Monday, July 17, 2017

being a mom is hard.

It's hard. Being a mom is hard. I said that to a friend recently and followed it up with, I haven't said that to anyone else.*

The reason I hadn't said it to anyone is because I didn't want to sound naive. I knew it would be hard but you don't know how hard until you're in it. I mean, I believed moms when they said they didn't have time to shower some days but at the same time, I was like, Really? You don't even have 10 minutes? I just didn't understand. I have 10 minutes. I have more than 10 minutes. But I don't know when those more than 10 minutes will be. Mabel might start crying while I'm mid-shampoo and yah, it's fine for babies to cry, it's not going to hurt her, but those cries will turn into sobs and then wails and I don't want her to feel abandoned and I just want to enjoy my shower for god's sake, can't I live my life?!

I've said that a few times to Mabel, or a variation of it. Let me live my life, Mabel. And I'm joking, mostly, because 1) she can't understand and 2) this is my life now. And I wouldn't change it. But it's still hard.

And that's only one thing that's hard. A lot of other things are hard too: Exclusively breast feeding (even after you know what you're doing; I feel like a milk machine, or a cow, or a restaurant that's open 24/7 to exclusively serve one special customer). Waking up several times in the middle of the night. Swaddling. The near-constant spit up and diaper changes. Worrying about a blocked tear duct, a rash, a swollen lymph node, a lip tie. I've said f*ck! more often than I'd care to admit, enough times that I looked at Tony the other day and said, I hope that's not her first word.

I have a confession: While we were still in the hospital with Mabel, during the haze of breastfeeding and pumping and phototherapy and crying, in a moment of feeling overwhelmed and desperate, I turned to Tony and sobbed, I don't want to be a mooooom. I regretted it almost immediately, but it wasn't until a little while later, as I was looking at Mabel under the blue light that I turned to Tony again—sobbing, of course—and said, I didn't mean it. I love her. I don't want anything to happen to her. I want to be her mom. And then I bent over Mabel, I want to be your mom, baby. I want to be your mom, Mabel.

A few weeks later, as I was complaining slash looking for reassurance from my Nan, she told me I'll miss Mabel being this little, spit up and all, and I started to cry because even now, while I'm in the midst of it, I know she's right.

*During this same FaceTime conversation, I interrupted my friend to show her Mabel because, Look at her, she's her own person. She's amazing. I'm so lucky I get to be her mom.

Monday, July 10, 2017

june book report.

Only 3 books this month, none of which I listened to, and only one about caring for a baby. The reason for more reading and less listening is probably because I spend a good chunk of time each day breastfeeding and that's when I've been doing all of my reading.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline / I hovered between giving this a 4 or 5 star rating on Goodreads, but because there's no 4.5 star option, I decided to round up. I REALLY liked this book. And the best part is, I'm not sure I would have chosen it on my own, but The Girl Next Door Podcast picked it for a book club episode and I'm so glad they did. I learned about the surprisingly fascinating life of Christina Olson, a bit about the famed artist Andrew Wyeth, and now I'm yearning for a simpler life. If you're not sure if this is a book you'd like, I assure you, you probably will. And now I want to read Orphan Train by the same author.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley I enjoyed this—enough that I read it in a week while home with a newborn ;) It's not a mystery or a thriller really, but the story is told from the point of view of all the characters leading up to the crash and you're trying to figure out why/how the plane crashed. I'm usually able to predict endings, but I didn't with this one, so I'd recommend it.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg / A fellow mama lent me this book and said it was her bible. I read the entire thing and found the advice offered made sense. Some of it went against everything else I had read though, particularly the parts about breastfeeding. (Only 3 weeks into being a mom and I've learned that everyone has a different way of doing things; you have to find what works for you!) One thing that stood out was that Hogg advises against feeding on demand, but that is exactly what I had been told to do for Mabel, by La Leche League, websites recommended by other moms, and most notably by her pediatrician. But! Later in the book, Hogg says that you SHOULD feed underweight and premature babies on demand. The section I found the most helpful was on sleep. We've only had a couple nights to put this into practice, and I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but we have seen a slight improvement in Mabel's sleep! Anyway, I could go on and on about this book and baby advice in general, but I'll wrap up with this: You might find this book helpful, but just remember, do what works for you, even if that means cherry picking advice and practices from different sources!

What have you read and loved—or hated—lately?

Monday, July 03, 2017

dear mabel / 1 month.

Dear Mabel,

I hesitate to write to you, for two reasons.

