed past age 1.

This is what my daughter’s former pediatrician implied, and although he was a very nice man, he was apparently misinformed about this topic. According to the Mayo Clinic “Breast milk is considered the gold standard for infant nutrition…There’s no known age at which breast milk is considered to become nutritionally insignificant for a child.” In addition to high nutritional value, breast milk also contains your antibodies to viruses, which can help your toddler stay healthy while her immune system is still developing. Extended breastfeeding also has many positive benefits to the mother’s health including reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

I weaned my baby when I went back to work at 3 months. Are you trying to make me feel bad about myself?

No way girlfriend. Being a mom is oh so challenging — we’re all just trying to do the best we can, right? In fact, nursing a newborn was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to do, so kudos to you if you made it through these early weeks!

Sleep, glorious sleep.

Sleep, glorious sleep.

 

It’s so confusing. You should just let your baby cry it out and then you can all sleep. Or maybe, your baby will be traumatized for life if you let her cry herself to sleep. What to do?  Despite the claims of one of my high school friends, sleep is in fact a medical necessity. We all need sleep. My daughter is now 19-months-old and I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes so that you can get some well-deserved rest. Some of these tips seem obvious now but are not always so obvious in the crazy postpartum haze. Also I might add that the phrase “sleeping the through night” can be misleading because pediatricians generally consider a 5-hour stretch of sleep to be “sleeping through the night.” So, although some parents supposedly have babies who sleep for 12 hour stretches without any intervention, this probably isn’t what you should expect.

Babies (and adults) need a consistent sleep schedule —

Going to bed, waking up, and napping at the same times each day will help babies know what to expect, and be prepared for sleep when it is time to sleep.

Create a calming bedtime routine —

The bedtime routine helps baby prepare for sleep. Something simple like bath, jammies, teeth brushing and story time works well. Again, this advice also works well for adults. I found that in the newborn days when I had to get up every two hours to nurse, it still helped me tremendously to stick to my own bedtime routine of brushing teeth, washing my face, and getting into pajamas so that I could still feel normal.

Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own —

This was a very difficult and important lesson for me to learn. Although newborns cannot fall asleep on their own and usually need to be rocked or nursed to sleep, between the ages of 3 and 6 months babies begin to have the ability to self-soothe. If you continue rocking or nursing your baby to sleep past this point, they will need you to help them fall back asleep when they naturally wake up in the night.

I got into the habit of rocking Marie to sleep when she was a newborn, and continued to do so until she was about 10 or 11-months-old when I realized we all needed to sleep better. At that point we had gotten into the habit of co-sleeping (I’ll leave that for another post), so we just taught her to fall asleep on her own by lying in bed next to her until she fell asleep. This did involve some crying. But I didn’t feel bad about it because we were right there with her and I knew that this was a skill she had to learn. This has improved our sleep quite a bit during the rare times when she is not teething.

Babies will probably not sleep all night if you nurse them at night —

This is the step we’re working on now. My daughter is certainly old enough not to nurse at night, but since we’ve been co-sleeping, it’s hard to avoid. At the same time, if you’re co-sleeping then night nursing might not disrupt your sleep very much. If you’re not co-sleeping then it certainly will! When and how to night-wean is up to you. Different babies have different needs — my daughter is very thin so I’ve always wanted to feed her as much as possible. I just found a great article that recommends attempted night weaning by 8-9 months and that sounds realistic from my experience. However nursing at night can be very comforting for babies who are painfully teething, which typically continues off and on until about age 2.

 

 

 

Marie is almost 19-months-old and is acquiring new words at quite an impressive speed. It is really fun watching her learn new words. She’s quite the little parrot (so be careful what you say). She even puts words together. Here are a few highlights:

“Baby drives!” You know those grocery carts that have little cars in the front of them? I’ve been letting her ride in those at the store and it is quite the thrill. Last week I pulled into the parking lot at Safeway and she spotted the shopping cart and started yelling, “Baby drives! Baby drives!” You should ask her about it when you see her. She’ll tell you.

Baby drives.

Baby drives.

“Ruuunnnn baby!” In addition to being a good driver, baby is also a skilled runner. She has more space in our new apartment and likes to run back and forth through the living room yelling, “Ruunnnn baby!” Good thing we live in Track City.

“Up above the…” She loves music and enjoys singing this little part of “Twinkle twinkle little star.” Another popular tune is a high-pitched “Why oh why oh why,” a Woody Guthrie song my mom sang over and over to her in the back of the car on the way to Portland.

“One berry.” This little one is a major berry fan, and she likes to shove as many berries into her mouth at a time as possible. Apparently my mom told her that she should only eat one berry at a time, because the next time I fed her berries she looked at me, held up her index finger and said “One berry.” She then held up her next finger and said “two.” Learning to count!

 

 

 

A wise friend recently told me to “never compare your inner world to other people’s outer worlds.” As much as I want to follow this advice, it is very hard to do so. I find that I am always comparing myself to other people’s “outer worlds” and I find myself coming up short.

The problem is, it’s hard to have a good sense of perspective about your own life. If I could look at my life from a distance, what would I think? I don’t think I would be terribly impressed. My life looks pretty ordinary.

But that’s okay.

I often envy others who have impressive careers and make lots of money. Or a medium amount of money (ha). But that is not what life is really about.  I think if your life becomes all about pursuing material success, it will leave you feeling empty. I know that if I prioritized my career over my family and personal relationships that I might enjoy it for awhile but I would regret it eventually. Being a good wife and mother isn’t something that our society really values, but it seems to me that it’s of the utmost importance.

Honestly before I became a stay-at-home I thought being a stay-at-home mom was luxurious. But after realizing the cost of daycare, I think being a working mom is luxurious. You have to have a job that pays enough to make paying for childcare worthwhile. And you get to have an identity aside from being a mom. And you can talk to other adults every day. Wow — sounds amazing.

But realistically I know that being a working mom is also very difficult. Being a mom is hard in these early years. I think it’s harder than being a dad because there is more pressure placed on moms to be the perfect parent.

Yet when my daughter comes up to me in the morning and rubs her nose against mine and says “nose kiss,” it does seem pretty worthwhile.

According to a scientific study published online yesterday, there may be as many as 40 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. And the Milky Way is just one galaxy out of hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe. So the odds seem likely that many of these planets sustain life, and some probably sustain intelligent life. Perhaps more intelligent than ours. Perhaps it’s true that Earth has already been visited by extraterrestrials. Who knows?

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I’ve always assumed that life existed on other planets, so this news is not all that shocking to me. Why would God make such a large universe with just one life-sustaining planet? Going even further than this, it’s possible that there are also other universes. And could there be gateways here on our Earth into these other universes? The back of the old wardrobe, perhaps? Or via tesseract? I’ve always loved fantasy novels where characters suddenly end up in other worlds.

Some people don’t want to believe in life on other planets. The unknown can be scary. And truly, the vastness of our universe is impossible for our puny little human brains to comprehend. But to me, contemplating this just makes me think of how amazing God is. God is so much bigger and more powerful than we can understand. Not only did He create this beautiful planet we call home, He created billions of planets. And yet He also lovingly created you and me. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13). Being a mom has been an incredible journey for me as I’ve seen God’s creation in action in the form of my daughter. There is no way that humans could have randomly evolved without the hand of a Creator behind them. And besides, if there were no Creator, well, then where did the Universe come from? The Big Bang, you say. Yes, indeed — the Big Bang of God’s creation. Some matter had to exist for the Big Bang to occur. That matter had to come from somewhere. A creator.

So, how do you feel about life on other planets? Intrigued? Scared? Apathetic? Does this change your view of God in any way?