Scary Mommy was started by Jill Smokler in early 2008 as an innocent online baby book to chronicle her stay-at-home days with her children. It transformed into a massive vibrant community of millions of parents, brought together by a common theme: Parenting doesn't have to be perfect.
My son has had feeding difficulties since he was a newborn. He was born slightly prematurely at 36 weeks with his twin sister. He arched his back and turned his head at an awkward angle when feeding, would pull his legs up in pain, and was a very fussy sleeper. He spit up copious amounts of formula. He would often wake up crying in pain. When I described the symptoms to our pediatrician, he said that he had reflux and put him on Prevacid. I saw an immediate difference in his sleep and behavior while he was on reflux medication.
I weaned my son off Prevacid around seven months old. He had a ferocious appetite and he would often throw up a large amount after eating pureed or solid food. When my son was one a half years old, he began throwing up frequently. He would throw up multiple times a day. I knew that he was teething and attributed it to reflux. We repeatedly took him into our pediatrician, who recommended over-the-counter Prevacid. It didn’t appear to help his symptoms — in fact, I believe that it made them worse. My son would go on to intermittently have periods of vomiting correlated to drinking milk products or eating fast food. He became an extremely picky eater. He used to eat a variety of food and was now relatively selective in eating a few solids foods, but preferring puree packets.
As my son approached the age of two, I realized there was something truly wrong with him. He would often get a pained look on his face when eating and request water to help get his food down. I began taking my son to various doctors hoping that someone could provide him relief. I was told by more than one doctor that my son was constipated or had sensory aversions. I took my son to a functional medicine doctor who diagnosed him as having multiple food intolerances. I proceeded to remove gluten and dairy from his diet. I immediately saw changes in his behavior, mood and sleep. I took him to an allergist who diagnosed him as having a mild grass allergy and no food allergies according to patch testing.
Courtesy of Lindsey Neumann
I knew that I was still missing something. One of my friends recommended circling back around with a GI doctor. I described my son’s symptoms to the doctor and showed him a video of my son coughing and choking while he drank a milkshake. He responded that all of the symptoms I described were concerning to him and he recommended an endoscopy. I knew that he was a conservative doctor and that he had an idea of what was going on with my son.
Throughout this nine-month period, I was a complete and total wreck. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and was barely functioning. I felt extremely alone and didn’t know who to turn to. I knew that there was something wrong with my son, but couldn’t seem to get any answers. For me, there was no worse feeling than watching my child suffer day after day and not knowing how to help him. I was determined to get to the bottom of his mysterious ailment. While he appeared normal on the outside, I knew there was something going haywire inside his body.
My son continued to have alarming symptoms. He complained of stomach pain, occasionally threw up, and was extremely aversive to food and drinks in general. He would often chew up a food and then spit it out. I began to make a correlation when he ingested products with corn, gluten, or dairy in them. He would often exhibit a croupy like cough while eating and at random times during the day. At his lowest point, he had severe reflux when drinking tap water and different brands of bottled water. He would slowly drink water from his canteen and then proceed to spit it out.
My son didn’t look healthy. He had dark circles under their eyes and was very pale. He had a constant diaper rash and Aquafor became a mainstay at our home. He was becoming skin and bones. Tears came to my eyes when I saw his frail body in the bath. He had lost 4 pounds and his 3T shorts no longer fit him. He was becoming more irritable, volatile, and emotional. I was desperate to get him some relief.
I started to hold my breath during snack or meal times. I waited for my son to cough or choke signaling that he couldn’t tolerate a food. I took notes of his reactions on my cell-phone to share with our GI doctor. My son was very sensitive to certain textures and noises. I began to look online and wondered if he had a sensory processing disorder. I started to make associations with him exhibiting abnormal behavior directly after a meal. He would often make a “la la la” noise or act in an aggressive manner after drinking milk. I would ask him to be quiet or to stop hitting his sister and he would reply, “No, I can’t.” I don’t think that he had any control over his emotions or behavior due to his discomfort.
I was filled with apprehension the day before my son’s endoscopy. I started to second guess and doubt myself. My son did great the morning of his endoscopy. I was incredibly nervous as we waited to speak with the doctor. What if I had taken him off all of his food allergens and nothing showed up in the scope? What if he had a bacterial infection called h-pylori? What if everything came back clear and I was back to square one?
His GI doctor gave me an a-okay sign as he exited the room. He went over the scopes with us. The results were as follows: Normal examined duodenum — biopsied. Normal stomach — biopsied. Esophageal mucosal changes suggestive of eosinophilic esophagitis — biopsied. He showed us that my son’s esophagus had several tiny white spots on it indicative of EOE. Our GI doctor looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m highly suspicious of him presenting with eosinophilic esophagitis. Let’s see what the biopsies show.” There it was. I hate to say it, but I felt relieved to have a name for my son’s symptoms. I finally had some answers.
EOE has been referred to as “asthma of the gut.” If you have seasonal allergies, eosinophils are in your nose; if you have asthma, they are in your lungs; and if you have EOE, they are in your esophagus. My son does not have a typical allergic reaction. Thankfully, he does not break out of in hives or go into anaphylaxis. But he has an ever-increasing number of foods that damage him internally. These foods affect his digestion, sleep, behavior and his ability to function on a daily basis.
I do want to encourage all parents to not give up if you feel that something is wrong with your children. In the end it’s up to you to advocate for them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had doctors blow me off, tell me that it’s common for kids to be picky eaters at this age or suggest that he has sensory aversions. I was continually told by family members that my son would outgrow his vomiting and food aversions. EOE that has gone undetected for several years can result in strictures and closing of the esophagus resulting in dependence on a feeding tube.