First of all, and perhaps most important, is that I don't think I can adequately express my feelings for you—the depth and width of them. I'm not sure I've ever felt this anxious, overwhelmed, or tired before. (As soon as I wrote that, I thought, 'I've definitely felt this anxious, overwhelmed, and tired—life can be hard.) But I know for sure I've never felt this much love or this in awe of a person before. (Another disclaimer: I have felt this much love for your dad, but like my mom used to say to me, it's a different kind of love; I mean, we made you. And yes, I realize that depending on how old you are when you're reading this, you might be gagging right now.) This all sounds so cliché, but it's true. Your dad and I take turns looking at each other numerous times each day, saying, "I love her so much." And sometimes I have tears in my eyes when I say it, because Mabel, we really do love you so much.

Reason number two: I'm already looking ahead to the future, to when you have a sibling. I'm already asking myself, 'Will I have time to write letters to kiddo number two?' I don't want them to feel shafted. I'm sure they will, but I don't want them to. (If you're reading this, kiddo number two—or three, or four—you can be sure that I love you just as much, even if I didn't write you any letters, or take as many photos.)

(Another side note, to you, Mabel, and to any future kids: Your dad and I have joked but also meant it that Mabel is getting a crappy draw too because she's our first, so we're gonna make a lot of mistakes with her that we hopefully won't make with the rest of you. I mean, you should have seen us trying to get a onesie over her head for the first time. "She still has soft spots!" I wailed, almost in tears.)

Despite the reasons above, here I am, writing to you. I can't promise it will be every month, but I'm gonna try.

You're one month old! And oh man, have you grown! I knew you were growing of course, but I see you, lift you, carry you every day, so how much you were growing wasn't as obvious to me. And then we took your one month photo and compared it to your one week photo... wow.

You went from just under 5lbs (2.25kg) at birth—4.5lbs (2.035kg) really, if you count the weight loss after birth—to just under 7lbs (3.1kg) now. You're also 5.5cm taller than you were at birth. Yay, Mabel! (And yay, Mommy; I think I deserve some of the credit.)

One of the first hurdles most moms and babies have to overcome is learning how to breastfeed. And babe, we're lucky, or a good team, or both, because so far, so good. It was a struggle at first, a steep learning curve, and I can't even tell you how many people saw and touched my boobs in the hospital, but we figured it out. You eat like a champ and my nipples only hurt some of the time. We're still practicing different positions, but our current fave—the football hold—is working well for us. High five! (Again, depending on what age you are, you're probably so embarrassed right now.)

Speaking of eating, you turned into a spit-up machine around two weeks old. Your dad and I sometimes get panicky about it: "It's so much! The couch! It's so messy! Did she spit up everything I just fed her? What if she doesn't gain weight?" (Okay, so maybe it's just me who gets panicky. Your dad is calm, although he does worry about you gaining weight. When you spit up on him he just tells you, "It's okay, I love you.") From my googling, I've learned that you're what doctors call a "happy spitter." It doesn't bother you at all.

But! Speaking of your dad being calm, let the record show that he has his moments, too. He hates hearing you cry. I mean, I do, too, but it's normal; babies cry. When you cry, he gives me this look, like, 'Will you get over here now and feed her? She's crying, she needs you, she's our baby, help her!' (Also, when I was pregnant with you, he was constantly worried I was gonna squish you when I slept on my side.)

I just realized I said "speaking of" twice, so let's just continue with that. Speaking of crying, Mabel, sometimes when you're sleeping, you start crying just a little bit, and you whimper, and while I know you're okay and that it's probably just a bad dream or something, it breaks my heart. The same thing happens when you wake up from your naps. You cry because waking up is hard, or you're hungry, or you don't feel warm and cozy anymore, and it kills me. Just like I'm sure it's going to when you cry in the future, about your first skinned knee, your first breakup. But then, just like now, I'll tell you, "I'm here, baby. I'm here for you, Mabel."

The first question almost everyone asks me is, "Is she a good baby?" I don't have any other babies to compare you to, but I think you're a good baby. Aside from when you're waking up, you only cry when you have gas or are hungry and we don't get to you fast enough. (Plus, I think all babies are good babies.)

We gave you a soother for the first time when you were three weeks old. I wouldn't say you love it—you definitely prefer my boob—but it comforts you and lets me finish showering or pour a much-needed cup of coffee so it's win-win for both of us. And I know this sounds so parental, but your dad and I think you are so smart because you hold it in your mouth by yourself! Or, you try to at least. You still haven't mastered control of your arms so sometimes you end up pulling the ring instead of pushing and it pops out and then we hear your little heartbreaking cry. But Mabel, you are a problem solver. You grab the ring with one hand and then push on the side of the soother with your other hand. This doesn't always work either, but you try.

