Give Yourself Some Grace, Mama

By: Guest Contributor

I left the house for work at 9:45 this morning. NINE. FORTY. FIVE.

I wasn’t sick. My kid wasn’t sick. The house wasn’t burning down. I just couldn’t do it- I didn’t want to adult. I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to mom. I didn’t clean the house. I didn’t work out. Instead, I sat on my couch and I watched Netflix and drank coffee by myself.

And I thought, because I felt like I couldn’t do anything else, that doing this – nothing – until 9:45 would make me feel better.

It didn’t.

I arrived to work around 10, just as worn out as I was at 7:15 when I dropped my son off at daycare. I felt tired. I felt helpless, I felt hopeless- like I was sucking at everything. Do you ever have those days? Where you look around at everything all around you and think, ‘Man. Today. Today, I just suck?'

I know, I know – the negative self-talk, the self-pity. It’s so lame. But hear me out: my house is a WRECK, toys everywhere, food crumbs everywhere. Clothes – clean or otherwise – are scattered everywhere, dishes are piled up, mail unopened, bills unpaid. And I pranced into work at 10 a.m. so we all know I’m a shitty employee.

There's also this: I’ve been going to couples counseling with my husband for about a month now because I’m pretty sure he stopped loving me after our son was born. I feel like we’re just floating through the motions of what marriage and parentdom is supposed to look like. 

I’m fat. I weigh as much now as I did halfway through my pregnancy, and I haven’t worked out since about that then, either. I couldn’t even manage to put on any makeup today.

So, today, I’m sucking. Nope, not winning at all, at anything. And, what’s worse is that I almost don’t care. I want to eat cupcakes, I want to ignore the messiness, I want to sleep through the day.

Is this what adulthood is supposed to feel like? Motherhood? Wifehood?

I recently keep thinking about the Christian idea of grace, as it applies to our children, mostly. The idea that kids are people too, and allowed to have bad days and moods. I feel obligated to give my son the grace to feel his feelings and process and move on, meanwhile loving and supporting him regardless and no matter what.

But what about me?

Somewhere along the way, I forgot to learn how to give myself grace. I expect so much from myself- so much more than I expect from anyone else. But somehow, when I’m the one having a bad day or just too many emotions, I don’t give myself the grace to get through. I call myself names like "lazy" and "inadequate"- things I would never allow my son to call himself.

Being a full-time working mom is hard. It’s so hard. But, I do it and will continue to do it and here’s why: I am the primary breadwinner for our family. I make more money than my husband, and I want us to have a good, comfortable life. I want my son to have the things he needs and sometimes the things he wants.

I want him to have a strong woman as his role model, so that he knows women do anything men can do. I want my son to go to daycare to be socialized and comfortable around different types people.

At least, this is the 50,000 foot view of why I do what I do.

Up close, the details are that I’d probably go even crazier if I was home all day, and if I was a bad employee to the role of being a stay at home mom, I don’t know that I could ever forgive myself. That takes a heart and soul I’m not sure I have.

So, grace for me is the concept of forgiveness- constant, unwavering love despite acting or feeling unlovable and unforgiveable. Why is it we are so willing to bestow grace on others and not onto ourselves?

Here is my promise today. Today, I am giving myself grace. I give myself grace to just be ok, or to suck, at all the things I’m juggling. To find motivation in the fact that I am TRYING. And in the fact that I am a caring human. My ability to be self-aware is a little better than my ability to count calories. I am also giving myself grace to love myself, to love my family, to love my coworkers. And to give them grace as well.

And I'm going to give you grace- the grace to accept whatever you feel like you’re sucking at today. Maybe tomorrow we’ll both do better. Maybe we won’t. But we need to love and forgive ourselves regardless. 

Never Say Never

By Amiee Cantrell-Webb, Contributor

I am a public education teacher in rural eastern Kentucky. I have taught high school aged children English and journalism all day, everyday for the last 19 years. I have had roughly 3,000 students walk through my door, and out of those thousands, I can literally count on one hand the number of students I have had whom were genuinely problematic for me to get along with. 

