Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Giving Birth Is the Easy Part: Surrendering to Parenthood

Giving birth was the easy part. Don't get me wrong. It took some considerable effort on mine and my husband's part to prepare for having a natural childbirth, but little did I know, that parenthood would be way more challenging than giving birth would be.

As I have come to learn, "parenthood is savory humble pie, baked fresh daily." (Hanessian 253) It takes so much humility to be the kind of parent that most of us want to be, and this is something that I have been struggling with since Lily was born.

Even before the birth of a baby, parents, especially mothers-to-be are inundated with tons of advice and stories, especially stories of the more horrific variety. There is no lack of poo explosions and weeks worth of labor to make a pregnant mama wonder, "What was I thinking?" Why is it that people decide to wait until there is no turning back to share those stories with as much glee as they can muster?

I remember when I was pregnant that I was given advice about certain topics that didn't sit well with me. I remember the negativity I received when I revealed that I was planning a natural childbirth. I remember being told by people who didn't even have children that we were spoiling our newborn baby by picking her up when she started crying. I remember being told to just put her down and let her cry over and over and over again. I was offered so many tips and tricks but for some reason I kept resisting. I didn't want to hear from these people and I would just smile and nod while on the inside yelling, "Grrrr!!!! Grrrr!!!! Grrrrr!!!!! I don't want to hear this." I didn't really understand why it made me so mad.

Baby Leila
I had the honor of attending her birth, and I love love love this onesie! I will need it for our next baby!
Posted with permission.

Then I started to notice something. The people who would lead by example rather than spout out their unsolicited advice were the ones who taught me the most. It seems as if those that I most respected and admired in their parenting choices were the ones who didn't offer advice until I asked. And once I asked they were happy to share their gems of wisdom with me and I happily and thankfully accepted. And like a vampire who only needs to be invited into your home once, I happily accepted unsolicited advice from those parents that I deeply respected and admired once that little ritual of waiting until I approached them first was observed.

For example, one of my favorite people at church is a retired La Leche League group leader, and she was the kind of parent that I was hoping to be. You know, one of those natural birthing (she had several successful VBACs that I can't wait to eventually hear about), breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, etc, etc, mamas. When Lily was first born, I was having a bit of breastfeeding trouble, so I asked her to come over to help me if she had the time. She did, and she also held Lily in this certain way that instantly put her at ease. I don't even know if she meant to do that, but I asked her to show me more. And from that respectful observance of boundaries, I have no problems whatsoever if she were to decide to offer me some help. But since she is awesome, I have noticed that she doesn't do that. However, I watched her when we worked in nursery together once the things that she would do with the little toddlers, and I took notes. She's a great mom.

My own mom is good at the whole leading by example thing, but it's different with your own mom. Sometimes she can tell me something that gets under my skin a little, but I guess it's just because she's my mom. When Lily was getting into the wiggling-while-changing-diapers stage, I went home for a visit. My mom offered to change a diaper and I told her that Lily was getting in the really wiggly stage. Do you know what she did? She gave Lily a toy to hold while she changed her that kept her occupied so she wouldn't wiggle anymore. My mom didn't say a word to me about what she did, she did it without thinking, but it completely blew my mind. Something so simple, and I also appreciated how she just led by example.

I could go on and on about how I have been encouraged to be a better mother, and about just little tricks of the trade to make my life easier by the wonderful examples around me. I could also go on and on about the aggravating unsolicited advice I have received. I know I am not alone in this; it's sort of a rite of passage when it comes to parenthood. I think they're all just so excited and everyone wants to help and participate and tell their own stories because hey! They survived! They remember how hard it was in the beginning (or maybe they don't), but I imagine they remember and it's their way of saying, "Hey! I survived! This is what I did to survive, so hopefully it'll make your life easier." At least that's what I hope they are thinking rather than, "Man, this girl is stupid and I can't believe she had a baby, she needs all the help she can get." Because, believe me, when I first became a parent, I already felt pretty dumb, and was already really sensitive thanks to the hormones. I didn't really need anyone else to help me feel stupid.

At the same time, there is a lot of pressure to be a good mom. We really do need all the help and advice we can get. I imagine before families became separated from one another and we were all so far away from each other, it was just the way things were done. A woman became pregnant, gave birth, and I bet her mother and grandmother were there to help her during labor and birth. I bet they helped her establish breastfeeding, and I bet they all worked together to raise that baby. I imagine that it's just the way things were and new mamas didn't feel insulted if they didn't know everything. They felt like it was just normal to have their mothers and grandmothers help raise the baby. I imagine that new mothers were way more pampered back in the day after birth and I bet they were expected to take it easy and expected to sit around and breastfeed while everyone else took care of household duties. New mamas now are expected to jump back on the treadmill immediately and keep a clean house and raise babies while somehow taking enough "me time" and getting enough rest. "Once across the threshold of motherhood, we begin to feel as if the whole thing depends on us, on our good judgement and perfect choices, on how well we mothers can manage and what kind of children we can grow with enough advice, time, and money-like the entire trajectory and outcome of our children's development falls squarely on our shoulders." (Hanessian 234)

It's really just too much for someone like me to raise my little family without all the help I can get, and I especially need the help of my husband. But even he can give me some advice and I just take it so personally that sometimes we get into these huge fights over it. I know that we need to be able to talk about things, but I often feel that what he says is criticism to the hard work of parenting. I put my heart and soul and my everything into being a good mama to our little girl, and I just can't stop being so sensitive when the person that I admire and love more than anyone else thinks that I'm not doing something quite up to par. But he never ever says it that way. I take it that way. He's Lily's parent too, and I want him to participate. And I want him to have a say in the way things go around here, so why is it that I can't stop taking things so personally? It's something I don't understand about myself, but I hope after time, experience, and much prayer, I will come to understand and change this about myself. "We can never know until we butt heads over whose way is better, whose way is right, until we feel the sting of criticism and the unforgiving armor of our defenses, until we come of age, that there is no "wrong" way when two people love a child well." (Hanessian 173)

I think that what I am needing to do more than anything is learn to surrender. I need to surrender to life and to parenthood. I need to just allow my life to happen and find joy in it. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes the hurt seems to grow and grow. It's a lot like labor. Sometimes it hurts, but in order to get through it the quickest and easiest, one needs to surrender to the process. Accept that this is the way it goes and just find a way to calmly get through, and even enjoy the experience.

"Surrender is about being open, letting in and offering a depth of love and vulnerability and commitment-in motherhood and in marriage-that I might have previously yearned for at a distance. In a sense, it is about giving up, giving up the barrier between love and fear. In doing so, I feel more connected-to myself, my son, my husband, God, the history of time. Somehow, sitting here, I feel related to every mother who ever rocked a baby in her arms. I surrender." (Hanessian 168)

Quotes from Let the Baby Drive by Lu Hanessian; read my review here


  1. Kristi,

    You are an amazing Mom! Lily is a lucky girl to have you as her Mommy. Can't wait to meet your next little bundle of joy! I know that with my first I tried really hard to 'control' everything. He had other ideas...he let me know that I was NOT in control...ever! I had to make a choice...fight 1000 battles a day or relax a bit and enjoy the journey and maybe only fight a few important battles in a day.

    The best part about having more than one child is that you get to practice more and more parenting 'tricks'. What worked with child #1 may not work with child #2...shocking, I know. I had (and still have) great mentors along the way. I'm always looking for opportunities to 'pay it forward' and help lighten the load of a fellow Mommy.

    I love "Let the Baby Drive"...great book!

  2. Such a cute little angel. A gift from up above.

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