The (not so) magic of babies

By Lisa Cucinotta

I was at a client meeting today and overheard a conversation between a mom that just returned from maternity leave and an expecting father.

“Oh, it’s just magical.  You’re going to love it,” she raved.

Being the nosy nancy I am, I of course butted in.  “Are you referring to having a newborn?” I asked her.

“Yes, it’s just so wonderful,” she gushed, smiling radiantly. Say what?

Listen, I had postpartum depression with Julia, and that’s not everyone’s experience so yeah, I am a bit jaded.  Having Luca was a fabulous course correction, and I genuinely enjoyed a lot of my time with him, but let’s be real here.

Being a first time mom to a newborn is an experience that can be described as magical.  But not without also caveating that it’s also many other things like terrifying and exhausting.

Moms (and dads): If you are selling the lie, you’re not just lying to yourself, you are setting our parenting culture up for failure.  Dramatic of me to say? Maybe.  But I literally can not count on two hands the number of women who told me that I was one of the ONLY people that warned them that those early weeks were going to at times, between gazes of love and wonder and unicorns prancing also be demoralizing, mournful, emotional, foggy, bloody (yes, bloody) and confusing.

People will make comments about how you won’t get sleep.  They’ll make jokes about it.  But they won’t tell you that the sleeplessness will often be accompanied by unending screams that simultaneously break your heart, hurt your ears, and feel like a condemnation of you and your failure to parent correctly.  Because surely other moms can make their babies stop crying (spoiler alert: bag of nopes there).

You might hear in passing about colic.  But you won’t be given the details about how colic is defined by multiple days of THREE PLUS HOURS IN A ROW of crying.  That shit is hard.  I did not have a colicky baby, but I remember even just average crying with my daughter and how hard it was.

Maybe, thanks to a few parenting memes going around FB, you have somehow heard about the hospital underpants.  It is essentially an underwear sized maxi pad.  Because if you have a vaginal birth you will BLEED.  I was sent home from the hospital told not to be worried about clots unless they were LARGER THAN A TENNIS BALL.  I’m not sure I’d even be able to worry at that point because I would have passed out from fright.

Let’s just take a moment to talk about breast pumps.  Do you know I did it for three months before I found out about hands free pumping bras?  I held those damn flange things against my boobs multiple times a day when I could have just been hanging out, still a cow but with hands free.  And surely no one told you that you actually have to get the right sized flanges for your nipples.  It’s not a one size fits all situation.  And how weird it is to be LITERALLY milked.  I never even made enough milk with Julia without supplementing with formula.  For the first month, my doctor had me nurse Julia, then pump right after – including middle of the night feedings.  Do you know how much it sucked to not only nurse, then pump, but then have to wash fucking pump parts in the middle of the night.  I remember more than once crying in the bathroom at three in the morning as I washed and sanitized pumping supplies thinking that this will never end.  Magical I tell you.  Like prancing unicorns of joy.

I could make you a list more numerous than the number of pee and poop diapers you will change in those early months of other “magical” moments.  Projectile poos, the fear of touching your baby’s umbilical cord before it falls off, the porn star rocks that your boobs will be when your milk comes in, reflux, baby acne, meconium. Trimming miniscule baby fingernails (without making them bleed) so they don’t scratch themselves up like Edward Scissorhands.

I named this blog Truth in Parenting for a reason ya’all.  Only in sharing the truth with each other will we be able to know that parenting is two sides of a coin.  In truth, we don’t have to feel shame or disappointment that our experience isn’t like others, because there’s a really good chance that it is – both good and bad.

 

 

#MomsWeekend2017

This was it. #MomsWeekend2017. We came from eight states and the District of Columbia. We got on planes. Alone. We carried handbags that contained no diapers, no wipes, no Cheerios (ok, well maybe some remnants down there in the bottom). We drank wine. Maybe read a magazine, watched a grown up movie. Not one person demanded we accompany them to the bathroom. We landed, one by one, in Austin, TX. 

It all began with a post my friend Jordi and I put on our neighborhood listserv five years ago. It was a little hopeful. It was a little desperate. It was, if I’m being honest, a cry for help.
 

