I've been thinking a lot about kindness today. Such a simple thing yet so many of us fail at it sometimes. Why is that?
Last week, I was at Six Flags with my friends. We went to the wave pool, amazingly found 2 of the only open lounge seats, and set up shop. My 19 month old had fallen asleep in the stroller so I decided to park the stroller behind our seats in the shade so she wouldn't get hot. What I didn't fully realize was that I parked right in front of another lady.
A few minutes after I sat down, her friend told me to move the stroller because I was blocking their view of their kids in the pool. I immediately hopped up, apologized, and started backing my stroller up. But this woman wouldn't let it go and was so angry and nasty to me. I stayed calm and sweet the entire time, apologizing for blocking her view yet it didn't do anything to help appease her.
I sat back down so flustered. Why was she so rude to me? Even after I tried to be kind? And why did it bother me so much?
The answer is that I like to make people happy. I genuinely do. I like positive energy surrounding me. That's part of why I love yoga so much. It's a time to get out of our egos and be a part of a community with fellow, like-minded, positive people.
One of my favorite words is ahimsa. It's a Hindi word meaning "not to injure" and "compassion." It's a Buddhist doctrine that teaches that all life is sacred and urges non-violence. And it doesn't just refer to physical violence, but one's words, deeds, and thoughts as well. A broader definition is showing love and respect for others. With the concept of ahimsa is the belief that we all have a spark of the divine in us so to hurt another being, is to hurt ourselves; and vice versa, when we show love for others, we show love for ourselves as well. It's a beautiful word and a beautiful way to live.
But why do some people choose not to show love and respect? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons but I think they boil down to one cause: pride.
Pride is different than being proud of something. When I'm proud of a job well done, it means I'm taking a moment to be grateful that I completed a task successfully. I also acknowledge God for giving me the gifts and talents to see the task through. However, pride puts oneself above the Divine. Pride says I achieved my goals because I am better than God and others. Pride shuns humility and vulnerability. Pride doesn't allow for acknowledgement of failure rather blames others for any challenges. Pride claims one's needs are greater than others. Pride assumes others intentionally try to hurt them. Pride doesn't allow for forgiveness. Pride doesn't ask for help. Pride kills ahimsa because how can people love and appreciate the divine in others if they are too busy thinking they are better than the divine in themselves?
Pride allows a woman to be angry at another for parking her stroller in front of her. Pride justifies her rude tone assuming the insult was done purposefully. Pride massages her ego as she cuts down the other's.
Pride could have easily taken over on my side as well. I could have lashed back with a few choice words but I didn't. I chose kindness. I chose to acknowledge that her needs felt greater to her than mine did, that I could correct the situation, and walk away. I love the stories one of my yoga teachers, Ateeka Contee, tells of cars cutting her off in traffic and her saying "Namaste" to them instead of choosing to respond angrily. I think about that when I'm in the car now too.
As a doula, pride has no place in labor. It is not about me whatsoever. I may have differing opinions on how I would do things but that doesn't matter. I put my clients wants above my own. I show them ahimsa by loving and respecting who they are as people and parents-to-be, and acknowledging that they know what's best for them. And by showing this kindness, I hope to make them happy. I hope no matter what transpires in that delivery room, the parents will walk away feeling loved, nurtured, cared for, and above all, truly happy. That is ahimsa. That is my goal.
I've been around a lot of pregnant women in my adult life. I've empathized, commiserated, rejoiced, cried, and laughed right along with them. I've also given a lot of advice. Some of it was probably pretty good but some was probably unwanted. As I get older and, hopefully wiser, I've learned to shut my mouth more and open my ears to listen instead. So when I recently met a mom of an almost 2 year old, expecting her 2nd baby, I refrained from saying what was on my mind because I didn't want to offer unsolicited advice. I didn't want to push my thoughts on someone who may not want them. So I decided to write them here instead, in hopes that they help a nervous mom out there expecting her 2nd child.
