Archive | Motherhood

My Pregnancy: A Tale of To-Do Lists & Transitions

My Pregnancy: A Story of To-Do Lists & Transitions | kaileenelise.com

“What is done in love is done well.” (Vincent Van Gogh)

My son turned ONE at the beginning of this month and I’ve been thinking a lot about my pregnancy, his birth, and the past twelve months as a family. I know this is just the start of our journey, but it’s hard not to be in awe of the time that’s passed so far.

I’ve never been great at transitions. I get cranky and uncomfortable in the spaces between one thing to another. Being pregnant is a state of constant transition. At first, you don’t even know your baby is there. By the end, all you can think about is what it will be like to have that baby in your arms. In the middle, there are months of growth and discomfort, excitement and expectation. With each passing week, your belly becomes a clear sign that life as you know it is about to change forever.

My first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage at 9 weeks. It was my first lesson in motherhood: even when we try to do everything right, so much is out of our control. Nothing is permanent or guaranteed. There are greater forces beyond us.

I always wanted to be a mama, but that loss deepened my desire in a palpable way. Within a few months, I was pregnant again.

On the Sunday morning of a 3-day music festival, I woke up before my alarm with a wave of intuition. I didn’t want to spend the day drinking if I was pregnant. I took a test just to be sure. It was quiet in our apartment, with only the soft sounds of the city humming below. I snuck out of bed and for an hour or so, I was the only person who knew about this very tiny, very exciting thing. A new transition was upon us. I snapped a picture of the positive test, crawled back in bed, and started to think. There would be doctor’s visits, blood tests, and ultrasounds ahead. I hoped it would all be okay this time.

I wore a flowy dress to the festival. As we swayed to the music, I imagined what I’d look like with a bump under all that fabric. I was exhausted by the time the headliners took the stage that evening, but grateful we got to spend the first day of this pregnancy in such a memorable way.

We didn’t see a heartbeat at the first appointment. The doctor said it was just too early, but I struggled to keep my fears at bay. Even a few weeks later, when we saw a strong reassuring flicker, I had a hard time believing everything was okay. I was stuck in the transition between being someone who had a miscarriage and someone who was excited to be pregnant again. On top of that, the strangeness of early pregnancy weighed on me. As my body worked double time to grow a tiny human, it depleted my resources and left me exhausted. I found myself holding onto my faith in magic and miracles, in bean and cheese burritos, and the hope that coffee might taste good again someday.

We traveled to Australia and Fiji during my first trimester, before we told our families. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary in Sydney at a fancy steakhouse. While I’d normally indulge in red wine and a nice filet, nothing sounded good to me that night. During that trip, I was texting with my grandmother about how I had a head cold. She replied by asking if I was pregnant!? I was stunned by her question, but I held onto our secret. We wanted to share the news in person.

I searched Etsy for ornaments, mugs, and t-shirts that we personalized for our baby’s soon-to-be grandparents and great-grandparents. When I was thirteen weeks, we traveled to Ohio for Christmas and surprised my husband’s side of the family. The next week we traveled to Arizona for my grandparents’ 60th anniversary party where our news added to the occasion.

When the New Year came, we talked about what it’d be like to live in our one-bedroom apartment with a small baby. We could make it work, but we also liked the idea of having more space. We dreamed of a nursery, a guest room for our families, a home office, a back patio and grill, a place to call home. Our search began on January 2nd and on February 16th we had our keys in hand. It was quick, but we found a new home that exceeded our criteria. We took the leap and made it ours.

Everyone copes with being pregnant in different ways. When I was in school, I perfected the art of procrastination, always waiting for the last minute to study and complete assignments. I knew I wanted to take a different approach with my pregnancy. I had advance notice, a growing belly and constant reminder of the changes ahead.

I quit my job at the end of February and became obsessed with two things: getting our house settled and preparing for birth. Each day I worked towards my goal of feeling ready. We took countless trips to IKEA, Target, West Elm, and Crate & Barrel. My husband built furniture and hung pictures, while I played on Pinterest and shopped online. When he was at work, I read, listened to podcasts, and immersed myself in the project of being pregnant.

I connected with women who helped me find comfort, strength, and joy in my pregnancy. My husband started referring to them as Team Kaileen. I had an acupuncturist / nutritionist who helped me cope with anxiety and headaches. I started seeing a massage therapist with strong, healing hands. We took HypnoBirthing classes from a chiropractor who aligned my spine and taught me how women’s bodies are designed to birth our babies. I deepened my yoga practice with a teacher who guided a room full of non-pregnant students while subtly giving modifications I could continue practicing into my 3rd trimester.

I made friends with other expectant mamas and found a doula cooperative with great prenatal classes. I went on neighborhood walks in the mornings, napped in the afternoon, and took baths at night. I did special stretches and exercises to help coax my baby into the ideal position for birthing. I practiced visualization, breathwork, relaxation techniques, and repeated mantras daily.

It felt indulgent to put so much into the act of being pregnant, but that was exactly what I needed. Through all of my effort and preparation, I manage to find ease in the transition. Each step of the way, I was saying a slow goodbye to my old life and giving motherhood the warmest welcome I knew how to give.

