Last night, I was on the phone with a friend. She asked me, “I saw your Facebook post about your blog. Have you found time to write?”
I sheepishly remembered that just a week ago, I had publicly declared I would start blogging again. “Hm, that’s my intention. But I’m not sure how I’m actually going to do it,” I replied. Then I came up with a dozen reasons why it’s probably not going to happen.
In between my many roles in life, how am I actually going to find time to do the thing I really enjoy? The one thing outside of my work that I feel I have any talent in. How do I make time to write?
How does a mother make time to do anything that she enjoys? No, I don’t mean that raising a child is not joyful. But it’s nice to have something that’s all your own. Something independent of your child or your spouse or your house.
I make excuses. But the truth is that I want to write. I need to write.
And the only way this is going to happen in my life is to become comfortable with people reading my unfiltered, barely edited, grammatically jumbled words. Scribble in your journal type of writing. There is no other way. Sorry, I am not going to pull a Glennon-Doyle-style weeklong escapade to write a best-selling book.
Every day, I have to make time to pull ONE trail of thought out of the millions that swirl inside my cranium—and pull it apart—and lay it on this digital piece of paper. So here goes attempt #1.
Last night, I had one of those bizarre dreams about being back in high school with people who haven’t crossed my mind in 15 years. The dream ended with me belching out the tune of Third Eye Blind’s “Blinded (When I See You)”. One of my favorite songs EVER.
Third Eye Blind is my favorite musical group of all time. I’ve listened to them since I was 12. And I go through phases of my life where I like to listen to them a lot.
12. I had borrowed the CD from my cousin (?) when I went on my first trip back to my home country Vietnam. Riding on the back of a motorbike with the wind combing my hair, there was no better song than “Motorcycle Driveby” to explain how I felt during that time in my life. Puberty unleashed a deep emotional emptiness that I had not really recognized prior.
“I’ve never felt so alone…and I’ve never felt so alive.” It’s hard to know if 3EB’s songs described my reality at 12 or helped to construct it. Or both happening simultaneously. I just know it was one of the first times in my life where I realized how music could so beautifully capture the ups and downs of living. Stephen Jenkins sang about experiences that were very far from my reality—overdosing, a dying partner, and suicidal tendencies—but I loved learning about these human experiences through his music at a young age.
23/24. This was another major stage in my life. I was living in Berkeley, had just graduated from college but was slowly realizing I was meant to go down another path in terms of my romantic relationship as well as my career. At this time, I started listening to their newer albums “Ursa Major” and “Out of the Vein”. The music had a darker tone to it and it reflected how I felt during that time. Confused and at a crossroads.
27. I was at a new stage in life. I had just gotten married and finished graduate school. I heard that they were coming to town and my husband bought us tickets to see them at the House of Blues. We went 2 hours early and got to stand a feet away from the front of the stage. It was one of the best experiences of my life, listening to my favorite songs sung directly to me. I am hesitant to see them again in concert—the first time is always the best and I don’t want to wipe away any of the joy from the first concert.
34. That’s how old I am now. This morning, I spent the morning chatting with my friend about metaphysics and all kinds of interesting topics. He shared with me a spiritual teaching he had heard—a very simple one—”do what brings you joy.” I don’t remember the larger context of that conversation. But I remembered that phrase when I was at home, cooking dinner, my neck very tense, with my 5 year old trying to ram herself into my ear. All I wanted to do was hide away in a cave and be alone.
I opened my Tidal app and searched for the song that played in my dream. It’s been a while since I last listened to 3EB. My daughter saw me dancing to this music she does not understand and thought it was amusing. She wanted to dance too.
The music reminded me of how much I’ve grown in the last 22 years when I first started listening to 3EB. It was nice to remember why I fell in love with these songs in the first place.
How can music be packed with so many memories and emotions? What an amazing thing.
At least once a week, I get asked this question: “When are you having a second baby?”
Most people do not even bother to ask, “Are you going to have a second baby?” They instantly assume I am going to strive for the American dream of 2.2 children frolicking behind a white picket fence and just whack me with a “when…?”
