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parenting

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More Baby Prep & Meal Freezing

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Last week was a bit of a debacle because I was without a phone for a brief stint (I dropped it one too many times and went from I'll Just Continue Using My Phone Despite This Giant Crack in the Screen to I Can Literally No Longer Operate My Phone and Must Get it Fixed ASAP within seconds). No phone meant no pictures, which means a delicious vegetarian lasagna was constructed from scratch but there is no photographic evidence to share on the blog. Just know that after our baby arrives, the lasagna waiting for us in our freezer is a cheesy masterpiece stuffed with homemade seitan, mashed sweet potatoes and spinach. Also as you can see in this post, I did have my phone around when I was making a vegetable barley soup. All is not lost.

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For this vegetable barley soup recipe, I turned to The Vegan Pregnancy Cookbook. This book was instrumental to me, especially early in my pregnancy. As I've mentioned before, I couldn't even THINK about dairy or eggs without getting sick during my first trimester. I became a default vegan until I could stomach the ingredients again. My egg and dairy consumption remains significantly less than what it used to be, but I'm now back to eating non-vegan ingredients at least a few times a week. During early pregnancy, though: no way. This book was a godsend.

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Tomorrow I will be 37 weeks pregnant. I can reasonably expect to give birth in 1-5 weeks. Making it this far into pregnancy is surreal because here I am, uncomfortable and cumbersome, foreign in my own body, the most unlike myself I've ever been. On the other side of all of this a tiny person will greet me and become my own. I'm so excited about motherhood because I feel like in some ways it's the most "me" I'll ever be. The love I have for this baby is ready to pour out of me. In the meantime, I sit here uncomfortably waiting.

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Today I read an article about the idea of becoming a mom without becoming a mommy, i.e. entering motherhood without losing a sense of self-identity. In some ways pregnancy feels like a losing of oneself, which I assumed would translate mainly to my body. I've found it's seeped into other facets of my life, too. I've lost interest and drive in certain areas, though I'm not convinced that this is entirely bad. As a writer I've always had a scrappiness that's allowed me to devote myself to projects even when they didn't fully hold my interest. In pregnancy I feel too tired for all of that. I'm too tired to sell myself to editors or to try and write in a way that matches the vision of a company that's not my own. I don't feel like spending my hours doing work I don't love right now. That's a gross and privileged thing to say — let me own that upfront. It's also a true thing to say. Pregnancy is a weird process that brings up a lot of pure and crystalized feelings. I'm too tired for the rest. Am I really losing myself or am I becoming more myself than ever? 

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I love the idea of becoming a mom and not a mommy, of loving and nurturing a human without denying the interests that drove me long before baby came along. I think in particular for women who plan to stay home, the danger of immersive baby and kid culture is real. One minute you're a writer, runner, cupcake baker and book lover. The next you're a mom and housewife whose daily schedule revolves around a tiny human. I'm not saying I'm not excited to care for this tiny human — I am, more than I can even express. I'm saying there's a lot of pressure these days to become a certain kind of mom — the one who packs lunches that look like pieces of art and volunteers to coach all the activities and makes homemade costumes for playtime and hosts weekly playdates that include laboriously prepared appetizers and drinks for the other moms and joins all the Mommy & Me groups and goes from activity to activity and stays up all night gluing pieces from Pinterest-inspired art projects and dresses her kid like a mini fashionista and documents every moment on social media, all while keeping up with the housework and making nutritious yet delicious dinners (and breakfasts, lunches, and snacks) every day. If I become that kind of mother, when will I ever write another book? When will I go for a run? When will I spend time with my husband? When will I sit down with my child and just read and cuddle and be there and not worry about going somewhere or doing the next thing on the list?

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By mentioning any of this, I've already entered the dangerous territory of coming off like I'm judging other mothers. There is nothing wrong with Pinterest-inspired craft projects. There is nothing wrong with volunteering to lead your child's activities. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make your kid's sandwich look like a frog or pirate or ladybug and there's nothing wrong with keeping a clean house. Where things get tricky, I think, is when that pressure seeps in to try and do ALL THE MOM THINGS to the detriment of some or all of the Woman In the World things/ friend things/ spouse things/ independent person things. 