Photo credit: Angela Doran

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It’s Okay

It's Ok | kaileenelise.com

“When you get the inside right, the outside falls into place.”
(Eckhart Tolle)

I was feeling down and disconnected, hungry and tired. Wanting motivation, but unwilling to search for it. I told myself it’s okay to be lonely even though my days are spent with a sweet baby on my hip. It’s okay to question my place in the world. It’s okay to feel like I’m making things up as I go.

I let myself be. Granted permission to sulk, snooze, simmer. Blamed my hormones and the past 11 months of sleep deprivation. Life is full of seasons and cycles, and maybe I’m just caught in a summer storm.

When I’m busy with the baby, my mind clicks and clatters with things to do and remember. When I put him down, all I want to do is collapse onto the couch and let the cushions cradle me to sleep.

The more I mother, the more I realize that taking care of myself is as important as taking care of my child. I instinctively listen for his every breath, cry, squeal, and giggle. And yet, I can barely hear myself think. This might be the way nature intended, but I need to start doing more to nurture my soul.

I wrote out daily mantras as a gentle reminder that self care begins with self talk. It’s impossible to monitor or manage the millions of thoughts that whirl and whiz through my mind each day, but I can look in the mirror every morning and say seven kind, affirming things to myself.

I revisited my goals with an almost-mid-year check-in. I dropped a few that weren’t serving me, crossed off the one I completed, and refocused what was left. I used a strip of my favorite washi tape, the one with gold polka dots, to post them up in my closet where I see them at least twice a day.

I committed to “daily-ish” writing, movement & meditation. These are not easy things to find time for in days filled with playdates and Target runs, laundry and nap schedules. But they are vital to my mental, physical, and spiritual health. They are at the core of who I am and who I aim to be.

So yes, it’s okay to feel the feelings. And then it’s okay to do all the things to get back on track.

If I sound like a broken record — like every thought I share and every post I write is a version of the one before — it’s because I am. Screeching, cracking, breaking with every repetition.

It’s okay.
You deserve this.
You need this.
You matter.

At the end of the day, when the laundry is folded and the baby is sleeping, whatever’s left of me needs gentle reassurance and calm support. My shreds of patience need time to heal, my frayed nerves need mending. My mama self needs someone to take her by the hand and tuck her into bed earlier than she wants to go.

And every time I question an act of self care, wonder if there’s time or space or money to do something for myself, I have to pull out my broken record and hit play once more. It’s okay.

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The Reason I Write

The Reason I Write | kaileenelise.com

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
(Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear)

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. In journals. In letters. In essays and poems. In newsletters and blog posts. I started kaileenelise.com in 2009 as an escape from my day job. I wrote from coffee shops before going into work. On my lunch breaks I scrolled through Twitter and read the archives of my favorite sites. I connected with women from all over who were also seeking creativity, inspiration, and a little peace in our everyday.

Writing has always been there for me. I like how it transports me back in time to revisit memories through a new lens. How it propels me into my future hopes and dreams. How researching an idea feels like swimming far below the surface. How sharing what I’ve written can feel like coming up for air.

When my hands are on my keyboard, or my pen is pressed firmly onto the page, the chatter in my mind slows down. When I’m searching for the thoughts, the words, the details and feelings, I take deep breaths. The kind that lift my chest, expand my rib cage, and expose my heart.

I write because it’s cheap therapy. I write because I like to hear myself talk. I write because it feels good to start at zero and end up somewhere else. I write because of the rare occasion when the words magically spill out onto the page or screen and leave me feeling like they came from somewhere else. I write because whenever I take a break from writing, my mind gets soggy and my heart starts to harden.

All of these reasons are insignificant compared to the biggest reason of all. And it’s the one I always forget about, like when you’ve seen a movie a thousand times, but aren’t quite sure what happens at the end until you watch it once more.

I write because revisiting my words – weeks, months, or years later – grounds me, roots me, connects me to myself and the universe in a way nothing else ever has.

A few days ago I was cleaning up my files and sorting through a dozen half-written essays when I came upon this,

My sweet Baby O is seven weeks and two days old and our lives as a family of three have settled into an unpredictable rhythm. We can count on the sunsets and sunrises to mark time. There are coos, smiles, diaper changes, cries for help, endless feedings, and moments when I stop to wonder how we got so lucky. They say having a child will change you, and of course I knew that the very second the pregnancy test was positive, but it’s impossible to know how.

I am so new at this. I don’t know what I’m doing or what’s around the corner. But lately I’ve noticed a voice within that is calling me to be better. Ground, calm, gentle, nice. These aren’t traits at the top of my list of strengths, but now that I’m this baby’s mama, all I want to do is shed my rough edges and be soft.

This, my dear friends, is the reason I write.

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Too Tired for Anything but Real Housewives

Too Tired | kaileenelise.com

“There never was a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The dishes are done, the baby is down, and my bra is off. I slump onto the couch and a long list of “shoulds” rushes over me.

