Tuesday, February 25, 2014

For the parents-to-be....the best and the worst advice out there

In one month Charlotte will be a year old. I can hardly believe that this time last year I was finishing up flying, teaching as many classes as I possibly could and getting ready for my baby shower. No book, documentary, Internet library, friend or family could possibly prepare me for the adventure that lay ahead. I spent so much time preparing for my birth and labor that I didn't give a second thought as to what I would actually DO when the baby arrived. "It will be instinct," I thought. "Instinct will take over and I'll just do what comes naturally."

Friends, I have to stay, instinct is what took over AFTER I sought out advice. Some people will tell THEIR advice is for you not to listen to other's advice. To me, advice is like learning from someone's mistakes so I don't have to make them myself. This doesn't mean all advice you receive is good although most is well intentioned. So I've compiled a list from myself and other mom's to pass on to all the parents-to-be out there of what I call, "The Good, The Bad and the WTF?" In talking to other mom's I realized that I may have been the victim of more unsolicited advice than most. I attribute this to the fact that my job as a flight attendant and fitness instructor put me in contact with more people on a daily basis than some see in a year. I fly with a different flight attendant and pilots almost daily and so from the time I was visibly pregnant until now (The question, "So do you have kids?" is always a standard) I have received many an ear full of suggestions, comments, and words of wisdom. Here's some of the best advice my friends and I have received:

The Good:

1. "Don't wish away their lives"

2. "Enjoy because it goes by quick"

3. "Parenting begins when you become pregnant" - The first decisions you make from the time you see those two pink lines on a pregnancy test are your initiation to parenthood. From picking a care provider, choosing your birth plan, registering for baby gifts...all these are just the initial decisions you make that start you down the path to being a parent. When the baby arrives you'll make more decisions and change your mind 1,000 times but it's all a part of the journey.

4. "Breastmilk cures almost anything" - This from my doula who suggested I put a dab in Charlotte's eye when I called her wondering why does Charlotte have a goopy eye when she was a baby. When Charlotte caught a cold from daycare I frantically nursed her as much as I could and saw her improve drastically. That stuff is a miracle worker.

5. "Everything will pass" - the late night feedings, the crying for no reason, the teething, the gas, the vomiting, it's like a rain storm that hits you and then without warning it's over.

6. "Sometimes babies cry for no reason. Just let them cry it's ok." - this from a man at Walgreen's when Charlotte was having a meltdown just as I was printing 80 photos from the photo kiosk and couldn't escape the store. I realized her crying was louder to me than anyone else and it was OK. Sometimes your baby will be dry, fed, burped and they will still cry. Just try not to join in.

7. "Your love will grow." - This from a mom who was in agony over her second baby and wondering, "How can I love this baby more than my first?" The answer for her was that it's not about loving one child more than another or trying to balance your love it's about growing your love. Love is like a blanket that gets bigger with each member you add to your family and there is no limit to how big that blanket can grow. Your heart will always have room to grow to love more.

8. "You need date nights" - This is usually from friends who have family that live in town and can leave the house sans baby whenever they want. So seek out friends with children who are just as desperate as you to escape for the night or bite the bullet and pay a sitter. It doesn't have to be often but you really do need a night where you can sit at the bar, order food and eat it without rushing and talk uninterrupted.

9. "Never wake a sleeping baby" - Unless the house is on fire for the love of it all just let them rest! Many mom's are told to wake their baby up to feed them in order to establish a milk supply. I did this to Charlotte which resulted in an angry baby and a frustrated mom who couldn't get her baby to latch because baby was tired!

10. "It's ok to breastfeed AND use formula." -So many websites, books and fellow moms will make you believe it has to be one or the other. At six months Charlotte would nurse on both sides and still be upset. Chad would give her 4oz of formula and voila she'd drink it all and be satisfied. However you feed your baby there is nothing wrong with it! Is breast milk preferred? Of course, even the boxes of formula say on them, "Breastfeeding is best." However, never sacrifice your babies needs for your own pride.

Most of the bad advice I've personally received was when I was pregnant. Other women see your baby bump as an open invitation to tell you their birthing horror stories and toddler nightmares. The best advice to any pregnant woman seems to be, "Enjoy your sleep!" or "Sleep while you can!" which by the third trimester is pretty much impossible. Pregnancy is such a short period of time in the grand scheme of life and when the baby is inside your body takes care of everything. Pregnancy also prepares you for the influx of bad advice you'll receive from other well intentioned parties. To clarify, I consider "bad" advice to be anything that is unhelpful, unnecessary or demeaning.