Patients with eosinophilic disorders are quite literally allergic to food and environmental allergens. The proteins in the food cause a build-up in the digestive tract and blood of a white blood cell called eosinophils. Eosinophils are meant to attack parasites, but the body of a patient with EGID’s mistakes food for a parasite. As a result, the buildup of eosinophils causes numerous and very serious health problems, including failure to thrive, uncontrollable vomiting, acid reflux, severe stomach and throat pain, inability to sleep, and joint pain, just to name a few.
As my son approaches his fourth birthday, he is currently in remission due to a combination of acid reflux medication and diet elimination for GERD and EOE. At this time, we have eliminated eggs, dairy, soy, pea protein and legumes, meat, most grains, gluten, fish, coconut, tree nuts, potatoes and many fruits and vegetables. It’s easier to list his “safe” foods, which include: rice, applesauce, grain free crackers, raisins and lettuce. These foods do not provide an adequate amount of nutrition so my son supplements his diet with a daily allowance of prescription formula. In addition, my son is allergic to grass, pollen and several medications. He has been a little trooper since his diagnosis, despite the real and scary challenges he faces, along with the medical side effects this disease carries.
There is no cure for EOE. He will not grow out of it. He will always have it. We refuse to sit back and let this disease take over. It has been found to be the lowest quality of life of chronic illness — but we fight every day to give him as normal a life as possible.
National eosinophilic awareness week is May 19-25, 2019. You can read more about eosinophilic disorders at the CURED Foundation…https://curedfoundation.org/.
When my first son born, I definitely experienced the “baby blues.” I remember holding him on the couch when he was a few days old and sobbing uncontrollably, and for no discernible reason at all. All the baby books, along with my healthcare providers, assured me that this was normal, and if it passed, it was nothing to be concerned about.
As the first year of my son’s life progressed, I had other moments like that, of sudden and deep sadness. This was coupled with moments of intense panic. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing, to check to make sure my baby was breathing. Other times my heart would race in panic at odd times, like when it was time to drive home from somewhere, or when my son was taking too long to fall asleep.
Nikita Vasylchenko / EyeEm/Getty
When the feelings were there, they were very intense and almost unbearable. But each time, these moments would pass, and my general feeling as a new mom was one of contentment, so I didn’t think there was a problem.
Flash forward to when my son was a toddler, and I developed the most serious and debilitating case of depression and panic disorder that I’d ever experienced.
There were a number of factors that probably caused this: my son was rushed to the hospital after inexplicably fainting one afternoon (he was fine, but it was traumatic for me); I experienced an unexpected miscarriage after not even being aware that I’d been pregnant; and I was having fights with my father that were very triggering. And let’s not forget that raising a toddler in general can be extremely taxing — my son’s toddler tantrums were a million times more draining and demoralizing than his baby fussiness.
It only occurred to me years later that I may have been living with a case of postpartum depression or anxiety that had gone untreated – or that perhaps I was experiencing a postpartum mood disorder that had presented itself at a later date.
Well, it turns out there may be some truth to that, and that the “toddler blues” or late-onset PPD, is actually a thing that more folks in the mental health world are beginning to recognize.
Most of us don’t even realize this, but as it happens, PPD doesn’t just include the first few months after birth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOC) defines postpartum depression as occurring “up to 1 year after having a baby.”
“Most experts now agree that the term ‘postpartum depression’ is somewhat restrictive, and suggests that the condition is time-limited,” Klieman explains. “We used to say that women were most at risk for postpartum mood and anxiety symptoms between three weeks and three months postpartum. As more studies are carried out, we are learning that symptoms of depression and anxiety can surface anywhere along a spectrum experiences and emotions.”
Obviously, you probably can’t say that your symptoms of depression or anxiety are caused by PPD if your child is many years past the baby or toddler years. Yet giving PPD a hard deadline of one year postpartum may not most accurate either, says Kleiman.
“It’s difficult to say, with certainty, how common late-onset postpartum depression occurs,” Kleiman clarifies. “But what we do know is that the spectrum of postpartum distress stretches further than we previously understood, bringing attention to the fact that women are struggling longer and well beyond the first postpartum year.”
There is also the perspective that many cases of depression and anxiety that seem to manifest in the toddler or preschool years stemmed from those baby years – i.e., that many women live with untreated cases of PPD, which morph and evolve into enduring mental health issues.
This was certainly the case for me. I felt like my experience of PPD was that it built and built over several years, and reached a crescendo when my son was a toddler.
Kate Kripke, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in reproductive mental health, calls this manifestation of PPD “continued postpartum distress.”
“While I can’t make a blanket statement about each and every woman who calls me, more times than not these women—one, two, or three years past the birth of their little ones—are struggling with a form of maternal distress that dates back, in one way or another, to their pregnancy, postpartum, or even before,” Kripke writes in an article for Postpartum Progress.
“While these moms wouldn’t technically have postpartum depression any longer, they are often struggling with what I will call here continued postpartum distress that was never adequately supported when they first noticed symptoms,” Kripke continues.
Image taken by Mayte Torres/Getty
The bottom line is that women need better care and support, in the immediate postpartum period, and beyond. There needs to be less stigma surrounding postpartum moods disorders in general. So many women soldier on through their difficult feelings, not wanting to put their needs before others’, or admit that there is a problem.
Of course, so many women simply do not have mental health services accessible, or do not have lifestyles that would allow them to take a few hours to tend to their mental health. This needs to change. Women’s mental health should be taken seriously: no one can be a good mom without taking care of themselves first. And we all need to understand that mental health coverage isn’t just a convenience; sometimes it’s a matter of life or death.
I can’t say for sure, but I believe that if I’d treated my initial symptoms earlier, things would not have gotten as horrible as they did later. Those few months of “toddler blues” were among the most difficult of my life. I ended up going back into therapy and getting the help I needed. But I wish I knew that there was a name for what I was experiencing, that it was real, and that I didn’t have to suffer for so long in silence.
