Can’t deny it: the link between my childhood and my adulthood

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I am not a perfect parent by any means, if such a thing exists. My now 19-month-old is already a television addict, eats boxed mac and cheese multiple times a week, and didn’t start sleeping through the night until 16 months (partly due to her disposition and partly due to my inconsistent sleep training).

I am not a perfect mother, but often I surprise myself. Like that one week when my daughter caught a cold and slept about half as many hours as she usually does, meaning that I slept only 2-4 hours every night, I managed to still wake up every morning before six o’clock, ready to go to work and ready to love her as much as a well-rested mother does.

But above all, I believe my most valued strength as a mother is my emotional attunement with my child. I have a strong sense of her emotional state, her likes and dislikes. I can sense early on when her needs shift, like when she’s had enough of playing ball or if today is a porridge day rather than a mac and cheese day.

Emotional attunement with my daughter is as natural to me as drinking water. This is partially because I am highly attuned with my own self, sometimes so attuned to the point where I get stuck in my own emotional hurricanes. But otherwise my sensitive and empathic nature has served me well in parenthood.

You might be wondering why I’m highlighting this specific quality. I have a rock-solid belief that a child’s connection with her parents (or other primary caretaker) lays the foundation of how she approaches the world, other people and her self.

The way I am with my child informs her way of expressing herself, if her expressions will be responded to, if the world is a safe or unsafe place, and if she is a lovable or competent person. When I acknowledge her feelings, she knows that she exists, that she is important, that people will take care of her, and that it’s okay for her to express her needs. (For those of you wondering where this is coming from, my beliefs are reflective of what is known in the world of psychology as attachment theory, which is the basis of the attachment parenting approach. This theory states that a child’s relationship with her caregiver in early life is the building block of her psychological development.)

I did not always believe this. When I left home for college, I believed that since I was no longer living with my family and lived a very different lifestyle than theirs, I was officially a separate entity, completely unaffected. My bubble no longer bumped into theirs. Poof, they were gone. And from a distance, I could build a new life and remake myself.

But a number of life’s shit storms forced me to rewind my life and examine my relationship with my parents, particularly in how it has influenced my personality. Why is it that I have perfectionist tendencies? Why is it that when I face something that makes me feel even slightly incompetent, I become paralyzed and want to abandon it? Why do I have trouble asserting myself in relationships? Why do I over accommodate others? Why am I often rigid? Why do I always needs validation from others? These were the questions I began to tackle during my college years. It was not an easy, fun, or fast process. I resented having to revisit my childhood but had little choice.

Like many Chinese immigrant parents I know, mine were emotionally distant, overworked, and just trying to get by. And I’m confident that their parents from pre-Vietnam war era were the same. My parents provided a life for us. We always had home cooked meals, were able to get to and from school, and had occasional outings to theme parks. During my childhood, we spent a lot of time in the same space together but, at the same time, alone in our own worlds. I didn’t feel like I knew my parents in a deep way until I was much older. I’d say that they don’t know me deeply even now.

Interestingly, my parents demanded high expectations for success but in a very hands-off approach. It was a lot of commanding statements like “You need to get straight A’s” without checking that our homework was complete. At the end of the year, they just had to trust that our report cards indicated that we were meeting their expectations.

As teenagers, we had a lot of freedom to do what we wanted. Even though our parents expressed their desires for us not to date or go out past ten o’clock, they never enforced the rules. I’m not sure they had the energy or skills to know how to do that.

Also like many Chinese people, my parents were very loud and very quiet at the same time. Very loud in their speech volume and the intensity of what they talking about, yelling about how tasty the shrimp is—and very quiet in that they were not direct in their communication, rarely talked about feelings or personal stories, and often avoided conflict rather than confronted it.

Analyzing these traits (and some others I’ll refrain from sharing) about my parents and Chinese culture helped fill in the puzzle of my identity crisis. No wonder I had poor boundaries in my relationships. No wonder I had difficulty sharing my feelings with others. No wonder I used my grades, awards, and achievements as a measure of my own self-worth. Whether I liked it or not, the fact was that subconsciously or genetically, I had inherited a large piece of my parents’ way of being and thinking.

About six years ago, I finally came to a place when I no longer blamed my parents for my life challenges and personality flaws. My parents are the products of their own upbringing, culture, and time. And I am the product of mine. They parented the way they did because it was the only way they knew how. We must all accept what is and forgive what can be forgiven.

The more I came to understand about my family of origin, the more I am able to understand myself and what it is I am to do in order to become a good mother. I feel like I’ve spent my whole adulthood fixing what felt like a very deficient person. And I don’t want my daughter to ever feel that way. I don’t want her to spend precious years patching up wounds and compensating for a less than ideal childhood.

There are times when I prefer being static or am simply too tired to work towards change. And there are other times, such as this past four months, when I have energy and enthusiasm for growth. Every day during my current growth cycle, I have reached some sort of milestone in becoming a better wife, daughter, sister, friend, worker, and global citizen. It is no easy task. I am constantly examining what I am doing and asking why I am doing it. I am constantly watching other people and learning from them. I am constantly looking for things that no longer serve me so that I can purge them. It requires so much energy, but I receive more energy from the process as a result.

I am grateful to have more expansive and educated ideas about parenting than my parents did. I am grateful to have a husband who shares similar ideas about parenting. And I’m also grateful that my parents are open to my parenting approach and can see that she is thriving as a result. I aim to grow myself so that I can be a healthy reflection for my daughter.

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My 30 day fast from the media and meat

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A few months ago, I got this nagging voice in my head. It told me that I needed a “reset”. This was the time when the Orlando shooting happened, when racial tension was at a national high due to the recent police shootings, when it felt like terrorists were attacking every corner of every major city, and planes were dropping from the sky.

