Stress of Parenthood: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. I asked for help and my tribe answered my call, so for a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post is from Nancy Massotto, the founder and executive director of the Holistic Moms Network.

Stress of Parenthood

You startle awake in the middle of a deep sleep. Your heart pounds. You listen closely. You hear motion, coughing, maybe a cry for help. Or nothing at all, but your body is on alert. Perhaps you listen for your teen arriving home safely. Your mind races. Anxiety attack? Insomnia? No, just another night of parenthood. Yes, parenthood. Ever notice how parenting can put your body into a state of stress or crisis? Perhaps the noise volume in your home leads to a tension headache. Sleepless nights provoke adrenal overdrive. A tantrum-prone two year old leads to seriously frayed nerves.

Being a parent is no easy job. In fact, having a baby has been ranked as high as sixth out of 102 stressful life events (Dohrenwend et al. 1978). And it can make you feel like you’re in state of crisis. It can provoke a physiological stress response that throws your body out of equilibrium, physically and emotionally. Chronic parenthood stress differs from acute traumatic stress from sudden disasters, accidents, or crimes but impacts the body in powerful ways nonetheless.

As Melanie Merola O’Donnell of the National Organization for Victim Assistance explains, “Chronic stress is one that occurs over and over again – each time pushing the individual toward the edge of his or her state of equilibrium, or beyond.” Scientists have long believed that when your body experiences stress, you react with a “Flight-or-Flight” response designed to mobilize your body into actions. During this time, your adrenalin pumps, your physical senses become more acute, your heart rate increases, and your breathing patterns may change. If this stress is prolonged, exhaustion and burnout are inevitable.

Interestingly, though, newer research shows that men and women tend to experience stress responses differently. The classic “Flight-or-Fight” response appears to be prevalent among men, while women react to stress with what researcher Shelly Taylor et.al. of UCLA describes as a “tend-and-befriend” response. As Taylor states, “Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process.” As such, women gravitate towards social support, characterized by tending to young children and allying with those around them to increase their likelihood of survival and success in stressful situations.

The benefits of social support are huge, both for those experiencing acute, ongoing stress and those in traumatic crises. Having a strong social support network can help you through the difficult times, as well as strengthening your day-to-day coping mechanisms that empower you to manage routine challenges. In addition to building emotional support, love, trust, and understanding, social support groups embrace communication and create a space where people can share experiences and ideas on a personal level and can begin to integrate them. Social support networks, like the Holistic Moms Network, can offer emotional, informational, and instrumental support, and can open up an opportunity for reassurance and to make awareness raising more sustainable – ideas are reinforced and validated. Participation in social support is – in and of itself – also linked to lower rates of depression and psychological distress.

Social connection, both formally and informally, can create physiological well-being and enhance our quality of life. The more diverse one’s social networks, the greater the benefits. Social support can range from an impromptu coffee break with a friend to a formal meeting of a social group or hobby club that you participate in. Connecting on many levels, with friends, co-workers, family members, and individuals who share a specific cause or passion, increases your well-being and reduces stress. Making such connections a priority will help stave off long-term chronic stress exhaustion and help you to regain your equilibrium.

Our guest post today is by Nancy Massotto, the Founder and Executive Director of the Holistic Moms Network, and mother to two boys. She holds three graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in political science, specializing in gender studies and feminist theory.  Before founding the Holistic Moms Network, Dr. Massotto spent several years working for non-profit research institutes, including the Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI) and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), while residing in the Washington, D.C. area.  She is passionate about empowering women, supporting mothers, and raising her two sons as naturally and sustainably as she can.

Photo credit: Flickr English106

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The Last Time I Breastfed: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. I asked for help and my tribe answered my call, so for a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post comes from Amber who blogs at Strocel.com.

The Last Time I Breastfed

Every morning, now, I look at the calendar and take note of the date. Because every day could be the last day I ever breastfeed my son Jacob. And maybe the last day that I ever breastfeed for the rest of my life. My second-born is weaning, and while I have pangs, there aren’t any more babies on the horizon for me right now.

