At a mere two months old, my little precious smiled his way to his first passport. Our first trip abroad was scheduled to visit friends and explore a tulip covered Amsterdam in spring. It wasn’t to be. On April 26th, Scandinavian Airlines pilots decide to go on strike. We were due to leave on the 30th. Looking into alternate options, it was clear that neither other airlines nor different means of travel were possibilities.
Both were extremely expensive and would not be reimbursed. Also, there’s no way I’m going to take my baby on a two day journey with several stops on a train ride more expensive than airfare and then back again for a visit that’s only three days to begin with. I’ve much to say on the subject of being climate conscious, and limiting air travel, but will leave that for another post. Suffice it to say however, I will not stop using air travel as a means to explore the world.
Exploring the sea life in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
A globetrotter at heart, I absolutely love the art of traveling and all that it entails. Friends are scattered all over the globe and my heart is at home beyond that of my birthplace. Instilling love of culture, geography, history and all the subjects of learning travel entails, is a pertinent part of what I want to do as a mother guiding my son on his earthly journey. The thrilling ride of getting to know people in foreign lands is exhilarating and there is no better, more all encompassing, education.
Chilling in Southport, NC
I’m tickled to get started traveling the world with my son who soaks in his environment like no other. That which he will not remember at this young age will be documented. And the most important is just for him to get used to the lifestyle anyway. I’m not going to be one to put traveling on hold because of his young age and most certainly not because there are inconveniences in traveling with a baby. On the contrary, the challenge spurs me.
On top of Mt. Timpanogos, Utah
As an event/program manager by trade, attention-to-detail is my middle name. While I enjoy spontaneity in travel, being prepared simplifies and leaves more room for exploration at the destination. When traveling with a child, this is even more crucial. In looking over the preparations for our trip to Amsterdam that was cancelled, I put together my top 20 recommendations for the planning stages of traveling with a baby. From a single mama traveling with her plus one, I hope it can help a mama or two out there:
Pack all the essentials in your hand luggage (e.g. swimwear, first aid-kit, diaper bag)
Make sure that your Insurance is updated, card valid and info is in an easily accessible place with your hand luggage
Look up and save the emergency number of the country/countries you’re going to on your phone
Have at least one ICE (in case of emergency) contact saved on your phone
Check mobile service alternatives and potential charges and fees for the destination and make necessary changes to mobile plan prior to leaving, e.g. turn off roaming
Prepare for no mobile data or wifi by saving Google Maps directions offline and store maps/areas by using “Offline Areas”. Need more info, google it!
Research local transportation – ways to pay, most convenient/affordable card for your stay. If available for purchase online, it’s nice to have that in hand upon arrival
Order an airport shuttle or print-screen the local transportation route from airport to hotel – check to ensure that traveling with a stroller is possible for chosen option
Inform the hotel that you are traveling with a baby and ask for a crib, extra pillows or whatever other needs you may have. I bed-share so I asked for extra pillows and a king size bed
Bring a travel stroller or travel cover for the stroller you use at home (check airline measurement standards for carry-on luggage or to check in strollers)
Bring a baby carrier as an added option and in the event a checked-in stroller be damaged
Check the weather forecast and regardless, ensure you have a blanket and rain cover for the stroller (and depending on the country, a mosquito net)
Bring a first aid kit fitting for adult and child (mine contains all natural remedies like essential oils and herbs but to each his own) – summer or winter, always bring sunscreen (and make sure to pack a sun hat with neck guard), mosquito spray, topical gel ointment (and band aids), disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer, sleep aid, an antacid or substance with equivalent effect for stomach issues
Bring light toys and string – to ensure safe keeping, attach to the stroller bars for example
Look through your diaper bag to ensure only the essentials are packed and add enough diapers and wipes for the length of your stay to save on the hassle while traveling (finding the right store with the correct brand, etc)
Research non-stop transportation options for day trips (including entry fees where applicable) to eliminate the hassles with complicated, non-baby friendly and time consuming itineraries
Look up recommendations on local eateries, from locals, including options for take away. That way you have the flexibility to bring it to the hotel if it’s late or enjoy it in a park or other area you want to discover.
Check in online at the earliest possible time allotted for your airline to ensure an early check-in number (the last to check in are the first to get kicked off in the event of over bookings, etc)
At the airport counter, ask for pre-boarding to get settled with baby before everyone else gets on; inquire whether the first row of your section is available as it’s usually allotted to those with an accompanying baby
Come prepared for relieving ear pressure. If not breastfeeding, prepare a bottle beforehand or have a pacifier on hand as the sucking motion will release the pressure changes that are the worst during takeoff and initial descent (typically most noticeable as much as a half an hour or more before landing, depending on a flight’s cruising altitude (the higher up, the earlier the descent)
Pregnant mama enjoying a quiet evening in Gotland, Sweden
The pains of longing will never be forgotten. And I hope that the turmoil I’ve gone through can at some point in life give peace to another. Peace knowing that it can turn. Peace knowing that there is hope. Peace feeling the warmth of empathy from someone who understands. Completely. Peace in the companionship of shared grief. Peace in the shared light that now permeates my soul.
Two souls connected
People often say that women are all mothers, that motherhood is the nurturing of another. I agree to a degree. I’ve always been the nurturing type, one who’s gravitated towards children and caring for them at a very young age. I was a natural; when I was still a child, I instinctively knew how to hold a baby, understanding how to care for their needs.
I don’t say that at all to boast. It was one of my gifts. I love children. Children can always sense and feel at ease in that. So yes, I’ve nurtured many children. I’m empathetic as a person and can say that my heart has been available also to nurture others, of all ages.
It’s you and me, kid!