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Do I plan on being ridiculously devoted to my child? Am I ready to give away my time and space and energy and love in a way I never have before? Absolutely. I'll be the first to say it: this little person is going to be my world. I will do anything and everything I can to keep this person safe and happy. But I also want to write another book. I want to return to running. I want to read and bake cupcakes and spend time with my husband, family, and friends. I don't want to feel like a housewife (I frankly already feel like a housewife. It's impossible to work from home and not devote a big chunk of time each day to housework. It's there, in front of you, always.) I don't want to feel like MORE of a housewife. I want to feel like a person who has some semblance of balance despite the level of devotion required for this motherhood position. 

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I think that everything I'm saying is important for me, but I think it's important for my child, too. I want my kid to look at me as a complete person. I remember all the Mom and Dad moments from my childhood, but I also remember my mom as a potter and self-employed businesswoman. I remember my dad as a newspaper editor and tennis player. I remember our shared love of Mexican food and family bike rides, of road trips to Colorado and time spent outdoors. My mom made me a lot of clothes and Halloween costumes, but she had both the skill and desire to do so. My dad made a lot of elaborate meals, but he had both the skill and desire to do so. I do not feel that either of them lost themselves to parenting and although I've never asked, I hope they don't feel that way either. (Perhaps if I did ask, I'd learn a few things. Maybe someone wishes all those Saturday afternoons on soccer sidelines were spent in a yoga class instead. Maybe someone wishes another caregiver had been in rotation to give respite from the endless afternoons with us running around. I don't know, although I'm now curious and will make a point of asking soon.) Maybe it's impossible not to lose yourself just a little in the act of parenting, or maybe I'm blowing the entire thing out of proportion. I won't know until I get there.

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I'm going to have a baby soon and I cannot wait. I'm also going to keep writing, though not necessarily for other people. I'm already giving so much of myself to this one person — maybe I'll try and retain a little bit of my writing identity and make something of it in my own way. Financials are always scary but giving myself away to something I don't truly believe in is scarier. I'm going to believe in my own abilities. I'm going to believe in the relationship this sweet baby and I are about to form. I'm going to believe in our ability to navigate and figure out this new world together. I'm going to believe that I'll find my place again while remaining at home with a child. I'm going to believe that all-consuming "mommyhood" and devoted motherhood are not one at the same, and that I can be good at one without losing myself to the other. 

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Prepping For Baby: Freezing Vegan Mac 'n Cheese

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Today I am 35 weeks pregnant. This means I can reasonably expect to no longer be pregnant and have a baby in my arms within 3-7 weeks. Three to seven weeks! It's crunch time. 

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Luckily, I'm feeling more prepared than ever. This is thanks in huge part to the shower my mom and sister threw for me this weekend. We had such a lovely weekend — my parents-in-law flew in from California, my sister and her family came in from Phoenix, and a sweet group of friends gathered at my parents' house. I like the term "shower" because I truly felt like I was being showered with love and generosity. Our baby is starting life with so many nice things thanks to the incredible people we know. 

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This week I decided to prep and freeze a big batch of vegan macaroni and cheese from the cookbook Hearty Vegan Meals For Monster Appetites. A monster appetite is exactly what I'm expecting to have when I start breastfeeding. 

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Symptoms I've been experiencing a lot lately: back pain, overheating, breathlessness. I still wake up every morning with Mike because I like the ritual of sitting down to eat breakfast with him before he leaves for work, but I often go back to bed for a few hours once he's gone in an attempt to quell some of the fatigue that's clung to me throughout pregnancy. 

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As my body grows, I feel increasingly vulnerable each time I step outside my front door. Vulnerable is a word I've frequently used to describe my pregnancy. My belly has become a magnet. People openly comment on it and stare at it. I'm carrying the thing I'm most protective of on the front of my body and I don't trust people not to crash into me or invade my space. I want to walk around with a bubble surrounding me at all times. I imagine this instinct will only grow once there's a baby in the flesh. I rarely thought twice about walking down a street alone before I was pregnant. Now this precious thing I'm carrying is prominent and visible. My physical abilities have slowed. My defenses are up. Walking through the aisles of a store feels like a battle.