Not many people know this about me, but I was (key word, was) a news junkie. I watched the local news every morning, listened to National Public Radio (NPR) on my way to work, watched the nighttime news with my husband during dinnertime, read Google News sitting on the toilet, and had a bad habit of clicking on all of the news articles on Facebook that reminded me how terrible the world was. As you can imagine, I was inundated. I normally prided myself in my knowledge of world events. I liked being a well-informed citizen. But in the midst of everything that happened this year, I mostly felt anxious about being in this world. I also felt scared shitless of what world I was bringing my daughter into.

I became well-aware of the extent that the media was controlling my mood and my beliefs. It made me paranoid about being in public places and anxious about strangers on the street. It made me wish I could live in a cave far far away from the evils of the world. This is what happens when we have a media infrastructure that spotlights the terrors of the world and feeds on the resulting fear and anger of its viewers. This type of news cycle keeps us glued to the TV screen/newspaper/internet because we depend on it to stay aware of the dangers of the world.

When this nagging voice inside of my head told me I needed to reset, it reminded me that there are good people in this world and good things happen every day. But when I choose to be a subscriber of negativity-driven media, I am choosing to pollute my mind with fear.

My solution to this was to abstain from the news and social media for one month. On top of that, I threw on an extra challenge of abstaining from meat, a habit that I started when I became pregnant (after being vegetarian and pescatarian for about 10 years) and continued to eat with great guilt after my daughter was born.

To replace the time I normally spent consuming the news, I instead dedicated my time to writing, self-reflection, and developing a daily Buddhist practice. I also chose to view and listen to informational media that would be helpful in advancing my self-understanding.

During this time, I discovered an amazing podcast called “Invisibilia”, a production of NPR.  Its whole theme is about exploring the things that are invisible to the naked eye, touching on topics in the realm of psychology and sociology. In one of their episodes, they interviewed a woman who had a unique set of symptoms in which she could actually feel the physical sensations of other people.  For instance, if she saw someone being choked, she, too, would start to feel as if she was being choked. This rare disorder is called mirror-touch synesthesia. It turns out that one reason why people experience this phenomenon is due to the high activity of their mirror neurons, which is responsible for our ability to understand what others are experiencing and develop empathy for others. People with this type of synesthesia have mirror neurons that are so strong that their brain is tricked into feeling the sensations of everyone around them.

Where am I going with this? No, I don’t have mirror-touch synesthesia, thank God. But learning about this made me realize that my mirror neurons are also very strong but in a different way. Much like how the woman in the podcast feels the physical pain of others, I cringe, cry, and crumble at others’ emotional pain.  I am particularly susceptible to feeling the emotional pain of children and animals.

During my one month fast, I sought to accept and understand my highly sensitive nature. There is even a term for this, I discovered. Someone coined the word empath to describe people who have a deep sense of empathy. This trait is one reason why I thrive in my profession.  But it’s also caused me to feel overwhelmed and overly responsible for the injustices of the world. My deep sense of empathy makes it hard for me to separate my own feelings and experiences from that of other people. It makes it easy for me to absorb other people’s energy and for my energy to leak out. This is why I need lots of alone time so that I can restore my energy.  And this trait explains why I am so affected by media.

Just as an example, I remember vividly when I was in a Southeast Asian Studies course in college. My professor had us watch a documentary about sex trafficking of children in Asia. I couldn’t watch the whole film–I laid my head down for half of it. Afterwards for several days, I remember walking around feeling like I was one of the trafficked children in the film and all of the men around me were johns. I felt disgusted, angered, and victimized. By the way, this is why I no longer watch documentaries.

The month free from media and meat did help me with this particular problem. I developed a keener sense of when I needed to restrict my energy output, such as when I felt very tired or needed an energy reserve for a certain activity. I also tried to limit my exposure to things and people that exhausted me.

At the end of the 30 days, I indeed felt more grounded, calmer, healthier and less pessimistic. But I also knew that I needed to develop a consistent practice in order to reap long term benefits.I’m sharing my practice in this blog post in case it can help any of you reading this:

  1. Abstain from watching the news.  Yep, I decided to do away with watching the news completely.  In the end, I determined that it was a complete waste of my time and energy.  My husband, a news junkie himself, inadvertently has done the same.
  2. Limit the amount of news articles and social media that I consume online.  I’ve figured out that I can click “See less of this” on articles that pop up on my Facebook feed so that I can better filter what I am exposed to. I also reduced the habit of reading the news and scrolling through my Facebook feed on my phone during downtime.
  3. When driving, listen to music or casual talk radio.  I commute about 20 miles each way to and from work. I became aware that listening to NPR or podcasts did not help me unwind from my job during my drive home.  Now, it’s usually Pandora’s Disney station or the local easy listening radio station 🙂
  4. Commit to a daily spiritual practice.  Although I have long believed in and studied Buddhist philosophy, I never declared myself as a Buddhist until recently.  In the last few months, I felt the benefits of a daily practice of Buddhist chanting and praying.  Along with expressing gratitude for the blessings in my life, I pray for the people who I serve in my work, the beings in the world that are suffering, and the spirits that are watching over me. I pray for greater strength and courage to make more positive change in the world. When chanting, I hold in my mind the people who I’ve encountered during my day and send them my blessings.
  5. Study myself intently.  The intense awareness of my thoughts, behaviors and feelings that I practiced in the last few months has benefitted me greatly.  I process what I’ve observed about myself through my writing, sharing with others and in therapy. I feel so much more clarity about what I’m doing and why I am doing it!
  6. Use guided imagery on a daily basis.  (If you don’t know what guided imagery is, click here). The exercise that I use most often is one where I imagine a giant cord that starts at my collar bone and connects to the center of the earth. I direct all of the energy that is not mine to escape from my body to be recycled by the earth.  I then direct all of the energy that I’ve left in other places to return to me in a giant gold orb.  Another one that I learned recently is to imagine that I have a bubble around myself; when I’m feeling overwhelmed or tired, I can direct my bubble to be smaller and closer to my body so that I do not absorb others’ energy as easily.

