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I Thought I was A Parenting Expert

You know the story of the first-time parents who were once overwhelmed, tired, and confused and who then became confident, informed, and super ready for their second baby? This is that story, but in reverse: the story of a mother who was composed and confident with her first child and who felt more like a first-timer the second time around.

During my first pregnancy, I meditated a lot -- something I started doing five or six years prior. It felt good. It helped me think, stay present and enjoy the pregnancy (although I admit, being pregnant is not my favorite state).

I’m a sucker for information. I like to think that the answer to everything has been written by someone, and with a quick google search or a check of the highest rated books on Amazon, I’ll be armed with new information that will make my life easier. And so because I didn’t have much experience with babies, I read a lot of books on parenting, sleep training, and breastfeeding. While I was no expert, I was feeling pretty prepared for my first baby with all the knowledge I had acquired. When my due date came, I felt ready.

I knew labor was going to hurt. But I was naively thinking that all my newfound “mindfulness” was going to help me endure the pain sans drugs, though I was not opposed to an epidural if I felt it was needed. And then labor began, 6 days past my due date. I labored in agony for a couple of hours until I was finally dilated enough to get an epidural, which I begged for through tears. Thereafter, I rested comfortably until it was time to push. The epidural worn off, delivery went as smooth as it could have, and Lilia was born a healthy, happy baby.

When we brought her home, we were excited. I knew that having a baby came with a lot of firsts, trial and error, and figuring out. But we took our time and, with a lot of patience, learned about our new little girl. We embraced and enjoyed all of it. I used what I had learned in meditation and stressed the importance of staying mindful and present to my husband. If we could do that, I told him, we would be okay. While we certainly had our mishaps and struggles, we took them in stride, knowing that everything was a phase and we would work our way through it.

At the end of the day, Lilia was an easy baby: she did everything by the book, she slept great, and we were rested.I was convinced that my reading had thoroughly prepared us. But as she got older, I lost sight of my meditation practice and of the importance to stay present. Launching a company and chasing a toddler made life a little more hectic, and things like meditating and showering seem to go from commodity to luxury.

When I became pregnant for the second time, I thought we’d be fine. There was no need to go back to the books. We had done it once, and we could do it again with even more ease than the first time. We were experts, we thought.

But as I approached my due date with Kody, I grew anxious. The memory of painful contractions was looming, and I started to remember what I was in for. It terrified me. As I labored through the contractions I could not rest comfortably. I was shaking uncontrollably, and my stomach dropped every time the monitor lost the baby’s heartbeat. When the baby was ready to make his debut, only two hours after the epidural, I grew even more panicky, worried about pushing and about his health. As soon as our doctor came in the room, the monitor lost the heartbeat again, but this time, the nurse couldn’t find it. As doctors filled the room to prepare for an emergency c-section, my doctor got Kody out with a vacuum in just 40 second. He was blue but cried within a minute. This delivery was a lot more hectic than my first delivery.

As it turned out, Kody kept surprising us. He was colicky, needy, and less independent than his big sister. He wasn’t sleeping as soundly, napping as perfectly, latching as well, or any of the things that made life so manageable the first time around. I was baffled.

So I started to question myself. Did I have enough milk for him? Was I not burping him right? Did he get enough “wake time”? Were his naps substantial? I couldn’t crack this kid. I picked up all the books that I had read three years prior and frantically skimmed them for answers again. I was worried that we had somehow screwed up. I felt like a first-time mom, more so than when I was a first-time mom.

When Kody turned 3 months, I reflected on what we did with Lilia, and it occurred to me: it wasn’t information that we were missing; it was presence. Kody was not more difficult than Lilia. WE were more difficult. So I began to slow down, breathe, and become more present. And like magic, he responded and things are now a lot better. I don’t jump to grab him everytime he cries, and at times, he, just like Lilia, can soothe himself. He’s just starting to sleep about 9 hours at night, which isn’t too bad for a 3 months old!

Although I’m not consistently meditating for 10 minutes every morning (I’m lucky if I wake up without a toddler in my face asking for a snack), I try to take a few minutes each day to bring my awareness to my breath. When I catch my mind wandering to the endless to-do list, I try to return my attention to what I’m doing in the moment. The more I’m present, the better things seem to go. It’s not always easy, but the rewards can be immense; and with practice, I have found that mindfulness can give me the greatest gifts – my sanity, some sleep and the ability to be a confident mother of two. A little wine helps, too.

Stacey Effman is co-founder of 12|12, an organic, modern clothing line for infants and toddlers with a mission to give back to children in need. Before starting 12|12, Stacey was working as a freelance web and graphic designer and running a line of charitable t-shirts. She studied Marketing and Management Information Systems at the University of Delaware. In her free time, she plays princesses with her 3-year-old daughter, coos with her 5-month-old son, and enjoys binge watching tv series with her husband when time allows (which is rare these days).

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