I’m laid back. I consider myself funny and sarcastic. I am easy to get along with. These very traits and the lack of discipline issues over the past 19 years led me to one very wrong scientific conclusion:  Raising one little child would be easier than teaching teenagers.

I look back and laugh at how truly naïve and silly I was: I genuinely assumed that dealing with up to 150 teenagers per day would be way harder than raising one tiny human being. 

Oh. My. God. I was an idiot.

If I'm being honest, from the moment he came into this world at 34 weeks, Abe- my son- has been a force to be reckoned with. Every single thing I said to myself about parenting before his birth has been thrown out the door.

I don’t like to admit it, but up until age 37 (I gave birth to my one and only child at the ripe ol age of 38), I fear I was one of those judgmental types of people that I despise. I’d see a kid throwing a tantrum in Wal-Mart, and I’d lie to myself and say, “My kid would never do that.” My friends who co-slept with their children bewildered me, and I would ask them awful questions like, “How do you ever sleep with a child in the middle? Aren’t you miserable?”

I sometimes would be annoyed if kids cried or misbehaved while I was dining out.  I’d see parents with kids who were unruly, and I’d think, “Now there are some terrible parents.” I even remember telling my husband once that if we ever had a kid, he or she WOULD behave because I wouldn’t tolerate the nonsense I see in public.

Well, if you have never had kids, are pregnant with one, or are just starting your parenting journey, please take my advice: Never say never. 

That kid throwing a tantrum in Wal-Mart? Yes, he’s mine, and he often gets ignored or walked away from in the aisle he’s lying in because I don’t like to fight a 3-year-old in public. (Don’t worry! He always gets up and follows me, and nobody likes to kidnap screaming toddlers anyway.) 

That kid sleeping in the middle of his parents? He is also mine, and I will say this – when you are tired and trying to work and function as a human, you don’t care where they sleep as long as they are indoors and safe!

My take on the bad parents of wild kids who sometimes act out in public? I am the mother to that child, and I am doing my absolute best. Heck, he is three, and I still dread dining out with him because I never know what this kid might do! Just a few weeks ago he thought it would be fun to grab a bite of leftover food off a dirty table at Bob Evans since his food hadn’t arrived!

The moral to my story is this: It's easy to chat with friends or sit behind a keyboard and dish out parenting advice. It's easy to talk about other people’s kids, or be indignant at what other parents do, while we parents of toddlers are out there in the trenches fighting a daily war of defiance, sass, obstinacy, and tantrums. This parenting gig is backbreaking and mentally taxing work; in fact, on snow days and summer vacation I KNOW my days are going to be exponentially harder than they would have been if I had gone and dealt with my 6 classes of teenagers that day.

So, while I understand how easy it is to say, “My kid will never____” (fill in the blank with whatever it is you believe), as a nineteen year educator and three year parent, I implore you to toss that phrase out.  

I look at students in high school who have done drugs, gotten into fights, performed poorly in  class, had too much to drink at a party, etc., and I remind myself – Never say never.

At the end of the day there is one hard truth to parenting: You may do your absolute best, spending years working to instill every value you have in your child, but children will be children. They are unpredictable, and will inevitably let us down and make mistakes. In the end, how effectively we deal with their mistakes is what determines whether we were a good parent. 

Amiee Cantrell-Webb is one of a growing number of women who waited to begin a family until after the age of 35 (she was 38 when she had her son Abe). She is a former SEC golfer who now teaches high school English and journalism in eastern Kentucky. Amiee and her husband Chad are proud parents to a feisty red-headed son who never allows for a dull moment in their house.

Growing into Motherhood

 

An Apple Seed.