I breastfed Jacob’s big sister, Hannah, until she was almost three years old. A whole lot of factors led to her weaning, including my desire to conceive again (I wasn’t having much luck), my increasing physical discomfort as my milk supply dwindled, and my belief that Hannah was ready to move on. I took a fairly active role in the process, which happened over a number of months.

I still remember the last time that I nursed Hannah. It was December 22, 2007. Some part of me likes that I know that date, and remember the occasion. Breastfeeding played a big part in my relationship with my daughter in her early years, and it feels fitting that I marked its conclusion, as well as its beginning. I want to do the same thing with my son. I don’t want breastfeeding to pass away without notice, even though that’s exactly what seems to be happening.

Having a snack at the midwives picnic
Breastfeeding my daughter Hannah at a picnic

Jacob is 31 months old, right now – three full months younger than Hannah was the last time that she breastfed. I didn’t expect I would be here so soon with my son, to be honest. Most of my friends and acquaintances nursed their second babies as long or longer than their first. I’m not trying to get pregnant right now, and I have less angst in general over the state of my breastfeeding relationship with Jacob. I thought I would nurse him until his third birthday, at least.

But Jacob, as it turns out, is a different person altogether than Hannah. He’s gradually decreased his nursing all on his own. When he asks to nurse and it’s not a good time, he’s much faster to accept an alternative like a drink of water or a cuddle. There are no tears when I decline his request, no existential anguish bubbling to the surface. He’s a pretty easygoing kid, and he’s moving on to the next phase of his life without a lot of fuss.

I’ve breastfed for the past 6 years, with a break of a little under eight months during my second pregnancy. As I contemplate the potential conclusion of my nursing career, I feel a little wistful. Can it really be possible that I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding? That I am no longer the mother of a nursling? Is this the last gasp of babyhood leaving my family? I’m not sure I’m ready to close this chapter in my life.

Jacob nursing
Nursing Jacob as a baby

And yet, when I consider Jacob’s imminent weaning, I don’t feel sad. I feel remarkably content. For him and for me, this feels like a fitting end to our breastfeeding relationship. We’re both moving towards it in our own way, and at our own pace. He’s ready, and I’m ready. I’m ready to have my body entirely to myself for the first time since I conceived my daughter almost seven years ago. I’m confident that I have given my son the best start I could, and that he has gotten what he needed out of breastfeeding. I don’t feel a need to encourage him back to the breast or prolong our time as a nursing pair.

And so, again today, I looked at the calendar. He nursed once, and I tried to remember the details. Where were we? What was it like? Will this be the last time? I memorize as much as I can, in case Jacob doesn’t breastfeed tomorrow, or the next day, or ever again. If this is the last time, I don’t want to forget it.

I’d love to hear about your own weaning experience. What was it like for you? Do you remember the last time you nursed, or not? Were you happy with how things ended? Please share!

Amber is a crunchy granola mama who lives in suburban Vancouver with her husband and two children. She blogs at Strocel.com, and she runs an online course for moms about living with intention and passion at Crafting my Life.

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Mom follows her instincts, revives ‘dead’ preemie with Kangaroo Care

After Australian mom Kate Ogg gave birth to premature twins at 27 weeks gestation, her doctor gave her the news no mother wants to hear. One of the twins – a boy – didn’t make it, but that’s just the beginning of this heartwarming story. The doctor – who struggled for 20 minutes to save the infant before declaring him dead – gave the 2-pound lifeless baby to Kate and her husband David to say their goodbyes. Kate instinctively placed her naked newborn son, named Jamie, on her bare chest.

As the grieving parents embraced and talked to Jamie for two hours, he began gasping for air. At first the doctors dismissed it as a reflex. However, the gasps continued more frequently and he began showing other signs of life. Kate gave Jamie some breastmilk on her finger. Amazingly, he took it and began to breathe normally. Kate recalled, “A short time later he opened his eyes. It was a miracle. Then he held out his hand and grabbed my finger. He opened his eyes and moved his head from side to side. The doctor kept shaking his head saying, ‘I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it.'”