My mom's little sister was born 11 months after she was born. She had a lot of health issues and required a lot of attention. My mom always said she felt kicked out of the crib. So as I was expecting my 2nd child, just a mere 14 months after my first was born, I was filled with worry that my oldest would feel "kicked out of the crib" as well. When I came home from the hospital two days after giving birth to my son, as I tried to give my 14 month old daughter a hug, she pulled away from me. That was the beginning of some major mama guilt I would experience over the next few years.
My daughter was a typical toddler (although I didn't fully realize this until years later). She was active and funny and loved to test her boundaries. She would slap the baby just to see how I would react, which was usually pretty poorly. She would pile toys and blankets on him. She never showed any interest in holding him and so I never offered. I just kept thinking it was my fault that she didn't love her brother. She didn't want a brother so soon. He was stealing me away from her. My guilt grew and grew.
Do you ever see those sweet sibling pictures of the little toddlers holding and hugging their little baby brother or sister? They just melt your heart, right? Well, they just broke mine. I wondered why all these other toddlers loved their siblings so much. I was sure it was because I had them too close in age. I was sure if I had been smarter and spaced them apart better, they would have been best friends. So you can imagine how I felt when I found out I was expecting #3 just 18 months after #2.
I cried. I cried a lot. I cried because I knew how hard it was going to be to have a baby plus TWO toddlers! I cried because my body was tired from being pregnant and/or nursing almost nonstop for over two years. I cried because I felt even more guilty that another of my toddlers was going to be deprived of their mom.
When my third was born, I was going to do things differently. I was going to make sure #2 loved him! The second we got home from the hospital, I forced the baby on my 18 month old toddler. I made him sit and hold him because I was sure this was the way to form a bond. You know what? My 18 month old had no desire to hold his little brother. He had no interest in him whatsoever. Oh no! I did it again! I was convinced I had ruined my second toddler too. That he would hate me forever just as my daughter would for forcing another sibling on them.
One day around when my daughter was four, I realized I had done an excellent job in raising a spoiled little girl. My guilt at forcing her to have two little brothers caused me to give in to her every little demand. And I realized that had to stop. I stopped giving into the screaming. I stopped giving her the first choice on snack or color of plate or tv show or whatever.
My daughter was almost 6 years old when I had my 4th and by then, things had changed. The kids were different. I was different. I had time to grow into the role of mom. I figured out ways to not give into my kids. I learned to control my guilt and not let it control me. I had sweet, happy kids. And I had learned from my mistakes.
First one was to not force the baby on the older siblings. I offered to let each of them hold the baby if they wanted. #1 and #3 happily did so. #2 was not interested. In fact, he didn't even touch his baby brother until he was a couple weeks old. And that was okay. It was just his personality. And it didn't mean he was upset at me for having another baby. He just didn't want to hold him. And I didn't make him.
That was the second lesson I learned, not to read into every little thing my toddler did and assume it was my fault. Because, let's be real, they're toddlers. They're crazy, little, irrational beings. They're not sending me a message. They're not disobeying to teach me a lesson. They're just themselves, unique personality and all. And they honestly had no idea that my having another baby was within my control. They just thought that was how life went. They didn't think anything of it. I wasn't "ruining" them.
My third lesson was that it was never too late to change how I parented. As I would watch Dr. Phil and see the issues moms had with their older children, I was convinced that was my future because I had spoiled my kids for too long. I was wrong. I could change. And my kids did improve. And all my fears that they hated having siblings because it took me away from them melted away as they got older and I realized that I had actually given them the best gift there is: each other. I gave them built-in best friends and playmates. Those times when the 2 year old would cry because the 1 year old had the toy she wanted didn't matter anymore as they scootered around our street later at 8 and 7 years old, or jumped on the trampoline at 13 and 12 years old. That was my fourth lesson, that having another baby may be tough at first, but I'm blessing them with siblings and life-long friends, it just took a few years to see it.
So to all you second time moms (and beyond), my lessons are my advice. Give the toddler time to adapt to the baby. Let go of the guilt. Change your parenting when needed. And remember that they will love having a little sibling to play with some day.
Here are some of my proud sibling pictures that it took almost six years to get!