“Ohmigod, I miss when my kids were that age. Soak up every moment.”
That’s what a woman said to me at the drug store as I was in line for antibiotics for my sixth consecutive bout of mastitis. I had my second son strapped to my blazing, aching chest while I had a vice grip on my 2-year-old to keep him from clotheslining the entire feminine care aisle.
Side note: the drug store may or may not have security footage of me quasi-straddling the aforementioned 2-year-old in between the security gates as he tried to sprint out the door, while the motion-sensor doors opened and closed in perfect choreographed harmony with every shriek and flail.
I wasn’t soaking up anything except for gauzes on my cracked nipples and the increasing suspicion that I had, in fact, ruined my life by deluding myself that I could handle one kid, let alone two.
One kid feels like one.
Two kids feels like twenty.
And even one kid….is a lot of kids.
Lest I come across as too negative, let’s back up a bit with the obligatory gratitude: Yes, gratitude is obligatory to appease the trolls, but it’s also genuine. Getting and staying pregnant is inordinately difficult for me and I spent my life savings and a good part of my sanity on the process. I thank whatever higher power is out there every day that I was lucky enough to be born in an age where someone like me can have kids.
But even if my sons had been the product of a bit of cheap tequila and a relaxed Thursday night, my perspective would be the same:
I’m honored to be a mother.
But HOLY SH*T, this is hard.
And it’s especially hard when the whole world magically forgets how hard it is at each stage.
It happens everywhere. At the park. At the library. In line at the drug store. While you’re being waxed.
“Just wait ‘til they walk. That’s when it gets hard.”
“Just wait ‘til they’re two. That’s when it gets hard.”
“Just wait ‘til they start sports and activities. That’s when it gets hard.”
“Just wait ‘til they start stealing the neighbors’ Xanax and knock up the superintendent’s daughter. That’s when it gets hard.”
I’d like to make a proclamation: How about we not fearmonger moms, eh? Because we’re all going to project based on the stage we’re in.
And we’re always, always going to have rose-colored glasses about the stages gone by.
I see you, moms of kids under 3.
And I will never, ever tell you to soak up anything.
Because you’re in the weeds.
You’re “on” 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
You’re in a state of constant vigilance.
Even if you’re pretty chill by nature, mommy culture is bent on making you freak the eff out about everything. It’s all deadly: Sunscreen. Ladders at playgrounds. Bunny crackers.
The world wants you to lose the baby weight and crush it at work and show your kids flashcards and limit screen time and interview preschools and nuture their potential and let the baby lead in choosing finger foods and expose them to Mozart and meanwhile you’re like:
“DRY SHAMPOO IS BULL BECAUSE IT LASTS FOR LIKE 2.5 APPLICATIONS AND I HAVEN’T SLEPT SINCE I WAS FOUR MONTHS PREGNANT AND I DEEPLY RESENT MY HUSBAND BUT I CAN’T RATIONALLY ARTICULATE WHY AND I JUST CALLED THE BABY THE DOG’S NAME AND I’M JUST TRYING TO KEEP EVERYONE ALIVE.”
And then the lady at the drug store makes you think that you’re supposed to be savoring it. Soaking in every moment. It’s like sand through your fingertips. POOF, the moment’s gone.
Please hear me: You’re doing great. You’re in survival mode, and that’s exactly where you’re supposed to be.
I get all schmoopy when I see babies who still scrunch their knees up to their chest when they get picked up. But I also know that with all that schmoopy knee-scrunching comes sleepless nights and unrelenting anxiety and second-guessing and self-doubt.
Does this mean you can’t enjoy the phase you’re in? Of course not. Sniff that baby’s head. Let their giggles make your postpartum curtain (you know exactly what I mean) waggle with joy. Rejoice when your toddler runs into your arms, shouting “MAMA!” with glee. It really, truly, is good stuff.
But DO NOT let us moms of older kids shame you into feeling guilty that you’re not adequately savoring the moment. For most of us, at best, it’s a giant blur annotated by a few choice beautiful moments (brought to our attention primarily by “on this day” apps on social media, if we’re being honest).
Nostalgia is perfectly normal and understandable. But it’s not a reason for guilt. You’ve got enough on your plate, mama. You do you. Hang in there. Survival mode isn’t permanent. There will always be challenges to contest with, but you already know that. You don’t need a jaded nostalgic mom shaming you into worrying in advance.
And when you emerge from the weeds, you’ll see a mom with a schmoopy knee-scrunched baby and you’ll think, “Awww. Sweet baby.” And you’ll tell her that her baby is cute. And you’ll recommend some nipple-cracking cream if she asks, and you’ll leave it at that. And you’ll continue onto the future knowing that you can handle whatever stage comes next.
Any mom who has a kid under four years old and decides to have another kid should immediately receive a prize at the time of delivery. These moms are freakin’ warriors.
Yet, oftentimes, people have this misconception about second time moms — that since they’ve survived one newborn they can survive them all. Listen, this may not be her first rodeo, but it sure as hell isn’t the same bull — and the first bull is still bucking.
So before you get all excited to pay a visit to your friend and her new baby, remember that she requires the same courtesies that were given with her first child.
Here are some Dos” & “Don’ts for visiting a new mom who just had her second baby.
WHAT TO DO
These apply to any mom, whether she just had her first kid or her seventeenth. These are the ground rules of baby/mom visitation:
DO text when you’re on your way and when you’ve arrived.
Phone calls, doorbells, and knocking are prohibited. If a dog barks or the toddler gets woken up from his nap, it’s your neck. Use the technology our Lord Steve Jobs gave unto us and try to be as quiet as possible.
