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When your mother hates you but adores your child..

Childcare isn’t cheap=understatement of a lifetime.

There are two reasons why I consider myself very lucky. One: I quit my job as a newspaper reporter right before I became pregnant and began teaching because a) the business of education fascinates me (policy, history, the politics behind it, etc), b) I love kids, and c) I couldn’t imagine having a baby and a job that required me to go who knows where at a moment’s notice and stay at the office until who knows when waiting for an editor who has nowhere else to be while he takes smoke breaks (because he’d like to think this is still 1965 and he works at The Most Important Newspaper On Earth) and takes his sweet old time deciding if my sentence needs a comma or a semi colon.

Second reason I’m lucky: my mother has pretty much freed up her entire schedule whenever I need it to watch K. I love her for it, but at the same time, I can’t help resenting the hell out of her for it. Are you seriously that ungrateful, you ask? Yes, possibly. But I, like millions of women out there, have always had what you’d call a strained relationship with my mom.

She would die for me—there’s no doubt in my mind about it. But she doesn’t actually like me. She constantly says I “lack roots” (You could say I was slightly flighty in the past…and have no interest in sitting still at long Italian dinners). She has told me my lack of church-going makes me a disappointment in her eyes, which is fair to say, I guess, considering how passionate she has become about Catholicism in her later years. She’s entitled to her opinion, right? One night, however, after drinking a bit too much wine, she blurted out that she was going to tell my daughter a person who doesn’t go to church is going to hell. Hmmm. Is she entitled to that opinion, too? You could say that made me reconsider my daycare options.

But I didn’t. Despite many, many arguments with my husband, we continued to let my mom watch K. The thing is, she may dislike me, but she is wild about my daughter. She looks after her—for free, mind you—in ways I can’t even begin to describe. She trims her hair and makes her homemade fruits and $15 filet of sole dinners and reads countless books to her and has taught her to sing “Happy Birthday” in Italian, and gives her endless kisses and hugs.

The good outweighs the bad. But boy, does it sting sometimes to rely so much on her.

Sometimes when she kisses K good-bye and proclaims, over and over again, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” I wonder if she isn’t overdoing it because she feels she can’t do it with me. Then I realize I’m the mom now and this has to mean I’m too old to obsess over whether my mommy loves me or not.

Still, I wonder how others would handle similar issues with grandparents…

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Help! Workaholic mom not fun enough to fill up all of this vacation time..

Most working mothers eagerly await the 2-3 week vacations they are given each year. I’m lucky. I have about 180 days off each year and since becoming a mom, I’ve started to dread each and every one of them. Not because I don’t want to spend time with my precocious, gorgeous 21-month-old girl. But because I constantly get the feeling that I’m about to bore my child to death. She’s what you’d call fun. Wild. At Gymboree she’s the one who can’t sit still on that damn parachute for a damn thirty-second parachute ride. She puts stuffed cats on her head and calls them her “cat hats.” No, no one in my family taught her that. Because we—me—unlike her—are not fun. I don’t know what to do to fill up so many hours with her. After playing house and pretending her markers are people who can knock on doors…after throwing a ball to her and watching her miss…and miss again…after hours of reading books (awesome and easy) and coloring (I color, she watches and then tries to break all the crayons in two), what does one do to keep up the momentum?

So that’s my dirty secret—the one I hope to hell she never finds out about when she gets older. If she discovers I once stood on stage in a bra for 20 seconds, so be it. That was for the sake of art and, at 19, probably for some other reasons that had more to do with a lack of dignity and self-respect than they did fun. But let her not find out that I had a chance to go to Peru and build houses but didn’t because I got cold feet. That I went to surf camp all the way in San Diego, bought a surfboard when I got back to NYC, and then chickened out most mornings when all I desperately wanted to do was join the male-dominated lineup at my local beach. How am I going to keep this from her? How do I make believe I have something to do every Friday night when she reaches the age where she can actually go out?

Urggggh, I will have to start now, won’t I? I should put down my books, log off, and go find mom friends who like to party.

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An introvert mom raising an extravert baby

Two weeks after her first birthday, I decided it was time K made friends. I registered us for a mommy and baby music class in Brooklyn – a carpeted sanctuary rife with sitars, tom-tom drums, and silk scarves used for impromptu Latin dancing. Then I went home and proceeded to plot ways I could extort a refund from the nice bearded man at the music studio.

I believe in the idea of mommy and baby music. But here’s the issue: the thought of sitting in a diner sharing coffee with strange moms after class – moms who probably have strong beliefs about breastfeeding – made me antsy. I have few close acquaintances, am a dismal small-talker, and haven’t made a new friend in 15 years – the definition of an introvert, according to Myers-Briggs. We are that misunderstood segment of society that retreats mentally, prefers intimate occasions to big soirees, renders group brainstorms at work impossible, and chooses writing about why we don’t want friends over sitting in a diner making them.

But my K is different. K is not a girl who is staying home on a Friday night to wash her hair.