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The bigger and rounder my belly gets, the more I like my pregnant body. I don't know how I'll feel after birth, but in my pregnancy I've noticed that the desire or pressure to look a certain way has decreased dramatically. I do not feel weird about the weight I've gained. I do not care that I don't wear makeup or style my hair most days. I do not care that there are only a limited number of outfits in my closet that work for me at this point in my pregnancy. There are people who find the physical changes of pregnancy incredibly stressful and I thought I might be one of them, but I'm just not. I'm tired. I'm excited. I'm hopeful. I love thinking about the future life of my little one. I love taking naps and eating good food and taking care of myself during pregnancy, which I know translates to taking care of the baby, too. I see my big belly and I don't know how to be anything but amazed. A little person is living inside that belly. If my thighs and butt have grown bigger in the process of pregnancy, so be it. I can't find the energy to begin to care. 

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I know I say this often, but I'll repeat it once more: having a pregnancy that coincides with a presidential election is stressful. I'm making a big effort to take care of myself and stay calm and keep my energy level positive because I think my baby is absorbing all of it. With so much negativity and toxicity surrounding the election in general and a certain candidate in particular, it can be difficult to not get pulled down with frustration and unease. I'm hopeful about the outcome of all of this and hopeful that I'll bring my baby into a more positive world, but in the meantime there's a lot of negativity and grossness that I'm trying to be informed about while absorbing as little as possible. I know a lot of the frustration and fear has crept in despite my best efforts, and I just hope my baby isn't picking up on too much of it. 

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We missed this week's birth class because we attended a wedding on Sunday and I'll be honest: there's a little less stress in our lives this week. It's not that they don't do their best to comfort and reassure us in the class. It's just that despite the comfort and reassurance, the fact remains that this body and mind of mine will be giving birth to a child soon and I can't really think of anything more vulnerable. There's that word again: Vulnerable. 

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The tofu in this recipe contributes to the creamy texture. This recipe may seem complicated, but from start to finish I don't think it took any more than 30 minutes to prepare.

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For several months now, I've more or less been waking up every hour to pee. It's an annoyance I'm grateful for, since I know it is training me for all those times I'll be waking up with my baby. Having our first child is such a strange experience because I can imagine all the things that are about to happen, but until the baby's actually here it's just a faraway vision.

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Is there anything more comforting than a creamy pasta dish? 

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Last night I went to a reading at Powell's with a small group of my friends. The reading was great but oh man: I was so hot and breathless. I don't know how much longer I can keep up normal activities as I delve further into the depths of a third trimester pregnancy. It may seem simple to sit in a chair for an hour, but when the pool of sweat and feeling of "Am I about to pass out?" hits, the idea of being propped up on pillows on my couch at home grows more enticing. 

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Creamy goodness!

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It feels like there is still a lot to accomplish before our baby arrives, but nothing at this point seems insurmountable. Thanks to an incredible support network of family and friends, we went from having NOTHING to an entire house filled with baby things. What does one even do with that much love? 

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I don't know exactly when this baby will arrive, but regardless of the exact date this is for sure our Thanksgiving baby. I've never been more thankful for anything in my life. For all my fears and worries, I'm mostly excited to meet the person I've been carrying inside me all these months. I know this person will become an individual entity completely separate from me, but right now the connection between us in undeniable. We are inhabiting the same skin. The baby is me is the baby, for now. 

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We're getting ready for you, Little Cupcake. We hope you like our home and our family. We hope you like the smell of a pasta casserole baking and the feeling of our arms wrapped around you. We absolutely cannot wait to meet you. 

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This world is kind of a crazy place, but there's so much love waiting for you when you get here. 

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Super Brain

Baby Brain? Nope. Super Brain!

Baby Brain? Nope. Super Brain!

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I'm a huge fan of the One Bad Mother podcast. Hosts Theresa and Biz are big advocates of taking the judgment out of parenting and instead trying to be supportive of each other. They always make a point of saying "You're doing a great job" to each other and encourage their listeners to extend that message to other parents. When you see a mom dealing with a child's temper tantrum at Target, for example, tell her she's doing a great job. Parenting — and life in general — is difficult enough without dealing with the judgments of the so-called "mommy wars." When we're kind and patient and supportive with each other, things work out better for everyone. 