DO expect cancelled visits and don’t be a jerk about it.
Sometimes as moms we need to be alone in our chaos. Maybe the toddler is having a day and having company is the last thing anybody needs. Don’t take it personal. Keep in touch with her and reschedule for another time.
DO wash your hands immediately and frequently.
As soon as you walk in the door head straight for the sink or hand sanitizer, you filthy animal.
DO bring coffee and/or food.
We all know parents must resort to copious amounts of caffeine to survive. But but make sure there’s plenty for the breastfeeding/pumping mother who suddenly has the appetite of a teenage boy. Bonus points for bringing enough food for the husband and other child(ren).
DO offer to fold laundry, do chores, or run errands.
She may have just shoved an entire human being out of her vagina or had a person removed from her abdomen. So just fold the laundry and do the dishes. Unless you’ve done something cooler this week than BRINGING A CHILD INTO THIS WORLD, the chores, errands and miscellaneous life tasks are your responsibility now.
DO entertain the toddler.
There are A LOT of things toddlers require…I mean A LOT. But attention and interaction is what they crave most. While Mom and Dad are adjusting to the new roommate, take time to interact with the older child. Even if it means watching the “Baby Shark” video 26 times or losing eight rounds of Connect Four to a person who still poops his pants and can’t even count to four. The interaction will do both the parents and the toddler a lot of good.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Here you go. Laid right out in front of ya. Now you have no excuse to be a Level 10 Douchebag.
The following are examples of douchebaggery you want to avoid:
DO NOT leave your house if you’re sick.
Just a reminder that TINY BABES have little to NO DEFENSE against your NASTY ASS COLD that YOU contracted after not washing your GRIMY HANDS after you bowled with DAMN NEAR EVERY BOWLING BALL at the bowling alley because you were looking for the “perfect fit” then followed up by INGESTING 2 HOT DOGS with those same GERM INFESTED MITTS.
Sorry Grandma, next time wash your hands after bowling league.
Until then, we’ll just FaceTime you.
DON’T kiss other people’s babies.
When you go to your friends house, do you go around kissing everyone? Do you just go kissing the husband, or the preteens, or the dog, or Grandma (Unless your like my family who literally kisses everyone, but that’s a whole other issue)? No, you don’t. So leave the baby alone, ya creep!
STOP staring at her boobs.
Don’t worry, your friend didn’t get a botched boob job. But it’s definitely going to look like it. Going in for a hug will feel like Cady Heron hugging Regina George’s mom in “Mean Girls.” Leave her poor giant, hard, engorged, leaky boobs alone. There’s a 98% chance she’s gonna whip ‘em out anyway and be like, “Damn, look at how bonkers my tits are right now.”
So until then, you are not to gawk, touch, or question the boobs. Just be ready with the ice packs.
DEFINITELY DON’T tell her how tired she looks.
“No. Really? What gave it away?”
“The purple circles under my bloodshot eyes?
“Or is it the way my sentences trail off into ineligible mumbles?”
“Are you also seeing these hallucinations or is that just me?”
She knows she looks like shit. No need to remind her.
DO NOT ask how the baby is sleeping.
What kind of question is that. Seriously.
If you’re that low on things to talk about, that’s your cue to go.
“But just to be clear the baby sleeps like A CONFUSED, NOCTURNAL PTERODACTYL and the toddler suddenly decided to stop napping and somehow I’ve lost COMPLETE CONTROL OVER MY LIFE. Thanks for asking though.”
Just because someone successfully gets through one newborn stage doesn’t make the next one any easier. Be graceful, be helpful, be patient, and be present.
When Victim Witness and the Prosecutor’s office asked me to consider speaking today, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was angry, I was scared, I was sad, and I was hopeful. I was angry because selfishly, I still cannot fathom that all of this has happened. I was scared because the responsibility I feel in this delivery, this speech, these words, weighs heavy on me.
How is it fair to ask the mother of a now 15-month-old to speak on her child’s behalf in front of a judge, our ex-nanny Rachel and her family, and accurately share what would be my daughter Ebbe’s emotions, Ebbe’s feelings? How can I be Ebbe’s advocate? How will I explain all of this when she’s old enough to ask questions? How will I look Ebbe in the eyes and tell her I did everything I could to fight for her and protect her when I wasn’t able to protect her when she was 3 months old?
I was sad that this is my family’s reality, that I will have to relive this all again when Ebbe is old enough to ask questions. I was sad that my oldest daughter, Olive, will know what a forensic interview is for the rest of her life. I was sad that Olive was put in a position to get someone she loved very much in trouble, because at 4 and half years old, the woman who was tasked with caring for her chose to lie, chose to put her own well-being in front of Olive’s 3-month-old sister’s and chose to make Olive speak up for Ebbe, when Rachel wouldn’t.
But I was also hopeful. I was hopeful this may give me the closure my family needs. I was hopeful there would me no more tears at the mailbox, no more letters waiting with Ebbe referenced as the victim, no more calls from Victim Witness or the Prosecutor’s office. I was hopeful that Rachel would also be able to move on with her life with her daughter.
So where does one start with this type of statement? Do I relive what it felt like to ask Rachel on three separate occasions if she knew what had happened to my sweet baby girl? Do I walk you through what it felt like to plead with your pediatrician’s office that, although your daughter is not crying or vomiting, you know something is wrong and you don’t want to wait through the weekend? Maybe I should share the frantic text to my mom when I finally understood that my 3-month-old had a skull fracture, that the Department of Child Safety had been called, that I was no longer trusted to be alone with my children without supervision and that I didn’t know what any of this meant?
Maybe I should ask Rachel to imagine crying in the hallway of the pediatric wing of the hospital as they X-ray your child to see if there is a history of abuse, to see if she has broken bones anywhere else on her tiny body from previous accidents. How do you explain to your other daughters why the Department of Child Safety wants to see them and ask them questions about their mom and dad?