The technique which Kate Ogg used to revive her baby – placing the infant skin-to-skin with the mother or father – is known as Kangaroo Care or Kangaroo Mother Care, a practice endorsed by the World Health Organization for use with premature infants. Pre-term and low birth-weight babies treated with the skin-to-skin method have been shown to have lower infection rates, less severe illness, improved sleep patterns and are at reduced risk of hypothermia.

The March of Dimes has a section on their web site called Parenting in the NICU: Holding Your Baby Close: Kangaroo Care, which describes the benefits of the practice.

Kangaroo care is the practice of holding your diapered baby on your bare chest (if you’re the father) or between your breasts (if you’re the mother), with a blanket draped over your baby’s back. This skin-to-skin contact benefits both you and your baby.

Kangaroo care can help your baby:

  • Maintain his body warmth
  • Regulate his heart and breathing rates
  • Gain weight
  • Spend more time in deep sleep
  • Spend more time being quiet and alert and less time crying
  • Have a better chance of successful breastfeeding (kangaroo care can improve the mother’s breastmilk production)

Dr. Jack Newman believes Kangaroo care benefits all babies and believes the “vast majority of babies” should have skin-to-skin contact with the mother “immediately after birth for at least an hour. Hospital routines, such as weighing the baby, should not take precedence.” In his article The Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact, Dr. Newman states:

There are now a multitude of studies that show that mothers and babies should be together, skin to skin (baby naked, not wrapped in a blanket) immediately after birth, as well as later. The baby is happier, the baby’s temperature is more stable and more normal, the baby’s heart and breathing rates are more stable and more normal, and the baby’s blood sugar is more elevated. Not only that, skin to skin contact immediately after birth allows the baby to be colonized by the same bacteria as the mother. This, plus breastfeeding, are thought to be important in the prevention of allergic diseases. When a baby is put into an incubator, his skin and gut are often colonized by bacteria different from his mother’s.

On About.com, Pamela Prindle Fierro shared that her doctor prescribed Kangaroo care for one of her twins born at 36 weeks when the infant was having trouble regulating her body temperature. She mentions that, “Doctors seem a little bit leery of confirming that kangaroo care is a miraculous cure, but the [Jamie Ogg] story is bringing attention to the practice of kangaroo care. It’s one of those rare medical treatments that has no drawbacks or side-effects and is actually pleasurable.”

On the Informed Parenting blog, Danielle Arnold-McKenny said, “The mind boggles when you read stories like this. A mother instinctively caring for her baby by keeping him skin to skin, even when all hope is lost… and a baby responding to his mothers warmth and touch and voice.”

Danielle mentions that she’s read several stories over the years like this one and linked to a similar story from December 2007, Parents ‘Last Good Bye’ Saved Their Baby’s LifeCarolyn Isbister was given her tiny 20 oz. dying baby to say good-bye. Carolyn instinctively put her baby girl to her chest to warm her up and again, using the Kangaroo Care method, ended up saving her life. “I’m just so glad I trusted my instinct and picked her up when I did. Otherwise she wouldn’t be here today.”

David Ogg said something very similar of his wife Kate’s response to baby Jamie. “Luckily I’ve got a very strong, very smart wife. She instinctively did what she did. If she hadn’t done that, Jamie probably wouldn’t be here.”

Little Jamie and his twin sister Emily are 5 months old now and doing well.

Related Links:

Photo by [lauren nelson] via Flickr.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

Edited to add: After posting this, I learned that the Oggs, with babies Jamie and Emily in tow, were on the TODAY show this morning telling their story. I chose not to post about it here, but Kate and David spoke on the TODAY show about the trouble they had getting the doctor to come back and check on Jamie after they were fairly sure he was not dead or dying. They eventually had to lie to get the doctor to return. You can read or hear more about that on the TODAY article and video.

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No Zoo For You: Confession of an Anxious Mommy

Last week when I picked up my 3.5 year old son Julian from preschool, his teacher Miss G mentioned that she’d like to take the four children in the program on a field trip to the zoo or children’s museum the following week to celebrate the last day of school. I was immediately taken aback. My baby riding in a car on the expressway to a destination nearly an hour away with someone other than my husband or me? My heart skipped a beat.