I was cleaning out my closet last week, when I came across a familiar coral dress. I glanced down to admire the little hidden pockets that had convinced me the dress was worth paying full price. It was almost three years ago this May that I had selected this particular dress for my husband’s graduation ceremony from dental school. And although I didn’t have the ninety dollars to spare when I bought it, this dress was necessary for a special day. 

And special it was.

Flooded with nostalgia, I removed the dress from the hanger and pressed it up against my chest. I could almost feel my husband’s chilly fingers zipping me up that afternoon, as we prepared to depart our home. Yes, we were nervous and excited for his graduation, which would bring both of our families together for a dinner celebration. But after I had taken a pregnancy test that morning, we had more than just a graduation to celebrate.

We drove to the auditorium with a secret almost too big for just two people to bear. I can still feel our clammy hands grasping each other as we prepared to tell our families our surprise that evening.

After compulsively researching on What to Expect’s website, I proudly reported to my husband on the way to the ceremony, “Our baby is the size of an apple seed.”

A tiny little apple seed.

 

Changes.

Motherhood has an interesting way of putting time into perspective. There’s nothing like witnessing a child grow from the size of an apple seed inside of you to a 26.5 pound, pig-tailed girl in a matter of a few years. I have dresses older than my daughter, yet, sometimes I don’t remember the person I was before she came into the world.

Being her mother has provided me a front row seat to a beautiful show— a show that allows me the privilege of watching a life grow. But almost immediately after her birth, I found that watching her life is more than just a spectacle to sit and admire. It’s an interactive, impromptu play where my husband and I act and react to the challenges thrown our way. Just like our children, we, as parents, grow and develop from (parental) infancy to maturity. So that sooner than later we are able to handle the challenges raising children will indelibly pose.

As I’ve watched my baby (who is no longer a baby) grow and learn, I, myself, have learned much about living. And although sometimes I’m reluctant to admit it- I’ve changed so much about how I approach the world, as a direct result of being a parent.

Of course there are the obvious changes. I no longer catch Happy Hour on a Tuesday, nor do I have any idea what’s playing at the local movie theater right now. And for every hair my husband has lost since becoming a father, I have gained another horizontal crevice in my forehead.

But that’s just scratching the surface. The internal changes have been the most profound. I remember in the weeks following the birth of my daughter, I longed for my old life. So much change had occurred around me, however my mind was slow to make the switch. I wanted to sleep in and eat a late brunch with my husband on Saturday afternoon, guilt-free. I wanted to make an impromptu trip to the mall by myself without worrying whether or not my breasts would spring a leak. I wanted to feel like myself again, as shameful as it felt in the moment.

But slowly, and not so mysteriously, I stopped longing for the life I once had. I found comfort in the giggles and grins of a baby who needed her mama more than anyone in the world. And the love that I’ve received from her is more than I deserve.

Childbirth technically makes you a mother. But becoming a mother takes time, and adjustment. In fact, I’m still tweaking myself daily. It takes moments of feeling like a failure to understand how much you are actually succeeding. It takes days filled with pure and utter exhaustion to appreciate sweet, lazy cuddles on a Saturday morning with your family. It takes guts and brutal honesty with yourself to reconcile the woman you have always been with the mother you need to become.

 

A Reminder.

My darling daugter will turn two years old in a few short days. It’s been my greatest privilege watching her say new words and take on new adventures. But I will never be able to repay her for the positive change she invoked inside me. She made me a mother, even though it took a while for me to get there. 

Now days, there's an internal voice constantly reminding me that my child deserves only my best. I guess it's called a maternal instinct. But despite what I choose to call it, it makes me better- as both a spectator and player in this crazy game of life.

After the memories began to flee my mind, I tucked away that linen dress with the sweetest little pockets- possibly for good. I placed it back on the hanger but moved it to the middle of the rack. No the dress probably wouldn’t zip if I tried to wear it again, but I’m not keeping it in my closet for hope of future wears. I’m leaving that dress in the front of my closet as a souvenir- a souvenir from my journey as a mother that began on a sunny day in May. 

