Wednesday, September 26, 2012

PROOF

PROOF that pregnancy weight gain and loss is often totally out of your control.

After my most recent pregnancy, I had gained 35 pounds. By about 6-8 weeks, I had shed about 25 of it, was hoping to lose a total of 15 more pounds (to put me at 135, about 5 pounds under pre-pregnancy weight...hey, I can dream, can't I?), but those last several pounds were just hanging on for dear life. I felt like I was eating very responsibly, avoiding snacks, not going back for seconds, doing the Paleo thing with and for my dad, and occasionally going on walks when I was finally able to herd my cats into a mobile stroller/Radio Flyer wagon/Moby wrap/baby Bjorn unit.

By the way, I really think that going to the grocery store with all three children should count as exercise. Seriously. I have to lift those groceries a total of 6 times (off the shelf into the cart, out of the cart onto the belt, off the belt into the cart again, out of the cart into the trunk, out of the trunk into the house, off the counter to their appropriate places). That is no small feat with a baby strapped to my chest.

Anyway, so for the last two months, I've been stepping on the scale every few days, just to see what was happening. I knew that I would experience blood sugar spikes in conjunction with weight loss. I assume that's from unpredictable fat burn that's not covered by my normal basal rates and boluses, and it's a trend I've noticed during the last two years. In any case, the spikes never came, and the scale stayed stuck on one number for months.

Then, suddenly, within the last few days, with my baby at 3 1/2 months, I did nothing different but, lo and behold, I had several blood sugar spikes over 2-3 days. Out of curiosity, I decided to step on the scale and, sure enough, I lost 5 pounds.

Did I mention that I haven't done anything different?

Still eating the same things, still sleeping normally, still occasionally herding cats into a mobile stroller/Radio Flyer wagon/Moby wrap/baby Bjorn unit. Nothing different. And, like magic, the five pounds disappeared.

So, I have no advice to you if you are trying to lose weight after having a baby. I guess just eat as healthfully as you can, exercise when possible, and wait and see, I guess!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ay, There's the Rub

So the last little bit of NFP to talk about is the abstinence part. In some ways it seems easy enough - just don't have sex when you're fertile. Right? RIGHT?!

I know. It's not always that easy. And many people who reject NFP do so not because they don't like knowing about their fertility, and not because they don't like the idea of marital relations without plastic, latex, or rubber, or whatever condoms are even made of these days. Not because they wouldn't prefer to avoid synthetic hormones that may, themselves, cause health problems and don't ever provide a permanent solution for the problems they are prescribed to treat. Not because they don't like babies. It's because they either think abstaining from sex might actually hurt them or their relationship with their spouse, or they think they just can't do it.

So if you're with me, you've got some concerns about what contraception does to you and your sex life, and you and your spouse see some advantages to NFP, but you REALLY need to avoid a baby right now, and you aren't sure you can swallow the abstinence bit, read on.

First, my good news/bad news about the abstinence part of NFP during the postpartum period:

The bad news: When using NFP to avoid pregnancy in the postpartum period, you may end up abstaining a few more days than you did before you got pregnant.
The good news: You may be so tired you will hardly notice (especially if you're breastfeeding exclusively and frequently)!

Ay, there's the rub. I think it's very possible that, while you're getting the hang of things in the postpartum period, and if you're really serious about avoiding another pregnancy, you will need to abstain for longer periods of time than usual. Because things look different after you have a baby, and seminal fluid really does obscure your fertility symptoms. It blurs the lines between a woman and her man, and it can be distracting and confusing. So sometimes, it's best to just go without for a while until you get it figured out.

So that's my confession. NFP does involve some self-restraint and that can be hard. It's a sacrifice. But abstinence from marital relations, if you really need to prevent pregnancy and that's what it takes to get a handle on your cycles, will not harm you. I repeat: it will not physically harm you in any way.

