When the well goes dry

The signs were there.

After three weeks of waking 5 or more times per night to comfort my 9-month old child, who was hell bent on standing up in her crib and screaming at the top of her lungs until “the milk,” as my husband so affectionately calls me, arrived to soothe her aching teeth or ease her separation anxiety (or whatever the heck happens at 9 months), I was beginning to crack.

Take for example a few days before when I inadvertently consumed eggs that were well past their prime. Bleary eyed from complete and utter lack of sleep, I squinted absentmindedly at the expiry date on the side of the carton. It was only after I was doubled over in pain, lying in the fetal position on the floor as my angelic daughter repeatedly pummelled me with plastic bowling pins that I realized it was actually June, not May, and the eggs were more than a month rotten. It was not my finest moment.

But my lowest low came the following day, when overwhelmed by a sense of failure due to another sleepless night, I suddenly found it hard to stand from the seated position I had assumed.

Shoulders hunched, head held low as I watched my beautiful baby play on the floor, the flood gates opened and tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t worthy of her. I couldn’t help her sleep. I couldn’t ease her painful teething and I couldn’t seem to quell her insatiable nighttime hunger. Each evening thereafter I felt like more and more of a failure, regardless of how many sleep techniques I employed or how much of the cherry-flavoured, glorified placebo I gave her to soothe her constant ache.

Label it in any way you like but the truth of the matter is, I felt used up. Like a well gone dry, not from some cataclysmic event but from a thousand infinitesimal drops stealing out of me over time.

There was only one other occasion when a similar “spell” happened to me; it occurred during my daughter’s 6-month milestone. But after weeks of unexplained night wakings, something magical happened – my baby began sleeping again. Not through the night mind you, but for longer periods. Every two hours increased to every four and gradually, to every six. With each hour of undisturbed slumber I came to remember who I was and gained increased confidence in by ability to “Mother” as both a verb and a noun.

This pattern is now repeating itself and I am happy to say that my little girl is progressing out of her milestone (and can now stand unassisted and take a few steps to boot). Before this hurdle becomes a distant memory packed away in the vault of things I’ll likely repress in order to have a second child, I wanted to share some advice to others experiencing a strong sense of draining – whether it be from a lack of sleep, an utterly unpredictable schedule, or conversely, the daily monotony that can come with raising a young child.

Please, replenish your well. I don’t care what it takes, just set aside some time for yourself today.

Get ritualistic with your daily Cup o’ Joe.

It can be as simple as brewing a nice cup of coffee or tea at the start of the morning and having 15 minutes alone to enjoy it as you read the paper or get caught up on social media. Regardless of what the day may bring, that’s your undisputed “ME” time. So let your significant other take up arms for you, because lord knows, your own arms will be full for the rest of the day.

Go outside.

Even if you have to take your children with you, the simple act of leaving the house can be transformative on the psyche. After being cooped up for hours with a wailing child even a cloudy day can be a welcome distraction from your four walls. If you absolutely can’t leave, try to fill your space with visual cues, reminders of the things that bring you joy and fill your bucket. From photos of happy moments with your wee ones to cherished books or pieces of art, all carefully positioned out of arms reach, of course.

Confide in others.

As women, we’re raised to believe that it’s a sign of weakness to share the much-protected truth that motherhood, in all its facets, can be wholly overwhelming. Laying down your guard and sharing with others allows you to see your own situation from another’s perspective. It needn’t be in person; there are a slew of mommyblogs out there telling it like it really is. I think it should be a prerequisite for every soon-to-be mom to swap her glossy Parenting mag for at least one raw mommyblog before having children. There is a whole village of support out there just waiting to buoy you up momma, so dive right in.

Give yourself a hall pass.