Yet throughout my life, any reminder that I was not yet, and perhaps would never be, a mother cut me deep. Over and over again. Mother’s Day was the worst. Siblings and friends celebrating on their own with their families. As they should. I tried my best to focus on my own extraordinary mother, celebrating her life and acts of tremendous kindness and giving. That didn’t aid in releasing the emotions that crashed down like ten meter waves. Tears behind closed doors.
In emptiness, I was left standing. Alone. Wondering if I’d ever have a child draw me a picture with I love you scribbles. Wondering if I’d ever have a family of my own to spend the holidays with when my parents were no longer with us. Wondering if I’d ever experience moments of family bonding, if there would ever be children jumping in my bed. Wondering if I’d grow old having no child to rejoice over, to go to the amusement park with, go on trips, attend graduations and soccer games, recitals, weddings and births of grandchildren. The thoughts made my mother heart ache. The emptiness echoed.
Regardless of the cause of childlessness – infertility, sexual orientation, life circumstances – the lows can be felt the same. Not having a child when it is all you wish for and would do anything to have, made me feel without purpose. Lost. Seeking fulfillment in every action and goal set with nothing but numbness remaining in the long term.
In a moment, it all changed. In my son, I am found. There is light. There is purpose. Love felt and given is reciprocated a hundredfold. Every day is a wonder. Family bonding is in every glance, touch and smile. Life has but begun for me. It’s a new day! It is indeed a HAPPY Mother’s Day. For the very first time.
To my own mother, you are amazing! You have created a home so full of love and creativity, and teaching all of us children what it means to serve our fellow man. Truly and genuinely serve. There is no other like you. With an endless passion for culture and travel, you’ve encouraged our world travels and taught us acceptance and respect for all of God’s children. Thank you for your divinely given example.
To those who yearn to be mothers but have yet to be blessed to be one, you are amazing. You are seeking to be that which is important above all. I feel your pain. I know of your struggles. I am with you and will never ever forget what was. I will be forever grateful and not ever take for granted the greatest gift of all. May God bless you with that which you long for most. And on this day more than any other day, may you find reasons to smile, a shoulder to cry on and have loving arms surround you.
Neither of the two girls manning the childcare at the gym took any notice as I sought their attention with Julian in my arms. I proceeded to lift out a baby walker and put him in it. I left him with a smile, busy exploring all the toys in front of him. I hurried to the elliptical machine and did a couple of minutes of high intensity workout as I feared I wouldn’t have much time.
There he is, in the middle of the room, enjoying a moment’s fun before he realizes his mama is gone.
After five minutes, I ran over to the window of the childcare room to check on Julian and he seemed ok. He was alone but still entertained. I ran back and worked up a sweat, another two minutes of burning calories and rebuilding my muscles that have been stagnant for so long. The whole time I kept thinking about Julian and feeling guilty that he may be sad once he realizes I’m not there. The last couple of times, I had only been gone about ten minutes until I hear the intercom: “Can Julian’s mom please come to the childcare!”
Sure enough, I peek through the window again and one of the childcare attendants was actually sitting next to him, stroking his head. I hand gestured a thumbs up and down, inquiring how he was doing as I couldn’t see his face. She gestures back a hand shaking up and down. I grab my phone and run inside, picking him up immediately upon entering. He holds on tight, stops crying and I wipe his tears away.
My happy camper after mama returns from the gym area (on the other side of the window in the back)
View while doing floor exercises at the child care room at the gym. You gotta do whatcha gotta do!
Not doing this again! Nope. I’m cancelling the childcare service and just sticking to doing the classes where I can bring him along, for now. Who am I to cause him distress and leave him in the hands of random people, many of whom could care less? Some actually do show affection towards him and do their utmost to care for him yet safe attachment is difficult to attain as time there is limited, staff changes, etc. To others, it is just a job. And that just isn’t good enough.
Being a single mama, these are challenges that I will face continuously. There’s simply no co-parent to watch him while I go take a class, go for a run or get a good workout in at the gym. In time, extended family could watch him every once in a while but that would of course not be a habit to count on. So, I reassess the situation.
Getting in shape is important to me. We are all content in different shapes, some plus size, some buff, some skinny, etc. We certainly do not all hold to the same standard. Our preconditions and genetics vary. There’s complexity in our views on body image, body composition and health. There are extremes in all directions. All of that doesn’t matter. What matters is how we feel about ourselves.
Bulge over C-section scar.
My current state of floppiness and extra layer of fat bothers me to no end. The tummy that still slightly hangs over my C-section scar (which, I hear, is common) terrifies me. When I ran on the treadmill the other day, it freaked me out how out of shape I was; worse than I have ever been. It all gives me determination.
I’m not one of those mamas who’s content to stay in my current state of physique simply because it’s beautiful that I housed my little love in there. Nor am I one of those mamas who’s preparing for a marathon and in a facebook accountability group to get ripped.
I just want to have a healthy fitness level and BMI, and I want to firm up. I’m not happy with the way I feel and I’m set on doing something about it. I’m already working on it but it’s been slow because…. well, life. And because I find it difficult to set apart the time to workout at home.
At-home workout with my baby. This exercise is actually a really good one to rebuild your core after diastasis recti.
While I most enjoy going to classes at the gym, that will probably not be a possibility for a while yet. I don’t do well with at home workouts. I just lose my focus and it’s harder to structure. For me. The ideal situation currently would be an at-home personal trainer, or one where I could bring Julian along. But, that’s a dream scenario that simply isn’t an option, money wise.
So, going forward, I will simply have to push myself harder to stick to the at-home routines that I do from time to time but more importantly, those 10,000+ steps a day are crucial. Now that the sun is out and temperature pleasant, going for walks is now an option I look forward to. This mama is on a power walking mission!