Consider this:
  • In ye olden times, some devout people used to abstain for the entire time that a woman was pregnant plus a few weeks afterward. Plus during the penitential Church seasons of Advent and Lent. Saint Louis IX, King of France? He and his wife had 11 children. Following these rules, can you imagine how many marital relations they didn't have?!
  • There are thousands, if not millions, of young people around the world who wait until marriage to enjoy its relations. You may have been one of them. Oh how did you ever survive adolescence?!
  • There are thousands, if not millions, of people around the world who forego marital relations for their entire lives. They are called priests, nuns, and monks. Some Hindus and Buddhists do it to, to avoid distraction from spiritual contemplation. Even a radical feminist group at one point promoted celibacy! (The war on women just keeps getting more complicated, doesn't it?)
  • I am quite confident that even people who don't give a rip about saving themselves for marriage will go for months or years at a time if they don't find a partner that lives up to whatever standards they do have for a sexual partner.
  • My husband and I have done it, too. When our second son was two months old, I told him I just needed some time to figure out the new normal. So in addition to the fact that we had abstained for the first 6 weeks postpartum, we took another break. And I figured it out, and we successfully planned the conception of our third child when we were ready.
Here are a few other ways to think about it, to make it easier to tell yourself and your spouse no. Because "no" to sex doesn't have to be a total downer:

Consider it free health care, if you need to prevent pregnancy for health reasons. The Obama administration wants to provide free contraception to everyone, but abstinence is always free! Not always easy, but always free. And Type I diabetics do, on occasion, for health reasons, need to prevent pregnancy. If pregnancy prevention is therefore to be considered healthcare, then let's call abstinence free healthcare. There, I give it to you. Free. Healthcare. Sacrifice sex, save a little money and keep your body healthy (because Lord knows that contraception won't do it). Knowledge is power! Now all you have to do is not have sex for however long it takes you to figure out how to use NFP to avoid pregnancy.

Or perhaps consider it a sacrifice that you offer for your spouse, your children, and your future children, so that their lives may be better. If the issue is concern for the health and education of your existing children, then you offer it for them. If it is so that your husband can focus on his work and not have so much of his life wrapped up with the family, then it's for him. If it's for your psychological health and sanity, then it's for you. Sacrifice for a greater good. Just like sometimes we even give our lives as a sacrifice for a greater good, as in the example of St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

You really will be tired after you have a baby. It's true what they say. Don't I know it, three years and three babies later! If you're reading through this with bleary, nursing-mom eyes and you're desperate to figure out how NFP works, you know this because you're trying to avoid finding yourself in this situation again in the near future. So use the extra time to sleep, or take care of your relationship in another way. Marital relations are an amazingly unique and wonderful way for a couple to nurture their relationship, but there are other ways too. Go mini-golfing. Read a book together. Take a walk with your screaming, tired baby whose making you screaming and tired, too.

And if, in the end, after doing the NFP/abstinence thing for a while, you find yourself unable to make the sacrifice, maybe it's because, in the secret calculus of your head, you've determined that children are really pretty awesome. And maybe you're not willing to sacrifice so much to avoid them, because you'd rather sacrifice a lot to have them. What this may come out of your mouth sounding like is this: "Ugh, I just can't do it any more. I want to be with my spouse, and it's too hard to abstain. Why did we decide this was a good idea again?" And perhaps what it means is that your brain is smarter than you think it is, and it is making you forget what you were worried about, and telling you that babies are good, and your reasons for not having them are coming up short. After all, many excuses just don't cut the mustard, because pregnancy is hard but children are worth it!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Hodgepodge of How-Tos for Women Charting Postpartum

As I mentioned in my last post, you should check out 1flesh.org (to convince you if you're not already using NFP, and for some laughs if you already are) and iusenfp.com (for some instruction) if you want to read up on the awesomeness that is natural family planning.

In my last post, I talked about my personal experiences using natural family planning in the postpartum period, and while breastfeeding. Now that I'm having my third go-around, I'm brushing up on my rules and sharing some of my observations with you all. I think I might *actually* be good enough at it now to give general advice to other people.

Please note: I am not a doctor, and I am not an NFP instructor. I am not a member of the Couple-to-Couple League. In fact, I don't even follow one method (Creighton, Billings, symptothermal, or any other) according to the letter of the law. My only qualifications are that I used NFP successfully to delay my first pregnancy (two years) and my third, and I have spent an unusual amount of time looking at this website (http://www.fertilityuk.org) and charting my cycles (8 years). My second conception was an experiment in "let's see what happens if we fail to abstain reliably to prevent pregnancy." (The answer, if you are happily married as I am, is apparently a baby born about 10 months later. Who knew?). What this all means is that I've only used NFP reliably during one postpartum period of my life, and I am self-taught. So take my comments with a grain of salt, and if you want more information than your body and I can give you, call around to natural family planning instructors in your area!

