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Before my son was born, I was a typical first-time mom-to-be. I signed up for every weekly email update. I read all the books. I researched car seats for weeks before settling on one, and the nursery was complete by the time I started my third trimester.


I'm going to have him sleeping in his own crib and through the night before I come back to work, I vowed to my co-workers during a conversation at my office baby shower. This was, of course, when I thought the books were right and good sleep habits were just a matter of structuring a consistent routine. The seasoned mothers wisely said nothing, knowing my baby would soon teach me what books could not.

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Truthfully, my confident, assertive exterior masked a terrified, emotional mess lurking just below the surface. At one point, my husband found me sobbing on the floor of our yet-to-be-born son's room after my last baby shower because we had five changing pad covers and no changing pad, and this was obviously the worst thing ever and how could we bring a baby home to a house without a changing pad and still call ourselves parents?

I thought I would be a good mom if I had all the knowledge and the gear and the clothes. Having the “right" everything mattered. I registered for the Diaper Champ, since it takes regular trash bags, instead of the Diaper Genie. So practical. So researched. I had my checklists and my hospital bag lists and my baby registries. I was a great mom, on paper.

The problem was I didn't bring home a paper baby. I brought home a real one.

My son was born three weeks early and weighed only five pounds. He was a hearty eater and steadily gained weight, but he was still waking at least twice during the night when my maternity leave ended. He slept in the Pack 'n Play (and on a bad night, the swing) inches from my side of the bed. Each work day, I felt like I was slogging through fog—I would grab a nap in my car during my lunch break and more than once I fell asleep at my desk while pumping.

I must have read the wrong books, I thought. There had to be a solution to my sleep-deprived woes. I started soliciting outside opinions and was quickly inundated with tips. Turns out, everyone has sleep training advice. Everyone.

Have you tried Babywise? Yes, but it seems babies can't read schedules.

Did you try swaddling? Yep, he hates it.

Cry it out? Yes.

Ferberize? Also yes.

How many solids is he eating? Plenty, but I'll try feeding him more. Ah, nope—if I overfeed him, he just throws it all back up again.

Maybe you should move his bedtime up? Tried that.

Or back? That too.

You're too stressed out. Babies pick up on emotions. You just need to relax. Oh, of course. Relax. Yes, that's very easy to make myself do. Thank you.

All the different suggestions only further confirmed my fears—something was wrong.

I felt as though I was failing one of the first tests of motherhood. Even though Nathan was hitting every other milestone, the only thing I could focus on was the one place we were falling short.

My tunnel vision, combined with months and months of sleep deprivation and postpartum hormones, was ruining my view of motherhood

At nine months, my son was measuring firmly in the middle of the growth chart, but he still wasn't sleeping through the night. I was out of ideas. I pleaded with his pediatrician at his well visit that month.

“What's wrong with him? Why won't my baby sleep?" I asked.

She looked at the healthy, happy baby in my arms and saw past the question I asked to the one at the root of it all—what's wrong with me? She smiled, patted my hand and gently said, “Nothing's wrong. You're doing great. He'll figure it out eventually, I promise."

Wait, what's that you say?

Nothing is wrong?

I'm not a bad mom?

“Of course not," she assured me. “It's just that sometimes, babies don't sleep. This is a hard season, but you'll get through it."

None of the books said that. Every single one of them suggested that the hard could be trained or scheduled away. A wave of relief washed over me—it was as if she'd taken a heavy load off my shoulders. I couldn't control this. I wasn't supposed to control this. Nathan would sleep when he was ready. Until then, I just needed to be patient.

We put the books away and went off-script. I started savoring those 3 a.m. wakeups, buoyed by the assurance that they wouldn't last forever. I discovered the quiet peace that comes when it feels like you're the only two people awake in the world, as I held Nathan close while I fed him, then rocked him gently back to sleep. The irony is that the whole process only took about 15 minutes when I stopped fighting it.

Three weeks later, Nathan started sleeping through the night. Just like that, the seasons changed.

Sometimes we forget that no season lasts forever.

In the cold, dark, dampness of January, it can be hard to remember what spring feels like. It can also be difficult to believe that there will ever be a time when your baby doesn't wake up precisely every 74 minutes during the night. Rest, energy, and a clear mind feel as foreign as warmth, sunshine and green trees.

Those first 10 months of Nathan's life taught me something important, though. I can't fast-forward to an easier season. And sometimes, the best way to navigate a challenging one is to lean into the hard. Winter may never be my favorite, but I also can't will it into spring. The seasons will change when it's time, and no sooner.

So, if you're currently bouncing on an exercise ball, hoarsely singing “You are My Sunshine" while your arms burn from swaying your baby back and forth in a futile effort to force those eyes closed, take heart.

