Friday, August 29, 2014

This Blissful Life

I don't know about you, but when my toddler wakes me up before 6:00 A.M., my life doesn't feel particularly blissful.

Don't get me wrong.  I love my son, I love seeing his early morning sunshine smile and hearing him tell me, "Mama, ready wake up!"  (Actually, at 5:30 in the morning it's still too dark to see the smile, but I know it's there.)  But I really wish he'd let me sleep in just a bit longer every once in a while.

Recently, I read a book called Finding Mommy Bliss.  This is one of those books that is part pick-you-up, part inspiration.  Basically, the point of the book is this:  Being a mom is hard.  It's crazy and stressful and hard to navigate, it's sometimes scary, and it frequently leaves you feeling inadequate.  But it's also fun and funny, full of love and gratitude, and blissful.  Yes, blissful.  There is a lot of bliss to be found in being a mom, and Genny Heikka's book aims to help you slow down and find that bliss, and to accept and love yourself for being the best mom you can be.  Because, as she points out, you are exactly the mom your child needs.

When Little Bug was a newborn, I felt blissful all the time.  Well, almost all the time.  I didn't feel particularly blissful during those middle-of-the-night feedings (although once I got used to it, I kind of enjoyed the quiet and darkness), and I certainly didn't feel blissful during the early weeks of breastfeeding, when both my baby and I were struggling to master that particular new skill.  But most of the time, for me at least, having a baby was the definition of bliss.  I loved holding him.  I loved kissing him everywhere.  I loved watching him sleep.  I loved those early smiles, the way he'd try to imitate me when I made funny faces at him, those first giggles.

For the most part, I've been extremely happy as a stay-at-home mom.  I am thankful every day that my husband works hard so that I can stay at home with our son.  But, almost as if the newness of being a mom has worn off, I find that what I feel most of the time is more like contentment.  Some days, when LB won't stop throwing his toys at the cat, or when he refuses to eat anything other than yogurt and blueberries, or when he flat-out refuses to take a nap (and believe me, he still needs one), or when he sits on the floor of a public bathroom and cries because I got him a paper towel and he wanted to get his own...  Well, on those kinds of days it's a bit hard to find the bliss.

After reading Finding Mommy Bliss, I was feeling a bit inspired.  I decided I was up for a challenge, if you want to call it that.  For one day, I was going to try really hard to feel the bliss that I knew was waiting for me in our everyday life.

He found a bug!

My husband has been gone all week, so when LB wanted to crawl into bed with me at around 3:00 A.M. or so, I let him.  (Note that my husband has no problem with our son sleeping in our bed, but our bed simply isn't big enough for all three of us these days, especially when LB prefers to sleep perpendicular between us.  Maybe we should get a king-size.)  I absolutely love snuggling with my baby.  Love.  It.  There's something wonderful about falling asleep to the sound of his quiet breathing, with his fuzzy little head tucked under my arm.  I don't mind his feet in my ribs, I don't mind getting smacked with the occasional flailing arm.  There's something indescribably lovely about bedsharing with your child.  It's one of the few things I look forward to when my husband is underway.

So even though I got up way, way earlier than I really wanted to yesterday (I do that pretty much every day, actually), it definitely felt blissful to have passed even a small part of the night with my baby tucked up against me.

One of the points made in Heikka's book is to "get back to the basics," to love the simple things and be grateful for what's right in front of us.

"A grateful heart is a blissful heart.  Somehow, when we view motherhood as the gift that it is, chaos and all, our hearts shift from stressed to thankful, and it's a whole lot easier to get caught up in the joy."

That's one of the ideas that I really tried to keep in my head yesterday.  To look for those everyday moments of bliss, and to be consciously thankful for them.

We had a pretty chill morning at home.  Breakfast was cereal, and then we had a second breakfast (apparently we are hobbits?) of sweet potatoes and kale (actually, scratch that; I don't think a hobbit would be caught eating kale for breakfast).  I had my morning cup of earl grey tea, so I was adequately caffeinated.  I had been going back and forth about whether I wanted to go to a toddler yoga program at the library or to regular preschooler story time at a different library, and ultimately decided to stick with my plan of trying the yoga.  So we went!  Mind you, a toddler yoga program doesn't actually involve much yoga, especially on the part of the toddler.  But it was fun, and LB lasted for maybe twenty minutes before the lure of new "yanbeddy" books became impossible to resist.  Afterwards, we had a snack in the courtyard outside with some friends.  LB was more interested in the nearby trolley tracks than he was in eating his pb&j, but he ate it all eventually.  And he saw at least five trolleys that I counted.