I can tell you that I read Rachel’s character letters and two things stood out to me. Two things felt like a bigger slap in the face than having the woman I trusted with three of the four most important people in my life chose to withhold care from an infant for fear she may get in trouble for an accident. That should be stated, what I can’t wrap my head around is I know without a doubt this all started as an accident.
What hurt about those character letters is I know Rachel is a kind and caring person. I have no doubt Rachel is a wonderful mom. Rachel cared for my oldest two daughters for a year before we asked her to nanny for our family. Why would I leave my little girls with someone who wasn’t kind or caring? Why is that even a question?
The second statement I think came from Rachel’s mom as she shared what a great mom Rachel is and how Rachel would never leave her daughter with anyone else because she can’t imagine it. Rachel’s mom is right, choosing to leave our girls with Rachel was one of the easiest and toughest decisions of my life. Easy because we knew Rachel was kind and caring. Tough because they are my girls, I am their mom. I want to be the one to celebrate all of their successes and lay with them as they drift off to sleep. I want to be the one to pick them up when they fall and kiss their boo-boo’s, and hold their hand if they need to see a doctor. Tough because I trusted Rachel to be there for them in good and bad. I trusted Rachel to pick them up when they fell, and kiss their boo-boo’s, and hold their little hand if they needed to see a doctor when I wasn’t there and it didn’t happen. I felt sucker-punched when I read that sentence. I couldn’t help but wonder if Rachel felt that way now because she knows there’s a chance that her daughter may not be put first if she were left with someone else.
I will share that Ebbe is healthy and happy. She is walking and laughing. She is babbling and waving. She is smiling and she is perfect. I have learned just how blessed I am to have three happy and healthy girls. I am thankful to Rachel because our family was forced to reevaluate our life. My husband and I are the ones there to kiss boo-boo’s and hold hands. We are there to celebrate successes and lay with them as they drift off to sleep. We both took pay cuts and now work part time. Life may be harder now, but we take nothing for granted.
Through this entire process, I wanted two things: I wanted Rachel to understand the responsibility of caring for other people’s children. To understand what it means to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of parents who have trusted her to care for their kids. To get a glimpse into the impact she has had on my girl’s for the rest of their life. I hope Rachel never has to have the conversations with her daughter we have had with ours. I hope she never sees the heartbreak I saw in Olive’s eyes when I explained she couldn’t see Rachel anymore because Rachel chose not to tell the truth. I hope she never has to hold her daughter as she sobs trying to understand topics a four-and-a-half-year-old should not have to try to understand.
The second thing I wanted to accomplish was to try to protect other parents from going through this.
In all honesty, I don’t know if either has been achieved, but I do know I can look Ebbe in the eyes and tell her I did my best to speak on her behalf. I did my best to make someone we trusted to care for her understand how deeply she has hurt our family, but also that we will get through this together. That Ebbe know we will be there for her everyday to make sure whatever long term repercussions the skull fracture has, we will be there to help her.
When I decided to have my kids close in age, I didn’t consider that I would have an infant and a toddler at the same time. I was blinded by the idea of them growing up as best friends, building forts, and keeping each other’s secrets, even when it meant they would both be in trouble as a result. I didn’t consider that they would both be in diapers at the same time, or worse, that they would be tandem-teething, one cutting their first tooth while the other worked on 2-year molars.
Image via Giphy
Where Is the Instruction Manual?
Motherhood is utter chaos on the best day, but I’m going to be honest, I was wildly unprepared for the mayhem that came with teething and teaching my kids appropriate dental hygiene. Did you know your kid will have 20 teeth by the time they turn 3? Or that you’re supposed to take them to the dentist by the time they’re a year old? ‘Cause I didn’t. I had no idea. Baby’s first tooth should really come with an instruction manual. There could be an entire section dedicated to keeping the sink and surrounding counter space toothpaste-free too. Why must children splatter-paint the entire bathroom with toothpaste? And how the heck do you get them to stop doing that?
Image via Giphy
But alas, no one told me any of this, so there I was, waist-deep in another chaotic day with a fussy, teething baby and a toddler who had no interest in things that didn’t involve screaming. Like any rational but completely desperate mother, I turned to my social media mommy group for advice. My post may have been a slightly incoherent rant about teething that ended with a desperate plea for help. (I hadn’t slept in like three days. I was a mess!)
I Got 99 Problems But Teething Ain’t One
To my absolute delight, the comments started rolling in. Apparently, I wasn’t the first mom to stumble into a tandem-teething nightmare. Mom after mom recommended Baby Orajel Non-Medicated Cooling Gels for both my baby and my toddler. It’s benzocaine-free and made for babies 3 months and older, so it was perfect for my teething 3-month-old and my toddler’s nightmarish 2-year molars. There was only one problem, I didn’t have any on hand, which meant we would have to go out…in public.
Image via Giphy
So, there I was, standing in the oral care aisle of my local Walmart, the baby crying in my arms while my toddler threw groceries over the side of the cart. With bloodshot eyes and a messy bun that looked more like an untidy bird’s nest, I was 2 minutes from joining the kids in a total meltdown, when a seasoned mom walked by and handed me the Baby Orajel Non-Medicated Cooling Gels I was looking for.
“Been there,” she said with a smile. “Just rub this on his gums.”
Suddenly the wind was back in my sails just knowing I wasn’t alone. I could totally do this!
I was ready. My dental care game was stronger than ever, and my kids were destined for a lifetime of happy smiles.
We made it back home with a much happier baby thanks to the cooling gel, a toddler who was totally pumped about his new Daniel Tiger training toothbrush, and me — an exhausted mother who looked like a pile of dirty laundry, but felt like a million bucks because Orajel just totally saved my day.