Oh! Another thing I want to remember. When you wake up, or you finish eating, you stretch. I mean, you s t r e t c h. Your arms go way up high, and then way to the side, and your head turns one way and then the other, and you make little baby dinosaur noises, just like I teased your dad about when we started dating. Your mouth even stretches! You make these facial expressions; oh man, they kill me. I wish I could capture them in words, but I'm just not that good of a writer. I'll try to explain one: Sometimes when you look at us, you form a perfect tiny O with your mouth and it's like you're saying, "Oooo" but you don't actually make any noise.

When you open your eyes wide, wow. Sometimes they look dark blue, other times, grey, and still other times, brown. We'll see. But every time we see your eyes, your dad and I say, "She's beautiful." I still don't know who you look like. Your dad says you have my double chin (sorry about that; we call it the Pottle chin; blame your grandmother). All of the Chinese staff at the hospital said you look like me. One nurse said, "Hi, little foreign lady" when she came in to check on you. But everyone who knows your dad says you look like him. I hope you do, Mabel, because your dad is good looking. (Am I embarrassing you again?)

You like to be carried in your wrap with one of us, and almost always fall asleep. Instead of laying your head against our chest the whole time though, you often throw your head back, leaving us to support it (so much for hands-free) because you like to look around. The first time we went for a walk with you in the wrap there was a breeze; you threw your head back and I swear, you loved every minute that you felt the air on your face.

A few more things I want to remember:

+ Your dad and I are slowly mastering the art of bathing you. After one "real" bath that ended with you and I in tears, we stuck to sponge bathing you, but the night before you turned one month old, we tried a real bath again and it was a success. (This was also the night that you peed on your dad. And then peed again as soon as we put you in your little bathtub. Don't worry, I made your dad refill it with new water.)

+ You don't like sleeping in your crib, but we don't have a bassinet for you, so for the last couple of weeks, you've been sleeping in your stroller by our bed. You usually have one 3-hour stretch at night, and then if we're lucky, a 2-hour stretch, followed by tiny stretches of an hour or less. The first couple of weeks, this killed me and your dad. A great team during the day, we would turn against each other at night. Ooh boy. But we quickly adjusted and Team Zhang is strong again. We put you to bed together (I'm in charge of swaddling you and he's in charge of getting the room ready). When you wake up, he changes your diaper if needed, and I feed you. He always makes sure to give my leg or arm a squeeze, says, "I appreciate you" or "You're a good mom" before he drifts off to sleep again.

+ You don't like being swaddled, but we've discovered it's the key to getting you to sleep for longer stretches of time.

+ You're still wearing newborn clothes and diapers. We have to roll up your sleeves and fold down the front part of the diaper, but you're slowly but surely growing into them.

+ You have a little dimple on your left cheek; I hope it doesn't disappear as you grow older, but if it does, know that I kissed it many times.

+ Your dad went back to work when you were two weeks old. He WeChats me a few times through the day asking, "How are you and Mabel doing?" He comes home for lunch every day and usually comes home a little bit early at the end of the day. He can't wait to hold you and always asks, "Want me to take her?" as soon as he walks through the door.

+ In the middle of our first night at home, your dad said, "I need coffee." And he went out the next day and bought a box of single servings of instant coffee. He's been drinking coffee almost every day since.

+ Your dad is the diaper changing master. He's also the master of getting you to fart. (This shouldn't embarrass you. Gassy babies are sad for everyone involved.) Mabel, I want you to know that your dad has really impressed me. Neither one of us had much experience with babies before you were born, but he really knew nothing. He still doesn't know a lot, but he knows you. He carries you around and marches with you, counting steps in Chinese, and he rocks you, and shows you what's happening outside our windows. We are lucky to have him, Mabel.

Baby girl, this letter was all over the place, kind of like my feelings this past month, and I can't promise the rest won't be either. But the point is that I don't want to forget any of these things and I want you to know how loved you are.

You are so loved.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

this made me...

cry, feel grateful that Mabel is my daughter, and feel grateful for Kate, who shared this song with me when Mabel was born.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

may book report.

I guess May was a month of mostly non-fiction for me, which makes sense because I usually listen to non-fiction books and actually read fiction, and May was busy what with work and getting ready for a baby (lucky we got things ready since Mabel came 2 and a half weeks early!), so I obviously had less time for reading but more time for listening. (Holy, run-on sentence.)

