Cult of Personality

“You’ve got a big personality,” said my oldest and dearest friend, M.

This was in response to my worries that I was damaging C’s personality. When in fact I can’t even tell what her personality will be. Which in turn makes me sometimes feel like a bad mom.

The conversation started when I talked about not wanting to stifle whatever C’s personality would be. Being a baby, she had started to tuck her cheek on my shoulder when meeting new people or in new situations. After a while she will warm up and become interested in the situation, but I found myself saying “oh, she’s shy” repeatedly. And after each time I would mentally kick myself. I didn’t want to already label C’s response to situations that most adults respond to in the same way, or if they don’t, plow through by plying themselves with drinks or inappropriate and awkward jokes.

I’m an extrovert. To have a potentially shy child would be something I would need to navigate – not be more overbearing or embarrassing as any typical mother. Thus, my concerns and M’s response.

So I’m doing my best to not respond anymore when C snuggles a little closer. Yet even last weekend during a play date with little and big friends C has known all of her days, she was sometimes shy. And I responded as an extrovert mother and a slew of comments about her response. Again, internal cringing after the fact.

I’ve entered what I am sure will be dozens of instances that will make me question how I can best parent my child. There is no answer as I learn, mock my internal voice and wonder how I can tweak what I hope doesn’t become a pattern. What I look forward to seeing emerge, in her own natural time and on her own terms, is her personality. And I look forward to holding her as this unfolds, at least as long as she’ll let me.

– MD

Bend It Like Baby

As previously written, like any good university-town dweller, I dutifully attended prenatal yoga classes for seven months. I really enjoyed the instructor, so while still pregnant, signed up for her Mommy and Baby yoga classes during my maternity leave.

Before C was born, I imagined us basking in the yoga glow, bonding with other mamas and babies, and showing off my pre-baby belly  (I have since noticed that my memory of body before baby automatically reduces everything by, like, 25 pounds, kind of like how when you were in high school you thought you were sooooooo big and then you look back at pictures of yourself and want to stab that flab-free thigh with rusty tines).

Chalk this pre-baby movie dream to along the lines of my Vaseline-lens vision of nursing with C.

Each week, I dutifully prepared us for our sojourn. Getting a newborn baby out of the house is a workout in itself.

Packed into the car, with extras bottles, clothes, diapers and burp cloths in tow, we then unpacked ourselves in the room, smiling at other moms and their babes. We did warm-ups, some gentle breathing and calmly looked our squirmy wormies in the eye and smiled. Approximately three minutes into this shared experience, C let out a piercing cry.

No worries, I thought. She was generally a good-natured baby. I picked her up and started walking around the room. Sure enough she’ll calm down soon and I can get back to saluting the sun.

Nope. Wails.

OK. A bottle.










I left the room knowing that I was starting to bother the other moms who, with their babies, were in their own swan songs of connecting and core strengthening. Us? We were in the hall for what amounted to be an $8 walk.

No worries, says the instructor. She’s still so tiny. It could be her witching hour.

The next week, the same song and dance to get us out the door. And the same cries. This time, she also graced me with projectile vomit that brought tears to my eyes at the shear amount. I drove us home, her in a new outfit that I packed and me covered in sour-smelling regurgitated food.

The next week? Louder screams.

And the next? I nudged in four minutes of warm-ups before the crying started. And so we went, me walking her around for 44 minutes, only quieting down for final relaxation and the drive home.

For six weeks I attempted to get her to have fun with me on the mat, groove on the vibes and simply let me get some exercise. And for six weeks she taught me that as big or little plans are, even for the grace of movement, some things are more important.

There we were, mama and baby, yin and yin, learning how the other one moved in a dance of anxiety that grew into this waltz of love.

– MD

More on Breastfeeding…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the many nursing personalities of my daughter, O. It quickly occurred to me that as a nursing mom, I too have many nursing identities.

First and foremost is “it’s your fault mom.” Whatever ails my babe; fussiness, stuffy nose, sleep problems, bad skin, colic, crying, diaper rash, or anything else, it is the nursing mom’s fault. Clearly I had eaten too much dairy, wheat, citrus, chocolate, cucumbers, gluten, sugar, peppermint, soda, coffee or booze. All roads lead back to the breastfeeding mom – when I called my doctor concerned about my baby, the solution was always in the milk. I should eliminate some delicious food group or some vice that I couldn’t wait to return to after giving birth.