I have a toddler people want to touch. People in grocery stores, people at the park, people who are decades older than she is, people who are mere months older. Imagine a 2 ½-foot-tall marshmallow with big Bambi eyes who is constantly giggling; wouldn’t you want to see what it felt like to just squeeze it a little?
The difference is that my daughter is a human child, entitled to the same bodily autonomy now as she will be when she is a tween, teen and adult woman. So along with teaching her to drink from a cup, I find myself teaching a 1-year-old how to say no to unwanted touching, even from people she loves. Even from me. At least it’s a word toddlers are good at.
We already know what happens to the human brain around cute babies: the release of dopamine, the same chemical produced when people fall in love, have sex or take drugs. Cute baby animals have the same effect, according to the non-porn sections of the Internet. So moms learn to expect a lot of hands and faces coming close to their infants and brace themselves for a quick intervention (or liberal use of wet wipes afterwards). We get good at acting as gatekeepers.
By the time kids are mobile, however, the touching impulse usually starts to fade. Maybe it’s because most toddlers are in constant motion, or they have perpetual runny noses, or you can tell just by looking at them that they’re sticky. Friends and strangers alike seem less compelled to make physical contact, and instead try (mostly in vain) to engage toddlers in coherent conversation. This was the natural progression for my first two kids, and it was a relief to know that other people’s hands weren’t constantly reaching for them as the physical distance between my body and theirs continued to grow.
It’s been different with my youngest daughter. Though fully mobile, she rarely runs away from a crowd, preferring instead to dive right in and connect with everyone she sees by smiling, laughing and repeating “Hi!” and “High five!” until you melt. She has also held on to all of the delicious rolls of her late infancy and her skin feels like satin. Every day, I watch as people’s eyes land on her and their hands give a little involuntary twitch.
But that doesn’t mean you get to touch her, or any other toddler, just because it feels good to you. Toddlers aren’t puppies or those stuffed animals with the oversized heads and enormous sparkly eyes. They may need a parent or caregiver to help them bathe or change their diaper, but they get to decide who hugs, pets, tickles or kisses them. They understand enough to respond to those requests, and if they say no, the word means the same as it would coming from any older person.
On its face, this sounds kind of harsh, a little over the top. And I’ll admit, it’s a lesson that has been hard to teach certain people in my daughter’s life – people who adore her and have only loving intentions when they reach for her. Even her siblings, my husband and I have had to reluctantly learn to recognize boundaries that didn’t exist in the same way when she was a baby. We are getting better at letting her ask or show us she wants to be picked up or hugged, and making sure she sees that when she says “no” or “stop,” we back off.
When it comes to my kids, I wish I was exempt from these rules. But if we want our children to self-advocate and seek consent from others later in life, we have to start respecting their personal space early and make sure they understand that they are entitled to it.
So let’s all try to be a little better about the toddler touching. When the snuggles they give us are freely given, they will feel even better.
We are Scary Mommies, millions of unique women, united by motherhood. We are scary, and we are proud. But Scary Mommies are more than “just” mothers; we are partners (and ex-partners,) daughters, sisters, friends… and we need a space to talk about things other than the kids. So check out our Scary Mommy It’s Personal Facebook page. And if your kids are out of diapers and daycare, our Scary Mommy Tweens & Teens Facebook pageis here to help parents survive the tween and teen years (aka, the scariest of them all.)
Right now, at this moment, in my very home, I have a 12-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. We have three children, and I will admit, there’s a pretty good spread between the oldest and the youngest. I won’t go into all the details as to why that happened, but what I will say is that on the low end, our daughter isn’t all that far removed from the toddler age, and on the high end, our son is considered a preteen.
I will also say this: I’ve noticed some similarities in their behavior. Sure, one is a better communicator than the other. There’s no doubt about that. But both are easily frustrated. Both are pretty good at getting offended, and both aren’t remotely afraid to state their opinions, or act like they are the expert in the room, when, in fact, they aren’t.
If I’m not arguing with one about putting on her shoes, I’m arguing with the other about taking a shower. And perhaps noticing these similarities between my youngest and my oldest is the reason I was nodding my head as I read a recent statement by Dr. Kathleen Van Antwerp, the leading expert in juvenile justice reform. She was the keynote speaker at University of Utah’s “Breaking the Pipeline” fourth annual symposium where she addressed ways to plug the schools-to-prison pipeline trend.
According to the Deseret News she had this to say about teen and toddler development: “Developmentally, teens and toddlers are about at the same level, with each age group struggling to grow into the next stage of life, but not yet equipped with all the tools.”
And later, during her exchange with the participants, Van Antwerp noted how “toddlers have yet to develop a range of expressive skills, so they resort to physical, shrieking tantrums to convey their discontent. At the teenage stage, the part of the brain that controls emotion is hijacked developmentally, governing the teen’s behavior across the spectrum… Research shows the prefrontal cortex, the chief executive officer portion of the brain that governs rational, cognitive thinking, doesn’t develop until the mid-20s or later.”
But on the whole, why does this matter? Well… for me as a parent, it surely gives me some insight into what I’m dealing with when it comes to my son. Emotionally, he’s all over the place. He eats all the time. A few months ago, I showed him how to make pancakes, and suddenly he thinks he can live on his own. But he is a bright kid and well-behaved young man. He communicates well, has friends, so on the whole, it feels like he’s just a shorter, softer faced, adult. But realizing that emotionally he is still developing — in ways similar to how a toddler is developing — helps me put things into prospective.