Walking in the Ergobaby
Going for a walk in the stroller
Always on the lookout at the surrounding activity
I’m going to invest in one of those activity trackers and am looking for a better stroller that can take forest terrain. For a single mama on a budget, what recommendations do you have on good quality activity trackers?
I just checked on Julian who is sleeping. I do this several times a night until I lie down next to him to sleep. I hear him breathing. I stroke his back. I kiss his cheek and let it linger there. I feel as though I’ve won the jackpot and it’s Christmas morning all rolled into one. The joyful chills shoot through my body like jolts of electricity that I am his mother. I get to nurture him with every sense. What an incredible opportunity!
That opportunity comes with a heavy dose of responsibility. We take on managing that responsibility differently, both on an individual level as well as how societies are governed, and norms set. I’m just a first-time mama doing my utmost to give my son the best of conditions to lead a fulfilling life. With those changing norms and trends that come and go, the intuitive mother’s heart is no longer relied upon, at least not to its full extent.
Understanding the development of a child is crucial to the relationships we shape with our children. The relationships we shape with our children are crucial to the development of who they will grow up to be. This will in turn impact the society we live in; it’s all interconnected. It is imperative to gain a deeper understanding of the impact familial relationships are to society at large. That is especially true for those who advocate for mothers to get back into the workforce as swiftly as possible after having a child.
Our availability as parents during our children’s formative years is crucial. Unfortunately, it is increasingly lacking due to the standards set on family policy at a central level in many countries worldwide. As a side note, the notion that the choice to stay at home when the children are young is made only by people who are submissive to a male figure head and have no intelligence or mind of their own is extremely frustrating. That frustration grows the more I learn about the grave consequences of early separation – and how accepted it is to overlook them – and the positive impact secure attachment has on a child.
To learn more about the concept of attachment, I’m currently taking an online course on the subject by renowned Dr. Gordon Neufeld – a developmental psychologist with over 40 years of experience and an authority on child development. Dr. Neufeld has developed a comprehensive theory that includes six stages of attachment that children progress through in the first six years of life, which create the foundation for every relationship our children will develop. A safe place of attachment is a cornerstone of parenting, from which we can act to influence and guide our children.
It all begins with an understanding of how emotion governs brain development. Science has shown that the most important task of the limbic system involves moving children to attach to those responsible for them. A well-developed attachment forms a foundation in empowering the significant adult of a child to do that which they (we) are meant to do. A crucial step that must eventually occur in order for children to become well-attached, is the giving of the heart. It is only after the heart of a child is given that their minds are open to the recipient’s influence.
Unfortunately, rather than recognizing the impact of emotion and vulnerability on children’s ability to learn, we focus instead on consequences and behavior. Too often our attempts to modify behavior actually harden hearts, reducing our influence and consequently making matters worse. The focus needs to shift from reactive to proactive. By adapting that mindset, the potential grows to win, keep, protect and soften the hearts of our children. Dr. Neufeld explains:
“When a child’s heart is in the right place and there is enough softness to be easily moved, learning and behavior will not be a problem. When we have the heart of a child, we also have their loyalty and their attention, their desire to be good for us and their willingness to work for us, their eagerness to win our favor and measure up to our expectations.”
It is the responsibility of us as parents to create an environment and solid foundation where attachment can abide. By doing so, we help our children be resilient, strong, and naturally inclined to cooperate with us. So, what are some practical applications on how to accomplish safe attachment? Here are some suggestions:
Invite your child into your presence by being close and doing things together, be it cuddling, reading, baking or playing. The activity matters less than the connection and message that you convey through the activity (wanting to be close). When a child resists connection, stay nearby. Be available and present. It will make a difference.
Illustrate the delight with which you see them by making eye contact, smiling, nodding in agreement, expressing appreciation and love.
Dr. Neufeld explains further: “When we respond to a child’s invitation to exist in their presence with a smile, warmth, touch and nurturing behavior, we illustrate to them the invitation to exist in our presence.”
Invite dependence.This is such an enlightening concept, which is often misconstrued. Inviting dependence is to create a safe environment and build trust. Independence only emerges after dependency needs are met.
Collect before you direct! When we let our role (whether that be as parent, teacher or other authoritative figure) steer our behavior, we tend to command rather than collect attention. We need to follow our heart and intuition rather than the role by which we function. Make a connection with your child first. Once the connection is established, they will be much more open to direction.
Interesting, isn’t it? This is but a snippet on the subject of attachment, its grand importance and how to establish it. It isn’t a quick fix solution but a mindset that requires a deeper understanding to implement. There are complexities to life, to child rearing, to understanding the human psyche. Yet, coming to understand the concept of attachment can break down and make those complexities manageable.
To answer what it’s like to be a
single mother is complex in its simplicity. Motherhood is hands down the role I
hold in the highest regard. It’s the corner office with the partner sign
outside of it. It’s the ultimate dream job yet more precious, rewarding and
challenging than any position in the workplace could ever measure up to be. It
is the one role I have anticipated and prepared for most, and put in the blood,
sweat and tears to reach. The constellation in which my family has been created
may present obstacles, but they do nothing to dampen the first class experience
this journey has already afforded me.
The last two nights have been
physically demanding with Julian waking up frequently, crying, which is unlike
his regular joyful behavior. He’s had an extremely congested nose, which I’ve done
my utmost to clear to alleviate his breathing. He’s been inconsolable, and I’ve
held him close all day and rocked him or had him sleep on me the last two
nights. I’m beyond tired.