1. "Take the drugs, don't be a hero" - Fun fact, I will never compete in the Olympics. I will probably never run a triathlons either. These are both events where medals are handed out at the end for all your hard work, dedication, preparation and mental focus. I get that there are no medals handed out for having a natural childbirth but that doesn't minimize the fact that a lot of women prepare for and want one. Also not helpful is telling women who express their desire to want a natural birth that, "Once in labor you'll change your mind."

2. "Giving birth is the hardest thing you'll ever do" - Labor and childbirth end but once the baby is here your life will never be the same. When someone tells you that giving birth is hard it sets you up for focusing only on what will be one day of your life. My labor was 8 hours and compared to an 8 hour day with Charlotte sometimes, that was a walk in the park.

3. "Sleep when the baby sleeps" - As one of my friends put it, "Sleeping when the baby sleeps is bullshit. Just get used to it, have a breakdown and move on." I don't know why so many people tell new parents to sleep when the baby sleeps as if you don't have a life outside of baby. I would say this instead, "Prioritize and learn to let stuff go." In the beginning you won't be able to take a shower, nap, clean your house, eat and catch up with friends all in one nap time so don't even try. Pick what you need to do most and go from there. Sometimes that may be a nap and that's OK!

4. "Breastfeeding makes you lose weight" - Let's get something straight here, breastfeeding burns approximately 500 calories a day. Have you taken a moment to look at the labels of the food you are eating? A salad with dressing has about 320 calories. Add in a piece of toast with butter or a few cookies or a latte to that salad and now you're back to square one aren't you? In the beginning your body will hold on to the baby weight so it can make enough milk for your new baby and as you breastfeed your body will continue to store extra calories. Many women don't even see a change in their bodies until AFTER they stop breast feeding a year or so later. Breastfeeding is wonderful but don't be disappointed if the weight doesn't melt off like you think it should. In fact, the opposite is likely to happen that you'll retain weight BECAUSE you are nursing.

5. "Don't read books or research, trust your gut" - If you were going into open heart surgery wouldn't you want to know everything about the procedure then make the best decision you could based on what you knew? I approach parenting the same way. I don't have all the answers and sometimes I can't trust my instinct because I don't have an instinct! When Charlotte was an infant I changed her diaper only to find out it looked like a salad. I was only feeding her breast milk so I didn't understand why her poop could possibly look like that. Instinct told me to keep feeding her and disregard but the situation wasn't getting better. Only after researching and talking to my doula did I figure out that a change in MY diet as well as making sure she fed longer when nursing would produce a healthy stool. I have a friend who could only feed her baby breast milk through exclusive pumping. She did the best she could, trusting her instincts when it came to pumping and bottle feeding but struggled a lot. She said it wasn't until further research that she found resources to help for exclusively pumping mothers. Know it's OK to read books and learn all you can because there are experts out there who can help!

6. "Don't drink caffeine!" - Telling a pregnant women or tired new mom they shouldn't have caffeine because it's bad for the baby is just asking to be slapped in the face. No one should overdose on caffeine, pregnant or not but 200-300 mg is considered acceptable and safe for pregnant women. Judging some ones choices by their baby bump (or assuming someone MUST be done nursing because after all why would you be drinking wine?) is asinine.

7. "You're holding the baby too much, you'll spoil her" - there's no such thing

8. "It gets better" - We've all been guilty of saying this and though it's the truth when you have a screaming baby who has just blown out her diaper and you are out of wipes and forgot a back up outfit and going on day 14 of no sleep...well hearing this just makes you want to kill someone

9. "You only need to breastfeed three weeks because babies get all the nutrition they need then and after that it's just extra" - Here's better advice: Breast feed as much as you can as long as you can.

10. "They grow up right before your eyes" - Children grow up behind your back not in front of your face. One minute they are playing with the water as you fill up the bathtub and the next they fall over the side and in head first to the tub. While I'm all for giving your children space to grow and learn, you realize quickly that it's the moment you stop paying attention that your baby does something (good or bad).

The WTF advice:

"Why wouldn't you just have a c-section so you don't wreck your vagina?" -from a woman who has never had a baby. NO. Just no.