It’s a reminder that something as small as an apple seed can bring an unmistakable sense of purpose to life, and produce enough love to fill a person's pockets forever.

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Melissa: Not Your Basic Mom

Melissa Dawson is a dear friend of mine, and when I say she is not your basic mom, I’m not exaggerating. Melissa and her husband, Hunter, recently began a new journey raising triplets in their Louisville, Kentucky, home.

Fascinated by her story and her ability to juggle responsibilities like a champ, I wanted to ask Melissa a few questions about the beauty and struggle of mothering three babies at once.

Her responses were honest and moving. 

I hope Melissa's words speak to you as much as they did me.

1. Can you give some background about your journey and the day you found out you were having triplets?

As a young woman you always envision what your pregnancy journey and your birth story may look like.  My story is nothing like I had imagined.  Our journey began with a diagnosis that rocked our world: stage 4 endometriosis.  In 2013, we found out that our odds of getting pregnant naturally were less than 2%. 

As devastating as this news was, we knew in our hearts that we were destined to have children. So we didn’t let the diagnosis deter our efforts. 

I had surgery to remove the endometriosis in December of 2013.  The doctors told me that the endometriosis would eventually come back, so if I was thinking about getting pregnant, we should try immediately after surgery.  So, from January 2014-April 2015, Hunter and I tried to get pregnant on our own.  After 16 months of trying every trick in the book, we knew it was time to go talk with a specialist. 

After much discussion, our doctor recommended that we first try artificial insemination (IUI) and if that failed, we would then discuss in vitro fertilization (IVF).

We suffered disappointment after disappointment after three rounds of IUI.  After the 3rd failed round, my doctor suggested that I schedule a second surgery as she believed that the endometriosis had grown back and was preventing implantation.  After surgery, we would be on to IVF.  We scheduled the second surgery, but we decided to try last round of IUI in the meantime. At this point I had temporarily given up on getting pregnant, instead spending time prepping for my scheduled surgery. 

But on October 21st, I FINALLY saw a positive pregnancy test. 

I didn’t actually believe I was pregnant when I saw those two pink lines. I called my doctor and she ordered a blood test to confirm the pregnancy.  When she got the results back my HCG level was close to 500 (anything over 5 is a confirmed positive).  24 hours later she had me take a second HGC blood test and this time my levels had shot up to around 2400.  "I want to schedule an early ultrasound since your levels are so high, this way we can rule out the possibility of multiples," the doctor told us.

This is the moment my mother’s instinct really kicked in.  I just knew in my heart that I was pregnant with more than one baby.  

On November 10th, 2015 at 6 weeks pregnant, Hunter and I went in for our first ultrasound.  "One, two, oh no......three" are the words we heard from our doctor.  As my husband and I blankly stared at the ultrasound screen in complete shock, we just sat there quietly.  Hunter had a jacket on that day and I just remember looking over at him as he unzipped his jacket, took a deep breath and sat back in his chair. It was certainly a "take your breath away" moment.

We felt every emotion that day.  We were excited, happy, scared, worried, shocked, confused, etc. You name it...we felt it!  I believe our doctor felt the same. She said she had been a fertility doctor for 20+ years and she had never had a triplet outcome with such minimal treatment.  Once the shock of everything wore off, we quickly embraced the unique journey we were about to embark on.

We felt and still feel blessed beyond what we deserve.

 2. What has been the sweetest part of raising three precious babies at the same time?

We are still new to being parents - our babies are less than a year old (born May 7, 2016), so I am sure the sweetest parts of raising triplets is yet to come.  However, I must say that the sweetest part of our journey thus far has been watching the babies connect with one another non-verbally.

I can already see their little bond developing as they touch and glare at one another. They will hold each other's hands, touch one another's face, rub their heads and twirl their hair (what little they have). They often smile and laugh at the other one.