I tried to play it cool because logically I knew that Julian would probably be just fine. Also it’s not like I don’t trust this teacher. She was Ava’s preschool teacher since Ava was three and became Julian’s teacher this year as well. She’s an amazing person and I have no doubt that she would take great care to protect my child on the field trip. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this just didn’t feel right. (It didn’t help that I’d recently watched a 7 minute video of horrific car wrecks that someone posted on Facebook. Why do I do this to myself?)

I emailed a friend who also has children at the preschool to see how she felt about it (and confirm whether or not I was an overreacting freak). She said she’d let the teacher take her kids on other outings before and she was OK with it. But she said she understood how I felt and encouraged me to tell Miss G if I was uncomfortable with it.

I thought about it some more and figured I’d just muscle through it. “Julian would be fine,” I kept telling myself. “I completely trust Miss G with him.”

I saw Miss G at the May Pole Celebration this Sunday and we were talking more about the impending field trip. I must have seemed a bit reluctant because she suddenly said, “I’m sorry, I should have asked you if you were OK with this. Are you?” I confessed. I told her I wanted to be OK with it, but the truth was that I wasn’t completely OK. She offered to let me go along with them, but due to prior commitments that day, I just couldn’t do it. I told her I would be OK and that the field trip was fine. Apparently I lied.

The next day my anxiety disorder – that has been for the most part under control for almost a year – kicked into high gear. My throat felt tight, like it was closing up. It’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with, as it was one of my many anxiety systems when I was in the thick of the illness. I knew better than to get freaked out about it, even though it’s a very unpleasant feeling, and instead tried to figure out what could be causing it. Surprisingly, the field trip was not the first thing that came to mind. As you may know, we are in the process of selling our house and buying a new one – both of which are causing my stress level to be higher than normal. So I figured it was the house stuff getting to me even though nothing in particular had happened in the last few days.

I tried not to dwell on the anxiety, but the field trip must have been in the back of my mind because out of the blue I decided to ask Twitter (my favorite sounding board) at what age they let their child ride with another person (outside of family) for the first time and if they were nervous about it. I got a lot of feedback. Most responded that it was very hard the first time. Others said they hadn’t let their child ride with another person yet. Others said they do it and it’s fine.

It made me realize that even when my 5 year old was scheduled to go on a field trip with her kindergarten class (also to a destination nearly an hour away), my husband and I were OK with her going, but he was going to chaperone, thus ride on the bus with her and the class and be there for the whole trip. She ended up coming down with the flu and didn’t go anyway, but it made me think, “If I’m not OK with my 5-year-old going on a trip an hour away from me without one of her parents, why would I be OK with my 3-year-old doing it?”

I decided to talk it over with Jody Monday evening and we came to the conclusion that it was totally OK for us to NOT be OK with Julian going on a field trip an hour away when he’s 3 years old. If it doesn’t feel right and is giving me severe anxiety, then it’s not worth it, even if it does make me *that* overprotective parent.

I emailed Miss G and explained how I felt and even filled her in a bit on my anxiety disorder. I apologized for ruining the field trip, but said that I hoped they could still go somewhere nearby to celebrate the last day. She graciously responded and said they could walk to the nearby park instead and that she’d do the zoo trip the following day (on a day Julian doesn’t go to school). I was relieved.

I know there will come a day when I have to let my kids go, but for now I’m OK with the fact that this wasn’t the right time. I’m actively working on my issues again (I found a new therapist) and in time I will be able to continue to work through some of my fears. If right now my mental well-being is more important than a field trip to the zoo, so be it. I have to trust myself and do what works for me and my family. I am thankful I’m now at a point in my life where I can recognize where my fears are coming from and address them. I will get there, eventually.

–Progress, not perfection. —

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Why I’m trying to let go of the mommy guilt & focus on myself & my marriage

Tomorrow I am dropping off my son Julian at his first day of preschool. He’s not even 3 yet – he’ll be 2 until the end of November. Sigh.

Although my heart wants to home school or unschool Ava, I’m not giving in and instead am leaving her in public school for kindergarten (in a class of 25 kids) this year. Sigh.

Why am I doing these things and going against my heart instead of following it? Because my head tells me they are the right things to do – for now.