As World Breastfeeding Week comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about what breastfeeding means to me. With my first 3 kids, I nursed out of the expectation that that’s what moms should do. I didn’t love it or honor that time as well as I should have. I didn’t educate myself about breastfeeding benefits nor challenges. And because of that, I struggled. It wasn’t until my fifth was born that I reached a level of true appreciation for the benefits of breastfeeding, and enjoyed that relationship I had with my daughter immensely. This is what it took me five kids to learn about what breastfeeding means to me:
It means cuddle time. I loved holding my babies close to me. Sometimes they didn’t love it as much as I did but when they latched on to nurse, their body would just melt into my arms. It was so relaxing and comforting, for both of us.
It means take a moment to sit time. I’m very busy. I don’t know any mom who isn’t. I had my first 3 kids in under 3 years and it got significantly harder to nurse with each child because I had older kids running around, vying for my attention. It wasn’t until I had my last baby via cesarean that I realized how important it was for me to take time to just sit and heal and recuperate and feed my baby. Nursing her gave my body the chance to rest and my mind the chance to relax.
It means nourishment time. I love that as I nursed my babies, I knew I was flooding their bodies with healthy vitamins, nutrients, and antibodies. That I was giving them the best start.
It means growth time. I could always tell my babies were growing when my hand couldn’t naturally curl around their bottom while nursing. Or when it required two arms to hold and nurse them while standing. Or when their legs would be dangling over the lap of the person sitting next to me. Bittersweet moments. Love my growing babies, missed my little babies though.
It means bonding time. As my babies nursed, I got the chance to stare into their eyes and absorb all their precious uniqueness, like finding a dimple on a cheek or a freckle on their head. I got to touch their fingers and toes and chubby thighs. I got to know them and their unique personalities as they giggled or twirled my hair or tried to look around at their surroundings.
It means reading time, for me and baby. I never read more with a baby than I did with my 4th. Every time I nursed, I made a point to sit and read. I loved it. It was such special time for me to hold my baby and enjoy one of my favorite hobbies. I also enjoyed reading to my babies too while they nursed, introducing them to my favorite children stories.
It means nap time. Sometimes it was nice just to lay down in bed and fall asleep while nursing. And have the baby fall asleep too. I was able to enjoy this the most with my youngest because my older kids were old enough to be more self-sufficient so I could take those moments in the afternoons to just rest and cuddle my baby.
It means play time. I remember the acrobatics involved in nursing my 1 year olds, as they learned to lean, contort, and stretch their bodies all over the place while still staying attached. They wanted to soak up the world while still staying at the safety of their mother’s breast.
It means happy time. I wish I had gotten this on film: every time I would go to nurse my youngest, she would get so excited, she would smack her lips and make the sign for “milk.” It made me so happy.
It means overcoming challenges time. Was nursing always easy? No. With my last baby, I got clogged ducts at least seven times. And I mean, super clogged ducts to the point that my breasts were rock hard! I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees dangle nursing while crying because it hurt so bad.
It means adjusting my schedule time. I’m a go-go-go kind of mom. I take my kids all over the place and I hate to be late. But having a nursing baby isn’t always conducive to that. After my 4th child, I had a 6 year gap until my 5th and I had gotten out of the routine of having a baby around. I remember one day when the baby was only a week or so old, making plans to hit several errands at one time but forgetting 2 key things: the diaper bag AND time to feed the baby. It was a moment of recognition for me that my schedule had changed. I had a new life who was dependent on me.
It means making memories time. I finished nursing my last baby almost 6 months ago. I miss it but I’m so grateful for the memories I have and the lessons I learned.
“This blog writes itself,” or so my 13 year old daughter claimed it would. Yet as I sat down to start writing, my mind got side-tracked to what we should have for dinner and, “Oh look, I have 7 Facebook notifications.” Hm, maybe writing is harder than I thought.
I’ve always wanted to write though. Even as a little girl I would set pen to paper to create a masterpiece which usually burned out by paragraph 4. So instead, I’ve spent my life enjoying and appreciating others whose talent to write clearly gets them to paragraph 5 and beyond.
Alas, here I am trying to write anyway, 30 years past when I originally started. My daughter is my encouragement and my cheering fan. She thinks I should write a blog because I’m “interesting.” What a compliment to have a teen daughter who thinks I’m interesting.