Sometimes I just stare at them and ask myself, is this real life?  Are these three really mine?  Did we really do this? 

It’s an amazing blessing. 

3. When do you sleep?

Hmm! Good question. 

We still have sleepless nights.  This is one of the tough parts about having triplets. Almost every night, one of the three has a restless night of sleep.  We've tried every trick in the book to get them all to sleep through an entire night at the same time. 

4. How has the dynamic of your marriage changed since having triplets?

Hunter and I have tried extremely hard to continue many of the things we did before babies.  But, it certainly comes with challenges. We have limited free time as we always have some sort of baby duty to take care of, but we make a point to still go on date nights and spend one-on-one time with each other when we can. Of course our day-to-day and our priorities in life have DRASTICALLY changed.

The days of cooking ourselves a gourmet meal at the end of the work day are over. The days of coming home to sit and relax for a bit by watching our favorite show recorded on DVR are over. Spontaneous dinner dates with friends are basically over, and the days we could take a random long weekend trip to another city are (WAY) over!  All of these things take so much planning and organization for us to successfully pull them off and maintain happy babies. 

We stay on a tight schedule, to say the least.  Our marriage is basically a scheduled, loving, structured, happy blessing- with a lot of organized chaos! 

 5. How do you find time for self-care? What does self-care look like these days?

Well this one is the biggest challenge for me.  Like most women, when we get stretched too thin, the first thing we do is sacrifice ourselves. For me, in the early days of having the triplets I was VERY guilty of sacrificing myself maybe a little too much. 

I wasn't eating when I should, sleeping when I could, showering as often as I could, giving myself breaks when needed. I never took the time to put my make-up on, do my hair, get out of my PJ's and I would go HOURS before even remembering to take a bathroom break. I quickly realized that I could not sustain these behaviors very long. I do a better job of this today, but it’s still a challenge.  I am finding (some) time to work-out, and doing a better job of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

My secret is taking advantage of an early bedtime. We typically get the babies down at night between 7-8pm.  I am happy to admit that I am now in bed soon after they are asleep!  

6. They say "it takes a village" when it comes to raising children. I'm sure that's even more true with triplets. Who is your village and how have they helped you along the way?

Hunter and I unfortunately live 500 miles from our families, so quick weeknight visits or the emergency "I need your help NOW" call to mom isn't an option for us. 

Our family was a huge help when the babies were first born.  We had regular help the first two months of the babies' lives.  However, our parents, siblings and extended family members are all still in the work force, so with limited time off, the regular help had to end.  Most days now I am by myself at home with the triplets as Hunter is finishing up his Prosthodontist residency. 

We do have some wonderful helpers to assist, but it’s limited to 15-20 hours a week. I always try and have one of them come if/when we have any doctor's appointments, as there is no way I can manage the triplets at a doctor’s appointment on my own.   We fortunately have an army of wonderful friends in Louisville.  However, they too have jobs or their own little ones they are trying to maintain. 

We realize and understand that we are going to need a village of help and support in the very near future with the babies, especially as they get more active and mobile. We are planning to move back to North Carolina in the next year so we can have our family "village" close by.  I am looking forward to the day that I can make that emergency call to my mom telling her I need her help now!   

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7. What advice do you have for a fellow mama about to give birth to multiples?

This certainly is a loaded question!  I would be happy to talk to an expecting multiple mom one-on-one about this.  However, right now I will say this:

(1) Make sure you have some form of help lined up- short-term and long-term; (2) Give up on the idea of perfect parenting; (3) Be prepared to live a life of structure; (4) Make sure you and your partner are fully prepared to share parenting responsibilities; and (5) although it’s difficult, take time for yourself. 

For me, I had always envisioned what being a first time mom would be like.  You know, the spontaneous run to Target ‘just because’, going out for a quick run with my jogging stroller, etc. 