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West / I listened to this from Audible and it's read by West. I always love when a book is read by the author; I think it adds another layer to the experience. I enjoyed this collection of essays, ranging from fat-shaming to rape jokes to internet trolls. I've seen some criticism that West is just another white woman adding her voice to feminism, but I don't think that discounts her writing or the book's merit. It's on us to seek and hear diverse voices.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi / I'd wanted to read this for awhile but had been hesitating because I didn't know if I could handle it seeing as how I was pregnant and a little more emotional than usual. I'm so glad I finally listened to it. It was beautifully written and I found it made me reflective, but not overly sad (until the epilogue written by Paul's wife, Lucy Kalanithi; I couldn't listen in the morning while getting ready for work or I knew I'd be a weepy mess in front of my students). Being a surgeon and a patient, and combining a love for science and literature, Paul offers a unique perspective of life and death.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight / A quick, refreshing read. (Actually, I listened to it.) A lot of the examples given didn't apply to me, but I did like the reminders to stop caring what other people think of you and that it's possible to "not give a f*ck" without being an a**shole. Since listening, I've found myself thinking, 'nope, this is not worth any f*cks' about things in my life and I think it's helped me to let things go and focus more on what's actually important. (Note: Obviously this book—especially the audio version—isn't for you if you have a problem with profanity.)

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel / I don't know what to say other than I LOVED this book. As a teacher, as a mom-to-be, as a human. If you are any of the above, you should read it. There wasn't a lot of action, but the plot was still interesting and I can't decide which I loved more, the characters or the writing.

What have you read and loved (or not loved) lately?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

a new normal.

I guess I'm writing this blog post out of order. It probably should be 1) a birth announcement! 2) Mabel's birth story and then 3) this post. Oh well. I haven't blogged regularly for months so who am I to follow "rules" now.

Mabel is almost 3 weeks old and Tony and I are adjusting to our new normal. (Which, from what I'm told, we will continuously be doing because apparently babies change a lot ;)

As part of my contract with my school, and following Canada's guidelines, I have a year off for maternity leave. (!!!) And following Chinese law, Tony had 2 weeks off.

He went back to work yesterday and so far (ha! 2 days in!), so good. We miss him, sure, but I think I can say for certain that he misses Mabel more. He's messaged me a few times each day asking how Mabel and I are doing and when I reply we're good, I usually try to send a photo or video, to which he replies with heart eyes emojis.* I love seeing this guy be a dad. (Also, we're lucky; we live right beside the school so T gets to come home for lunch and if we need him, he could pop over pretty much anytime.)

I'm not setting high expectations for myself, something I need to continuously remind myself of, which I think will probably be key to not feeling overwhelmed or like I'm a lazy butthead. Yesterday I did 2 loads of laundry (almost—Tony hung them to dry and they're still hanging on the drying racks as I type this), showered (but did not do my hair or make-up and I got dressed in PJs), responded to a few emails, and drank almost an entire cup of coffee. Today, I responded to an email, filled out a form for work, and am drinking my first cup of coffee at 3:40PM.**

When people (mostly Chinese, but a lot of "foreigners" too) find out that I'll be home with Mabel by myself for the year, they gasp and look shocked. Some ask, in disbelief and/or with concern, "You're going to do it all by yourself?"and some come right out and tell me, "You can't! It's impossible!" To the Chinese people, I assure them that it's fairly common of us "Western" moms to stay home alone. And to my fellow foreigners, I assure them that we'll get help when and if we need it.***

I realize I'm just rambling here, but I hope you don't mind because I really would like to get back to blogging regularly, and until I get back into the habit of writing and Mabel (and therefore we) develop more regular sleep patterns, I have a feeling my posts will all be at least somewhat ramble-y. It's just part of my new normal.

Other things that are normal now:

A drying rack almost always up and filled with baby clothes and blankets.

A tube of nipple cream on the coffee table.

A "boppy" pillow on the couch.

Wearing only "nursing-friendly" clothes.

Wearing breast pads 24/7. (Leaking is real, my friends).

A baby rocker in the middle of the living room.

Small piles of clutter everywhere.

Continuously making trips to the garbage can in the stairwell with a dirty diaper.

Getting used to doing things one-handed.

T and I taking turns eating meals.

Eating lukewarm or cold food.

Responding to invitations with, "It depends on the baby." (Also, "It depends on the air quality.")

Taking lots of photos.

Keeping count of wet and dirty diapers.

Lowering my expectations and need for "perfection."

*I received one of these check-in messages while writing this post. Insert my own heart-eye emoji here, because he is the best dad and husband. 

**Of course, this is all in addition to breastfeeding, changing diapers, cleaning spit-up, and cuddling.  

***We do have someone who comes to clean our apartment and do laundry once a week. We've had this in place for years though, and will continue to, until we need to hire someone full-time to look after Mabel when I go back to work. 
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