Soak the onesie in OxiClean from today’s experiment with beets. Meal plan. Write the grocery list. Catch up on months 7, 8, and 9 in the baby book. Order photos from the last three professional photo sessions. Unsubscribe from all the junk mail that’s overcrowding our recycling bin. Send those prints off to Framebridge. Clean out my closet. Start planning our summer trip. Finish reading that book. Finish writing this essay.

The “less than necessary” and “must be done” buzz and swirl around me like a busy bee. I swat them away and reach for my second glass of wine.

My bones ache. My muscles groan. My hair is falling out by the handfuls. I’m nearly ten months postpartum, but my body feels like someone else’s on a regular basis. And it often feels like I’m living someone else’s life… because I am.

All day I’m on his schedule. I anticipate his needs, decipher his cries from coos. When he wakes up, I spring into action. When I see him fading, I pounce into our “sleepy routine” and use Jedi mind tricks to lull him to sleep.

Dressing him is like wrestling a tiger. Changing diapers is like pinning an alligator. Mealtime is like feeding a snapping turtle. Motherhood, at this age, is a full contact sport and my battery drains hour by hour until my next cup of lukewarm coffee.

In the early days when my son was a cuddly little creature who didn’t know day from night, I found comfort in the stillness of 3am feedings. That was when I got a break from the “shoulds” and settled into a space that was just me and my baby. Even on the worst nights when I felt like I was the only mother in the world who was ever this exhausted, this confused, this overwhelmed… I knew the summer sun would rise in the morning. Each day was a fresh chance to do it all again, a little better this time.

As my son grew from brand new baby to infant, the seasons shifted. Winter came and with it a dark blanket of sleep deprivation covered me. After 5 or 6 months of not sleeping, it is no longer cute or sweet or darling to wake up several times through the night. I was exhausted, but staying up later and later. I was searching for that stillness from before.

One of those nights, I was lounging on the couch, scrolling through my Instagram feed, with the TV on and my glass of wine close by. As my husband headed upstairs for the night he asked, “Honey, why don’t you just go to bed?”

Because all day I’ve been living his little life. I get to live mine when he’s sleeping. And sometimes, most of the time, I’m too tired for anything but Real Housewives.

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Soothe Yourself

Soothe Yourself | kaileenelise.com

“The life of a mother is the life of a child: you are two blossoms on a single branch.”
(Karen Maezen Miller, Momma Zen)

I babysat a lot growing up. In high school I was one of the only older girls in a neighborhood full of young families. Any weekend I was free and wanted to work, I had a job. I loved playing with the little kids, but babies were my jam. I spent so many nights rocking sleeping babies and dreaming of what my life might be like someday.

When I imagined being a mama, I thought of soft blankets and board books, bouncing balls and towers of blocks. In my imagination, the diapers and messes, tantrums and late nights were someone else’s problem. In my imagination, I decorated the nursery and playroom while someone else handled the mounds of laundry. In my imagination, I cooked delicious, organic baby food. Someone else went to the grocery store and washed the dishes.

When I was pregnant, I did a lot to prepare for labor and delivery. I took classes, read books, and listened to podcasts. I went for long walks, did special stretches, and practiced breathing techniques. I hired a doula and wrote up a birth plan. I started each morning with positive mantras and went to bed each night visualizing a smooth birth.

I filled our freezer with home cooked meals, made postpartum baskets for the bathrooms, and stocked my closet with cozy clothes. I decorated the nursery to please myself… not my baby. It felt like a selfish indulgence, but this was a room I’d been dreaming about for years. I figured he’d eventually have opinions about these things. Best take advantage of being able to choose a theme of neutrals with pops of gold over a clashing mix of trains and trucks and PAW Patrol.

In college I earned my degree in Elementary Education. I loved organizing supplies, creating lessons and leading the classroom. I was good at breaking down big ideas in ways the little ones could understand. I didn’t have to teach to a test, interact with parents, or deal with school politics. Instead, I got to sparkle with the brilliance of a shiny, young student teacher.

Before becoming a mama, I had a secret thought about motherhood. I believed my babysitting experience and college degree were excellent preparation, advanced studies for the well-adjusted parent. I wiped poopy butts and snotty noses. I answered silly questions and commanded the attention of twenty kindergarteners. Deep inside, I was smugly confident I wouldn’t just be good at mothering, I would totally rock it.

These pieces of me float around my mind, each one trying to reconcile the other. All the things I thought I knew. All the things I imagined I’d become. All the stories from my past. All the dreams for my future. I never realized motherhood would bring about so much learning. I thought for sure I would be the one teaching my son, but now I see it’s the other way around. I’m clueless. I’m a beginner. There is so much I do not know.

When things are hard, I see myself trying everything to soothe my baby. I tell him he’s ok. I say it’s alright. I’m sorry your teeth hurt, that you bonked your little head, that the yogurt tastes too sour, that the grass itches your feet, that you are scared of that ball. I’m sorry I don’t know what to do, but I’m here and I’m trying.

As I bounce him and sing to him and try to soothe him, I find that I’m soothing myself. All those past versions of me line up and wait for a turn… for a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a bolstering up, a song to fall asleep to. And even though I am nearly 32, I realize that as I’m raising him, I’m raising myself.

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