NONE of this is reality for a multiple mama.  In fact, get ready for a lot of strange attention when you go out for a casual trip to the store: stares, questions, and the constant feeling of being on display everywhere you go.  Get ready to push a big stroller into a store doorway and uncomfortably try to navigate it down an aisle.  Get ready to spend 30+ min running around your house trying to pack diaper bags and car seats praying you will get somewhere on time. 

Nonetheless, get ready to feel like your heart is exploding. 

It is an incredible and indescribable thing to see not one, but multiple miracles in front of you, and knowing that YOU created each one.  I wouldn’t have guessed that I would be part of such an exclusive club, but it is something so unique, and so so special. Even if I had the chance, having triplets is certainly something I would never change.

Pregnant & Afraid: The Day I Started Talking to God Again

When I was a little girl, my bedtime prayer usually went something like this: “Dear God, thank you for this day. Thank you for mommy, daddy, nana, poppa, granny, papaw, the dog, the cat,” and the list would go on and on to include extended family, neighbors down the street, and occasionally my (favorite) Barbie dolls.

I was a thankful little girl, but then I became a teenager. As teenage years often go, I found myself sleeping in on Sundays and praying only for things like bigger boobs so that the boys would like me. I didn’t need God. I had all the answers. So I stopped seeking help and saying thanks because clearly I had it all under control on my own.

And that went okay for a little bit.

I survived college, married my college sweetheart, and graduated from law school with only a couple of hiccups. My confidence was up because I had made something of my life—on my own. And then one morning I tip-toed to the bathroom and peed on a teeny stick. Pregnant… it said. Suddenly it was as if all my confidence and knowledge about life spilled out of my brain and on to the bathroom floor in front me.

We were about to move out of state away from family and friends, and I was pregnant.

Ok, so how do I do this? For the first time I really didn’t know. My only experience with a baby was that I had been one. None of my friends had kids, and my mom was going to be four hours away.

It’s funny that as you become more educated on life, you realize how little you understand about it. After I found myself pregnant and afraid (which in case you didn’t know is the sequel to Naked & Afraid), I started making small talk with the man upstairs. Most of the time, I found myself praying on those late nights when my husband was asleep and I was staring at the ceiling wondering about my baby. What was she doing in there? Who would she grow up to be? What kind of mom would I be?

My thoughts wandered through the positive, to the dark, and back again. And I couldn’t control my feelings of utter helplessness as my mind raced in the still of the night. It was on those panicky, anxiety filled nights that I would whisper up a prayer.

It was awkward at first. My praying skills had gotten a bit rusty over the years. I felt like a black-sheep child who had run away from home only to come crawling back with a new appreciation for what she once had.

Hey..

Dear God…

Thank you for blessing me with this baby, but I’m going to need a whole lot of your help…

I needed Him so much I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I had turned my back on God for so long, and now I show up on his doorstep begging for answers. So in my effort to right my wrongs, I made a little rule for my prayers: before I prayed to God asking for anything, I would go to bed and thank Him for three things He had done for me that day.

My thought was that maybe if my thanks-to-request ratio was 3-to-1, I could make up for all the days I had taken the little blessings of life for granted.

After the birth of a healthy little girl, my prayers became more frequent and intimate. It only takes one look into the sweet face of my baby to initiate a simple, heartfelt “thank you.” I still don’t know what I did to deserve her.

I thank Him more often than I ever have, but I also ask more of Him. With stomach bugs and baby fevers, come worries which trigger prayer. But I’m thankful that worry is no longer the end of the line in my train of thought.

Life can be a big, scary monster. A monster that is so unpredictable that we can’t even begin to try to shield our children from it; nor can we convey enough knowledge to equip them with the answers to life’s hard questions. But we can pray that God will light up a path for them. And we can put our faith in the idea that He knows the grander scheme and will guide us and our children in the right direction.

And one of these days when my daughter pees on a stick and finds herself pregnant and afraid, I pray she realizes how little she knows about mothering children and finds herself talking to God in the middle of the night.