As someone who chronically says “sorry” (even more so than your typical Canadian), this idea is particularly revolutionary for me. From this day onward I am allowing myself to act unapologetically at least once every 24 hours. This may sound minor but it’s more difficult than you think for a first-time mom. I’m talking absolutely no guilt and no second guessing yourself. If the house is a mess, just leave it. Are the groceries still on the supermarket shelf, miles away from your pantry? Then order pizza. Better yet, just get the hell up and outta dodge while your significant other makes dinner, feeds and washes the kids and puts them to sleep. The fact is, as parents we need to lean on one another and also be the shoulder that bears the weight of the world for another. So regardless of your gender take turns stepping up, and also breaking down. You’ll be all the more stronger for it.


Call your family members, your friends, a trusted neighbour and get them over to your house ASAP while you recharge your batteries. Hire a babysitter for two hours if you need to, or forgo your Netflix, AMC or HBO addiction to get caught up on your Zzz’s (or better yet, PVR that sh*t). Nothing outside of fulfilling the needs of your child, and maybe eating, is more important to a new mother than sleeping. Without it, even the smallest tasks or requirements can become monumentally draining.

Get help.

Post partum depression (PPD) and anxiety are not reserved for the days immediately following birth and can occur months after your transition into new motherhood (and fatherhood). PPD and anxiety are more than just a few “bad days” here and there. But don’t be unnerved by the labels, they are common conditions that absolutely must not be stigmatized. It is important to recognize the symptoms and feel empowered to seek out appropriate supports when necessary.

Lastly, see yourself as the well you are. 

Like water, your love and support helps your children thrive and grow. So remember, the more you can do to replenish yourself, bit by bit, the more you can ensure the wellbeing of those who depend upon you most.






Cleaning Out My Closet, or Carpe Diem

First pregnancies can be a whirlwind even the strongest of mommas. On TV and in magazines (and basically every other cultural medium out there) pregnancy symptoms are grossly distorted through a rose-coloured lens that makes them seem cute or even enviable.

It was at the point when I started rolling down the tops of my oh so unflattering granny panties in order to make them adequately fit — not one, two, but three times — that I finally came to the realization that (*gasp*) I was no longer pregnant.

It was a surprising realization in all of its obviousness.

While I could plainly see that my eight-month-old child (who was crawling, standing and partially walking) was indeed, outside of my body, for some reason I still felt oddly compelled to schlep on my maternity gear, consisting of faded old t-shirts and tattered gym pants with holes in inappropriate places.

I asked myself, why?

Was the rationale simply that it was easier to wear my comfy, pre-stained staples versus the skinny jeans that ride up and the fancy tops that would be permanently stained within 5 minutes? To a large extent the answer was yes, but there was something more at play; some steadfast resistance on my part to pack away my maternity clothes.

First pregnancies can be a whirlwind experience even for the strongest of mommas. On TV and in magazines (and basically every other cultural medium out there) pregnancy symptoms are grossly distorted through a rose-coloured lens that makes them seem cute or even enviable. As a result, well-meaning friends and complete strangers spew encouraging refrains like, “You get to eat what you want” or “You have that glow!” But when you actually stop to think about some of the changes a woman’s body goes through, all in order to grow a human being inside another human being, e.g., extreme weight gain, water retention, and excessive swelling of the extremities; daily nausea, vomiting and heartburn, stretching and pulling of the internal ligaments and pelvic bones, insomnia, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. it can get pretty freaky deaky. And those are just the changes that happen BEFORE the baby comes out.

Yet, over a period of 9 months (news flash, 40 weeks gestation is actually closer to 10 months) a woman eventually comes to terms with the various ups and downs of her pregnancy and how they have changed not only her physical body, but her sense of identity and place in the world. Those ups and downs have become her new normal. And just as she’s about to commend herself on her ability to deal with it all, she’s totally thrown for a loop, once again, following the birth of her child. It’s a whole new, sometimes terrifying, but ultimately wonderful ballgame.

As my little one grows, I’m becoming subtly aware of another identify shift occurring. While my baby is not yet an autonomous little being, she’s certainly getting there and I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I’m technically no longer a “new” mother (with all of the allowances society affords you because of that). Rather, I’m a legit mom.

Soon, I’ll be a working mom, and I’ll have to adjust to the changes, expectations, anxieties and constraining outfits that come with that title.