Next up is “low supply mom.” After worrying about my babe’s ailments and eliminating everything fun from my diet, it should’ve been no surprise to learn that my milk supply was low. Luckily O tried to help fix this by nursing endlessly making sure that I got little sleep and had no time to eat or drink enough.  To cure this supply problem, I should have gotten a sitter, taken a nap and eaten a burger. But instead I bought something, a homeopathic tea.  I wasn’t sure if this tea was working so I steeped it longer and drank more. Two things happened: my breasts almost knocked me over and I smelled faintly of pancakes.

But I had milk! When O nursed I felt nervous she might drown. After waiting for months to sleep on my stomach again, suddenly my breasts were keeping me up at night I wet shirts, bras, sheets and nursing pads. The milk left soaking in my boppy could feed a second child. I was “abundant milk mom.” My daughter has  soft, rolling baby thighs all the way down to her ankles to remind me of this long phase.

Now things have evened out. Supply and demand are finally balanced. My daughter has entered daycare so I can blame all her ailments on the fact that I work, not that I have allergens in my milk. She loves to eat and I love to feed her. The only nursing identity I have is at work when I forget some critical piece of pumping paraphernalia and become “MacGyver mom.”


Babies – Furry, Squealing and Barking

I’ve always been a dog person. We adopted our first dog, a pug, as soon as we had stable jobs and the okay from our landlord. The pug was small and cute and stubborn and despite his dubious culinary preferences, we loved and treated him like our baby. He was our baby. Four years later, we once again heard the pitter-patter of little dog feet when we brought our second dog, the mutt, into our home. Our problem child. A rescue dog, the mutt was loud and demanding and destructive to couches and kitchen floors. But he was sweet and intuitive. He nearly got us evicted, but we loved him anyway. We welcomed him into our family and set out, determined to make it work. We bought a little house, fenced in our yard.

Life with dogs was good, if sometimes aggravating and fairly expensive. The pug seemed to have a penchant for medical drama – he ate a whole onion and got doggie food poisoning, had middle-of-the-night emergency bladder surgery, had a hip repaired. The mutt, while very healthy, never really learned any manners. The dogs ruled the roost, and we let them.

And then, we were going to have a baby. A real baby.

Preparing for our baby girl’s arrival, we fought hard against the baby-product avalanche. We limited our registry, returned large and unnecessary gifts. We carefully researched the things a baby required, and made hard decisions about want versus need. We packed up anything in our house that was not a necessity, and some of the things that were: our books were sadly placed into rubber bins, but only after making meticulous card catalog-style reference charts. We eyed the monsters that ruled our house and wondered how, exactly, this was going to work.

Our little girl came home to two first-time parents, two dogs, and 825 square feet.

The first days passed, and we wondered how it would work. The mutt was louder and needier than ever. The pug was spending far too many hours in his crate. Bored with us, and with their new place at the bottom of the pecking order, they started squabbling with each other. The mutt went nuts with cabin fever, running banked turns off the walls of our tiny living room. The pug barked incessantly at us and everything from passers-by to falling leaves outside the window.

We looked at our canine babies, and suddenly, they weren’t our babies at all. They were just dogs. They looked at us and our little baby girl with offended expressions on their doggie faces that said, “We hate the new dog.”

A month flew by. Then two. We lamented how easy life would be without pets. We weighed our options.

Nearly five months in, it’s still crazy. The dogs remain needy and loud and annoying. Our little girl is growing big and strong and smart before our eyes. She amazes us every day with something new. One day, the mutt walked into the room, and she smiled and laughed. The pug will lick her feet and she’ll reach out to touch his head.

And sometimes, when our baby girl is happy and tired, the dogs are sleeping and content, and the house is quiet, we look around and realize that every person in our little family, in our little house, is within arm’s reach. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.


Zombie Bullies on Fire and The Saddest Thing in the World

Before I was a mother, in fact, before I was pregnant, I knew that there were some things from which I would always want to protect my child: bullies, fire, zombies, the belief that Dane Cook is funny, and so forth. Intellectually, I understand that it is not healthy to attempt to protect your child from ever feeling sad. As long as they are able, children need to experience a full range of human emotion.