For those of you reading this, what part of this story resonates with you?  Even though you may not classify yourself as an empath or highly sensitive, how do you find yourself negatively impacted by the media?  What negative habits can you imagine yourself fasting from?

I’m hoping that this writing inspired you, amused you or simply bridged a connection between me and you.

 

 

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Ali Wong, Postpartum Anxiety, and Being a Lazy Ass Mom

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I’ve recently discovered a female comedian who I love more than Tina Fey (…sorry, Tina).  Her name is Ali Wong, a half-Chinese, half-Vietnamese hippie first-time mom. It’s accurate to say that she’s a louder, smarter and more sexually vulgar version of me.

(If you haven’t watched her comedy special “Baby Cobra“, you need to drop what you’re doing and watch it right now! If you just gave birth, stick on a sanitary napkin because you might tinkle from laughing so hard. Here’s a clip below.)

In “Baby Cobra”, she says many outrageous things about culture and feminism that I would never be brave enough to say out loud. I particularly love her commentary on her dream of being a housewife.  She says exactly how I feel about the intersection between my career and motherhood right now:

“I’ve been reading that book by Cheryl Sandberg…she wrote that book that got women all riled up about their careers, talking about how we as women should challenge ourselves, to sit at the table and rise to the top.  And her book is called ‘Lean In’….well, I don’t want to lean in, okay? I wanna lie down. I want to lie the fuck down!”

When I heard that line, my inside voice quietly shrieked,”YES! Someone  understands how I feel!”

It’s true. My idea of a really good day is one where I’m able to plop down on my ashy gray carpet, stare up at the ceiling like a dead corpse, and have nothing waiting for me to do, even if it’s only for ten minutes.  No milk to pump out of my body, no baby cries that need soothing, no dishes to be washed, no toys to pick up, no career milestone to work towards, no exercise to be exercised,  no one to call back or text.

Did I mention that my all-time favorite activity is sleeping? Oh, and my second favorite is dreaming.

As for my career, I am in a line of work that provides great fulfillment and self-growth.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything else, I really wouldn’t. But I just don’t have any aspirations to be “the best” like I did during my overachieving school-age years. I don’t have dreams of being a rising star in my field or to gain prestige in my work.  I don’t want to work towards being a best-selling author or being invited to speak on Dr. Phil. I simply want to go to work, do what is expected, get paid and be able to forget about work when I am home.

I didn’t used to be this unambitious.  From ages fifteen to twenty two, I had been president of four organizations, worked at notable jobs and for notable people, studied abroad, won a leadership award and was sent on a trip to Brazil, volunteered at many non-profits, and was actively working on my life goal of “saving the world”.

Perhaps the selfless toil of that life stage did me in, or motherhood sucked out all desire in me other than to sleep and to keep my child fed and alive, but the truth is that I don’t have lofty life goals anymore.  I just want to have a job that I don’t hate and, most importantly, I want to spend the majority of my time with my family or by myself doing nothing.

Exactly a year ago, I ended my three month maternity leave and returned to my full-time job. In the weeks leading up to this, anxiety was seeping through my skin.  In my heart, I felt that it was too early for me to return to work.  My baby could barely hold her neck up and I was barely adjusted to being around grown-ups again. I knew I was not going to be able to handle working full-time while tending to a household of my baby, husband, dog and mother who was living with me at that time.  But I wanted to attempt it to prove to myself and my husband that I could become one of those “how does she do it?” mother.

You know what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about one of those SuperMoms who work 40-60 hours a week while raising multiple kids, cook three course organic meals every night and is able to train for a triathlon while functioning on 4 hours of sleep every night.  All this, without any coffee or stimulants of any kind.

You may very well be one of those mothers. Don’t worry, I have no resentment towards you, only envy.

I surprised myself during my first week back at work. I was actually feeling optimistic about this whole work-all-day-and-mother-all-night routine. I enjoyed seeing my colleagues again. I didn’t cry every morning when I left my baby like I imagined I would.

But then the second week came, and the shit hit the fan.  The fatigue that collected over many nights of interrupted sleep took over my brain like a white fog. I had trouble concentrating. I had trouble making coherent sentences or talking without the awkward, “Uhh, give me a minute…what is that called again?  Hold on…oh yeah, a ______!”

And on top of that, I was actually expected to start working at my job–I couldn’t just spend the whole day talking to my co-workers about my baby–damn it!  The three times a day pumping schedule was very stressful because my job required me to travel to different sites.  It was hard to know if I would have a private place to pump or if I had to resort to pumping in my car or a bathroom.  During my first few weeks, I had the experience of pumping in the bathroom of a police station and while driving…I know, exciting right?

I began to feel very sad not spending the day with my baby.  My head filled with thoughts of, “I can’t believe I’m missing so many important moments with my baby.  I’ll never have these moments again…” My family life was becoming tense and stressful.  And as if you couldn’t add more rubble onto a crumbling foundation, my Siberian Husky, Julius, became very sick.  Any free time that I had left were spent taking Julius to the vet, cooking a special diet for him, and shoving his medicine down his throat even thought he would spit it up every time.

I’m not sure I knew it at the time, but I believe I experienced postpartum anxiety after I returned to work.  Anxiety is no stranger to me, but I’ve never felt it as intensely as I did during this time. I had chronic thoughts of worry about work when I was home with my baby and chronic thoughts of worry about baby when I was at work.  I worried about my performance at my job and as a mother. I worried about how my husband was adjusting to all of the changes. I worried that my dog was about to die. The chain of worry thoughts slithered through my head and had no end.

I remember a distinct morning when I was sitting at my desk at work, and my body started getting hot just thinking about an extremely minor thing, like whether I put someone’s paperwork in the right envelope.  I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack.