The evidence that my husband was a Vegas showboy in some past life hits us at every milestone. The day she started walking, she led me straight into groups of people we didn’t know on the street. On car trips, my husband and I turn on the iPod and K begins fake coughing, persisting until we’re forced to concede that a person who fears the shower drain has manipulated us into speaking.

And then there’s the shtick.

Enter her room after a long nap and she’s leaning on the front rail of her crib like she just ordered an espresso at Café Rienzi. She smiles, lets you inch closer, and then – wham! – bodyslams herself down on the mattress, keeping her head plastered to the sheet long enough to give you a heart attack. In her world, exploration is superior to PDA. Kiss her and she’ll gaze off like she’s in a perfume advertisement. It’s like raising the love child of Jack Tripper and Brigitte Bardot.

Despite my reservations, I take K to our music class. All of the children, save the redhead who has already been scolded for smearing her chocolate donut on a drum, are curled up on their mothers’ laps. A four-year-old – four! – is napping with her head on her mother’s thighs. Bearded man straps an acoustic guitar around his neck and leads us in the welcome song.

And K is off. Bless his heart, bearded man has perfected a look that says: it’s developmentally appropriate that your daughter is dashing from the window to the radiator, the whole time shrieking, “What’s that? What’s that?” K pauses in front of Leah, an 11-month-old with a Page Boy haircut and the plump, spooky face of a Bisque doll, and decides they are going to be friends. To prove this, she reaches out and tries to remove Leah’s eyeballs. Just to ensure there is no ambiguity over her intentions, she pulls a tambourine out of Leah’s hand, laughs like they are having the grandest time, then drops her and charges over to the sleeping four-year-old to shake her arm out of its socket. It would be easy to cast K as a hellion if she weren’t so into people for artless reasons – they have pleasant voices that she wants to hear or because she is burning to meet a child so unorthodox she can sleep through impromptu Latin dance.

In high school and college I felt I could only have control over my own destiny when there was no chance of interference from others. I had my little routines – make a pot of coffee, write a bit, take the subway alone to Prince Street, mull around Housing Works, go back home, sew an appliqué on a T-shirt, go to sleep. I never felt anxious in a quiet room. But there were also times when I kicked myself for missing an event that two friends now shared forever between them. There were days I sat by myself at Alt Coffee and wondered what the person next to me was reading, but wouldn’t have known how to start a conversation that didn’t sound wooden.

I consider the possibility that K may never experience the hollow feeling that sometimes goes hand in hand with craving solitude, and I feel relieved. I imagine her strolling up to a group of strangers after an art exhibit and offering her critique without being asked to do so. With each new car ride demand or attempt to detach another child’s fingers from her hand, my husband and I struggle to find the appropriate reaction that will assure K that we don’t want to change her. We’re even softening on the idea that it might not be bad to join a group once in awhile.

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All episiotomies are not created equal

What is an episiotomy, you ask?

For anyone who doesn’t know, take a deep breath as you read the following: an episiotomy is a cut made in the tissue between the vagina and anus during childbirth to help speed up the delivery process and prevent excessive vaginal tearing.

I must have been living under a rock because prior to maybe my 33rd pregnant week, I had never heard of this nightmarish-sounding act of torture. And, of course, who winds up having to have 12 stitches? Yep. 12 freaking stitches.

Fast forward to 10 weeks postpartum. As I explained in a previous post, sex has proven extremely painful, so I made an appointment with my gyno to make sure all is ok down there. As it turns out, scar tissue can cause part of the vaginal wall to become thicker, and is thus to blame for painful intercourse. Aside from taking a culture and prescribing some sort of antibiotic, there is nothing I can do but wait.

Well, wait and research the cause of my misery – then become needlessly angry when I discover that, according to the Mayo Clinic and American Pregnancy Association, I may not have even needed an episiotomy in the first place.

Here are some of the reasons you may need the procedure:

Your baby’s head is too large for your vaginal opening
You need a forcep or vacuum assisted delivery (seriously? Do doctors still use these instruments?)
Your baby is in distress
Your perineum hasn’t had time to stretch on its own
You aren’t able to control your pushing
Did anyone’s gyno outline these facts for them? Or ask their permission prior to wheeling in a tray of scissors (which probably scared me more than the actual pushing part of labor)?

Why is the episiotomy such a secret?

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Signs that I’m crazy: I think my gynecologist is my BFF

Gynecologists always seemed like the anti-dentists to me. If you ever find yourself in need of dental work, shoot out a Facebook query and I bet you’ll get 10 recommendations in five minutes. But if you need a good gyno, don’t hold your breath. So when we women actually find a doc who doesn’t make our skin crawl, we loyally latch on.

I think I got lucky. Dr. G is young enough to still seem enthusiastic about his job and patients, but older than me – which, for whatever psychologically bizarre reason, makes me feel more secure. Throughout my pregnancy he was a calming force who understood my aversion to having metal things placed inside of me and went ahead in the gentlest manner possible. When he discovered my baby had an enlarged abdomen (which turned out to be nothing at all), he took the time to explain to me what it could be and what it certainly was not (like that she swallowed her twin – no joke, I actually said that out loud). Besides my husband and I, he was the first person on earth to hear our little K’s heartbeat – how can you deny such intimacy?