Interestingly enough most of the advice I got from other moms was not to listen to anyone's advice. That each child is unique and what works for one won't work for another. Parenting is mostly baptism by fire and trial and error and you will take much advice, including what I've listed above with a grain of salt. To me, however, all the advice I've received has caused me to pause or think in some way. When someone tells me, "No THIS is how you should be holding your baby," when my daughter is crying, I just think to myself, "She's tired and needs to nap and THAT'S the cause...not how I'm holding her." The bad advice just reaffirms what I know and believe about my child and the good advice that aligns with my baby reinforces that every now and again I get it right. As someone once told me, you can't be a perfect mother every day but you can be a good one.

So what's the best and worst advice you've ever gotten?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

You can have it all after having a baby...it just takes balance

Every Friday I teach a spin kettlebell fusion class at a studio space here in Denver. I've been teaching this class for about three years now and enjoy the high intensity of spinning combined with pushing students to their limits in the bootcamp style class that follows the second half hour. After having my baby last year I wasn't sure if I would be able to return back to teaching the class. The noon time slot had been ideal but was it really worth it to pay someone to babysit just so I could maybe make $5 after paying a sitter. I had built the class up and loved the students however, and couldn't stand the thought of letting the class go to another teacher. So I had a talk with a friend who had quit her job to stay at home with her boys but also taught yoga and spin part time. She asked me, "Well does teaching the class make you feel human? Does it make YOU feel like...well just YOU? At the very least you will get time for yourself and get your workout in." She had a point and I had my answer.

I had to feel human again after having a baby.

Deciding whether or not to return to work after having Charlotte was a big issue for me. Before I even had a baby one of the reasons I felt I couldn't have one is the thought of returning to work. How could I have a job AND take care of a baby? As a flight attendant my schedule varies month to month and week to week. To quit would mean losing my health insurance, paid vacation time and holidays and the extra income so when it came down to dollars and cents it really didn't make sense. I decided to start bidding stand-ups which is where during the week I basically leave late at night and work the last flight into a city and the first flight home. I get to be stay at home mom during the day and working mom all night. Monday morning, Thursday night, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning I teach yoga or spin so my only real day off most weeks is a Sunday. The schedule is exhausting yet rewarding both financially and mentally.

Between my three jobs, the hardest one is staying at home with Charlotte.

As your best friend, the one who tells you what no one else will, I can honestly say that you have to do something that makes you feel human. Something besides raising another human being. Having done both for the past 7 months I can honestly say if I had to be at home with Charlotte full time I would probably have gone crazy by now. When you stay at home with a small child everything you do goes unnoticed. You clean the house (this is my therapy anyways), you keep the toddler from drinking bleach or eating the potted plants, if you are lucky you take a five minute shower, you feed the child, put them down for naps and maybe in-between all of this you have some downtime for you. Day in and day out your life is focused on one thing which is your child. There is no pay and no one recognizes any of the hard work you did.

My mother stayed at home for years with all four of us children until my parents got a divorce and she went back to school and got her nursing degree. Once she started working again I am sure it was hard and she made sacrifices but if you look at the photos of her when she was a stay at home mom vs working mom the difference is astounding. She honestly looks ten years younger in the photos where she is older and balancing work and children rather than just being around her children all day. We learned to appreciate our mother more as well. When she started to work sometimes she wasn't there in the mornings to make our lunch so we learned how to do it ourselves (how hard is putting peanut butter on bread really? but it tastes better when someone else does it for you!). We went from having our mother pick out our clothes in the morning to picking them out ourselves and learning to wake up on time or be late to school. Weekends became more sacred because this was family time instead of just an extension on having mom home all week. Make no mistake I enjoyed having my mom home, but after she started working she became a more interesting person because she was experiencing more life outside of the home.

Knowing now what's it's like to do both - be a mom and have a job, I can honestly say I am a big advocate for women to have something that is uniquely theirs. Perhaps it isn't a nine to five job but I firmly believe you have to have a life outside of your children, your family and even your husband. When I teach yoga or fly the friendly skies I have the opportunity to make connections with other human beings which can (and has) in turn led to other greater opportunities. The decision to go back to work wasn't one I entered into lightly and at times it seems I'm spending more money than I am making. What I remind myself is, however, that being away makes me appreciate the time I do have with my daughter. Since I am not around her all day we have both learned to thrive apart and when we are reunited our bond is stronger than it was prior.