That day, I fully accepted that I was not going to make it as a “how does she do it?” mom.  I couldn’t live up to the expectation of other people wanted me to be, a full-time working mother who could maintain her sanity and a double-income household.

I had no qualms about bringing up my personal difficulties to my supervisor.  As a mother herself, she was extremely supportive of my needs.  She provided me the option of working three days a week at a position that required no traveling.

The hardest part was bringing this up to my husband.  I didn’t want to disappoint him.  I felt weak for not holding it together. Maintaining our current income was very important to him and I felt like I was holding us back in our financial goals. But with everything going on, I knew that there was no other choice for me. Despite my worries, my husband was supportive of the idea of my going down to working three days a week.  We also decided to put our baby in daycare for part of the week which would increase our financial costs but it ultimately was for the best.

It took me a while to get my workload down so that I could officially work 3 days a week but once it happened, I felt like I could breathe again. I was able to practice being present again–no more worrying about work at home and home at work.  I was able to savor every moment with my baby and soak in the joy of my baby’s every new word, gesture, or facial expression.

I still have those moments where I feel I have to prove my worth to myself and my husband.  As archaic as this sounds, I hold the idea that because I’m not a full-time working SuperMom, I am of less value.  I have to make up for that gap in value by the amount of housework that I do and number of homemade meals. I’m completely aware that it’s because I’ve internalized modern-day social ideas that shame stay-at-home moms.  How ironic is that  mothers who stay home to take care of their kids all day–which is often more exhausting than just going to work–have to prove their worth to society! I tell myself this all the time and yet, I haven’t quite figured out how to throw this belief out the window.

Thankfully these beliefs do not rule my life.  I am grateful every day that I’m able to have balance in my life and have the option of working part-time.  I am not a work horse and don’t have the physical or mental stamina right now to work full-time.  Neither would I be able to make it as a full-time stay-at-home mom.  Frankly my baby thrives from the diversity of caretakers throughout the week, and I enjoy still having my foot in the professional world.

Because of my reduced work load and the costs of having a baby (daycare, diapers, replacing socks that disappear into thin air, etc.), we have a very simple life. We don’t have a lot of material things, we don’t eat out often, and our weekend activities usually comprise of library visits, parks and long walks.  But our life is full of joyful moments, together moments, and, now I occasionally have those lying-down-with-nothing-to-do moments.

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One Year of Being a Not-So-Hippie Asian Mom

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A year ago on February 28th, I was rushed into the hospital, shrieking in pain, wheeled into an operating room, and met the shrieking, red-faced, cone-shaped head human that a small Chinese surgeon pulled from my belly. (Picture appropriately attached to match the graphic description).

hippie asian mom baby

I know that many mothers feel euphoria when they meet their babies for the first time.  I cannot say I was one of them.  My labor experience was such an emotional rollercoaster that it wasn’t possible for me to feel the bliss juice that I expected to flood my body.

The first few weeks were rough.  After not sleeping for nearly two days during the hospital stay and then only sleeping in 45 minutes increments after we brought our baby home, my body was wiped.  It was hard to be emotionally available to the baby when I was so exhausted.  During the first three weeks when my husband was on paternity leave, I often asked him to go and play with the baby in a different room so that I could be alone and try to sleep.  Other than my time nursing her, I didn’t really know how to interact with a human so small and vulnerable–and I honestly didn’t have the energy to figure out how to.

Even though I have always been in love with babies and been told by many that I was meant to be a mother, when I actually had a baby I had many moments of feeling unsure about motherhood.  Fortunately, these post-natal depressive thoughts dissipated about a month in.  The joys of being a mother finally started to sink in for me. I began to feel more confident taking care of her.  I started to understand her likes and dislikes.  I learned how to soothe her cries.  When she started interacting with smiles and silly noises, our times together became much more fun.

A year has passed, and I won’t be repeating the cliche thing that I hear most mothers say, “I can’t believe they’re growing up so fast!”  One of my intentions as a mother from the start is to stay present in every moment–good or bad, easy or hard, rested or sleep-deprived.  I wanted to soak in every moment that I had with my baby.  I disciplined myself to not think about work or dwell on worries during my time with her.  I didn’t want to miss a single smile, expression or moment with her.

I truly do not feel like time has got by too fast, not do I feel like it has gone by slowly.  Time has passed by in perfect speed, and I have loved watching the day to day changes that my little one goes through. I attribute this feeling to my be-in-the moment-every-moment approach to life.

I don’t want to brag…but being a mother at this stage has been fairly smooth compared to many mothers I have met who have children of the same age.  I am lucky that my baby has an easy and calm temperament.  She is the type of baby I can bring into a restaurant for long meals, crowded parties or long trips without having to worry if she can handle it.  She is well-balanced in her skills as an observer–able to watch her environment and just take things in without reacting– and as a participant–able to interact with others by waving, making eye contact and displaying interest.  When we are in public, people easily notice her high level of engagement.  We always make lots of friends when we go out.

hippie asian mom baby

One year in, I have no doubt in my mind that I was destined to be a mother.  Since having a baby, I have grown in so many ways as a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a healer.   Being a mother has intensified my love for children and a desire to protect them.  Being a mother is allowing me to re-experience life as a child, heal old wounds, and help create what I believe to be a healthy, joyful life for a little human.

Something that has surprised me–but honestly shouldn’t–is that I’ve become less of a so-called hippie since having a baby.  I’ve long been a staunch believer in not supporting the meat industry as well as an avid believer in making minimal waste.  I’ve always been one to go out of my way to make my lifestyle adhere to my beliefs.  However, after being a vegetarian/pescatarian since high school, I started eating meat again when I was pregnant and now continue to periodically eat meat. I discovered disposable food pouches and occasionally use them as travel baby food.  I primarily uses cloth diapers but find myself not hesitating to use a disposable diaper when I find it to be easier for the occasion or when I feel lazy.