He even convinced me that my fear of pain probably wasn’t a good enough reason to have an elective C-section. If you think that’s not at least a tiny bit commendable, read this New York Times article about the nation’s burgeoning C-section rates: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/health/24birth.html

So yes, I grew fond of Dr. G and looked forward to seeing him every month and then every two weeks. And then, the day before my due date and the day of what I hoped was my last ob gyn appointment, I got a call from Dr. G’s receptionist.

“Dr. G will be out of the country this weekend. Can we reschedule your appointment?”

Um, no? Unless he was meeting with a team of insanely intelligent oncologists in some serious place like Geneva, this was completely unacceptable. I pictured him tanning in Ibiza — before that I didn’t even realize he had legs beneath that white coat — and my hormonal self became more hormonal. I calmly explained to the receptionist that I was giving birth any moment. I asked to meet with one of Dr. G’s colleagues instead.

I felt like a five-year-old whose best friend had chosen to play with a cuter, more interesting girl at the playground that day.

To make a long story short, Dr. G was not there for the birth of K – and many women have told me the same thing happened to them. And although I can’t remember the name of the doctor who was there, he got the job done and that’s all that really counts.

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Myth: You are born a mommy

Best slice of wisdom a nurse at the hospital shared with me the morning after I gave birth: “You aren’t a mother when the baby is born – you become a mother.”
I had been crying for the third time that day — the shaking kind of crying that only happens when hormones are involved — because I couldn’t figure out how to replicate the “hospital blanket swaddle” — a telltale sign that I would prove a dismal failure at motherhood.

I asked her how long it takes to “become” a mother. She promised me it would happen in two weeks.

“You wake up in two weeks and, all of a sudden, you know how to be her mommy.”

Two weeks. I could handle waiting two weeks.

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Myth: Breastfeeding is a choice

Yes, at the end of the day, what you do with your breasts is up to you. But the word “choice” implies something far more casual than the “decision” to breastfeed – and then bottle feed – turned out to be.

I started off determined to breastfeed because I read it was much healthier for baby, but I’m not going to deny it: my decision was colored by the fact that it’s a very popular thing to do these days. Fact is, you won’t find much literature out there that claims BFing is not the best thing for baby – and you can’t dispute the ridiculous expense of formula.

Everyone will have an opinion on how you should feed your baby. If you’re even a tiny bit insecure in your position as a new mom, like I am, some of those flippant comments can crush you. Couple the comments with a mother who actually put her nose to my breast and provided play-by-play coverage on how my baby was eating (no kidding), and you will want to kill yourself before baby’s two month birthday.

BFing sounds like it should be intuitive. However, for me, it was insanely difficult and both a physically and emotionally painful experience.

As I explained in this post, K didn’t latch on properly at first. She was an eager eater and her intense suckling left me with one hell of a severely bruised left breast. As a result of this, I let her feed far more often on my right breast and my milk supply came in unevenly. There were times I could pump as much as three ounces from one breast and as little as a quarter of an ounce from the other breast.

After a few weeks, the pain did decrease and my breasts instead felt full, tingly, and slightly uncomfortable if K hadn’t fed in a few hours. I found the discomfort manageable.

What really troubled me was the number of times K needed to feed and the fact that she had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t gaining it back quickly enough. She wanted to nurse every 45 minutes. She’d suck hard, then whimper a bit, and then usually fall asleep on my breast after six or seven minutes. My husband and I would disrobe and tickle her, change her diaper, or drag a cold wet cloth along her face. She would wake for a little bit, suck a little more, fall back asleep, and then scream a few minutes later to eat again.

There was no point in even getting dressed. I walked around my apartment wearing tube tops or just plain naked from the waist up. My bras were permanently stained. I couldn’t leave the house for longer than half an hour because K’s feeding needs were so erratic.

I was exhausted and angry – pissed at my husband for not having to be a part of the stressful feeding experience, pissed at the lactation counselor and my own mother for not just telling me to give up if I was so upset and anxious, and beyond frustrated at the sight of poor, innocent K’s beautiful gaping bird mouth. Where others saw a gorgeous newborn, I saw a need machine. I was frightened to death by my own child’s natural needs.

This was not what I had imagined and it couldn’t possibly be healthy to continue trying to BF.

So I stopped. But, honestly, I have days when I still feel guilty about feeding her formula. After witnessing how difficult it had been, my husband helped to assure me that our daughter would grow up healthy, smart, and happy – with or without breast milk, but I’m sorry to say few people offered the same support – and that was an incredible disappointment.

Equally awful is the fact that, while breastfeeding communities and support groups are aplenty, I’ve spent hours browsing the web for formula-feeding tips and STILL don’t feel I can rely on what I’ve read.

Thanks to groups like The Mommy Playbook, women who bottle feed have a place to share knowledge and unburden themselves of their guilty feelings. But, really, why are some women so insecure in their own ability to mother that they have to make others feel bad?