One bit of good news is that, for women who are fortunate enough to use the most natural method of feeding their baby, breastfeeding does tend to inhibit fertility. This may only be true when babies are nursed frequently and exclusively, so if you want to take advantage of it, you should start getting snuggly with your baby...a lot.

The lack of menstruation that women experience during breastfeeding is evidence of the fact that fertility is inhibited while a woman is breastfeeding, since no menstruation frequently also means no ovulation. Women do occasionally ovulate prior to menstruation while breastfeeding, but they also frequently experience anovulatory menstrual cycles, even after their period comes back. So even after her first few periods, a breastfeeding woman may still not be ovulating. No ovulation, of course, = no baby.

But if you've been paying attention, you'll note that I'm using words like "frequently" and "occasionally." And of course, "occasionally" does not equal "never," so what it all boils down to is this. Some women can and do get pregnant while breastfeeding (that is, assuming they are enjoying marital relations on occasion). La Leche League doesn't teach women about tandem nursing for nothing. Women even can and do get pregnant before their period returns while breastfeeding (that is, assuming they are enjoying marital relations on occasion). So you could do what my husband and I did for our second conception - "let's see what happens if we don't try to not have a baby?" But if you have a serious need to avoid pregnancy, you'd better fire up your cervical-mucus-interpretation skills, even before that period comes back.

OK, so here's my instruction manual.

The bad news: Your signs will look different than they did before you got pregnant.

The good news: After taking 10 months off, you probably won't remember what your signs looked like before you got pregnant. So just consider it a friendly reintroduction to your amazing fertility!

If you used a certain NFP method before pregnancy, your instructor will likely have some rules for postpartum pregnancy prevention, too. Mucus will be the only way you can determine fertility accurately before you get your period back, because the postpartum time is one giant pre-ovulatory stage until you are regularly menstruating again, and mucus is the only way to tell when you move from pre-ovulatory to fertile stage. So get comfortable with the words "goopy," "sticky," "tacky," and "slippery," because you're going to be hearing them a lot! I think temperatures, cervical changes, and any other signs and symptoms you have could be useful to cross-check your mucus readings if you think ovulation has already occurred. But in any case, you can't get around the mucus.

The presence of fertile mucus is the only way you'll be able to tell that you might get pregnant. I believe Creighton teaches women certain wiping methods to check their mucus on toilet paper, Billings teaches women to take heed of the sensation at the vaginal opening, and others probably want you to pay attention if anything shows up in your underwear. For me, I use all of the above AND what I see on my fingers following cervical checks, because, as I mentioned, I'm apparently super-fertile, and I don't want to miss any sign or symptom of the beginning of fertility. I don't often rely on sensation alone to determine the beginning of my fertile period, because between postpartum urinary incontinence and sweat, sometimes I can't distinguish it from fertile mucus. But if I do feel a wet or slippery sensation, I sit up and pay closer attention to my underwear, toilet paper, and fingers following cervical checks. Fertile mucus disappears after ovulation.

If you use them, cervical checks should be done once per day. You won't be able to tell the difference between a fertile and an infertile cervix if you don't track changes, and changes can only be detected over multiple readings. Always wash your hands BEFORE the cervical check, so that you don't introduce any nasty bacteria to your lady-parts, which are very sensitive to the disruption.

A note about resuming cervical checks initially following birth. You may want to wait several weeks after birth before beginning them, because of lochia (which makes cervical checks messy), tearing (which makes cervical checks potentially painful and/or likely to cause and infection to the wound), and confusion (because the cervix takes a little while to resume its normal shape and position following birth). If you are breastfeeding exclusively and you begin cervical checks at 6 weeks postpartum, I think you can be safe in assuming that your first three cervical checks, before enjoying any marital relations, will give you a good baseline for "infertile cervix." Make sure you do these before you resume marital relations, because as I describe below, seminal fluid kind of messes with all your observations. Cervical checks will not be able to tell you when your fertile period has begun, but it can be a helpful tool to confirm that ovulation has already occurred if you are abstaining during your fertile period.