We left shortly before noon, because LB was getting restless and I was ardently hoping that he'd actually take a nap at a reasonable hour.  Lately, you see, his naps have been a bit erratic, to say the least.  Most days, he goes to sleep sometime between noon and 1:00 P.M., and he sleeps anywhere from one to three hours.  Some days he falls asleep earlier, like by 11 or even 10:30.  Some days he doesn't go down until 2 or 3.  And some days he refuses to sleep at all, and after we've spent hours in the bedroom having "quiet time" I finally give up and let him go out and play with his toys.  I really need him to get that nap, and I know he really needs it too.

There are definitely days when I find myself reminiscing wistfully about days gone by, when LB took his nap (or naps, when he was younger) at much more predictable times, days when I wish we could go back to that just for a day so that I could take a much needed nap too.  Yesterday, though, I decided to try to do things a bit differently.  I decided to not "rush the journey," and to just acknowledge and be happy with where in life my son is right now.  And I decided to try, to just try, and see if he would eventually settle down and take a nap on his own.  So we got home and played quietly for awhile.  I read LB some books, we played with his stuffed animals (one of the current games is to pretend that I am a car, and he piles all of his stuffed animals on top of me), we sang a few songs.

Eventually he asked to watch cartoons, so I put an episode of "Curious George" on Netflix for him.  I normally let him watch up to an hour-ish of cartoons per day, but after watching two episodes, he asked for another and I thought, why not?  That is kind of a simplified and literal way of looking at one of Heikka's other tips: "Say yes, because sometimes there's no reason to say no!"  Mind you, I don't intend to start letting LB watch hours and hours of cartoons every day, like he currently seems to think he needs to.  But on a day like yesterday, he was tired but not ready for a nap yet, and I was tired but unable to nap until he did, what's the harm in a little bit more cartoons?

Besides, it was totally worth it to see how happy LB was when I said 'yes' instead of the expected 'no.'  And because I got to read uninterrupted for just a bit longer.

"Sometimes as moms, we are quick to say no to things... when there really is no reason not to say yes.  But if we try to be more aware of that, and even say yes more often, the unexpected can happen: unexpected surprises, unexpected memories, unexpected laughter, unexpected... bliss."

I know I am guilty of that too.  And I'm going to start working a bit harder to keep that thought somewhere in the back of my mind.  I may not have had any really good opportunities to put that idea in action yesterday, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?

By the way, LB did eventually decide he wanted a nap.  A little before 3, he asked to nurse, and he fell asleep immediately after.  It would have been nice if he had napped earlier, but he did nap eventually.  And I got my break.

And I got my break!  And I applied one of Heikka's other pearls of wisdom to my break time, and used a chunk of it to do one of my workout DVDs.  After 45 minutes of cardio, I was exhausted and sweaty, but I also felt good for having put in the effort.  And I had more energy to finish out the day.  And I think I probably slept a bit better that night.  I used to be a bit of an exercise junkie, but I have definitely fallen off the bandwagon since having had a baby.  But every time I make time for a workout, I am reminded of why I used to love it so much.

"If we want to be healthy and happy moms, we need to take the time to be healthy and happy moms.  We need to choose to take time for ourselves, to exercise, eat right, decompress, pray, and do other things that are emotionally fulfilling and physically recharging.  If we don't, we risk ending up high-strung, stressed out, not feeling good about ourselves, and even resentful towards the people in our lives we love the most."

And Heikka was right.  Absolutely right, and we moms would all do well to remember that more often.  We do deserve it.

Baby selfie.

After a three hour nap, LB woke up and I made us some chana saag for dinner (basically chana masala, my favorite Indian dish, with a ton of spinach wilted in).  And he ate a little bowl of it!  He also ate a hard boiled egg, which is apparently a new favorite, and some blueberries.  And some leftover kale from earlier.  And some cow milk.  (And yes, he calls it "cow milk" too!  Makes me smile.)  My son can be a bit of a picky eater at times, and he definitely goes through periods when he only wants to eat specific foods or doesn't want to eat others, but for the most part he eats a nice variety of things.  I am so grateful for that.

I'm grateful for a lot of things, really.  I'm grateful that we can afford a nice apartment in a safe area, where we can walk around outside and always find things that a little boy thinks are new and interesting.  I may complain about the summer heat here in San Diego, but most of the time I really do love it here.  I am grateful to have delicious and healthy food in my kitchen, to know how to cook it, and to be able to share my love of yummy things with my family.

Overall, focusing on some of these ideas really did leave me feeling happier at the end of the day.  More relaxed.  More... blissful.  There's something powerful in just trying to appreciate these kinds of little things in life.  And I already considered myself to be a relatively mindful, conscious sort of parent.  I think I'll likely find myself paging through this book in the weeks and months to come, looking for more inspiration, especially when LB and I have a rough day or when I'm just feeling exhausted and touched out.  Life can never have too much bliss.