Okay, so I haven’t completely thrown my environmental principles out the window.  But the reality is that I’m not able to be as much of a purist as I used to be or would like to be.  I have conflicting feelings about this.  On one hand, I feel like a complete hypocrite.  I feel like I have submitted to the demands of modern life, prioritizing convenience and self-indulgence over the well-being of nature.  On the other hand, I’m okay with my choices for now because I know (or hope, at least) that they are temporary.  Right now when I am responsible for a newly walking infant who requires an hour to eat a meal, I am extremely protective about every free moment.  And if this means, using a disposable diaper or buying store-bought baby food every once in a while, I shouldn’t beat myself up (…right?).

I am learning that a huge part of being a mother is about practicing compassion.  Compassion for myself when I mess up or when I feel ignorant, irritable, insufficient or lazy.  Compassion for my baby when she is screaming in the middle of the night or refuses to eat the food I spent all afternoon making for her.  Compassion for my husband when we get bicker. Compassion for my family when they give too much unwanted advice.  Compassion for other parents and families.

All in all, I absolutely love being a mom.  Beyond the physical, emotional and financial challenges, beyond the fatigued mornings and washing dishes late into the night, beyond the uncertainties and fears, there has been nothing more joyful than giving life and living life with my child.

And now–it’s time for bed. Until we meet again.

 

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Why do I even try?

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It has been over three months since I last wrote a blog post.

Nearly every night for the past month, I made an attempt to sit my butt down with my laptop fully charged and type something so thought provoking, it would blow the mind of parents and non-parents alike. But alas, those late night writing attempts were hijacked by my baby prematurely waking up for her next feeding, my husband sucking me into watching another Netflix series, the arduous nightly tasks of cleaning up post-dinner and getting my work items and baby’s daycare items ready for the next day, or plain old fatigue dragging me into bed at 9:00 p.m.

One thing I can say I am proud of is that I’ve been able to journal more often, sometimes several nights a week, which is pretty good compared to my previous once-a-month scribbles.  Journaling–which is usually my ranting about the mundane parts of my day in nonsensical, run-on sentences–is different than blogging.  I’m not one of those people who feels confident letting the world read nonsensical, run-on sentences about my daily grind.  For one, I don’t think my daily grind is all that captivating to begin with.

Who really wants to read about how I spent half an hour making a batch of pureed baby food that my baby only ended up eating two tablespoons of?  Or how I almost killed my husband by putting a foam roller right by the playpen, which caused him to trip and bounce off of the coffee table while holding the baby? (Do not be alarmed, everyone is safe and only slightly bruised).

My life was never that interesting to begin with.  I’ve always been a homebody, hermit-type, your typical sixty-year-old-trapped-in-a-twenty-nine-year-old-body that-I-swear-looks-like-a-fifteen-year-old.  The statement that rolls out of my mouth about five times a day is “I’m so tired.”  Since I was a college student, the idea of not being able to be in bed by 10pm made me highly anxious. I prefer to spend time with people I know and go to places I’ve been to I’m familiar with. I don’t really like traveling. I am a thrill.  Just ask my husband.

Since my baby came into my life, things have gotten more interesting and more mundane at the same time.  I am learning how to do things I’ve obviously never had to do before as a motherless woman, like looking for reliable daycare, get myself and a baby dressed and out the door in 30 minutes (really difficult, I tell you), and scrap poop off of a cloth diaper.  In one day, I get to go to a grocery store with an infant–which is actually really fun and entertaining–and spend two hours of that same day walking around the house back and forth, trying to convince an overly happy baby to shut her eyes.  Interesting, yet mundane. Do you see what I mean now?

I’ve been writing for 20 minutes now and I can tell you that my time is almost up.    Pretty soon, I will have a baby open her eyes from a deep slumber, cry, roll over on her belly, crawl over to the bars of the crib, pull herself up, and scream bloody murder because her mother is not next to her.  It’s the best and worst thing in the world. And the sick thing is that, deep down, the biological, maternal instinct in me anticipates it, yearns for it, and absolutely loves it.

It’s been over three months since I last wrote a blog post. World, this is the best that I’ve got.  Ciao–see you in another three months!  😛

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How I met Julius, my husky companion

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Yesterday on 10-10-2015, my beautiful friend, Julius, transitioned to the spirit world. He was a Julius Huskyspecial creature and there is a special story of how he came into my life. I wanted to share it here.

Six and a half years ago, I felt the itch to add a second dog to my household. My boyfriend at the time and I already had a red-furred husky child, Sequoia, who, near the age of ten, had the temperament of a grumpy cat. I wanted to see if a second dog in the home would perk up his spirits.

And so I contacted the local Bay Area group, Norsled, which rescues Northern breed dogs (huskies, malamutes, samoyeds, and akitas), and signed up to become a foster parent. Gail, a spunky woman who coordinated the adoptions, emailed me back quickly, letting me know of a little guy named Ken who needed a foster home. He was cooped up in a boarding facility with another husky they happened to name Barbie. According to Gail, Ken had been picked up by the local animal shelter in Modesto. He had been wandering the streets and looked like he had been surviving on his own for some time. I was stoked to take him on as my first foster dog.

One early Saturday morning, we drove over to the facility that he was staying in temporarily. He was a quiet but friendly pup. He readily followed me, with leash in hand, and excitedly jumped into the back of our car. I heard Sequoia grumble, “Who is this young’un in my car?”

Ken behaved perfectly normal until we arrived at the doorsteps leading to our apartment. He suddenly froze and refused to go up the stairwell. We coaxed him. We tugged at his leash. We tried to lure him with food. He didn’t budge. At some point, I gave up and let him hang out in the front yard until he was ready. Three hours later, he finally came upstairs on his own. Clearly, there were signs of anxiety, indicating that he had been a stray dog for quite some time or he had suffered abuse/neglect in his previous home.