I’ll admit, I am looking at my son a little differently after reading this. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still find him frustrating. But I’m also acknowledging the fact that just like how my youngest is struggling to communicate, he is struggling to manage his emotions, and it will take time for all that to settle. It’s changed my expectations of him, and it’s caused me to be more open about what he’s feeling, rather than just assuming that he’s… well… acting like a jerk, or being difficult for the sake of being difficult.
On the larger, outside of my family, societal level, understanding the emotional development of teenagers matters a lot. The real focus of Van Antwerp’s work is on stopping the pipeline between high schools and incarceration, and she feels a major contributor to that pipeline is that educators and resource officers are interested in stopping students’ behavior, but they aren’t trained in why that behavior is happening on a developmental level.
Van Antwerp has spent just over 30 years developing educational and outreach programs for at-risk youth in schools, juvenile justice programs, emergency care centers and foster homes, and what she’s found is that society makes the mistake of trying to manage behavior rather than understanding it. “[We] should be creating a school climate in which teachers, police and other adults are properly schooled in understanding developmental behavior, instead of simply reacting to something they don’t understand.”
That last line — “simply reacting to something they don’t understand” — is the real kicker for us as parents. I’ll say it, I didn’t understand my toddlers, so I just tried to expect the unexpected. Now I’m bracing myself to do the same with regards to my son and his teen years. In the heat of the moment, it’s pretty easy to respond to any child with raw emotion and focus on the behavior (you’ve been there). Particularly when you are being pulled in a million directions with ALL the things.
But I think if we can take anything away from the developmental observations of Dr. Van Antwerp, it’s this: each stage comes with it’s own roadblocks, and the moment you think you’ve figured your child out, they move into that next stage. Accepting that your teenager is still emotionally developing, similar to a toddler, really should help us locate that emotional calm that can, sometimes, be difficult to find in ourselves — and make their seemingly random emotional swings a little more expected.
I don’t know about you, but when my kids were in the “put everything in their mouth” stage of life, I was a nervous wreck.
There was the time my baby crawled up to the doormat (I had no idea he could crawl that far yet), lifted up the mat, scooped up a handful of delicious dried-up mud we hadn’t cleaned up yet – and downed it all in one gulp. Fun times.
Or the time that same kid climbed the bathroom sink so he could reach the top shelf of the medicine cabinet to help himself to the “little purple pills” (i.e., Benadryl) he thought were candy. Thankfully, I caught him in time and he’d only popped one in his mouth at that point. Still, absolutely terrifying, because he totally would have ingested the whole packet of Benadryl if I hadn’t confiscated it in time.
Each time another mini swallowing emergency happened with one of my kids, it took me totally by surprise. I immediately took precautions to make sure nothing of the sort happened again, but I was definitely lucky, because I had more than one near miss.
Well, it turns out my kids aren’t the only hellions out there. Little kids swallow foreign objects all the damn time – from small toys, coins, jewelry, to those tiny button batteries found in items like remote controls and thermometers. According to a newly published study in Pediatrics, this appears to be a growing problem, with rates of kids swallowing foreign objects nearly doubling since 1995.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). They were looking at how many kids aged 6 and under were admitted to emergency rooms for foreign object ingestion.
“Between 1995 and 2015, nearly 800,000 children less than 6 years of age were estimated to have sought care for foreign body ingestions in US emergency departments – an average of 99 children each day,” Dr. Danielle Orsagh-Yentis, one of the study leaders, tells Scary Mommy.
The number of foreign objects ingested per 22,000 kids under six years old nearly doubled in that time period, according to the study. In 1995, about 61 kids per day were found to have swallowed foreign objects, whereas it was an average of about 118 per day in 2015.
The vast majority of swallowing incidents occurred in kids aged 1-3 years old (yep, the toddler years are totally prime time for those types of incidents). Coins were the most frequently swallowed. Small toys came in second, and jewelry and batteries tied for third.
OK, so why the sudden increase over the past two decades? Are parents becoming more negligent? Are kids becoming more adventurous? What gives?
Dr. Orsagh-Yentis tells Scary Mommy that while her research team wasn’t able to come to any hard conclusions about the reasons for this, the increase in swallowing cases likely has to do with the fact that more retailers are selling toys and technology with tiny parts, and we are filling our homes with them.
“This number likely reflects the accessibility of these objects, as coins, jewelry, and toys are readily found around the home,” she says. “Some of the products investigated in this study are increasingly being utilized in household items or have seen an advent on the marketplace.”
An additional factor, says Dr. Orsagh-Yentis, is that the dataset the researchers used in the study just might have picked up on more of these cases – i.e., kids were always swallowing this much junk, but we are only becoming aware of just how bad it is now.
“The dataset used in this study (NEISS) is also likely capturing more foreign body ingestions seen in emergency departments than in years prior,” she explained.
Dr. Orsagh-Yentis and her team of researchers are most concerned about the increase in battery ingestion. Button battery ingestion only makes up 7% of the cases studied, but the number of cases increased 150-fold over the 21-year period the researchers were studying. Not only that, button battery ingestion comprised 86% of battery ingestions by kids.
Button battery ingestion is super freaking dangerous and absolutely terrifying. As the AAP explains: “When lodged in the body, the electric current in a button battery rapidly increases the pH of the tissue adjacent to the battery, causing significant tissue injury even within two hours.”
If not treated promptly, button battery ingestion can result in “esophageal perforation, mediastinitis, vocal cord paralysis, tracheoesophageal fistula, esophageal stricture, or death caused by a significant hemorrhage of an aortoesophageal fistula.” Kids have tragically died from button battery ingestion as well.
So yes, we parents must take all of this with utmost seriousness, and let a study like this be a wake-up call to get even more vigilant about our home safety plans.
And how should we go about it? Dr. Orsagh-Yentis offered some some safety advice for all parents to follow:
1. Practice safe storage: “[Parents] should keep small items, especially button batteries, high-powered magnets, and loose change up, away, and out of sight of young children,” says Dr. Orsagh-Yentis.