This is not your season, momma. And that's okay. I'm going to say that again because well-meaning family, friends, strangers and Google are all going to try and convince you otherwise.

It is okay.

Everyone has a hard season. No one escapes unscathed. Sometimes, toddlers don't eat. Seriously. For days. Sometimes, preschoolers throw tantrums in Target, school age kids forget to do their homework, and teenagers break curfew.

It's not that we didn't prepare for this. It's that we can't. Sometimes, there is no preparing. There's just doing, inch by inch and day by day. Some days are light and effortless, but frequently, the seasons are heavy and the work is relentless. The trap of thinking if I could just do more/be more/know more, things would be easier is all too easy to fall into.

There's nothing we love more than a good life hack to make a tough job easier. I've yet to find a hack for parenting, though. There is only the slow, long, daily work of getting to know each child as an individual, and then tailoring your methods to meet them where they are.

Some kids are more challenging than others. Some seasons are harder than others. And sometimes, babies don't sleep.


This story was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs. Check out their book, The Magic of Motherhood, for more heartwarming essays about motherhood, love, and the good kind of heartache.

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As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

This article was sponsored by Bugaboo. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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There's nothing Beyoncé can't do, at least as far as we can see. From dropping record-breaking albums to starring in movies to dominating stadium tours, the woman seems almost superhuman. But even Beyoncé can admit that working motherhood is really, really hard. She recently opened up about her struggles—and we never thought we'd say this—but we kind of feel like we can relate to Beyoncé.

The superstar recently opened up about everything from body image to hitting up Target in a brand new interview. But here's what we're taking away form the conversation: Beyoncé's raw, confessional comments about juggling motherhood and career.

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"I think the most stressful thing for me is balancing work and life," Beyoncé tells Elle when asked what stresses her out. "Making sure I am present for my kids—dropping Blue off at school, taking Rumi and Sir to their activities, making time for date nights with my husband, and being home in time to have dinner with my family—all while running a company can be challenging."

Say it louder, Beyoncé! It's crazy to hear that even the most iconic celebrity of all worries about things like school drop off. Admittedly, we don't know exactly what Bey's juggle looks like. We have no idea what it feels like to be trailed by the paparazzi or sell out stadiums or have access to absolutely everything money can buy. But here's what we do understand: The incredible pressure that comes with trying to fit too many things into too few hours, and the feeling that we wish we could be multiple places at once.

Something else we can relate to? Beyoncé's feelings about her body and its evolution over the years. "If someone told me 15 years ago that my body would go through so many changes and fluctuations, and that I would feel more womanly and secure with my curves, I would not have believed them," she says. "But children and maturity have taught me to value myself beyond my physical appearance and really understand that I am more than enough no matter what stage I'm at in life."

Amen to that, Mama!

And most relatable of all is this answer she provided. When a fan asked, "With all the hats you wear (chairwoman, global entertainer) and all the titles we give you (Queen, Yoncé), which brings you the greatest joy?" via email, here's what Queen B had to say: "Being Blue, Rumi, and Sir's mom."

We feel this so hard. And it's so gratifying to see that even Beyoncé—with all the massive, unprecedented things she's accomplished—knows that when it comes right down to it, nothing compares to being a mama.

News

Every winter, without fail, my skin gets very dry. It's like clockwork. As soon as November hits its as if the dry skin Gods band together to give me dry, patchy skin. Some winters are better than others, but this winter it's especially bad. Maybe it's age-related skin changes, or perhaps it's because I moved into a new home with radiator heating and every morning I wake up in what seems to be the Saraha desert. Either way, I'm over it and needed answers.

I caught up with celebrity esthetician Elina Fedotova and her findings are making a big difference on my skin.

"Sometimes in the cold months, we feel achy so many people love to take long hot showers in the morning or take a bath and that is very understandable," she says. "However, remember that long hot showers can lead to over-drying your skin, especially in the winter. Instead of soap, use an oil-based sugar or sea salt scrub. Also, you can use butter-based polishing masks preferably with probiotics because it will help your skin's microbiome, which is essentially important for protective functions on your skin."

Here is my favorite body scrub, plus a few others for you to consider for this winter, mama:

Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish

Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish

A sweet-smelling body scrub that's uber gentle and in millennial pink? Yes, please! I also love that the sugar, virgin coconut and Moroccan rose oils not only provide major hydration, but they increase hydration and reduce redness. It also looks pretty cute alone on my vanity when I'm going through my decluttering phase and need to purge.

$36

Babe and Body’s Shower Yoga

Babe and Body\u2019s Shower Yoga

Sometimes you have to skip the downward dog and bring the namaste straight to your warm shower. This zen-inspired muscle and joint relief scrub combine the powers of dead sea salt and magnesium while infusing scents of lemon and lavender. The lemon oil is also great for tightening the skin, preventing wrinkles and removing excess oil. And, using it makes me feel like I'm kind of working out—even when I haven't seen the inside of a gym in days (okay, fine, months).