During this postpartum time, our rules for avoiding pregnancy are thus:

RULE NUMBER ONE:

First of all, I think it's a good idea to wait the full 6 weeks following birth before resuming marital relations at all. You will be tired, you may have some tearing in your perineum, and it's just a good idea for your doctor to check out muscle tone and any scar tissue that has developed down there before you introduce a new...activity in the region. Not to mention any lochia/postpartum discharge. So I make that recommendation whether you are trying to avoid pregnancy or not. (P.S., I'm still not a doctor, but recommendations are recommendations.)

To avoid pregnancy, cease marital relations at the first sign of fertile mucus. The first days of ovulatory, fertile mucus are white and sticky, then they grow stretchier and stretchier, until the mucus is very clear and slippery right before and at ovulation. Additional tips for determining fertile mucus patterns, including illustrations, here.


RULE NUMBER ONE IN THE REAL WORLD:

So those are the general guidelines. Here are my observations about what happens in the real world, using myself as the one and only Example A (because no modest woman in her right mind goes around sharing these things in pub...oh, shoot):

Early mucus looks kind of like a yeast infection, but without the smell. If you suspect it might be a yeast infection and you have been doing your cervical checks, you will know you are infertile if it's smelly and your cervix is in the same spot, same firmness, and same opening.

Seminal fluid WILL mess with your observations if you don't know what to expect. If you are enjoying marital relations on occasion (which I also highly recommend for those who are happily married...still not a doctor, but recommendations are recommendations), you should see slippery "mucus" in the one, two, or three days following intercourse. It's actually seminal fluid, but there's no way to tell the difference, so to avoid pregnancy, you should wait for a few dry days before enjoying marital relations again.

In the absence of a yeast infection, and in the absence of seminal fluid, you may notice a pattern of infertile mucus on your fingers following cervical checks. One or two little bell-pepper-seed-sized clumps of white. I called them "vaginal boogers" in my last post. I promise, I am going to restrict talk of "vaginal boogers" to posts about natural family planning, lest I drive away all my readers (which I may have already done. Thank you if you've gotten this far.) This is more of an FYI, so you don't freak out and think that you are fertile ALL THE TIME simply because you are seeing a little bit of vaginal discharge every day. It may take some time for you to interpret this infertile discharge.

RULE NUMBER TWO:

If you are happily married but still trying to avoid pregnancy, wait for three days following the disappearance of fertility indicators to resume marital relations.

After you ovulate, your mucus will dry up. You should wait for a full three dry days before resuming marital relations to be confident of having entered the infertile state.

Enter, stage right, cervical checks. As I mentioned, the cervix is not terribly useful on the front end, because the presence of fertile mucus is a much more universal and easily-identifiable indication. BUT, if you are abstaining during your fertile period, cervical checks ARE useful for confirming that ovulation is complete and you have entered the infertile, post-ovulatory state. When you're infertile, the cervix is firm, high, and the opening is closed. As you approach the peak day of fertility, you will see mucus and you will notice your cervix begins to soften, drop, and open. After ovulation, your cervix will firm up, rise, and close immediately. Additional tips about cervical changes here. Again, wait for three days after the cervix firms up.

RULE NUMBER TWO IN THE REAL WORLD:


Oh, seminal fluid. Our dear friend AND bearer of much confusion. You who blur the lines between man and woman...

The cervix also changes in the presence of seminal fluid. In fact, just as seminal fluid resembles your most fertile mucus, seminal fluid will effect changes to your cervix that make it look like you are ovulating. This is owing to the prostaglandins in seminal fluid - which is incidentally the same thing that ripens your cervix for labor and why marital relations may induce labor in women who are pregnant. So your cervix, in the few days following marital relations, will be soft, low, and open, just like it is when you are ovulating. It will gradually rise, firm, and close up over a few days.

Since seminal fluid is so indistinguishable from your hyperfertile mucus, you should wait for three dry days following marital relations. That way the pre-ovulatory fertile mucus won't be masked by seminal fluid.

I note again that cervical checks are really only useful if you do them every day, because you won't know the difference between a firm and a soft cervix, or a high or a low cervix, unless you've been feeling it day after day and suddenly one day it feels different. Sometimes, in the first few months after delivery, you may feel your cervix get higher and lower depending on whether your rectum (which is right next door to the cervix) is full. This is because the muscles which hold your rectum in place are loose and stretched out following pregnancy and birth, and may permit some bulging in the rectum (which is, as I mentioned, right next door to your cervix).