In such a climate of change, there’s comfort in the familiar. So while it’s high time I live in this new moment and finally clean out my closet of all those items at least three sizes too large, for now I think I’ll just shimmy back into those tattered old gym pants and my semi-translucent shirts before I snuggle up with my quickly growing baby girl, the one person who couldn’t care what I wear  — or what size my undies are.


How Maternity Leave Improved My Career Skills

Time flies when you’re having fun. This old adage rings true in the case of my maternity leave from a career in communications I love. After a difficult pregnancy, a lengthy recuperation and an ongoing battle with baby eczema and allergies that keeps me on the seat of my pants daily (and on an elimination diet from every good-tasting food imaginable), I’m starting to see the light when it comes to enjoying my “time off” from work. The days are getting longer, warmer, and sunnier – meaning I have more time to spend outdoors with my baby girl, exploring the world anew, through her eyes. She’s FINALLY sleeping more than 1-2 hour intervals (it only took 7 months!) and becoming more independent and self assured. I think I have the eczema flares on lock, but everyday is a new adventure. Now that I’m approaching the final months of my leave, time is moving faster than ever. It has me thinking about all that has passed – everything I’ve learned from my incredible daughter – and how I’ll be forever changed as a result.

Before I had my baby even I mistakenly thought maternity leave was a cake walk. I ostentatiously questioned what someone could possibly do with all of her free time, and welcomed the seeming vacation to come. Boy was I deluded, and then some. But not everyone gets the opportunity to see the other side and as I get closer to going back to work, a small part of me worries if I’m up to the task. But then the larger, louder, more confident parts of me scream “HELL YES!” Why? Because it’s our personal experiences that colour and enrich our professional ones and, most importantly, give them meaning. That said, after thinking long and hard, I’ve whittled down 5 core career skills that I think every mother develops while on maternity leave, to her professional benefit.

Patience: At some time or another in your professional career, you’ve had to work for THAT boss or client. The one who’s called, texted or emailed at all hours of the night, made you work evenings and weekends and held you to the most ludicrous standards. Take a moment to envision that person, and then times them by 10. That’s what life with a new baby can be like. At the drop of a hat, your precious, angelic little child can devolve into “the Hulk,” and that’s on a good day. But unlike a key project or deliverable that has a predicted end date or outcome, the work demanded by your baby boss does. not. stop. And neither should it, because a little life literally hangs in the balance. Implicitly, you understand that their requests are made wholly without malice, cruelty or hate, and for that reason you muster up the reserve to always, only respond in kind, with complete patience. You do this all while battling chronic sleep deprivation, mammoth hormone swings and a heaping serving of self doubt.

Being agile and adaptable: On any given day, your best intentions to make it anywhere (whether it be out of the house or simply out of your pyjamas) and achieve anything you had previously planned can blow up in your face. In my pre-baby professional life, the prospect of showing up late to an important meeting or under performing on an essential task was akin to physical pain. But as a new mom, I now fully realize that being perfect is next to impossible and quite frankly, not worth the effort. There’s a sense of freedom in the imperfect, an agility that comes from the new possibilities you didn’t even consider when you were too busy following the planned route. Doing something in a different way does not equate to doing it wrong, so go ahead, see the sliver lining in life’s missteps and have confidence in your ability to make change work for you. I didn’t brush my teeth until 2:30 p.m. last week and the last I checked, it didn’t cause irrevocable damage to me or my baby.

Knowing your limits and when to push them: One of the most essential life skills maternity leave has taught me is when to say “no.” As a chronic people pleaser, I’ve always found it difficult to utter the very word in response to requests from clients, colleagues, friends and family. I blame it on a resilient sense of optimism – a naive belief that I can, in fact, do a million things and more. But more often than not this would result in me working overtime to deliver on a promise I never should have made in the first place. The thousands of dollars I’ve spent on formal project management training is nothing compared to the learnings I’ve received via maternity leave. There’s no scope creep when it comes to babies – when they’ve reached their max, playtime is most definitely over.  If my little one has missed a nap, isn’t feeling well or is generally in a crappy mood, all bets are off, and it’s a big fat N-O to any previously scheduled commitments.