There’s no one else to hand him over
to tonight. He’s in my arms as I’m writing this, close to 1 am. There’s no one
to hand him over to tomorrow when I’m going to need rest to recover. Every
diaper change, every feeding, every bath, every waking moment when I skip my
needs to attend to his, I am his source of care and comfort. Laundry, cooking,
cleaning; I’m it.
That’s my reality and I embrace it.
Somehow, my body handles it. And my psyche… well, I’m simply high on happy.
There are as many scenarios in which motherhood comes about as there are in
which singlehood does. My state of mind is most likely the exception rather
than the rule to the state of single motherhood. I’m content. In the midst of
all that’s lacking, I feel more complete than I ever have before.
Sure, there is a deep desire to find
love, partnership, companionship. There is a sense of loss for not having had
that person by my side throughout pregnancy with all its milestones, joys,
aches and pains. There is sadness that a father figure is missing out on the
joy that is being with Julian every day, watching him grow. Time lost. There is
resignation to the fact that what is difficult in parenthood is my burden to
What is not, what is pure joy and
astonishment, is also mine. Carrying that alone can be equally disappointing.
You know, shared joy and all that jazz. However, there has not been a moment of
self-pity. In fact, in all the years as I hoped, waited, longed and prepared
for motherhood, I loathed every time I heard a parent complain, whether the
source was a partner insufficient in its parenthood partnership or the “load”
of the child/children.
Listening to “the nuisance that is
parenthood” kind of expressions were worse to me than hearing about joyful news
of pregnancy etc., which can be particularly hurtful when in that phase of
hopeless want for something that seems so unreachable. Certainly, it’s fine to
vent and share experiences. It’s also fine to fail. Occasionally. We all do.
When there’s a pattern to it however, it’s not… ok.
In that mode of complaining or
expression of needing out of a situation one chose to get into oneself comes
the entitlement. One of my absolute greatest pet peeves is when a parent starts
talking about self-care and self-enlightenment, the extent of which often goes
beyond the sphere of parenthood. There is a shift of focus. To me, myself and
I. Needing to be around adults. Needing to “find” oneself again. Needing to
explore the world outside the home. Needing a spa day with the girls. Whatever
it is. Certainly, the points are valid wants and we need to be able to treat
ourselves and ensure our wellbeing is looked after; that’s a given and should
be encouraged. At the right time and place in life.
Sure, I’d enjoy a massage, or a full
night’s sleep, or eating without a baby attempting to do somersaults in my lap,
or going to the bathroom or taking a shower by myself. In time, I will. There
needs to be a new balance in one’s world order when choosing to be a parent, putting
another above oneself. It is possible to do both, at the proper ratio and period of time.
Yes, having children is hard work that
requires sacrifice. It’s also a choice. If you choose it, then be an adult and
deal with it. Be happy for it. Be grateful for having what so many of us cannot
or have to fight a painful battle to achieve.
I share my
thoughts on this because that is part of my baggage that makes me the mother I
There is hardship in all of our lives,
to different extents and definitely in varying dosages. Life isn’t fair. When
it comes to family, there’s physical, emotional and mental struggles. There are
broken relationships, which bring complexities and oftentimes drama. There are
so many layers to the dynamics of a family. It is the responsibility of the
parent to create a solid foundation. In my little family, that responsibility
There is opportunity in that
responsibility. I’m constantly learning and evolving in my role as mother. I
love that part! I am
tired from lack of sleeping. I get no alone time. Getting back in shape is
taking a lot longer than anticipated. Everything
is taking longer; I simply don’t have time for much that I aim to do. I
have a wonderful extended family surrounding Julian and I yet no one person who’s
walking my path alongside me.
So be it. The
physical strain that can appear is lifted by the immensity of gain in having
Julian. My life will never be the same. I wouldn’t want it to be. There are
certain things I anticipate will not be feasible to do for quite some time yet.
There are others that some may say we are limited to do. Not so. The experience
will be a different one, but I can’t wait to start traveling with him, one of
my greatest passions in life. I can’t wait to show him the world, for him to
meet my friends around the globe and meet new ones. Our first trip abroad goes
to Amsterdam later this month. Watch out world, here we come! Just the two of
us but we’re a force to be reckoned with.
Toys are all around. Pacifiers too. I’m organized yet find pleasure in those traces of a little one that serve as constant reminders that there is a child in my home. I have a family. I savor the past since he’s been in my life and treasure the dawning of each new day.
Another milestone reached and it’s all so exciting. Julian turned six months old last week and I am now introducing solids to him. It may seem silly to be excited about such trivial matters but to me every event is monumental. The thought of a future filled with I-can’t-waits makes my heart smile. Every day.
First meal March 16, 2019
The approach I started for introducing solids is baby-led-weaning, which is normally started at six months. Prior to that, infants have what is called an “open gut”, which allows whole proteins to pass directly from the small intestine into the bloodstream. This function allows antibodies from breast milk to enter the bloodstream. Since large molecules from solid foods can pass through as well, the antibodies from breast milk that coat the baby’s digestive tract, reduce the likelihood of illness and allergic reactions that solids can cause before gut closure occurs. At around six months, the baby starts producing these antibodies on his own.
So, as the digestive system is mature
to handle solids, the baby can sit in a high chair unassisted, and able to move
food to the back of their mouth using up and down jaw movements, it is safe to
introduce solids. One of the many benefits to the baby-led weaning process is that it will help develop
chewing skills that may not be fully developed until about nine months of age.