I know I have many friends who are stay at home moms and I certainly respect that decision and I know sometimes staying at home is looked down upon just as much as working. I am not advocating one decision is better for anyone else than another. What I will say, as your best friend, is that you need to protect your sanity and have a passion that lies outside of just your children. It is easy when we have babies to forget the person that we were before and forget what made us, uniquely us. Whether your passion is teaching fitness, volunteering at the human society, blogging or graphic design it's important to remember what you excel at and continue to challenge and push yourself personally and professionally. I know even now when I go visit my mom at work and I see all the lives she's touched and how she's making a difference and the friends she's made that it makes me proud of her. I want Charlotte to have a strong female role model in her life and I think as mother's it's our duties to have our daughters (especially) and sons do the same. Work, whether up in the sky or in the yoga studio is where I have made some of my best friends and I treasure the moments I get to take in coffee after class and chat uninterrupted or commiserate over happy hour at a hotel on an overnight. I want Charlotte to see me as someone who isn't missing moments on her life, but someone who is working to build a better future for her and for myself.

So if you've been thinking about expanding your life outside your home I say go for it and if you're already doing that I say don't feel guilty. Preserve some you and some sanity for the future. After all, your children will grow up and one day have lives of their own so don't lose what makes you the special YOU in the meantime.


saying goodbye to the Magee B&B

As the saying goes, if you love something set it free. This Valentine's Day we set free what we loved the most. Something that has been both a burden and a blessing, a source of pride as well as the cause of a lot of angst. Love will do that to you - cause you to love and be in pain at the same time. The letting go was a mostly mutual decision and, like all good-bye's this was the best decision. Now we are both free to move on and explore what else is out there.

Yes, friends, my husband and I closed on and sold our house.

I have been warned not to fall in love with real estate before because you'll only get your heart broken. When I saw our house for the first time though, I fell in love and there was no turning back. The hardwood floors, the spacious kitchen, granite counter tops and new appliances and carpet were all so appealing. Three beautiful aspen trees out front -my favorite tree - seemed to be practically begging me to make them mine. There was a fenced in back yard, five bedrooms and two bathrooms and a park at the end of the street. You couldn't ask for a better spot to live or more friendly neighbors. We closed and moved in about this time 4 years ago and it's been one hell of a ride ever since. Love is not without its flaws. Love will make you blind.

Like any relationship, the newness faded and the house became more of a burden than a blessing. After my maternity leave last year we never quite financially recovered and reality set in about our future together. My husband and I are the type of people who have wanderlust. We love to travel, explore new countries and cities and spend our nights camping under the starts in the summer. We have always lived in small spaces from a 400 square foot studio apartment to a 900 square foot house. This 2,600 square foot house we owned gave us space to roam but only within the confines of its walls. The house was an anchor and it was drowning us. That's how relationships become sometimes - they smother you, weigh you down, cause you anxiety and hold you hostage. We saw our future together and it became clear that we were no longer good for each other. Time to move on.

There were many tears of course as there always are when you're breaking up. We questioned ourselves and if we were making the right decision. One night while packing my husband pointed out that it wasn't important that we were leaving the house because we got to keep what was inside. "The house is just a shell to hold all of our stuff. We get to take everything with us when we go" he said. This statement made me realize that most of life is made up of shells and containers with which we hold our treasures. Wooden frames hold our pictures of moments we want to remember. Bindings of books hold the words of our favorite stories. Our heart is a muscle that holds all our love and feelings inside. The body is a shell in which the soul resides. When we leave this earth we have to leave the vehicle that drove our soul around behind, but the most important part of us moves on. What stays in one place decays.

Without movement there is decay and stagnation. What sits in one space for too long eventually becomes obsolete or dies. When water becomes stagnate it becomes full of bacteria and turns brown and murky. Our bodies are made up of mostly water and I have to think the same thing happens to us when we stop moving and stop going with the flow. For four years we stayed in one spot and you wouldn't believe what we accumulated. A lot had to be thrown away, most went in storage and only a small relevant part holds a space in our new place now with us. We could have stayed in that one house the rest of our lives and never known the world outside those walls. But we are not people who like to remain still and our urge to be free was too strong to deny.

Two of the aspen trees in front of our house eventually died and we had to cut them down. To me it was a sign from the universe that if we stayed too long our fate might be the same. We'd live and die in one space and only our stumps would remain...an empty shell of what was once beautiful. Now we are free to seek out the beauty of the world, to wander for as long as we like and to find a new shell to call home.

We're free. What a relief.