2. Check age recommendations on toys: “Parents should also check age recommendations on toy packaging to ensure a toy is appropriate for their child’s age,” Dr. Orsagh-Yentis advises. “Parents should also read and follow manufacturers’ instructions for toy assembly and use.”
3. Teach your kids about the risks of putting foreign objects in their mouths: “Parents can start talking to their children about the risks of putting non-food items in their mouths when the kids are toddlers,” Dr. Orsagh-Yentis suggests. “Vigilance is still of paramount importance, though, and these items should be kept in secure locations out of their children’s reach.”
And what should you do if your child swallows a foreign object despite all the precautions you’ve taken? If your child swallows a foreign object, call your pediatrician for advice, Dr. Orsagh-Yentis says. You can also call poison control (1-800-222-1222). However, if your child swallowed a button battery or high-powered magnet, go to the emergency room ASAP.
In addition to all of this, Dr. Orsagh-Yentis and her team are urging manufactures to keep small toys off the market, especially ones that are appealing to very young children.
Studies like these can be scary AF, but at the same time, knowledge is power. If you have a little one, let this be a good reminder to take as many safety precautions as possible, and always, always be vigilant. Remember, too, that kids often are a few steps ahead of you when it comes to their ability to climb and crawl and get their hands of just about everything, so think ahead and lock stuff up, even if you don’t think they can get to it yet.
Oh, and spread the word. Not all parents are aware of just how dangerous some of this stuff can be, and the more awareness there is, the better.
I have been pregnant or breastfeeding for 10 whole years now (!), and given that I don’t have 10 children, most of that time has been spent nursing toddlers and preschoolers. Having been in the trenches for a while now, I can tell you that breastfeeding past the baby months is something that not a lot of people understand. I mean, it’s not something you see a whole hell of a lot (more on that later), and there are a million myths floating around about what it’s like.
First, let me clear up a few popular myths. No, breast milk doesn’t turn to water after a certain age (it actually continues to pack a punch in terms of nutrition). Breastfeeding toddlers and preschoolers is absolutely not “just for the mom.” Nope, you can’t just “pump and put it in a cup” (at that point, it’s about bonding as much as milk). And for Christ’s sake, it does not cause emotional damage and is not a form of sexual abuse (no way, no how, case closed).
So what’s it like, really? The bottom line for me is that it’s kind of a bit of everything at once — beautiful, irritating, relaxing, and even hilarious.
It’s a lovely time to reconnect with your little one. You are their safe space, and they come to you not just for a quick snack or drink, but also for relaxing and unwinding. So they’ll be playing on the floor while you’re immersed in your phone, and then they’ll look up at you, a little sleepy, maybe on the verge of tears, and you’ll both know it’s time.
They’ll crawl into your lap and nurse, letting out faint little sighs as their eyes start to flutter shut. Maybe you’ll get a nap out of them (nursing to sleep is sometimes the only way my toddlers will nap), or maybe you’ll both just relax together for a bit, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the day.
But breastfeeding a toddler can also be supremely annoying, and this is not something we need to gloss over. Sometimes your toddler will whine for “milkies,” “num nums,” “boobies,” or whatever you happen to call it (I adore the different names toddlers come up with for nursing), and you will not want to do it. Their asking to nurse again will make your blood boil and will grate your very last nerve.
That’s okay, and the great thing about nursing a toddler is that you can start to set some limits. You begin to realize that this is a relationship, and it goes both ways. For it to work, you both have to be happy with where it’s at. You’ll also find that there will be times your toddler wants to nurse non-freaking-stop and times when things kind of die down. So you can rest assured that whatever annoying phase you’re in will probably be over soon, like every annoying phase in childhood.
Another thing? Nursing a toddler is not all or nothing. I repeat: It is not all or nothing. So lots of moms night wean their toddler successfully (Warning: This doesn’t always mean they will stop waking in the middle of the night. Sorry about that). Lots of moms can get away for a few nights or more without their nursing toddler, and usually everyone does fine, especially if your toddler is left in loving hands.
You should know that moms of toddlers aren’t necessarily bursting with milk, but have just enough for their toddler’s needs. So being away from your toddler doesn’t leave you engorged — usually. And there are a lot of ups and downs with milk supply in those toddler years. Word to the wise: Your toddler can increase your milk supply any time it seems to tank by simply nursing more, or “like a newborn,” as some of us like to say.
And let me say a few words about nursing preschoolers and older kids, like 3 years old and beyond. If you make it to this point, you’re going to end up having a pretty different experience than you did in the toddler years. You will mostly be nursing before nap and bedtime, maybe in the morning, or here and there during the daytime. You almost always will be doing it at home, which is one of the reasons most people have no idea what nursing at this age looks like. They’ve literally never seen it. And there are absolutely opportunities for setting limits and boundaries nursing at this stage.
In fact, nursing during the preschool years might be my favorite time. My kids are close to weaning then, and every session is kind of bittersweet because I know it will be over soon. We can discuss breastfeeding (one of my nursing preschoolers was actually fascinated with lactation physiology and anatomy) and what it means to both of us. It is a special, special time of day — a little shred of babyhood we both hold on to until we’re ready to let it go. Weaning at this stage almost never takes any effort, and there are no hormone crashes or anything like that.
Obviously, how long you breastfeed — and whether you even breastfeed at all — is a totally personal decision, and one that you (and only you) get to make. But for anyone curious about what it’s like to breastfeed beyond 12 months, know that it can be fun, cuddly, frustrating, and peaceful, all at the same time. For moms who do it, it feels completely normal, just like any other aspect of parenting.
And when it’s over, you miss it. Yes, you really do. A whole hell of a lot.