The method allows for the baby, at its own pace and by ability, to explore and experiment with the different forms, flavors and consistencies of food. Many children need a longer exploration period before the food starts to get in the stomach while others start eating right away. Julian certainly is just exploring at this stage. And it is messy! Most of the food ends up on the highchair, on his lap, on the walls or on the floor. It’s all cool though. As is common for baby led weaning, I will continue to breastfeed and depending on his pace, it will continue to be his main source of nutrition for at least the entire first year. I am completely content with that. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Spaghetti gone astray…
Beyond being a convenient way to wean the baby to eat regular food, it actually aids physical development in fine-tuning motor development. It also teaches self-regulation – learning to stop eating when feeling full. With the benefits, a fear of the perceived risk of choking is common, especially among first time parents like me.
It is important to note that babies are developmentally ready to handle solid finger foods at six months of age, so it’s very unlikely that the baby will actually choke on food. A common misconception is that gagging equates to choking. Not so. Gagging is extremely common when babies are starting solids and it serves a purpose. In fact, gagging is a safety mechanism to prevent choking. The parent’s reaction will do much to calm or scare the baby so it’s important to understand the difference. The gag reflex ensures that larger food pieces remain near the front of the mouth, only allowing very well-chewed foods to the back to be swallowed. This reflex moves further back on the baby’s tongue as he ages, which is yet one more benefit to introducing real foods sooner.
The concern for choking is naturally common so an approach that might be useful, and one that I am implementing, is to mix it up and add purees. Preparing purees with an increasingly lumpy texture will help advance the child’s chewing skills. A major
part to the idea of baby-led-weaning is to allow for the baby to lead the process, allowing the baby to
be in charge of whether and how much they eat. This
resonates with me and how I like to mother. However, this can be accomplished with both methods, as
long as one pays really close attention to the baby’s cues and don’t coax or
force the baby to eat.
The more I research the myriad of studies available, experience and knowledge shared on childcare and motherhood, the more I am confident to rely on my instincts. It’s important to be aware and well read on subjects of safety and good practice, to serve as a foundation for further exploration. I strive to keep a balance of a combination of the two.
In finding balance, I am grateful that
despite opinions and shaming in all directions, I am happily content with the way
I parent my son. Studies, methods, and echoing forums are all good sources
for acquiring knowledge. To expand is to trust and utilize my innate ability as
a mother. With the introduction of
baby-led-feeding, I truly am letting him take the lead, taking the time he
needs to mature in that area. There is no rush to wean off breast feeding. Despite
frequent feedings, often hourly at night, that immediate response to his needs,
the skin-to-skin contact, and close attachment bodes well for his wellbeing. And
how cool that my body can handle it.
Similarly, the bed-sharing arrangement
provides for his needs, regardless of when and how they arise. He sleeps well
but on the rare occasion he stirs for reasons other than breast feeding, I lean
over, put my face next to his and feel our breaths become one. As my hand lies
on his chest or cheek, he squeezes and holds it in place with both of his. It
is moments like those that elevate the life experience. Well, at least my life
Whatever “method” or practice is acquired,
let’s make it our own, relying just as much on heart and gut as data. The
balance of that combination is sound parenthood practice. Now, if you’ll excuse
me, I have a baby to go snuggle up to.
There have been moments of joy in my life thus far but never a season of happiness, the likes of which I have embarked upon since my son’s birth. It is beyond my abilities of most intricate expression to fathom it, much less describe it. For the first few months, I soaked it all in and relished every moment. I still do but my mindset has shifted slightly to expand in the area of self-care in the routines that have begun to shape.
There is no such thing as getting back into regular routines after giving birth. They have changed so dramatically and will never be the same; neither will my physique. Going through pregnancy and a c-section has altered my body in many ways. I had a pregnancy without major complications, yet it wasn’t free of them.
The exhaustion and nausea of the first trimester was brutal and kept me lying down at every opportunity. The habit of going to the gym suffered. The fact that I traveled a lot during that time, including two long intercontinental trips, made it an increasingly difficult period, physically (mentally and emotionally, I was on a high never before experienced). The rest of the pregnancy offered a mix of joint pain, lack of sleep and tightening of the belly whenever I exerted myself beyond daily activities. Thus, beyond the occasional walk, all I could muster were calm forms of yoga like yin-, kundalini- and restorative yoga.
Blissfully awaiting the miracle. PC: Helena Österlund
The decrease in physical activity however didn’t affect my
weight much. I gained approximately 10-12 kg (I didn’t keep track of my weight
religiously, thus I can’t pinpoint it with exact precision) throughout my
pregnancy, which is perfectly fine. Indeed, for a woman with normal weight,
recommended weight gain during pregnancy is between 11.5 and 16 kg (25-35 lbs).
After giving birth via c-section, there was limited movement,
which affected my physical recovery. I had a couple of extra kilos to lose
following the birth, which increased with the lack of movement for the extended
time necessary to recover from surgery. The combination of lack of movement, and
full focus on a life other than myself contributed to a body recovery that was
anything but rapid.
Recovery after giving birth can bring about all kinds of
challenges, whether vaginal or via c-section. Let’s just concentrate on the
latter for the sake of this discussion, as that was my experience. There is unfortunately
a lack of hands-on education and resources given to women postpartum, at least
here in Sweden but I know for a fact we’re not alone.
Aside from a couple of pages with recommended recovery details, such as to avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby, to limit physical activity for 6-8 weeks, how to get out of bed etc., there has been no support. I had one follow up visit to the midwife I had been seeing during my pregnancy. As much as she offered to be of assistance should I need it, that visit was mostly just to show off Julian. The system is faulty.
There should be access to extended professional follow up to ensure recovery is on track, potential physical therapy or guided protocols to aid in the recovery process. Instead, one is left to one’s own devices (and google!), hoping for the best. This is major abdominal and pelvic surgery and should be treated as such.