$29

OUAI Scalp & Body Scrub

OUAI Scalp & Body Scrub

This scrub really allows me to put Fedotova's suggestion to practice. This exfoliating sugar crystals cleanses and softens my skin and even adds a dose of probiotics that she mentioned to help my skin's defense. It also smells so good I use it during my at-home spa moments (read: mandatory self-care time) when my toddler is having a tantrum.

$38

Fresh Brown Sugar Body Polish Exfoliator

Fresh Brown Sugar Body Polish Exfoliator

This no-frills cult-favorite body scrub has stood the test of time. The brown sugar crystals in it serve as natural humectants that prevent moisture loss, while the oils add instant hydration. And, yes, the rumors are true: you can expect a complete skin refresh that lasts for days.

$39
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Gift-giving is always well-intentioned: It's rooted in the joy of seeing the kids open something new and showing their excitement. It's rooted in a language of love that lavishes gifts decadently like extra butter on a roll. It's rooted in an attempt to connect.

It's an immense privilege to have a family who loves my kids and showers us with gifts—I don't take that lightly. But what my kids need is a present mom, and the overflow of presents makes that harder than ever.

When birthdays and holidays are approaching, I find myself looking around every corner of my house. I see the Lego pieces that once created an incredible train track now scattered in every crevice. I see the pieces just waiting for me to step on them in the middle of the night.

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I see the discarded toys that I try to bring back to life because, after all, they were purchased not that long ago.

I see the tubs of "rotate in and out" toys that we use to try to keep things fresh because, after all, kids can only play with so many things at one time.

I see the pile of things we have yet to open. Things we reserved for later because the pile of "new" grew too large.

These piles of plastic make me feel out of control. They make me feel like I'm the manager of "things" instead of a safe place for my little humans. The toys call out to me to be picked up and organized during times that I need to rest, connect with my family or do anything else.

As a stay-at-home-mom, one thing I never anticipated was how many days can pass that I feel disconnected from my kids because the anxiety of "stuff" takes the front seat. Days when I feel like all I do is pick up "stuff" and try to keep my kids engaged in something for more than a few minutes. Days when it feels like the toys are literally mocking me out loud—reminding me of the control I've lost and the ongoing task list of keeping "stuff" from taking over the entire house.

This feeling of no control is a huge trigger for my anxiety. Anxiety has been a part of my life for years but as a mom, it has had bigger implications.

When anxiety takes over, I can't see the small moments and opportunities.

When anxiety takes over, I can't sit and laugh and tell stories like I want to.

When anxiety takes over, I can't get lost in hours of imaginative play.

When anxiety takes over, I can't sit and snuggle my little one without a constant flood of frustrated thoughts.

I want my kids to have an anxiety-free mom. I want them to have a mom who is connected and purposeful. A mom who gets lost in play and laughter. I want them to have a mom who encourages them to use their imagination and gets on their level. I want a mom who feels less pressure to "busy the kids" with something so that the "stuff" can be picked up.

You see, having all the stuff actually results in my kids spending less time enjoying what they have. It results in less time for play and more time for clean up. It results in more screen time because I need more "mommy needs to get this cleaned up so she doesn't lose her mind" time.

In a world that is so fast-paced and always screaming for "more!" I am constantly trying to help my kids slow down and savor what they have. I don't want my kids to not be able to focus on one activity because their brain is darting to the next thing. I want them to have intentional values—values of creativity and connection. The abundance of stuff feels like a roadblock to instilling these values.

So as the holidays and birthdays continue to come and go, I'll do my part to take care of my anxiety and ask my family and friends to do their part in helping us focus more on the values of our family and less on filling our home with toys that are sure to be deserted in just a few weeks. After all, is there anything better than love and connection?

Life

I am a planner, so when I was pregnant, I tried to plan for all aspects of becoming a mom. I was the woman who read ahead. I took the hypnobirthing classes and practiced every night. I prepared a detailed maternity leave plan, talked with my husband about the kind of parents we wanted to be, ate only whole organic foods, and even preemptively childproofed our home. I prepared my body, my life, every part of myself.

The one thing I did not adequately prepare for was breastfeeding. The message I'd received during pregnancy was that breastfeeding was something my body would just know how to do. I didn't need to overthink it or stress. When the time came, I'd be Mother Earth—or so I'd been told.

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But breastfeeding didn't come easily for me and my daughter, and I was overwhelmed by the pressure to try to make it work. I felt so much guilt about not being able to get it right, that I was failing at what was I was told was the biggest part of new motherhood. It affected my relationship; it affected my ability to bond with my baby; and it affected my ability to heal. It was the first place in my life (though not the last) where I felt mom guilt. My struggle with breastfeeding stole much joy from the first months of motherhood.