I’ve spent the past five-plus years of my life pouring myself into my kids. They have been my world. Although intellectually I knew having balance in my life was important, I always seemed to neglect the idea. Instead of taking care myself or my marriage (things that would have required a good deal of effort), I distracted myself with my children. That’s not to say I regret putting my kids first because I don’t, but I wish that I would’ve found a way to make myself and my marriage a priority during this time too. My mental health has suffered. My marriage has suffered.

Many of you know I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder earlier this year. I’ve been going to individual therapy for months, as well as on a low dose of Zoloft. My husband Jody and I have also been going to couple’s therapy off and on for a few months. We both have a lot of work to do, and while I’ve doubted in the past whether or not we can make it, I’m feeling more confident that we can. It’s not going to be easy, but the things worth fighting for never are.

All of this to say that I’ve decided, after talking to my psychiatrist and doing some serious soul searching, that it’s time for me to stop focusing only on my children and time for me to focus on myself too. That means Ava will stay in public school this year and Julian will attend preschool (the same Waldorf home-based preschool Ava attended) one day a week. It will give me a little time to myself. I know the temptation to catch up on housework or waste the day away sitting on the computer will be great, but I hope to use some of that time every Wednesday to nurture myself (as well as volunteer in Ava’s classroom for two hours every other week – see, I can’t give up focusing on my kids that easily).

While this might not be exactly what I wanted or envisioned, it is what I believe will work best for us – for now. I will try to put my mommy guilt aside and focus instead on getting myself healthy and my marriage to a better place – both of which will benefit myself AND my children in the long run.

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Trusting my parenting instincts

Welcome to the October Carnival of Breastfeeding hosted by The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. This month’s theme is a little different than past carnivals, in that this month we all wrote “This I believe” essays on topics related to breastfeeding and parenting. Please visit the participating bloggers listed at the bottom of this post.

Trusting my parenting instincts

I believe in attachment parenting or – a name that I like even better – parenting by instinct.

I believe in breastfeeding my children for the countless health benefits as well as the emotional benefits to both me and them. I also believe that children know when they are ready to wean from the breast and I’m doing my best to allow that to happen for us. There are times I’ve given a gentle push in the weaning direction (with Ava, not at all with Julian yet), but I’m hoping I can allow my children to give it up completely when they feel they are ready.

I believe that co-sleeping with my kids and nighttime parenting helps strengthen the bond between my husband Jody, myself and our kids.

I believe in wearing my babies or holding them in arms. I believe that the closeness and security stimulates them far more than being left lying alone does.

I believe in responding to my baby’s cries. I believe that babies cry because they have a need that is not being met – either they are hungry, uncomfortable (wet, too cold, too warm), or they simply need comforting and reassurance. I believe that meeting their needs helps them to develop into emotionally secure children. I’ve seen it work with Ava. When babies aren’t spending their energy on crying and seeking attention, they can use that energy to grow and thrive.

I also believe in gentle discipline. It is challenging and hard at times, and I can’t say I haven’t lost my temper before, but I strive to discipline gently. I try to think about how I would want to be treated and honor my children with that same respect.

Just as I trusted in my body and my baby when I gave birth to Julian at home, I trust that I will instinctively know how to parent my children. That’s not to say that it’s always easy, but all of the above things have felt instinctual to me. If it feels right and makes sense, then I go with it. That, I believe, is parenting by instinct.

I believe that the time investment I make in my children’s lives while they are young will pay off tremendously as they grow older, and that by doing all of these things, I am creating a solid foundation on which to build a lifelong relationship.

I know some people question how attachment parenting can create independent children, but I have two children who are being parented in this way and they both are very independent. In fact, Ava is sometimes even more independent than I would like. ;) I believe that by meeting their needs, they come to learn that they can trust Jody (their dad) and me to be there for them when they need us and so they feel safe to venture out on their own.

Parenting is a challenging and amazing experience that takes time, energy and patience, but I believe this investment is all worth it. They make it all worthwhile.

Ava hugging Julian - Oct. 2007

Please take a moment to read some of the other carnival participants’ blogs (more will be added throughout the day):

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