Newly named Julius, my first foster dog was quite skittish. He was easily startled, preferred to hang out in the corner of rooms or underneath tables and was wary of men. The biggest problem behavior he had was with other dogs. We had one memorable experience at a dog park when he drew blood from a scary-looking boxer—and he was so quick at nipping the boxer’s ear that no one in the busy dog park actually witnessed him doing it.

For about two months, I brought Julius to adoption fairs and introduced him to families who were interested in adopting him. There were no perfect matches (in my motherly opinion) and I became rigid in my recommendation of what kind of household I thought was best for him. I obviously was very protective and attached to him.

Soon after I had taken Julius in as a foster dog, Sequoia started showing signs of illness. After several weeks of symptoms that came and go, he, one night, went into a state of acute distress. We had to bring him to the emergency vet at midnight on the day of his 10th birthday. We soon learned that there was a large tumor in his abdomen and he was bleeding internally. He had to be put to sleep that night. I was completely devastated. I felt immense guilt that I caused him to be stressed by bringing in a second dog in the home. He never warmed up to Julius and did not welcome him into the family. This is a guilt that has never dissipated to this day.

Having to care for and train Julius kept me from sinking into a long stage of mourning. Now that Sequoia was gone, I wavered back and forth for many weeks on whether I should keep Julius. I felt concerned that he had already developed a bond with me and would have to go through this process again with another family, who may or may not have the ability to help him with his behaviors. I don’t know what finally convinced me to just say YES to adopting him…but one day, I called Gail and confirmed that I would keep him.

Julius was with me as I transitioned through different jobs, homes, relationships and stages of life over the last six and half years. I have walked over a thousand miles with Julius, two walks daily. I’ve declined many night time outings so that I could be with him in the evenings. I’ve spent more minutes of my adult life with him than I have with anyone else. He was with me so that I would never be alone. And I tried my best to be with him so that he would never be alone. I loved him like a son.

I was so lucky to have such a gentle, well-mannered creature be my friend for these years. I cannot write about the intensity of the pain I am feeling right now. For now, I can only share about the joy, memories and love that he brought into my life.

Here’s to Julius and to a peaceful transition to the next world.

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Stories of a working mama – Part 1

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It’s been eight weeks since I’ve carried the official title of “full-time working mom”. I’ve had to say good-bye to my baby 40 times to leave for work. Sometimes the good-byes are fast and easy. Sometimes I linger and give her about a ton of kisses on each cheek before I go. A few times I ended up crying in my car or office when I get to work; most of the time, I just quietly crying inside. Some days go by so quickly, I don’t even get to think about my baby. Sometimes I stay in a “I miss my baby and I don’t want to be here” slump all day long. Some days are harder than others and I have learned to just take it day by day.

I’ve spent approximately somewhere between 40-50 hours total within the last 2 months with bottles attached to my breasts, sucking milk out of my body. Thankfully most of those hours are in my private office. Several times I’ve pumped in meetings with my boss. I never thought I would have to do this, but yes, I have also pumped while driving due to time constraints and a mobile job. Once I even pumped in a public restroom, mind you it was extremely clean.

I hate pumping. I feel like I spend half of my work day pumping or thinking about where/when/how much I am going to pump. The amount I have been pumping have gone up and down due to how stressed, tired, dehydrated, hungry or time-limited I am. It turned out that my baby drinks WAY more milk during the day when I’m gone than I anticipated and I do not pump enough to feed her. Thank goodness I have a stock of 60+ ounces in the freezer but this also means I also have to pump several times at home and throughout the weekend. I won’t deny it–it sucks big time (pun intended).

My perfectionism and unreasonable expectations for myself creates tremendous stress for me in my work. Adding on to that, my job is relatively new for me and I am still working through the kinks of my position. I think it’s easy for me to pin my stress onto my “I miss my baby” syndrome but I can’t deny that I often feel like an emotional wreck even without being a mother. I’m composed enough of a person that it usually does not show on the outside…most of the time, that serves me well, but it also means I vent a lot of my worries to my poor husband.

It doesn’t feel right to worry about work during the precious few hours that I spend with my baby at home. I want to be 100% present with my baby when I’m at home with her. I’m having to practice my mindfulness skills CONSTANTLY.

And the sleep—let’s not even talk about the sleep! It was going well at first since we transitioned to co-sleeping. However recently, even while co-sleeping, the baby had been waking up frequently enough during the night that I wake up feeling like an insomniac zombie (thank you, four-month sleep regression!). But alas, my body and brain are adjusting to the lack of sleep and I am amazed that I am functioning as well as I am with such broken sleep.

What’s keeping me going? One, I don’t believe I should suffer any less than my husband, who works as hard as I do and misses the baby as much as I do when he’s at work. Two, I believe that I am making a positive difference in the world through my work as stressful as it is for me. Three, I have professional goals that I would like to meet within the next two years and I hope that after I meet it, I will have the freedom to work part-time. And the fourth reason I’m still a full-time working mama-and probably the most relevant reason-is that I haven’t won the lottery yet.

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What I Wish You Told Me Before I Had A Baby

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Recently, I spoke to several fellow first-time mothers and shared with each other the hardship of mothering a newborn:

“I couldn’t walk for 2 weeks…”

“I thought breastfeeding was going to be easy…”

“It’s a good thing babies are so cute…”

“It was the hardest time of my life…”

As we shared our common experiences, we all had the same thought: “Why didn’t anyone tell us it was going to be so difficult?!”

During pregnancy, it seemed as if everyone was only interested in learning the mundane: what foods we craved, if the pregnancy was planned, and our top picks for the baby’s name. My hypnobirthing class—which made up the most of my birth training— was hyper focused on visualizing the perfect birth experience and instilling positive thoughts. The outcome was that I was underprepared for what would be the most difficult weeks I’ve yet to experience.