But really, this is probably what frightens me the most about being a mother.

I used to think that after having a baby I would no longer tolerate police dramas involving child victims. Indeed, these shows are difficult, but really what scares me the most is not that The Lad will be kidnapped and sold into the Swiss mafia’s chocolate sweatshops as slave labor (and other things too terrible to mention in this post) but rather, that no one will come to his birthday party. I used to worry about how I would handle when Henry the Pug dies. Now, I have to worry about–not only my own reaction–but The Lad’s as well. Ultimately, however, these things are character building and, if handled properly, foster compassion and empathy.

But is it okay to protect children from The Saddest Thing in the World?

As I sit here sipping my Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee I am reminded of a conversation that I once had back in Atlanta. I spent a lot of time in Dunkin Donuts back then. It was the closest coffee shop with WiFi and I very rarely had to join in a debate about the French New Wave or identity politics. Instead I saw a lot of families, few of whom stayed longer than the time it took to get a donut or an ice-cream from Baskin Robbins. On this particular day, however, a father and his two young daughters got their ice-cream cones and decided to stay and eat them. They also decided to sit right next to me. The father warned, “Be careful not to drop your ice-cream. Because there is nothing sadder in the world than a scoop of ice-cream falling off the cone and on to the ground.” I stopped typing and said, “You are so correct.”

It was then that I decided that I would do my best to protect my child from this–the Saddest Thing in the World. It would be unfair to prohibit ice-cream cones (even though I personally avoid them, except when eating a DQ dipped cone) so I have decided that I will always get whatever The Lad is getting so that if by chance he loses his scoop, I can share mine with him. I really hope he doesn’t like chocolate based ice-cream flavors. My husband thinks I’m nuts.

Have you ever seen The Simpsons episode, “Lisa on Ice”? There is a flashback sequence in which Bart and Lisa remember growing up together and one memory involves Bart replacing Lisa’s dropped ice-cream scoop with one of his own. Yes, there are a lot of things in this world that make me cry and that is one of them. But it also makes me think that there is more to be gained from sharing my ice-cream than simply protecting him from the loss of his own.


EAS and The Lad

EAS and The Lad

2 a.m. Revelation

SP was a confirmed pacifier-sucker. She loved that thing, and it was the best soother around. But when she was sick, and her nose was all stuffed up, she couldn’t use her pacifier and breathe at the same time. So I became her soother.

The only thing that would calm her down enough to get her to go back to sleep when she was sick (after giving her some pain reliever, of course) was to hold her in my arms and sway. She wouldn’t allow me to sit down in the glider—apparently that wasn’t quite right. And my DH wasn’t allowed to hold her either—apparently that wasn’t quite right either.

So I’d stand in the middle of her bedroom, her sweaty, feverish forehead resting on my shoulder, and I’d sway. I’d twist at the waist; I’d bend side to side; I’d rock forward and back. As long as I was holding her tight and moving, she was happy. And eventually, she’d fall asleep deep enough for me to lower her back down into her crib.

This was our pattern. We both knew what she needed, and I delivered. But one night, at about 2 a.m., it became more than just a regular step in our routine. As I stood there swaying, exhausted, my arms straining under the weight of her pudgy little body, I realized that she needed me. Me!

Sure, she’d needed me before, but it had always seemed sort of clinical. She needed to be fed, I fed her. She needed to be changed, I changed her. But this time, it wasn’t just what I was doing for her physically, it’s who I was.

Her mom.

She needed me emotionally. She needed to know I was there with her, protecting her, and that it was ok to fall back asleep. It wasn’t about the prop—the glider, the pacifier, the toy. It was about her mom holding her.

It was the first time I remember truly having that connection with her, and it’s one of my sweetest memories.


At a Loss

My baby girl arrived on March 15, 2009, exactly two years and five months after the loss of my first pregnancy. That first one came as a shock all the way around – shock to find out I was pregnant in the first place, and shock to find out, five days later, that I was going to miscarry. Having kids wasn’t the first thing on our minds in those days. Sure, we had been together six and a half years. We were married, we had a house, we had two dogs. We talked of kids, but that was in the future. We were having fun! We were spending our disposable income, going on trips, taking long naps on weekends.