After spending hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants and trips to the ENT to explore my daughter's possible tongue tie, I eventually turned to formula. In desperation, I chose the brand my pediatrician recommended without question.

Months later, when the fog of new motherhood finally started to lift, I learned that it—and so many other infant formulas on the market—was loaded with corn syrup solids. What?!?!? How is this possible? I remember asking myself.

My experience made me wonder: Why are women, including my generation of the most educated women ever, being guilted (without support) to breastfeed for a year? And when we can't, or choose not to breastfeed, why are there so few healthy alternatives for our babies?

While mothers are under an incredible amount of pressure to breastfeed, we lack the access to information, cultural support, and healthy options that we need to successfully feed our babies.

Less judgmental, didactic education about feeding infants

When I started to dig into why I felt so misled about the realities of breastfeeding I learned that the World Health Organization, the organization that established recommendations around breastfeeding, as well as guidelines for marketing breast milk alternatives (all of which trickle down to lactation consultants), has an enormous influence on hospitals.

To earn a Baby-Friendly designation from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, hospitals must adopt clinical practices intended to promote successful breastfeeding. One of these practices is, "Do not provide breastfed newborns any food or fluids other than breast milk, unless medically indicated." In practice, this essentially means hospitals are encouraging moms to do whatever it takes to make breastfeeding happen.

And, the influence of the WHO's International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes extends well beyond hospitals. This code, though not legally enforced in the U.S., discourages the marketing of not just formula, but also bottles and nipples. Ironically, this ignores the fact that many moms rely on nipples and bottles to feed their babies breast milk.

It also encourages health professionals who support breastfeeding, such as lactation consultants, to take a firm stand against collaborating with companies who violate the Code. That means that if a media company takes advertising money from a bottle company, they jeopardize their ability to draw upon a lactation consultant's expertise in the future, thus potentially limiting moms' access to information.

This isn't to make the WHO out to be the bad guy. There are plenty of benefits to breastfeeding for both mom and baby — especially in countries where clean water is scarce and formula feeding poses serious health risks. The Code, too was developed with the best intentions: to prevent misleading marketing claims and reduce corporate influence on feeding practices. And for many moms, certified lactation consultants are a force for good and a source of support.

But forcing a binary choice between breast and bottle-feeding — without giving moms all of the information they need — doesn't support mothers. Instead, moms deserve access to information about all their options, including formula supplementation.

Better leave and pumping policies

Even if breastfeeding does come easily, our culture is not set up to support women exclusively breastfeeding for the WHO-recommended length of time.

While we're told that we should exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue to breastfeed for at least a year, the median length of (paid or unpaid) maternity leave in the U.S. is 11 weeks, and only 14% of American workers have access to paid leave.

This is especially frustrating when research indicates that leave is a key part of the breastfeeding puzzle. Returning to work before three months may reduce a mother's ability to meet her breastfeeding goals. Studies show that working women who receive 12 or more weeks of paid maternity leave are more likely to start breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding for six months than women without paid leave. In another study, researchers found that a one-month increase in maternity leave led to a 2.2 month increase in breastfeeding duration. If we want moms to breastfeed — and to sustain breastfeeding — we need to provide better paid parental leave.

And once women do return to work, we need to provide them the time and space to pump. Despite the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law, women still face barriers at work that prevent them from expressing milk. Research suggests that 60% of women do not have the time and space they need to pump at work, but women who did have the time and accommodations were 2.3 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at six months.

An alternative to sugar-laden formulas

Unfortunately there are barriers for formula-feeding mothers too. In the United States, we're lacking in not just education about formula, but also healthy options that we feel good about feeding to our children.

While formula is highly regulated, there aren't yet restrictions on the sugar content in baby formula. Formula needs to contain a certain number of carbohydrates in order to meet a baby's nutritional needs. In breast milk, the primary carbohydrate is lactose. But in formula, that carb is often corn syrup or sugar. In some formulas, babies are getting up to 10 grams of corn syrup per 5-ounce serving. That means over the course of a day, they're guzzling more sugar than you'll find in a bottle of Coke!

Recently, many parents have begun to seek out better options by purchasing formulas from the European Union. The E.U. has stricter rules about pesticides and limits the amount of corn syrup in formula (there, corn syrup can only make up 50% or less of carbohydrates, while in the U.S. all carbs can come from corn syrup). Unfortunately, European formulas pose risks too.

The bottom line: To be successful, moms and families need support without judgement. We need education that acknowledges the real challenges of breastfeeding at the same time it teaches the benefits. We need information about all of our options. We also need policies that help working moms meet their breastfeeding goals. And for the mamas who rely on alternatives to breastfeeding, we need formulas with ingredients lists we can understand and feel good about using to nourish the next generation.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

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