For me, the part where you love your baby unconditionally is a no brainer—now that I’m almost three months into motherhood, I am LOVING being a mom. It’s the other side of parenthood that people failed to tell us about.

I wish that parents advising me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” would instead wail to me about the nights where they only slept for an hour and the midnight hours walking back and forth to get baby to sleep. And instead of suggestions like “check out the breastfeeding group” and “you should probably read about breastfeeding”, I wish I was informed about the high likelihood of developing blisters, scabs, bleeding, and pain during the initial period of breastfeeding.

I wish I sat down longer with veteran parents and solicited the harrowing details of the first few weeks of parenthood. I admit it—I may also be guilty of being dismissive of negative stories, imagining that I would be lucky and have the perfect experience that I had been meditating on for months and months. After talking to many mothers now, I am surprised to hear how even the healthiest, most prepared and optimistic women just as likely to have these common challenges with birth and motherhood.

Don’t get me wrong—my baby turned out to be the most wonderful thing in my life. She is so happy and beautiful, and her smile lights up my day. However I didn’t have these feelings in the first few weeks of her entrance into my life…but I got through it with patience, time, and encouragement.

Hoping that I can help prevent future mothers from having the same SHOCK experience, I wanted to share these six pieces of advice I wish I had received before motherhood:

1. Expect the unexpected. Nearly every one of my friends who had a baby around the same time as me (early 2015) had some sort of complication during labor. Babies born very early, babies born very late, babies who experienced fetal distress during birth. Friends of mine had unexpected c-sections as I did, were unable to give birth at the birth center, and had unwanted medical procedures done. No matter how hard you prepared to have a normal delivery and how much positive thinking you put into your pregnancy, there is never any guarantee it will happen your way. There may be scary surprises along the way, but you’ll get through it! It’s all part of this wonderful art of creating life.

2. Plan for the recovery period. When I was pregnant, there was so much focus on the pregnancy and birth that very few people prepped me for how difficult the weeks following the birth would be. I wish more people talked about how it was like to recover from a vaginal delivery or a C-section delivery so I knew that I should expect to be immobile for several weeks and that my main job was to nurse and to rest. I didn’t even learn how to change diapers until about a week into it because dad graciously filled the role of official diaper-changer and baby holder while I was recovering from the c-section. I recommend that mothers-to-be start recruiting friends and family who can volunteer to come over to feed to you, help you clean, and look after the baby so you can rest. Inform your family in advanced that you want some private time alone with the baby and your partner & set clear visitation rules if you have overexcited or intrusive family members.

3. It’s okay if you’re annoyed with the baby. The pain from labor, the fatigue from not sleeping for days, and the stress of figuring out why your baby is crying are all enough reasons why parents may not be initially head over heels over their baby. I felt horribly guilty that I was not automatically in love with my newborn. I told everyone that I wished she would skip the newborn phase and turn into a walking, talking toddler already.  Little did I know that many mothers felt this same way for the first few weeks or months. It takes time for mommy and baby to get to know each other and develop a bond, so don’t feel bad if you find the baby irritating at first…the love will come in time! Once my baby started cooing, smiling and reciprocating the love, it made the long days a million times more fun.

4. Don’t be surprised by the baby blues. Even if you do not think you are predisposed to depression, you shouldn’t be surprised if you feel sad, anxious or even regretful about having a baby. In my case, I had been baby-hungry for several years—so I was very surprised that I was not completely ecstatic about my little one’s arrival. I ended up reminiscing a lot about the carefree days when my husband and I could sleep, go out, and eat whenever we wanted. I was so sad those days were over! I cried almost daily for about three weeks. The baby blues happen for 80% of new mothers, and it is only temporary. What helped me get through it was talking to other mothers, crying on my husband’s shoulder, energy healing sessions, and some wine! If the baby blues persists, then it’s time to consult professional help.

5. Breast-feeding is not easy. Almost every new mother I know I had some sort of difficulty with breast-feeding in the first few weeks. I had blisters and scabs for the first two weeks and it was excruciating. One night I was so exhausted and in pain from nursing, I had even contemplated switching to formula! I also developed mastitis, an infection of the breast that resulted in a very high fever and had to be treated with antibiotics. Because of these common problems, there’s a good reason free breast-feeding support groups exists. Mothers need as much help and encouragement as they can get to continue breastfeeding their little one and not give up. Being able to provide all of the nutrition to my baby is an amazing feeling, and I’m so happy that I was able to get through those first few weeks with the help of lactation consultants at the hospital and at support groups.

6. It gets better! What I learned from this experience is that I am a much stronger woman—both physically and emotionally—than I ever knew I was capable of. Once I got through the never-ending first month, I felt like everything started falling into place. I started trusting my instincts more and became less reliant on the advice of the internet and other mothers. My baby started crying less and sleeping more. I felt stronger and more confident in my ability to care for her. My husband and I became closer than ever. It indeed does get infinitely better and easier over time!

This post is not meant to scare anyone—I’m sorry if that is an unintended effect. Instead, I hope it helps new mothers to know what to expect and to not be completely taken by surprise.

What do you think about my list? Any other advice you would pass on to new mothers? Does hearing about the initial difficulties of motherhood scare you away from it?

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Why Asian Moms Don’t Want You To Hold Your Baby

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HippieAsianMom-holdingbaby copyBeing a first-time mom and the first daughter in my family to have a baby, I expected much nagging from my Chinese-Vietnamese family. For the first few weeks of my baby’s life, my husband and I had to tolerate a barrage of small Asian women telling us a number of things that we should do, shouldn’t do, and are doing wrong. The one advice that was most commonly shared was to not hold our baby too much because that would spoil her. When my baby cried when my parents were over at my house, they would try every which way to get her to stop crying instead of just picking her up (by the way, after several weeks of visiting her, they learned that their method was very ineffective).