That said, you and your child can’t and shouldn’t live in a bubble and shy away from adversity. Another thing maternity leave has taught me is the value of small accomplishments. Like the satisfaction that comes from writing a list of responsibilities and systematically crossing them off one by one before the work day is done, a new mother learns quite quickly that they can, in fact, tackle seemingly impossible tasks – it’s all just a matter of acclimatization. With each small exposure, unknown variables (like what to do when your child has a meltdown for the first time in the grocery store) become knowable, predictable and even manageable (e.g., distract with tasty snack, shiny toy, or anything within arms reach).

Collaborate and build community: For many professionals networking can be a pain in the tuckus. To have to be “on” – always presenting your best self – is more than just awkward, it’s exhausting. On maternity leave, however, networking is a saving grace. Put me in a sea of 20 moms and screaming babies at weekly playgroup and within 15 minutes I can recite not only the names and locations of all parties, but their biggest fears and hopes for being a parent. Something happens in these social situations; mothers searching for community speak candidly about their personal truths and trials. It’s a refreshing and utterly humbling experience when a complete stranger opens up so effortlessly in search of a common bond and understanding, or conversely, when you are able to open up to a complete stranger. Imagine all that we could accomplish and how much time we could save in our professional lives if we had the courage to conduct ourselves so authentically and without fear of judgement. The imposter syndrome would be a thing of the past.

Don’t throw shade:  We all face struggles whether at work or at home that permeate every aspect of our lives. Remember this the next time a fellow colleague arrives 10 minutes late, or a friend and new mom abruptly cancels a coffee date. Until we walk in one another’s shoes, we can’t possibly cast judgement on peoples’ perceived “failings.” This mantra isn’t reserved for women or mothers alone – at any time, any individual may experience upheaval or change in their personal lives that could impact their professional situation. I am a firm believer that life’s struggles can in fact make us stronger, although it may take some time and a lot of reckoning to come to this conclusion. So don’t throw shade on what can ultimately be a growth opportunity, for yourself and others.

These are the core skills I’ve learned over the past year in all their Hallmark-card corniness. From what I can tell from all of those wonderful working mothers who have come before me, there are definitely more to come.

Why childbirth should be recognized as a high-endurance sport

Take a moment to picture this:

A high-endurance athlete has just competed in a marathon. Their rigorous training over a period of 20 weeks has fatigued and inflamed their muscles. After being subjected to increasing force leading up to race day, coupled with the event itself, the bones of their pelvis are now overloaded. The athlete’s doctor promptly orders MRI testing, and an official diagnosis of a pelvic stress fracture is determined.

Because this injury can lead to substantial lost time from everyday activities, ranging from weeks to months, the athlete is immediately placed on a management plan which includes rest, modified or totally restricted weight bearing activity, and/or surgery.

Now for a social experiment of sorts:

When picturing the “athlete” in the hypothetical situation above, did you see a man, or a woman?

Your answer may serve to reveal a latent gender bias when it comes to determining which types of injuries (male dominated/sports-related) are deemed deserving of sophisticated diagnostic tools (MRI) and customized care, and conversely, which types of injuries remain shrouded in mystery only to be prescribed a catch-all cure.

In the next scenario, there can be no question regarding the sex of the injured subject.

A first-time mother in labour is in duress. After prolonged pushing which has weakened and stretched her pelvic floor muscles, her baby’s heartbeat elevates dangerously and she is rushed to surgery for medical intervention. Only then is it discovered that the baby is presenting with shoulder dystocia – the child’s shoulders cannot pass beyond the mother’s pelvic bone as it descends down the canal; its heartbeat begins to fail.

To avoid fetal demise resulting from the compression of the umbilical cord, surgical intervention is required to free the child, resulting in significant pelvic floor injury for the mother, including a broken tailbone.

Less than 48 hours following the birth, mom is sent home. Her one-size-fits-all treatment plan is as follows: “do your Kegels and come back in 6 to 10 weeks for a check-up.”