Then, suddenly, pregnancy.

But it felt right. We couldn’t have been more excited. We knew this is what we wanted.

And then, it was over.

The next months were spent reflecting, considering, mourning. We knew what we wanted, and we set out to have our do-over. We were confident – it had happened on accident, right? How hard would it be?

The next year proved to us how hard it could be. Each month came. And went. Each month brought disappointment. And fear. Was it possible that this may never happen for us?

On our 12th month of trying, one year and two months after that first pregnancy, I was pregnant again.

I’ve always been a worrier. I’ve always feared the worst. I’ve always considered the worst case scenario and worked back from there. On an airplane, I consider everything that could go wrong. I think about the wing catching fire, the engine failing, a flock of birds, the free fall. Preventative worrying. If I consider it, if I worry about it, it won’t happen. Right?

The first weeks passed. I worried. We saw the flicker of a heartbeat. I worried. Had an ultrasound. I worried. Started our registry, planned some showers, bought our first little outfit. I worried.

I couldn’t get the pain of loss out of my head. I couldn’t get the fear out of my heart.

Halfway through, and another ultrasound. The big one. Fear was giving way to hope, to excitement. My husband was joyful, so excited, facing our future without fear. I clung to him, to his optimism.

And then. A fluke. An error on the very first cell division 20 weeks and 2 days ago. There was no chance, no hope. They tried to sooth us. Not our fault, nothing could have been done. “A biological mistake.” “Bad luck.”

Our hearts shattered, we made a choice that nobody should ever have to make.

We pulled ourselves together. We held up our heads. We told ourselves that this would not break us. We brought home a tiny urn full of ashes.

Then, two months later, two pink lines.

And again, shock. We were not ready. I was not ready. I had not picked up the pieces of my heart.

The first weeks passed. We saw the flicker of a heartbeat. Had an ultrasound. Had another. The halfway point came, and went. I soared with hope while my heart was gripped with fear. I knew early loss. I knew loss at 20 weeks. I knew I could survive those things. But at 24 weeks, 30 weeks, 37 weeks….I expected relief at each milestone and got none. I spent the last weeks of my pregnancy in a panic.

Finally, labor. She came out blue and not breathing. She recovered. I recovered.

She is beautiful and perfect and everything I hoped but nothing I expected. I am not the mom I thought I’d be. I’ve surprised myself with patience and flexibility, but feel disorganized, scattered. I don’t use the cloth diapers we bought. I couldn’t breastfeed. I am stronger than I imagined, but feel I am lacking in a million ways. I try every day to be good enough for her, to be everything that she needs and wants and deserves.

But the fear. The fear still grips me.


ALW and Sweet Baby Girl

ALW and Sweet Baby Girl

The Many Personalities of Nursing

Breastfeeding is hard, exhausting work. Very little about it has ever felt natural to me. While nursing has transformed me, what is most amazing to me are all the personalities O has exhibited as we have engaged in the bizarre breastfeeding dance. I had read about the gourmet, the snacker, and cluster feeding, but I have a few more personalities to add to the list:

First came the little piglet. All meal times were accompanied with lots of snorting. Poor little O couldn’t eat without squishing her nose against my breast. Next up was the milk tiger. O stalked my breast, at first seeming indifferent and then quickly grabbing on for dear life. I had read that a pinkie finger could break the breastfeeding seal, but I needed a spatula to unlatch O. Then Groucho Marx emerged in my babe, my nipple her cigar. There was lots of chewing but not a lot of eating. All the chewing with not much eating must have made O hungry because soon the efficiency expert surfaced. If the milk was not flowing fast enough O would do breast compressions for me to increase the flow. Of course, all this milk was a little too much to handle and the most disgusting nursing personalities resulted in the frat boy. Just like a hard partying fraternity brother, a little throw up would not stop O from drinking, as far as she was concerned, she had room for just one more. O has recently discovered her hands and she likes to use them while eating and so most recently she is the hair dresser. She seems to think straightening my hair one very small clump at a time while she nurses is a good way to practice her fine motor skills.

O has struggled with some of those developmental milestones like rolling over and picking up a raisin, but she can pump a breast and unhook a nursing bra with one hand, so I think she is going to be just fine.


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