“Don’t hold her too much.  If you do, she won’t EVER let you put her down!”

Almost every single relative relayed this vital baby lesson to us as if it was the only thing that was important for us to know. Considering that I am a mom who loves holding, wearing and napping with baby on me, this really irritated me. And, I mean, it irritated me so much, I would lay awake in the middle of the night fuming. I hate not only unsolicited advice but especially advice that makes absolutely no sense to me. But after I had a recent conversation with my mother about why she could not hold my brother much when he was a baby, it framed the “don’t hold the baby” advice into  real-life context for me.

When we moved to America from Vietnam in 1989, my father went to work at a restaurant while my mother stayed home raising my siblings and me. She took a job sewing clothes—it was a job where she could work at home on her industrial machine and got paid for each item that she completed. And so she sewed during the day while taking care of my infant brother who was born soon after we moved here, my sister who had just started elementary school and me, age three at the time when we moved here. It was no wonder she didn’t want my baby brother to get too used to being held too much…she couldn’t physically hold him because she had to work during the day and take care of two other kids at the same time! After hearing her account of raising us, I felt much more empathy towards her and the other women in my family who had to juggle multiple roles while caring for their babies.

Still, this simple story does not fully explain why my Asian family does not want us to overly attend to our babies, nor does it justify letting babies’ cries be ignored. I am almost certain that the women in my family believe in the outdated practice of letting newborns cry and learn to self-soothe although modern science shows that newborns are not capable of self-soothing and need comfort through human touch. I am also sure they are unaware that research shows that responsive parenting during infancy generates human beings who are more confident, capable, and caring. I have to be forgiving of them for not well-read and informed about the science of babies. And I have to remind myself that they raised children in social and economic contexts that are different from mine—and many women do not have the ability to attend to their babies even if they wanted to!

And so here I am, a middle-class, first time mom with the luxury of not having to work for three months and my primary job during this time is to dote on my child. Thank goodness that I actually HAVE the time to just sit there and hold my baby while she is napping. Thank goodness I do not have to ignore her cries because I am caring for other children or working.

I can relish in this beautiful window of time when I can be alone with her, become in tuned with her, and let her know she is loved. Right now, I don’t have anything more important to do besides to rock, bounce, nurse, and hug my baby. The laundry can wait until the next nap time (and thank goodness, I have a baby who can entertain herself for short periods of time when I need to attend to other things). In this moment, the only thing I want to do is gaze at the beautiful sleeping baby that is my daughter and hold her for as long as I want.

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An ode to my parents and to all parents

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I’ve only been in this parenting game for less than six weeks and, already, I have a new understanding and appreciation of so many things in my life.  Tonight, I was trying to sneak in an 8pm nap while my dear husband was faithfully bouncing my “witching hour” baby up and down on a yoga ball when I had a sudden inspiration to write about my parents and my expanding appreciation of their sacrifices for me. You see, my parents and I didn’t really having intimate conversations until these past few years, and I can already tell that our relationship will continue to change—hopefully for the better–as they see me raise my daughter. Whenever they come over to visit me, I ask them for more stories on what I was like when I was a baby and what they did as young parents.

The other day, my father told me about the conditions of hospitals in post-war Vietnam: unsanitary, crowded, and a dangerous place to deliver your babies.  Communist rule had it so that hospitals (as were most other public services) were underfunded and overrun. He claimed that many of the hospital doctors were young, inexperienced yet put in positions where they were unsupervised and responsible for people’s lives.  Fearful that they would be under the care of one of these intern doctors, my parents rounded up a substantial amount of money and gifts to offer to a senior doctor at the hospital to guarantee that he would care for my mother when she went into labor—apparently this was common practice in the 1980s in Vietnam.  They would ask for the address of the senior doctor, knock on his door and convince him to take in the mother and baby as his patients.  Once at the hospital, families would also pay the nurses to  ensure that they were getting the best care as well as the security guards if you wanted to access the hospital room after hours. My mother had me via c-section and  I was a healthy baby. My mother was able to breastfeed  thankfully, as formula was unaffordable to common people. and babies were often fed nearly-expired cow’s milk if the mother was not producing sufficient milk.

This is only one of the stories that he has told me about my birth so far, and I expect that many more stories will spill as time goes on.

I moved to America when I was three and I had a very typical first-general Chinese-Vietnamese-American childhood. I did a lot of homework, I stayed indoors mostly, and I was used to not having my parents home because they worked restaurant hours. I used to resent my parents for not giving me the idyllic childhood that I wanted. I never attended dance lessons, never learned how to swim until I was an adult, was not allowed to sleep over at my friends’ houses, and did not have the sort of relationship with my parents where I could go to them with my life questions and be listened to. Even though I would’ve greatly benefitted from a more secure and emotional attachment to my parents, I—now having been responsible for a human being for six weeks—have the new understanding that the fact that I was kept safe, warm, and fed from birth to adulthood is a miraculous feat! Sure, my parents were not affectionate and were distant. However they never resorted to physical discipline, never neglected us and instilled in me strong morals and work ethic. Considering that my parents came from a war torn impoverished country, had little education, and were immigrants to this country, what they provided me was way more than I could ever ask for.

The beautiful thing that comes with the way my parents raised me is that I have a bigger and better idea of what parenting can be & that I have the ability to provide a different experience for my daughter.

The pains of pregnancy and labor, the nighttime feedings, the loss of sleep (and some sanity), the financial investment, the loss of freedom that was once enjoyed…all of these are the physical and emotional sacrifices to raise a child. This is only the beginning of this adventure for me.

No parent is perfect. No parent can EVER be perfect. I guess we all do the best we can considering what we have and what we know.

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