Note:  This post was inspired by the book Finding Mommy Bliss by Genny Heikka, which I also reviewed for San Francisco Book Review.  My review of Finding Mommy Bliss has not been published yet, but I will update this post once it has been.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide

Note #1:  My original review of Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide was written for San Francisco Book Review and appears on their website.  I have expanded that review for this post.

Note #2:  The opinions in this post are just that: my own opinions, for better or for worse.  No one paid me to write any of this.

Being pregnant is uncharted territory for first-time moms.  For those who are looking for solid information and reassurance, Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide is intended for women (and their partners) who are facing pregnancy for the first time.  This guide presents an abundance of information that will aid you in having a healthy pregnancy.

The bulk of the book is presented in a typical month-by-month format, with each month featuring pages on Mom's Journey, Baby's Journey, and Dad's Survival Guide (I love that there is a section for dads in each month!), as well as other sections covering topics that differ from month to month.  For example, Month 1 has a spread regarding determining the due date, Month 6 talks about the trendy idea of having a "babymoon," and Month 8 offers advice on writing a birth plan.

The format is cute and colorful, making this book a joy to page through. There are illustrations and photos included throughout, and nearly every page includes fun facts, statistics, or pieces of advice at the top of the page.  Some of my favorite factoids include:
  • Your baby's temperature is about 32 degrees F (0.3 degrees C) higher than your body temperature.
  • Your uterus increases 700 times in size from conception to birth.
  • At birth, babies don't have kneecaps.  They don't develop until after six months.
After the month-by-month chapter comes a shorter section on labor, followed by one on first days with baby and some basic advice on baby care.  The section on labor is very short indeed, and will definitely not provide a first-time mom with everything she needs to know in order to have the kind of birth she wants.
"The more prepared you are, knowing what to expect and how you might deal with discomfort, the more likely you are to relax and have confidence in your ability to manage."
My biggest concern with this book has to do with how some of the wording and topics included (or not included) reflect a leaning towards today's typical hospital birth.  This is very much a "mainstream" pregnancy book.  There is not much mention of important choices that must be made during pregnancy; indeed, most of the book assumes you will be giving birth in a hospital, under the care of a traditional OB.  While that may be standard for most of America, it is still disappointing to only have the occasional mention of midwives and birth centers, which are becoming more and more popular as they become more well-known options.  Home birth does get an entire two-page spread, but with the immediate caveat that the idea is opposed by the AMA and ACOG.  With doulas becoming slowly more mainstream, I kept expecting them to get a section; there were several perfect opportunities to discuss a paid labor assistant, but the only mention of hiring a doula came as an aside on one of the Natural Birth pages.

I also didn't like how sometimes passages were worded in such a way as to indicate that these decisions would be made by your caregiver, with you as the pregnant woman having no say.  I am a big fan of informed consent when it comes to medical decisions related to your pregnancy, and while I freely acknowledge that a woman's doctor or midwife is more knowledgeable about the medical aspects of pregnancy, I can't help but object to any suggestion that a woman will have no part in the decision making.  Statements like "If [a membrane sweep] doesn't work [to induce labor], an induction will be arranged during which drugs will trigger contractions" imply that a woman can't refuse an induction if your doctor wants you to have one.  Or how about the section on "Older Moms," which discusses how your age can affect your pregnancy?  "During labor, medical interventions and cesareans are also more common.  Try to see this extra level of care as a bonus; you and your baby are in safe hands."  Certainly, an "older" woman undergoing pregnancy may require closer monitoring in many ways, but I do not like the assumption that labor will naturally require more interventions simply because of a mama's age.

I was somewhat perplexed by the attention given to ultrasounds; there are two full two-page spreads devoted to them, and they are mentioned frequently elsewhere.  It's true that many caregivers, especially OBs, do expect women to get at least one or two (or often even more), but it's also true that many women have perfectly healthy babies without getting a single ultrasound during pregnancy.  Sometimes health insurance is reluctant to pay for an ultrasound, especially if it is medically unnecessary.  I'm not trying to claim that ultrasound can't provide valuable information to caregivers during pregnancy, because it can, I simply don't understand why this book places such emphasis on getting scans done.

Some other topics touched on include nutrition, exercise, pain relief options, newborn essentials, and cesarean sections.  For the most part, this book is pretty well-written, and it covers a wide range of topics that "most" women will want to read about during their pregnancy.  If it leaves some topics out, or focuses on some I am not interested in, or words some sections in a way that I do not agree with, well, this is more of a problem for me and my personal bias toward natural birth than it would be for most pregnant women.  Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide is cute, informative, and a good starter guide for many women, especially those who are planning to have a typical hospital birth.  This is not, however, a "complete" pregnancy book by any means, and would be complemented nicely by additional reading and a good childbirth education class (like Birth Boot Camp!).  I don't expect to be adding Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide to my list of recommended reading for pregnant women.  But it does cover a good many important topics in a friendly way, and it is sure to appeal to many women who aren't sure where to start.