Oh, wow, could this possibly involve any more bodily functions about which people do not normally speak in public? Probably not. But then again, I've never been shy to talk about these things, much to my husband's chagrin...

As I mentioned, you can't get around the mucus, and it's absolutely necessary to chart mucus to avoid pregnancy, but I really appreciate having a cross-check to mark the post-ovulatory period. It gives me peace of mind to know that my mucus observations and my cervix are telling me the same thing.


If there is a discrepancy between the disappearance of fertile mucus/return of dryness and the firming up of the cervix, choose whichever is more conservative. The discrepancy should only be a day or so (in my experience).

After the mucus dries up and the cervix firms up, you have entered the infertile, post-ovulatory state. If you are confident that ovulation has occurred based on mucus readings and cervix checks, after three dry days, marital relations carry a low risk of pregnancy (low as in, 0.5-8.0% percent low. By the way, that percentage of pregnancy prevention is at least comparable to some contraceptive methods, and  blows other contraceptive technologies right out of the water).


I assume you know how to do the "marital relations" part, since you did just have a baby, so I won't go into that in further detail.


Hope this is helpful to some of you who are trying to use natural family planning following the birth of a child, but would really like to plan your next conception carefully, like those of us Type I diabetics. Feel free to e-mail me with questions (beth dot g dot turner at gmail dot com). And do check out fertilityuk.org. I learned almost everything I know from that site, and I can't imagine you will come away from it without some useful tidbits.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Adventures in Postpartum Charting

In case you haven't yet seen them, you should visit 1flesh.org and iusenfp.com. They are awesome, and I am so excited about what they are doing to spread the word. Whether you are trying to conceive or trying to avoid it, these sites will give you a fresh perspective on the question. Just as I very firmly believe that a woman's body can do all sorts of wonderful things during pregnancy and childbirth, these sites extend that principle all the way back to pre-conception. ENTER, stage left, Natural Family Planning!

My husband and I have used NFP since we were first married six years ago. We have never had to try very hard to conceive, so unlike many diabetics who have trouble getting pregnant, I have had the opposite problem. NFP is awesome for how it respects your body AND respects your need to space your children OR helps you conceive if you're having trouble, but after a few months off and a baby it's...a little bit confusing.

First, a brief history of how I ended up with three children. (The short version is...well, everyone should know that short story).

After my first child was born, my period came back when he was 6 months old. My husband and I then decided that we didn't really care all that much when we had another baby, and lo and behold, a short few weeks later, I was walking to a drug store on my lunch break, squeezing in a trip to the bathroom at work before my lunch hour was up, and seeing two little lines on a chalky white strip.

After my second child was born, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to rely on a half-hearted, "I'm breastfeeding so I'm immune to pregnancy" attitude to prevent conception, so I decided to actually chart. I picked up my charting tools again just before my 6-week postpartum visit, and found out that it was a little more difficult than I had anticipated. My temperatures were everywhere, my mucus was always sticky and sometimes smelly, and I was all like...what? 

First of all, my postpartum temperatures were everywhere because my sleeping patterns were so irregular. If the baby happened to go to bed early and I could sneak a glass of wine (aaaah...), my temperature was elevated in the morning (d'oh!). If I happened to sleep in in the morning because both babes decided to sleep an extra hour (aaaah....), my temperature was off (d'oh!). The uncertainty meant we were spending more time abstaining than we needed to, and even when we didn't, we were never quite sure whether the temperature patterns were actually reflecting ovulation or exhaustion.

Second of all, my sticky, smelly, white mucus was actually a yeast infection (sorry, TMI, but I want no one to go uninformed about these things). I had never had one before, and my theory is that it may have been related to everything that happened down there...bacterial and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and birth and all that. Besides that, diabetics are more prone to yeast infections than other women. This is where the cervical checks come in for me, to confirm whether I'm ovulating or just have a yeast infection.