“Any soon-to-be new mommies out there? Want to get together? My friend and I are both due in a few months and we thought it might be nice to reach out and see who else is going through all the same things. You know, first trips to Buy Buy Baby, figuring out the best stroller for neighborhood sidewalks, learning how to swaddle, etc. We are thinking about heading over to SOVA this Sunday morning at 10:30am. Anybody want to join us?”

 
As Jordi and I met on the sidewalk that Sunday morning, we were nervous. Maybe no one would show up. Maybe people would show up and we wouldn’t like them. Maybe we would take one look at them and bail, like a bad blind date.
 
I think something like 30 women came to that first meeting. It was pretty hilarious to watch one pregnant woman after another stream through those doors. We took over the second floor. We were legion and we were large. 30 preggos take up a lot of space. We definitely scared some other patrons away that morning.
 
We talked about everything. Hormones and sleeping, nursery decor, baby showers. Diapers and doulas, drugs or no drugs. Hold up, no drugs?? I started to get nervous. One woman after another said they were going to have natural childbirth with no drugs. I gulped. I had a pretty short birth plan. Short and sweet. To the point. It said, “Drugs, please” in the middle of a giant white piece of paper. Actually, it said DRUGS PLEASE!, because I had strong feelings about this. In the words of my wise mother-in-law, “You don’t get a better baby for doing it that way. They give you the same baby. They don’t throw you a parade or anything.”
 
I looked over at Jordi on the other side of the room. Her eyes were big. She gulped too, then she raised her hand and said, “That’s cool you guys, but I’m pretty sure I want the drugs.” My hand shot up in solidarity, “Me too.” And it was fine. The record didn’t skip, 28 pairs of eyes didn’t whip around and silently judge us. Everyone was cool. We were in this together, but doing it our own way. I think we were on to something.
 
Our group ebbed and flowed, but over time it crystalized into a smaller group of regulars.  We had more coffee dates, we talked, we listened, we found comfort in staring down the unknown together. 
 
We had our babies. One by one we all became mothers. We survived. We are still surviving. We have a higher rate of survival due to each other. I mean, I cannot tell you how crucial it is to have a friend you can call at 11pm and ask what you’re supposed to do about mastitis. (Don’t know what that is yet? You will.) Mom tip: Find your tribe. Its a wild ride, you need people on that roller coaster with you. Or at least people who have ridden it that will be honest.
 
Here’s where I quote the 1994 movie Speed to you. The part where Keanu Reeves tells Sandra Bullock, “I have to warn you, I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.” And here’s the part where I tell you that he’s wrong. Five years later, we are still friends. Fifty years from now, we are still going to be friends. (If we are alive! Having kids seriously accelerates the aging process in a way no one warned me about.) Having children is the hardest, funniest, most frustratingly wonderful thing you will do.
 
And thus comes the part where you need to get away. Kiss your precious lovies on the head and tell them Mama will be back Monday. (Or just sneak out the back door when they are not looking like I did. Don’t judge-my younger son has serious separation anxiety). This is #MomsWeekend2017.
 
Over the past few years many of us left DC and scattered all over the country. We were overdue for a reunion. It’s pretty amazing that we got 13 women (with 23 children between us) to leave their families for a long weekend. What this goes to show you is that Mamas need a break. Mom Tip: Take time for you. The easiest thing is to put yourself last when you have (a) tiny beast(s) with very immediate needs. But you can’t pour from an empty cup, so remember to look out for yourself. You deserve it.
 
I was pretty stoked for a weekend with no one calling (or crying), “Mama, mama, mama,” to me for three days. It is amazing to be loved and needed. It totally is. It is also so mentally and physically exhausting. Some mornings when both kids are clamoring for breakfast and the dogs are dancing around my feet wanting to be fed, I become almost paralyzed by the sheer need everyone has of me. They need food, they need comfort, they need drinks, and napkins, and help putting on shoes. (I need coffee. But no one asked me what I want, so that is why I will drink cold coffee 28 minutes later). I was also pretty stoked about a weekend where I didn’t have to wash a single sippy cup. I mean, am I alone here? I feel like 85% of my day is spent washing sippy cups.
 