Let’s dive into what actually happens during this surgery. There are multiple layers to go through before reaching the baby. After the initial incision, the cut continues through the fat cells, connective tissue, and into the abdominal cavity. The abdominal muscles are then spread apart and the bladder is moved out of the way in order to get to the uterus. There is an incision made into the uterus and the baby taken out. After the placenta is taken out shortly after, the uterus is stitched up, the bladder put back in place, followed by connective tissue and the abdominals, and finally the skin is stitched up.
Off to surgery.
It is imperative to rest and allow for the body to heal following this procedure. The first week or so was really painful and incredibly difficult to move. Sitting up to get Julian for night feedings was quite the undertaking and moving at all was anything but effortless. Walking around the house was enough at first. Walks outside had to be delayed and even after a couple of months, it was strenuous to do. The extra weight of the stroller also added an extra dimension of difficulty in the effort to push it in uneven terrain and I had to have someone with me in order to manage any hills.
4 months postpartum, first day back at the gym
The outer scar healed fine in a couple of weeks while the deeper layers inside takes much longer. The area today is still outwardly numb, six months postpartum, and soreness remains inside, especially during certain exercises. Another issue has been diastasis recti, which is abdominal separation; a gap between the rectus abdominis muscles. It essentially means that the abdominal muscles, which normally hold the belly in place, don’t. Thus, the uterus, bowels and other internal organs hang more forward than they otherwise would, making it look much like a pregnant belly. Introducing, the belly pooch! It is imperative that the correct exercises are used to recover this condition but it takes time. A belly wrap support corset is also recommended, which I found very helpful.
In addition, pregnancy in itself heightens the
risk of pelvic floor dysfunction, regardless of vaginal or c-section delivery. The
downward pressure of the baby on pelvic floor muscles can stretch these muscles
and their connective tissues, leaving them more lax than normal. The expanding
uterus puts pressure against other pelvic organs, including the bladder and
rectum, potentially disrupting their normal function.
Needless to say, there were issues to address in recovering from pregnancy and the c-section surgery. I am still repairing and adjusting what was misaligned. With a year of limited physical activity, going back to exercise again has been exhilarating. And exhausting. Working to build back muscle and getting my heart pumping again feels awesome. Yet, the process is discouraging at first. I hate leaving Julian. It tugs at my heart and my mind is only on him for the entire workout. Having been limited in movement for so long, I need patience to build back strength and stamina. I feel so heavy. I am out of breath. My muscles seem non-existent.
My little man accompanying me to gym class “Strong Mama” at SATS.
With that said, I am excited to get back into shape. In time, I’ll get there. I have set a goal to get back as close as I can to pre-pregnancy fitness shape by summer: #fitmamabysummer. It is attainable yet am gentle on myself. My body has been through the wringer. It’s ok for it to take time. Also, my body is unlike anyone else’s. There are women whose body composition is different than mine and have a flat belly within days after delivery, or those who compete in a fitness contest, or run a race shortly after. Or whatever. Our journeys vary and that is ok. Our mindset on fitness also varies.
Alright, let’s do this!
Most of my life, I have been physically active but never hardcore. I’ve never been into sports but I started dancing at an early age and continued with that all through my teens and into my early adulthood. Since then, I’ve gone to some form of fitness or dance class or had a gym membership and used it regularly at an average of 2-3 times/week, sometimes more, sometimes less. My aspirations for physical activity has more to do with health than appearance. And moderation is key to how I function.
Naturally, I care about my appearance but I believe in a holistic view of fitness; a fit body and mind, and most importantly, a balance in all things. It is all correlated. There is an abundance of research that illustrates the importance physical activity has on brain function and development. There is research that shows the effects of physical activity on our mental and emotional health.
It matters and affects more than physical function or appearance. I want to be healthy and strong, especially as a mother responsible for my son’s well being. For myself, I want to feel like I “fit” in my body; I want to enjoy dressing in my favorite clothes but most importantly, I want to know I am taking care of my health, for the long term. I want to make my body as long-lasting as I can. That is my purpose. The improved appearance is a positive side effect.
It is important to not lose oneself in motherhood, and taking care of oneself is crucial to be able to care for another. There is much self-care which is pushed to the side now. Uninterrupted sleep, reading, a long hot bath or going to the sauna after a good spinning class, a pedicure, massage, fine dining… The list goes on but matters so little. It all comes down to priority and consequence. To me, there’s a season for each purpose in life. My focus at this stage is physical fitness recovery. I do it for me. I do it for my son but never ever at the cost of his well being, in any measure. I strive for balance in all things!
Most noteworthy in my perspective is that I have found myself in motherhood. That which is all encompassing is the relationship I have with my son and what I can provide for him in terms of comfort, support, endless love, wisdom and life experience. It’s just the two of us and I intend to make it known to him how important he is to me. Every day. Every day, in every decision, I will proclaim to him that no-body, no-thing matters more to me than he does. In my life’s journey and the goals I set, that will always be at the forefront of my mind. At the core of his being, he will know it. If I accomplish nothing else in life noteworthy to others, that is enough.
First, an update. Thank you all for your support and illustrations of love after my dad’s fall. Much of the outer wounds have healed but the underlying cause for the fall needs to be investigated further. Seeing one’s beloved father incapacitated or in pain in any way, is heartbreaking. My dad has such a zest for life, I know that any jolts to the reality that age is catching up to him with limitations of capacity, mobility or otherwise, pain him immensely; it reduces his freedom, which he cherishes so. Yet, his positive outlook on life, and what is beyond death, will never cease. Mark my word, on his deathbed (which I hope and pray is many years off), he’ll laugh and say “I’m just fine”.
A photo of my dad, some forty years ago, depicting the essence of who he is.