Thirdly, seminal fluid looks exactly like the most fertile mucus. So if I went from dry one day to "super-fertile" the next day, usually all I had to do was try to remember what I did last night, and after a little reflection, I was able to breathe again. But curiously, seminal fluid would sometimes continue to show itself for a few days after marital relations, not only in the one day following. Interestingly, seminal fluid also has the same effect on the cervix as ovulation does, so cervical checks following marital relations only led to further heart palpitations. Alas, it only means that I could not use the cervical check following marital relations to determine infertility. I just had to wait for a few days of dryness to come back.

Lastly, cervical checks showed me very clearly what kind of mucus I had, and then some. What I mean is that if I had fertile mucus, I would almost definitely see it on my fingers following a cervical check. But what I mean by "and then some" is that I occasionally saw stuff on my fingers following a cervical check that was, in fact, a light, normal, infertile mucus pattern. For me, it looked like small (think bell-pepper-seed-sized or grape-seed-sized) clumps of white stuff, usually only one or two clumps per check, if at all. I can only assume these are the equivalent of vaginal boogers (white blood cells clumping together and getting ready to exit your body).

Uh...I can't believe I just said that. I think I may have just weirded MYSELF out.

In any case, after a few months of observing this trend, I was able to distinguish "vaginal boogers" pretty clearly from fertile mucus. Fertile mucus always showed up in more abundance (a gloopy glop closer to the size/volume of a small pumpkin seed), either upon wiping after using the toilet or cervical check.

Are you creeped out yet after this discussion of cervical mucus, yeast infections, seminal fluid, and vaginal boogers? My profuse apologies, if so. I'm just hoping my experience can help elucidate the signs and symptoms for other women in the postpartum period. Believe me, as a Type I diabetic, I know how important it is for women to be able to plan conception carefully, and that includes recognizing the signs and symptoms after birth!


So to sum it up, I ended up rejecting temperatures altogether in favor of a mucus-only method of NFP. I also learned more about cervical checks and how to use them to confirm when I suspected ovulation was complete (this is a very useful tool and most methods don't make use of it, but I highly recommend it). I discovered a normal, non-fertile, light mucus pattern that was easily identifiable, but only after I'd been seeing it for a few months. As a result, the only surprising thing about our third conception was that it happened the very first month we stopped not trying to have a baby.

So we're at it again, and hopefully my experience will help anyone who is struggling to get to know their amazing fertility again after birth.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Letter to Jenna Rachel

A young woman recently diagnosed with Type I diabetes recently stumbled upon my blog and commented on my post, "Pregnancy is hard. Children are worth it. Diabetes doesn't have to get in the way." She gave me a high compliment and said this would be her new mantra.

Well, since it's my mantra over here, too, I just wanted to give a big online welcome to Jenna Rachel! The concern she expresses on her blog about whether she'll be able to have children without a c-section, and whether she'll be able to have children at all as a Type I diabetic, made my heart very heavy for her.

But I assure you, it doesn't have to get in the way, and anyone who tells you otherwise just doesn't have a very active imagination about how to make it work. Keep us up to date on what you learn, and keep on keepin' on!


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Waste of An Education

I come from an extremely well-educated family. Both of my grandmothers went to college (in the 1930s), and nearly all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins have graduate education of some kind. My mother is an emergency room physician, my brother and father have PhDs in economics, and my sisters are both pediatricians. I then went and married a bookish man who is getting his PhD in moral theology.

Even beyond my family, every single one of my closest friends from high school went on for additional education beyond their graduate degree. One has an MBA, one has a PhD in biology, one has her MPH and is a registered dietician, and another has a master's in aeronautical engineering (yeah, she's totally a rocket scientist). It was a sad day for me when my last high school band buddy e-mailed all of us to say that he was headed for a master's in...well, I don't remember what it's in, because I began weeping as soon as I got past the first line of the e-mail.

                   

I have often been tempted to self-loathing over this apparent waste of my education. I graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in psychology, got married, did the receptionist thing at a veterinary clinic, taught a few flute lessons, and spent a few years working at a law firm. It was all well and good, until I had some babies. And instead of slogging through it to use the fine education I received in a wage-earning, tax-paying kind of way, I quit. I quit to take on the mundane tasks of staying at home, washing everyone's laundry, preparing everyone's meals, frequently washing everyone's dishes, and starting all over again the next day. Not surprisingly, in moments of self-doubt, I simply feel like a high-school drop-out with a college degree.