This was not a girls gone wild adventure. Don’t get me wrong, we hit the bars and drank some margaritas and did some dancing. But as most of our history together has been, it was a lot of talking and listening. (And wine. Definitely wine). We might have left our babies behind but we did a lot of talking about those littles. Moments of pride, stories of frustration, feelings of guilt. 
Of our group, I was the last to to leave D.C., relocating to Houston about 7 months ago. I’m still working on finding a support system here. After four days surrounded by these amazing women, goodbyes were tough for me. I got in my car and pulled on the highway for my 3 hour drive home. In a bit of a real-life movie moment Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” came on the radio as I blinked away tears. 
 
Don’t give up
’cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good
I will make it good – I’ll find a new tribe here. But this group can’t be replaced. And we will see each other next year at #MomsWeekend2018. We deserve it.

The truth in parenting

By Lisa Cucinotta

Two days before the birth of my first child, a little before 36 weeks of pregnancy, I was put on modified bed rest due to suspected preeclampsia. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might go into labor early (Mom Tip: If you’ve never done the whole having a baby thing, there are a lot of things you just can’t picture, so I’m telling you now – pack your hospital bag early). I even polled my friends and family to determine whether or not since the bed rest was “modified” that I could sneak out to my last movie before I was stuck at home with the baby.

For the record, everyone voted no, which was a good thing because I might have gone into labor on the spot while watching Twilight (don’t judge, at least I didn’t go!).  After two days of laying down at home, I was brushing my teeth at 10pm on an unseasonably warm November night when my water broke.  By 9am the next morning I was someone’s mom: Julia Ruth Cucinotta, all 4 lbs. 14 oz of her.

I had thought that when they put the baby on your chest your heart exploded with love and you were bonded for life.  Not me.  My blood pressure spiked during the delivery and they rushed the skin to skin experience so they could get her tiny little self to the NICU and get me on magnesium, literally the worst medication I have ever experienced, to avoid me getting eclampsia. Mom Tip 2: Did you know preeclampsia is not an actual medical condition but a set of symptoms that are a warning you could get actual eclampsia?  Again, the magical world of things you don’t know until you have kids!

For the next 24 hours Julia couldn’t come to me because she was in the NICU, and I couldn’t go to her because I was in hell.  On the magnesium, my body felt floppy and heavy, almost like I was paralyzed. I had to be catheterized because they can’t risk me  even getting up to go to the bathroom.  I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink in case I choked.  I begged the nurses in tears until finally I got a nice one to give me one or two ice chips in secret.  I was so hot my husband had to wear his winter coat to keep warm in the hospital room since we turned down the temperature so much, and still I needed cold compresses.  I was also practically delirious.

The next day,  after more than 36 hours with no food or drink, as the poison slowly subsided from my body, I was handed what looked less like a cute cuddly baby and more like a tiny chicken. I was cautioned that I couldn’t even breastfeed her yet because I might transfer the magnesium to her.  What was I supposed to do with this tiny mewling thing?

I’d like to tell you that after the drugs wore off and we brought her home that things were great, but they weren’t at first.  I was in a fog: afraid, sad, detached.  I am a lifelong anxiety sufferer and had a depressive episode in my early twenties, so postpartum depression was not out of the question. But I couldn’t articulate how I felt. I’m an over-sharer, but I couldn’t share this somehow. I mean, how do you tell people that you’re worried that you might have made a mistake?  That maybe you weren’t meant to be a mom because clearly you suck so bad at it and don’t really like it?  Even my well meaning family, friends and truly excellent therapist wrote off what they saw as the standard struggles of new motherhood.  But it was more than that.  I literally couldn’t believe it was going to be this hard.  And when would it get better?

It wasn’t until almost a year later that I realized I had suffered Postpartum depression.  And it wasn’t until long after that when I finally started opening up to people about the challenges I was (and sometimes still am) experiencing as a mother. I didn’t take to parenting easily and occasionally still don’t, even though I absolutely adore my kids (I have a son now, Luca, who is almost two.) My goodness what a difference it was to go through this stuff a second time, but we’ll get to that another day, don’t you worry!

A while back I started tagging Facebook posts where I shared my honest thoughts with the hashtag #truthinparenting .  The relief in posting my truth instead of trying to pretend I knew what I was doing as a mom was palpable. There was another upside – I started getting comments on my posts from people sharing their experiences, and then I started getting private messages, texts, phone calls and even in person chats with people who had read the posts.  It turns out a lot of people think it’s hard.  I get that not everyone’s experiences are the same, and that some people live for motherhood in a way I never will (and that’s awesome for them!).  But I am taking inspiration from what I’ve done on Facebook and bringing it to the longer form of a blog in the hopes that it will make some mom (new, expecting, or even an experienced one) feel better.  Because, Mom tip 3: we’re all in this together.