The fear of seeing our loved ones in pain or sorrow and the reality of ultimately losing them is a thought one must face yet is so difficult to accept. Yet, the best that we can do is to make the most of what we have today. It’s difficult however to stay present in an ever-changing world. Facing challenges head on is healthy; allowing worry to overtake us is not. It is difficult to find that balance. I am a highly sensitive person who feel other’s emotions as clear as my own. Thus, my struggle is managing my inner demons simultaneously as dealing with those I sense from the people with whom I surround myself.
On the other end of the spectrum in this circle of life is my son. Daddy’s girl now has a mama’s boy. My little Gerber baby is just shy of six months old. My world has forever changed since the day my Julian was born. I am still wrapping my head around the fact that the wide-eyed wonder smiling at me all day long is mine.
That precious touch.
With the fascination of each new day as my baby is quickly turning into a boy, I treasure the past. I hold on to the sounds, the smells and the features of infancy. That cuddly baby wearing period when he was still on my bosom practically 24/7. My lips and nose attached to his soft skin, my hands stroking the contours of his body. The sensations overcome me. I want time to stand still. I want time to rewind as change occurs. Yet, I want time to go on, for the changes and new experiences to occur, milestones reached, and memories made. There is such beauty in the transformation of a baby; I cherish every part of it.
Moments to capture and wrap safely in our hearts (older brother, mom and I).
Julian has brought me fulfillment unlike anything I have ever experienced. The family which I have been blessed to share my life with make his existence even more beautiful. Seeing the love that my parents have for him, and exchange with him, expands my heart. Watching his cousins dote on him with their hugs and kisses and sweet talk is enormous in the experience of life’s highs. I want it all to remain just like that. Yet, all I can do is enjoy every moment I have of today and store those sweet memories of loving exchange at heart. I suppose that is part of living in the present… Remaining grateful for what we had, accepting what may come while dwelling in the present.
Warning to sensitive readers: The post has been updated with photos of a somewhat graphic nature.
My dad fell to the ground today, head first, just a fewmeters ahead of me as he was joining me for a walk with Julian. As I’m sittingdown after putting Julian down for the night, the emotions have overcome me. Itwas traumatic, and I need to figure out how to deal with that so that it doesn’tconsume me as it is currently. The scenario plays over and over in my mind andI go over the details prior to the fall, exploring points at which I might havebeen able to predict, and ultimately prevent, what happened.
Julian & Morfar (grandpa in Swedish)
My dad has suffered two strokes, the effects of which have magnified in recent months. Foot drop in particular has gotten exponentially worse. This is a condition that impairs the ability to lift the front of the foot, which can cause it to drag on the floor while walking. This is a dangerous stroke side effect because it impairs balance and increases the likelihood of falling.
As we began our walk, I noticed that his step was out of balance and extremely heavy with his upper body leaning forward, and dragging his feet, more than usual. On a couple of occasions, I asked him if I was walking too fast and if he could please move further away from the edge of the side walk as I was worried he might trip onto the street.
With less than 100 meters to our destination at a slight decline, my dad is walking barely ahead of me and I notice how he speeds up, his feet hardly able to keep up. Until they don’t. I was just about to take my phone out to video record it so that we could show it to someone who might be able to help him with rehabilitation or other means to improve the issue that has gotten exponentially worse. Before I finish the thought, he falls to the ground, no hand reflex to catch his fall, and lies there motionless while my heart stops.
Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to put the brakes on the stroller before running to him. I wave my arms for help to potential cars passing by, but my eyes are only focused on my dad. My sweet dad. His head is in the gravel and I try to turn him over but can’t. Suddenly, a family friend who just happened to drive by at that exact moment pulls over and helps me move him over so that we can assess his condition while I call emergency services for an ambulance.
The operator keeps asking me for the address, which I didn’t have. There are few side streets where a sign would be present. As I looked around, I saw none and would have had to walk away for a quite of a distance in order to see one. I give him several landmarks that were within close vicinity of our location, but he insists for me to find a street name. Seriously, the dude wants me to leave my dad covered in blood, and my five-month old baby to go look for a street sign???
He’s obviously on a computer; it would have taken him but a few seconds to look up one of the many businesses I mentioned to get a location address. Yet, he keeps pressing the issue instead of finding a solution with the information I gave him. Had it not been so against my character, I would have blasted him with obscenities; that was my state of mind toward him at the time.
Within minutes of the fall, two more people pull over to help and one of them gives me an address and the ambulance is finally dispatched. My dad is talking but still on the ground, clearly shaken yet as always in good spirits, hating the fuss about him. These strangers go straight into action. The man walks over to my stroller and starts playing with my baby so that I can concentrate on my father. The woman brings two large blankets so that we can keep my dad warm. My heart is filled with gratitude to these fellow men who showed such silent human compassion.
The incident brought on miracle after miracle along the way. Theambulance arrives after maybe ten minutes, or less. Well, actually it wasn’tthe dispatched ambulance but another one that just happened to drive by at thatmoment. In fact, an emergency dispatch nurse called me to check on whether theambulance had made it as the other one my dad had by this point been broughtinto was just about to take him to the hospital. The dispatched ambulance hadn’tarrived and was nowhere in sight.
Our friend who had actually seen my dad fall as he wasdriving up from behind us, stayed until the ambulance left, rescheduling ameeting he was on the way to. He offered to take Julian and I, and my largestroller, home. At this point, I was cold and in shock and Julian was tired so thatwas a blessing.
My dad is OK and was just released from the hospital. They took x-rays and blood tests, removed gravel from his face and patched up what is now extremely swollen. There is nothing broken and no internal bleeding but he is extremely sore. My dad never ever complains, which can be difficult for the family at times because he simply will not tell us exactly how he is feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have that than a hypochondriac. I just wish he’d allow for and accept the facts of his physical disabilities and ailments that are part of his life’s journey so that we better can aid him.