For so long, my biggest ambition was to be a mom. In my college classes they’d ask what we wanted to be and I always replied, “a mom.” After two years of struggling to realize this dream, we were finally blessed with our first child (that sweet 13 year old I was telling you about). 14 months later came another child. 18 months later, a 3rd child. Woah! I looked heavenward and wondered if all those prayers said during those two long years were being answered a little too quickly. With three kids under three years old, my whole life revolved around them. Sure, I made time to scrapbook here and there. I even started exercising, but I still focused on the kids. Which was my one singular ambition, right? I should have been over the moon, right? Well, yes and no. I started to realize that motherhood wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be (kinda like writing, except I couldn’t just stop after paragraph 4). I was beginning the most beautiful masterpiece ever, but it felt like sheer drudgery.
I remember a friend saying raising kids was like making a necklace one bead at a time. I responded, “Yes, but what if in 18 years I look back and realize I made an ugly necklace?” [Sidenote: I’ve been “necklace-making” for thirteen years and so far, they’re pretty spectacularly beautiful necklaces!]
Fast forward three years to baby #4. My life was complete. I had the four kids I always wanted. I focused on them but I also began to daydream about what I would do when the day came that my youngest went to school. I could volunteer at the hospital (holding preemies would be so amazing), I could go back to school for my Masters, I could become a Spanish translator, I could read a whole lot more.
But all those daydreams got filed away under the “not gonna happen for FOREVER” category so when the year before my youngest went to school, I panicked, worrying that I wasn’t going to remember what I wanted to do and I was going to waste my life away.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
The most unexpected answer of what I was going to do came in the form of two of my children asking to be home schooled.
What? Home school? I always liked the idea but was sure it wasn’t for me. Plus, remember all those daydreams I had left to be fulfilled?!
Little did I know what an adventure was in store for me. Through home school, I’ve grown closer to my kids than I ever was before. I’ve rekindled my own desire to learn. I’ve watched my youngest blossom into an amazing reader. We’ve made costumes, and constellation night lights, and counted pumpkin seeds, and incubated chick eggs, and the list goes on. It’s been amazing.
And it’s opened my eyes to new ways to think and be and do. I started yoga and finally found my exercise niche. I lived, ate, and breathed home school and yoga. My life was complete, right?
One Christmas day after my youngest turned 5, I decided I wanted another adventure: another baby. How hard could it be? I already had all the kids at home anyway, what’s another?
I had all these dreams for how I wanted the birth to go and didn’t get to achieve a single one. She was breech and my choices were to deliver her at home unattended or have a c-section. I reluctantly and bitterly chose option #2. It’s 18 months later and I’m still not over it.
Giving birth to my first four kids was such an amazing experience, each one for different reasons. To tap into the divine and transform from one body to two is awe-inspiring. To guide a baby into this new world and hold and love him is a gift. Each of my births made me itch to be involved in the birthing world but how could I while homeschooling? So for a while I filed that under the “not gonna happen for FOREVER” category too.
This past winter, I started watching “Call the Midwife” and every episode I would nudge my husband and say, “That, I want to do that; be there, helping women give birth.” I knew I didn’t want to be a midwife though and that’s when I discovered doulas.
Doula comes from the Greek word for “a woman who serves.” A doula serves the parents-to-be by providing continuous emotional, and physical support before, during, and after labor. This was perfect for me. I could help women recognize the goddess in them as they transformed from woman to mother.
And I could do it now! I didn’t have to file it under the “not gonna happen” category. My husband has flexible hours. My oldest can babysit when needed. The kids can do independent school work while I’m gone. It’s perfect!
As a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me, I decided to add other interests as well. I began to sell Norwex and Jamberry. I got into essential oils and started learning how to make my own homemade natural beauty products. It was all amazing and empowering.
I went from a young woman in college only wanting to be a mom to this (slightly) older woman who became a mom and so much more. I found myself. I found I have hobbies and interests and desires I never knew existed. I found out I was pretty interesting. And my daughter agrees.
Oh look, I also found out I can write past paragraph 4!
Birth Boot Camp Certified Doula (BBCD)