Life after birth

By Lisa Cucinotta

To be able to embrace motherhood, you need to mourn the loss of the person you were before you had kids. This is what I say to every pregnant woman and new mom I talk to, because it is the single most important piece of advice I’ve ever come across about parenting.  I stumbled upon this wisdom through a blog post by Renegade Mama when my daughter Julia was a little over a year old and it changed my world.

No matter how much you talk to friends and family, read books or consume media on the subject of parenting, there is literally no way to truly know what it is actually like day in and day out.  There certainly must be those who are better prepared.  I’d imagine the oldest sibling in a large enough family to have been deeply involved in the taking care of a newborn might have some idea.  Or perhaps labor and delivery nurses who see weepy new moms on the daily.

I  wonder, and hear me out on this for a second, if women who have been to prison might actually be the best equipped of all.  I’m not trying to literally compare being a new mom with the terrible experience of being incarcerated.  But I remember thinking to myself a lot in the early days of motherhood that I was in “baby jail”. From the moment you become a parent, your life is no longer your own, which is what I imagine life is like in prison.

Women are having children later in life than ever before which in theory brings a greater maturity to the table but also a much longer time to have lived a life that they defined. Taking care of a newborn strips you of that freedom.  Sleeping is not under your control.  Nor is the crying (the baby’s or yours – the hormones are intense). Even going to the bathroom requires making decisions – do you carry the baby while you go?  If they are crying, is it OK to leave them in the swing or crib to go pee?  Brand new babies sleep a lot (for small increments of time), so there are points where you can make little decisions – watch a TV show, read a magazine, maybe make something to eat.  But you’re so damn tired, all those small acts can feel like moving mountains.

For me, this was kind of shocking – not the tiredness, which I was somehow able to manage, but the lack of autonomy.  Sure, I had anticipated that my life would change.  But I didn’t truly get it, and I didn’t truly get “into it” enough to make it feel worth it for a long time.  I had postpartum depression after I had my daughter Julia (my firstborn)  which left me feeling a little detached from the good parts of having a baby, the ones that make the challenges more manageable.  From speaking to friends who didn’t have PPD and from the wonderful experiences I had with Luca, my second child, I get that this makes the experience more palatable.  You’re exhausted and frightened, but your heart is also swelling to explosion with love for the this tiny, cuddly being you made.  But that delicious little tyrant has turned your world upside down.

As you move through the first year and began to establish routines there is some relief in regaining at least a small sense of order.  But it’s all still revolving around your child.  The you before you had kids is gone or at least it feels that way. I fought this and fought it hard.  I think that’s what made my PPD linger and made me feel trapped in what I called “baby jail”.  I would sit in the playroom trying to think of something halfway interesting to play with Julia. After like 3 straight hours of shaking toys at her or reading her books she didn’t understand or doing tummy time that made her cranky, I’d be wishing I could just read a magazine for ten minutes.  What made me feel worse what that I wasn’t even a stay at home mom.  I still had my adult identity five days a work at week, so my life was split between the old me and the new me.

Then one day I came across the Renegade Mama article and instead of making me feel more depressed it felt like an epiphany. It just made sense:  If I kept feeling sorry for myself that I could no longer go to the movies every weekend or have a relaxing meal, I’d just be miserable.  First thing I had to do was work on accepting what my life was like now. If I adapted to it, it would no longer feel like such a burden and I’d hopefully be able to enjoy the good times a bit more. I’ve done that work every day for the last few years.  Julia is five now, and Luca is almost two. It’s not unusual for me to get up from the table anywhere from 3-10 times during a meal these days – whether it’s to pick up a thrown fork of Luca’s, refill Julia’s water glass or grab paper towels to sop up a spill.  The difference is I barely even notice.  What once created such resentment now feels just like routine.

The second and equally crucial piece was to remind myself that the reason my life is different is because I am someone’s mom, which is a privilege and not a punishment. I dreamed my whole life about being a mom, and I have been lucky enough to become one.  So what if I don’t love it every day?  I still love my kids every day, and that’s enough.