The morning after.
I love my dad endlessly. Part of my dad’s sorrow during my adult life has been that I have yet to find that man who will love and be there for me tirelessly and for always. The man who will in essence take his place. Not until then will he truly be at peace. Part of my sorrow of not having had children until now was wondering whether any potential children of mine would have time to make memories with my parents, ones that they would be old enough to remember. Not that that is ever a given, regardless of age. In the circle of life, let’s not take any one day for granted.
Julian did not bat an eye when seeing his morfar this morning. Incredible how he did not in any way react to his morfar’s battered face. That’s love.
I pray and hope for many more years with my parents in my life, and that of my son. Although this incident ended without seriousconsequence, it brings fear into gear. Make sure you tell your loved ones justhow much you love them. Every day. Don’t put off doing what you can for themtoday. And make memories. It is all thatwe are left with at the end of this life and all that really matters.
After all the years of intense longing for a family, years I made
the best of but were lost, there is an immense void to fill. It’s as if I can’t
get enough, capturing every second, every new moment of each new day. I carry
my son, I rock him and play with him just about all day, despite chores piling
up. Yet, I’m content. And so is he. Even as I’m holding him, I get overwhelmed scrolling
through photos of the last five months since he came into my life. This truly
is a reality that’s mine to enjoy. It has yet to sink in…
At night, I look at him when he sleeps, I hold his hand and gently
place my lips on his cheek and soak in his scent. Day and night, I want him
close; there is no other alternative in my world. My choice to co-sleep with my
son was a given; the path to bed-sharing however was a process stemming partly from
circumstance and partly from the research-based conclusions that coincide with
my viewpoint and instincts as a mother.
The term co-sleeping essentially means sleeping in close
proximity to one’s child so that mother and
infant can respond to each other’s sensory signals and cues. This can be in the
form of bed-sharing, having a bedside crib, different
beds in the same room or an open-door policy for child to come into parent’s
bed, as needed. I
am not one to follow trends or rigidly abide by recommendations given by
governmental agencies but want to form my own opinion by independent research. If
anything, I follow true and tested word of mouth-methods by people I trust. And
while research is part of the equation of forming an educated opinion, it’s
intuition that gives clarity to a choice.
So much of motherhood is instinctual, and sometimes that gets lost
in the loads of information given on what ought or ought not to be done. And,
sadly, just like breastfeeding stirs controversy, so does bed-sharing. While bed-sharing is common in many parts of the
world, the practice is generally frowned upon in some Western cultures, where
children traditionally have been placed in cribs in separate rooms from
Despite societal norms that may speak to the contrary, the benefits illustrated in the numerous studies done on the subject confirm my conviction. There’s a multitude of information out there on how to make babies sleep through the night, which is misleading because as the subject is oftentimes from the perspective and needs of the parent (sleep!), many of them fail to highlight the biological development and needs of the infant properly. In the first few months of a baby’s life, their needs are the highest, but their ability to communicate the lowest. So, let’s look at some facts in order to improve how we respond to those needs:
Co-sleeping mothers and babies are
more easily awoken, which is a life-saving mechanism for the infant. Tiny
babies have tiny tummies, and breastmilk is digested very quickly. Thus, if a
baby’s stimulus for hunger doesn’t lead to awakening, this has an adverse and
potentially damaging, and even dangerous, effect. The same goes for blocked
airways, cold or over-heating, etc. Infants are biologically wired to have a
shorter, and lighter, sleep cycle. So, before rushing that sleep-training,
understand baby development.
Studies have shown that neurologically-based responses of a co-sleeping infant to maternal smells, movements and touch reduce crying, regulates breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. Amazing, right? Breastfeeding in a co-sleeping environment makes breastfeeding much easier to manage and saves on sleep for both mama and baby while increasing the frequency of breastfeeding sessions. This is crucial for reaping the benefits of breastfeeding, the multitude of which I discussed in a previous blog post. The combination of those factors makes the co-sleeping environment physiologically safer for the infant and consequently contribute to decrease the risks of SIDS. In fact, countries with high co-sleeping rates have the lowest rates of SIDS. In Japan where co-sleeping and breastfeeding is the cultural norm, rates of SIDS are the lowest in the world.
Knowing I wanted to create such an environment, it took some doing, getting it right. For us. At first, I bought a crib with an adjustable height that he could grow into. He wouldn’t have it sleeping in there; he’d wake up immediately when I put him down and most definitely would not fall asleep in it, day or night. It was never used and took up too much space to save for later, so I sold it. I then bought a cradle, which I had always dreamed of having. I loved the aesthetics and function of it. However, more often than not, I picked him up and let him sleep on my chest instead of putting him back down in the cradle.
So, I sold that and bought a bedside crib. That way I could be
more responsive to his cues and more easily pick him up to breastfeed at night.
That worked for a while, but I felt it was getting too small and wasn’t sturdy
to lean on when taking him in and out of it throughout the night. So, I
switched out my single bed for a double and he now sleeps next to me on a
Deltababy Babynest snugly surrounded by my huge pregnancy pillow, which serves
as a surrounding shield.
Studies aside, for me and my son, the bed-sharing arrangement
works well, much better than the alternatives tried. Beyond the reason of
logistics, I absolutely love and cherish being able to immediately respond to
his need for nourishment or comfort. Perhaps more than attending to his unrest is
reminding myself that he’s here and how that fills my heart, again and again. Each
and every morning, I open my eyes to a studious face, cooing and smiling widely
at his mama. It’s magical. I’m holding on to it for as long as I can.