I want to jab my eyes out every time I hear it.
Because now I have to go through this whole process of explaining why I don’t want more kids and the other person tries really hard to change my mind and it ends with me changing the subject or needing to end it with a “Oh, we’ll see…” so that I can move on with my life. It’s a very predictable, boring and terrible conversation.
But I’ve thought long and hard about this and decided that there is actually one way that the question would be well-received. The other person only needs to follow it up with this statement:
“Before you answer that question, I want you to know that I have several things to offer you. The first is a lump sum of $300,000 to help support the upbringing and education of your second child.
“Also, I have long held a secret magic that will set into motion the reversal of climate change, implementation of nuclear disarmament, and eradication of hate and ignorance. Once you decide to have a second child, I will unleash this magic so that your child and her offspring will be guaranteed a long, fulfilling, and peaceful life on a healthy planet.
“And lastly, here is a pill. Once you take it, your body will only need half the amount of sleep that it normally needs. This way, you will have an extra 4 hours in your day to engage in self-care and other activities that create enjoyment in your life.”
If you cannot offer me these three gifts, please do not ask me this question.
But if the question inadvertently slips from your mouth and I respond with, “No, I don’t want another child. I’m happy with one,” please don’t say:
“But she needs someone to play with.” She can play with me or her dad, two of the silliest adults you’ll ever meet. She can play with friends. A cat. A dog. A neighbor. Roomba, our vacuum. This is not a concern of mine. Next please.
“She will get spoiled.” I don’t make a million dollars. She is not going to get a sports car for her 16th birthday. But if taking a week long trip to Hawaii before she is 18—which is something I’ve still yet to do—means that she is spoiled, I can live with that.
“She won’t know what it’s like to bond with a sibling.” The sibling connection is special—I know that from experience. But I also know many people who do not have a close relationship with their sibling. And I know a good handful of people who will have nothing to do with their siblings. Having a sibling doesn’t automatically guarantee closeness. This is not enough of a factor to convince me. Sorry.
You know how nowadays it’s rude now to ask women why they don’t have children? Well, guess what…it’s similarly rude to ask mothers when they are going to have more children.
We are not dairy cows. Some of us don’t want children. Some of us are happy with a pet. Some of us are happy with one child while others are happy with 6. Some of us—namely me—are just trying to make an impact in this world before an angry Asian guy and raging egomaniac blows it up.
Stop setting expectations for how we should live our lives. We get enough of it from the rest of the world. We don’t need it from our friends and families.
So, if you’re having trouble making conversation with a one-child mother, here are more meaningful discussion topics you can try instead:
“What do you like most about being a mother?”
“What’s the hardest thing about being a mother?”
“What’s your relationship with your partner like now that you’re parents?”
“What’s it like being a working mother or a stay at home mother?”
“How has being a mother changed you?”
“Do you want to add to your family?”
“You’re doing an amazing job.”
But the best thing you can say to any mother is: “I am going to wash your dishes.”
Growing up, I never went camping with my family nor did I know any Asian family who did. The closest I ever came to camping as a child was at sixth grade camp, which aside from the timed three-minute showers and the short hikes cannot be properly classified as camping.
My husband is an outdoorsman by nature and camped regularly before he met me. It’s safe to say he was disappointed when he learned that I was one of those urbanites who loved nature but did not love being in it. Pit toilets, pajamas covered in campfire ash, and getting swarmed by mosquitoes are not exactly my idea of a vacation. The most camping we did together were one night stays at a campground in Idyllwild, a small mountain town in South California. Those I was able to survive—as long as the pit toilets were not filled with a year’s worth of feces (yuck!).
But I hypothesize that maybe—just maybe—being a mother has made me more gutsy and more willing to do uncomfortable things.
Because miraculously, our family just completed a 15 day road trip from Southern California to Oregon and back!
To be a bit more precise, that’s 2800 miles on the road, 56 hours in the car, 7 nights of tent camping at 3 different camp sites, 4 different AirBNBs or homes of friends/family, and sleeping in 40 degree chill. All of this with a 2.33 year old!