In an early episode (it was episode 14 if you're interested) of the podcast, Biz and Theresa talk with author Anne Kreamer about what happens to the brain after pregnancy. They discuss how they don't really like any of the terms commonly used to describe the brain shifts that take place with a baby on board. They don't like Mommy Brain, Pregnancy Brain or Baby Brain, all of which have a derogatory edge. They decide to come up with a new way to describe the hormonal, emotional, and chemical shifts. The term they come up with has a much nicer ring: Super Brain. 

"Pregnancy and childbirth actually cause your brain to shrink in size," Kreamer says on the show before noting that it can take up to six months after birth for the brain to go back to its original size.

Theresa points out how absurd it is that "as you're gaining responsibilities and adding more things to your life that you need to be responsible for and take care of and understand, your brain is actually shrinking."

Kreamer goes on to explain that from an evolutionary standpoint, it was never meant to be a mother's role to deal with the demands of a job after childbirth; it was her role to deal with the demands of her child. A child's survival depended on the mother's ability to care for him or her. In our modern world, or course, there is the expectation of parents to return to work as quickly as possible after childbirth and to juggle the roles of the job along with the responsibility of raising a child. 

"It's like going back to work with both hands and your legs tied behind your back," says Kreamer.

The biological responses of parenting are not limited to mothers. Kreamer points out that in men, there is a spike in the nurturing hormone prolactin and a plummet in testosterone. Add in the effects of sleep deprivation (mothers lose an average equivalent of four months of work in lost hours of sleep when they are nursing, Kreamer says) and the result is this: "If 4 million babies on average are born in the States every year, that means that there are 8 million parents at any time in the workplace completely emotionally gaga."

Parenthood changes the brain biologically. These changes start taking place during pregnancy. It's become a big cultural joke to make fun of the way women have a tendency to get emotional or spacey or foggy during pregnancy, but I've found that it's less hilarious when actually living through it. It is a fact that I am not thinking as clearly as a pregnant woman as I did before I was pregnant. One of the very first things I did early in my pregnancy was accidentally shred a check that was sent to me. Since them I've had a series of follies ranging from misplacing my keys to not being able to remember why I walked into a room to straight-up being unable to focus on some of the tasks I used to perform well. Every day when my husband gets home from work, our kitchen is half cleaned. It's like the part of my brain that remembers to finish cleaning the kitchen once I start has just shut down. My whole life has become a series of half-finished errands and projects. I get myself to the store, but then I forget why I'm there. I sit down at my computer to write, but then my brain goes blank. 

One theory I have about this is that parenthood in general and first-time parenthood in particular is so overwhelming that there's absolutely no way I could prepare for it if I was still as focused on all these other aspects of my life. This is the time when we need to be making decisions about the things we need for our baby, the life we'll provide for our baby, the way we'll set up our baby's room, and more. As hard as I try to focus my attention elsewhere (and I realize I'm overstating everything here and of course I have been able to write essays and blog posts and perform tasks and it's not as if my brain has completely stopped working), my focus just isn't there right now.  It is more difficult than ever to pay attention to the topics being discussed at social events or the events going on in the world. 

My brain is being used for such a super-sized task that I agree the only correct way to refer to it right now is Super Brain. I have a Super Brain because, in spite of how distracted and crazy I sometimes feel, I'm still getting some things done. And though the responsibilities we're facing now are nothing compared to what we'll face in a few months, it's true that we are taking on a lot right now. Getting prepared to have a baby has to be one of the most emotionally (not to mention financially) overwhelming things a person can do. We are incredibly excited but we are also like: Whoa. This is a lot.  

I'm giving myself some credit because it IS a lot. The financial cost is a LOT, as any parent can attest. The emotional cost is a lot. We're going to have a whole new person living with us — not just any person, but someone who we want to have the BEST life possible. This baby is going to be our family for the rest of our lives. That is huge. That is monumental. If I get a little overwhelmed thinking about it to the point where I forget about some of my other life responsibilities, I think it's okay. I think it will all balance out somehow.

Whatever you do, don't ask if I have Mommy Brain or Pregnancy Brain or Baby Brian. I have Super Brain, plain and simple. (On an unrelated but possibly slightly related note, I also have a bum knee every since last week's fall. Between my shrinking brain and swollen knee, I'm doing all right for myself.)

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