The above scenario is not at all hypothetical, it was my reality. Happily it is a reality that is now garnering more attention when it comes to providing mothers with a higher level of postpartum care.

According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, childbirth is as traumatic as many endurance sports. As such, researchers reasoned that using MRI to diagnose childbirth injuries, a technique usually reserved for sports medicine, makes sense.

Diagnostic imaging of the study participants following childbirth revealed fractures similar to sports-related stress fractures and severe muscle strains. Forty-one percent of women sustained pelvic muscle tears, with the muscle detaching partially or fully from the pubic bone. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly – their muscles detached from the bone.

According to Janis Miller, associate professor at the U-M School of Nursing, Kegels may be the most commonly prescribed exercise, but they can’t reattach pelvic muscles to the pubic bone, nothing can, derailing the one-size-fits-all approach to treating postpartum injuries.

“Many women do these exercises religiously but don’t heal as they’ve been told they would.”*

While the study group isn’t representative of all expectant mothers (participants were selected on the basis of high-risk factors for muscle tears), it does highlight a disturbing gap in postpartum care that can’t be filled by Kegels alone.

Think for a moment, how ludicrous it would seem for a healthcare professional to tell an injured marathon runner to simply “do your Kegels” before sending them on their way. Now recognize that this is an alarming reality for a countless number of women.

*University of Michigan. “Childbirth an athletic event? Sports medicine used to diagnose injuries caused by deliveries.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 December 2015. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151201101307.htm)

Breaking the code of silence

After 41+ 3 weeks of a difficult pregnancy (yes, that’s right – I was a full 10 days late), I gave birth to an incredible baby girl. The experience of labour was profound – f*ing scary, painful, and wonderful – but even more enlightening was the aftermath of birth. Despite my 9 months of Google-based research on what I thought was “all things baby,” I found myself almost entirely unprepared for some of the unspoken realities of new motherhood.

Theses are the truths that aren’t shared on the glossy covers of parenting magazines, depicting smiling, impossibly well-rested and attractive mommies. They are the ones you desperately search out at 3 a.m. in graphically scripted women’s chatrooms. I realize now that my previous online research was widely insufficient; instead of looking for ways to stay in shape while pregnant, prep the nursery for baby’s arrival and shop for wholly organic designer diapers (which are all very important and valuable subjects),  I should have been sussing out which adult diaper was the most discreet and comfortable,  which laxative tastes the least like dirt, and what to do when your breasts suddenly balloon to the size of a pre-teen’s head. Speaking quite frankly, if you could view my Google search history from the past 3 1/2 months, you’d be horrified.

These are the things polite society wouldn’t have us talk about in public. Doing so would be paramount to weakness and self-pity. Worse, it would shine a light on  some of the less attractive and downright offensive aspects of childbirth that many women (like myself) were completely unaware of. Mind you, I had an inkling that things could be rough. Luckily, the women in my life, including relatives and close friends, shared bits and pieces of their birth stories and postpartum healing experiences. It was just enough to stop me from going over the deep end in the delivery room. But like all trauma narratives, the reality of these events couldn’t quite be relayed through words alone. Again and again, I told myself, their comedy of errors couldn’t happen to me.

But it did. And then some. A close friend and fellow new mom recently sent me a link to CBC Punchline video series Newborn Moms, which comedically sums up women’s war stories like hers, mine and so many other moms.

They say you forget the pain of childbirth and its residual physical effects. Part of me thinks  I already have. With each passing day my resilient body gets stronger and motherhood becomes easier and incredibly rewarding, spurred on by the coos, cuddles and smiles of my beautiful daughter.

But before I forget entirely, I feel a strong inclination to document some of my learnings. Call it a diary of sorts, a personal ethnography, or simply some careful preparation for the potential sibling.

Take from this blog what you will, just know that for every photoshopped and delicately scripted depiction of motherhood out there, there are 100 times the number of real and wonderfully heroic stories existing on the periphery, spoken and unspoken, just waiting to be shared in all of their embarrassing glory.

Regardless of whether you are “winning” at motherhood or just keeping your head above water, you are never alone.