We’ve been talking about visiting Oregon’s lush green for years and finally decided to make it happen this summer. While planning for this trip, I was excited and, needless to say, scared. I was scared of having to comfort a crying baby in the middle of the night for 2 straight weeks. I was scared of having to suffer in the car next to a vomit-soaked carseat. I was scared that our trip would be derailed by a sudden illness or a malfunctioning car.
But we survived. And not only that, we had such a beautiful time together, hopping from forest to river to city to ocean and back to forest again. We saw friends that we have not seen in years. We saw jaw-dropping landscapes that you should see at least once in your life. It was a trip that we are hoping will imprint into our little daughter’s subconscious memory and make her love being in the outdoors.
There are tons of blogs out there that covers everything you need to bring and prepare if you’re road tripping or camping with a little one. This is not one of them. But here are my personal tips on what made this experience comfortable and fun for our child…and for me!
1. Do a test run! We had two small camping experiences with our daughter before we embarked on this much longer one. On the first one, she was a little over a year old. She slept between us in a two person tent – there was a moderate amount of waking and not very much sleeping. After that trip, we decided to graduate to six person tent and an air mattress! We experimented with our new set up a month before our road trip. I used this opportunity to figure out the perfect sleeping set up that would maximize the amount of sleep for us all—this resulted in me and child on air mattress and daddy on the sleeping pad next to us. As a result, my daughter slept really well every nigh…except for one when she woke up screaming at midnight. But one out of seven nights is not bad in my book!
2. Fun times in the car. My daughter is pretty tolerant of being stuck to a carseat but knowing that we were spending a huge chunk of our trip in the car, I wanted to make the car ride as fun for her as possible. This meant special snacks (Pocky sticks, crackers, ice cream, seaweed), new toys (most of them given to us by friends during the trip, “Water Wow” coloring pads, books with dry erase markers), preloaded games on the iPad (mostly puzzle games and her favorite “Feed the Animals”), and lots of story time and singing with mommy in the back seat. She quickly became very excited every time we had to get in the car!
3. Be loose with structure. At home, we are on the dot when it comes to bedtime and I try to incorporate veggies in her lunch and dinner. But during the trip, I was okay with her sleeping at 9:00, 10:00 or sometimes even 11:00pm. I was also okay with her eating peanut butter jelly sandwiches for lunch AND dinner on some nights. However afternoon naps were mandatory because no nap = moody child. As long as she was cheerful during the day and pooping, I was flexible with her sleeping schedule and higher than normal sugar intake.
4. Allowing a hands-on experience. Our child loves mastering new skills. We made sure we involved her in the set-up and maintenance of the camp. For example, during set up, she helped us lay out the tarp, install the camping poles, and pump up the air mattress. She enjoyed watching daddy wash the dishes after a meal. She also enjoyed practicing hiking up and down the stairs at the camp. All of these little things made it exciting for her and she became eager to set up camp at our next site. Throughout our stays in the forests, she would smile and say “I like go camping!”
5. Good planning. Knowing that I am squeamish and whiny by nature, my husband booked campsites that had flush toilets, showers, close promixity to a store, and were generally well-kept. Although he’s content with digging a hole for a bathroom, he wanted to keep me happy and therefore planned a comfortable camping experience for us. Speaking for myself, I made a very thorough list of what to bring and checked off each item as I packed it into my bag. That’s not something I usually do for trips but this time, I knew if I didn’t have her bedtime pacifier or teddy bear, it could potentially be a disaster. The attention and time spent on packing was well worth it. The only things I wish I would’ve brought were water shoes for my daughter (so she could stand in the campsite showers), a wearable blanket (she likes to kick off her blankets at night), and warmer clothes for me.
Well, we had a memorable time together and are settled home now. My daughter would be happy to travel for a few more weeks and bounce to a new place to stay every night. My husband is happy to not be driving 6 hours a day but would be thrilled to take a longer vacation.
As for me, I’m just happy I made it through the two weeks and am going to start catching up on my sleep starting…now 🙂
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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! 😛
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.
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?
Being 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.