I am most fortunate that I have not ever heard a word from a member of my family or my friends about this, my apparent waste of an education. In fact, to the contrary: one of my pediatrician sisters once told me that if I wanted to graduate from college and then have children and stay home to raise them, she thought that was a good and noble choice. I still remember that conversation, and I cherish it. But the thought still nags at me. Did I waste it? Did I waste the chance to make a difference with my work? Did I waste the chance to make something of myself by foregoing a career? Did I waste my college education?


Well, I'm going to leave that question hanging, because that's not what this post is really about. I'm not going to get into whether or not it would have been better for me to stay home to raise my kids, "wasting my education," or go to work to "make something of myself." The thought I recently stumbled upon, which will forever be my response to the mean voices in my head, is this. If I stopped having kids now, I would be seriously wasting another kind of education: my education in motherhood.

Think about it. Having a baby is a serious crash course that brings out so many hidden talents that you didn't know were talents, much less that you actually had them within you. You, as a mother, have skills that you didn't even know were possible to acquire before you had kids. Classes you could teach at a university level include:

Clothing Management: How to store clothes for the next size, next season, and next child. Additional lessons in baby poop stain removal and sock matching.

Time Management: How to accomplish anything in the miniscule amount of time you have during nap time after going to the bathroom, grabbing a drink and a bite of food, and sweeping the floor before your baby wakes up. How to wrap up any activity in 5 seconds flat when you hear screaming.

Food Management: How to prepare your own organic baby food and handle the rejection your child will no doubt visit upon your efforts. How to remove stains from ice cube freezer trays.

Relationship Management: How to talk to your spouse about something other than your children. How to turn walking outside with a screaming 6-week old who just won't go to sleep into a bona fide date.

Disaster Management: You should probably just take a First Aid class, buy a kit, and memorize the number for 911, because you're definitely going to need it at some point. Preferably this will be accompanied by moving in with a medically-trained relative (thanks, Mom!).

But, you say, this is silly. Anyone can learn how to do those things. To which I respond: yes, but how many people actually have to? How many people are forced to learn such mundane skills, and to do them all with such speed, that she can actually do them with a baby strapped to her chest at the same time?

Beyond simply learning how to do the mundane things with your hands, there is a mental energy associated with raising children that, as the mother of one six-week-old, I thought might make my head explode. While I was nursing the baby, changing diapers, tip-toeing around our one-bedroom apartment to avoid squeaky floors, and preparing meals, there were thoughts racing around my brain. For example, thoughts about how to squeeze out a little bit of time for myself and my husband this weekend. How to organize my day to accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish. How to balance life at home with life outside it. Which of these tasks staring me in the face actually matters right now? How will I raise this tiny person to know what things are important? How will I keep us all from hating each other at the end of 18 years?

I have three children now, and in some ways, my life is harder than it has ever been (oh, the laundry!).


But in others, I'm finally hitting my stride. Because I know how to clean baby poop out of a onesie, and I know when it matters whether the poop comes out or not. I know when to say "yes" to activities outside the house, and when to say, "maybe we'll be able to handle it a few years from now." I'm learning that teaching children what is important is not like writing on a blank tablet, because children naturally want to be good. And I've been telling myself, "it will get easier some day," for so long now that I've finally started to believe it.

So, to the mother with only one child, and to myself, I say: Self, you are learning valuable lessons. Motherhood doesn't only get easier once you teach your older children to help. It gets easier because it teaches you, too. 

Here's to an education that I couldn't have paid for!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

This Makes Me Happy


I stumbled across this on Facebook, linked to from one of my favorite sites called www.iusenfp.com, and it just makes me happy. Smile-all-day-thinking-about-posting-it happy.

Type I diabetes means that pregnancy and birth are not risk-free. Oh, wait a minute...it never has been, for anyone! But since pregnancy and birth are such a unique and beautiful part of what it means to be a woman, not to mention the precious babe himself, it's a sacrifice worth making. For every woman in every time and place, it means conquering some fears and giving generously of yourself in so many ways for a new little human being who can't do it on his own. For a Type I diabetic, those sacrifices include the additional cost of managing blood sugars like a hawk and going to a bajillion doctor's visits.

But really and truly, pregnancy changes you. Birth changes you. Being a mother changes you. And, if you let it be so, the change is good. No pain, no gain!